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Samantha 'Johnson'

"Trust is the most powerful thing, and yet...It's fascinating how easily it shatters..."

0 · 948 views · located in The Manor

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

Groups

A brotherhood of people who aim to cleanse the land from enlightenment.

Description

Name: Samantha Johnson (not her real surname)

Age: 27

Gender: Female

Ability: Power Imprinting – Allows her to grant a magical gift to another by ‘imprinting them with a symbol drawn in her blood. (more about this will be revealed ic). Her eyes light up in bright yellow when her ability is in use.

Description: Sam is an attractive young lady; tall and lean, delicate features, long black hair that falls straight to her lower back and penetrating green eyes. She usually wears simple dresses in dark shades of blue, green and occasionally red, sometimes covered by a thick hooded cloak of the same color (Example: this andthis) . She has no visible scars, however she has a tattoo that extends from the back of her neck to her lower back. Image of tattoo

Reference image: This - I do not own this image. All credit goes to the artist.

Theme Song 01:Opeth – Death Whispered a Lullaby
Theme Song 02: Dave Matthews Band - What You Are
Theme Song 03: Three Days Grace – Let You Down
Theme Song 04: Oingo Boingo - Skin
Theme Song 05: Evanescence - Understanding
Theme Song 06: Florence & The Machine – Seven Devils

Personality

Personality: Sam’s true nature is considered by most to be an unsolvable mystery. What truly troubles her mind or moves her heart are things only she knows, and perhaps a rare chosen few. Amongst the members of the Order she is feared as much as she is loved by all, and her attentions are usually highly coveted by the higher members of the brotherhood. She is careful, however, with who she allows to get close to her.

Sam can act as kind as humanly possible to a person in one moment and sadistically cruel the next as needed. She holds her grudges for the most opportune moments and saves no effort to punish those who cross her, or wrong her in any way, as painfully as she can. There are rare people she cares for in her life and even those she will dispose of if needed, ignoring whatever pain it may cause her.


Likes: Sweets, reading, music, dancing, people with good manners, cats, and quiet places.

Dislikes: People who act unnecessarily hostile or rude, excessive noise/arguing, dogs, alcohol.

Equipment

Equipment: Sam has a short sword and a couple of small daggers and knows how to use them, but she prefers not to get her hands dirty if she can help it.

History

Background: Some will be revealed IC.

So begins...

Samantha 'Johnson''s Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Michael Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

0.00 INK

Written with Blackbird 26

A courtyard, the stone facade of the walls , decorated by gently hanging vines that are trimmed regularly so that they do not choke the structure but add just a hint of color to otherwise listless walls.
An unlikely place to start a trial but the figures in charge of Blackpond wanted to make a public example of a very private matter.
A man is lead into a room in rather fancy adornment for the time.
He was dressed in a class A military uniform, his hands covered with white gloves, as he surveyed the scene before him.
Lead in, in thick black, heavy chains, even in the courtyard he was still pelted with rotting vegetables and fruit of all kinds.

His attempts to hold his hands up and block the onslaught proved futile at best.
Dried peels slid slowly down his mud stained face.
It seems that the men that had lead him away in chains decided to have a bit of fun with him and roll him in the puddles they managed to find littering the street.
Only a moments ago he was planning to hold a party for the nobility he had worked so hard for.
Now he found himself being lead to what he could only imagine an impending doom.
His eyes studied the furious crowd that had gathered to chant "Baby killer!" and spit in his face as he was lead down the line of people further into the courtyard.
In a lofty, multi-platform, podium sat his father and two other dignitaries, their gaze cast down upon him where once their voices rang with his praise.

The man in the center, his former commander, the adjutant general of Blackpond was presiding.
His arms raised and killed the noise of the crowd and also the flying projectiles as if an unseen force had moved to hush them.
As his arms lowered once more he spoke in a most pompous manner.
"Michael James, you stand accused of unspeakable acts even in times of war.
Where I admit one often must make tough decisions but to burn down an entire city to the ground.
Then slaughter innocent women, children, and even the elderly and infirmed this is beyond comprehension.
Your trial will be held when the other four of the council arrive from their appointed tasks.
At such time you will present your case, be handed your judgement after our decision, and justice will run it's course.
Until at such time as they arrive you will be held in the blackpond dungeons."
A sneer crossed his face as he continued.
"I should think the pit would be more your style than an enclosed cell.
Yes, yes the pit where you can view the sun and yet have no way to get to it."
Michael never bothered with response he was clearly shocked as they started to drag him away in chains to the waiting cells below.
On his way he looked through the throngs gathered and by the stairs stood his mother, brother, sister, and his wife. Each one in turn turning their back on him one by one.
Had the guards not held his arms he would have covered his face but instead he was forced to be lead with streams of tears trickling from his eyes.

After a long walk down a winding stone staircase.
They made their way to a wrought iron door.
The door would loudly creak open and he could hear the door slam soundly after he was lead through.
That sound sent a shot right through him even in his fragile mental state.
Somehow his legs dropped out from under him and he was now being held up on the shoulders of the guards his legs dragging along underneath him.
The black, cold looking walls of this place were only highlighted at all by fire light dancing across the walls.
As he passed rows of cells he could see the inmates run up to see who was passing through.
They would make statements about how pretty he was or about how there was no mansion where he was going.
This was something out of his wildest nightmare and worse yet it had come to life.
Toward the end of the corridor he was lead down several more winding stairs before coming to a cell door.
The guard at the bottom of the stairs opened the door and the other two drug him inside the cell.
Throwing him on his face and letting him slide chest first across the floor.
As the door once more slammed behind him he could hear the guard sneer.
"You're done now rich boy enjoy your private suite."
As they made their way up the stairs he could hear the footsteps trail off and even the guard at the bottom of the stairs seemed to be gone.
He drug himself with his hands to a wall where he looked to the sky but for a moment before cradling his head in his hands and shaking himself to sleep.
Soon he would be awoken by a thunderstorm though.
The rain, torrential as it was, flooded his cell thoroughly and the sound of the thunder along with the acoustics of the place he was in caused an even louder, more booming, sound.
After the storm and a thorough time to sit awake contemplating his misery he finally drifted off to sleep.
Days stretched and he lingered through meal after meal.
Occasionally the nobles of the town would come to show others "How murderers were treated in their town."
This was not enough to bother him, nothing he couldn't handle but then his best friend came to deliver him a message.
A message of how his betrothed would be shed of him and move on to, pointing to himself as he said "better things."
He informed him of how they had, had a torrid affair while he was away on his last campaign and how once he had been sentenced to death, their life would continue.
As he turned to leave the room he looked to see Michael sitting with his hands over his ears, staring at the floor.
This along with the events of his life leading up to his arrest, coupled with how everyone he knew, cared about, or even tried to make a life with, seemed content to see him destroyed.

After more time with this weighing heavily on his mind he slowly started to review all that had happened.
How all that he fought to protect turned on him at a moments notice.
How convenient praise could be, how honor fell on a whim, and how even his family turned on him when it served their purpose.
These thoughts filled his mind and would even serve a distraction when the guards would come in from time to time to beat him.
It was within two weeks of lingering there that once the guards came to beat him.
He would laugh at them from under bloody lips and a bruised face.
It seems the harder they hit him the more he laughed and it was this that scared them.
Turning on heel the men left the room slamming the cell door behind them, his hysterical laughter filling the staircase outside his room.

"Lady, are you sure about this man?" A dark skinned man questioned as he walked beside a young woman down a flight of stairs, not concerned with being seen as everyone they passed seem to stop in their tracks as if in a trance and only return to normal once they were long past.
"I'm sure." The eighteen year old girl replied with a slight nod of her head. "Are you not, Ezekiel?"
The man gave a slight bow of his head as he answered. "If Lady is sure of herself, then so am I."
The girl chuckled. "This man has nothing to lose. A man with nothing to lose is a powerful weapon, my friend."
"A man with nothing to lose has no reason for loyalties." Zeke replied. "If I may say so, Milady."
"Well, and neither do we." She chuckled. Ezekiel didn't seem so amused, so she patted the older man's shoulder comfortingly and spoke in a more serious tone. "First: I trust that you can protect me if needed, second: we need someone with absolutely no ties, and third..." She smirked slightly. "...I've heard the horror stories, and you know how I feel about such talent being wasted."
"Yes, Lady, I do know." Ezekiel stated, a slightly irritated tone in his voice. The man had sworn to keep his Lady safe and obey her every command, but to agree was sometimes difficult. "How will you keep this from your father, Mistress?"
The young woman stopped in her tracks, eyes flashing yellow as she replied. "That... Will not be an issue for long." She told him. "All good things come to those who wait, my dear friend. All of them. And they will come for us, because I will see to it, yes?"
"Yes, Milady." Ezekiel agreed, not minding the guards that froze halfway through their movement, walking in the opposite direction, up the stairs. The young woman simply walk past them, pulling the keys from the belt of one of them to unlock the door. Ezekiel had stopped to stare at one of the guards as she put the the key in the lock. "Zeke, dear, you wouldn't want me in the scary man's cell all alone, now would you?" She called.
The man nodded simply and moved on to open the door and enter before his mistress, holding the door open for her and slamming it shut loudly after her; his eyes changing from a bright golden yellow to a dark green as he stood behind the young woman in the long dark blue cloak, like a shadow, and spoke to get the prisoner's attention. "Michael James."

Michael looked up from where he was sitting to the pair in front of him.
His grime covered face peering intently.
After wiping some blood from his lower lip on the sleeve of his shirt he started with the following.
"heh...heh.... heh, heh, heh, ha, ha, ha, you two don't look like guards.
You're certainly not nobility..."
He then started to rise to his feet, grimey, matted locks dangling over his, dingy bearded face.
The rattling of his chains leading the way as he approached the two with no preview or hint of what was going to happen in his eyes.
As he did so a guard burst into the room and came charging at Michael with spiked steel club drawn.
Michael merely awaited the arrival of the guard like most would were they waiting on a bus.
As the guard drew closer he raised the club above his head and this was where Michael took his opportunity.
The first shot to fall the guard was a shot to the groin and after walking around him like a cat stalking it's prey.
His eyes started to shine and he wrapped the black chain around the guard's neck. strangling him until he hit the ground.
Afterward Michael got up and started beating the man about the face with the fetters on his wrists and then whipping the chain across his back.

After turning from the now twitching guard on the floor Michael turned once more to the pair now holding the spiked club that was destined for his head in his hand.
"As I was saying... what is it that brings you two here?
State your business quickly.... as you can see I am..."
His voice lowered to a growl before continuing.
busy."
This word was accompanied by a hysterical laugh and him shaking his head.

Ezekiel twitched slightly as the guardsman entered the cell, but whatever he intended to do was interrupted by the woman's touch on his arm. That was the only reaction from either one of them as Michael beat down the guard. Zeke's face held absolutely no expression whatsoever, the girl, however, seemed clearly amused by the whole scene. As Michael addressed them again she smiled sweetly at him, not seeming intimidated in one bit. "Well, Michael dear... We are here to offer you a way out of this hole. If you're not having too much fun, that is. Not to pour salt on any wounds, but you were brought to justice in quite a public and ugly manner, and well... I would be a bit angry if I was in your shoes. They say the best form of revenge is to live well, but there is no reason one can't have more than one form of revenge, right? I mean, there is no such thing as too much revenge." She casually shrugged as she added. "It won't cost me at all to get you out of here, and it will cost you very little to repay the favor. So say, sweetie, are you at all interested? Because I am rather busy myself, not to mention I wouldn't want to be caught dead or alive in a place like this."

Intrigued by her words he placed a knee on the chest of the blood covered guard.
He then angled his head such that his cheek was resting on his shoulder as he looked over the two.
His right eye blinking as another matted piece of hair fell in his face.
"I'm..."
Just as he started to respond the guard started to gurgle a bit and Michael turned his full fury on the guard.
"Shut up! Just shut up and die!"
He then beat him to death with the fetters on his chains.
After a bit of convulsing the guard finally laid still and Michael once more angled his head such that his cheek was laying on his shoulder.
"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted.... I'm listening.
But... before this goes too far just how do you intend to get me out of here hm?
And just what is your end in this revenge you have planned for me?
I should warn you little girl I am not a man to be toyed with.
As our armored friend here will attest to."

He then rose from the body of the now dead guard and looked to the door as he heard more guards coming.
Their armor clanging louder with each step.
"Answer quickly my lady, for I fear there will not be time to do so shortly."
With that he picked up the spiked club and began flipping it in his hand.

"Oh, looks can be deceiving my friend, now can't they?" The woman stated absently. "You can never know just how dangerous a little girl might turn out to be." She sighed, a slightly annoyed tone in her voice. "Ezekiel, hun, will you please buy us another minute or two... Get rid of the annoying people in armor."
Ezekiel hesitated, looking from her to Michael with a suspicious look in his eyes.
"Don't be silly now, I'll be fine. Now run along and do as you're told." She told him, a slightly severe note to her voice this time moved the man immediately and he walked out of the cell, silence echoing in the hallway outside the moment he did so.
"Now, as for how I will get you out. Well, let's just say that the more people gather in their lives more they become terribly afraid of loss, and I hold a position where I can easily take from people who have it all... I'm sure they will do whatever they can to prevent that. All you would have to do is sit comfortably in your cell for another day or two. You'll be released and possibly exiled, but after the way the city has treated you that shouldn't be a reason for heartbreak, now should it?" She asked, her smiled turning into a grin. "What I need, from you, Michael... Is that you keep eyes and ears open and gives us information. Once you are out, I will get you where I need you to be in order to do so. In return for your services you will have your freedom, funds, and whatever type of revenge you choose on the people who put you here. It is a damn good offer, but of course... Once you are out, if you try to cross me, I'll make sure you wish you were still left in this cage to rot." The young woman's eyes glowed in a bright yellow as she finished speaking, and as they toned back to their normal green she chuckled. "Are you interested? Please think fast, I have some people I need to see after this."

Michael watched as the man left the room and then listened to the woman speak attentively.
He watched her body language and even noted the silence of the guards which was usually only procured through the breaking of bones.
Or a bloody heap on the floor somewhere.
With his fingers spread he rested his chin inside his index finger and just before his middle finger.
"Information you say?
My Lady if there is one thing I can do it is provide information.
Get me out there, out of this, and you will have your information."
His eyes then widened as he walked around her slowly.
"But... if you or your people cross me you shall find out just why I was put here in the first place hm?
As for this cage..."
His voice became blood curdlingly cold as he said.
"there is nothing you can do to me that would be worse than what has already been done.
But...I am a man of my word.
Keep these goons from my cell and I will sit quietly, biding my time.
Once I gather your information this town will burn and everyone in it.
I do not ask so much for funds merely the weapons to make it burn, burn to the ground.
A chance to watch the pigs that put me here squirm as I place daggers under their finger nails and pry them from their place one by one.
The funds for such an operation I assure you I can procure on my own.
So... unless there is further discussion to be had my lady... I would say you have a deal.
I assume once you have performed this black miracle to save my neck from the noose there shall be a further contact point yes?"

Sam smiled gently at this man's attitude, it was amusing. "Yes, yes, Michael... You are a very scary monster... That's why I came for you instead of hiring any idiot mercenary for a bag of coins... But you'll see what I mean better once you're free. And trust me... There is always something worse, I can be very, very, creative when given the right motivation. However, I don't make deals if I don't intend to fulfill them, there is no point in doing such things."
As she spoke Ezekiel walked back into the room, not a sound was heard from the outside and the only indication of what might have happened was discrete stain of blood on one of the man's boots. The man didn't say a words as he grabbed the fallen guard by the collar of his shirt and dragged the man with him out the door. "It's time to go, Milady."

Sam didn't respond to the man, but simply smiled as she continued to address Michael. "And yes, hun... All will burn in time... All good things come to those who wait and fortunately for you... Your revenge fits my plans. Once you are out, we will find you... Either Ezekiel or myself... And we will discuss details then." She gave the man a discrete bow of her head as she opened the door to the cell. "I look forward to doing business with you, Michael. I believe this will lead to some interesting results." She stated before walking out to the hall and closing the cell door after herself, locking it shut. As her eyes caught the site of several dead guards on the hallway floor she giggled softly. "Good work Zeke... Look at all the pretty shades of red." She smiled. "Let's go now, dear... Best if my father doesn't know I was away."

6 months later

Sam sighed in frustration, waving away the servant that came to inform her there had been no word from Luckas yet. Ezekiel was nervous, she could feel, and with good reason; it had been his idea to send Luckas after Lena, to prove he was loyal. It would be his fault if he was permanently damaged, or if he were to die. Now, Zeke would surely be in trouble if Luckas were to die... And Sam would see to it herself that he was very sorry for as long as he had left to live. Still, it was not time to worry yet. It was early, and Luckas probably needed time to recover from what he had done. Simple as that.

Then why was she still so worried?

The woman sighed looking out the window of the library onto the the bright blue sky. Cold sunny morning were usually the best ones, but the sickening knot in her stomach wouldn't let her enjoy it. She sighed leaning against the window sill. "I hate this wait." She muttered under her breath, green eyes glaring at the beautiful sun-bathed gardens below.

Michael strolled over the lawn of the manner, a long stride to his walk as the wind nipped at the tails of the long cloak he now wore.
He was dressed well once more but with a bit of a blood spatter on the collar of his shirt.
With the sun casting a glow on his cheeks he continued, rather unchecked to the manor where he was greeted by two guards.
"Halt!" along with a raised and flattened palm were the words to come from the first guard.
"State your business!" was the next command issued.
The reply came as follows:
"Gentlemen, let us not daudle over such formalities.
If I did not have business here with Samantha do you really think I would stop robbing the over flowing purses of the elite to come out here?
Gentleman you do in fact flatter me with your observations of my excerising prowess no matter how egregious they are."

With that statement he took two steps toward them when the guard on the right pulled a short sword.
"Not one more step!" was the command shouted
With a bow and his hand over his heart with his fingers spread he stood still in front of them.
He paused for a moment and then began to speak, the twinge of a maniacal laugh to found echoing through his speech.
"You know the last person to issue me orders had his face caved in.
Now you have two options, follow him to the grave or find Lady Samantha and see if what I speak is true."

Sam found that her small moment of quiet wouldn't last long, which was partly annoying, but partly relieving, since it did distract her from waiting to see if she would have to worry about cleaning up after whatever messes had occurred during the past night. "Lady, excuse me... There is this man, he... Claims to have business with you, Milady, should we... dispose of him?"
Sam turned to face the guard who had spoken to her, staring into the man's eyes in silence for so long that the man began stir awkwardly trying to avoid looking away. She chuckled noticing his nervousness. "He asked for me directly, you say?"
"Y-yes, Milady." He answered.
"Did he give his name, or state his business?"
"No, Miss, he... Was rather hostile and refuse to follow instructions."
She snickered. "Lovely. Please let the gentleman in and have him escorted into the library. I will speak with him here."
The man bowed his head in respect before leaving in a comically hurried pace. Sam moved away from the window and sat at a comfortable chair, absently running her fingers through the page of the open book she had been trying to distract herself with. The pages it was open two were taken by a map of the land, a few spots of land marked with with circles here and there, and some of them crossed out, as if scratched off a list. Her eyes scanning the map repeatedly as if searching for something unwritten. When the doors opened, again, she didn't look up from the pages to see who it was. "We are not to be disturbed." She stated coldly, waiting for the door to be closed after her guest before closing the book. "Michael, dear... Long time no see... I was beginning to think you've grown bored of me." She greeted with a little smirk.

Michael walked into the room one guard on either side of him.
Looking from side to side he smirked and raised a gloved hand.
"Listen gentlemen you should really take yourselves elsewhere.
As in not here...as in now.
My last set of guards did not fare very well."
He then waved his hands to them as if in a shoo'ing motion.
"Go on boys off with you now.
Lest you hear something that might rattle those steel covered heads of yours."

He then stood in front of Samantha with his right arm folded at his waist as he bowed slightly.
"Bored my lady?
Not quite, it's not often a man of my stature gets a chance to get even with all whom have caused him such misery."
He slowly started to walk around her, like a shark would swim around a piece of prey his eyes looking her over carefully.
"Ohhh no bored is the last thing I am but... "
As he slowed to stand in front of her he rolled a coin down his knuckles.
"what I am is curious.
Curious to what your end of out little transaction is.
Surely you did not find me charming enough to do this from the kindness of your heart, or for mere scraps of information.
I sense your purpose to be two fold at the very least.
Now as I have yet to garner the information you wish.
I would also assume my purpose in your plot to not be singular either.
That being said..."
His voice lowered to just above a growl as he angled his chin a tiny bit.
"let's dispense with games and get down to brass tax."[/quote]

"You are curious are you, now?" Sam snickered softly, her fingers tracing through unintelligible writings in the leather cover of the book she had been going through, the dialect visibly foreign, as she looked at the man with the corner of her eyes as he moved. "Even though it is my opinion that you should never underestimate your charming personality, Michael, the truth is that your motivations, however personal they may be to you, just fit my plans very well... I won't bore you with details, but let's just say that while some people aim to watch the world burn, my interest lies more in playing with the resulting ashes. Great things can be built from ruins, don't you think?" She asked in a curious tone as if genuinely asking his opinion. "I just rather enable people who share similar goals than order mindless drones around, surely they do get the job done, but it's just not as much fun." She stated, he tone soft and only slightly curious as she rose from her chair to face her guest. "So, tell me sweetie, as long as I am willing to give you what you want, does it matter what purpose that serves to me? If it does, then I will tell... But the people who know my motives also know that it is that knowledge that makes them a risk to me. No one should ever aim to be a risk to me, but I have nothing to hide if that is your wish."

Bowing slightly he clapped his hands slowly with a menacing smile on his face.
"Very artfully stated my lady.
I care not your business once I have done what I will do.
But you are in fact talking my language.
Surely however we might find better recourse than veiled threats though yes?"
As he turned a moment, his hands clasped behind his back, he swung one leg out widely as he turned back toward her.
"After all, business is business and pleasure...so rarely satiated."

Angling his chin slightly, he he slowly walked back toward her once more.
"Perhaps when my deeds are done I may just need a look at a dance in the ashes..."
His voice rose slightly as he continued. "Hm?"
His lips smacked together very loudly before he continued a long pacing session back and forth.
"Rest assured however, stay out of my way and your organization will suffer no threat from me.
So long as your plans do not interfere with my own you shall experience no such information liability.
It has been..."
His voice lowered to a growl once more as he bowed with his right arm folded at his waist before continuing.
"a pleasure doing business with you.
If that is all, I shall see myself out Lady Samantha."
As he left the hall he was once again greeted at the door by the guard who a stopped him.
Michael this time peered at the guard up and down, reaching out with an extended hand the guard smartly pulled his own hand back and as he jerked back Michael pulled a dagger from his cloak and stabbed the man once in each thigh and finally in the groin.
"What did I tell you about getting in my way tin man?"
He then departed the area laughing hysterically along the way.

The setting changes from valcrest to The Manor

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

0.00 INK

[The Manor - Sundown]

The light had begun to fade in the horizon as a staggering figure approached the main gates of the manor. Luckas could feel himself slip in and out of consciousness, and in some level he felt it was ridiculous that he was not killed on his way there, considering his fragile state. His run-in with Jake had killed the last of his strength, but even if the small periods of unconsciousness, he never stopped moving in the direction of the mansion. In his mind he was desperately trying to push aside every single word spoken since he awoke from his breakdown, but still there was one thing he couldn’t, for the life of him, ignore; and that was the mention of Sam.

He couldn’t believe that she was alive. He knew what he saw and he saw her die, but someone had been using her name to get to him, and he would find out who that person was... Whoever it was... Luke would make sure they paid for it. They would all pay. Every single one...

“Luckas... Luckas!”

Ezekiel’s voice sounded strong in Luke’s ears, but he was too exhausted to respond, he could barely feel the cold frozen grass beneath his body, his eyes were open but everything was dark and blurry.

“Is he dead?” A female voice, that Luckas guessed to be Amber’s, spoke up.
“No he’s not dead, he’s breathing.” Ezekiel replied. “Go inside and let them know he’s back.”
“I don’t see why all the noise... But yeah... I’ll tell ‘em...”

Luckas had been motionless on the floor, the voices of the people around him getting more and more faint... While others inside his mind grew louder.

“Remember the girl from the basement…the pretty little thing I drew for you? She was here….looking for you.”

“She seemed very determined to find you again, something about hiring people to track you, walking into Raven camp just on the chance that she could find you.”


Luckas reacted when he felt hands on him, trying to pull him up, fists clenching as he gripped the front of the man’s tunic muttering. “Who was it? It’s not funny! I will kill!”
“What the hell are you talking about kid?” Ezekiel asked, trying to get Luckas to stand on his own but finding that he really lacked the strength.
“Sam’s dead... They killed her... She’s dead... Not coming back” He mumbled letting Zeke drag him for a few steps, but falling over. “I will kill.”
“Yeah, you will kill.” Zeke muttered, losing his patience and lifting Luckas, to be carried over his shoulder. “Can’t even bloody walk...” He mumbled. “Wimp.”

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

“He has a few fractured ribs and some bruises on his face, other than that he is physically healthy; whoever hit him was either very good or very bad at it, he could have suffered some serious damage. I did not heal his wounds however, I believe the pain is the best way to keep him quiet for the moment... Sedatives don’t seem to affect him much, I believe that is part of his imprint.”
“It is... You’re excused, Celeste, thank you.”
“Yes, Mistress.” The woman replied taking a deep respectful bow before leaving the room. Sam heaved a long sigh as she watched Luckas stir and mumble under his blankets, his mind still unable to settle. She sat on the edge of the bed next to him, shaking her head as she addressed the man standing by the bedroom door. “You are damn lucky he’s back safely, you know.”
“I was sure he would be fine. I was not sure he would go through with it.” Ezekiel stated. “I apologize for my boldness Milady, if it is your wish that I be punished...”
“Shut up. If I wanted to punish you I would have by now. I understand that you are trying to protect me, Zeke. I appreciate it as a friend.” She turned to glare at him angrily. “That said, if you act behind my back this way ever again I will make you very sorry. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Milady.” Ezekiel answered, bowing down respectfully to her. “I understand.”
Sam paid no mind to the man’s gesture, her eyes were fixed on Luckas’ sleeping figure, a much softer expression crossing her features as she heaved a small sigh. “Poor little Lukey, I’m so sorry... I promise, you will understand.” She whispered to him before standing up and facing Zeke. “I want you to let me know as soon as he wakes up, and once he’s feeling well enough have him brought to me in one of the meeting rooms downstairs, if you will. I think I owe him a few answers now.”
“Are you sure about this?” Zeke asked.
She sighed. “I keep my promises, Ezekiel... Even when they are made for me, and I’d advise you to consider that in the future.”
“Yes, Milady.”

[Later that night]

Luckas opened his eyes with an angry groan; his body ached and his head was throbbing. He didn’t remember getting there, but he recognized the room as being his own room at the manor: even though he didn’t quite recall the walls moving that much when he was last there. As he tried to move he felt something heavy and warm weighing him down, that’s when he noticed a white fuzzy ball laying on top of his chest... Staring right at his face with a pair of mismatched eyes. “WHAT THE HELL.” He shouted, shooting up and knocking the cat right out of the bed.

“You shouldn’t harm the kitties, Luke... People have gone ‘missing’ for trying that.”
“Go to hell Amber.” Luckas replied; the pain on his ribs forcing him to lie back into his pillow with a growl.
“Now, now... Lukey... Don’t be so mean... I’m being kind enough to watch your sleeping wounded ass... It’s taken some precious hours out of my night... Don’t be an ungrateful little bitch.”
“Hours.... Night....?” He mumbled. “How long have I been out?”
“Too long the way I see it.” She replied, a little impatient sigh escaping her. “I thought you were all resistant to telepathic attacks...”
“Resistant does not mean...” Luke groaned as he pulled himself up once again. “... Immune. If the attack is strong enough it will affect me, and it will take hours to recover...” He muttered. “Not that it’s your business.”
“Aw... Lukey... You hurt my feelings that way...” Amber giggled. “ I thought we were bonding.”
“Fine... Then tell me what’s the problem with your real face.” Luckas stated, turning to look at the pretty brunette whose form Amber had taken that night. “Why do you always have to be someone else?”
“If You could look like anyone in the world, why would you still look like yourself?” She asked, a confused look in her eyes as if the answer was obvious. “I mean, not that you’re not cute, but I prefer men to be... taller... and stronger... Like that beast speaker friend you have... He is just... Yummy.”
Luckas glared at the girl. “He is... NOT... My friend...” He muttered, his voice filled with contempt. “He’s not at all smart AND he’s about twenty years older than you.” He scolded.
“Why love, I didn’t know you cared for my well-being.” She played, faking a sweet smile and winking at him. “Twenty years, ten years, eight years... What’s it matter? Age is just a number and we’re all gonna die either way.”
“Well... Beast Boy was twenty years old, give or take, when you were born and that means he’s about old enough to be your father.”
Amber chuckled softly. “Is that meant to sound off putting? Because it really doesn’t. Kind of exciting actually.”
“You’re sick.” Luke laughed, shaking his head. “Wait a minute...” He stated, a frown suddenly taking over his expression. “How do you know about Beast Boy?”
“Aiden Cross. That’s his name.” Amber stated. “Oh, come on, you don’t think we’d investigate you friends, your ‘enemies’, your ‘frenemies’, your...” She giggled, not finishing the sentence. “You get the picture.”
“I do.” Luckas muttered. “I thought we had healers, they can’t fix broken ribs?”
“They can. They just felt the pain was the best type of... Restraint...” She snickered, watching as Luckas jumped out of bed with a painful grunt. “Apparently you’re resistant to that too, huh?”
Luckas snorted. “Pain is psychological.”

“Broken bones are not.” Ezekiel’s voice called from the doorway. “So absolutely NO jumping around.” The man told him.
“Why are you so grumpy all the time?” Luckas asked with a little grin. “You need to smile more!” He chuckled.
“Shut up, kid. Put on your shoes and button you shirt... You’re getting that meeting you asked for.”
“Now?” Luckas asked, a bit confused. Only now he’d noticed that his shirt was open and bandages were wrapped tight around his torso. He buttoned the shirt and found his boots, sitting on the bed and putting them on before jumping back to his feet. “Okay.” He said, walking out the door after Zeke.
“Just follow this guy here and he’ll lead you were you’re supposed to be.”

. . .

Luckas' eyes narrowed as he was led through halls of the mansion he’d never been allowed to walk before. The darkness was haunting and familiar as he was led down into the underground area of the manor and he couldn't help but feel shivers down his spine that had nothing to do with the cold and damp environment of the stony house. He could barely see beyond the small circle of light cast by the torch his guide was holding. The only sound echoing through the empty halls were those of footsteps.

Luke remained silent as he was led down at least two flights of stairs to what seemed to be a hall filled with small interrogation rooms; the uncomfortable feeling rising as it seemed to grow even darker beyond the reach of the torchlight. Finally they stopped before a heavy metal door.

"Enter, Master awaits." The man stated with a slight bow of head, pushing the heavy door open.

Luckas passed the older man as he walked through the door, not even wincing as it was forcefully slammed shut behind his back; His dark eyes fixed on a figure in a gold-trimmed blue cloak; a woman. This was surely unexpected for him. She had her back turned, however, and he could not yet see her face. Slowly he began pacing further into the room, and into the light of the lit torches along the walls; the sound of his footsteps echoing through the room…

"Stop." The woman's voice sounded, soft yet firm. "That's close enough for now."

Luckas stopped in his tracks, a step before he reached a wooden table that had been set in the center of the room, it had tea, some biscuits and sweet breads set in its center as if this was some sort of tea party. At this point, he wasn't sure of what he had gotten himself into. It seemed the woman was avoiding turning to face him; Luckas saw her clench and unclench her fists repeatedly as if trying to gather the nerve. Was this person really the 'Master' of The Order?

Finally, she turned. Luke immediately felt a wave of shock wash through his body as he looked into the woman's green eyes, a stammer taking over his voice as he forced the words to break through his shock. "S-S-Sammy?"
"You’re stammering, Lukey. Breathe. It's alright." She said, taking a step towards him, but stopping as she saw him retreat.
"You're d-dead! T-they killed you." He muttered, eyes widening as he gaze lingered upon her features; older than he remembered, but undeniably her.

"No, Luckas, that memory isn't real... I'm so sorry... I had to... Protect you from the truth. You see?" She walked close to him again, this time he stood still as she let the hood of her cloak fall over her shoulders, pulling her long black hair free from it. "I had just gone through my Awakening when you and Matty arrived. My father was Master at the time and, he decided I should attempt my first imprint with the two of you. It was successful, but you were both too powerful for a such a young age, Father decided that you were a hazard to our operation and it was best to dispose of you. I pleaded with him that he gave you both a chance to mature I managed to talk him into keeping you for a full six years, but you made little progress and eventually he was fed up. When I heard he was going to have the two of you killed I made a deal with a group of Prospects, I'd give them power if they used it to rescue you and Matt. So they did. One of them altered your memory, forged my death so you wouldn't seek me out, and then erased it all to a blank. He assured me that even if you recovered memories in time, they wouldn't all be real; you wouldn't know the truth... It was the only way father wouldn't find you." She sighed softly, resting both hands on the sides of Luke's face. "He's been dead for a few years now though and I have been looking for you and Matt... I... Found out Matty died in prison, and I tracked you to the White Shadows..." She went silent and lowered her eyes for a moment, before looking up at him with a grin. "You were always the best one, Luke. Father couldn't see it, but you are the strongest one, you always survive... I am so proud of you for coming back to us."

Luckas was frozen in place, the woman's touch on his face giving him chills, her words piercing through him like daggers. "Then it was really you... Sammy..." He mumbled, still finding it hard to believe she was alive. "You were looking for me in the Raven’s camp? But... You knew where I was! I was reporting back to you... Master." A slight tone of anger in his voice. He didn't like the idea of anyone sneaking around after him, not even her.
She chuckled. "You are so defensive of those people Luckas... I was curious to what was taking you back to that place so often. You didn't return after my visit though, you noticed you were being followed by someone other than Amber?"
He snorted, pulling her hands away from him and walking to sit by the table. "Yes." He mumbled.
"I was looking out for you, is all. I didn't come back, and I didn't talk to her. Made sure she didn't see me."
Luckas' eyes narrowed slightly and he hissed, anger clear in his tone. "What?"
"The pretty boy, beast speaker, I think he was... He was very rude to me by the way... The moment I turned away from him, a woman came by to ask him questions. She was the reason he was so eager to get rid of me, which means he knew she was the reason you kept coming back." She smiled, sitting across from him to pour them both tea. "Like I said, I didn't speak with her, I was just curious."
"You told people you were my sister?" He mumbled.
"I am in a way Luckas, we are all brothers and sisters in the Order, love." She answered calmly. "I also said I hadn't seen you in thirteen years, which is also true... Although... I have been watching you, so maybe not really."
"You sent me after Lena." He stated.
"I needed to know that the healers hadn't spoiled you. I needed to know that you would do it, and you did." She took a sip from her tea and smiled cheerfully. "You were wonderful, Luke. I am very proud of you! You grew up better than I ever expected."

Luckas lowered his eyes to the cup of tea and took it in his hands, slowly sipping from it, not knowing what to think. He couldn't help the warm feeling of satisfaction whenever Sam mentioned being proud of him, whenever she repeated she was looking out for him... It was as if he had been waiting to hear those things all his life. At the same time, something inside his chest ached and he couldn't understand what that meant. "No more lies." He stated suddenly. "Who am I? What is my real name?"
Sam smiled sweetly at him. "Your name is Luckas. We were never told yours and Matty's real names. I do know your father's name was Andrej Mikael Yurin, your mother's name was Clarice, and they were known con artists although they called themselves traveling merchants. One day they scammed the wrong man, he was an Enlightened, and not very forgiving. He tortured and killed your father, with you and your brother in the room, your mother had been away at the market at the time. When she came home your father was dead, and not looking pretty, you and Matthew were sitting in a huge pool of blood, crying your eyes out, but otherwise unharmed. Your mother came to us, and offered the only 'things' she had left to give so that we hunt the Enlightened man down and ended his life."
"She gave us away?" Luckas asked, his tone only slightly curious, and nothing more. "Is she still alive somewhere?"
"It's possible, I'm not sure." Sam replied, raising an eyebrow at him. "Would you like me to find out for you?"
"You would do that?" He asked, looking up to face her, very aware that her eyes had been on him the whole time while he looked away.
"Of course I would." She replied, as if she was surprised he'd even ask such a question. "I want you to have any answers you want or need Lukey. I will help you, that's what friends do, they help each other."

Silence lingered as Luckas simply nodded, taking another sip of tea, his thoughts scattered all over the place. Uncontrollable shivers sweeping through him. Sam had her eyes constantly on him, even as he looked away from her, he couldn't help but feel as if he was still a child locked in a dark place with no hope to escape, with no light, except for her presence. She had kept him alive back then. She had been the first, if not the only, person to ever think he was worth something. Sure, Lena had believed in him, but she had mostly believed in something he could be, not in who he was. She still saw him as a killer and disliked that; she had never even tried to hide that fact, for which Luke was grateful as well, in a way. Ess claimed to see something more in him, she had repeatedly stated that she cared for him, but Luckas wasn't sure he believed what she saw to be real, or just a lot of wishful thinking on her part... Another illusion... If so, when would they end? Maybe living an illusion isn't that bad after all, maybe he could be that person... Maybe he could learn.

Luke's thoughts were interrupted by the discrete sound of a plate sliding across the table, over to his side. He looked down as it touched his hand, and saw that there were two sweet breads, split in half and smeared with honey gently placed over the metal plate. He frowned a little bit, intrigued by the gesture.
"If I recall, you like those with honey." Sam stated calmly. "When was the last time you ate something?"
"Why does everyone ask me that? I eat." Luke muttered in response, taking half a bread and biting into it. It was true though, he did like those with honey. He'd steal them from the kitchen at the orphanage at every given chance. How did she know that?
"Who's everyone?" She asked, with a half-smile. "You look like you could use a good meal, what else am I supposed to say?" She chuckled. "You barely grew up from the last time I saw you."
"I did too." Luke protested, standing up to show he was definitely taller than when he was six years old. Sam stood up as well, about an inch or two taller than him, and walked to stand right in front of him, with a smile plastered on her face.
"You've gotten handsome, Lukey. I was just playing, that's all." She assured him, reaching out to brush a strand of dark hair away from his eyes. She chuckled as he winced, but didn't pull away from her touch. "Still?" She asked. "It's alright, you don't have to run away from me." She casually ran her fingers through his hair once, before removing her hand. "Sit, and finish eating." He tone was gentle, but a hint of command could be sensed underneath it. Luckas didn't think much of it, he sat and took another bite of the bread. Sam didn't go back to her seat, however, she moved to stand behind his chair, leaning in closer to whisper. "Tell me, Lukey, have you ever discovered who was responsible for Matthew's death?"

Luckas flinched for a split second. "Does that matter?" He asked.
"It matters to me, Luckas." She replied, a serious tone overcoming her sweetness. "I cared about Matt, just as much as I care about you, and I want to know who killed him. I was told this person survived, but that was the most information I could get out of the Newhaven guards... They seemed rather afraid to talk about it."
"Is that so?" Luke asked, a curious tone in his voice. "Lena told me he died, but I honestly assumed whoever did it had cracked soon after."
"So you don't know who it was?" Sam repeated the question, as if expecting a direct answer to be sure.
Luckas took a rather large bite of the sweet bread and was quietly chewing on it for a minute or so before he replied. "Not a clue."
Sam sighed softly. "No matter, we'll find out." She stated, again running her fingers through his hair lovingly.

Luckas sighed softly as he chewed on the bread, his conflicting thoughts were aching inside his head, he knew why he had gone there; he wanted to expose the Order, he wanted to make them pay for what they took from him, he wanted to destroy the person who made him this way… He never expected that person to also be the one who gave him comfort, the one who taught him laughter, the one to show him love… He hated his Master, but he loved that memory of the girl in the basement, those turning out to be the same person turned that love and that hatred into one single, twisted, sickening, gut wrenching emotion. “You did this to me.” He accused, his tone soft and yet undeniably angry as he stared at the metal plate before him. “You took my memories… Left me with nothing….”
“I didn’t have a choice, Luke. If I hadn’t given you and Matt the imprint, my father would have done it. If I hadn’t erased your memories he would have found you. If I hadn’t protected you all these years you would be dead, or just another pawn in the brotherhood. My father would have broken you if I hadn’t intervened. Your chance of a normal life ended when your mother turned you in to us, but I… I saw something in you that I didn’t want to let die, I saw how special you are, so I saved you the only way I knew how.” She rested her chin on the top of his head wrapping her arms around his neck and sighing softly. “I’ll understand if you hate me, but I really hope you won’t. I just… I wanted to protect you, and back then I didn’t know what to do, I was still a child myself, under my father’s authority.”
“But he’s gone now, isn’t he? And you’re still here! You’re still doing this!” He exclaimed, moving out of her embrace and turning to face her in anger.
“I believe in the cause, Luckas, but don’t compare me to him, because you don’t know.” She protested. “I would never imprint anyone against their will, never! I have not since then.” She stopped herself and took a breath. “I have done so much for the Order since my father’s… Unfortunate, death. I have changed things, and soon our fate will finally be fulfilled and I’ll be free of this life forever.” She ran her fingers through her own hair and heaved a sigh. “I don’t expect you to understand just yet, but… You and Matt were my first imprints, you were my only friend, and now I know why I should never get involved, but it’s too late. I feel very strongly for you, Luke. Believe me when I say that if it was in my power to give you back everything I took, I would do it at any cost. It hurts me to see you this confused.”

Luckas remained silent; he didn’t know what to say. This was just so overwhelming that he actually felt lightheaded, so he leaned forward, placing both hands on the surface of the table as if fighting to stay on his feet, flashes of memories flooding his mind, insistently as if forcing him to focus on the fact that all along he had been unconsciously mourning the death of his captor and consciously hating his childhood friend. Raising his eyes to look at the woman before him, her eyes the same as the girl he remembered so vividly, he felt a pain like nothing he had ever experienced before. If he was a more physical person, Luke would be struggling between an urge to beat her and an urge to hug her. Since neither was much in his nature, he simply stood trying to contain shivers. Sam walked up to him again, slowly, placing both hands on the sides of his face, gently forcing him to look at her, the red light of his eyes reflecting on the green surface of hers. Luckas tried to pull away, but she smiled, a soft chuckle escaping her. “Don’t worry, Luckas. Your gift can’t hurt me. It’s alright.” She whispered; her voice gentle and soft. “You’ll understand it all really soon, I promise. It will make sense. Right now, however, you should rest. You look tired, you’re injured, and your head must be spinning right now.” She said, once again running her fingers through his hair in a soothing gesture.
Luckas closed his eyes, the sick feeling of comfort and warmth seemed to fill a hole in his chest at the gesture. It ached, but at the same time it was comfortable, familiar… Home. He enjoyed that familiar pain so much he wished he could just drown in it and die… But he didn’t. He opened his eyes with a slight disappointed sigh as she withdrew her hand. “I guess I am tired.” He mumbled, running his hands over his eyes and starting to move towards the door. Before opening he stopped and called, not turning to face her. “Sammy?”
“What is it Lukey?” She asked.
Luckas sighed, unsure of which of his conflicting emotions he wished to voice, and eventually settling for something simpler. “Good night.”

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

It had been a long exhausting night, and honestly all Luckas wanted was to go to bed, but he couldn’t sleep and ended up dragged to sit through a late supper with Zeke and two others from the Order, a tall blond man and his equally tall and equally blond twin sister; Adam seemed like an alright guy, quiet, but observant, sharp intelligent eyes he had... His sister Lizzy on the other hand, was loud and chatty and bombarded Luckas with annoying question he didn’t want to answer, but did for the sake of not inspiring anymore curiosity on her. He wasn't all that interested in conversation and kept to his meal as much as possible in between the questioning, the others seemed interested in his meeting with the Misstress, as they called Sam amongst themselves, and he couldn't escape a few curious questions about her here and there; it seemed only a few of them had met her, out of the people familiar to him, only Zeke and Amber. It was when Lizzy asked him something familiar that Luckas felt he was done with pleasantries and was ready to retire for the night.

"Say, have your eyes always been black or did that come with the Imprint? It's just very unusual..."

Luckas meant to say he was tired and excuse himself, but the words never came to him as he was sure he heard a child's laughter. There were no children in the Manor, however. He knew that much. He shook his head as if trying to shake water out of his ears, ignoring the confused stares of the others. "Did anyone else hear that?" He muttered.
"Hear what?" Ezekiel asked.
"I swear I heard a-" Luckas stopped mid-sentence, jumping to his feet and raising his hands to rub his temples as he heard a familiar voice screaming. He could swear he smelled smoke, his whole body felt warm all of a sudden as if he'd been dangerously close to flame all the sounds of the room were suddenly drowned out by the same familiar voice. "Luckas...."

A hand tightly gripped his shoulder and he was forcefully shaken. "Luckas! Are you listening to me?"
Luke reacted by violently pushing Zeke away. "Don't touch me!" He shouted. "I... I need to get some rest... Been a very long night... I’m not quite myself yet."
Lizzy's voice pierced through his ears again with another annoying question that should never have been asked. "Are you crying?"
"No." Luckas muttered wiping a reddish trail from his face and rushing out of the dining room before any other questions were asked, not stopping until he reached his bedroom, locking the door after himself and making a straight line to his bed, he sat with his back against the headboard, fighting against the sudden shivers and the fear he knew wasn't his own. "Lady, what are you doing to me? What is this?" He whispered, forcing himself to breathe.

[Flashback – Just outside Blackpond, about a month ago]

“You’re saying you heard her voice?” Lena asked, raising an eyebrow. “…As if she was standing next to you?”
“No… Well… Like an echo, it was… distant… Not like when you call me, it’s as if it was deeper… Is that the same thing?” Luckas asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his index finger. “I mean, you do it on purpose, but I don’t think it was on purpose…”
“Maybe not consciously, no… You see, any human mind, telepathic abilities or not, will resist having its contents messed with; it takes a powerful telepath to alter someone’s memory. The only reason you do it is because your mind seems to be able to wrestle other minds into submission. In that particular night, however, you had exhausted yourself to a point where Essence’s mind beat the shit out of yours, and that’s why she managed to retain her memories of you.” Lena paused for a moment as if awaiting a question, but since Luckas didn’t ask it she continued. “So what happened between the two of you is called a spontaneous telepathic bond, or link, and no… I didn’t just make this shit up, it’s written in books. And no I did not write those books.” She added; her amusement clear. “Telepathic bonds are usually not spontaneous, for instance what happened the night you tried to kill me, was that I saw you were vulnerable and bound a piece of my mind to yours so that I could keep track of you. I did that, as you so clearly stated, on purpose, and I was only able to do it without permanently frying your brain because your ability gives you some level regenerative skills.”
“What? Like I can heal?” Luckas asked, in an excited tone.
Lena laughed out. “Yes, like that. That is what makes it nearly impossible to fiddle with your memory or trap you in an illusion. And even if someone was powerful enough to do it, your mind would eventually restore itself in time.”

“Alright, then how come her brain isn’t fried from this?” He asked her, leaning against a tree just outside of the city, this was as far as Lena could follow him, and walking any further would be too risky. “And how does this happen by accident?”
“That’s because what would fry one’s brain, per se, would be fighting against it. And I never said it was by accident, I meant that it was subconscious. Instinctively, we seek something familiar in others, my guess is that you never really found it in anyone, when you went through her mind something you saw there made an impression on you and you subconsciously held on to it. Not only did she not fight you, but since she didn’t lose her memory of you, by trying to remember she put a lot focus on you… And that would have been enough.”
“So she activated this by thinking of me?”
Lena chuckled. “It takes two people to make something like this work.”
“That’s… Nonsense… I don’t remember thinking of Ess until I saw her again!” Luke protested.
“It doesn’t mean you haven’t, kid. Think about it.” Lena insisted. “Didn’t you kill the guy she was seeing that night? Why did you do that? You didn’t even bother to ‘play’ with him, so it couldn’t have been for that.”
“I was too weak for that still…”
“Could have waited a few days longer... He wasn’t going anywhere.” Lena insisted, not being able to hold back laughter at the annoyed expression in Luke’s face. “I’m just saying that’s how it works… I can’t possibly explain how exactly the link was created, or why, I’m just assuming here.” Lena explained.
“How do I make it stop?” Luckas muttered.

Lena didn’t reply, she simply shook her head in amusement. Silence lingered for a bit, Luckas sighed softly glancing around the woods, knowing where he would be the next day and wondering what he would have to do this time. He winced slightly as Lena broke the silence in the most annoying way possible.

“So Luke... Tell me about this woman.” Lena asked with a slight smirk crossing her features.
“What about her?” Luke mumbled, letting his gaze wander in the direction of the dark streets of Blackpond. The place looked like a pathetic excuse of what it should be… A shadow of its own self… Broken and desolated, and for some reason it pleased him. He was comfortable roaming there, he could almost blend in.
“Oh, come on…” Lena laughed. “You seriously don’t understand what I’m asking?”
Luckas turned his head to face the woman as if he meant to murder her with his eyes. “It’s none of your business…”
“Oh, that answers it alright.” She replied, still laughing.
“Shut up.” He muttered.
“Why are you so upset, kid? So what if you like her, that’s not the end of the world.” She stated, shaking her head in amusement.
“I don’t like her, it’s not…”
“Oh, right… So why are you stalking her? Better yet, why didn’t you just kill her the moment you realized she still remembered your face? Why didn’t you erase her memory for good if you didn’t want to kill her?”
“I couldn’t just up and kill her in the castle or have wandering around in confusion, while she was waiting to speak with the Captain, I’m not an idiot.”
“That wouldn’t stop you before, Luckas, besides you probably had her alone in several occasions, I’m sure. Not to mention, you act different with her.”
“I DON’T LIKE HER.” He shouted, groaning as Lena responded by slapping the back of his head.
“Do not shout in here, stupid boy.” She scolded. “Like I said, IF you like her it’s not the end of the world.”
“What do you mean I act different?”
“Well… From the little I’ve seen? You picked up her knife for her, and seemed very concerned for her well-being all the while we were at her house, you acted protective of her to that man who broke in... I’m not even going near the fact that you took her with you to attack the Warlord, which is more unlike you than anything else I could think of.”
“I was curious about what she would do… And I don’t have to explain myself to you!” Luckas exclaimed.
Lena laughed more at his anger. “Fine, kid… You do understand how it works though?”
“Yes, but how do I make it stop?” Luke repeated.


[Reality]

"Fear is only in our minds... It's an illusion... And it's not real..." He mumbled the words almost without realizing, something he knew he was told by someone, but at the moment wasn't sure who or when... All he knew is that it calmed him.

Once the shivers finally gave in he lay down and kicked off his boots, knowing he wouldn't be able to sleep. Crossing his arms underneath his head, he began humming softly, an amused smile crossing him as he faintly wondered what good that would do him, still he didn't stop foolishly trying to lull himself to sleep.

[Raven’s Nest]

Ess' face was still buried in Tala's fur, the wolf whining softly as she stood like a statue, letting Ess hang on her for comfort. Lifting her head from the wolf's fur, she noticed the white/silver tones were now tinted a deep red from Ess' tears that she didn't even pay attention to. A curious wave of guilt passed over her, that drowned out her fear which she slowly realized had no presidence on anything except a dreaded feeling of loss. From her past? Something she subconsciously was fearful of in the future? A sudden growl of frustration escaped her lush lips, when she could not make sense out of her feelings or the nightmare that still haunted her thoughts. Her fingers brushed aside the trail of crimson tears that were staining her cheeks, only to discover the familiar shape of her nose and cheekbones had changed. The startling revelation that her appearance only had changed, sent her searching frantically for a small mirror she carried. Opening the pocket mirror she gasped when she looked into the face of a child, a young black-haired boy that was all too familiar to her. Slowly the cheeks reddened in a rage as she willed her face back to her own, violet eyes glowing in dismay as she stood, jumping out of her tent to smash the mirror into the stones of the fire pit. “You're not ever coming back....stop haunting me!”

Wrapping her arms tightly around herself she stood silent for a moment, her eyes only dashing across the area for something or someone. “Tala....Luckas? Is he here?” She whispered as she skipped about checking along and behind her tent and the oak tree. The wolf whined again but began sniffing the ground, searching herself but quickly laid down as if she were tired. The camp was quiet and with Tala's confirmation, did not sense Luckas about this time, but she swore she felt him there. “Luckas?” She continued to whisper, the hairs in her ears tickling as she thought she heard a distant humming. It was out of tune but familiar, the voice, and it almost made her sleepy. Almost. “Great... Luckas... I’m losing my mind and now I'm hearing voices... And the voices are usually you, isn't that right?” Ess started to chuckle nervously as she realized she was still talking to herself, still hearing the humming. She wandered back into her tent, Tala lazily remained where she lay, staring her down in almost a worried gaze. Ess piled on the blankets, hiding her head beneath several pillows, which only made the humming seem louder now. Again the laughter came, because she didn't know if she should be worried or comforted by the sound. She just wished she could sleep, which never came.

The setting changes from the-manor to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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[Raven's Nest]

Mageria sat on a ledge upstream of camp, hands clasped before her as she stared down at the swirling water. She had woken up in a troubled mood. Dark shadows had haunted her dreams, forgotten faces that came to the forefront of her mind, speaking to her and reminding her of past actions that she wished she could change; moments when her life could have gone one way if she hadn't taken another path. The question was, would she be any happier if she had gone along another path? More comfortable, she acknowledged wryly, shifting a bit and digging a sharp stick out from under her leg.

But still.

I think I would still have made the same choices. I don't think I would like who I might be otherwise.

Leaning back, she sighed slightly, breath pluming upwards, dragon-like to rise among the bare branches of the trees around her. This was one of the very rare moments when she had a moment of peace, away from the never ending worries that went hand in hand with leading a group of hard-headed, battle ready, constantly on edge fighters. She'd have to start sending them out on jobs soon, or she'd wake up one day to find them at each other's throats.

Still this moment of peace was . . . . over.

A wry grin twisted her lips as a slight footstep alerted her to the fact that the weight of the world had once again landed firmly on her shoulders. The day it left for good, would be the day that they lead her to her pyre.

Jake had ridden all night without rest. Not the he cared much about rest nowadays, any excuse not to think about his inability to fall asleep was not only appreciated, but more than welcome to him. Shadow had rested well while in the Plains and there would be plenty of time for him to rest more once they arrived, so there was no hesitation to push the horse to fasten its pace. It was Jake's plan to stay around camp, make himself useful, maybe stay out of trouble for a change, and work with Irvin as he had promised. The kid had a lot of potential, and plenty he needed to learn... About of lot of things in life... And Jake felt that it was his responsibility to make sure he learned, just like he had learned himself not too long ago. Just like he was still learning now, admittedly; there was a lot he still didn't know... About life.

Shadow snorted loudly, as if meaning to break Jake out of his thoughts, as they neared the encampment. It was morning already, had been for a little while, and Jake could tell it was beginning to warm compared to the freezing cold mornings he'd experienced before going to Blackpond; a subtle sign of the season's advancing towards its end. Near the entrance of the camp he dismounted and walked in leading Shadow by the reins. Not too far in, he was greeted but an amused voice. "We were betting on how long it'd take you to come back this time."
Jake chuckled softly as he greeted the guard with a friendly handshake. "I'm surprised you weren't betting on whether I would get myself killed."
"Nah... Sham had your back, now didn't she?" The man retorted. "Listen now, you better have the coin you owe Aiden, you know he hasn't forgotten about that."
Jake laughed at the warning. "Yeah, I wouldn't have expected him to. No worries though, I'll find a way to pay him. You know I'm good."
The man simply nodded at that statement, shaking his head in amusement. "Course you are."

It was after making sure Shadow was settled and wouldn't cause trouble, and chatting a couple of other people, that Jake was directed to where Mageria might be; wasn't too long of a walk before he spotted the woman where she sat, watching the waters of the river and he made his way towards her, trying to be as quiet as possible. But after noting the change in her expression he was sure she already knew he was there. He chuckled under his breath as he spoke. "Captain. You know one of these days, I will manage to sneak up on you." He continued to walk until he was standing right next to her. He paused a moment scratching at the light stubble forming itself upon his face, before speaking again. "So... I know I've been locked up for about a month or so... And I know a lot of things happen in a month, but... Uh... That I know of, people coming back to life were never on that list of things, so..." He sighed. "I have to assume Grim is not actually dead and... Did you know about that?" Jake asked the question a little wary of the woman's reaction. In case this was somehow news to her, he didn't expect it to be good.

Mageria laughed. “Relax Jake, I already knew.” She motioned for him to sit and looked back out at the river. “I actually found out about a month ago, not long after you went to Blackpond. Of course, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind then.” She sighed. “In fact, you could probably say I was rather drunk. One thing led to another and well . . . Getting into a brawl that led to me beating Grim into unconsciousness with my bare hands was not the way I wanted to leave Newhaven.” She laughed slightly. “But then, what other kind of impression can the Black leave behind?”

She glanced over and Jake and shook her head. “I have to admit Jake, I was wondering if you would come back. It’s not as if I can offer you what you signed on for this time around.” She raised one eyebrow. “That is, if you’re not just here as the bearer of good news. Either way, I need to know what you can tell me about that prison you were in. Sham couldn’t tell me much beyond how many ways she thought up to kill somebody with a pot of water.”

Jake didn't mask his relief at the fact Mageria was already aware that Grim was alive. He didn't bother with asking how that was possible; he wasn't quite sure if he'd be able to handle any more complicated stories than absolutely necessary, and he felt this story would be a unnecessarily complicated one. Sitting next to Mageria, and letting himself relax for a moment he sighed. "Well, the healers have him at the moment. He got into a fight with some Wolves it seems and they poisoned him, they say a young woman he was with didn't make it, maybe you know her? Either way, Annie's with him and I'm certain he made it to her in time, so... He'll recover, but I thought you should know." Jake went silent for a moment, absently pulling a little golden dagger from the inside of his boot and looking it over as if there was something written on it with invisible ink. "Why wouldn't I come back?" He asked, looking from the blade to Mageria with a sincerely surprised look. "I know I haven't been the most... Uh... Consistent... Guy to ever join the Blacks, but it's not like I'd just up and vanish... Again..." He chuckled. "Okay, I see why you'd think that. Don't worry though, I think this is still exactly what I signed on for. I might have some personal things on my to-do list, but I plan on staying nonetheless."

Jake put away his dagger, and scratched the back of his head as he thought about his time in the underground prison. "That place is..." He paused and heaved a sigh. "Frightening. Not that it's a bad place to be, it's not, and I guess that is what's frightening about it. In a few words: The place is a heavily secured... Labyrinth. After a month I still often got lost down there and I couldn't recall exactly all of the one hundred steps in our escape plan if I tried. Overall, it's a much cleaner, more peaceful, safer city than Blackpond ever was. People don't want to leave because they have everything they could possibly need or want down there and their appreciation towards that... Lamya woman is... They worship her. Most of them believe they are following her to dethrone Rick and restore Blackpond to its former glory and they won't hear otherwise, but even the few who don't buy that will pretty much do anything just so they get to stay there where it's safe. That woman has an army down there, and there is no actual way to know what she really plans on doing with it, because there's just no way to read her... She'll tell ten or twenty different stories and you'll never know which of it is true. And I think the simple fact she locked me up there instead of killing me proves she's just insane." He shuddered slightly, trying to shake off the eerie feeling creeping up his spine at the thought of her. "Anyway... I spoke with the City Commander while I was there, she told me her name was Rita, but wouldn't give a last name. She is someone who could one day pose as an ally maybe. She was close to Hastings, she's still genuinely distraught by how he died and she despises the King. She mentioned that... This according to Lamya... There is someone else behind the king and the assassins, calling all the shots in Blackpond, and that this individual would be the person to go after. Whether that's true or not... I really want to get rid of Rick. Something in the little time I was face to face with the man tells me he's going to cause me trouble soon. That's why I..." He sighed. "That's why I went to the desert looking for Crys... I might have let something slip to that telepath guy and... She wasn't there though." He paused for a moment, fixing his stare at the waters as he thought, finally an amused chuckle escaped him. "So, you killed Morgan, huh?"

Mageria was silent for most of Jake’s story, simply cataloging away information as he brought it up. This Rita woman, she might be useful as an ally in the future, that was true. She’d have to have a couple of people looking out for her, maybe move in to make contact at some point. Something to thing about, anyways. Either way, that Lamya woman needed to be taken care of. An insane opponent was far more dangerous than a sane one, because you could never predict what an insane person would do next.

“There’s a woman I need you to talk to later, by the way. She’s got a son being raised somewhere in Blackpond, whose father might be in jail. We’re trying to track them down. I don’t have all the particulars, but she might be able to give you more information. And you just missed Crys, I think. She and a friend of her’s were here a day or so ago, but I think that they left. I’m not sure where they went, sorry.”

She sighed heavily and rubbed her forehead, face twisting in a remembered pain. “Yes. I was the one who killed Morgan. It’s . . . . not something I care to dwell on. Evil as he was, he was still my commanding officer. I still broke my oath to him and Newhaven when I killed him. And I drug the rest of you down with me when I fell.” She shifted slightly. “Honestly though, I’m surprised it stayed quiet as long as it did. I expected to pay for my sins a long time ago.”

Jake nodded quietly when Mageria said she ask him to talk to a woman about finding her kid. "Sure... I'll be glad to help with that. I think that if she can give me the name of the father or something else to go on I might be able to come up with something. Where can I find her?" He asked simply, raising an eyebrow to know Crys had just been there. "Oh... Crys was just here?" He mumbled, frowning as he thought for a moment. "Wonder if I keep missing her by accident or if she can tell I'm coming. I don't put it past her." He scratched his head with a little sigh. "It's alright I suppose... I'll find a way to catch up with her some place. Valcrest is tiny after all."

Jake sighed, taking in Mageria's words on Morgan's death. "Well, Captain... I'd say that...There are far worse sins and more shameful ways to fall than ridding the world of a murderer, but I might not be the most impartial in this case when said murderer killed someone I knew." He stated with a small shrug of his shoulders. "I was also brought up to believe that a person's character shouldn't be judged by what lines they cross as much as by why they cross them." He smiled rather softly and added. "That, and 'always trust your gut'." He paused for a second, letting his gaze wander around for a bit before a slightly curious expression crossed his features and he turned his eyes back to her. "Out of curiosity though... How... Did this information get out... Exactly...?"

Mageria shrugged. "I'm not sure about the exact chain of events. But one of my enemies saw me doing something that they didn't like and so they sent some information to the Council. There had been a third party present there when I killed Morgan, and they told someone else. I've made a lot of enemies over the years, one of them found the information useful. Then they used that information at a moment when the Council wanted to get rid of me. A lot of them never really forgave me for forcing them to let me take care of the children of my Guard."
Idly, she scratched the back of her neck. She knew damn well that taking Jake on and dealing with the rest of the Wolves that were with the Crimsons in the desert was what had triggered the incident; she also knew that if she let on to Jake what had happened, he'd go off on a rampage. She wasn't about to give him the fuel for that particular fire.
"It was particularly stupid of whoever it was, really. That was the only bit of leverage that they might have had and now it's gone."

With that she got up, brushing off her coat and twisting slightly. She held out a hand to Jake and smiled a little bit. "Come on. There's something to be said for knowing that the one thing you've worried about has come true and the world hasn't exactly ended. We've been doing a lot around here, even got a few new recruits. I'll show you around."

Jake chuckled "Well, I think it was Lena who told me that the more politicians hate you, the more you know you must be doing something right." His smile momentarily faltered as he needed to remind himself once again that Lena was gone, but it never faded completely. He knew Mageria probably had more knowledge on how the information reached the council than she was willing to tell him, but he also knew that persisting on the matter would just be pointless. Getting up on his feet Jake gave the woman a slightly suspicious, yet amused, look. "This isn't another excuse to drag me to a spar, is it? Because I'm still getting complaints from the guys who bet on me last time. And speaking of new recruits... Did the kids I sent over manage to spend the day without causing trouble?"

Mageria huffed a laugh. "Why yes they did. They were very polite actually, once you ignored the flirting. Right now I think they're sleeping somewhere, but all in all they didn't cause any trouble. I expect that to change soon, just because they're in a different environment." She started down the path toward the center of camp, frost covered leaves crunching under her feet. After only a few feet, she stopped, leaning against a tree. "One thing though, I'm starting to hear rumors about children in Blackpond being stolen and put into some sort of slavery ring. Have you ever heard anything about that, either when you grew up there or when you were in prison?" She rubbed her nose a bit. "I have to say, if we get any solid information about it, I'm going to have to move on it. It's just something that needs to be taken care of." The flat tone of her voice left no doubt to what she would do when the time came.

Jake snickered softly as he followed Mageria down the path. "Only flirting? Why that's a lot more politeness than I expected from Irvin, I thought that Sham would've had to break some of his fingers on the way here." He stated, shaking his head in amusement. "He'll go back to normal soon." He snickered softly under his breath. His amusement faded though as Mageria mentioned disappearing children and a slavery ring; something twisting inside his stomach, the feeling extending to his expression and he suddenly appeared as if he'd been forced to swallow something bitter. "I've heard things about child slavery... When I was a kid..." He sighed. "My sister tried to keep me from hearing it, but I know this was somewhat of a constant subject of arguing between her and my father, and with our godfather once he died... Jesse wasn't fond of people telling her that there's nothing that can be done, even if she often said the same to me. But the truth was still that the City Guard had no intention nor means to out an end to the whole thing. I never heard anything about children missing from the city though, that's something I've only heard of recently although it seems to be going on for much longer than that in minor scales, he White Shadows have mentions of child disappearances in their records that go as far as twenty years back; but nothing substantial there either. Only that some kids turned up dead at the time, and then it stopped altogether..." All the while he spoke Jake fiddled with the locket around his neck, a bittersweet smile slowly crossing his features as he went silent, fading soon after. "Most recent word I had was last year, before I went back to Newhaven. I didn't manage to find out much though, I couldn't even find anyone who actually had a child in their own family go missing, only rumors here and there." Jake nodded quietly. "Have you heard something I haven't? Either way, I'll see if I can find out more. I do want to see an end to this."

Mageria sighed heavily. "One of the men you sent me, he apparently had some family connections that he believes might link up with such a thing. There's a journal that I'm decoding, might have some information in it. Either way, it seems to be a far larger operation that anyone outside of it knows about. I get the feeling that this is going to be just the chill breeze that precedes a storm." Her face was troubled for a moment, before she snorted softly. "And Krander used to tell me that I worry too much, that I need to let things happen as they will. But this is one thing that I'm not going to let go. Children shouldn't have to be afraid to live their lives, their parents shouldn't have to worry about them disappearing. We'll find out what's going on. And we'll make sure those bastards regret whatever it is that they're doing."

She started walking back towards the camp and looked over her shoulder, a dark smile crossing her face. "You might want to run a few drills though. Things are going to get interesting and you'll want to be in top shape."

Jake chuckled softly under his breath, nodding his agreement to Mageria’s words. “Twins forbid I miss the interesting part.” He whispered to himself, realizing that his ideas of staying out of trouble had gone out the window in some moment of that conversation... But then who was he trying to fool with that anyway?

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[The Manor]

Luke awoke next morning to the sound of a familiar humming; the same melody he’d hummed the night before. He groaned and rolled over on his stomach to try and get more sleep before he realized that the voice not only seemed to be humming softly in his ear; it actually was, and he wasn’t dreaming. His eyes snapped open and he planted his palms on the soft mattress to push himself up, but a warm hand on his back stopped him half movement.
“Easy now, love. You don’t want to kick the sheets away, I might see something.” Sam’s voice told him, her breath warm in his ear… Was she lying next to him? How long had she been there?
“Sammy… What are you…? This isn’t… I’m not…” He mumbled.
She giggled softly. “You’re adorable.” She stated, one finger slowly tracing the lines of the tattoo-like scarring on his shoulder. “You’re not decent, that’s what you were going to say? Lukey… When are you ever decent?” She taunted. “I only just got here, and I’ve seen nothing, don’t you worry about that. You were taking forever to wake up, however, and my time is rather scarce.” Her weight disappeared from the bed in an instant, and Luke was surprised to find her absence rather cold. “I’ll wait outside while you make yourself…” She giggled. “Presentable. Hurry up though, I have much to explain.”

Luckas waited for the sound of the door closing before pushing himself off the bed and finding his clothes were clean, dry, and folded on top of a chair; not how or where he had left them, and he quickly made a mental note to never, ever, sleep without them again, no matter how damp or dirty they got. He also found that his boots had been replaced with new ones, but that didn’t seem to surprise him as much as it should; it was a lesser invasion all things considered. As he stepped out of the room to the hall, Sam was standing there. This time she wore no cloak, but a plain green dress, simple as something one would wear in the comfort of their home, her long jet black hair falling loose past her shoulders, a warm smile on her face… Luke had to shake his head a couple of times to bring himself back to reality and remember what he was doing there in the first place. “I’m sure I locked my door.” He said, frowning at her.
“It’s my house.” She replied simply. “I have all the keys.”
“That’s comforting.” He muttered.
“You were sleeping late.” She shrugged, beginning to walk down the hall. “Follow me.”
“Where to?” He asked, beginning to walk after her.
“We’re going to my room.” She replied. “I have something I’d like to show you; something personal of mine.” She said.
“Oh…” Luke mumbled, not sure what that meant exactly. “I thought you were going to explain things to me.”
Sam looked back at him from over her shoulder. “I am, why? What else did you expect to do in my room, Luckas?”
Luckas scratched the back of his head and chuckled. “That’s not what I meant…” He mumbled. “I mean I thought we were going to the library.”
“Bad Lukey.” She snickered softly. “Business before pleasure, hun… And no. I have a little bit of personal history to share with you. I don’t keep those in the library” She stated a bit more seriously. “I’m assuming Ezekiel explained, to a certain point, what the Order is and what we do, yes?”
“Yes.” Luckas answered.
“However, he didn’t quite explain why exactly, right?”
“No, that he didn’t.” Luckas replied, stopping beside her as they entered the room.
“That’s because I asked him not to. Wanted to do that myself.” She replied.

Sam’s room was on the opposite of the Estate; on a whole different wing from the one the Branded and ‘pure’ Prospects were allowed to live. It was a very large room that was divided into a common area; where there was a square wooden table with chairs and two other, comfy, chairs near a fireplace, a study; where there was a desk, writing supplies and two shelves crammed with books that took up one entire wall each. The third area, Luke imagined were the sleeping quarters, since the area of the room was concealed behind dark blue drapes. Sam motioned toward one of the comfy chairs by the fireplace and he took a seat while she walked to the office and got a book from her desk drawer. She then sat in front of him and opened the book in her lap. “This is my family history, per se.” She stated. “Most of it is just journals and other documents that are rather boring, not to mention personal, but this…” She flipped the pages until she found a loose letter amongst them, which she then placed in his hands. “This is a piece of Valcrest Myth that has been erased from most mythology books and forgotten by the population thousands of years ago.” She explained. “This is the beginning of my story so, please, go ahead and read it.”

Luckas looked at the folded paper in his hands, it seemed very old and as he unfolded it he found a handwritten Mythology story he had never seen or heard before, which slightly surprised him since, in his time with White Shadows, he thought he’d read and heard them all.

Terra

Mother and Father didn’t like the way that the Twins had gotten themselves involved into the human’s lives. The different conflicts between every human weren’t something that Mother and Father liked seeing them get involved in. The Twins were sent to Valcrest to give guidance to the people and nothing more. They didn’t physically involve themselves and never use their enlightenments to the human’s benefit. It just happened way to often so Mother and Father finally had enough.
They decided that the only way to stop the Twins from ever being involved was to make them break the rule that had been told to them when they were sent to Valcrest. They were not to have any children with anyone but another Twin. This rule was the only way to properly remove the Twins from Valcrest without creating imbalance to what had already been created.

The only way that they would ever be able to make them break the rule, which the Twins were so vigilant to keep true to was to create a being that would be irresistible to even a god.
Mother and Father conceived another child. She was one being far different than any that had come before her. She didn’t have a twin, nor did she appear to be like a god. She didn’t carry with her any of the distinct features of any of her other brothers or sisters. The only thing that was special to her was her red hair, which no other human or god in Valcrest possessed. With no other real distinction, she looked like any of the other humans. She was even given a human name: Terra and she was made almost completely irresistible to the eye of any man. She was made to be sought after by anyone who saw her. The most desirable of people whose name would quickly travel, even to the most remote of places in Valcrest.

Emerging from the waters she came into the land. The wolves were the first to see her arrival. From there she traveled across from city to city with a mission. She was to find the most stunningly handsome of men in Valcrest. Only he was fit to have a child with Terra. She went to every city, thrice before she could find the right suitor. By this point the word had reached even the deepest crevices of the most beautiful of woman looking for a man. Duels were fought and many died, but not even a duel could settle it as she found a man more handsome than them all. Duncan, a fair noble man from Blackhurst found his way to Terra on the day of her third visit to the city. Not only was this man a handsome one, but he was also had great integrity and honor. He was the true gentleman’s man.
When the word finally got to the Twins, they were relentless to find her, but neither Duncan nor Terra wanted to be found. The two hid themselves in Blackhurst in places they believed that not even the Gods could find. For Terra, a war erupted between all of the Twins and Valcrest was torn apart as they searched.
Eventually, the most sinister found them. Greedy Life had searched Blackhurst for days looking for her. He was the only of the Twins clever enough to avoid the war between the Twins and instead slither past unscathed.

With the rest of the Twins out battling each other and the only thing in his way being the noble Duncan, Life concocted a dastardly plan to win the love of Terra. Life challenged Duncan to a duel. The winner would receive the love of the desired Terra. Duncan, unaware that the man who challenged him wasn’t a man at all accepted the challenge out of honor.
Duncan was the better dueler, but every cut of the blade that he made on Life was quickly recovered as Life could never die. Even when Duncan took the stab right to Life’s heart, Life simply smiled and stabbed Duncan back, leaving Terra’s suitor dead on the sandstone floor.
Terra abided by the rule however. She didn’t complain or even mourn as she hadn’t been created to truly love anyone. She held onto whoever was best fitted and because Life won the battle, he stole away human’s chance of gaining the powers of enlightenment strait from the source. Her giving abilities would have to be done through Life.
Not much more than a year later, Terra had her first and only child. Mother and Father got what they wanted and the Twins planted their enlightened seed amongst the humans. In the meantime as the chaos of the Twins’ loss of power over Valcrest occurred, Life and Terra raised their son.

When her son was old enough to take care of himself, Terra, still with the same immense beauty as she did so many years ago decided that she had enough of what Valcrest had to offer. She wanted to see new lands. She headed South to what is now a land called Terra. Many humans who praised her like a god for giving them the enlightenment followed her into those lands, but after passing the mountains all enlightenments seemed to stop working. When they realized they couldn’t use their enlightenment anymore, some of them left her, while others stayed with her to colonize the new land of Terra.

It is believed that Terra never had another child. She lived the rest of her life dedicated to the man she had a child with, even if he was an evil man. Although she never saw the man again, she kept true to the arrangement made out on the day of that duel.



Luckas finished reading and was unable to speak; he simply looked up at Sam with inquiring eyes as he folded the paper again and returned it to her, watching as she carefully and lovingly returned it to the book.

“It’s surprising, huh?” She asked, in a small whisper, looking as if she had shown him a page of her personal diary. “It contradicts the part of the Origin Myth that speaks of how Enlightenment came to be. Mother and Father set a trap for the Children, because they were losing themselves in the Human Realm, getting too involved.” She smiled sweetly holding the book close to her chest and heaving a sigh. This Myth, the somewhat ‘official’ version you just read, states that Terra never had another child. Not even after leaving Valcrest. However, there are others who see things differently than what is written here.”

“By others you mean the Order?” Luckas asked, leaning back in his seat.

“The Order came later, I’m talking about my family and how we came to be.” She told him. “See, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, my forefathers came to Valcrest from the Southern Land of Terra. Not too long after their arrival, they were surprised to discover their youngest child to have an unusual ability: The ability to grant Gifts to others. They sought the Blackhurst Elders for their opinion, but the Scholars were unable to explain how the seventeen year old outsider suddenly gained an Enlightened gift. The named it an anomaly, but the family never gave up on finding an explanation, and after extensive searching they came across this piece of Myth. From it, they concluded that, despite it stating otherwise, Terra must have had other children in the South, and that we descended from her. From that, they also came up with other theories, and one of them was that Terra was sent not only to take the Twins back to the Afterlife, but she was also sent to choose humans worthy of being granted the gift of magic, to protect the Land once the Twins were gone. It was never Mother and Father’s plan that all the Twins broke their rule; it existed for a reason. Instead they sent her to choose the ones best suited to bear the magical gift. It was all very calculated… Only it failed when Life challenged Duncan and killed him. Yes, now Mother and Father could take the Twins home, but the Order they had planned to leave in Valcrest, the balance, was shattered in the moment the Twins spread their seed throughout the Land. Humanity was not prepared for such a Gift, and the Gods were soon forced abandon them; leaving them to cope with the gifts of magic on their own.”

“The Order…” Luckas mumbled under his breath. “You are saying we exist to right the wrongs of the Gods? That’s just a little arrogant, huh?” He didn’t know if it was less or more offensive to play that out as a joke, so he simply raised an eyebrow.
Sam chuckled. “It is arrogant. You don’t know the half of it.” Her tone was slightly bitter as she spoke. “See, my… Followers, seem to believe that not only I descend from Terra, but that I am her.”
“They think you are the reincarnation of a Goddess?” Luckas tried, but couldn’t help a slight tone of laughter in his voice.
“I am the only female to ever be born with this Gift, and from the moment of my awakening, I have been different. Despite the fact that, for what Legend tells, I physically resemble her in nothing… Yes, that led some people, starting with my father, to believe I am the Goddess herself. It all started with you and Matthew, in fact. My father had systematically failed to imprint children. All his attempts led to failures, until he had me do it for him. Not only children, but we have horses so fast in our stables that you would travel from Blackpond to the Desert in a matter of minutes in one and not even tire the animal. All of which my father could not do, nor could anyone born with the Gift before him. I was unaware of this, until that day I was caught in the basement and my father decided my life was bad for his health.”

“You... You said that memory was fabricated…” Luckas muttered, his eyes narrowing slightly.
“No, love. I said the memory of my death was fabricated. I was severely punished for my rule breaking. I thought I was going to die, but no. That’s when I overheard one of my father’s advisers warn him that taking my life would anger the creators, that I was a part of their design and all sorts of things. My father surrendered to his reasoning, but I knew he wouldn’t hesitate again. I decided I should take matters into my own hands. I slowly began to turn the brotherhood against my father, and the next time he tried to lift a hand in my presence, they killed him without thought. That was five years ago.” She smiled. “I’m no fool, Luckas, as to blindly believe that I am a Goddess, whether that assumption is true, or simply convenient, is up to the Gods to know, but as I said: I believe in the cause. Valcrest has been troubled for too long because of the hypocritical and selfish acts of infants put on this Earth with no understanding of how fragile it truly was. Their presence, and those tainted by their blood, should be wiped from this plain of existence.”

“You are talking about the Twins?” Luckas asked. “I never believed all that much in the Gods, but… Of all the Myths I’ve seen… Of all the crazy interpretations… This is by a far the craziest.”
Sam snickered, although her eyes made clear she had taken a slight offense. “Is it, now?” She asked. “Don’t your beloved Healers believe their Leader to be sent by their Goddess to aid them? Maybe that is crazy as well, but is it a coincidence then that every Spiritual Healer ever known was born in Blackhurst or within the clan of the White Shadows? The first King of Blackhurst was known to be one; a true descendant of Peace herself, some claim. Is it a coincidence that the assassins foolishly believe Wolves to be able to communicate with Heart even in the Afterlife and they are not found anywhere else in the Land, but their forest? Perhaps, that’s just coincidental as well. There are many, many, other examples, but I think you see the point I’m trying to make. Is it also a coincidence that the only one of the Twins’ children who wasn’t consumed by his power was the son of Terra and Life?” She asked. “All the others were corrupted by their Enlightenments and terrorized the humans.” She smiled. “If you think about it like this, tell me: Doesn’t it make at least a bit of sense?”
“I suppose it does.” Luckas admitted, with a rather confused expression on his face. “But... What about all the chaos that wiping out all Enlightenment would cause, it means... Mass murder, Sam, and people tend to respond terribly to things like that. How is that supposed to salve Valcrest?”
“Well, Luckas... Sometimes things are beyond salvation... Sometimes, the only way is to burn it all down and rebuild. So yes; there will be chaos, and people will revolt... Valcrest will fall. There is one thing though, one very important thing, about the human race that you seem to overlook; it always survives... It feeds on illusions, it sees hope where there is none and just keeps moving forward by will alone. So in time, people will forget. They will erase the ugly from their minds and replace it with their hopes and dreams... Valcrest will be born again from those hopes and dreams and stand proud and beautiful, in a way it has only been described in legends. It is likely no one in this lifetime will get to see it, but this land will be everything it was meant to be and more. I believe in that.”

“Sammy, you... You are enlightened, right? Wouldn’t ending all of those who descend from the Gods also mean...”
“That I should die myself?” Sam finished his thought with a little smirk. “It is unclear, if the goal of the Order also applies to its Masters... It is... A subject of fierce discussion amongst the Brotherhood for centuries, with no actual conclusions drawn, only opinions here and there and those opinions have differed greatly from one another, depending on who was in command of the Order in that moment in time... Some Masters, my father obviously one of them, believed they were an exception to all the rules. I personally see things a bit different, I think... It is a great possibility, and it would be an honorable Death if there ever was one.”
“You’re not afraid to die?” Luckas asked, smiling at her with a bit of admiration in his tone.
“Luckas... One thing in this world we can all be sure of: Everyone will die. We are all going to die one way or another. Why fear the only thing that’s certain? I personally find the thought of Death comforting.”
“You’ve already told me this once...” He chuckled. “Haven’t you?”
She smiled brightly at him and nodded. “Yes, I have... That was a long time ago though. I wouldn’t expect you to remember even without any outside interference. You were so little back then...” She paused, simply letting her eyes examine the young man before her, still smiling cheerfully. “It’s almost unbelievable to see you here. For a moment, I think, I almost gave up the thought, but... Here you are.” She sighed softly, averting her eyes as she realized she’d been staring for a bit too long. “I know, and I’ve said this, you may not understand... Truth of the matter is that you and Matthew were the closest I’ve had to family; pathetic as it may sound. I think that, all things considered, if it weren’t for that I wouldn’t have survived... I wouldn’t have the strength to face him...”
“And we would both be dead right now.” Luckas stated, staring into the woman’s green eyes and finding amusement in the fact he had never actually spoke to her in those few years of childhood they shared.
“Exactly. Funny isn’t it? In a way we saved each other.” She stated, leaning back in her seat and leaning her head back to stare at the ceiling. “So, what else do you remember?”

“I remember the song... You used to hum it... And the pictures on the walls... And I remember you told me you had a brother, but you never said what happened to him.”
“My brother...” Sam heaved a small sigh and stood from her seat, wandering towards to office to put the book away. As she went through her desk, apparently for the sake of keeping busy, she replied. “He turned twelve and didn’t show sign of being a Gift bearer… Dad killed him.”
“What about your mother?” He asked.
“I don’t know. My father never spoke of her, he was horribly mad whenever I asked… One day I stopped asking.” She answered walking back slowly to sit before him by the fireplace. She went silent after a while, watching him intently as if trying to find out what he was thinking. “I wish I knew a better way to make you understand things…” She mumbled. “I know I sound like some lunatic raving about fixing the world and purging the Land, but… I do believe it’s for the best.”

Luckas sighed. “Well, I’m not sure what I believe right now, Sam.” He rubbed his eyes, still exhausted from the night before. “Suppose that doesn’t make me the best of followers, huh?”
“Can you believe that I am your friend and that I will never betray you? That’s all I ask you to believe right now. I have enough followers; I don’t need that from you.” She leaned forward and reached for his hand. “I know I promised to take care of you and, for the most part, I failed, but I won’t leave you again.”
Luckas winced slightly at the words, and stood up turning away from her. “Don’t…” He silenced shaking his head in anger.
Sam stood up as well and paced slowly after him, she rested her hands on his shoulders and whispered. “Don’t, what? What’s the matter, Luke?”
“You know... I could have stopped them. I WANTED to stop them, but I didn’t… I just let them hurt you. I could have done something. I should have protected you… I could have!.”
Sam sighed softly. “Luckas… You didn’t know that. You were a child. You were a small child and there was nothing you could have done for me. I would never have asked that of you… You…” She paused for a moment or two before finishing the sentence in a whisper. “You were innocent.”
Luckas laughed at the words. “Innocent.”
“You were innocent... Everyone was innocent once, love.” Sam stated simply, her tone was gentle as if she still spoke to a child now. As if nothing had changed. “We do what we must to survive, Luckas. I don’t hold it against you; I’m glad you survived. I’m glad you are here, despite your reasons.”

Luckas sighed, turning to face Sam and slowly walking past her and back to his chair. He sat and ran both hands over his eyes wearily. “My reasons.” He repeated, a bitter laugh escaping him. “I don’t even know what that means anymore.”
“I understand, and I wouldn’t blame you for hating me, or even wanting me dead, if it is the case…”
“No.” Luke replied quickly. “I don’t want you dead.” He sighed, looking down at his hands. “Not now at least.”
“Okay. That’s good to know.” She replied simply. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t know.” Luke mumbled, idly rubbing his temples as he felt a headache beginning to form itself. “Think I need to get some air, are we through?”
“No, we’re not, but you can go.” Sam replied.

Luckas left the room without another word, feeling a bit of relief as he found himself out of Sam’s sight. Things had gotten a little more personal than he would like; way too personal considering what he had gone there to do. Sam’s logic was sound to him, but sound as it was; Luckas honestly didn’t care about what the Gods did or didn’t do, and he certainly didn’t care about the fate of the Land. All things considered he could probably find it amusing to watch Valcrest burn, wasn’t for couple of little, previously insignificant, details; such as the fact he gave Lena his word. Stupid little details... Stupid little promises...

With all of that on his mind, Luckas didn’t really look, or mind where he was going, so when he finally bothered to look around it surprised him to a point that he was heading towards the courtyard with no recollection of ever intending to go there. Shrugging it off he kept walking until he saw movement and absently headed towards it, the sight of a woman standing at the gate doors becoming more clear as he let his attention fall on her and noticing right away that whoever she was, she didn’t belong. “Oh, lovely, another redhead... No way that can go wrong, right?” He snickered under his breath, realizing that whoever the woman was, she was somewhat blocking his path. “Hey you.” He called. “Are you trying to open that with your mind or something?” He asked, slipping his hands into his pockets as he stopped to stand next to her, facing the gate himself and tilting his head. “It’s a pretty gate, but I’ve seen prettier ones...” He mused. “So what are we waiting for?”

The setting changes from valcrest to Blackpond

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson' Character Portrait: Alina "Suferinta" Mare Character Portrait: Alisa "Temeti" Mare

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“You sure ask many questions, sweetie, but it’s very inelegant to answer a question with another question.”

Luckas tilted his head in amusement at the woman’s response, as well as her little discussion with her sister. “I don’t see where I answered you question with a question. ‘We are passing through’ was my answer to your extremely vague question. That was clearly an affirmation and not a question. My question was something separate from my answer in an attempt to continue this conversation, although... If this simple interaction has you confused I should ask myself if it’s worth the trouble. Are you not used to conversation? If that’s the case, I wonder... What are you used to?” He chuckled. “And the weak woman act would not by any means work on me, even if you could pull it off. See... I’m not the type of man drawn to the damsel in distress stereotype.” He paused, glancing up at the woman on the horse curiously, a grin spreading across his face. “I’m also not the type of man you’d like to try and play that way. A predator knows a predator, have you ever heard that? It’s in the eyes, and yours are delightfully dark.” He turned back to the woman who had spoken to him in the first place, finding amusement in speaking with two pretty much identical people. “Do you know what people say of black eyes?” Not waiting for a reply, he shrugged and continued. “If you are not fond of people trying to mess with you, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong city.” He stated, glancing at Amber as she still whispered to the fallen man and raising an eyebrow.

Amber had been entertained with the fallen man, being friendly and slowly gaining his trust. The man was freaked and he really just wanted to get out of there, but for whatever reason couldn’t run off. It was ridiculous how trusting he was after what (whatever it was) had just happened to him, it was somewhat pathetic. Lovely.

She kept her ears in the conversation, smirking at Luckas’ silly replies. She stood when she felt she was being spoke to, holding back laughter when she felt the man cling to the leg of her pants, holding back the urge to kick him. She’d been asked to introduce herself and without skipping a beat she decided for the very first name that crossed her. Her usual behavior contained in a small polite nod of her head. “I’m sorry, how rude of me not to introduce myself.” She stated, glaring at Luckas as if mentally scolding him for the exact same rudeness. “I’m Wyatt, Miss... At your service... And I’m afraid that’s my one and only name as well.” She opened a very convincing apologetic smile. "It is surely lovely to meet you in this fine day."

*****************************************************

[Raven’s Nest]

Jake was looking for a spot to settle and maybe take a rest from his sleepless night of travel, wandering around aimlessly and looking for a good spot to maybe set up a little camp, if he could get his hands on a tent. If he found a good enough spot, maybe he’d even build something more concrete...More like a home.

Distracted with these thought Jake didn’t realize he wasn’t quite as alone as he thought it was; something that only became apparent to him when he walked under a tree and felt something heavy fall onto him, knocking him to the ground, face down. The ‘something’ turned out to be a person, as Jake felt the very unmistakable sensation of knee pressed against his lower back as well as a forearm pressing the back of his neck.

“Hello there, stranger!” A voice greeted him, a bit of sarcasm hiding underneath its cheerfulness.

Jake groaned as he recognized his attacker’s voice. “Nice to see you too, Ali... Can you please get off me now? You gained some weight I see.”
“You shouldn’t be rude to a lady when she’s got a knee at the base of your spine, Jake.” Ali retorted in a fake annoyed tone.
“Should take it as a compliment, if you lost any weight I’m pretty sure you’d vanish.”
“Nice save.” She laughed. “I’m still mad at you though!” She exclaimed, rolling off of Jake’s back and jumping to her feet before he even managed to pull himself onto his knees.

As Jake stood up and turned to face Allison he caught a clear look of concern on her face. “What?” He asked, scratching his head.
“You’re slow, and you look like crap... Are you alright, Jake?” She asked, reaching for his arm.
“I’m just a bit tired, but I’m fine. I’ll look better in a day or so, you’ll see.”
“Mhm...” She mumbled, giving him a look of sheer disbelief. “Have you eaten yet today?”
“Well, no... But I...”
“Shut up, come with me. I’ve got some oatmeal left... And we’ve got some catching up to do.” She said, pulling him by the arm through a narrow path amongst the trees that led to where she had set up camp.
“You cooked oatmeal?” Jake asked, seeming somewhat surprised by the fact. “How did you light the fire?”
Ali chuckled. “Why you sound so shocked? Gee... I can light a fire....” She started, giving a little shrug. “If I really, really, have to.”
Jake raised an eyebrow at her. “Really?”
“Nope, still traumatized. I asked one of the guys in camp to do it for me...” She admitted. “They’re so very nice, aren’t they?”
Jake chuckled. “I almost believed you there.”
“Yes, well, if you haven’t been away for so long, you’d know the truth.” She scolded as they stopped before a small tent, its colors mimicking the greens and browns of the forest considerably well and almost blending in with the forest entirely. Jake shot a rather amused glance to a small fire pit still lit from breakfast. “So you’re just going to keep asking the grown ups to make fire for you?”
“Until Crys gets back... Yup. That’s my plan.” She replied simply, motioning to a little wooden stool by the fire. “Sit.”
Jake took a seat and smiled softly, pointing at the piece of furniture. “You made this?”
“Mhm... What you think of it?” She asked, going into the tent and picking up a small pot with the leftover oatmeal and reluctantly placing it over the fire to heat. “I said I’d help with making some beds and chairs and such... Apparently the ones they made weren’t quite solid.” She explained with a bit of laughter in her tone.
“I like this. It’s nice and solid, and you’ve gotten much better at this.” He replied. “And hey, I can light your fire for you until Crys gets back.”
“Oh... And by that statement I should assume you’ll actually be here to do that, right?” Ali asked, raising an eyebrow at her friend in order to express her skepticism.
Jake chuckled, shifting awkwardly in his seat. “That’s the plan, at least.” He replied.
“Mhm...” Ali mumbled, pouring the heated oatmeal into a bowl and handing it over to him before taking a seat on another stool. “Crys said she’d be back in a day or two, by the way. I know you’re dying to ask that.” She said with a smile.
“Is she still very pissed?” Jake asked, wincing at the thought and poking the oatmeal with his spoon.
“Very pissed is one hell of an understatement, Jacob. A few days ago I joked about breaking you out of prison and, well, let’s just say that was the last I mentioned your name.” She gave him a slightly apologetic look. “It won’t be easy to get her to talk to you, if that’s what you’re after.”
Jake sighed, taking a spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth to keep himself from speaking; it was surprisingly tasty considering he had never seen Ali do as much as boil water. It tasted good and he was actually pretty hungry... He hadn’t really realized how much. Looking around the small camp he spotted several tools lying around, broken arrow shaft and different sorts of feathers; most of them black, unlike the usual white feathers she usually used for arrows. Next to tent entrance Jake noticed the longbow leaned against a tree, and it suddenly hit him that Ali wasn’t holding her bow.

“It broke.” Ali stated suddenly, causing Jake to startle slightly and turned his head to see she had been watching him through his silence. “It was an old bow... It was bound to happen somehow, sooner or later.” She turned her gaze to the newly crafted bow and gave a little snort. “I’m still working on making this one... Special somehow... It lacks personality as is. It’s the first time in ever that I’ve used a weapon fitted to my size though... I never quite reached my brother’s stature, for whatever reason... Go figure...” She chuckled. “Now I’m forced to use a proper weapon, how dull.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, I know you loved that bow.” Jake mumbled, scooping the rest of the oatmeal from the bowl. “Must not have been easy to dispose of it.”
“Easier than I expected, actually.” Ali replied with a small sigh. “Things have been strange, Jake... I can’t quite put my finger on why and how, but they are. Things are changing, people are changing and not always in a good way, and I feel somewhat... Lost, at the moment.” She let out an awkward laugh and shook her head. “I’m sorry, that was random... I just...”
“I know what you mean. I do.” Jake replied, leaning into his knees and staring that the empty bowl in his hands. “You know about Lena...?”
“I do. That’s one of the things I need to talk to you about... The last time I saw her, why we left the desert... My past...”

Jake simply nodded, setting his bowl aside and putting his attention on his friend as she started to tell him about all the things said and done in the past few months. Some things Jake already knew, but he didn’t say anything, not a word, and just let her speak; he felt that she needed to speak a lot more than he needed to listen. As the time passed he rested his head on his hands and closed his eyes, but still didn’t miss a word of what Ali was saying. As she talked to him about her mother’s journal he swore he heard her choke on her words here and there, but didn’t look to see if she was in fact crying only lifting his head when she was done talking. Noting the redness in her eyes, he confirmed his suspicions. Sighing softly, he put one arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer in a comforting gesture. “So... Doesn’t this mean that... You’re like Blackhurst royalty and stuff? If your mother was a descendant of one of the King’s children.” He asked.
“Wha-... Shit, it does, doesn’t it?” She chuckled. “Great, Crys will never let me live this down after how I teased her with this Newhaven thing... Twins help me...” She choked on some laughter, and leaned into him. “Oh, boy... Still, I think I might not be the only one... In the back of my mom’s journal there is a list of names, one for each village. I know there are other survivors, so... Maybe there are others.”
Jake laughed a bit with Ali and sighed. “Other journals?”
“That’s my thought. I mean, Lena told me there was some sort of answer here, but maybe, it’s only a piece of it. Maybe there are others and that’s why she couldn’t figure it out.”
“Hmm...” Jake mumbled, going into thought for a second or so, before changing the subject. “So, strange thing happened last night... Isaac had an episode... A really bad one... We had to sedate him. Alistair got a bit burnt, but he’s alright. it’s been a long time since he last lost control, and for what I hear from the others... Never this bad since he joined the Shadows.”
“Poor Isaac, he’s such a sweet guy.” Ali said, shaking her head.
“Oh... I forgot to tell Captain about that... If I recall correctly one of her kids was a firestarter too, I maybe that’d be useful information for her somehow.”
“Jason. He’s the one Xypher attacked at the castle.” Ali informed.
“Right... Jason... How do you know so much about about the people here? You told me you barely got to know anyone.”
“I hear things... I know a lot of names around here of people I haven’t met. Your return was very discussed too, Jake... And it’s only been a few hours. Now I know why Crys finds this place so similar to the Pack camp; news travel just as fast. That’s how I knew you were coming this way.”
“You were waiting on me?” He chuckled.
“A little bit, yes.” She snickered softly and added: “Stealth training.”
“Stea-...” Jake cut himself off with a grin. “Well... Captain seems to think I should train... And if you followed me around so easily I believe she’s right.”
Ali lifted her head from Jake’s shoulder, playfully ruffling his hair as she pulled away from him. “Are you propositioning me, Sir?” She asked, raising an eyebrow at him playfully.
“Why yes, I am, Milady... Or should that be Your Highness now?” Jake teased, unable to hold back laughter at his own words; falling into a small fit when Ali glared at him in anger. “I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t hel-”

Both assassins stopped laughing, jumping to their feet at the same time, Ali pulling a throwing knife and Jake unsheathing his sword, both looking frantically at their surroundings before looking back to each other. “You heard that, right?” Jake muttered.
“Mhm.” Ali replied, nodding. “Something about a ball, in two days. Should we go?”
“I don’t know if I should... I just managed to get out of that place...”Jake muttered.
“So that’d be incredibly foolish, right?” Ali asked.
“Very.”
“Then you’ll go.” She sighed. “We both know you will.”
“Maybe.” Jake frowned, a slightly defiant tone in his voice. “Wouldn’t you go?”
“Eh... I don’t know... Would I have to wear a dress and stuff?... That’d be weird... Where would my knives go?”
“Uh... I...” Jake coughed awkwardly. “Maybe you should ask a woman that, Ali.”
“You’re not supposed to answer that, Jake.” She shook her head. “Was just thinking out loud, is all.”
“Oh good.” He replied, with a smile. “Can we just go train for now, then? It’s in two days... There’s time to think about it later.”
“Sure.” Ali nodded, picking up her bow and quiver and opening a grin. “Ten seconds head start?”
“Take thirty.” Jake chuckled.
“Thirty? Feeling confident, are we?” She snickered. “Alright, I’ll humor you... Thirty it is.” She stated, running of and disappearing amongst the trees.

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

[Wolfpack Camp]

“Alright. Is that all, Alpha?”

Sean sighed softly. The idea of doing what that pathetic woman wanted of him nearly made him physically ill, even if this would hurt Evin. Did he even want to hurt Evin at this point? He poisoned Katie... Yes, Sean wanted to hurt him, even though he was almost sure that if he had taken that contract he would have acted pretty much the same... Or at least he would have murdered that arrogant bitch just for fun... With his bare hands and not some stupid poison...

“Alpha? Alpha? Sean!”

Sean shook his head, snapping out of his fantasies of choking the life out of that ignorant bitch and nodding his agreement. If he could do it his way... He’d take the woman alive, and just use her to get to Evin; he had no reason to actually harm her. However; a hit is a hit and his hands were bound by the contract.
“Why assign so many assassins to kill one woman?” Franklin asked, reading Sean’s notes over his shoulder. “Do you honestly think Bana will be keeping tabs on the woman after all this time?”
“I won’t risk it.” Sean replied simply, not wanting to think any more on this subject. It felt wrong somehow. Was he growing a damn conscience out of nowhere now?

“To all those interested, there will be a Gala Ball in Blackpond Castle within two days. Everyone is welcome.”

Sean jumped up at the sudden strange voice and looked around startled. He was alone in the office with Franklin; the man giving him a concerned look. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” The man inquires, the concern in his eyes increasing.
“Nothing.” Sean mutters, standing from his desk and rubbing his eyes as he walked his way out of the leaders’ cabin; glad that Franklin didn’t follow after him. He sighed, still rubbing his eyes as he walked, half blindly towards the training area, his ears catching the sound of arrows hitting the shooting targets; Sean stopped in his tracks as he came closer and spotted Katelyn there, shooting arrow after arrow without a hint of hesitation, all hitting the center of the target perfectly. Sean couldn’t help but smile at how talented his little sister was. She’d grown up so fast, so strong, and so much better than him... Sean knew that if he was ever proud of anything in his life, it was of how that girl had turned out so different from him. He had the Twins to thank for that, because he certainly had nothing to do with it. With a bit of luck Donovan would grow up as well to be his own man, he was still far from it, but he surely had it in him.

“Brother.” Katie broke the silence, not turning to face him, but walking to retrieve her arrows. “How has your morning been so far?” She asked.
Sean sighed, shaking his head and moving to sit at a log near where Katelyn had stopped to shoot once her quiver was full again. “Exhausting.” He answered. “Tough decisions to be made and such... Boring. You probably don’t want to hear about that.”
Katie smiled softly. “I want to hear it if you need to say it.” She replied, nocking an arrow and drawing her bow. “Isn’t that what you would always tell me?” She asked, releasing the arrow and watching it fly straight into the center of the target.
“I don’t think I can stand to think of it any more, but I appreciate it, sis.” Sean replied with a little shrug. “You’ve gotten really, really, good at this, Katie. I’m amazed.”
“I’m just firing to break in the bow. It’s brand new.”
“Shouldn’t the archer do this?”
She topped shooting and glanced at him before giving a shrug. “It’s for Doni. I’m doing it for him since he’s away at the moment.”
“He’ll be fine, it’s not a difficult task and it’s not an assassination.” Sean stated, reading the expression on his sister’s face.
“If it’s not a big deal then why doesn’t he have backup, and why did he have to leave his ring?”
“I never said it’s not a big deal. It’s a huge deal. And you think I would be crazy to send them without any backup?” He grinned. “I just never told them it was there. I don’t want them being reckless and risking the mission thinking they’ll have a safety net; even if it’s there.”

Katelyn snickered at the revelation. “Oh, Sean Fletcher... Are you being a softy all of a sudden? Are you doing this for Doni or the girl?”
Sean frowned momentarily. “Oh, ha ha...” He muttered. “New Wolves never go truly on their own the first time, for any reason, and you know this. So what are you asking me exactly?”
“I’m asking if you like Ari. I mean she seems nice and very likeable so I could assume so, but you are a grumpy little jerk who tends to dislike people for the oddest reasons, so I’m never sure.”
“She annoys me sometimes, but I suppose I do like her despite that.” Sean replied with a little shrug.
Kate gasped playfully in fake shock. “Oh my... That’s unheard of.” She broke into a giggle. “Well, I’m glad to hear that... Maybe she can be a friend if you don’t snap and suddenly act like a total jerk with her.”
Sean snickered. “Sis... Being a jerk is pretty much all I’ve done since she got here... It’s called ‘training’.” He sighed. “Point taken, however. I might try and be pleasant in the future, maybe, if I’m in a good mood.”
“Good. I’ve been worried for you ever since Indrani...” She sighed. “Are you really going to fight he to the death, or whatever?”
“I don’t want to, but it’s...” Sean sighed wearily. “It’s complicated and I don’t want to think about it now.”
“You’re an idiot, Sean. You should try and talk this out with her. It wasn’t your fault after all.”
Sean shook his head in protest to his sister’s words. “Katie, Indrani has her way of seeing things and through her eyes I betrayed her, and she disgraced herself to trust me. A talk doesn’t fix what’s been broken between us. It’s over.”
Katelyn gave up the thought of shooting any more as she caught Sean’s eyes. Heaving a sigh she returned the arrow she had picked to its place in the quiver and moved to sit by him, rubbing his back as if trying to comfort a child. “How can something so strong shatter so easily?” She asked. “I bet she’ll talk to me. I can find her.”
“It’s just how things are, I’m afraid.” Sean replied, forcing a smile at his sister. “I appreciate it Katie, I really do, but... It’s not safe, and even if she’ll talk to you, she won’t change her mind.”
“I could try, I’ll be safe, I just... I wish I could... Help you.” She sighed. “You are so... You’re stressed, Sean. You’re sad, and weak... Not how I’m used to seeing you. Others might not notice it, but I’ve known you my whole life and you can’t hide it from me. You can’t lie to me.”
Sean smiled softly at his little sister, shaking his head slightly amused although he can’t help but feel moved by her words. “I’m very grateful, little sister.” He said, putting one arm around the girl. “I understand that you want to help me, that you don’t want to see me hurt, but you can’t fix my problems. Alright? I’ll heal... Eventually. It just takes a bit of time, that’s all. You don’t have to take care of me... I’m the older brother.”
Katie chuckled softly, leaning into him in a gentle embrace. “You were always the one to take care of me, but I’m not a child anymore Sean, I can help you now if you need me. It’s okay to need help sometimes.” She paused for a moment then added: “You know I love you, brother; no matter what you do. Don’t forget.”

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

[The Manor]

Sam was watching silently as a couple of servants worked to clean the blood off the courtyard. She was displeased, and very much so, with how this person had been allowed into her home; her cold sharp eyes caused the two young servants to occasionally shiver under her gaze, but she paid them absolutely no mind. After a long moment of silently watching their efforts she broke her silence. “If you can’t make it spotless... Tear it down.” She ordered, her tone void of any emotion whatsoever as she let her gaze move from the servants to the face of the statue, a yellow spark lighting behind the darkness of her green eyes for only a moment as she turned to walk back into the mansion; Ezekiel following her every step, awaiting a command like a giant black puppy eager to please. It was something she was use to now; that man’s presence. Ezekiel had been there, like her living shadow, for almost as long as she could remember... Since her father ordered him to kill her. Oh, how ‘Master’ had underestimated her then. Not only had she convinced the man to spare her, but he had done nothing but protect her since. Fourteen years ago, that was... Amusing how far Time flies and yet nothing changes really.

“To all those interested, there will be a Gala Ball in Blackpond Castle within two days. Everyone is welcome.”

Sam flinched, only slightly, an intrigued look momentarily crossing her eyes, but no other reaction to a sudden voice in her mind. Stopping at the library doors she addressed Zeke in a murmur. “Where is Luckas now?”
Ezekiel snorted as if he was holding back very unpleasant words, but answered immediately and politely nonetheless. “He said he was on his way to the city. Amber accompanied him.”
“Do you honestly think Amber is the best to accompany Luckas... That’s just adding more psycho to the list.” Sam questioned.
“Probably, but I am not allowed to injure the boy physically or mentally, therefore there is little I can impose on him and she is the only one he will accept... Barely.” Ezekiel replied, with a small shrug. “Most likely due to her level of psycho, for her young age... It probably feels to him like he’s the one keeping an eye on her and not the other way around. It’s hilarious how he enjoys thinking he's in charge.”
Sam broke into an amused smile. “I find his naivety rather endearing, but he’ll learn. He was always too damn smart for his own sake. Did he say who attacked him?”
“Refused to. Said he would handle it himself.” Ezekiel replied, rolling his eyes in annoyance.
“He’ll tell me.” She stated simply. “Are Lizzy and Adam on their way?”
“Yes, they departed just an hour ago.” The man replied, staring at the door to the library with a bit of confusion in his eyes. “Milady... Are we skipping training this morning?” He inquired, his tone slightly disappointed, and she could tell.
Sam snickered under her breath. She honestly forgot what time of day it even was with all the commotion, but Ezekiel seemed to be wondering if he’d done something wrong not to get his playtime as usual; neither of them actually bothered with pretending he still had anything to teach her despite still calling the sparring sessions ‘training’. She turned to face him and the look he gave her made the idea of denying him very tempting, but she pushed it back and buried it underneath her amusement. “Apologies, my friend. I think I’ve lost track of my day for a moment. We can do this now or in the afternoon, whichever you prefer.”
“Now.” The man replied promptly with a grin.
“I thought so.” Sam replied smiling wickedly and rushing down the hall away from the library and towards the armory. “Come on, old man.” She called cheerfully over her shoulder. "I'm sure you're eager to try and beat me up."

The setting changes from blackpond to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

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

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[Forest]

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

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

[White Shadows Camp]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds simple enough...”

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

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

“Hmm...” Annie mumbled. “I suppose.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Manor]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t ask for this.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Blackpond]

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

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

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

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

[Newhaven]

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

The setting changes from valcrest to Blackpond

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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“Wait, wait, wait...” Irvin called as they stopped before an old crumbling house. “Don’t tell me this is where you...”
“Yes.”
“And wasn’t this where she...?”
“Yes, Irvin. This is exactly that place.”
“Why... Why in the name of the Twins would you want to go back in there!? You’re insane!”
“Probably.” Jake mumbled, his eyes fixed on his childhood home as if in a trance. “I’ll just stay out of the kitchen and it’ll be fine. Last I was here, I left something behind, I told myself it wasn’t important, but now I need it back. You two can stay out here or you can come in if you like, just... Stay out of the kitchen.” He glanced at Darren and gave a half smirk at the boy. “Especially you, trust me.”
“I’m not going in there, man. You go on ahead. I’m waiting right here.” Irvin stated, quite firmly, leaning against the external walls of the house and eyeing Jake with genuine concern. He didn’t know the man too long, but it was enough to tell he had been acting a bit off since the other morning when Irv had caught him running off to Newhaven. Something had happen then to make him act this way and whatever it was had to do with this city somehow. That became quite clear the moment they crossed the gates. He looked away from the man a moment and extended a concerned look to Darren as if silently asking if he had noticed it too, but Jake interrupted this by heaving a long sigh and addressing him from over his shoulder. “Kid, when we get to this party, you remember that you agreed to behave yourself?”
“Yes, I do.” Irvin replied, a slightly confused look in his eyes as if wondering why this was being brought up now of all times.
“And when we get there, what will you not do?” Jake asked him, seriousness in his tone.
Irvin sighed a bit impatiently. “Is this really necessary? Really?” He muttered under his breath before clearing his throat and reciting the rules Jake had imposed on him. “I will not gamble with, steal from, assault, intentionally offend, or grope, anyone. I will not use my enlightenment unless absolutely necessary, I will not get drunk, I will not approach Lamya, and I will not sneak in or out of any rooms alone. If there is any trouble at all I am to leave immediately and go straight back to camp without waiting on you.” He mumbled. “Although I strongly disagree with that last part. Are we good now?”
Jake nodded his approval without saying anything more and, taking a deep breath, he wandered into the house.

Jake didn’t look to see if there was anyone behind him as he wandered into the house. He had been there twice before, and this wasn’t nearly as painful as it was the first time, but it was somehow more difficult. The air stank of dust, mold, and rotting wood... The scent of death and abandon. Slowly he paced his way through the living room and down the hall to where his room used to be. Not taking him long to find what he was looking for under a loose floorboard on a spot that used to be under his bed. The broken down bed was now kicked to a corner, where Jake had pushed on his last visit. From the opening he pulled something just the size of his palm, wrapped in a dirty cloth, moving to sit on the broken bed as he slowly unwrapped what appeared to be just a plain piece of wood.

”Why are we here Jess?” Jake mumbled in a slightly annoyed tone as if wondering if his sister was mocking him somehow, although he didn’t see why she would ever do such a thing. They stopped by an ancient fallen tree that was blocking some of the paths of the city since it had fallen over the day before.
“The city workers will come and cut this tree to bits tomorrow, Jacob... They’ll probably chop it into firewood and it’ll burn. Now, I know how much it means to you, but there’s nothing I can do about that. Here’s... What we can do though...” Jessica spoke, offering Jake a small one hand axe. “...We can make sure it doesn’t all go to waste. Take a part of it with you and make something meaningful out of it.”


Jake took some time to steady his breaths, suddenly aware of the tears running down his face, his hands shivering slightly around the small chunk of wood. “I’m so sorry... I’m so sorry... I’m sorry...” He mumbled softly to himself, letting out a little choked sob before starting to slowly get a hold of himself again. “It’ll be fine... I’m fine...” He recited, wiping his face with the back of his hand. “It’s alright.” He closed his eyes and whispered. “Just breathe, Jacob... Don’t think... Just breathe...”

All Darren had wanted, the moment he got into the city, was a bloody, freakin apple. He hated the cold and the desolate farmland that came with it and found himself constantly thinking about how much he missed green apples. Silly to some, but Darren started obsessing over it so much that every time there was silence he would curse about it. Irvin had pointed out what was suppose to be a fruit and vegetable stand but of course it wasn’t even fit enough for a horse. Darren took one bite out of what was suppose to be an apple and chucked it into the side of a nearby building. “...This apple sucks...all I want..is it really so much to ask for!?” He sighed, a bit exasperated from the minor ordeal, crossing his arms casually as he eyed Jake and Irvin through their conversation, nodding to Jake on his advise to stay out of the kitchen. Once he was gone he turned towards Irvin and playfully elbowed him in the side. “Notice....how he didn’t lecture me on any rules?” He teased, chuckling a bit. “Anyway, I promised you I’d try to help you with women....so I agree...no groping....unless invited.” Darren winked, unfolding his arms to check on his pack before taking a step towards the doorway to the house quirking a brow. “Do you really think it’s ok to let him go in there alone...he has been acting...a bit ‘off’ from the bits I’ve seen. Maybe he could use a friend....” He trailed off as he contemplated if he should follow or not. Cracking his knuckles he chuckled at Irvin again before taking a cautious step inside, careful to not touch even the walls as he slinked inside to look around.

“Yeah, yeah....” Irvin mumbled a little bit irritated. “Grope one person and no one ever let’s you forget it...” His eyes widening a bit in disbelief as he caught Darren’s next couple of words. “Wait, I can get invited?” He asked, a hopeful and excited tone in his voice. “Awesome.” The boy sighed, glancing nervously towards the house. “I’m not sure man, but I really don’t want to go in there... I’ve got my own reasons...” He replied with a shrug, keeping his back to the house as he waited. “If you ask me that dude needs a good woman... Every times he sees a redhead he freaks...” The boy muttered, shaking his head as he watched Darren enter the house with the corner of his eyes. “Shadow has apples...” He stated playfully, just as Darren crossed the doorway. “No clue where Shadow is though... We’re not talking about it apparently.” He added under his breath.

Jake wasn’t sure if it had been seconds or minutes since he walked through the door, his attention immediately caught by a slight creak caused by someone stepping into the wooden floor of the old house. He lifted his head to listen in for a moment before standing from where he’d been sitting and walking out through the hallway, still looking a bit shaky but a lot more composed than he had been just a moment ago. As he reached the main room and spotted Darren he forced a small smiled and nodded at him. “So... Hm... Welcome to my house... Or one of them at least. I’ve got one in Newhaven that may be just a little bit less messy than this one.” He played, his smile not reaching his eyes as he looked around the place, wincing slightly as they caught the entrance to the kitchen and immediately looked away. “Well, I’ve got what I needed. And I think that’s just about the last thing of mine left to take from this place too. Was about time.”

Darren was muttering to himself about Irvin and how he may have taken on more than he originally planned, an amused smile crossing his lips as he peeked around a corner to find Jake. Darren didn’t really pay much attention to his surroundings and shrugged at Jake’s comment on the mess. “Can tell you don’t live here anymore...you should see what I did to my father’s house.” He partially joked, except the fact that he had been about to torch the place when he was interrupted by a dozen or so men in armor which had led him soon after to prison. “I am surprised that place stood for so long, especially how it was always in the center of all those raids when I was younger.” He nodded at Jake, stepping back a bit to make room for him to follow, his gaze falling onto a small object in his hand. “Hmph....you got what you came for, eh? You ready to go then or do you want more time alone with the hunk of wood?” Snickering he shook his head, wondering if his lame comment would lessen whatever strain he could see was plain upon Jacob’s face. He didn’t bring it up or ask any questions, instead just waiting in silence and absently, without thinking, leaned against the wall outside the room. The moment he realized what he had done he bounced away from the wall as if he was stung or electrocuted, a surprising chuckle leaving him. His eyes only flashed a moment as he closed them, slowly inhaling through his nostrils in quiet appreciation. “I can smell...cinnamon...funny, I don’t get it.”

Jake chuckled at Darren’s comment, quietly putting the small piece of wood away into his bag, shaking his head in amusement. “Yes, yes... Very funny.” He snickered. “This so happens to be a special hunk of wood, I’ll have you know.” He stated, a playful look of annoyance crossing him for a moment. “And yes, we can go no-...” Jake cut himself off as he noticed Darren come in contact with the wall, tensing only slightly and relaxing as the boy mentioned cinnamon. “...Now.” Jake finished his sentence, pulling Darren out of the house by his shirt before he accidentally touched anything else. “My sister used to make cinnamon cookies for me, on my birthday or whenever I got sick.” He explained. “They’re my favorite. Haven’t had any since she died.” He mumbled, releasing Darren the moment they were out the door.

“Something happen?” Irvin asked, pushing himself away from the house and looking from Jake to Darren with a curious expression. “Are we good to go?”
“Yes... We’re good to go.” Jake stated. “Tell me kid, you’ve got family around the city still, do you want to look them up after the party?”
“Ah... Gee... Killer... I don’t think that’s such a good idea. My brother and I didn’t quite see eye to eye. My sister is probably mad at me for leaving her...” The boy shrugged dismissively. “Why go there really? Besides... Last thing I want is get her involved in my stuff now, right?”
“That’s why you should see her now before you go on with the stuff.” Jake argued. “...But fine, just think about it.”
“I’ll think about it, fine.” Irvin muttered, now seeming annoyed by the conversation. “Maybe I’ll check on her or something...”
“Sure, if you want...” Jake replied, attempting to hide a smirk. “If we’re not forced to flee the city by the end of this thing, of course.” He added, starting to walk his way down towards the center of the city.

”Something happen?”

Darren’s expression shifted from somewhere between sympathy and confusion when he stepped outside giving a dismissive shake of his head. “Naw..Jake here was just talking about how special something of his was that he haaad to go back for.” He winked, holding back a smirk. “I’m ready to go....” Darren trailed off quirking a brow at Irvin. “I can’t say much about family there, Irv but Jake here has got a point.” He stated simply with a nod. “How old is your sister?” He teased, shaking his head jokingly, holding up his hands defensively. “Kidding....”

As he began to follow Jake further into the city he sighed. “Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve gone running from this place, no? Maybe....they’ll have apples at this party. You think?” He asked hopefully, glancing at Irvin with a large grin plastered across his face, speaking a stray thought as if he had plucked it straight from Irvin’s mind. “Yes, Irv, I’m sure there will be plenty of pretty ladies to choose from. Watch and learn.”

“Oh, was it another stuffed toy?” Irv asked Jake with a raised eyebrow. “Are you gonna sing to it too?”
Jake responded simply by glaring at the boy and muttering. “I wasn’t singing to it...”
“Oliver heard it” Irvin insisted. “I heard it at least once.”
“I wasn’t SINGING. I was humming... And not to it, to myself. Alright? And no, it wasn’t a toy I was here for.” He answered with a sigh.
Irvin snickered shaking his head in disbelief. “Suuure... Whatever you say Killer. I bet you had a collection of stuffed doggies though... And at least one of them was pink.” He teased, quickly running a few steps out of Jake’s reach as to not get smacked on the head. “My sister is eleven, Darren... My brother is eighteen though if you’d like to meet him.” He snickered. “You’re pretty, maybe he’d like you.”
Jake chuckled at the boy’s response. “You were doing good with that until you called him pretty, kid... And Drake is not a dog... He’s a dragon, okay? He’s a black dragon. Dragons are cool, so shut up.” He stated, a very unconvincing serious tone in his voice as he gave Irvin a glare.
“Alright, alright... Gee...” The boy laughed. “And I’m counting there will be pretty ladies there, why else would I bother showing up to this thing? Certainly not for a chance to see the King.” He said, rolling his eyes in annoyance as he spoke. “Hopefully I get to do more than just watch though...” Irvin shrugged slightly. “...Eventually.” He added.

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

[The Manor]

“You are going as a boy? Are you sure of this?” Sam asked, an amused look crossing her features as she stared at the redhead boy standing in front of her. “You won’t be able to change later.”
“I’m fine with that, besides... Easier to dress up this way.” Amber stated, spreading her arms to display the plain tunic and pants she was dressed in; all in black as usual. “Simple and handsome.”
Sam chuckled softly. “Yes, some people have it easy, don’t they?” She asked, slowly sorting through a small jewelry box and picking out a thin silver chain from which hung a thin silver plaque engraved in a foreign dialect. She placed the necklace on Amber’s hand turned her back. “Would you please?”
Amber stared at the strange writings on the pendant for a moment before passing the chain around Sam’s neck. “What does it say?”
“Victory favors those who conquer pain.” Sam responded. “Father gave this to me on my tenth birthday... I don’t often wear it, but it is a fitting occasion. And before you start wondering; no you cannot strangle me with this, it would snap without a doubt.”
Amber snickered softly, immediately hooking both ends of the chain together and releasing it. “Far from me to be thinking such dreadful things, Mistress.” She spoke in an overly sweet and innocent tone. “I’m batshit insane, sure, but I’m not stupid.” She added, unable to hold back a small giggle fit.
“Too girly... Uh... What name are you using again?”
Amber brought her laughter to a slightly choked stop changing her voice to a more masculine tone and resuming her laughter for a few seconds more. “Better?” She asked innocently. “And my name for the day is Wyatt... Pleasure to meet you Miss.” She stated politely, taking an exaggerated bow before Sam, offering a hand as if asking her to dance.
“Wyatt, huh?” Sam asked. “What an odd choice of name, but very well, Mr. Wyatt...” She chuckled, joining the shapeshifter in her theatrics and giving a slight bow in return. “How do I look? Be honest now.” She said, standing from her bow and playfully spinning around to show off her dress.

‘Wyatt’ stood and gave Sam a good thorough look; blue eyes widening in playful excitement while jumping onto the woman’s bed and patting the spot at his side. “Gorgeous... The only way you could get prettier would be to just lose the dress entirely. In fact.... I say we skip the party and just hang out over here.”
Sam laughed loudly. “Oh, you’d like that huh?” She asked sitting beside the redhead boy.
“Not as much as you, sweetie.” Wyatt retorted with a playful wink. “I guarantee you.”
“Hm... Confidence... I like that in a man.” Sam snickered softly, slowly and teasingly running her index finger down the side of the boy’s face and tapping his chin. “Too bad I’m not into redheads, hm?”
“Nothing that can’t be fixed... I am, as always, at your service, my Mistress.”
“Hmm... Obedience... I like that too.” Sam sighed playfully, gripping the boy by the neck and pulling his face closer to hers. “What a pity... Such a delightful toy in my hands and not enough time to play...” She whispered, staring intensely into the boy’s familiar blue eyes.

“What... Are you doing?” A confused voice sounded from the open door.
“Uh oh, Daddy’s home.” Sam snickered. “We don’t get to misbehave now.” She teased, planting a firm kiss on one of the boy’s cheeks and a forceful slap on the other, ruffling up his copper colored locks as she rose from her seat on the bed. “Go wait downstairs, Mr. Wyatt, while the grown ups have a chat.”
Wyatt stood, taking a deep bow to Sam before turning to the door. “As you wish Milady.” The boy spoke, glaring at Zeke while passing the man in the doorway. “Party pooper.”
“Amber?” Zeke mumbled turning to get a second glance at the redhead boy as he walked down the hall to the stairs. Sighing he walked further into the bedroom and shut the door, giving Sam a slightly severe stare. “Why do you encourage her?”
“Oh, come on Zekey... We were just messing around a bit; perfectly harmless.” Sam laughed, playfully spinning around the man in her party dress. “Amber has a colorful imagination, I happen to find that rather... endearing. Don’t you?”
Zeke sighed a bit impatiently, but at the same time amused that the woman was in a good mood, clearly looking forward to the upcoming festivities; a pleasant smile spread wide across her features, green eyes sparkling in delight... It was a rare thing to see. “You seem to look forward to this party, Milady.”
“Oh, it sounds like it will be fun.” Sam chuckled. “Haven’t been in a party in forever.” She smiled swirling around and stopping before him with a small bow as if ending a dance. “Are you upset that I’m not taking you with me?” She asked, watching him with curious eyes.
“I’m not as upset as I am... Concerned... Mistress... For your safety.” Ezekiel replied, bowing his head obediently. “It is not my place to meddle in you personal affairs, but I’m afraid I am rather skeptical of your chosen companions’ ability to defend you if needed.”
“Oh?” She asked, quirking an eyebrow inquisitively. “And what about my ability to defend myself? I am not a helpless little girl, you know.”
“I know that, of course. I’m still concerned.”
“I’m going to a party, I’m not raiding the castle, love. It’ll be fine.” Sam reassured him. “How’s my dress... Not too simple I hope?” She asked, spinning around again.
Zeke shook his head, his eyes lingering along the woman’s form. Sam’s dress was indeed simple, not so different from what she wore on a daily basis, although it was somehow different enough from what the man was used to seeing to make an impact; a long velvet dress in a tone of green so dark it appeared black at first glance, like the forest trees under moonlight. While the neckline of the dress ran modestly along her collarbone, the back was open to her mid-back, the intricate design of a tattoo hidden only by the long strands of her hair, different bits and pieces of it showing in a teasing manner as she moved; as if inviting onlookers to make out what image lurked underneath. “Nothing is ever too simple with you, Kid.” The man replied in a mumble.
“I’m glad.” Sam smiled, seeming pleased by the man’s dazed expression as he stared at her. “And, speaking of my poor choice of companionship... Where is Luckas?”
“I haven’t seen the boy since this morning, but he didn’t leave the property, so I sent a servant girl after him. He should turn up any minute now.”
“Good. I don’t want to be late to this thing and miss something exciting.” She smiled. “I’m sure there will be some excitement to be had if my sources are to be believed... And they haven’t failed me yet.”

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

“It’s your turn.” A dark haired boy, aged around sixteen years old, stated smiling softly over a chessboard.
“You think, you’re going to win this time, don’t you?” Lena asked with a little chuckle. “You’re very sure of yourself, I can see.”
“Why don’t you move and let us find out?” He asked.
Lena chuckled. “You used your enlightenment, and that’s clever Bastian, but... Seeing one move ahead won’t help you much in this.... Checkmate.” She said absently. “See, a great Chess player will always see ahead of each move... A fantastic chess player sees the whole game before the first move is made.”
“Oh, and you consider yourself fantastic, I assume.” He retorted with a raised eyebrow, examining the board with his eyes.
“Not really, just better than you.” Lena played. “But hey, you’re doing better.”
“Comforting.” The boy scoffed.
“Bastian... Look at the board, what do you see?” Lena asked, leaning back on her seat, her blue eyes fixed on the boy sitting before her, examining his expression as his green eyes examined the finished game before him. He didn’t say anything for a very long while, so Lena spoke again, with an amused smile. “Not the game, silly boy... The board. Look at the board.”

“Squares?” Bastian asked.

“Squares.” Lena repeated. “Every piece in its place, its pre-determined place. Calculated moves, limited moves.” She stated, reaching for the chess board and tracing its marked lines with her index finger. “Squares, within squares, contained within one large square. Everything measurable and therefore somewhat deductible... You are one of the most observant people I have ever met, but you are too lazy to use your mind instead of your enlightenment on a simple board game, Sebastian... Keep this up and Life will swallow you whole and spit out your carcass. Because Life... Is not a game of chess. Life is not measurable, Life is not deductible, no amount of study will improve your skills at living it. How can you expect to handle that, if you can barely handle a simple game of strategy. Do you understand me?”

Bastian stared quietly at the board for a few moments, his expression contemplative as he seemed to mull over her words. “Why are you helping me, Lena?” He asked, raising his eyes to hers. “We both know why that may be foolish of you.”
“I believe in considerably little, Kid, but I do believe that if someone is dedicated, heart and mind, to something... Then it becomes fate. If I am fated to regret this decision, then so be it. In chess... The excellent player is the one who sees the outcome of the game before the first move is made... And plays even when seeing defeat. Because a true player plays for the game itself and not for the victory. That is one aspect similar to Life; the outcome is clear, you’ll die, how you play until then is what will define you.”
“You don’t think I’m a good enough player?”
“I wouldn't say that. I would say you are not playing to the best of your abilities, and that’s not acceptable if you are going to be hanging around my sister. So... Shall we play again?”


“Excuse me.... Are you alright, Sir? Sir?”

It took some time for Luckas to realize he was the one being spoken to; he was not used ever being addressed so politely. It was when he felt a hand hover just above his shoulder that he reacted by jumping to his feet rather abruptly, causing a little startled yelp from the young girl that had been trying to get his attention. His head ached terribly but he was sure it would fade in just a bit of time, hopefully the visions would go away as well in time as they were rather bothersome and disruptive considering they just came at random times. “You keep annoying me even from the grave, healer.” He muttered under his breath, turning and noticing the visibly frightened servant girl still standing there. As he looked her over she instinctively shivered and cowered as if his eyes could literally burn her. “Who... Who are you?”
“I’m no one Sir, just a servant girl.” She mumbled, averting her eyes from him and gazing intently at the grass beneath her bare feet.
Luckas frowned momentarily at the response, but he didn’t say anything at first, his eyes still looking over the girl; she didn’t seem to be older than twelve years old, her blond hair and light grey clothes were darkened with filth and she had visible bruises of different colors on her neck and wrists, which meant some were fresher than others. “What is your name, girl?” He rephrased his question. “I’m Luckas... You’ll call me Luckas... Not ‘Sir’, are we clear?”
“Yes, S-... Uh... Luckas...” She mumbled.
“What is your name?” He repeated.
“I’m not allowed...” She replied, a slightly pleading tone to her voice. “...Please don’t make me...”
“You have to do what I say. I won’t let anyone punish you for it... Tell me your name.”
“Emily.” She whispered, cowering further as if trying to make herself disappear. “My name is Emily.”
“Emily... Do you have family somewhere?” Luckas asked, taking a step towards the girl, halting as she retreated.
“Not anymore.” She replied, now seeming to be in the verge of panic, arms wrapped around herself as if trying to keep from running away.
“How did you get these bruises?” Luckas asked, his expression shutting down in a nearly frightening expression. “Did someone hurt you?”
“I fell.” The girl replied immediately, tugging on her sleeves to hide the marks around her wrists.
“You fell into someone’s hands?” Luckas asked, raising an eyebrow at the girl, but not pushing her further. “Why have you come here?”
“I was to let you know that you are being summoned.” She replied shyly. “You seemed to be in pain though...”
“So do you.” Luckas stated simply, his voice didn’t show any level of empathy, unlike hers, but he spoke as if he felt it to be necessary to point it out to her that she was hurt, otherwise the fact would go unnoticed. A moment passed in silence as he stared at the Lesser girl before he spoke again. “Look in my eyes.” He asked her.
“Please... Don’t...” She mumbled, retreating another step.
“I’m asking you.” Luckas stated calmly. “It won’t hurt, I promise.”
Emily winced slightly at Luckas’ words, but slowly lifted her head to look up at him, icy blue eyes staring into the darkness of his gaze. The moment the visions came she wanted to close her eyes, look away, run, but she found that she couldn’t escape his sight. As quickly as they came, the images faded, and she was able to look away. She had understood what he had done, and that he knew what had happened to her. “W-why...?” She whimpered, holding back shivers as she turned away from him again. “May I leave now, Luckas? Please?”
“Yes you may.” He mumbled, standing still for a moment, watching the girl rush her way back to the house before following the same path.

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

Luckas made to the main hall of the Manor to find that Sam was there waiting for him, already in her party clothes, Amber/Wyatt also nicely dressed and clad in fully black clothes, and a not so satisfied Zeke. Upon his entering he noticed that he was a bit late to join the other; a fact made clear to him by Sam’s expression of annoyance. “Are you not dressed yet, Luckas? I really don’t want to be late.”
“What? I am dressed.” Luke retorted, stopping before the woman with a look of confusion in his eyes. “I’ve been ready for about half an hour.”
“Seriously, Lukey?” Sam sighed. “You are seriously wearing this coat?”
“What? It’s clean!” Luckas argued, looking down at the black coat his wearing over his tunic; it had been stitched and washed from the morning of his encounter with the redhead woman, but the blood stain from where he had been stabbed was still clearly visible. “I like the pretty coloring.” He stated, with a giggle.
“It’s a stain, Luckas... You’re going to a party wearing a blood stained coat.”
“It’s for special occasions.” He said, a playful grin crossing his features as the woman glared at him in annoyance. “All black can get quite boring sometimes, you know.” As she didn’t seem amused in one bit he smiled sweetly and added. “It’s not like anyone will notice me while I’m standing next to you.”
"Hm...” She mumbled, trying to keep a straight face. “If you want to get something out of me through flattery, Lukey, you’ll have to do better than that.” She said, letting a slightly devious smile break through. “Fine though, have it your way... Not as if I would actually be able to make you change anyway.”
“No you wouldn't... I’m quite stubborn as you know.” He stated proudly. “But I do clean up nicely though, don’t I?”
“Mhm..." Sam smiled, brushing a few strands of hair away from his eyes. “You could do with a haircut, but not too bad love.”
“But I like my hair longer, Sammy; keeps my ears warm.” He chuckled.
“Oh, I can keep your ears warm Lukey... If you want me to...” Amber snickered. “Come on now... The carriage is ready although I still say that at this distance I’d much rather walk.”
“What does that even mean?” Luckas mumbled, turning to Sam with a questioning look.
“Beats me.” Sam shrugged. “Hard to know with that one... Be careful with your ears from now on though; she might want to set fire to them.” She smirked. “Shall we, Mr. Wyatt?”
Amber nodded simply, offering Sam her right arm and bowing her head slightly, replying in what she had decided, after much tweaking, would be Wyatt’s voice. “Yes, Milady.”
Sam smiled sweetly, clinging to the red haired boy's arm and giving Luke a provocative wink as they walked through the door.
Luckas frowned a bit, unsure of whether he was playfully annoyed or actually jealous as he followed suit. “Pfft... Mr. Wyatt...” He muttered under his breath.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

”Ella!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 6 years ago]

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

. . .

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

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

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

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


[Reality - Blackpond Castle, present time]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

”For Blackpond!”

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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Adam had left Lizzy to play with her new toy. Even though he was less than pleased with her for dragging the boy this far, he knew it would be completely pointless to try and argue about it. So he wandered around the ballroom by himself idly observing the dancing couples and chatting groups, registering some suspicious behavior here and there, but not really making much of it; unless he had direct orders, he couldn’t care less for what other did with their time. In the middle of his quiet observation, the man was beyond startled by a rather forceful hand firmly gripping his... Behind... and an unknown voice speaking out in amusement. “Hello there, pretty, wanna dance?”
Adam responded by immediately turning on this stranger and pinning him against the nearest wall, his eyes meeting a familiar blue gaze as the redhead teenager who had ‘assaulted’ him snickered. “I love it when you play rough, Addy.” The man didn’t need anything else to recognize the assailant and he released the boy, snorting angrily and turning as if to walk away. “Wait, wait, wait... Adam, wait uuuup.” The boy called with laughter in his tone, literally skipping after Adam as he tried to get away. “I have a message for you... Hey... Stop... Hey... Adam... She’s here.”
The words halted Adam immediately and he turned around frantically looking about as if he even knew who it was he was searching for.
“Heh, thought that’d get your attention. Now you know very well Lizzy shouldn’t be bringing souvenirs from Newhaven. I already passed that message on to her. So your orders are to lose the kid... And do it discreetly... Nod if you understand me hun.”
Adam nodded giving up the search for the unfamiliar face of his Mistress and turning to face the boy. “Fine.” He muttered, leading the way to where he had last seen his sister and her new acquaintance.

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

“That’s not fair...”
“I’m just passing the message along, Lizzy, do you want to disobey? Be my guest.”
“Fine, I’ll keep tabs on the boy, you go find Addy for me, okay?”
“Sounds like a plan.”


Ali opened her eyes, blue specks of light still flickering along her irises as she let her gaze fall to the teenage boy in guard’s uniform. Sean didn’t know his brother was there, that much she knew, and for what the boy’s companions were whispering, it seemed like no one else would either if they went through with what they were planning. She hoped that kid knew how to fend for himself, because those people didn’t seem like they were kidding around. Almost as if on cue at that thought a familiar and unfriendly voice spoke beside her, sounding a bit tipsy. “Don’t think we finished our talk.”
“I don’t think we ever started talking, Ryan, and I also think you are a bit drunk, but hopefully not drunk enough to be stupid... As much as it would be entertaining to watch people’s faces if I pushed you down from this balcony... That would draw a bit of unwanted attention to us both.”
“You think you’re so great because Dani trusted you... Pfft...”
“Dani took a long time to trust me, I’ll have you know, and I earned whatever amount of trust it was...” Ali stated calmly, leaning against the edge of the balcony where she had settled to watch the people below, not turning to face the man. “Don’t try to repeat Sean’s bullshit as if you knew me or what I’ve been through to get here, Ryan... Actually the best part of being exiled is that I don’t have to give a shit about Sean’s opinions anymore... Or move a finger to help that idiot brother of his.” She stated pointing Donovan out on the crowd. “You, on the other hand, better move... I have a feeling the kid’s disappearance would make the Alpha rather pissy.”

Ali waited for the Wolf to rush down to the lower level before moving herself; sure she didn’t have to help, but she had nothing against Donovan and finding who were those people he was with could be a good idea. While Ryan was making his way to snatch Donovan away from the woman that seemed to be dragging him around somewhere more quiet, Ali found the blond man that had been keeping them company just moments ago. She noticed that both of them, as well as the redhead boy that had later joined them, were wearing fully black clothing and it gave the impression they were on uniform; even though the clothes themselves were not the same, and she remembered AJ wearing similarly black clothes. Maybe it was unrelated; a lot of people wore black clothing, but something just didn’t seem right with those people, and Ali felt that regardless of whether they had anything to do with her former friend, it was important to know a bit more. Slowly she made her way after the two men, more trying to see how long it would take for them to notice the fact she was stalking them and not simply trying to cross the crowded ballroom.

The redhead boy didn’t seem to notice her, or maybe he didn’t care, but the blond man tensed slightly as he walked, and she was absolutely sure he was keeping track of her movements as well. She acted as though she didn’t notice the change however and keep following; the distance between them getting shorter every couple of steps until she reached them and grabbed the blond by his wrist, calling out to him as if he were a friend. “Hey, stranger!”
The man reacted extremely fast to the contact spinning around to push Ali away, lunging at her as if he wanted to rip her head right off. It took Ali all of her restraint to not react the way she was trained to and shrink down as if trying to take cover from a blow that never came; presumably because the redhead boy quickly stepped in between the two. “Easy now, Adam... That’s no way to treat a lady.” The kid half-scolded slowly pushing the taller man back a step. “I think he likes you, you two know each other?” he asked, making sure his friend was calm and turning to face Ali with a childish curiosity in his eyes.
Ali shook her head, a very convincing freaked out look in her eyes. “No, I... Mistook your friend for somebody else... I apologize.” She explained, raising her eyes to the man who was openly glaring at her over the boy’s head and directing her apology at him before turning back to his friend. “And I surely don’t want to find out how your friend acts with people he doesn’t like then.”
“I’m sorry if Adam startled you miss... He’s a little bit jumpy right now, that’s all.” He smiled a bit reassuringly. “It’s my fault, I like to play tricks on him and I might have overdone it.” Taking a polite bow the young man extended his hand in greeting. “I’m Wyatt, by the way.”
Ali was listening to the younger man, but her attention was mostly on his companion as the man had not stopped staring at her in annoyance as if she had spat in his face instead of simply trying to draw his attention and she was rather amused by the overreaction. “Wyatt... What a lovely name. I’m Allison.”
“Allison, that... Is a pretty pendant you have...” Wyatt asked, reaching for the wooden bird hanging from a string necklace over the woman’s chest, his index finger lightly grazing her skin in the process. “Did you make this?”
Ali wasn’t unaware of this boy was doing, and in other circumstances some fingers would be broken at this point, but she only reacted by quietly retreating a step and smiling politely. “Yes, I made it myself. It is quite simple, but I think it serves its purpose. Do you... Like birds?”

As she spoke those words a small commotion took place as a chandelier dropped down, Ali could see that the object had fallen, ironically, under the weight of a bird that had perched itself on it. Ali followed with the corner of her eyes as man rescued the animal, and she continued to observe long enough to watch the bird change into a wolf and the man walk away. Ali smirked at the scene and wondered if the Alpha knew what his new pups were off doing. Donovan, she was sure, was not meant to be here, what about the girl? Sean was biting off more than he could chew with that one.

Wyatt’s answer came as soon as Ali’s attention was back on him, which made it very clear he had been watching to see what she was so interested in. “I like many things... Maybe one day we’ll discuss them in detail somewhere more private.”
“You... Are very forward, sir.” Ali stated, her tone lingering somewhere between annoyance and amusement.
“I’ve been told.” Wyatt chuckled. “Is that a bad thing? Would it be preferable to hide my intentions, whatever they may be, behind mindless chatter? I feel that’s a bit dishonest.”
“You can learn quite a bit from mindless chatter, perhaps that intimidates you in some way?” Ali asked curiously. “Honesty now seems like a very subjective term. Personally I think that if attempt to control how people perceive you, you are not truly being honest, but that’s just my opinion.”
The boy snickered, amused by her words. “And now who is being forward, huh?”
“Perhaps I’m only being honest, Wyatt... It’s a bad habit of mine.”
“Perhaps, but then... I don’t know what your intentions are yet... Miss Blake.”
Ali’s eyes narrowed slightly although she made sure to keep a curious demeanor as she noted. “I don’t recall mentioning my family name... So perhaps you are less honest about your intentions that you say you are.”
“Perhaps we’re both being dishonest in some ways, or maybe... I’m just trying to keep you interested. Mystery is always a good thing.” Wyatt replied with a playful smirk. “It’s been nice, but we should be moving along before my friend here gets too antsy... We’ll meet again, I bet.”
“Oh, I look forward to it, sir... And your friend too.” She extended her gaze to Adam and gave the man a friendly nod, holding back amusement as he simply snorted in response and started to walk away. Ali wasn’t as good at reading people as some were, not like Bastian once was or like Jake could be at times, but... She could just tell... Something about her had bothered this Adam guy; bothered him in some deeper level for some reason. She wondered what it could be, and she wondered who they were. The younger boy had a slightly psychotic note to his speech, he hid it fairly well, but it was still there, and how did he know her last name? No one, aside from people she considered friends, was ever given her family name. She was curious, confused, and very suspicious of these people, but there was little time to dwell on it however... Bigger things were being set motion as she distracted herself with her new acquaintances and it all became very clear when a man shouted launching a strike against the king.

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“Hey, Buddie, this really isn’t any of your busin-”

“For Blackpond!”


Jake stood with arms crossed, unfazed by the commotion started by Alexander and his little group and just as unmoved by Darren’s attack on the other mercenary, the man standing right before him turned his attention momentarily to his colleague, and Jake could have taken him out there, but he’d rather not injure a man for simply doing his job. “Look... Buddie...” Jake started, acting as though there wasn’t a fight happening between the other two men. “You got a job to do, I get it, you’re being paid and all, but I doubt you’re being paid enough for what I’ll do to you. So maybe this here is the best time to back off.”
The man turned his attention back to Jake at his words, a look of amusement and disbelief plastered on his face as if he didn’t think Jake could possibly be serious. “Is this the part where I thank you for sparing me, boy?”
“That would be the polite thing to do, but as I feel you won’t be doing the polite thing, this is probably the part where you fail to hit me and ends up seriously injured. Too bad, pal... You seem like a decent guy, probably just trying to support your family, and I’d rather not leave you incapacitated and unable to provide for several weeks, but hey... suit yourself.” Jake spoke in a calm, matter-of-factly, almost bored, tone that made him sound like an arrogant prick, but he was being truthful; he didn’t see a point or purpose in hurting this guy, but he knew that he was going to, because guys like this didn’t back away from confrontation. It was a pride thing, Jake knew it well. He saw it coming as the man started to laugh, shaking his head in amusement, his laughter cut short as he sung his fist at Jake in one swift and forceful blow; it was a good effort, but it just wasn’t fast enough, not to mention ridiculously predictable. Jake ducked under the man’s fist and blocked another incoming blow with his open palm as he straightened himself up, pushing the man’s fist away from his face and hitting him back with an open palm almost in a mocking fashion. At this point he wasn’t bothering with trying to dissuade the man, but actually outright taunting him. “Last chance to walk away, mate... Take it while I’m feeling generous.”

The mercenary didn’t laugh this time, the man was angered by the provocation, the mockery was enough to make this personal for him, his fighting showed in its recklessness and fury, while Jake’s movements were calculated and nearly mechanical, quickly he avoided the man’s advances and breached the man’s defenses landing two precise blows to the man’s face; the first to the nose, the second to the jaw, which were followed by a forceful kick to the stomach which left him on his knees on the ground gasping for air. Jake kneeled as if he was going to check if the man was alright, but that wasn’t his intention in the slightest, and the moment he touched the mercenary the man fell unconscious, face down, to the floor, a glimpse of a dark needle disappearing underneath Jake’s sleeve as he stood up straight, pulling on the dark grey cuff of his jacket.

Darren had knocked out the other mercenary just as Jake looked up from the knocked out man at his feet; a look of utter annoyance slowly melting from his expression. Catching the boy’s complaint about his ruined shirt was enough to put a look of amusement back to Jake’s blue eyes and he laughed lightly. “Better it’d be the shirt than you, huh?” He teased, poking Darren where the sword would have slashed him. “What is the deal with these guys anyway?” He asked, his eyes absently looking around to the confusion Alexander had started, but not much caring to get involved. Not yet at least. As Irvin approached them looking a little bit disappointed to see that the mercenaries were taken care of, Jake gave the boy a nod. “Kid... Go check the ice on the doors... See if there’s something you can do about it.”
“Alright, but... I’m not sure if it’ll work.” Irvin replied, eyes scanning the frozen doors of the room one by one.
“Just go check it out and come right back, try to keep as far from this mess as possible, alright?”
“Okay, sounds easy enough.” Irvin stated, making off and half disappearing into the crowd as he made a way to one of the doors.

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Dastan was having fun at this party, surprisingly so. The music was fancier than he was used to and so were most of the guests, but the booze was of great quality and here and there he’d find something pretty to look at, and here and there... He’d get rewarded for his glances. After getting a few dances with some considerably attractive ladies and starting to get a little too tipsy to be charming in any respectable way, he approached one of the tables to get some food and maybe water for a change... Or maybe just the food... He wasn’t drunk to a point where he couldn’t afford to get any drunker quite yet. Just as he had finished pouring himself another drink he felt something collide into him, a hand grasping his arm for support. The man turned to see himself face to face with a little blond girl as she whispered an apology. Dastan snickered softly, his eyes scanning the girl from head to toe. He didn’t know her, or at least he didn’t think they’d met before but he thought he caught something in her eyes that told him otherwise... She seemed to know who he was. Either that or she was mistaking him for someone else. “No need to be apologizing now, miss... Takes a lot more than a little bump to knock me down.” He stated playfully, still looking over this girl as if searching for something he’d missed. “Do we know each other somehow? Or are you always this nervous-looking when you randomly grab strange men?” He asked with a curious look in his eyes. Just as he finished that sentence his attention was momentarily snatched by someone passing by and grabbing the drink out of his hand. By the time he managed to register what was happening he was being handed back his empty glass. "...Don't look at me like that...I'll owe you something vintage and worth the impolite intrusion.." Dastan scratched the back of his head in confusion as he watched Essence walk away, amusement slowly sinking in as he shook his head at the woman. “Great, that's the second redhead who owes me a drink." He whispered under his breath with a chuckle.

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Sean couldn’t help his complete amusement as Essence dropped a pouch of coin onto his hand as compensation for the table. He had been playing, obviously, and didn’t actually expect the woman to pay him for such a small thing; the one thing the Pack was not lacking was resources, but still he accepted the pay without as much as a hint of hesitation, weighing the pouch in his hand quietly and thinking that this was a bit more than enough for one little table. As he opened his mouth to speak however, his attention was caught by something soft hitting his shoulder, the man snatching a soft handkerchief before it had a chance to hit the ground. Unfolding the cloth Sean eyes narrowed as he read for only a second before he lifted his head to look around. As he turned his attention to his company once again, Essence was walking away, he thought he heard the woman say something about being right back, but he could barely catch her words. He kept one eyes on the woman curiously as he saw her approach a dark haired lady in a dark green dress. They both seemed way too polite with each other to be friendly, and it was an interesting interaction to watch, even if he couldn’t hear what was being said between them. Once again Sean turned his attention to the handkerchief and reread its message: ‘If you dare touch Ella or Jen today, I’ll be sure that today will also be the last day the Wolfpack ever threatens anyone’s lives in Valcrest.’

Sean knew very well who that message had come from and after reading it a couple of times more he couldn’t help a small fit of laughter. “Alright, Evin, I won’t touch them.” He mumbled under his breath, moving away from where he’d been waiting it didn’t take him too long to find Ryan. It wasn’t surprising that the man was hanging around him, what was surprising however was who was standing next to him. Sean frowned at the sight of Donovan, in guards uniform, in Blackpond, what the hell was that kid thinking? As he approached the two, Doni opened his mouth to speak, but Sean silenced him with a gesture. “I don’t want to hear it, Doni. You blew your cover completely by coming here tonight, do you know how many people in this room know your face? When the party ends, no matter how it ends, I want you to go straight back to camp.”
“What about Ari? You can’t leave her without backup.”
“Oh, I’ll take care of that kid, don’t you worry.” Sean muttered out, an annoyed snort escaping him as he handed Ryan the handkerchief. “This woman, Jen, I want you to care of it tonight, do you understand me? No bargaining, no taking prisoners, no nothing; Bana is not the target here and I don’t care about him right now, I just want this over and done with by morning.”

“I understand.” Ryan stated, taking the handkerchief into his pocket and bowing his head slightly. “Consider it done.” The man replied before wandering off into the crowd to tend to his task.
“Sean...” Donovan mumbled.
“Not here, we’ve already talked way too much. Just stay out of trouble and we’ll talk at home.” Sean replied turning away from the boy and looking around to see that Ess was still busy with the black haired woman.

Sean hung around the place where he was previously standing and watched with a hint of amusement in his eyes as the two women parted ways; that was not a friendly conversation, he could feel the tension as far as he was standing, and he was curious as to what could be the issue between his new acquaintance and that stranger. The man was soon distracted from that thought however as he spotted a silver wolf trotting after Essence on her way back to where he was standing. The young Alpha honestly seemed amazed by the sight as if he was a child; he had never even heard of a wolf following a human this way before. The forest wolves usually stayed away from people as much as possible, it was rare to even see one from afar. “Remarkable.” The man mumbled to himself as Ess reached him and the wolf started to sniff the hem of his pants curiously. His eyes only leaving the animal as the wolf tensed and emitted a low growl the somehow didn’t seem directed at him. It was clear that it was not the moment he spotted the woman approaching because his reaction was almost exactly the same; he tensed, and growled under his breath wondering what hell that bitch could possibly want this time.

"Now I think I understand....Looks like you are still very good at what you do, Pigeon."

Sean arched an eyebrow at the woman as she was addressing Essence. He wasn’t surprised that they knew one another; the old hag did try to order a hit on the woman, and it had become apparent to him by some people missing from her little guard detail that the woman had been involved in at least one more confrontation since the moment Sean last spotted her.

"All dressed up, still trying to be something you're not. No matter. You can try to scrub shit clean but it's still...shit. Once a whore...always a whore.."

Sean sighed softly, his clenched fist shivering slightly making it somewhat clear that he was really forcing himself to stand still and not immediately pull out a dagger and stab the woman’s face until it turned into something easier on the eyes. The only thing keeping him from doing so, in fact, was the realization that if he was... displeased... by this woman’s presence, it was nothing compared to his companion. “Well... Miss Talon... You were wondering how I knew your name... There you have it.” Sean spoke softly, his eyes glaring at the old had with nothing but pure contempt.

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Luckas felt the visions of Rick and his filth fade from his mind slowly, and he was glad. The man’s sickness would have revolted him much more if he hadn’t seen worse when he went after Jasper. It was not doubt Rick was equally sick, but Luke wasn’t fully in Rick’s mind, so if he had ever involved children in his depravities, it wasn’t clear, unlike Jasper... And that was the reason that guy was still number one; Luckas would never consider all the punishment he gave that son of a bitch to be enough. His black eyes immediately sought out the King amongst the crowd to see him be dragged away from the center of a huge commotion. It seemed their little playtime had caused Luke and Simon both to miss a bit of the action. From the corner where he had posted himself to watch Rick, Luckas’ eyes took in the sight of men moving on a half-organized attack against the Blackpond people, his mind slowly starting to register the situation. A fight had broken out, all exits were sealed, it wouldn’t be long until that turned into something incredibly ugly. Luke pushed himself away from the wall that had been supporting him through his conversation with Simon, looking around he felt a mix of relief and disappointment as he realized Tala was no longer following his footsteps; the wolf was a distraction, and in many ways an annoyance, but now Luckas felt somewhat alone without her. His eyes quickly scanned the ballroom again, spotting familiar faces one by one until they spotted the redhead woman from Jake’s memories... Crys. Luke’s eyes narrowed slightly and he started to pace towards the woman, but was halted by a familiar voice in his ear. “Another redhead, love? I’m starting to think you’ve got a fixation.”
Luckas snickered at the comment, but he couldn’t help but notice Sam’s tone was again that dangerously sweet one from before. “No, no fixation... Least not this time.” He replied turning to face the woman, his eyes searching her expression for any signs of aggravation, but finding none. Was he that bad at reading emotions was she that good at hiding them? “Are you upset?” He asked, his tone genuinely confused.
“Do I seem upset, Lukey?” Sam asked, raising an eyebrow questioningly at him. The woman didn’t seem to mind all the ruckus of fighting and shouting going in the background, nor did she seem concerned with being trapped in that room. In fact, Sam couldn’t possibly seem more calm and serene amongst all the chaos.
“I’m not sure, Sammy. If I knew, I wouldn’t need to ask.” Luckas replied, giving her a look of clear annoyance.
Sam smiled softly, reaching out and ruffling his hair playfully as if he were a little boy. “I know... And if you knew I was mocking you, you wouldn’t feel the need to explain that. I guess that’s just part of your charm though, hm?”
“I wouldn’t know about that. I don’t consider myself charming... Why would I?”
Sam snickered, shaking her head in silent disbelief. “Why would you, indeed.”
“Are you mocking me now?” He asked, sounding a bit confused by the whole conversation. Gladly he didn’t have to think about it for much longer as the loud redhead boy version of Amber appeared, bouncing towards them. “Heeeelllooooo!” The boy giggled. “Ain’t this a fun party!?”
Sam turned to redhead boys with pleased smile. “Ah, Mr. Wyatt... Is Lizzy’s little issue taken care of?”
“No, not exactly... Seems the boy wasn’t just a silly little Newhaven guard, we had to let him go, but... I don’t think he even remembers how he got here... You know Lizzy; she likes her men young and confused.”
Sam sighed softly and shook her head in disapproval. “Remind Adam of the conditions I’ve imposed on him and what happens if he can’t keep her in check.”
“Yes, Mistress.” Wyatt’s reply was short and respectful, and very uncharacteristic in its seriousness. Something in Sam’s words or tone had caused that reaction, and Luckas wasn’t exactly sure of what it was.
“Tell Adam to try and unlock the doors somehow, tell Lizzy to provide cover; she’ll know what to do.”
Wyatt bowed at the order and made off quickly to pass the orders along. Luckas had previously questioned the reason why Sammy kept Amber so close amongst all the others when she was so erratic, but Sam’s presence alone seemed to make the little psycho into an obedient and adoring puppy. It was really something interesting and frightening to see.
“Lukey... Are you still afraid of the dark?” Sam asked softly, her hand reaching for his in a firm grip.
“Uncomfortable maybe, but not afraid.” Luckas replied, unsure of what the woman was intending with the questioning and the hand holding. It all become very clear, metaphorically speaking at least, when a gust of wind crossed the ballroom, extinguishing every single flame in its path and engulfing the party and its guest in absolute darkness. As soon as everything went dark, Luckas felt himself being led by the hand, firmly, by Sam as if the woman knew exactly where to go, ignoring all the sounds of the disoriented party guests. “Don’t worry, Lukey.” She stated calmly.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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Crys let herself be led just far enough from Rick to be comfortable and pushed Jake away with a rather violent shove. “Don’t touch me!” She muttered out at him. “Don’t!” Taking a deep breath as Jake stepped back from her she calmed her tone. “I didn’t ask for help Jake... And you know damn well I can take care of myself so... Don’t.”
“I’m sorry.... You’re right... I’m sorry.” Jake mumbled, holding up his hands defensively. “These people just mess with my head, that’s all... You... Mess with my head... You know that.”
“I know, Jacob, and I’m sorry too. I am.” Crys sighed, running her fingers through the strands of her hair a bit awkwardly. “Listen, a lot is happening and I...”
“It’s alright. Don’t be sorry, I overstepped.” He shook his head, heaving a weary sigh. “I understand that, but I needed... I needed you away from him. I need you safe, do you understand?” He didn’t wait for an answer to his question and simply started to walk away, flinching a bit and halting as he felt Crys grab his arm to stop him. The gesture surprised as he had assumed she wanted him to leave.
“Why now?” She asked in a whisper. “Why suddenly you need me now?”
Jake turned, with a look of honest shock in his eyes as he stared at her. “What do you mean ‘suddenly’? I always need you, I just don’t always know it. Because, as you know, I’m an idiot.”
“I can’t argue with that.” She mumbled, releasing his arm. “If you want to help me Jake, take a moment from being angry at the world, take a step back from this, and try to figure it out with me. I sure could use an answer or two.”
“Fair enough.” He stated simply. “Is it true then? Is Ella dead?”
Crys frowned slightly at the question, Evin did see what he saw, but in her gut she knew something was out of place. That void left behind when someone was gone from the world, that emptiness she usually would feel wasn’t present. Maybe it was just her, but maybe... Maybe... There was something else just underneath the surface. “You know Jakey... Yes and no... I’ll get back to you on that.”
“I’m not sure I understand, but... Okay...” Jake mumbled, clearly confused, but not really too concerned about it. He didn’t really want to admit it, but Ella’s life wasn’t that important to him. Sure, she was Queen, and her death was to bring consequences, but he had no personal reasons to care. Not too long ago he probably wouldn’t have felt this way, but in this present moment in time he was too tired to waste his energy with mourning a girl he really just barely knew. Sad maybe, but undeniably true. He’d have enough on his hands trying to keep the people dearest to him safe; especially those who wouldn’t be too happy about it. “I should go find my friends.”
“Darren’s fine, I spoke to him just a few moments ago.” Crys stated, not quite bothering to explain where she knew the boy from, sure that Jake was already aware of that. “As for the other kid, you’ll have to search for him and hope for the best.”
“Hoping for the best is my favorite thing... I’m Mr. Optimistic, you know that.” Jake chuckled. “I’m glad to have instructed those kids to go back straigh to camp and not wait for me. I have this gut feeling something’s going to hold me back a bit.”
Crys agreed with a nod. “Funny that you’d say that, I do need you to do me a favor that involves holding you back a bit. Evin is going after Sean and I’d like you to follow him.”
“Follow him and do what exactly?” Jake asked, a tone of annoyance suddenly seeping through his tone as if the request offended him in some way he wasn’t willing to admit to. “Am I to help him or stop him? Either way I’m not sure I’m too pleased with the idea.”
Crys sighed frowning at Jake as if silently scolding him for his attitude, but not wanting to really address the issue. “I don’t know. I believe you’re capable of deciding that for yourself. I trust your judgement... Most times.”
“How flattering.” Jake sighed. “Fine, I’ll do you this favor, but unless I think his life is threatened, I won’t move a finger to interfere. I’ve done my share of trying to help him in the past.”
“Fair enough, Jacob.” Crys agreed, giving an overly polite bow as she began to walk away.
“Don’t call me Jacob... Crystal.” Jake retorted glaring as he thought he heard her laugh to herself as she slipped past a group of frightened guests.

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“Luckas, lets go. I thought you wanted to leave”

Luckas opened his eyes to see that people were rushing to the exits, Sam was staring at him with the corner of her eyes waiting for him to move from his spot and he could tell she had been trying to get his attention for some time without success. He simply nodded in agreement and pushed himself away from the wall, starting to move to follow the crowd as though he hadn’t been so lost in his own thoughts he didn’t really remember what he was doing there in the first place. It was just a momentary lapse. “I’m tired, that’s all.” He mumbled, predicting some form of questioning on her part. “Had to get through a ton of mental barriers and bullshit to reach the King, and even then I got nothing worth the effort; just that he’s a freak and I’d like to see him dead.”
“Hmm... We’ll see about that.” Sam stated. “I don’t see why his life would be worth a thing to us or our plans, but nonetheless, better be careful when sticking a knife to a Royal... The Wolves haven’t learned that lesson yet, it seems.”
“I don’t plan on using a knife, Sammy.” Luckas snickered. “I’ll wait though, if that’s what you want.”
“That would be very nice of you, Luckas.” She retorted, her eyes tracing a somewhat clear path to one of the open doors before she made a turn in that direction.
“Why are you mad?” Luckas questioned, following only half a step behind the woman.
“What makes you think I am?” She asked.
“Well... You don’t usually call me Luckas; and you’ve done it at least three times now.” He pointed out to her with a shrug.
“I’m not mad at you, Lukey.” Sam stated simply, not encouraging any further questioning. Truth be told, she wasn’t sure whether or not she was mad. That was yet to be seen. “I’m just very disappointed at this party... Can’t believe I dressed up for this.”
“Well, it had its.... Moments. I agree though; quite the let down.” Luckas snickered.
“Yes, you didn’t even get to dance, did you?” Sam asked, raising an eyebrow in half playful manner.
“Probably for the best, I’m not even half decent at it, but a bet is a bet... Although I’m not sure now whether I won or lost...” He shrugged. “Hopefully I won’t owe Amber any favors, that seems like a terrible idea.”
“It is. Trust me, it really is.” Sam nodded, smirking at the wariness that crossed Luke’s expression at her words. The amusement slowly leaving her expression as a guard stopped them at the door, her staring at the man with curiosity as he politely asked her to surrender any weapons. “I don’t have any weapons on me. See?” She replied simply, spreading her arms as if to show she had nothing to hide. “So unless you want to search me, sweetie, you should let me through.”
The guard stepped forward as if he was in fact about to search her, but was held back by the angered glare of a pair of red eyes. “If you touch her, buddie... I’ll cut off every one of your fingers and shove them down your throat. Now back off.”
The guard immediately made way for them to pass, Luckas purposely pushing him further away as he passed. “You’re lucky I‘m in a hurry, pal.” He muttered under his breath, eyeing the man menacingly.
Sam snickered, shaking her head as she went out after him. “A bit excessive don’t you think, love? I mean, the man did have his orders after all...” She said, casually.
“Yes, well... I doubt he was only searching for weapons.” Luckas muttered.
“Even if that was the case...” She chuckled. “I don’t see why it’s up to you to defend my honor... Not that I mind though.” She added, playfully nudging him.
“Oh, I’m sorry... I forget... You have Zeke for that, don’t you? Oh well...” Luckas shrugged. “Guess I shouldn’t bother.”
Sam glared at him and opened her mouth as if to argue, but was distracted by a guy who stumbled out of a small crowd of leaving party guests and fell at their feet; blood dripping from one of his nostrils, an angered look in his eyes. “Excuse, miss.” He muttered at Sam pulling himself off the ground.

“I didn’t say we were done, you little shit!”

Luckas immediately looked around as he recognized the voice shouting after the young man, finding it a bit odd to hear Jake shouting and cursing at someone else other than him. The guy pushed himself between Luke and Sam still a bit stunned from a blow to the head as he stumbled aimlessly trying to get away. Jake on the other hand, stepped calmly out of the crowd in pursue not rushing after the man, but walking after him as though sure he wasn’t going to run far. Jake stopped in front of Luckas, staring from him to Sam with a intrigued expression in his eyes for a split second before nodding in acknowledgment, mocking a polite greeting as he muttered. “Vermin.” pushing past the two, purposely slamming his shoulder against Luckas as he did so.
“Coward.” Luckas snorted returning the ‘pleasantry’ as he continued to walk as though the whole scene was ordinary.
“Another friend of yours Lukey?” Sam questioned, a tone of amusement in her voice.
“Not at all.” Luckas muttered, a growl escaping him underneath the words.
“Hmm... Too bad, he’s kind of cute... Lovely eyes...”
“Hmph.” Luckas muttered, not replying to her comment but simply fastening his pace. Right now he really wanted to put some distance between himself and the castle.

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

Irvin didn’t have much luck opening the doors, but apparently he didn’t have to because suddenly they opened, causing the boy to be dragged outside by a crowd of frightened people trying to get away from all the insanity as fast as possible. After much struggling and a few bumps he managed to stumble his way out of the mass of people and into a somewhat secure spot. “That was insane.” He muttered, looking around in search of a familiar face; any familiar face. Eventually he spotted one, just not one he was expecting to see in a place like that. Irvin rubbed his eyes as if trying to make sure they weren’t playing tricks on him as he slowly approached an older teenager. “Allan?” He called in a mumbled, a bit of stunned shock crossing his features as he the boy turned to face him. Allan didn’t look much like Irvin aside from a few subtle traits, at first glance no one would guess the two were related, even less brothers. Allan was considerably taller and stronger than Irvin, his skin was tanned, his hair was a darker blonde, and his eyes were a handsome blue-ish tone of green. The older boy smiled at the sight of Irvin, although the smile was clearly empty and didn’t reach his eyes. “Huh, you’re not dead yet. When I heard the guards dragged you away I thought you were done for.”
“I’m tougher than I look. It’d be good of you to know that.” Irvin retorted, looking around his older brother. “Where’s Ems?”
“She’s not with me anymore.” Allan answered with a shrug.
“What does that mean exactly, Allan?” Irvin questioned, frowning at his older brother, not liking his tone in the slightest. “Where is she?”
“I don’t know where she is, Mousy... I haven’t seen her in months... I’m pretty sure she’s alive though.”
“You’re ‘pretty sure’ she’s alive? How comforting. Can you at least tell me where you last saw her months ago, Allan? WHY is she no longer with you? Or are you so unable to give a shit you don’t even know anymore?”
“Don’t give me that Mousy. You were supposed to take care of her; that’s what we agreed on and YOU bailed. So don’t give me that now.” Allan scoffed. “I did the best I could.”
“Where... Is... She?” Irvin repeated the question, his eyes lighting up as he glared at her brother; the air around them starting to chill in his anger.
“I already said... I don’t know where she is. I last saw her five months ago. I had a bit too much to drink and made a bet I shouldn’t have. I couldn’t pay...”
“You used our little sister to pay a debt?” Irvin growled at the older boy. “What the hell is wrong with you!?”
“Look, it’s not that simple... These people... You just don’t say no to them... They would’ve killed us both.”
“Then you should have died!” Irvin shouted. “Did you even consider what they’d do to her? Why they even wanted her for? She’s a child!”
“You gotta do whatever to survive Mousy... About time she learns that too, you know.” Allan muttered with a dismissive shrug.
The words seemed to have impacted Irvin greatly, and without any thinking he jumped on his brother taking some of his balance, but ending up overpowered by the older boy. Allan was just stronger than him and Irvin had always known that, but at the moment he couldn’t really care less for consequences, even after Allan had thrown him to the ground and stepped on his throat, threatening to cut off his air supply, he was still shouting that he’d kill him only stopping when he began to choke and found himself unable to make another sound. He struggled to keep conscience, but eventually his sight began to blur and fade to black. He was almost passed out completely when suddenly the weight was lifted and he could breathe again; faded sounds of an argument reaching his ears as he coughed and struggled to catch his breath. Eventually he felt himself being pulled up from the ground onto his feet, looking up to meet Jake’s amused stare. “Friend of yours?”
“Where did he go?” Irvin muttered, looking around pulling away from Jake’s hold. “He needs to tell me how to find her... I have to find her...”
Jake only let Irvin take about a step away from him, before grabbing the kid once again by the back of his clothes, not wanting him to run off in such a disoriented state“Whoa, whoa... Wait... Irvin... What’s going on?”
Irvin took a breath. “Allan owed a bet he couldn’t pay, so he gave away our sister as payment. I have to find her... Where did he go?”
“Alright, alright, Kid... No offense, but if you go after him, you’ll probably just get your ass kicked again; I’ll find him and I’ll make sure he tells me everything. I promise. You go find Darren and head back to camp, by the time I meet you guys again I’ll have an idea of where to start looking. We’ll find her, okay?” Jake struggled a bit to keep a hold on Irvin as the boy was still trying to escape him and run off after his brother. “Hey, hey, Kid! We. Will. Find. Her. I swear to you. Now go find Darren and if Captain doesn’t have way too much on her hands already, I’m sure she’ll help you too, and if she does I’m sure we can handle it ourselves, but you need to trust.”
Irvin stopped fighting, heaving a sigh as he nodded his agreement. “Killer... just do me a favor... Hurt him.”
Jake nodded, patting Irvin’s shoulder. “As if the sister was my own.” He mumbled walking off in the direction Irvin’s brother had ran off to. He was going to get that guy to tell him all he knew; one way or another.

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

Crystal left the party immediately after the exits were cleared, crowded by the fleeing party guests; the commotion between Mageria and, a seemingly living, Ella reaching her ears as she exited. She felt no need to go check for what was happening... There was little sense to be made of that whole situation by standing in the middle of it. Her mother always made it a point to say that the closer you stand to something, the less room you leave for reason. And if anyone knew a thing or two about clouded judgment, it was the late Dani Rivers. If this party had served a purpose though, for Crys, it was to show that it was time to get involved with the affairs of the land again. The ideals and the beliefs that she had carried into exile with her, the ones the Wolfpack once lived by, had laid dormant for too long now. She couldn't afford to hide any longer, to leave everything she had fought for her whole life lay forgotten in the shadows underneath a petty vengeance. Sean was many things, but he wasn't the source of all the strange happenings that seemed to have been spreading across Valcrest lately; and she was sure someone was behind it all somehow.

Crys heaved a sigh, frowning slightly as her ears caught the sound of footsteps approaching the alleyway where she had been waiting. It was a perfectly concealed spot near a back exit of the city. She wasn't sure, but she took a guess that Mageria would be leaving through it; some habits were hard to kill, and sneaking around was the hardest of them all. As the footsteps drew closer, Crys took a long deep breath, green eyes lighting up under closed lids, her frown intensifying at what she was sensing at the woman's approach. When the footsteps were close enough, on the right spot, Crys moved, abruptly stepping out of the shadows just long enough to put a firm grip on the back of the woman's clothes and pull her towards the dark alleyway. Now, Crys knew Mageria too well to think for a second that approaching the woman that way wasn't completely reckless; it actually felt like something Jake would be more inclined to do than her, but it was the best way she could think of to get the woman's attention quickly, even if it resulted in a less than friendly reaction.


She was going to have to kill her Queen.

She was going to have to kill her Queen.

She was going to have to kill her Queen.

The thought rang over and over in Mageria's head. No matter that Ella was dead. She was going to have to kill the person who wore that body, and more than that, everybody was going to know it was her that did it. It was the right thing to do, but she didn't know if she could afford to pay the price this was going to cost her. Grimly, she pulled a cloak of duty around herself, burying her feelings so far down that they might as well have been gone. This was what needed to happen, for the good of Valcrest. She would do what needed to be done.

She always had.

It was in this mood that Crys found her; a pair of hands reaching out of nowhere to grab her and pull her into a darkened alley. Mageria spun on the ball of one foot, her eyes seeing only a target. With one swift blow, she knocked the other woman's hands away, shouldering her into the wall and grabbing her by the throat. Her other hand flickered, snapping a slim dagger out of an arm sheath. With a speed few could hope to match, she brought her arm up to plunge the dagger into her opponent's eye.

Out of nowhere came another pair of hands, grabbing her knife hand and actually being dragged along for a bit before they finally managed to stop Mageria's forward motion. The slim hands belonged to Sham, her eyes glowing brilliantly in the effort to react before Mageria could finish. She had managed to halt the blade less than a hair from the empath's left eye.... If Crys blinked, she would slice her eyelid in half.

"Cap'n....." Sham sounded as calm as possible, considering the circumstances. "I'm think'ng that this might be somebody you'd be wishful of talk'ng to."

Mageria was still for a long moment, actually having to force herself to identify the other woman. She blinked, a name swimming up from the depths of her mind. "Crys." She blinked again, noticing that Cry's hands were also on her wrist. It had taken the both of them to stop her. Slowly she stepped back, releasing Crys from her hold and resheathing the knife. She took a precise two steps back, standing just outside of her range of close attack. Mageria glanced over at the empath, to where brightly livid bruises were already rising on her neck. "That was a bad idea."

Crys was absolutely calm considering her situation, holding perfectly still like a statue until Mageria had stepped back and smiling gently at the woman as though she hadn't been moments away from running a blade through her skull. "I know. It was a terrible approach, but I decided it was time I paid Blackpond some attention; I'm not leaving the city yet, and I feel it is rather important we speak." The empath sighed softly, the whole situation caused chills down her spine and it almost took a bit of effort to speak of it out loud. "Evin is going after Sean and I'm afraid he's already on his way to camp now, so that makes you the only person I know who was truly close to Ella. I don't know how to say this and make it sound any less horrible because that's just what it is... Still, I can't let you leave without knowing exactly what is happening. See, when someone dies, I feel their presence disappear, immediately, to a point when it's often painfully clear to me that they're gone, but this was different. Ella is dead, but... She's not... gone entirely. She's still present, although no longer in control of her own self. I doubt she could be brought back, and probably keeping this impostor alive in her body would be trapping her further in that unpleasant state, but... There is another presence in there, another life, one that is innocent and oblivious... And can be saved. I don't know what would be the consequences of letting this go on for the sake of saving this baby, and maybe that's what they are counting on, but..." She trailed off, falling into somewhat of a saddened silence for a few moments before speaking again. "There is one more thing I'll ask you to consider, Mageria... Our days are darkening, I feel crazy to say it, but I can feel it, and Newhaven... Needs you. Not too long ago it was my job to make it so things like this wouldn't cost the cities their protectors and I still believe that. If that's what this comes down to... You don't need to take the blame. We've done it once before."


"Cap'n...." Sham spoke up softly. "You know what happens now. Now that the Queen is, well, dead."
Mageria closed her eyes and sighed, feeling the weight of further duty pressing down on her. "I never wanted this. Any of this." She looked up. "We can't let that.... thing, sit on the throne. Not even for the months it would take to birth the child." She glanced over. "Sham, run ahead. Set up an ambush, for that spot about a mile in teh forest from Newhaven. Capture, no killing." Sham bit her lip and nodded, spinning on one foot and taking off. She could get to Raven's Nest in time, but it would nearly kill her.

Duty.

Mageria sighed again. Her duty was now to the child growing in the body of a necromancer set to fight for the throne of Newhaven. It would have to be kept safe until it gave birth, and then she could take care of things. But until then.....She glanced over at Crys. "Thank you for telling me this. If Ella is really in there . . . it will be a mercy. When the time comes." She leaned back against the alley wall. "You know, Ella made you her heir. But that's not quite the way it works. In Newhaven, if the royal line dies out, two regents are named. They stand for Sun and Moon, ruling until a new heir is found." She grimaced. "Guess who that means.....I never wanted this."

Crys nodded as she listened to Mageria explain the hierarchy in Newhaven, it did provide her with a sense of relief to know that she wouldn't have to worry about what Ella had done; she had no business or interest getting involved in the city''s affairs anyway. "Well, if you told me that sooner it would have spared me a small freak out." She said, her tone amused for a moment before her expression became serious again. "Nonetheless... It's surely for the best interest of Valcrest that Newhaven is left in the hands of more competent people than myself." She added, leaning against the wall behind her casually. "As I said, I'm going to be sticking around here as I've made it a personal goal of mine during this party to learn as much as possible about these Blackpond assassins, and to bring them down one way or another. I don't know exactly where this will take me, or for how long I'll be here for, but... If at any point there's something I can help you with, Ali will know how to reach me; assuming you don't mind her hanging around your people a bit longer of course." Crys smiled a bit faintly as she pulled away from the wall with a heavy sigh. "It's been a long night for us all, and I have the feeling it'll be a busy day, so I won't keep you any longer. Besides, I really need to get out of this damn dress." Reaching out for the woman's arm and giving it a light squeeze as she made her way past onto the main streets she added. "Just remember to also take care of yourself, alright?"

The setting changes from blackpond to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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As soon they arrived back at the Manor from the Ball Sam retreated into her study saying she had much to think about, her tone clearly disencouraging questions. Luckas frowned watching her walk up the stairs; he wanted to follow, but Amber was already dragging him towards the kitchen by the shirt. “Come Lukey, you haven’t eaten anything at the party... Which is good, because I poisoned some of it for kicks...”

Luckas let himself be led to a dining table and not too long after Amber and himself were sitting with Lizzy and Adam amongst empty bowls of stew, passing around their second bottle of some strong liquor that Amber was purposely passing to Lizzy a bit more frequently than the others, making the woman even more talkative than usual, Amber seeming to get a bit of a kick from Adam’s annoyed glances as she went on about their assignment in Newhaven and then on about past assignments, until they reached the topic of how and when they all received their imprint.

“I don’t remember my childhood.” The woman stated with a simple shrug. “Adam and I were imprinted at age thirteen, that’s as far as I can go back. It’s a common side effect; memory loss, but I don’t mind... I doubt there was anything important there to remember.” She concluded, taking another shot and grimacing slightly. “You’re all just trying to get me drunk aren’t you?” She giggled.

A small wave of chuckles escaped Amber, her features now changed to ones of a brown haired girl of about sixteen. “Yes, Lizzy, dear. We’re all just waiting to take advantage of you, ain’t that right?” She asked, nudging the tall blond man that was seated next to her.
Lizzy giggled softly. “Don’t listen to her, Addy, sweetie... She’s just messing with you.” She passed the bottle and the shot glass to Adam and the man mumbled something under his breath before pouring a shot and drinking it.
“Adam! That so rude!” Amber replied as if she had heard Adam’s words, letting a very convincing shocked expression cross her delicate features, followed closely by a delighted giggle. “Bad, bad, Adam... Do you kiss your sister with that mouth of yours?” He teased, snatching the bottle from Adam and drinking a large gulp straight from it, passing it along to Luckas. “How about you, hmm... Lukey, hun... A little birdie tells me you were imprinted as a young puppy, isn’t that so?”

“Three or four years old.” Luckas replied, passing the bottle along to Lizzy untouched. “Odd though, I thought only two people were aware of that... One of them being the Mistress herself... So, should I just assume Zeke is a bit of a gossiper?”
Amber arched an eyebrow amused. “Oh, wow, busted...” She snickered. “Yes, Lukey... She told me all about you. All girls like to talk about their boys, you know.” She smirked.
“Fair enough... So, how do you know her?” Luckas asked, a slightly intrigued look in his eyes. “I thought that was a rare privilege.”
“Well, I’m a rescue puppy, like you. Actually, about four years ago I was wearing grey and being kicked around the halls.” Amber grinned. “Luckily... I kicked back hard enough to catch someone’s attention.”
“Mhm... Amber was offered an imprint by the Mistress herself, even though she was only a Lesser... That’s not something that happens very often... It was quite a shock for some people.” Lizzy stated
“I’m sorry, but I believe no other Lesser has ever been granted an imprint before. I am THAT special.” Amber corrected. “It was a bit of a surprise, won’t lie... Three Prospects were kicking me around and such... I got sick of taking it quietly, so I jumped on one of them, bit his ear right off. Of course I paid the price, thought they were going to beat me to death, but I woke up in the sick ward and she was there. I’m not one for loyalties, but I’m just about sane enough to appreciate when someone saves my life... And how easily they could’ve taken it away at certain moments... I surely broke enough rules to make my death justifiable, and yet here I am.” She smirked
“Alright, let me ask you something then, since you are such an expert on rule-breaking...” Luckas asked, this time accepting the bottle as it reached his hands. “...What would be the punishment for killing a Prospect?”
“For you?” Lizzy asked, a hint of choked laughter escaping her. Amber kicked her hard under the table and glared at her as though she had said something she clearly shouldn’t have, even though Luckas couldn’t really see what it was.
Amber took a moment to reflect on the questions before answering. “Well, for you there’s one important thing to consider; never, EVER, use your red-eye-touchy thingy to kill another within the Brotherhood. Using your imprint in some other way shouldn’t be too much of a violation, but that would depend on the Rank of the Prospect and the odds of him actually getting imprinted, if he’s pure and has a good record of service he’s a good candidate to imprinting and so he’s a greater asset to the Order; greater consequences for killing him.”
“Huh... That’s... Awfully helpful.” Luckas mumbled, a bit taken aback by how well Amber knew the hierarchy and rules of the Order.
“Gotta know the rules to break the rules, hun.” She smiled.
“When it comes down to rule breaking Amber surely takes the crown, Lizzy snickered nodding knowingly. Think... I’m good and drunk as it is...” She giggled softly, standing from her chair and immediately stumbling onto the floor at the first couple of steps, laughing silly. Adam sighed in annoyance and picked up his sister, groaning something that sounded vaguely with ‘goodnight’ as he carried her away over his left shoulder. Luckas chuckled as he watched the annoyed expression on the man’s face. “That guy’s patience never ends does it?”
“Not when it comes to Lizzy, no... You wouldn’t want to piss him off though, I’ve done that; I know. Always mind the quiet ones, Lukey... Always... Trust me.”
“Trust you?” Luckas snickered. “Never.”
“Suit yourself.” She chuckled.
“Hey, Amber... Now that it’s just you and me here...” Luckas mumbled, taking a swig straight from the bottle and sliding it across the table to her. “What is the deal with Zeke? I mean... He... You know what I mean, right? What’s his story?”
“Hm... Zeke... I don’t know whether or not to pity that man... Most days though I just want to rip his heart out.”
“Oh? I didn’t know you disliked him this much... You seem to somewhat respect him.” Luckas asked, a bit intrigued by the girl’s reaction.
“I do respect him, but that doesn’t make me hate him any less. Zeke was... My handler... I’m sure you still remember things enough to know what that means.” Amber responded, shrugging as though the fact was unimportant.
“Alright, so why would you pity him then, if you just said you hate him?” Luke questioned, waiting for Amber to pass the bottle along to him, noticing how she had simply kept drinking instead.
“I already said a bit too much, but oh well...” Amber smirked. “Zeke is Sammy’s little lapdog. He’d do anything to get her praise and her attention, and she knows that. The guy lives to serve her, and nothing more. That’s just pitiful, but then you can’t say he didn’t choose it.” Amber shrugged. “Neither one of them will talk about it, but rumor has it Zeke was the one who offed the old man.”
“Sam’s father?” Luke leaned back in his seat, staring up at the ceiling. “You know... I remember him... Well, his voice... He was always shouting at her... Sick son of a bitch... He was lucky to die before I got to him.”
“Aaaw, listen to you all protective and stuff...” Amber giggled, finally passing the bottle back to Luckas with only a bit left at the bottom. “You... Need to watch yourself around Zeke though... I know he’s just trying to find a way to get rid of you. He won’t hurt you were Sammy can see it, but he’ll try to harm you in anyway he can.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Luke stated, finishing off the bottle of liquor. “Now, if you’ll excuse me... I need to go tend to my rule breaking.” He said, a smirk crossing his features as he started to walk out of the kitchen; halting as a sudden thought hit him. “Hey, Amber, remember you owe me a favor?”

[Next Morning]

Luckas was leaning casually against the windowsill of the library, his expression empty as he looked down on the servants in grey clothing as they dug a grave in the back of the property. He had kept away from the commotion, acted as though he didn’t care to know what was happening in the house that morning, and carried on with his usual routine. Only when Adam didn’t show up for what was to be their first training session had he bothered to go around and ask what the problem was. The death of a Prospect was never something to draw this much attention; they weren’t very important overall, but this guy for what Luke heard was pretty close to getting a brand, Zeke was personally handling his basic training, and the manner through which the young man met his end was, until this moment, something unseen amongst the Brotherhood’s ranks.

“I’m impressed.” Zeke’s voice echoed through the empty room, amongst the rows of dusty books; a menacing sharpness to it, enough to make any other man in Luckas position flinch at the sound of the heavy doors closing. Luckas didn’t move a muscle, he held still as a statue, almost enough to convince Zeke that he wasn’t listening. Almost. “I know you did this. I’m not sure how, but I know... I can almost feel it... How pleased you are with yourself right now.”

Silence lingered following Ezekiel’s words, Luckas let a faint hint of a smirk cross his features as if to get it out of his system before he was forced to look the other man in the eyes. “I’m not sure what you’re accusing me of exactly, Zeke, but it doesn’t matter... If you could prove it you wouldn’t have come to me with it.”
“Gavin wouldn’t have killed himself that way... The man wasn’t capable of that level of remorse... It makes no sense.” Zeke muttered out. “Look at me, kid; why did you do this?”
Luckas couldn’t help a slightly mocking snicker from escaping past his lips at Zeke’s words. “I didn’t do anything. What are you suggesting, hm? That I commanded him to hang himself? I think Sam would be able to tell if I had outright attacked the man, so you have no reason to think I would try that... After all, it was made perfectly clear to me that any lethal use of my abilities against anyone inside this house is strictly prohibited.” Heaving a long deep breath Luckas turned to face Zeke, leaning against the open window almost as if daring the angered man to reach out and push him over. “I did not command him to take his own life, if that is your accusation.”
“Maybe not, boy, but... You did it somehow.”
“You know... There was a caretaker, in the orphanage where I was taken after, you know, I was left in a stinky dark basement to die, well... The man had it in for me. Every little thing that happened out of the ordinary was my fault. Alright, maybe he was somewhat justified in his paranoia, but often he punished me for things I had nothing to do with... A lot of the other kids got away with things too, because kids are quick learners and it wasn’t exactly difficult to figure out that all it took was to point a finger at the weird boy. Well, about a year after me and my brother got out... I found him... Broke into his home... And punished him for everything he did and didn’t do, just like he’d done with me. It was a concept that grew on me in time; why bother waiting for people to do things they are bound to do eventually when you can punish them now, right? It saves a lot of time.”
Zeke’s eyes lit up in yellow momentarily before returning to their dark green a silent wave of understanding and rage passing through his dark features. “Where is the Lesser girl, Luckas?”
“Who, now?”
“The girl that Gavin wrote about in his suicide letter, Luckas... The little girl he wrote a lengthy and painfully detailed confession about raping and murdering and burying in the woods in little tiny pieces... The kid whose face he claimed was haunting him to a point where he could no longer bear the guilt. THAT Lesser girl. Where is she?”
“For what you just said... Buried in the woods, supposedly in little tiny pieces.” Luckas shrugged dismissively. “Are you accusing me of killing her too now?”
“He never killed the girl, you planted those memories in his mind, didn’t you? You planted them well enough to convince him they were real, made them persistent enough to break him into insanity... You are clever, boy, but you don’t fool me.”
Luckas smiled calmly at Ezekiel’s claims; they were absolutely accurate, of course. “Funny, I thought you said your little pet was not capable of such levels of remorse. That I know of, my imprint is in no way related to empathic abilities of any kind so I don’t see how I could instill any kind of emotion on anyone. Even less one I’m so... Sooooo... So very unfamiliar with. The fact remains, reality remains, the same; he killed himself because he chose to.” Luckas stated, his eyes were finally beginning to show the childish joy he was experiencing from what he had pulled off, it was a very clear statement of his involvement in the whole thing, almost just as clear as the confession Zeke knew he would never actually get. As he pushed himself away from the window and started to walk past the older Branded a wicked satisfied grin started to spread across his face; almost as if he was saying out loud what he was thinking. He did it, but there was no way in hell Zeke would ever prove it, Sam wouldn’t just take his word for it, he had already gotten away with it completely.
“You smug... little... traitor... piece of shit...” Ezekiel growled turning to glare at Luckas’ back as the young man passed him by towards the door, grabbing him by the back of his shirt and pulling him back with all his strength, causing him to fall to the floor.
Luckas felt himself be dragged backwards forcefully enough that he lost his balance and fell right on his ass. It barely bothered him. Zeke wanted to hurt him, he knew it, but he could barely be bothered to do anything but smile cheerfully up at the furious man. He was absolutely ecstatic and the man’s rage only made him feel more pleased with himself. “Now, now... Easy there man... You don’t really want to kill me, now... Do you?”

The following moments were an absolute blur. All Luckas could really do was protect his head from Zeke as he snapped at him and started to pour down furious blows to his torso. He wasn’t sure how long the man was at it before someone bursted through the library doors. Luke could catch a glimpse of Adam struggling to pull Zeke away from him. He could hear Sam was shouting things, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of laughter. Luckas had a vague awareness of the fact the laughter was his own, but he couldn’t really feel himself laughing... Or will himself to stop... When all went silent he wondered momentarily if he had managed to stop laughing or if he was slipping out of consciousness. The answer came to him within seconds as everything disappeared into a comforting darkness.

It was a while later when Luckas woke up in the sick ward... Again. The same lady in blue who tended to his stab wound was there, seeming very annoyed for seeing him again so soon, wordlessly wrapping tight bandages around his torso. She was just about done when Sam entered; she didn’t make a sound and Luckas couldn’t see her where she stood, but he could feel her presence in the air. “How much trouble am I in?” He mumbled, not trying to turn and face the woman, oddly enough deciding against disrupting the healer’s work. Silence lingered until the woman in blue seemed satisfied with her work, at which point she left closing the door behind her.

Once the door was closed Sam locked it, her green eyes were cold steel piercing right through Luckas as she stared at him in silence. Luckas didn’t hold her gaze for more than a few seconds, pretending to search around the room for his shirt. After a few moments Sam moved from the doorway to a chair near the bed. “Luckas... What the hell is your problem? What am I to do with you, huh?”
“What would you like to do with me... Mistress?” He whispered softly, turning to look her in the eyes.
“Don’t give me that.” She protested.
“If you’re calling me Luckas, then I have the right to be formal too, don’t I?” He asked, a fake polite tone in his voice.
“Fine, you got me... I know why I’m angry... Why are you?” Sam asked, looking at him with interest.
“I’m not angry.” Luckas shrugged, wincing a bit at the pain. “Except for the fact that you don’t let the blue woman heal me fully.”
“Your fractured ribs are all mended, you’ll be fine in a few days... Don’t be a baby.” Sam sighed. “What the hell happened in that library, Luckas?”
“Zeke accused me of killing his puppy and then beat the shit out of me.” Luckas stated, finding his shirt and slowly and painfully starting to slip it on. “I’m pretty sure he already told you all about it.”
“Ezekiel is being held in the dungeons at the moment. The only question is for how long and whether or not you should join him.” Sam stated calmly, staring at him as though awaiting an answer.
“I think those decisions are yours to make, aren’t they Mistress?” He responded, groaning as his head went through the collar of the shirt. “What do you want from me?”
“Lukey... Please stop... This is serious. Zeke’s accusations are serious ones. Especially the accusation that you smuggled a servant girl out of the Manor.”
“I don’t know about any Lesser girl, Sammy!” Luke retorted.
“Zeke sent her to get you when we were leaving for the party and the last anyone saw her was last night.” Sam stated calmly. “Granted, it could be that Gavin killed her as he claimed in his suicide letter... I don’t put it past him at all... I do have to admit that the timing though... It’s just suspicious.”
“I didn’t smuggle anyone out of the Manor, Sammy, I swear.” Luckas stated. “I was in my room the whole night last night. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”
“I was in my study all night, I had some things to reflect on... Fine, Lukey, I believe you.” She nodded, leaning back on her seat. “You didn’t tell me why you are angry though.”
“I said... I’m not angry.” Luckas retorted, looking away from her for a moment. “Lizzy told me what she was doing in Newhaven. The Council member she went there to silence... I recognized the voices of a few Councilmen when I accessed the city Warlord’s memories... You kept things from me, Sammy.”
“Yes, yes, I did keep things from you... My father’s businesses in Newhaven are... A mess we’re still trying to clean up; that’s why I sent Lizzy and Adam there to see the head of their Council... And remind him to keep quiet.” She paused, heaving a long sigh. “My father was making me build him an army to sell to the man in charge of the City at the time, Lukey... That’s why when I gave you and Matthew the imprint, your abilities were a bit more... Dangerous... Than it would be prudent. I was trying to give my father what he wanted, but I had never imprinted before. In doing this, Father exposed us greatly, several of the Councilmen were aware of their deal, once my father was eliminated I had to make sure they remained silent; some of them needed to be neutralized over the years... It’s possible George Bennett will be next.” She smiled. “No, you can’t go after him yourself... I don’t want you near Newhaven right now.”
“Fair enough.” Luckas agreed, not making any comments on the explanations Sam had given him about her father’s plans. “Tell me something though, Sammy... How did your father die exactly?”
“Well, Lukey... He was punched... In the throat... With a dagger... That’s how he died exactly.” Sam answered, her tone not making clear if she was serious or not. Slowly she rose from her seat and opened up a smile. “Take it easy Lukey... I Have to go deal some punishments now, but I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Sure Sammy.” Luckas chuckled. “Have fun with the punishing.”


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

[Wolfpack Camp - One day after the Ball, early afternoon]

It was close to noon when Sean arrived at the Wolf’s camp after the party, soon enough he was surrounded by several assassins telling him of things that had happened while he was away. He really didn’t want to, but he listened to them all before finally managing to get some time to himself to organize his thoughts; once he had it though, he really didn’t know what to do with it as nothing he had to think about really made sense. The next day was spent mostly in the confines of his bedroom, cabin doors closed for the first time in a very long time, keeping track of the encampment and its movement through Franklin’s telepathic reports, not answering anyone’s calls. It was only when his sister knocked on the door that he answered, opening the door wordlessly to let her in and sitting on his bed to watch her close the door behind her and settling down a basket onto the office table. “Are you losing it, Sean?” She asked simply, sitting by the table. “I’m just wondering, you know... If you you’re going to maybe start running around naked wearing your pants as a hat... Or something...”
“Whoa, I lock my door for half a day and suddenly I’m naked wearing a pants-hat?” Sean laughed, shaking his head. “where do you get stuff like this from, huh?”
“Oh, I’m weird.” Katie smiled. “But I make you laugh at least. Here...” She started, pointing to the basket. “I brought you food... And booze... Everyone already thinks you’re getting drunk anyway.”
“Oh, well... Since my reputation is already ruined...” He chuckled, moving to sit by the table with his sister. “I’m not losing it, I think... I’m just reevaluating some things.” He mumbled, running his fingers through his hair and sighing. “Everything is just... Falling apart, Kate... And I’m not so sure I can do this anymore.”
Katelyn sighed, staring at her brother intently for a moment before pulling the bottle of liquor from the basket and pushing it towards him. “Sean... Tell me about mom.”
“Tell you about mom?” Sean mumbled, opening the bottle and taking a large gulp. “You are a lot like her, actually. She was way too kind, incredibly stubborn, and particularly talented in making me feel guilty for my wrongdoings... I don’t think I ever heard her raise her voice except for the night she died.”
“You still blame yourself, don’t you? You’re just never going to let this go...” Kate sighed, taking the bottle from his hands and taking a sip, coughing slightly as the alcohol burned its way down.
“If I hadn’t been there she would have fought him.” Sean stated simply, taking another swig.
“It probably wouldn’t have mattered. All the others fought him too... It didn’t save them.” Katie argued. “She wanted to protect you, why is it so hard for you to just accept that?”
Sean slammed his open palm on the table, nearly knocking over the bottle of alcohol and startling the girl. “I didn’t want her to protect me, I wanted her to fight! Even if it didn’t save her! She deserved a chance to fight! She didn’t have to die that way!” Sean sighed softly, lowering his head until his forehead was pressed against the wooden table. “Can we not talk about this anymore? I’t pointless.”
Katie sighed, taking another sip from the liquor bottle and reaching out to run her fingers through her brother’s hair in a soothing manner. “Sean, what would you do protect me?”
“What...” Sean turned his head so he could look up at his sister. “Kate... You know I’d do anything for you. I can’t stand the thought of you hurt. Why are you asking me this?”
“So that maybe you understand Sean... I think you need to, you know, forgive her, and move on from this... All this rage you’re holding inside is keeping you from seeing things clearly.” She sighed. “Listen, brother... Everything is falling apart, but so what? It’s not the first time things fall apart, it won’t be the last, and I know you... All the things you’ve done, Sean, they may have been questionable or just outright atrocious, but no one can deny the fact that no one else could have pulled off what you have. It took an insane amount of courage and discipline to take down an Alpha. Whatever is going on now, you’re going to find a way to get through it. You’re a fighter Sean, I know you didn't come this far to give up.”
Sean nodded slowly, taking in his sister’s words. Of course, Katie had a point; he’d gone too far to just give up now. He had sacrificed too much for that. “Kate... I need you to leave...”
“You want to be alone some more?” Kate asked, ruffling up his hair and leaning back in her seat.
Sean nodded, sitting up straight and facing his sister. “No. I meant I need you to leave the camp.” He stated. “You’re right, about mom and... I don’t know how or why just yet, but I’m sure things are going to get ugly soon and when it does... I need to fight, I can’t... I don’t want you to get hurt because of this.”
“I understand, Sean. I really do. That said... I’m not going anywhere. I’m not a child, and if things are going to get as ugly as you say, it doesn’t matter where I am. I won’t be safer with the healers than I would be with my family.” SHe took another sip from the bottle and smirked. “Besides, if I leave, who’s going to take care of you?”
“Hmmmph...” Sean mumbled. “Maybe I should take a wife then. Would that ease your conscience, sis?”
Katie shot him a playful glare. “No. It would not. Any woman crazy enough to marry you would probably just be cause for more concern.”
“Fair enough.” Sean laughed. “Fair enough, sis.” He fell silent for a moment, looking around the empty cabin. “What time is it now?”
“A couple of hours past noon. Why?” Katie asked.
“Do me a favor... Tell Franklin to make it so the children are all gathered at the diner at sundown for story time before bed and give the Actives and Instructors the night off.”
“Okay. I’ll tell him. Are we celebrating something?” She questioned, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Nah... I’m just letting them enjoy an evening before we start making some arrangements.”

The setting changes from valcrest to The Manor

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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[The Manor - 3 days after Castle Ball]

Sam sighed softly as she opened the door to the holding cell, not really caring to look and simply walking away from the open door. She was angry still with Ezekiel, but the amount of punishment he had been dealt for what he had done seemed like enough to her, as long as he refrained from annoying her any further. As she walked she purposely ignored the man’s pursuing footsteps; through the hallways, up the stairs and into her chambers he followed, his steps heavy and filled with purpose. Sam knew where this was going, she wasn’t stupid despite what some might say. Wordlessly she granted the man access into the room, heaving a sigh as she sat by her lit fireplace and motioned for Ezekiel to sit across from her. “Just say whatever you feel you need to say, Zeke. Go on, get it over with so I can put my attention to better use than listening to your whining.” Sam muttered, staring up at the man with a clearly fake expression of interest.

Ezekiel refused the offer to sit with a nod, choosing to stand tall before his Mistress, arms crossed over his chest and a severe, if not angered, expression in his eyes as he looked down on her as though she was a particularly stupid and misbehaved child. The man seemed physically unharmed, if a bit disheveled, but upon closer inspection it was noticeable how he was doing his best to hide some level of discomfort. “I assume you didn’t punish the boy.” He muttered simply.
“No, I haven’t punished Luckas for Gavin’s suicide, Zeke. Mostly because I find that a rather ridiculous thing to do. Even if he did do what you accused him of and fabricated those memories, he had no control over Gavin’s actions. He killed himself because he chose to and Luckas’ use of his imprint, while probably a factor, was non-lethal.”
“Technicalities.” Zeke muttered in response. “Had it been anyone else...”
“Had it been anyone else they wouldn’t have pulled it off so well. Ezekiel, we know better than anyone that by creating monsters and putting them together under the same roof some things like this are to be expected. That’s why our rules are so easy to break, because if they weren’t everyone here would have to be put down for one thing or another. You and me included, or have you forgotten dear old Dad?” Sam shook her head. “Don’t pretend this has to do with the rules of the Order, Zeke. Amber has broken them in far worse ways and you never threw any hissy fits about that. Stop wasting my time, and just say what you really mean, old man.”
“You are a fool, girl. This boy is making a fool out of you, and if it was just my opinion it wouldn’t be such a problem, but this... Is becoming a laughing matter amongst the Branded. They have bets going on how far that little piece of shit can go before you dare set him straight. Not to mention the speculation of what it would take for them to be granted the same level of leniency as Luckas.”
Sam stared at Ezekiel in silence for a few moments, honestly wondering if he was really serious, before breaking down into uncontrollable giggles. “That’s precious!” She exclaimed amongst chuckles. “Hah... You can’t be serious...” She chuckled for a few moments more before being able to put on a straight face. “Seriously now, what do you expect me to do, huh? Punish Luckas to silence the whines and the gossip? No, no, silly Zeke... What message would I be sending with that? That those idiots can manipulate me with rumours and childish tactics? If they think I’m weak let them come and try me. If they want my attention, my praise, let them do their best to earn it. If anyone in this house, or any of the other houses we own, has the balls to question me to my face then I’ll show them the consequences. Otherwise, I’m not worried, and you shouldn’t be either. If they want to talk, then let them. Who really gives a shit?”
“I still think you’re making a mistake by trusting this boy.” Zeke muttered.
“Yes, I know. Thank you. Anything else?” Sam retorted, her tone making it perfectly clear she was done with discussing this matter.
“I never reported back on my affairs in Blackpond.” Zeke stated, calming his tone slightly and sitting down on the chair across from her.
“You were able to get in touch with our associate then, I assume.” Sam noted, leaning back in her seat and relaxing some. “I still don’t see why we shouldn’t just get rid of him.”
“Because, we need the supplies, and he’s given us no reason to do so.” Zeke replied simply, with a shrug. “He knows very well not to.”
“He knows way more than I’m comfortable with... That and I just never liked the man.”
“You never liked any of your father’s associates, kid. I don’t blame you, but you just have to remember that this guy is the best at what he does, it would take years to find a fitting replacement. Besides he can’t compromise us with what he knows, and if he could why would he?”
“What about his kid?” Sam inquired. “What does he know?”
“The guy says he can handle the kid on his own. That he won’t be a problem.” Zeke snorted a trace of a laugh. “I assume you won’t take his word for it.”
“Do I seem like the kind of person to trust a criminal’s ability to control his child? We’re keeping an eye on the kid, but... We’ll let him be for the moment.”
“Yes, Mistress.” Zeke replied, seeming to have finally cooled his temper.
“You’re excused, Ezekiel, go get some rest. I’m sure you could use some after what you endured.”
“I’ve had worse.” The man mumbled, holding back a groan as he stood, bowing his head slightly as he turned to leave.

As soon as the door closed behind Zeke, Amber jumped out from behind the drapes that concealed Sam’s bed, skipping her way towards the fireplace and jumping onto the comfy chair Zeke had left vacant. “Ugh, I thought he’d never leave.” She whined playfully, curling up on the large chair. “He has a point though... Everyone’s been saying stuff.”
“By everyone you mean you, right? You have been saying stuff.” Sam chuckled.
“Hmmm... Maybe.” Amber smirked. “That’s not the point though.”
“Uh-huh.” Sam responded, amusement clear in her eyes as she stared at the random face the younger girl had taken on for the day. “Tell me about the Lesser girl.” She asked, her tone becoming more serious suddenly. “Luckas was in his room all night as he said, so if the girl was smuggled out of the property, it had to have been you.”
“Hypothetically, if I had done that as payment for a lost bet, I would be incredibly stupid to admit it.” Amber stated with a shrug. “I am many things, but I’m not stupid.”
“True, very true.” Sam nodded in agreement, sitting up straight. “However, if you had done such a thing, I would be forced to go hunt this girl down and then deal with you for the transgression. I mean, keeping her alive would be a risk with what she has seen.”
“Well, of course if I had done that, I would make sure; probably with the aid of a certain telepath that would remain anonymous for the sake of any conversation I may have about it, that she would be unable to remember anything about the Brotherhood, or this place.” Amber replied, grinning as she stared at Sam, enjoying the little game they were playing. “If I were you, and someone had done something like this I would probably hunt the girl down and make the one responsible for her escape personally in charge of her execution, buuut... If I were me and you were you in this fictional scenario, I would say that seeking out this kid is not worth the time and resources especially when there are greater things at work. Especially after Zeke threw such a fit about it, doing what he wants would just encourage this type of behavior, and then you know I’d have to slit his thr-... You know what... Never mind, you go ahead and do exactly what he wants. That’s a great idea.”
Sam shook her head, amused laughter escaping her once again. “I’ll think about it.”
“That’s all I ask.” Amber nodded simply.
“Is he back yet?” Sam asked, staring into the fire and absently scratching behind Seth’s ears as the cat leapt onto her lap, purring and rubbing against her hand.
“Mhm, about an hour ago. He didn’t go far this time. Think he just went for a hunt.” Amber stated simply. “Didn’t even go as far as the city this time.”
“Hmph... He’s trying not to, but he’ll go back there again. He can’t help it.” Sam mumbled. “Just stay close and while you’re at it... Try to find out who that guy who bumped into us at the ball was.”
“The cutey with blue eyes? He’s Lena Turner’s nephew... He’s with the Ravens, sort of... Comes and goes. He and Lukey don’t get along very well, I think in part because of the whole... Him killing Lena thing.” Amber informed. “Some people are just so sensitive about having their family members killed... I honestly can’t understand why.... Hmmm... Anyway, he was the one responsible for Lukey coming back all battered after he offed the White Rose, but for some reason they just won’t go through with killing each other.... It’s pretty hilarious.”
“You were watching?” Sam asked, a bit surprised at the information.
“Well, you told me to watch him... You never told me to protect him.” Amber rolled her eyes. “He walked it off. Besides, if I didn’t run back I’d miss my chance to mess with Zeke before he found out Lukey survived.” She giggled. “He was so freaked out, poor bastard.”
Sam laughed at the girl’s expression of joy as she remembered Zeke’s torment. “You... Scare me sometimes, Amber. Did you know that?”
Amber smiled cheerfully at Sam’s words. “Good.”

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

[Raven’s Nest - 3 days after Castle Ball]

Irvin was trying to keep busy and be helpful around camp as much as possible, like he promised he would, while Jake was still away from camp, but the truth was that the news of his sister’s ‘kidnapping’ had affected him and not in a positive way. It was with much difficulty that he had slept the past couple of nights and unless his help was needed somewhere he avoided being around people for too long. It was bothering him how long it was taking Jake to come back, he hadn’t seen him since their run-in with Allan at the castle and he was worried the guy would get distracted by some random trouble and forget about his problem. Suppose he had no reason to doubt Jake’s word that he would find out all he could, but he couldn’t help but be anxious about it even so. He couldn’t help but wonder where his sister was and what she was going through; and even though he didn’t want to admit it, he couldn’t help but think that Allan had a point when he accused him of bailing. He did leave his sister behind. “Just goes to show you can’t really trust anyone.” He muttered to himself, dipping his hand into the water of the river and watching as a thin layer of ice began to form around his closed fist.

No one would really tell Darren what Mageria was up to exactly or where she was. It could have been they didn’t exactly know, or perhaps he just was the ‘outsider’ and he didn’t qualify to know. Jake was away and could even give him an encrypted explanation that he was so famous for when explaining things he didn’t want to or shouldn’t. All Darren could think about was that old woman he met at the ball. Was anything she said to him actually true? He’d met begrudging individuals who had it in for his father before, but never did they last very long, so this one intrigued him; even if she did as well meet her own demise shortly after their meeting. Perhaps things had a way of working out without the kid getting his hands dirty, but still, he wanted to know things and now unless he tracked down his father he would have to finish decoding that blasted journal in order to make sense out of what his visions were. He needed to hold it again in his hands and not worry about the side effects. The rumors and mention of children disappearing and the unspeakable happenings to those innocent souls didn’t even hit him that hard until he realized he had siblings he’d never met; if it were true. There was also the situation of Irvin’s sister. He had to know if it was connected in some way. The irking need to know haunted his dreams when he did sleep, visions of the dark skinned man and little girls sent indescribable shivers down his spine when he woke up in cold sweats. He needed to know and he needed to know why.

After a long day of doing chores to the point where there wasn’t anything left for him to do, he went looking for Irvin. Someone had pointed him in his friend’s general direction and it wasn’t long before he came up behind him where he just stood not knowing if he should leave the guy alone or say something. Finally he decided, with a smile, to try to lighten the ominous mood that seemed to hang in the air.

“So, have you met Jake’s friend Aiden? Apparently I’m not allowed to help anymore because I do everything better than him.” He joked in an unusual, overly, cocky manner. “But seriously, the guy can’t take competition it seems..He sent me away and said there’s nothing for me to do...so I said fine...and let the tree drop as he was cutting to fit some branches in that new lookout post they are building. Almost hit him.” Darren chuckled, giving an innocent expression, naturally not meaning to actually hit the guy. “Well, not really, I had that shit aimed perfectly.” He shrugged. “I was just trying to help..and have some fun. Even put some money on who could cut down more trees...too bad he’s broke.”

Irvin chuckled at Darren’s story, his eyes still fixating on the freezing waters as his friend spoke, watching as the ice thickened around his fist making it so he could barely feel his fingertips, slowly he rose his hand from the water with a block of ice frozen solid around it and watched as it gradually melted and vaporized. “You should do what I do, and just be lazy.” He responded, turning to face Darren with a smirk. “If you reach the point of nearly dropping trees on people, that might mean you’re overworked. Or, you know, psycho. Just saying. Next thing you know you’ll be collecting eyeballs in jars or... Singing to stuffed animals.... Or some other creepy thing like that.” He played, his smile shutting down into a contemplative expression. “You know... I’ve been wondering if I can do something... Hmm...” He mumbled under his breath, removing his boots and rolling the legs of his pants up to his knees. “I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m an idiot... I mean, I always knew my brother was a shitty person, but for some reason I believed that giving our little sister away to strangers to pay off a debt was something too fucking atrocious even for him.” Irvin blurted out as though he just couldn’t help himself any longer, slowly taking one step beyond the margin of the river and letting the sole of his foot touch the cold water, waiting for it to freeze just enough so that it could, maybe, support his weight. “So, yeah, I’m an idiot. I know that guy. I’ve seen how far down he was willing to go, but for some reason I didn’t think he’d be capable of something like this... I should have known better.” He scoffed, calmly shifting his weight so it rested on the frozen platform, lifting his other foot from the ground momentarily as if to assure himself the ice wouldn’t shatter, planting his step firmly on the ground again, flinching as if in doubt before taking a step forward into the water. “I just hope that when Jake comes back he has news... My promise of not doing anything stupid is starting to become too difficult to keep.”

Darren snickered, crossing his arms lightly as he tilted his head curiously at his friend when he spoke of sanity and singing to stuffed animals. “Hmm, maybe I’ll take up the singing. I’ll have you know I can lull a babe to sleep with my voice.” Darren laughed. “Least I know I’m in the correct company if my sanity should wander.” His amusement dwindled as Irvin spoke, his lips tightening in a thin line, pondering the boy’s words. It seemed his mind was tormented and Darren could hear the distaste and resentment as Irvin continued; towards himself and towards his brother. “..You can’t blame yourself Irv for not seeing what was right in front of you, especially when you speak of someone who was family. When it’s that close...unconsciously, I’ve found, we as humans, are blind.” Darren grunted, unfolding his arms as he paced closer to the river. “I need that journal…” He muttered half to himself, his thoughts overlapping. “..I understand the need to take action and how it can eat at us when we are searching in the darkness for clues and are still empty handed..I mean..What do you propose you can honestly do at this moment? Perhaps once Jake returns. We don’t know where to start looking for your sister and what about that brother of yours? We could hang him by his toes and leave him to piss all over himself...only fitting since he pissed all over your sister’s life. Not sure if that will make any difference at this point though. Perhaps something short of a miracle, like walking on water..” Darren sighed, bending down to pick up a small stone and skipped is across the river bend, whispering, “It does feel like that sometimes...that nothing except a miracle can make a difference in life especially when our lives are not just our own.”

Irvin sighed softly, there was nothing to do at the moment and he knew it, but that didn’t soothe him in one bit, if anything it only made everything worse. He hated the thought of his little sister alone and terrified when all he could do was sit and wait. He couldn’t keep thinking about it though, or he’d be the one to go insane. “You know, when I was little and my mom was still alive, I remember her telling me that a person’s blood contains a part of everyone born in their family before them. That no matter what you do or where you go in life you can never truly leave your family. My sister had no one to tell her that... She probably thinks she’s alone.” The boy mumbled under his breath, taking a few more steps across the waters of the river, the water freezing under his bare feet and causing a very soft chill to crawl its way up his spine, his footprints were forming a small bridge from the margin to his feet, but the ice he left behind was already starting to melt and crack. Jake had advised Irvin to try and focus his enlightenment and maybe he could manipulate water without being in direct contact with it, but he hadn’t made much progress in that department quite yet and there was only a small radius of the water surrounding his feet that he could control without feeling faint.

Going into a small moment of silence Irvin slowly let the ice melt away underneath his feet until it cracked under his weight. He sunk quickly into the water, emerging mere seconds later and making his way out of the river. “Well, that was refreshing.” He stated simply, playfully shaking himself dry as the water evaporated from his clothes. “You said you need the old man’s journal? We should go get that copy I made then.”

There wasn’t much Darren could say and he knew it. That in itself annoyed him especially when normally in his silence he could come up with some clever or humorous remark to break the tension. In that moment, however, he simply found himself staring curiously at Irvin when he came back to shore, placing a firm grip upon the kid’s shoulder. “Your Mom sounds like she knew more than she was letting on..” Darren began. “She’s right, in a way. Blood is said to be thicker than water but do you know where that saying came from, Irv? It’s used nowadays in terms of family and the bonds from those ties, but that’s not what it really means. I first read the term in some sort of history book I found when I was a boy. The pages were torn, wearing at the corners, but it talked about a war that began long ago where many soldiers, brothers in arms, died protecting those they loved from a dark enemy. It’s never named who that was per se, but the point is, those brothers in arms were not family in blood by birth but in blood they shed and how that was stronger than those bonds from birth. Promises made in blood carried a heavier weight on the soul as well. Or at least, that’s what I read..”

Darren released Irvin’s shoulder and shook his head. “I’m getting off track a bit...But I was going somewhere with this, I promise..” He snickered. “I learned at a young age the power of literal blood. The first time my enlightenment kicked in, it involved that sticky substance. It’s like reading the hidden pages of a person’s life and tapping into a history that needs to be deciphered. Yet…” He paused, scratching the back of his head in a slightly awkward motion. “...To see EVERYONE that would be connected to a drop a blood would take great skill and a ridiculous amount of patience. Even then I honestly don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever tried it intentionally because it’s exhausting enough as it is.” Darren trailed off mumbling something to himself in deep thought, “...can’t see my own blood...but yea much can be learned from the blood…Your Mom was a smart Lady..”

Those last words hung in the air causing Darren to shift uncomfortably in his stance. Glancing at Irvin a couple times he simply nodded. “I almost forgot you made a copy of that journal. I was waiting for the Captain, mostly because she was working on the section I was having trouble with, but I can certainly finish the bit I understood. I believe it may even be a record of the days my Father wanted to remember; dated like a journal. There’s also this same symbol I keep finding all throughout the ledger that I can’t seem to figure out what it stands for. I’m hoping the Captain has gotten farther than me in that respect. A half-read book is a half-finished love affair. Does that make any sense?” Darren smirked, quirking a brow at Irvin.

Irvin nodded silently all the while Darren spoke, picking his boots and putting them on before starting to walk into the forest. “What kind of books have you been reading, I wonder.” He mumbled, an amused expression crossing him momentarily, followed by a shrug. “And honestly, all I really know is that my blood has brought me nothing but headaches and I’m not sure I’m okay with believing any children I may have are automatically bound to that history from the moment they are born, but then... Since having children depends greatly on being able to not act like a complete moron around women, I’d say that’s one concern I won’t have anytime soon.” As he spoke Irvin walked a straight path amongst the trees, his eyes scanning his surrounding carefully in search of a mark that would lead him in the direction of his belongings. “Probably better this way anyway.” He muttered under his breath, spotting the mark he had made on a tree and pacing east from it, stopping at a rock and crouching down to push it aside, brushing a small layer of dirt from a leather bag that was hiding underneath it. There wasn’t much hidden there aside from the copied journal, and nothing of actual value; only a couple of trinkets he’d pickpocketed more recently and some loose change. Still, after pulling the journal out of the bag he carefully stashed it back in its hiding spot as if it were made of gold. “There you go.” He stated, handing Darren the book. “I’d like to help you with it, but codes are really not my thing. I’m more of a doer than a thinker.”

“...I’m not sure I’m okay with believing any children I may have are automatically bound to that history from the moment they are born…”

Darren tapped his chin thoughtfully, a child like pout appearing on his face. “...There’s nothing wrong with sharing a history, Irv. That way we won’t end up repeating it and we can teach others from it as well.” He held back a laugh, “Aw Irvin, don’t sell yourself out yet. You’re not doomed with women, I promise. I wasn’t...always so suave with the ladies either you know. I do believe there is someone for everyone...more than one for some perhaps…” He chuckled, absently gripping the book that was handed to him. He winced, anticipating the flashes he’d normally receive from his father’s ledger; a habit, even though he knew the visions wouldn’t flood his mind this time.

Darren made his way back to the river and sat along it’s shaded banks, seemingly entranced in continuing the tedious chore of deciphering the journal’s hidden secrets. However, he kept talking as if his mind was not even focused on the task before him. “Do you think Jake will mind if I...go visit that pretty cousin of his? I’m feeling a little...under the weather…” He smirked faking a small cough. Darren continued outlining the bits he remembered, the basics of the coding coming back to him without much effort. There wasn’t much point to read as he went until he finished a good portion to be able to make some sort of sense out of the pages. Besides, so far the bits he could understand so far were just his father giving himself an ego boost about being some goddamn gift to humanity. “Pfft...what a joke…” He mumbled.

“Eh, it’s not like getting a girlfriend is my main concern right now...” Irvin shrugged awkwardly before adding with a little smirk: “Although I won’t deny it’d be a lot easier to deal with all this waiting if I had one.” The boy shook his head, feeling amused but at the same time honestly wonder how Jake would react to Darren’s question if he was there to hear it; he was honestly not so sure about that guy sometimes. “Well, I’m sure he would mind, I guess the question is more along the lines of how much he would mind it. In the very least I think he’d make it a point to remind you that there are perfectly decent medics available in camp. Worse case scenario you’d end up actually needing a healer.” He chuckled softly. “Well, maybe not; I can’t be sure of it, but if I were to bet... I’ve seen him pissed off once...” Irvin trailed off with a shrug, saying any more beyond that would be going into a subject he and Jake had both made sure to not discuss again after their first conversation in the dungeons. It was better this way. “Nothing interesting yet?” He asked, glancing towards the copied journal in Darren’s hands as he heard the guy mumble to himself.

Darren snickered, shaking head to Irvin’s comment about needing a healer. “Fate..is fate...no?” He smiled, his eyes never leaving the pages before him, yet he paused thinking on his own words a moment and shrugged. Darren’s amusement faded some, accompanied by a long sigh. “Well..the bits I remember that I’m currently re-writing, he starts with talking about the moment he first laid eyes on this girl. He makes it sound….’Romantic’ and then he writes about some memory I think and it basically talks about how he was screwing around with another girl when he began his infatuation with this other girl. Normally confidence is reassuring..well suppose to be...but it just comes off as eerie.” Darren cleared his throat. “Guess you’d have to know him to think otherwise..” He went silent a few moments, staring up at Irvin as if he could see through him before blinking and breaking himself out of his own trance. “...Remember what I told you about what I see when holding that journal? There’s also…’This’... He cracked his neck, stretching some as he pointed to a symbol on the page and began flipping through the pages, revealing the same symbol almost on every page in a section here in the back..Have you seen it before? Not sure if it stands for something...or someone…”

Several minutes went by in silence before Darren abruptly blurted, “It’s strange. I had what I needed. Clothes on my back, an education. He never hit me. But I always hated him. When he found out I was…”Enlightened”, he wasn’t scared or worried. He went out and found me the best tutor he could who was more of a father, ideally, than this guy was.” A bitter tone creeped into in his voice. It was somewhat unlike him until he shrugged it off, cracking his knuckles before jotting down another sentence or two. “..Maybe I shouldn’t complain. I mean, others have had it a lot harder than myself, if I really think about it.” Again he fell silent, his blue eyes floating furiously over the page as he worked to catch up with what he already knew. His fingers automatically penning those familiar bits, his mind wandering back to the first time he remembered resenting his Father. Darren actually withdrew into himself a bit, zoning out all other noises while thinking on that night long ago when he was still a small child.

Irvin stood quietly watching the waters of the river as Darren spoke, only looking away when his attention was drawn to the symbol on the journal. He remembered finding it somewhat familiar while making the copy, not like something he had seen before exactly, but as if it reminded him of something else he had seen. He still couldn’t remember what was so familiar about it though. For a while he zoned out, trying to find a connection somewhere, his eyes closing for a moment in concentration, but he failed to find an answer as to why the symbol seemed so familiar to him. Prior to his arrest he had been nearly everywhere in Blackpond, and while he had met some rather questionable people in some places, some of which wore sigils to identify them as part of a group, and none of those were anything like this. In the end, his only conclusion was that he didn’t really know if he had seen the symbol somewhere before or not and he said nothing on the subject, only responding to what Darren spoke next about his father, heaving a small sigh as he absently started to pace around. “My father was a really good dad, a shit of a human being as we came to find out, but he was a really good dad while he was around. I’m not sure Ems would remember it, but I do. After my mom died, and things got a bit too difficult... He ran off, like all good cowards eventually do... When we were informed he had died, we refused to give him a funeral... My brother and I... We told the healers to just shove him underground anywhere; I don’t even know where. That was awhile ago, I haven’t hated him for some time now, and I think, maybe, he didn’t deserve that.” Irvin stopped walking and shook his head. “I don’t really know much about family as it’s supposed to be, is the point I’m trying to make... What I’ve learned from mine is that even when I hate them, in some level I still love them. In some point in the past, maybe. I don’t think I’ll care where my brother’s buried when his bullshit catches up with him, but I’m sure, I’ll still feel something. If you think about it, and you can’t say the same of your father, maybe he’s just never really been family to you.”

Darren heaved a sigh and was silent for quite some time as he mulled over Irvin’s words, unveiling another couple pages beneath his fingers before he spoke. “I think I know what you mean...and can’t really blame you for how you feel with all that. With me..” He dropped the pen into the book and closed it in a bit of frustration. “I feel guilty to give a shit about someone who can be a shit of human being. But therein lies the problem. Do we judge a person only by how they treat you personally? Do we judge only based on their actions in the world? I can’t help but feel sick around him…” Darren growled, ruffling up his curls before opening up the journal once again. “What the hell...does this mean?!” He muttered in frustration, flipping through the pages to another section he could tell was a log of sorts, probably for transactions. It was the bit the Captain had been making progress on but he had no clue where to start. Pointing at a few different entries in the pages he began explaining some of what was plaguing his mind, to Irv.

“Here..he talks about how he got into his business and how he became so successful. But again..he doesn’t quite give all the details or write exactly what he means. There’s mention of him and a group of men struggling to trade merchandise but it not making enough money so they wanted to go bigger. Here…” He paused to point at another entry. “..He talks about the deal of a lifetime to secure his business and refers to the merchandise as cattle. This is all dated years and years before I was even born. Asher even admits to stealing and taking opportunity at others misfortunes. He has a colorful way of talking about it. Listen to this.. ...The Great Dragon purged the Stone of it’s infestation. I don’t deny even though I wasn’t the one to unleash the Beast, I did partake in it’s spoils. The one who held the Beast’s leash whispered death into my ear and told me if I gathered the Cattle before they scattered, the riches would be endless. And so, I became another asset to a trade that had always hovered just beneath the surface. Except, it wasn’t too long until I was the best at it. Who would have dreamed it would lead me to ‘HER’. I had to save the one with eyes that glowed, like a lightning storm at sea. I didn’t care if she was ‘Tainted’. Her home was doomed. I knew the Great Dragon would take her soul either way so I felt I was her only hope.”

Darren stood abruptly, shoving the journal into his jacket as he began storming off back towards camp. He feared he knew what ‘Cattle’ stood for but he needed to know for sure. He needed to know what dwelled in the other pages. Darren didn’t care if he had to travel all over Valcrest to find the answers, but first he was going to find the Captain. He couldn’t wait with Irvin for Jake to return. It was eating at him to know and he needed to know, NOW.

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

[The Plains - 4 days after Castle Ball]

”Just let go of yourself, love... And don’t fear...” A whisper echoed in the depths of a weary mind; calm, persistent, painful... “Don’t let go... I’m not ready...” The past had the most cruel ways to remind us that it will never truly die. “...I’m right here... Trust me...” No matter how hard you try to keep it buried, it always finds it way through to the surface; all it takes is one word, one scent, a familiar melody someone whistle to themselves as they pass... The simplest things can carry a lot of power. The most insignificant things can open wounds within a person’s soul they may never be able to fully heal.

“What are you thinking about?”

Alistair’s voice sounded in Ali’s ears, pulling her into the present moment rather abruptly. She opened her eyes to face the man with a slightly apologetic smile; she had been ignoring him for a considerable amount of time now. Slowly the present scenario and situation all came back to Ali; the familiar crumbled walls of what was once someone’s home, shattered much like hers had been, the sun flooding the mossy stone ground of the wrecked house through where there used to be a roof. She had been sitting there quite a while with Alistair, the man trying technique after technique to ease the pain that still lingered in her right arm. After the ball was over Ali only took the time to retrieve some of her things and change into her normal clothing before going straight to the healers. There was something about how the pain was manifesting that felt odd to her; odd and a bit frightening, and she suddenly remembered what Jake had told her about Isaac. It had been a few days since she arrived, the pain fits becoming increasingly frequent in that short period of time, which was concerning even if their intensity was not yet debilitating. Annie had been more and more busy since the ball, and when she wasn’t tending to someone or something, she was in the archives. So Ali had been spending most of her time with Alistair in the ruins, trying to find something that would effectively relieve her pain.

“I was thinking... I can almost smell Spring.” Ali finally responded, taking in a long deep breath.

Alistair chuckled. “Oh? There’s still some time until Spring though.” He stated simply. “How do you feel?” He questioned.
“Not the Spring to come, Al, no... I can almost smell the Spring when my dad taught me to swim in the river... I was so terrified... So afraid that the current would take me away...” Ali paused her speech to wince slightly, her eyes glancing at the needles poking through the skin of her hand. “It doesn’t feel as bad as it looks.” She responded.
“Mhmm.” Alistair responded. “And how did the swimming lesson go?” He asked, encouraging her to keep her attention away from what he was doing.
“Dad talked me into the river, I remember him telling me that he was going to let go of my hand, and reminding me not to be afraid... To let myself go and not struggle. He’d say the easiest way to truly control fate is to first surrender to it. I was rather reluctant, to say the least.” Ali sighed wearily. “We’ve known each other for years and I always wanted to ask you... You know... About those scars of yours.”
Alistair flinched slightly, staring at Allison in silence for almost a full minute as if trying to decide whether or not he should answer her. Eventually though he shrugged. “Let’s just say that my father’s way of teaching us life lessons was not the same as yours.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Ali mumbled.
“I’m over it.” Alistair stated simply. “It’s in the past, so it can no longer hurt me.”
Ali chuckled softly at the man’s response. “You make it sound so simple when you say it like that, but it’s really not, is it?”
“No. No it isn’t.” Alistair replied, beginning to remove the needles from Ali’s hand and dropping them inside a glass jar. “For some people, most people I suppose... Parts of their history will always hurt them, will always burn, and usually it’s not because they are too weak to move on, but because there is something to be learned still from the past. It’s like being afraid of the dark for years and then finally realizing that darkness doesn’t change the world around it, it simply takes away your perception. Pain is darkness; it twists our perception, but it changes nothing.”
“Are you saying that there is no amount of pain that can change a person, Al?” Ali questioned, a skeptical look in her eyes as she stared at him.
“No, that’s not what I’m saying exactly. I’m saying that when you learn something about your past, it doesn’t change the events, but it changes your way of seeing the past. Sometimes pain keeps us from truly seeing things as they are, or were. Facts are facts, Allison, and we as emotional beings tend to overlook that.”
“Facts can be manipulated, Al... Go to Newhaven and ask anyone in the streets what happened to their King and you’ll see what I mean.” Ali muttered, slowly opening and closing her fist. The pain had subsided, some, for the moment, but she wasn’t feeling confident.
“Yes, facts can be manipulated, but so can emotions. Your childhood friend, what was his name, do you think those people used facts to manipulate him? Do you think there’s anything logical about this War? We are being manipulated, Heart and Mind, from birth. All we can really do for ourselves is move on and hope we’re not screwing things up any further than necessary.”
“Wow, you’re so optimistic.” Ali stated in a friendly tone of sarcasm. She understood that Alistair made a good point and everything he had said just made a great deal of sense to her. “Is this why you left the Shadows? You’ve gotten too skeptic for them?”
“Why are you so interested in me today, hm?” Alistair chuckled softly. “Let’s just say I left to spare Annie the trouble of kicking me out. I violated the rules in a way that would be impossible for anyone to ignore. I endangered a patient’s health and what I did could have caused serious repercussions.” He shrugged. “It worked, so I suppose it was worth it.”
“You did something even Annie would consider too much to save a person’s life?”
“It’s not what I did, it’s how I did it. There are some substances that are banned from use by the Shadows for being too dangerous to the patient’s well-being, they are considered not to be worth it for the side effects they bring... I don’t disagree with that, but... In that situation I felt I needed to try harder.”
“Must’ve been someone really special.” Ali smiled, patting him on the shoulder as she stood from her seat, feeling the need to stretch her legs. She knew she should have gone back to the Raven’s camp by now; that’s where she told Crys she would be, but for some reason she felt more at ease in the plains right now. More and more she was finding it difficult to leave the healer’s camp. “Hmm...” Ali mumbled, an amused smile crossing her features as she caught sight of a young girl watching them from behind the remains of a crumbled wall. “...Don’t look now, but I think we’re being watched.”
Alistair chuckled. “Yes, that’s a new arrival... We don’t know much about her, she hasn’t talked to anyone since she got here. she lurks though as you’ve already noticed.”
“She’s afraid of something, or someone.” Ali mumbled. “Her heart is racing and her eyes... Are searching for something... Like she’s waiting for it to jump out of the shadows and take her away.”
“That’s... Pretty specific.” Alistair pointed out, sounding both amused and impressed at her assessment. “It seems like she is really here running or hiding from someone, but I can’t be sure of anything. Annie is the only one who knows anything about where she came from or how she got here, and she’s not answering any questions about it. She says the less we know the better for the kid.” Alistair shrugged as though that was more than enough of an explanation for him. “She’s not the first to come here in fear of something, or someone; as you put it. And these are rather dark times we are living, I’m afraid.”
“Mhm.” Ali mumbled in agreement, standing from the bit of debris she’d been sitting on and retrieving her bag from where it was laying on the floor at her feet. “Do you mind walking back to camp by yourself, Al? I’ll be right behind you.”
“Sure.” The man chuckled. “I’ll tell Annie to come find you when she has a free moment.”
“That’d be great, we haven’t had much time to talk since I came over.” Ali agreed, waving at the girl and causing her to hide behind the fallen wall. “Run along now, Al... If you don’t mind.”
Alistair snickered, shaking his head and simply starting to wander off in the direction of the White Shadows’ camp, leaving Ali behind.

Ali stood for a moment or two watching her friend walk away, a part of her mind still wondering about the things he had said. Alistair had always been a bit of a mysterious character, he didn’t like to talk about himself much and had the annoying habit of dodging questions all assassins knew too well, it was surprising that she had actually managed to get something out of him. After a moment or two Ali smirked and turned to catch the girl watching her again, the kid immediately winced and hid again at being spotted. Ali snickered under her breath as she calmly paced around the opposite end of the wall from where the girl was peeking, pretty much sneaking up on her from behind. “Hello. Fine day today, huh?” She greeted. It was indeed a lovely sunny day; not too cold, but not yet warm, just a glimpse of the upcoming spring on the horizon. The girl didn’t answer, seeming to cower a bit at Ali’s presence, her expression showing clearly that she’d like to run away, but didn’t have the courage to move. Ali sighed softly and sat on the ground with her back against the wall, not staring directly at the girl, but watching her movements with the corner of her eyes as she continued to talk. “I used to hang around here a lot when I was a kid, especially in the spring, you know... I liked to chase butterflies and try to catch them with my bare hands... Sometimes I’d waste a day on it and not catch a single one, but it was fun.” As she spoke, she pulled her sketchbook from her bag and a small piece of charcoal and started to sketch, calmly humming to herself every now and then. This went on for a while, as though Ali was waiting to see if the girl would try to leave, and when she was sure the kid wasn’t going anywhere Ali resumed her talking. “I’m not much of an artist, really...I have a friend, and she can really draw, I’m not really that talented, but every time I come here, I look at these ruins and I try to picture what Blackhurst was like, the villages with the homes still standing, with people inside, children playing in the streets... I really want to try and sketch it, but I never feel like I would be able to get it just right. My dad used to say that if you sketch something and then build a model of it, using the right measurements, you can actually know how to build it for real. He was a really skilled guy, my dad... He built a lot of houses when he was younger... He built our house with his bare hands... That sounds really nice, right? To actually build something instead of tearing it down...” The words were followed by a few more moments of silent sketching, a mumble escaping Ali here and there amongst her humming. Even though she appeared quite focused in what she was doing, and in fact she was, she still glanced away from the sketchbook in the direction of the younger girl here and there; the teenager quickly looking the other way in those occasions, but clearly quite interested in peeking at what Ali was drawing.

“Hmmm...” Ali mumbled, tapping her chin thoughtfully as she stared at the page, sighing softly as she dropped the sketchbook on the ground beside her and slowly turned it around so it was facing the girl. “What do you think? It’s a very rough sketch, and mostly from memory, but this is where I used to live when I was kid.”

“Where is it?” The girl finally spoke, reaching for the sketchbook to get a closer look at the drawing.
“Not far from here, a few miles east.” Ali replied simply, not seeming too surprised that the girl was suddenly speaking to her.
“Can we go there?” The girl asked, pushing the sketchbook back towards Ali.
“Not right now, I have to go back to the camp, but tomorrow I can walk you there, if you’d like.”
“Okay.” She agreed staring at Ali for a long while in silence before starting to voice some of her curiosity. “You’re not a healer, are you?”
“No. I’m an assassin.” Ali replied simply, retrieving the sketchbook and tucking it away inside her bag.
“You don’t look like an assassin.” The girl pointed out.
“I’d be a terrible assassin if I looked like an assassin.” Ali retorted. “Out of curiosity though, what do I look like to you?”
“A teacher, maybe.”
Ali laughed out at the girl’s response, seriously amused to hear it. “Oh? That’s funny... That’s really funny.” She sighed. “So, do you have a name?”
The girl stared at Ali in silence at the question, simply shaking her head and not answering.
“No? Should I give you one then? How about Fluffy? Or... Hm... Cookie...?”
“Emily.” The girl muttered. “My name is Emily.”

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[Blackpond, 5 days after the Castle Ball - Afternoon]

Jake couldn’t help but snicker under his breath as he entered the old building. On the outside it seemed just as abandoned as it had been the past few months, but on the inside the place was starting to come back to life. Dim lighting flickered on the corners of the room as to not draw outside attention to the movement of about seven or eight assassins cleaning and organizing the space back into something resembling a bar. Crys was away at the moment, he’d made sure to miss her at first; he’d come back later to speak with her, and maybe she’d share with him some of her intentions in reclaiming the old Blackpond Inn. At the moment however, Jake was there to speak with someone else.

“Well, look who it is! How have you been, my friend!?” A smiling man exclaimed, rushing over and pulling Jake into an over-friendly and outrageously tight hug. “If you’re looking for Crys she just went out a couple of minutes ago. Don’t ask me where to or what for... She hasn’t exactly given us the details of why we’re setting up shop here.”
“I’m alright, Nicholas, as much as anyone can be in times like these.” Jake replied with an amused chuckle. “And while I’m very interested in what Crys may be up to, my curiosity is not the only thing that brought me here... I need a favor.”
“Oh? Do tell.” Nicholas smiled curiously, pulling a chair that was perched upside down on the countertop and placing it by one of the few clean tables, motioning for Jake to sit. Jake wasn’t planning on staying very long, but he took the seat that was offered to him, watching as Nicholas pulled a chair for himself to sit across from him. “Unfortunately we don’t have any booze to sell or offer yet, but Crys has been negotiating supplies, for what I hear... I don’t know how she does it, but the merchants seem to always be willing to deal with her, even the ones who are refusing to trade in the city.”
“Crys would have been a wonderful diplomat if she hadn’t been born a Wolf.” Jake agreed with a little smirk. “I plan on running this by her later, by the way, but I wanted to speak with you as well since you’re pretty much acting as a second in command here, for what I can see.”
“I wouldn’t put it in those terms; I’ve been put in charge of the Inn, yes, but mostly because there’s no one else to do it. Evin is off doing his own thing as usual, Ali is still hanging around your Raven people in the woods, Travis is running a small group in Newhaven, so yeah... I’m the only responsible adult left.”
“Responsible? Oh come on, man.” Jake teased, pulling a flask from his pack and taking a swig before offering the man some. “This person I... Chatted with... After the Castle Ball told me about these guys... They seem to be enforcers of some sort, they dress in different shades of Red... Others have seen them roaming the city, I’d much like to find out who they work for.”
“I see...” Nicholas mumbled, taking a drink and returning the flask to him. “We haven’t seen anyone like that around here, but if they’ve been ‘enforcing’ around the city I’m pretty sure we’ll run into one of them soon enough.”
“I’d appreciate it if you send me notice when that happens... I have a friend in need of answers, not to mention I have a question or two myself.”
“Oh, what about? If we overhear anything, once the bar is open, I can let you know.” Nicholas offered.
“I don’t think they’d be that careless, for what I understand they’ve been at it for way too long for that, but... If you hear anything, anything at all, about child disappearances or abductions, let me know right away.”
“Children, Jake?” Nicholas asked, his smile fading fast, green eyes examining Jake as if searching for whatever information he was leaving out. “Alright... Whatever you need as long as Crys agrees.” He said, in a tone of warning.
“Don’t worry. Nothing will be done without the Alpha’s approval... Twins forbid we invoke her wrath.” Jake answered with a little smirk. “Now, if you’ll excuse me... I have someone I need to see and I’m afraid if I don’t hurry I will lose him.”
“Another ‘chat’? Aren’t you the social butterfly, eh?” Nicholas joked, nodding his agreement to Jake’s departure. “You’re stopping by afterwards to see Crys?”
“She left me a note at the stables when I went to drop Shadow off asking to meet later tonight. I’ll be heading straight there as soon as I’m finished with this guy, I can’t say for sure when it’ll be though.” He shrugged. “If it gets too late and she decides not to wait I’ll try to stop by in the morning instead, but... Ideally I’ll be going back to the forest by then.”
“Why leave us so soon, man? I’m starting to think you like those Ravens better than us.” Nicholas chuckled, patting Jake on the arm as he stood up.
“Just don’t make me choose and we’ll be fine.” Jake stated simply, standing up himself. “Have fun with the clean-up.”
“Oh, I always have fun.” Nicholas stated cheerfully. “Hope all goes well... With your chat.”
Jake snickered as he crossed the door to the basement of the Inn to reach the passage to the city sewers; the only way in and out of the building at the moment. “That depends on one’s definition of ‘well’, my friend.”

[Blackpond, 5 days after the Castle Ball, late night]

It was late at night, a lot later than Jake expected it would be, and yet he was surprised to find Crys still waiting where she had asked him to meet her for their talk... An odd choice of location it was, the city graveyard, but it did make sense; at this late hour it was empty and easy to see and hear anyone’s approach at a considerable distance. Being as late as he was, Jake was sure she would have left already, even if he had warned her of the possibility of a delay; Crys hadn’t exactly been the most patient with him as of late. He couldn’t help a hint of a smile from crossing his features as soon as his eyes caught the sight of her; only a cloaked figure in the distance, but a very distinctive one. She was still there, she had waited for him, and he couldn’t help but think that it had to count for something.
Thin rain was pouring silently over the city cemetery, cold chills making their way up Jake’s spine causing him to shiver as the water began to soak through his shirt. He left his cloak behind at his previous meeting, completely forgetting the rain, and now he was starting to regret not going back for it. As he paced his way within hearing distance of Crys he could hear her take in a long deep breath exhaling in a soft sigh. Jake continued to walk until he was standing right beside her, his eyes automatically trying to catch the name on the nearest grave as he whispered a greeting. “Hey. I’m sorry I took so long, didn’t mean to keep you waiting.”
“It’s becoming a habit with us, isn’t it?” She replied calmly, her tone playful and surprisingly showing no trace of the sharp coldness Jake had pretty much come to expect lately. “How are you, Jake?”
“I suppose it is.” Jake replied, a bit confused with the peaceful tone of the conversation in comparison to their previous encounters. “I’m tired, it’s been a long night, but can’t quite complain.”
“Oh? Is that why you smell like you just came out of a cheap brothel?” Crys asked, holding back a little smirk as she turned to face him. “Long night indeed.”
“I was meeting with a contact, Crys... And should I be wondering how you know what a cheap brothel smells like?” Jake replied, an intrigued note to his voice.
Crys chuckled under her breath, purposely ignoring Jake’s question. “Hm, was this ‘contact’ of yours a patron or an employee in this fine establishment you visited? And might I ask what was the nature of your meeting, or was it a private matter?
Jake smiled shaking his head in amusement for a moment but not helping a sigh, his smile fading as he thought back on the events of the night. “He was a patron, and our meeting was of a rather unfriendly nature. I wouldn’t call it private, rather I would say it was a personal matter that led me to this particular individual. It’s not something I’d like to go into details about.”
Crys nodded, her green eyes staring empty at Jake for what seemed like a very long time before she spoke again. “What’s happening? Last time your voice sounded like this... It had to do with Jessica, but... It can’t be about that, now can it? You’ve already finished that years ago.”
Jake groaned under his breath. “You know me way too well, Crys.” He mumbled. “It has nothing to do with Jess... Well... Maybe not nothing, but it’s not about her death. For the first time in a very long time it’s not about that.”
“Hm... Cryptic.” Crys said simply, not going into the subject any further. “Have you killed the man, Jake?”
“Yes, I...” Jake’s sentence was cut short as he suddenly turned away from Crys and sneezed rather loudly, the sound seeming to travel beyond the cemetery grounds and across the dark alleyways of the city. “...Sorry.” He mumbled, sniffing softly before moving on with what he was trying to say. “Yes, I killed him. I didn’t go there with that particular intent, but... It’s just... It’s complicated.”
“Well, Jakey, like you said; I know you. You are the most controlled person in the world until you make something personal. Then you look back once you’ve cooled down and you doubt yourself, and that’s what makes your voice sound like that, you’re thinking: ‘Did I really have to go that far?’.” Not waiting for Jake to answer Crys reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling him to walk with her. “Come on, lets go back to the bar, you need to get out of the rain. We can talk on the way. What happened to your cloak, Jake?”
Jake didn’t answer to Crys’ observations and how accurate they were, he knew he didn’t need to tell her she was right, and he was just glad she didn’t question him further, or seemed upset for his reluctance to talk more about what he had done that night. It’s not that he wouldn’t be willing to tell her everything, but he knew that this would raise questions he didn’t want to answer just yet. He smiled gently as she took his arm and they started to walk, it all felt strangely normal. He was wet and cold and he could feel himself shiver, but he couldn’t bring himself to care about it. “I left my cloak behind, I’m afraid. I knew I was already late so I decided not to go back for it.” He replied. “I’m alright... After everything I doubt a little bit of rain will be what kills me.” He played.
“Don’t joke like that, Jakey.” Crys scolded. “You know I care about you, even if you’re an idiot, even when I hate you... So you’ll take care of yourself, or so help me... I’ll break that pretty face of yours.”
Jake laughed out, not because he doubted the threat, but because he was just so happy to hear it. “You can do with me as you wish and I’ll die a happy bastard, Crystal.” He answered amongst chuckles. “You know that well.”
Crys simply shook her head, sighing softly at his words. but not responding. “I want to know what is this Nicholas tells me about child disappearances. Who are these people you’re after, Jake?”
“I don’t know who they are, and exactly what they’re after, but the guy I confronted tonight mentioned them as well, the men in red, and a connection to child slavery... Prostitution... Kids, Crys... Stuff that dates back to when I was little... And I can’t not take this personally. I can’t be reasonable about it... I just want these people destroyed. I want them to burn for this a thousand times.”
“Then they’ll burn; every last one. We’ll see to it.” Crys agreed nodding as if she had agreed to something a lot more ordinary than destroying actual lives. She didn’t question why Jake was taking this so personally, even though it was clear as day he wasn’t telling her everything; she simply gave his arm a comforting squeeze and continued to lead him towards the Inn. “I assume you cleaned up after yourself tonight?”
Jake was taken a bit by surprise at the questioning, but he nodded affirmatively. “Of course, although I don’t think there’s anyone out there who will care for this guy’s death.”
“You can never know, Jake; if these people are as dangerous as you say, they may see you coming after them. What about the cloak, can it be traced to you somehow? Did someone see your face?”
“The cloak, I don’t think so... Unless if someone could trace by scent, or some form of telepathy, like Darren...” Jake mumbled. “The barkeep saw my face and... one of the women was in the room with the guy... I paid her off to leave.”
“You gave her your cloak, didn’t you?” Crys asked, not waiting for a reply. “You should have gone back for it.”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t wait.” Jake shrugged. “I’m sure it’ll be fine, and if they come after me, well... It may just make things easier.”
“Don’t be arrogant, Jacob.” Crys muttered. “If these people have been doing this as long as you say then they’ll know how to cover their tracks. If you want them to pay, really pay, you need to be smart about this... Or as smart as you can be, anyway.”
“I suppose. Would you rather I go back for the cloak?” Jake asked, smirking slightly as he waited for an answer.
“I’d rather go back for it myself.” Crys replied, a menacing sharpness crossing her tone.
Jake chuckled. “Well, I don’t really know this woman, not even sure I can recognize her face, but if you want to go through the trouble. It’s a long shot that the cloak can be traced to me, and she probably tossed it; why would she keep it?”
“Oh, I don’t know Jake... Women tend to cling to you sometimes...” Crys muttered, shooting him a bit of an annoyed glare. “And I wonder why is it you didn’t pay much attention to her face.”
“Well, I can’t help it if I’m adorable.” Jake replied playfully. “And call me paranoid, but when I’m holding a knife to someone I tend to pay attention to what I’m doing.”

“You paranoid little man!” Crys teased, shaking her head as they reached the old building. The front door was still sealed, Crys led him towards a side entrance that he was pretty sure didn’t originally exist; or maybe it did and no one ever showed him before. The entrance was actually through the basement of a nearby building from which a tunnel extended leading to the Inn’s wine cellar. The cellar had not been cleaned up yet, it smelled moldy and in the dark Jake could hear rats scurrying around the stone floors, it made him a bit uneasy but Crys didn’t seem at all fazed as she walked him to the stairs that led to the empty storage room. The Inn was dead silent, and even before they reached the bar Jake could tell that all of Crys’ people had left the place a while ago, he wondered where they were sleeping. “Where is everyone?”
Crys released Jake’s arm as they reached the bar and nodded towards the stairs that led to the second floor. “Some are scattered across the city, gathering information, making contacts, those who are off duty are camped in the woods just outside the city. This place is still not fit to house many people, but we’re working on it. So far we have most of the bar and a couple of rooms cleared up, and an empty pantry... Far from working conditions.” She smiled leading him towards the last door of the hall; a room more secluded, almost separated from the rest. “I’m the only one staying here... At least for a couple of days.”
“A beautiful woman like you alone in an abandoned building, you know... I can’t allow that.” Jake played, following after her into the room and being immediately struck in the face by a thick blanket.
“Get rid of your wet clothes, Jake.” Crys said simply, hanging her wet cloak by the fireplace and working on lighting the fire.
Jake took off his boots, stripped off his tunic, undershirt, and pants, laying them near the fire, but out of Crys’ way as she stepped away from the rising flames. It took him a few minutes to rid himself of all his weapons and remove all the leather sheaths containing his needles; some of them in need of refilling as Jake hadn’t had time to gather ingredients the past couple of weeks. When Jake was finally wearing nothing but his underpants, he wrapped the blanket around himself, scooting a bit closer to the fire and rubbing his arms to try and warm himself faster. The room was dimly lit by the light of the fireplace, but even with the poor visibility it was noticeable that it was meticulously clean and organized. As Jake examined his surroundings Crys had sat in the lumpy mound that was her bed and was examining the sword that Jake had left carefully by his other weapons. “Do you ever use this one? You’re not much of a swordsman are you?”
Jake snickered slowly pacing his way to the bed and sitting beside her, keeping a respectful distance between them. “I’m a man of many skills, as you know, but you’re right... I haven’t used this one in a while. I assure you though; the blade is very well preserved.”
“I believe you Jakey.” Crys smiled momentarily before setting the sword down. “You’re a sentimental person, that is one trait we share.”
Jake smiled, nodding at her words. “You know, I don’t understand why you’re here, I mean... I don’t get why the sudden interest in Blackpond.”
“You don’t? Really?” Crys asked, seeming a bit confused by his questioning. “I thought that of all people you’d understand, Jake. When I parted with the Wolfpack I told myself that we would remain true to what the clan is meant to stand for and now... It has never been clearer to me that I failed to fulfill my own promises. I failed as a leader for overlooking what has been happening to this city. If our purpose is to maintain balance, to keep this land from falling apart, then this is where I need to be right now. Newhaven still has someone; they have Mageria and her people, they have the White Knights, bound by law as they may be... Who do these people have, Jake? The people in Blackpond... Who fights for them? You did have a point in some of the things you said to me when you left, angry and cruel as they might have been.”
Jake winced at her words, pulling away and nearly turning his back at her as he mumbled. “You know I didn’t mean any of that, Crys...”
“You meant some of it... It’s alright. I may be angry at you for a thousand reasons, but that particular exchange isn’t one of them.” She mumbled in reply, also turning away from him so that they were almost back to back. Silence lingered between the two for what seemed like a long while until Jake attempted to speak, Crys cutting him off by abruptly standing and walking a few steps away from the bed. “You can take the bed, if you want to stay... The ground is probably more comfortable anyway.”
“Crys...” Jake sighed, running his hands over his eyes. “We’re going to have to talk about it eventually.”
“I’m tired Jake, it’s late... It’s a bad idea to start this conversation now. We both know nothing has changed.” Crys replied softly, distracting herself with the task of piling up couple of blankets on the floor to make a bed. “I’ll go to sleep and you’ll be off before I wake up... I’ll be mad at you for it and you’ll feel bad about it, but when we meet again it’ll be almost as though it never happened and for a while we’ll pretend it hasn’t happened... until one of us remembers and we find ourselves in the exact same place again, only a few years later... I’m tired, Jake. I can only run around in circles so far before everything starts to just feel... Meaningless...”
“Meaningless...” Jake whispered under his breath. “Meaningless?” He repeated raising his voice a bit as he turned to stare at her. “You don’t mean that.”
Crys shook her head. “I love you, Jacob... I’ll always love you, I just... I don’t know if I want to keep doing this with you.”
“Oh, and then what? We’ll pretend to just be friends from now on, is that it? Because let’s face it; no matter what, we’ll always be in each other’s lives.”
“I don’t know what. All I know is that we can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results... That’s the very definition of insanity, Jake.” Heaving a weary sigh she shrugged as she kicked off her boots and plopped down on her makeshift bed to stare up at him. “We don’t have to settle this right now... Just go to sleep. I’m sure you’d like to be on the road as soon as the sun rises.”

[Blackpond, 6 days after the Castle Ball, early morning]

Papa Roach - Carry Me (Acoustic)

The sun was yet to rise over the city of Blackpond, the room was dead silent aside from the sound of calm and steady breathing. Jake had already dressed, retrieved all of his weapons, put on his boots, he was all set to leave, but yet he continued to sit on the lumpy bed from where he had watched Crys through most of the night; unable to fall asleep once again. Although this time he couldn’t blame his inability to get a decent rest entirely on his insomnia; Crys wasn’t joking when she said the bed was uncomfortable, if he wasn’t so concerned with what lines he may or not cross by doing so he would have taken the space on the floor beside her, but as it was he decided it was better to not risk it.

The moonlight had already faded, and the room was darker now in the early hours of the morning than it had been through some of the night, but even so Jake could easily make out the sleeping figure curled up on the floor. Crys had her back turned to him stubbornly even in her sleep, but she was absolutely relaxed and peaceful, unmoving except for the slow and constant motion caused by deep breaths. Jake smiled as he watched her, recalling her words to him the night before. “I don’t want to leave.” He whispered. “I really don’t, Crys. I just want to sit here and wait for the Sun. Wait for you to wake up, for that moment; that split second, when you smile because you realize I’m still here. That fraction of a moment just before you shut down and go back to resenting me again. I know you’re still sleeping, probably; if you’re not, you’re going to pretend you are, because you don’t want to talk to me, but either way, I know you can hear me, and I need you to let me say this without reminding me that this isn’t the right time, or that it changes nothing.” Jake sighed softly, hiding his face in his hands as he continued. “I don’t want to leave, but right now I have to go tell a kid that I have no idea where to start looking for his little sister without completely destroying his hopes of ever finding her, I have to do what I can to help the Guard, I need... I need to find some answers for myself before I go completely insane, and I absolutely need to stop hiding from my past; after tonight I know for a fact there’s just no other choice. It has to happen, it should have happened long ago. I really don’t know where all of this will leave us, but... One day, hopefully before it’s too late... One day, Crys, we’re going to sit under the stars somewhere, like we always used to do, and I will tell you everything. I’ll tell you all those things you always wanted to know and everything I still need to say, and when I do, then you’ll understand. I know you will. You’ll understand, because you are the kindest, most beautiful, person I have ever known. Special is a difficult word to use in this place, but trust me... There’s no one else in this world quite as special as you, quite as wonderful as you. I always need you, I always want to see you, and no matter what happens the simple fact that you exist is the one thing that keeps me sane. And I know it doesn’t make sense right now, but one day... One day, I know you’ll understand.”

Jacob fell silent, a muffled groan escaping past his lips as he forced himself to stand up, a lingering sense of defeat following him out of the room like a shadow. More and more he was tired of always finding himself in this position; always leaving and never getting anywhere. It was getting harder and harder for Jake to tell himself something, anything, would ever come of their feeble attempts at serving a greater good. It was as if the little bit of faith he had left was starting to curl up in a dark corner of his mind to agonize, just because he was way too stubborn to just put it out of its misery already. Now wasn’t the time to dwell on it though, right now he just had to go home.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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[The Manor - 5 days after Castle Ball, late night]

[Flashback – Newhaven, approximately 16 years in the past]

The boy’s hands were pressed against his ears with all the strength he had in him, but still the screaming was horrifying; he didn’t know what exactly was happening, but he wouldn’t dare open his eyes. Trying to shut out the screaming of one voice only made the shouting of the other sound louder… The words piercing through his ears painfully: “LIAR! CHEATER! I WILL MAKE YOU PAY!”

The child was shivering in fear and pain, tears silently running down his face as he was curled up on the blood soaked floor; eyes still tightly shut. All of a sudden a second pair of, equally small, hands covered his own and successfully drowned out all the sound, and there he sat, in the silence… In darkness… For what seemed like forever… Until a female scream echoed so high no amount of sheltering could keep it from reaching his ears… And the boy opened his eyes to his mother’s terrified figure. Her eyes locked on him, and on the other boy who had been trying to help cover his ears, and she froze for a brief moment of hesitation before moving to drag both toddlers by their hands out of the house... Still covered in blood.

. . . .

“Hey, wake up, little boy!” A girl’s voice pierced through the young boy’s ears and he was startled by it. The bad men had told him and his brother that they were just playing a game, that as soon as they were done, his mommy would come and get him. He didn’t know how long ago that was, it seemed like it was so long ago… He couldn’t remember. Too long. Way too long.

“What’s your name?” She spoke again. “I know you can talk, I heard you calling your mommy when they brought the two of you in.” She stated.
The boy simply shivered, shaking his head in negatives over and over, his eyes wide in terror, as he crawled away from where the girl was standing.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me.” She assured him. “I have to call you something though… I know! Luckas! You could be a Luckas!” She giggled. “I’ll call you Lukey… You know, you remind me of my brother a little bit. He’s not here anymore, they sent him away a while ago, so now he’s gone, but they can’t get rid of me though.” She stated proudly. She extended a curious look towards the quieter boy in the corner. “Hey there, I almost didn’t see you!” She said.

Luke’s brother didn’t react, he simply sat in the corner, wide eyed and staring blankly.
“I’ll call you something too… Hmmm.... How about... Matthew? That’s a nice name. Matt…” She smiled sweetly at the both of them. “Listen, I know it’s scary down here, but you have to trust me when I say you’ll be alright.” She smiled at Luckas, since he was, unlike Matt, looking at her curiously. “My name is Samantha, by the way. You can call me Sam. Can you say it? Sam.”
Luckas shook his head again, the horrified look still in his eyes.
Sam smiled. “Don’t be afraid, Lukey, it’s alright. You know why? I’ll tell you a secret, try to remember it…” She paced to the limits of a line that was drawn on the floor, limiting the space where the boys were allowed to go, and crouched down, speaking in a tone slightly above a whisper. “You are much stronger than they’ll ever know. One day, they’ll be the ones afraid of you.” She stopped, tensing a little when noises were heard coming from upstairs. She smiled. “Remember that, okay Lukey? I’ll come back later.”

. . . . . .

He had tried to get out. The door was left open and he took one step outside… One step before it all went to hell.

Luckas didn’t bother to try and defend himself, or fight back, it was worse than just taking the punishment… He had learned that the hard way. He didn’t listen to the curses being shouted at him, he didn’t care for the pain, he never cried or whined anymore, he just let it happen, and afterwards he lay, still, as motionless as possible waiting for the pain to go away; sooner or later, it always did. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been laying on the cold ground before the door opened and someone entered; the footsteps too light to be one of his ‘handlers’. Sam.

“Oh… Damn it... Lukey…” The girl whispered. “You can’t even move, can you?”
At the words, Luckas tried to push himself up, but the girl was right, he was too weak to do it.
“It’ll be alright… You’ll see… I’ll take care of you.” She stated in a soft whisper.
Luckas couldn’t move, but internally he panicked when he felt hands on him… That was not allowed, definitely not allowed, he couldn’t get in trouble again, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was carried and laid comfortingly in blankets, opening one of his eyes slightly to look up at the older girl as she lifted his head to make him take a drink of water. “There you go sweetie. I know it hurts, but it’ll get better. I promise.”

Sammy stopped talking after that, and simply sat beside him, humming softly a soft melody that Luckas had never heard before. It soothed him, almost made the pain go away, and soon he drifted off to sleep.
[Flashback – Some dark place of the past, about 13 years ago]

(Inspirational Music: Down in a Hole – Alice in Chains)

“You were warned! Repeatedly, Samantha! And you know this is what happens when you break my rules!” The man shouted, mercilessly beating the young girl down, kicking and stomping her on the floor. The sound of crying was joined by the sickening sound of breaking bones and soon enough, she couldn’t even cry anymore.

The six year old boy simply watched with tears running down his face as the one person who had ever shown him kindness was broken down before his eyes. Once the man left the basement, the boy crawled as close as he could to the girl without crossing the line drawn on the stone ground, but he couldn’t reach her. After a moment of hesitation he crossed the line completely. Sitting next to the fifteen year old girl the boy struggled against yet another rule, reaching out his hand and withdrawing it before it touched her face. Her eyes were open, two green lights in the dark cold room. Her breathing was soft and slow as if breathing alone was just too exhausting. He couldn’t. He didn’t have the courage to touch her, but he needed to get her attention somehow. He needed her to know he was there. It took a lot of effort, especially after being silent for as long as he had, but he managed to get his voice to sound just loud enough to be heard, never above a whisper. “S-Sam…” He stammered, calling her name like she had always asked him to.

The girl opened a faint smile, her eyes closing slowly. “You did it… Lukey… I’m so proud.” She whispered. “D-don’t let them… Decide… Who you are… Y-you’re stronger… Remember?” She managed to mumble, reaching for the boy and gently brushing a few strands of black hair away from his eyes.

Luke shuddered at the touch. He wanted to pull away from it, but didn’t have it in him to deny his friend of that moment. He felt she wasn’t going to make it, he could almost see life leaving her body, little by little, at every breath. Knowing that he couldn’t possibly help her, he did the one thing he knew he could do: He curled up on the cold ground as well and snuggled close to her, a bit startled when she wrapped one arm around him and much more so to hear her sobbing, even so, he didn’t move away from her, rather he turned his back so he didn’t have to look. She was slipping away, so he would let her hold him, but he wasn’t going to watch; he couldn’t. Slowly, the sobbing stopped and the room fell silent. He could feel her heart beating slowly and her breath beginning to fade into nothing. It didn’t take long, soon she was gone, but Luckas still couldn’t move out of her embrace. His black eyes caught his brother where he sat; he hadn’t moved from his habitual corner the whole time. Matthew was simply watching the scene with a blank expression in his eyes as if he couldn’t really see a thing. With a shaky breath, Luckas closed his eyes. “Sam.” He whispered again, before drifting into sleep.

When Luckas woke up in the morning he felt himself choke as someone was holding him up by the back of his shirt and the collar was pressing against his throat. The unusual amount of light flooding the basement meant that the door was wide open. Once the boy felt he could open his eyes, he noticed he was being held up over the girl’s dead body. “Look at her! See what you did, you little piece of shit? You killed her! That’s what happens when you disobey, you little freak!” With an angry growl the boy was forcefully thrown across the room, pain invading his body as he collided with the stone wall. “Stay on that side of the line!”

More and more the man shouted, but Luckas wasn’t listening. The boy’s eyes were fixed on the pretty, lifeless, features of the girl lying on the dirty floor. Did he kill her? Had he done that? He couldn’t remember anymore, his mind was blurry, his head hurt… How could he have killed her? She was the only one who ever cared for him. He couldn’t have… It couldn’t be…

Boots blocked his view as the man stood before him, forcing him to listen. “You are a killer, a monster, and that is all you’ll ever be. Accept it, embrace it, and learn to play by the rules. It’s the only way to ever leave this room alive.”


Luckas opened his eyes and sat up in a panic, finding a pair of yellow eyes staring at him in the dark; he tilted his head intrigued at the sight, almost forgetting his nightmares as he made out Sam’s form in the darkness; he had never seen her eyes light up that way, and he couldn’t understand what that meant. “Sammy?” He mumbled, still a little groggy.
“You were calling my name.” She whispered; the yellow light fading into the usual dark green and making the room completely dark again. “Is everything alright?”
“Just bad dreams...” He mumbled. “Why are you always in my room?”
“My house...” She chuckled.
“Yeah, yeah…” He sighed.
“I like watching you sleep, it’s interesting. Does it disturb you?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” He replied. “What do you mean interesting?”
“You mumble things, and you whine sometimes… It’s interesting to watch.” She answered, standing up from her chair. “I can leave if you want.”
“No!” Luckas caught himself objecting before he even thought about it. “I mean, you don’t have to… If you don’t want to…” He mumbled.
She chuckled and stepped away from the door, walking to his bed and sitting on the edge. “What were you dreaming?” She asked, in a soft tone.
“Just… Old memories...” He shrugged, trying to hide the shaking in his hands by slipping them under the covers.
“I heard you calling ‘mommy’.” Sam stated simply, her eyes fixed on him. “And I remember when I last heard that.”
“Please, Sam… I don’t want to talk about it.” He muttered.
“I understand, do you want me to just stay, is that it?”
Luke nodded, resting his head over his knees. “Matt covered my ears.” He mumbled. “Who was covering his?”
“What are you…?” Sam stopped herself mid-sentence and heaved a little sigh. “Never mind.”
“I couldn’t see her face… I really don’t remember anymore… Even now…” He mumbled, raising his head to look at her. “My mother… Why can’t I remember?”
“No one remembers that early in life, Lukey… Don’t push yourself too far with this. I said I will find her for you.”
“Did you ever find your mother, Sammy?” He muttered. “What makes it so much easier to find mine?”
“My mother was…” Sam took a deep breath before she continued. “My mother was a captive of the Brotherhood, so to speak. See, the cause would be compromised if the Master was to have a child with someone tainted by Enlightened blood. It became tradition for the Master to bring a woman of pure blood from outside the Land, from Terra, to bear him children… Whether she wanted to or not. And by a woman I mean a female old enough to bear children, which can be just as young as an eleven year old, interesting, huh?” She pulled her legs up on the bed and scooted over closer to him, but still keeping a respectful distance. “That’s what I know of her; she was somewhere between eleven and twenty years old, from Terra, not a hint of enlightened blood on her… And as soon as she got pregnant she was sent back. I was born and then brought to my father a few months later and no one ever spoke of her again.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sammy.” Luke mumbled, glancing towards her and taking notice of the fact she had gotten closer.
Sam just shrugged. “It doesn’t matter really.”
“Your father seemed like a pleasant man.” Luke muttered.
She snickered. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“Did you kill him?” Luke asked, lifting his head as he heard an audible ‘meow’ coming from outside the door.
Sam chuckled and stood up, answering his question as she walked to the door. “Not with my own hands, but I was there.” She opened the door and a scruffy-looking white cat, with big pointy ears, immediately crossed the doorway, meowing incessantly and rubbing up against her legs until she finally picked it up in her arms and hugged it gently. “Seth, sweetie… Why are you wandering about at this hour?” She asked, gently rubbing the cat between his pointy ears. “You miss mommy, huh? You spoiled little brat…” She chuckled, shutting the door before walking back towards the bed and sitting back down, dropping the cat beside her on the sheets. She gave Luke a rather apologetic look. “If I toss him out, he will scratch the door and meow until your ears bleed… I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Luke muttered, glancing away as the cat began wandering around the bed and sniffing everything. It was actually not okay, Luke really disliked cats, but he didn’t want Sam to leave, so if he had to put up with the cat he would.
“I can go and take him back to my room, it’s perfectly fine.” She offered, already beginning to stand up when she felt a firm grip on her wrist.

“Please stay.” Luke whispered, releasing Sam rather quickly as Seth hissed at him; pointy ears flattened against its skull and back arched in an intimidating gesture. That wasn’t what scared Luckas however; it was the cat’s right eye… It had turned red for a split second before fading to a pale blue, unlike his other eye, which was of a similar pale tone, but green.

Sam chuckled softly. “Seth, don’t be a meanie.” She scolded. “I’m sorry, Lukey, he’s just a bit territorial.” She stated, pulling the cat onto her lap.
“His eye…” Luke mumbled. “What…?”
Sam sighed. “Yes… Seth and my other cat Pandora are rescued from my father’s crazy plan to imprint animals… He made me try to give them telepathic abilities… It didn’t work, well… Not completely.”
“Not completely?” Luckas asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Seth and Pandora are the only two survivors out of twelve kittens. They didn’t quite develop an ability of their own though, they only became telepathically bound to me.” She explained, absently stroking the cat’s fur. Seth curled up into a ball in her lap, emitting a low purr and closing his mismatched eyes. “I’ve had them for seven years now. I think cats are so much better than dogs. They’re only loyal if they respect you, they cannot be tamed… And they do not need you.”
“What is the point of having them, then?” Luckas asked. “I don’t like cats, they’re unreliable.”
“They’re far more reliable than humans will ever be.” Sam retorted.
“That… That may be true.” Luke stated, rubbing his eyes and letting out a yawn. “But being more reliable than people is not much of a feat, now is it? Plus, at least dogs give a shit.”
“Dogs are needy, and stupid.” Sam stated simply. “Fine though… Let’s just disagree on this and lay this discussion to rest before it gets violent.”
Luckas chuckled. “Huh… Never thought that’d get a rise out of you ‘Mistress’. You’re always so collected.”
Sam laughed softly. “Go back to sleep boy… You’re tired.”
Luckas laid himself down with a weary sigh, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion, but not very eager to fall back asleep. “You know, I like you better this way…” He mumbled.
“What way?” Sam asked, leaning back against the headboard and watching him with the corner of her eyes.
“When you act like yourself.” He answered. “I like you, Sammy. I don’t always like how you act though…” Luckas answered, closing his eyes. “You need to laugh more.”
She sighed softly. “You don’t know what my self is like Luckas… I’m not that kid in the basement anymore.”
“Sure you are… In the end, I think that’s all we’ll ever be.” Luckas replied, immediately drifting off to sleep.

[The Manor - 6 days after Castle Ball, early afternoon]

“Luuukey...”

A familiar voice sounded in the room, almost singing his name cheerfully, as Luckas simply lay across his bed slightly entertained with a book. “What.” He mumbled, not surprised at the fact he hadn’t heard the door open, still trying to keep his focus on the pages.
“What?” Sam’s voice repeated a bit coldly and slightly menacingly. “Who do you think you are to talk to me that way, Pet?”
Her tone was enough to make any other Brother wet his pants, but Luckas knew his Mistress a little better than that. “Hmph.” He mumbled, raising his eyes from the book to find her standing beside his bed, arms crossed over her chest and a severe expression in her eyes. “I’m no one’s pet, and you better remember that.” Luke replied in a low growl.
Sam giggled in response, sitting on the bed facing him. “Such a rebellious little puppy you are, Lukey, love… What is making you so cranky? Tell me….” She snickered. “Is it because of the nightmares, huh? I could keep you company again tonight, maybe… Check under your bed for monsters and all… Or pretty ladies, we all know how scary those can be.”
“Shut up.” Was all Luke managed to say as he set the book aside and sat up straight, his face so close to hers they were breathing the same air, his eyes glowing red in clear rage, his fists clenched tightly; not at all amused by Sam’s playful comments.
Sam didn’t seem frightened by his response at all. “Would you rather I pretend not to know why you’ve been spending your days locked in your room lately?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. “You obviously miss your little girlfriend, so why don’t you just go see her?”
“She’s not my ‘little girlfriend’, and I thought you didn’t want me to see her.” Luke replied, the anger still in his tone. “If it goes against your wishes, Mistress, then I have no reason to do so.”
“Maybe not, but what I really wished for is that you did not want to see her anymore, but you clearly do, so it doesn’t matter…” She heaved a small sigh and gently stroked the side of his face with the back of her hand. “It doesn’t matter.” She repeated in a soft whisper, lowering her hand from his cheek and reaching for the book he had tossed aside, skimming through its pages casually. “For someone who doesn’t believe in the Gods, you read through mythology books too often.” She stated.
“I like the stories.” He answered, taking the book from her, not wanting her to see it had Annie’s name on the back cover. “Tell me Sam… Do you think it was the Gods’ powers that corrupted the humans, or humanity that corrupted the Gods? Have you ever wondered, if they really cared for the humans and that’s why they wanted to stay?”
“I think… They had their own selfish reasons to want to stay. I don’t think they could care, except maybe Heart, but there are selfish and harmful ways of caring as well.” She stated.
“Are there harmful ways of caring? Like what?” He asked.
“Well, everything can be harmful if it’s excessive, Luckas... Even love...Especially love...” Sam said with a little shrug. “Like… Thinking you know what is best for someone, but not taking their will into consideration. Like clinging to someone and not knowing how to let go… For instance.”
“What if they couldn’t help it?” Luckas asked, now leaning back and resting his back against the headboard. “What if they tried not to get attached, not to get involved, but just couldn’t help it?” He paused, taking notice, by how Sam’s expression had changed, that she understood exactly what he meant. “Hypothetically, of course.” He added.

“I think… I think those hypotheticals of yours are not hypothetical enough for me to answer impartially, Luckas. If you wanted to know my opinion, truly, on what this is truly about… I’d tell you that it will only end badly. Much like the Twins’ involvement ended badly, even if they did care for the humans, it didn’t turn out well for them to go against the natural order of things.”
“I’m not sure I follow…” Luckas mumbled.
“I think you do; this is not my business, or at least it won’t be until it interferes with our cause directly, but I think you should forget this woman, Luckas; because in the end of it all she is going to die. Sure, everyone will die someday, but she will die as a result of your actions, even if not directly, and you will be left with choosing between living with that fact, or dying as well. That’s how I see it ending.” She replied, leaning back on the bed for a moment, planting both her hands on the mattress and resting her weight on them as she stared up at the ceiling. “You will suffer, or die, and I will suffer for losing you, and she will be dead either way.”
“Why?” Luckas asked, almost to himself, his voice sounding slightly like the whining of a kid seeing his favorite toy being taken away.
“For the same reason wolves don’t befriend bunny rabbits Luckas. You’re a predator, and she is… Well… Prey. I wish I could put it in prettier terms, but it is what it is. She is no different from the ones you killed, on my command, and the others you are yet to kill, and we haven’t gotten to that yet, but… One day her time will come. Who knows then, you might have to kill her as well. What will you do then?”
“I will do what I have to do.” Luckas stated, raising an eyebrow as if the question was taken as an insult. “I swore my allegiance, now haven’t I?”
Sam snickered. “Down, boy.” She sighed softly. “I’m simply trying to help you Luke. I don’t think you fully understand the consequences of this, ‘friendship’ of yours. I think you underestimate the ways in which this can affect you. You know, I’d hate to lose my favorite pet.” She stated, with a playful grin.
“Perhaps you would rather I forget this whole thing and spend my free time curled up at your feet?” He asked in a slightly annoyed tone.
She sat up straight letting her gaze fall from the patterns of the ceiling and onto his face. “And what if I do?” She smiled. “Is that so evil of me?”
Luckas chuckled softly. “Yes, yes it is Sammy. What did you say about clinging to someone and not knowing when to let go?”
Sam fell into a laughing fit for a couple of minutes at the words. “Oh, you poor innocent puppy…” She chuckled. “You should know by now that I don’t ever let go.”

[The Manor - 6 days after Castle Ball, late night]

”Where am I?”

“Does that even matter now?”

“I don’t know... I’m not sure... I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“Have you ever truly known that? Does anyone ever truly know?”

“I was certain of things…”

“You can never be certain of anything”

“I don’t want to die without knowing what’s truly real.”

“You are already dead, Brother, no matter what is real.”

The darkness was absolute. If there was such thing as complete and absolute absence of light, this was it. It was as if nothing existed but the haunting voices that whispered as if coming from every direction at once, and still… All was empty.

“Do you know Brother, what fear truly feels like? Have you ever screamed in terror? You have never felt such things, have you? Because you are already dead.”

“I have.”

“Show me.”

“What?”

“Show me fear… Scream for me…” The voice laughed maniacally when there was no reply from Luckas. “See? You are dead and just don’t know it…”

The laughter continued for what seemed like forever and finally Luckas could feel himself standing in the center of an empty room; that same dreaded basement where he spent most of his childhood years. He knew he was standing there somehow, but for some reason he still couldn’t see anything. The shadows seemed to swallow him whole and all he saw was black.

“A man with nothing to lose is a dead man. If you fear nothing, you have nothing, and so you are dead. You died here. Why fight then? Surrender.”

“I have people now.” Luckas argued. “I’m not ready to let go.”

“People? Look, we both know how that ends.” The voice mocked. “People judge, and expect things and when you eventually let them down they abandon you. Theyl betray you, and you’re left all alone with your thoughts again. Just you and your thoughts… Just like old times… Wouldn’t that be delightful?” The voice said, exploding into giggles. “Just you and me, Brother… Like old times…”

The light went on in the room, somehow. There were no torches, lamps, or windows, but there was light now, as if it appeared out of nowhere. The pitch black became a light yellow, as if Luke was surrounded by sunlight, even if not warm. All was light, except one thing: In front of Luckas there was a large mirror that seemed to extend through an entire wall. Or at least he believed it to be a mirror, since its surface was jet black, and nothing could be seen in it but darkness. Still, Luckas was sure that it was a mirror for some reason. As he stared into it, trying to see something inside, he thought he saw shadows move. He thought he saw eyes in the dark, and as he tried to get a better look he definitely heard voices, whispers, calling his name from the shadows, calling him in different ways and different voices, some familiar, others not…

“Brother…”

“Luke…”

“Luckas…”

“My Dear Luckas…”

“Foolish boy…”

“Little vermin…”

“Lukey…”

“Luckas…”

“What are you?”

“Who are you?”

“Please… Don’t…”

“I beg you… Have mercy!”

“If you didn’t want me to like you Luckas, then you most definitely are going about it the wrong way.”

“In the end, you'll always be someone's pet, because you're too weak to function without someone on the other end of your leash.”

“… I saw something in you that I didn’t want to let die…”

“I’m sure no one would give a crap if I let you wander off and drop dead somewhere, but I’m still not going to let it happen.”

“Will it hurt?”

The voices were constant and, even in whispers, they seemed to get louder and louder somehow. Familiar voices, people he liked, hated, strangers, victims, all of them mixed inside his head trying to tell him who he was, what he was, where he belonged… Or that he simply didn’t belong at all. It all brought an ache to his temples and chest and he felt as if he was suffocating. Placing both palms on the dark surface, he leaned against the black mirror, pushing against it as if the gesture would somehow vent his anger and frustration, but, in reality, it did no such thing. He closed his eyes, or at least he must have, because next thing he knew, watching him from the darkness were a crowd of glowing eyes of all shapes and colors, a few of them recognized as familiar: Sam’s green eyes, Lena’s blue, Ess’ violet, and every other he ever encountered… Every mind he’s ever met… Luckas was lost in watching the shadows. At one point or another he swore he could see silhouettes moving amongst their dark surroundings. He felt like he wanted to join them, but it didn’t matter how much he pressed against the surface of the mirror, it would not let him pass. That was when he heard it again… Not just any voice, THE voice. This time it didn't seem to come from everywhere at once; it was right in front of him and that was when Luckas saw what he first thought was his own reflection, and it spoke: “You died here, you just don’t know it. You died here with me, so long ago…”

Before Luckas realized that he wasn’t really looking at himself, even though the person in the mirror did in fact mirror him, the ‘image’ pushed against him. Suddenly he felt skin against his hands as the ‘image’s’ hands pushed against them. Luckas stared into its eyes, same as his, the face, the hair, everything, but the smile… Much deeper, far more psychotic, and absolutely delighted… That was Matthew’s face. “Matt…” Luke whispered, stumbling back under his force. Mathew let him take his distance, but always walking towards him, slowly, his smile widening at every step.

“Did you really think you were free of me?” Matthew’s voice sounded much like his, only it echoed as if he spoke from the bottom of an abyss. “I will always be with you, brother, another part of you; the strongest part of you. I am your shadow and you may leave me behind, but I will never truly leave you.”

Luckas was shaking, fear taking over him at the sight of his twin; Matthew couldn’t be alive, Luke knew as much, but the sight of him just caused him panic even so. “You’re dead.” He mumbled. “You’re not real.”

“Oh, but neither are you, brother.” Matthew replied, his grin widening, as manic as it had ever been. “Now, little brother… Scream for me… Show me fear… See what I see… Isn’t that what you always wanted?”

Luckas continued to walk away until he felt cold stone press against his back; he was cornered, and even though he knew Matthew’s gift could never hurt him, that he was dead, that this could not be real… None of it mattered. The only thought in him was that if Matthew got to him, he would never let go… He would drag him to hell with him… Perhaps that was his fate, but he didn’t want to go just yet.

As the twin neared, Luke realized that he was now holding something; it felt like a knife, it was a knife… And without a flinch Luke buried it in Matthew’s chest the moment he was close enough, but he must have closed his eyes again, because when he opened them again Matthew was smiling as wide as ever; triumphant. “You’re dead Luckas, you just don’t know it.” He whispered.

Luckas looked down… He was never the one holding the knife, it seemed. Matthew’s hand was the one on the handle, pushing the blade slowly, straight through Luke’s chest.

“Alone, Luckas; you and me… In the dark… Forever… That’s how it ends.”


Luckas woke up abruptly, his right hand gripping the front of his shirt, shivers crawling their way up and down his spine. His chest ached as if a blade had in fact gone through it, and sweat was soaking his clothes and hair. “It’s not real... not real... It’s not real...” He muttered under his breath, trying to will the shivering away. “I’m not dead... It’s not real... I’m not dead yet... Not yet... Not yet...”

It took Luckas a few minutes to steady himself, open his eyes, and allow himself to slip back into the present, to the real world, or what was left of it. It was still dark outside his window, the sky was clear and in the dark room he could still see some stars sparkling in the dark blue background above, the house was silent as it usually was and everything seemed perfectly normal. Luckas inhaled slowly and forced himself to breathe it all out; his hands still shaking from the very vivid dream. The memory of his dead twin unpleasantly and persistently clinging to his mind. The words spoken still lingering in the background: “In the dark... Forever...”

Luckas couldn’t remember ever being this frightened before. It wasn’t full blown terror, but it was the closest he had ever been. If it had been for real, then perhaps... Luckas snickered softly under his breath, running one hand through his sweaty hair as he forced himself to get out of bed. As soon as his bare feet touched the stone floor, however, he felt little claws sinking into his ankle painfully. “Argh, damn it, Seth!” He shouted, picking the cat up by his neck, ignoring the several more scratches to his arm, and tossing it out the bedroom door, slamming it shut and muttering. “Stupid fleabag!” On his way back Luckas froze where he stood, the corner of his eye catching his reflexion on a mirror on the wall, without much thought to it, he picked up one of the sheets and covered the mirror with. “I said not yet.” he mumbled.

-About an hour later-
“How come you’re not in bed Lukey? Is it about your little girlfriend?” Sam asked, sitting across from Luckas on one of the kitchen tables and snatching a cookie from the plate that was place in between them on the wooden surface.
“Why must you keep calling her that, Sam? Luke muttered, fiddling with the cookies he’d stolen from the pantry, but not eating. “And what makes you say that?”
“Because it annoys you; but also because I have eyes and I’m not dumb.” She leaned over the table, resting her chin in her hands, and snickered. “I heard you call for her in your sleep. Were you having a wet dream or something?”
“No. I was just randomly naming people I know.” He muttered sarcastically. “It wasn’t even about her.... And stop spying on me.”
“You don’t want me to stop spying on you. I’ve asked you at least four times if I was bothering you and you avoided the question altogether. You like it that I watch you sleep, makes you feel safe, but you don’t want to admit it and you don’t want to lie about it; so you avoid answering.”
Luckas sighed softly and stuffed a whole cookie in his mouth to keep himself occupied as he chewed on it in silence.
“How come you don’t have a nickname for me like everyone else?” Sam asked curiously.
Luke swallowed hard and coughed slightly before answering. “I do… It’s ‘Sammy’. Why, you don’t like that?” He took a sip of water. “And it’s not everybody else…”
“Just the ones that matter.” Sam stated, with a little smirk. “...Whether it’s because you like them ot because you don’t... Do you forget who you’re talking to?”
Luke chuckled slightly under his breath. “Never.”
Sam sighed softly. “Lukey, why don’t you tell me what is troubling you? You might feel better, and maybe I can help.”
“If I… Give you a hypothetical… Will you promise to keep it a hypothetical and answer me honestly?”
“Sure, and I’m always honest.” Sam replied. “Tell me.”
“Let’s say you are incredibly good at chess.”
“I am incredibly good at chess.” She chuckled. “But please, go on.”
“You never lost a game, and the more you win the harder it is to find a worthy opponent. It starts to get too easy. Not any less fun, but less challenging... And you NEED the challenge. One day you run across a great opponent, you play and it ends in a draw, and every time you play after that it ends the same way. It doesn’t matter though, because the game is still exciting, never boring, even after it all starts to get familiar. Now, nothing about you has changed, you still feel the urge to win. In fact, a part of you feels a nearly uncontrollable urge to win. The problem is that if you beat this player, you will never get to play with this person again. The game ends.” Luckas let both his arms rest on the table and leaned forward, letting his chin rest over them as he stared into Sammy’s green eyes. “So now, what do you choose to do? A part of you desperately wants to win, but then there’s this other part of you that is terrified that if you do, you’ll never be able to enjoy the game the same way again.”
“What you are asking is whether I would choose to hold on to the certainty of ‘instant gratification’ or risk the mere possibility of ‘true happiness’.” She smiled softly. “Keeping this as a hypothetical as you asked me... I don’t think you can keep playing for a draw indefinitely, and if you don’t play to win you will eventually lose. So, I don’t see it as much of a choice really. I think the question is: How long can you stall before the inevitable happens? So I see it as there are two options; or you play to win and be temporarily satisfied with the victory, or you will eventually lose and be left with nothing.” She chuckled. “Well, of course, you can forfeit, but I know you’re just not that kind of player, are you, hun?” She reached out and placed a hand over Luke’s arm near his cheek. “Are you alright sweetie?”
“I guess. I’m just tired… Don’t want to go back to sleep.” He mumbled.
“What was your dream about?”
He sighed. “Choices… And lack of choices… Inevitability… Death…”
“Those can be frightening, I know.” She agreed. “Accepting fate is the most frightening part of being alive. Accepting that some things are not an option… Making sacrifices…” She smiled. “Remember when you asked if I believed I was the Goddess?”
“You said you didn’t know what you believed.” Luckas answered, with a nod.
“I don’t. I do know what I hope… I hope I’m not. You know why? Because in all the Myths, in all the stories… The only thing that doesn’t change is that Terra was lonely. Either she loved Duncan and watched him die, or she didn’t love him or anyone… If she was a Goddess she was put on this realm to betray her siblings… If she was a human she was used by the Gods… Me? I was born with a purpose to serve. Nothing more, nothing less… Maybe if I succeed I’ll have a chance of being more, but until then…”
“Why? Why not choose something different?”
“Because I believe, Luckas... I believe that after all the buildings crumble, all the ashes scatter, all the bodies are consumed by the earth… Those who live will see beauty as it only have been heard of in legends. Even with everything I had to put up with to make it happen… I think it’s worth it.”
“Enough to die for it? If you do what you plan, won’t it kill you?”
“I’m not sure, Lukey… It’s… Uncertain… How it affects my bloodline, since it’s something apart from true Enlightened, but not exactly from another source. I’ll only know then, but.... Probably, yes.”

Luckas was going to say something else, but he stopped himself as he felt a sharp pain in his temples that made him shoot up and sit up straight in his seat, rubbing his eyes. He felt something inside his chest he was unfamiliar with and a chill ran down his spine as he heard Ess’ voice echo inside his mind, calling his name… Something wasn’t right.

Slowly Sam’s voice began to sound faintly in the background, but he wasn’t listening. He simply stood up and started to walk out of the kitchen. “I’m going for a walk… Need to think…” He mumbled. With the corner of his eyes he was able to catch sight of Sam still watching him intently as he crossed the doorway… She was clearly not happy with this.

[Raven’s Camp - 8 days after Castle Ball, early evening]

Luckas had somewhat regretted walking out on Sam the way he had within only a few minutes of leaving the Manor. The sudden urge to run in the direction of the Raven’s Nest had faded some, but not disappeared entirely. It was there still, and he knew that unless he kept going it wouldn’t stop nagging at him. He had to take a longer route through the forest; the Wolves seemed uneasy for some reason and he felt was best to avoid going near their camp. He could handle if someone tried to hold him back, but he just didn’t want the distraction. For that reason, it took a few hours longer than he’d like to reach the camp.

The sun had already set on the second day of his trip by the time he finally reached his usual spot under the oak tree. It didn’t take too long to spot Essence where she sat, his first greetings going unanswered, confirming that in fact something wasn’t right, until she finally addressed him.

“Luckas, can you just stay...and keep me company...but not ask any questions?...If you want to know what the fuck is going on, I give you permission...go inside my brain...because I don't feel like discussing anything....I can't right now...." Her eyes were red and puffy, tired from her lack of sleep, yet she couldn't relax to that point. Her expression was empty, vacant of any further emotion, except the obvious sleep deprivation as she stared off into the fire...her tone so quiet, one had to put together the random pieces they understood into a coherent sentence.

Luckas stood staring for a while, trying to read something in her expression, but failing however; not that he couldn't tell something was wrong, that was pretty clear, but he couldn't even take a wild guess as to what sorts of feelings were hidden underneath the emptiness and exhaustion. He wondered if someone with a normal sense of empathy would see it differently, or if it was truly that concealed. Finally he simply nodded and quietly sat, not like he wasn't planning on staying either way. "I'll ask another time." He stated quietly.

Ess barely took notice of Luckas' movements as he went from standing to sitting not too far from where she herself remained positioned. Her mind faded in and out of the present, into blank thought, making her forget that she had even spoken which had been the first time that day any words had escaped her. Vaguely she realized her earlier visitors whom she acted as if she never noticed their presence, not answering their calls or concerns...almost like a waking coma. Was she at the point of not feeling emotions at all? Was she simply too drained to care or process? Or maybe she was just that good of an actress...to the point she could fool herself into insanity.

Luckas remained quiet where he sat, not bothering to pretend he wasn't staring, because that's exactly what he was doing. He didn't know what was happening and doubted he'd know what to do if he had the whole story. He heaved an audible sigh as if trying to get rid of the silence and yet not be too loud. He wondered if Captain would know what this was all about, but still he didn't want to move.

Ess took in a deep breath, as if she momentarily forgot to keep breathing, her fingers absently scratching along her collarbone, curious blood stained linen strips peeked out from beneath her shirt. She had argued for a while with the medics on their ‘advice’ to bandage her wounds, until she passed out from some drug one of them managed to slip into her water. She wasn’t ashamed of what she had done to herself, but wanted it to be shown off to the world, a piece of her soul peeking out from the darkness. Besides that, she hadn’t slept and in defiance to their orders, she managed to slip away when they had fallen asleep in a chair beside her. “Keep an eye on her...” The Captain had said. When they came looking for her, trying to coerce her back to the cabin she responded by unsheathing her relic blade, her eyes empty and almost black from the lack of glow they usually emanated. They left her alone after that, for the most part.

“Maybe you were right Luckas….maybe it’s not worth feeling….with all the pain and anger….just for the possibility of something good….to feel needed….to be loved….maybe it does just make us weak…..” Ess paused before incoherent mumbles escaped her, “…Shoulda…coulda…woulda…past is past….still haunting my future…what if it was all a lie….what if I’m a lie…” A shaky laugh startled the air, causing Ess to look around searching, but for what she didn’t know. “I no longer know my own worth.”

"Am I boring you? Did you lose interest yet?" A curious smile curled her lips.

"Boring me? Well, maybe just a little..." He answered with a little smirk, his expression seeming more lost in thought than actually bored. "Did I lose interest? Surprisingly, no."

“Have to say…I’m surprised as well. Course I’ve had a lot of surprises as of late…” Her tone grew dark, almost ominous as she turned back to the flames, the flicker of light dancing in her eyes. She literally bit down on her lip, letting the blood trickle down her chin slowly. Ess had much to think about, and yet there was this wall preventing her from processing much of the revelations. She was trying to connect the dots, and the more she realized the more her anger grew, so she kept pushing it aside until she could figure out how to approach it all. Ess knew it was only causing her more pain, as much as she tried to suppress it and not deal It wasn’t her way, yet she felt like giving up. If she faced it in that moment, she knew she would break down again. Were her beliefs wrong? Was she living a lie all this time? She felt so ashamed for the weakness she was showing. Why couldn’t she stay strong? Gradually the emotions floated across her face accompanied by a subtle chuckle which she choked down the second she realized her facade fading.

Luckas had gone quiet for a bit, thinking, mulling over Ess' statement that he was right. Was he right? His mind tracked back to the last time they discussed pain and what she had told him then. Finally he heaved a small impatient sigh. "What do you want to do, Lady?" He asked finally. "If you want to not feel, I can make you forget whatever it is that is troubling you. Even if, not so long ago, you told me that you would not do such a thing given the choice. Suppose that just means you lied to me and you don’t actually believe a word you said back then, which would also mean you’re just as full of shit as everyone else and I was wrong to think otherwise, but oh well…” He shrugged. “It’s like I said: people usually turn out to be disappointing one way or another.” He sighed heavily and shook his head in fake disappointment, a slightly amused smirk crossing his features. “Although, I must admit that is quite satisfying to finally be right about something, even if that something is that being a coward pays.”

If Luke was trying to get her to voice her thoughts, trying to get a rise out of her, it had worked. The violet glow appeared in her gaze, almost blocking out the darkness of her pupils in her sudden fury of anger. A deep growl in her voice, as if it were not her own; it was the push she needed. “You KNOW…I would not lie to you. Is it a crime to feel broken? To feel lost and not understand what I should do? Maybe I only feel what I was taught…what I came to believe was wrong, if people just run away and stop caring. I’m sorry I wanted so badly to have faith in something, to find my own purpose for being here.”
If Ess wasn’t so dehydrated, tears would have been flowing freely down her face. Her voice faded into a whisper as she turned finally to face Luckas. “Just let me wallow for a while until it passes, until I can make sense of it all….I don’t want to be like ‘them.’”

Luckas managed to control himself to keep from laughing; he couldn't help being amused, although something told him it wasn't quite the right sentiment in a situation like this. He let Ess talk and simply nodded quietly, a little smirk breaking through despite his efforts to keep a straight face. "Good." He stated simply, in response to her last statement, ignoring all the rest. After going silent for another moment he noticed the bandages showing under her shirt. "What did you do to yourself there, Lady?” He asked, raising an eyebrow and momentarily forgetting he’d decided not to ask questions yet.

A mixed eruption of emotions took over Ess, her fists clenching as she simply quirked a brow at Luke’s question and observation. She simply responded by gently pulling down her shirt, exposing the bandages just above her breasts to quickly rip off the linens. “Well, I discovered….the little secret you and Lena were in on…You know…about ‘Blue Eyes…..” Ess’ lips parted in a devilish grin as she continued. “What, you don’t like the tattoo? I thought it was….fitting….” She spat, letting the annoyance escape in her tone as she glanced down at the tattoo she had taken hours to crudely engrave into her flesh. It was an eerie oak tree, engulfed in flames, appearing unshaken in destruction. “Maybe when it heals some more…I can add some color…I dunno…whatcha think…..My Dear …Luckas…?”

"I see..." Luckas' amusement faded slowly and he flinched slightly, but now he understood a bit more what was going on. "Wasn't my place to tell... None of my business...” He mumbled, looking away from her. “And Lena..." He snorted out in annoyance. "I can't speak for her. Who knows what went through that woman's head?" He sighed. "So, what, you ran out of journal space and had to doodle on yourself? Honestly, Lady, I think it suits you."

Ess scoffed at Luckas’ reasons for keeping Jake’s identity to himself, rolling her eyes. “Please….I didn’t ask why….I think I understand why…and although I’m not happy about it…I get it….” She trailed off, leaving it at that….smiling just a bit as he commented her tattoo “Maybe the journal thing is growing tired….” She shrugged, scooting closer in his direction. “And…since when am I not your business? You are making it quite clear that I am.” Ess sighed, rubbing at her eyes, feeling a bit timid in saying anything else at this point. Not because she was afraid, but because she didn’t know now what she could talk about with Luke, per say. She just wasn’t sure what to feel at that point. Ess was clearly unhappy with him, and even after all they’ve been through thus far, he was still there. That meant more to her than he could ever know. She knew she wouldn’t stay upset with him for very long.

Luckas sighed softly at Ess’ words on knowing why he hadn’t told her the truth. He shook his head and kept quiet on the matter. When she asked about her being his business he smirked slightly and mumbled. "I didn't mean you, Lady. You are most definitely my business, whether you like it or not." He stated, firmly, even though his tone was so soft it was as if he wished she couldn't hear. He went quiet for a bit after that, his eyes examining her carefully. "You look like you haven't slept in a while. You should, you know, at least rest for a bit..." He pointed out, trying to sound severe, which just didn't sound much intimidating, surprisingly. “… And don’t make me force you, because I can do that, you know.”

Ess scooted again, so close this time she let her arm brush along Luke’s. Taking a deep breath she leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. She didn’t care if he would try to brush her aside at her touch, because she had a feeling he may just let her. She caught his words that he spoke barely at a whisper, enough to catch the gist of what he said. “Well if you’re sticking around, who knows…I may actually get some sleep. I feel better when you’re here, even when I’m mad at you.” Ess pointedly sifted her arm beneath his, giving a slight squeeze. “Maybe the nightmares will stay away…”

Luckas winced only slightly, but he didn't pull away when Ess leaned into him, he simply shifted in his seat a little uncomfortably, but otherwise remained quiet. It wasn't quite what he meant, but she was resting so he thought it best not to complain. "Suppose I'll just have to stick around, then." He stated, heaving a small sigh.

Ess lifted her head and stared into Luke’s eyes. “Sorry….if I make you uncomfortable you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. I’ll manage.” Her eyes were questioning, a sad smile cracking along her lips as she let her hand find Luke’s. Gradually, she lightly traced his palm with her finger, trailing up and along each of his fingers. It tickled her how he appeared much warmer than she was at that moment, and how her body wanted to absorb the heat. She wondered for a minute if she was fevering or if it had something to do with all the blood she lost over a short period of time.

“You’re right, I don’t have to stay if I don’t want to.” Luckas stated simply, but didn’t move a muscle from where he was now, lowering his gaze as he mumbled. “…And I’m not that uncomfortable.” That was true, in a way… Although he wasn’t sure he understood whether Ess was mad at him or not after all. He spent the next few moments silently trying to control the urge to pull his hand away from her touch until it finally faded. “Maybe the nightmares will stay away… Wouldn’t that be nice?” He whispered quietly to himself.

Ess let out a shaky sigh, slipping her fingers between Luke’s. “So why stay then? Although I’m not complaining…” Ess decided to stand, still holding onto Luckas she rose from his side and took one step forward as her knees gave out from her, causing her to almost trip over Tala. “I don’t want to sleep, but perhaps I should.. Lay down.”

When Aiden didn’t find Ess in the medic’s cabin, he knew it was best to just check on her from afar and if need be, he could offer his assistance. She was weak but he knew if he upset her, she would not hesitate in making it known once again. For the most part she just sat by the fire either ignoring or scaring away visitors.
Aiden was only away for a few minutes, but when he had come back to his spot within a nearby tree line, he began cursing himself when he spotted Luckas beside Ess. The veins in his forehead began to protrude while his fingers clenched the crossbow along his back, quickly retrieving the readied contraption and taking aim.

His pointer finger loosened and remained just beside the trigger as he watched, waiting to see if Ess was in any immediate danger. After a few moments, his shoulders slumped, letting the device fall to his side. Hooking it to his belt he decided to approach the two, just reaching the fire light as Ess went to stand and stumbled to the ground. He picked up his pace and found his way to her other side, a sweet concerned expression crossing his face. “Essence….you can’t push yourself…now after the other day…..Please…”

Luckas simply heaved a small sigh. “Why ask me questions that you already know the answers to, Lady?” He said, standing with her since she hadn’t really let go of him yet, which was a good thing because she didn’t seem to have much strength left to even take a step without stumbling. “I think you’re right Lady, maybe you should lay down for a bit.” He agreed, putting a firm grip on her arm as if to support her weight if she were to stumble again. Distracted with that, Luckas didn’t quite notice Aiden until the man was right beside Ess. The sound of the man’s voice, caused him to tense, but he seemed to be able to keep his calm despite the fact it was clear Aiden had been watching; which Luckas immediately resented him for. With a slightly annoyed sigh, he shot Aiden a glare and stated in a slightly amused tone. “Better watch it Lady, I think you have one too many stalkers.”

Ess scowled at herself for practically almost falling into the fire pit, but smiled when she felt Luke’s grip on her arm. She opened her mouth to respond to him but was cut off by Aiden’s voice, turning abruptly towards him. “Yes yes….to the both of you…I did just say I was going to lie down. I’m fine thank you.” Essence went to step again and found both the men to have a grip on each of her arms, making it a bit impossible for her to go in one single direction. Pausing a moment she giggled, “I know he’s been keeping an eye on me as well Luckas, but since you are here I don’t think the concern is necessary, Aiden, although appreciated.” Aiden attempted to lead Ess in his direction towards the tent, frowning when Luke still had a hold on her. “I’ve got it, Luckas.” Gently Aiden bent his knees, moving his hand from her arm to support Ess’ back and the other lifting her legs as he picked her up into his arms, bringing her into him. “I was the one who found her the other day, Luckas…she could have died…while you were ….AWAY.” Aiden smirked a bit as he cradled Ess who stared up at him wide-eyed, her brows narrowing in defiance as she tried to squirm. “Aiden…I’m not helpless…I’m conscious…and I’m not bleeding out…kindly put me down now…” Ess stated firmly, her stomach knotting up in embarrassment.

The only reason Luckas let go of Ess’ arm to begin with was because he knew he was going to lose his calm, and he’d rather not have that happen while holding onto her. Despite wanting to cause Aiden severe pain simply for his presence, he wouldn’t have done much more than glare, at least for the moment, wasn’t for his insistence to pick Ess up without the least bit of warning, or consent. Ignoring Aiden’s mention of his absence, despite it being what stung him the most, Luckas opened a slightly menacing grin and growled softly, putting himself in front of the man. “For someone who attempted to lecture me on not knowing how to deal with a woman, mate, you don’t seem to be very good at listening to one when she speaks. Now, you heard the Lady say your concern is not needed, and to put her down… I suggest you do that before I feel the need to force you.” He muttered, a red sparkle flashing behind the black of his eyes.

Ess pushed against Aiden’s chest, still fidgeting as he set her down, steadying her as she regained her balance. Discretely, she gave a wink towards Luckas as she stood between the two men. “Aiden, you are being quite rude. Yes, I thank you for your help and concern, as I’ve stated before…” Ess abruptly turned her gaze back and forth between their faces as she spoke to both of them. “..And what is this about a lecture? Is there something I should know?” With a deep sigh she steadily walked around Aiden towards her tent, not taking any help from them. “Aiden…do not…ever try to cast blame on Luckas for something that is not his fault.” The violet in her eyes dimmed in their glow as she forced another smile. “Luckas? Are you still staying the night?” When Ess moved aside, Aiden took a step forward so that he towered over Luckas, staring down into his eyes. He didn’t tear his gaze aside as he answered Ess, “Apologies my friend, I was only trying to help you, since you did lose much blood.” Aiden kept quiet when asked about Luckas and his conversation weeks ago, quirking a brow when he was scolded for his words. . He wasn’t sure if she expected an apology for that, that which would never come for he believed Luckas was only around for whatever convenience it provided. Instead he turned his back on Luckas and followed Ess in concern to make sure she didn’t fall, making sure not to crowd her.
Unexpectedly he gasped at her words to Luckas to her invitation to stay. For the first time he admitted jealously, but held in his words as Ess leaned into him and thanked him again for his help. She gave him a gentle squeeze and added with a snarky grin. “Luckas, you’ll stay with me again, won’t you?” Aiden shot an angry glare over his shoulder at Luckas.

Luke smiled, looking up at Aiden as the man stood tall before him, not seeming intimidated in one bit and mouthing the words “nice try” when Ess scolded him on his words. He held Aiden’s gaze until the man turned away from him, at which point he replied to Ess’ question on the lecture. “Beast Boy and I had a chat a while back, nothing really important, but if you want I can show you sometime… Once you’ve gotten some sleep.” He answered with a shrug, responding to Ess’ question of whether or not he would stay by following after her and Aiden towards the tent. He hid his annoyance at the hug she gave the man, taking comfort in his anger when she asked him once again if he would stay. “Of course I’ll stay, Lady.” He answered with a confirming nod, smirking at Aiden as he went in the tent without a care, showing clearly that he’d slept there before.

Aiden’s caramel gaze hardened as he watched Luke, flinching at what he meant when he said he could ‘show’ Ess what they had discussed that night. Muttering to himself in disbelief he almost lunged after Luckas into Ess’ tent if he hadn’t softened at her embrace. As Luke disappeared, and was still within earshot, Aiden gently lifted Ess’ chin to stare in her eyes mouthing, “Are you sure?” Ess shrugged which only caused Aiden’s eyes to narrow. “Answer me this then….are you spoken for? Do you want me to give up?”

Ess’ jaw fell in awe at the abrupt questioning and in such an awkward time that she didn’t answer at first, her eyes fluttering frantically as if searching for the answer, moving to turn as if to look for Luckas, but Aiden gently held her firm. “Don’t look at him, look at me Essence…please.” Shaking her head she whispered back, “I want to be….” Squinting her eyes shut, she began to feel guilty for Aiden, not wanting to cause him pain; after all she was his friend even if sometimes it wasn’t easy.

Aiden released Ess, tugging lightly on one of her curls, “I know…you have things to sort out….guess we all do. But I saw you….I truly saw you. You can’t deny if HE wasn’t around, you’d give me an honest chance.”

Ess stepped back and sighed, opening her eyes once again, her expression cloaking the frantic array of thoughts flooding her brain. “I’m sorry Aiden…whatever you’re searching for…You won’t find it in me….maybe…coulda, shoulda….woulda…but I’m not what you need. If you won’t understand…or at least accept this…then we can’t be friends…” A sickening feeling crept up on Ess and she swallowed hard to keep herself focused.

Aiden nodded slowly, forcing a smile as he reached for her hand and attentively brought it to his lips before turning on his heels and walking away. “Goodnight Talon.” He said nothing else but simply noted to himself how she didn’t answer his question directly and it gave him a bit of false hope that he tucked away in case she changed her mind. He would show her loyalty, and be there when she called, if ever. ‘She never said to give up..’ He thought to himself.

“Aiden….” Ess stopped herself shaking her head as she let her friend walk away. What did she do? She didn’t understand what he meant about ‘truly seeing her.’ At this moment, she wasn’t even sure what she saw in herself. Ess breathed slowly, trying to calm her nerves, forcing to keep control of her enlightenment. Tala began whining at her feet as she looked up at the stars, the white sparkles blurring and starting to spin in steady circles above her before it all went black.

Luckas was quietly waiting for Aiden to leave. He had just sat quietly trying to control his urge to order the man to punch himself in the face, over and over until he fell unconscious. He caught bits and pieces of what was being said, he was honestly trying not to listen, deciding to keep himself calm for the moment, letting his mind wander elsewhere, to where he was technically supposed to be now, and to who might know where he’d gone… That was something he would have to be careful with for a while. It was only when he heard Tala whine that he let his full attention return to the present, and walked to where the wolf was standing next to a fallen Ess. He eyed Tala curiously for a moment. “You’ll not bite my head off now, will you?” He asked, crouching down to check that her pulse was regular and she didn’t have a high fever, before picking her up and getting her inside and tucking her under blankets. “I’m not helpless, I’m not unconscious… How ironic.” He whispered, amusement in his face as he sat down, keeping a watchful eye on Tala as the wolf curled up next to Ess. Luckas pulled his knees closer to his body and let his arms rest over them. Taking a deep breath and finally letting out some of his frustration, mumbling under his breath. “I got this Luckas… You were away, Luckas… Pathetic little hypocrite, was probably happy as hell that I wasn’t here. Doesn’t know when to shut up, doesn’t know how to back off… Will have to teach him a lesson… Who the hell does he think he is? I better not catch him lurking or I will gauge his freaking eyes out… The prick...”

Essence's form was still in her slumber, Tala curled up to keep her snug beneath the piles of blankets. Not much time had passed when Tala's head snapped up in alert, ears perked as she tilted her head in question with her intense stare upon Ess. The woman's face went from a peaceful expression to one of anguish when her brows furrowed and a subtle groan penetrated the silence.

Ess opened her eyes to find herself standing in the all too familiar open space, brown fog rolling in around her. She had a pretty good idea how this dream would go, and was happy to be in a state of sleep where she recognized that she was dreaming. At the series of giggles echoing around her, she sprinted forward in search of the oak tree, knowing she'd find the boy.

As the fog cleared, she almost rammed into the boy, who already was staring up at the oak tree just a few steps away. He turned around, deep blue eyes smiling up at Ess, causing her heart to melt while sending a fueled anger that made her soul tremble. "You're dead Jake....you broke your promises...."

When the boy spoke, it wasn't the voice of the child she remembered, but of the man who was now Jacob. "Forever and ever, Ess...sometimes the hardest ones to love...are the ones who need it most.."

Ess growled, "What does that even mean?!" She stared as the boy turned back around and proceeded to light the oak tree on fire. "No! What are you doing?!" Ess cried out, noticing that there was a new detail to the dream that wasn't there a moment ago. Another figure was tied to the oak as it went up in flames, the smoke making it impossible to tell who it could of been. Yet as the heat emanated off the undying branches, she felt herself screaming as she found herself surrounded by the blaze, the tips of the flames splitting open her flesh like a sausage with a crackling, wet sizzle. A chilling scream erupted from her lips: From the pain of burning flesh; from the pain of a loss she feared to endure.


Luckas' mind was beginning to drift off after he was done muttering his curses at Aiden. He rested his head over his arms, feeling sleep coming to him, but resisting it. For some reason he just didn't want to let his mind slip away just yet, as if he was waiting for something. It was just then he caught movement with just the corner of his eye and he turned to face where Ess was stirring in her sleep. He kept a close watch on the sleeping woman, a slightly concerned expression crossing him, but he was unsure of whether or not to wake her... That is until she screamed; at that moment Luckas jumped from where he was seated to try to shake her awake, meanwhile Tala began pawing at the blankets in an attempt to free Ess from them. "Lady, Lady, Lady... Wake up..." Luckas said, gently shaking her by the shoulder, but to no effect. He let out a slightly frustrated sigh, pulling the blankets off as he noticed the flush in her cheeks and lightly tapping the woman's face with the back of his hand. "Lady, wake up." He called. "Wake up." Finally he sighed, taking in a deep breath and shouting: "ESSENCE!", giving Ess one forceful shake.

Ess shot up straight, wide-eyed and panting to catch her breath as she clawed at the base of her neck along her tattoo. It was as if she were trying to pat herself to make sure she was still there, although she kept muttering something about fire. "I couldn't let him burn..." Ess fell into a temporary coughing fit, Tala licking at her face furiously as if the wolf was trying to cool her down. It was another moment before she actually saw where she was, looking from Tala to Luke a bit surprised, from the stares and in a daze from her confusion to what exactly was going on. Slowly she pulled in her knees, wrapping her arms around herself as she began to shake but she was far from cold, she felt like she was fevering and began kicking at the blankets at her feet annoyingly. "I'm awake now, right?"

"You're awake, Lady. Either that or we're both asleep." Luckas answered, trying to shake off the concern from his face as he pressed his palm against her forehead and added. "You're fevering, do you want me to get a medic? Or the Captain, I can go get the Captain." He dropped from his crouch onto a seating position next to her and tilting his head to the side and mumbling. "I think the tattoo suits you better than I thought." He ran his fingers through his hair absently. "Who was burning?"

Ess shook her head stubbornly, "I don't need to wake the Captain... or anyone else. I'm fine Luckas..." Ess smirked laying her head upon her hands and knees, watching him curiously. "Really, I am. This happened the last time I had this dream....course I didn't know all the details before.....and guess I still don't...." She shrugged at his question, an eerie feeling creeping up her back, cause the hairs to rise upon her arms. "Luckas....what do you mean the tattoo suits me better than you thought? ...Did you see? Or do you want me to use you for journal space, too?" Ess chuckled momentarily, cut off by another coughing fit, beads of sweat accumulating along her brow.

"Should I believe that when I saw you faint moments after saying you were fine?" Luckas asked, raising an eyebrow. "And I doubt you were this weak last time." He argued. "Do you know what people say? That one cannot die in their dreams?" He smirked. "Well, Lady, that's crap. Hang on." He stated standing up and walking out of the tent, returning a few minutes later with water and half a loaf of bread. He sat and parted the bread in half and pushed a piece to her. "Eat and drink, or I will wake up the Captain." He threatened, sitting the water bottle in between the two of them. "I did see... bits... Tried not to, but apparently that's not my decision anymore" He took a bite off the bread and sighed. "Supposed I should try and explain this now, well... Apparently when I tried to erase your memory five years ago that created some sort of link between us... And apparently you can randomly make me hear and see things that happen to you... Somehow... Lena explained to me that it has to do with how my mind was vulnerable when I tried fiddling with your memory, and how you fought back not to forget... Although, she wasn't sure why... Exactly..." He went quiet and took another bite of the bread, taking his time with chewing on it, before mumbling. "That's why I'm here."

Essence gave a defeated sigh, her eyes gentle as she surrendered and nodded, taking the piece of bread from Luckas and nibbling on it slowly. "You mean, like you do with that trick of yours...like you did to Jasper, getting him stuck in his head?" Ess picked up the water to take a sip and almost choked on it before forcing herself to keep down another swig. When Luckas began explaining that there was some oddity between them, Ess froze staring at her bread. Her mind began racing through her memories, her dreams prior to running into Luckas once again and then the past few weeks. She finished chewing another bite of her bread before her list of questions spewed forth from her lips. "Luckas...is that why I think you're here when you're not? What did you see? What have you seen? Does it work in reverse? ...Does this mean when you haunted my dreams....you weren't just a figment of my imagination?" Ess looked around the tent for her journal, roughly tossing her stuffed bear aside, not even wanting to look at it at the moment. "I wrote it all down..." Finally she stopped caring about where the journal was at the moment and just leaned into Luckas. "What do you mean that is why you're here? You worried about me, my Dear Luckas?" She whispered gently, Tala sniffing at her side for her leftover bread.

"Luckas...is that why I think you're here when you're not? What did you see? What have you seen? Does it work in reverse? ...Does this mean when you haunted my dreams....you weren't just a figment of my imagination?"

Luckas chuckled slightly at the list of questions taking another bite of bread. "I'm always here, it seems that's not my decision anymore either. I haven't seen much just... burning tree... I haven't seen anything before, just heard some things... Felt some things..." He gave a light shrug. "It may work in reverse, but I'm not sure. Did I haunt your dreams Lady? Perhaps you haunted mine." He said, raising an eyebrow. "I don't know for sure though... I still can't remember what I dreamt back then." He stopped to think about it for a moment or two before whispering. "That would explain though... Because I felt I was there... I knew I couldn't be there."

As she asked if he worried, Luckas flinched only slightly, reaching for the water he took a sip, clearing his throat before replying. "I meant I came here, because you called for me. I heard you." He stated. "I wasn't worried exactly, but suppose if something were to happen to you that would leave a rather uncomfortable silence in my head." He said with a little smirk.

Essence listened to Luckas, finishing off all but one bite of bread which she held out in her hand for Tala; gently the wolf lapped up the bread with a huff and rested her head upon Ess leg, staring over at Luckas as if perplexed. "I guess, I find an amount of comfort that you're always with me then, and that I'm not losing my mind." She heaved a long sigh, her fingers lightly trailing over Tala's snout. "It's always your decision Luckas, because if you didn't want to be here, you don't have to be. I mean, couldn't you just turn off the link or something?" Ess kept her gaze upon Tala, her mind jumping from one thing to the next from all that had happened over the past week, absently wiping the sweat off her forehead, a few curls stuck to her cheek. A sudden giggle escaped her, "Oh the irony, who would have thought that we would be the voices in each other’s heads. I think it does work in reverse..." She pondered her last words a moment, shaking her head. "I heard you humming.... the first time I had the nightmare...back when I didn't know who the boy was.."

Ess grabbed the water from Luckas, drinking deeply, a small stream leaking out the sides of her mouth and down her chin. It did feel good, and she did go longer than meant to without food and water, but it seemed to hit her suddenly as she finished off the bottle. "You know...certain turn of events have made me think over a few things in my life....for the better and worse perhaps. But, I think knowing something and hearing the truth of it are very different. I mean...you say I know you pretty well, but guess certain things I need confirmation of. .." She paused a moment, not sure where she was going with this. "Well, just so you know...if something were to happen to you...I'd have more than an uncomfortable silence in my head. You being missed, I think, is only just tapping into the well." Ess absently rested her head on Luckas' shoulder, keeping her eyes averted from his, a surprising ache in her chest began to throb at her own words. She closed her eyes and again, saw the oak burning, realizing that she chose to burn instead of whomever was trapped against the flames. Not sure of what it all meant, she had a feeling she would indeed dream it again.

{Adam Gontier - Wicked Game}

Luke winced slightly. "You heard that?" He asked, a little bit uncomfortable. "You were scared, I could feel... And I couldn't calm myself to sleep." He sighed, opening a little smirk as he realized he could trigger this himself. "I'll try to keep it down next time." He went silent after that statement, closing his eyes as he let Ess speak. He wasn't quite sure he understood what she was saying and it was a bit frustrating. "What you mean by confirmation?" He asked, absently, so lost in his thinking he didn't even react to her resting her head on his shoulder. "If there's something you wish to know, I'd say it's best to ask, don't expect me to grasp some hidden meaning, or whatever..." He mumbled. "Not that I don't appreciate the knowledge that I would be missed, despite it being a lot less comforting than one would imagine, but it begs the question: Why?" He chuckled. "And before you begin lecturing me on how I need to deal with the fact you are my friend, yet again, let me explain that I honestly don't understand. As much as I don't understand what you mean when you say I don't have to be here, that it is a choice, when it's clearly not. I mean, yes one can say I choose to come and I could choose to leave and not come back, but then I can argue that I have tried. So is it a choice really?" He inquired. "Choices are rational, but there is a whole set of instincts programmed to manipulate our rational thinking, a whole part of our minds that works with the sole purpose of deciding things behind our backs, so... How can we ever know what we truly want? How can we truly choose anything?" He sighed. "I'm not complaining, I don't consider myself all that good at making choices..." He lowered his voice slightly and added. "...Maybe Lena was right after all." He followed that statement by shoving the last piece of bread in his mouth and chewing on it quietly thinking he might have spoken his mind a bit too much.

Ess snaked her arm behind her and Luckas, leaning into it for support as she readjusted herself along his shoulder. She thought long and hard on all he had just said, trying to figure out what she wanted to say and how. "Next time, I'll know it's you and not my mind snapping from reality, so no; you don't need to keep it down. I'm sure...feeling what I feel can't make a lot of sense or be comfortable.." Ess snickered at his familiar words, ones that she spoke that night in the Castle, "If there's something you wish to know, I'd say it's best to ask..." She opened her mouth to speak a few different times, a word or two escaping and then silence as she tried again, finally she opened with, "Do you wish to know my mind's reasons, or my heart’s? I am mostly an emotional driven woman, I'd admit, which I'm sure is obvious. And you don't understand everything with emotion and try to push it aside or deny yourself what you are truly feeling. I mean, you argue with the aspect of choices, when they are made rationally and irrationally, from our mind or heart or both. " Ess lifted her head, giving Luke a gentle smile as she stared into the familiar black orbs. "I'll tell you why, if you tell me why you came back? You have the choice to live with whatever you're feeling and just stay away, because a part of you believes it would be best. And don't say you don't know, because you do. You just have to admit that it's there, even if it doesn't make sense. Guess what, emotions don't always, and they can be driven by instinct." Ess reached out towards Luke's chin to make sure he was looking at her and paying attention at her words. "You, had the option and power to take me out. You still have it and you could of erased my mind if you thought it best. You didn't. You don't. I knew what you were doing, which is why ....I forgive you Luckas. But with all the anger, you still didn't make those choices." She pulled away and smiled, "Not that I’m complaining, because at this point, taking you away from my thoughts and memories would...take away a piece of me. Too much has been weaved into my soul to turn back now."

Luckas frowned, slightly more confused than he had been before, not exactly sure of what Ess expected him to answer exactly, what she wanted him to admit to... And he felt as if he had been given a riddle with the most obvious answer he just couldn't figure out, and his thinking led him to pull away from her a bit, moving so that there was a bit of space between them. Finally he replied to her first question with: "If 'both' is not an acceptable answer, then I suppose I'd rather you show me what I can't see for myself. Although, seeing and understanding are two separate things, and one does not always lead to the other." He went quiet for the following moments as he thought. "I don't know what you want me to say..." He mumbled, rubbing his eyes. "I..." He heaved a small sigh as he searched for words. "I suppose I don't like the idea of that silence in my head... Or what used to be there before..."

Ess' smile faded as Luckas moved away from her, responding with herself lying down, her head propped upon her hand as she watched him. She saw the familiar dazed looked of Luke's inner workings, battling or searching... She wasn't quite sure. "You ask me a question which appears complicated for you to understand, when you are unsure of how to answer it back: Why be my friend? Why come back? I will answer to both my own reasons for being your friend: Mind and Heart." Turning over onto her back, she stared up at the painting of her burning Oak.

"Mind: It tells me from what you've shown me, I can trust you when it comes down to it. You won't intentionally hurt me, based on opportunities given but not taken. I see someone that I enjoy spending time with. You make me smile. You understand more about me than anyone, I feel. Maybe now that's because you've been in my head, or maybe because we have much in common. The simple things we enjoy, to the more intricate ones: Like our bloodlust. Although I have to admit, yours will always surpass mine." She gave a tired shrug. "You remind me what I need to focus on, when I’m not with it, when I show weakness. We, can teach as well as learn from each other. Even in our anger, and disagreements, we are still friends. But I guess that has to do with heart too. See both are so closely intertwined, it's hard to make sense out of it all. So I guess most of those things, is what you mean when you say, 'What you see..'"

Essence went quiet a moment, glancing at Luckas out the corner of her eye and then back up to her painting. With another sigh, she continued. "Heart: Ever since that day we met, my first instinct was fear, yes. But because I thought you were gonna be like all the rest of the men. When you weren't, that intrigued me. It made me curious and want to know more, especially when you began haunting my dreams for so long I saw you age, Luckas. I saw hate, pain, and excitement within your eyes through the passing years and when I found you, it gave me hope that dreams can be made real. I mean... I prayed for Jake to not be dead...even if I'm emotionally wrecked for it now....I will get over it...maybe....give him a rude awakening to who he ran away from." With a small giggle, she kept herself composed. "But, I’m losing track here...Luckas." She turned again to face him, hugging a pillow tight against her. "I'm afraid if I pour my heart out to you, I'll scare you away....but...I like you. I feel safe around you. You've helped me in ways, no one has. You've cared, even when you won't admit it. I want to help you in return and I want you to see what you have shown me as well: Not everyone is the same. In all honesty, I've never...." Ess released a shaky breath, tearing her gaze from his. "I...am happy to be your friend, even when you can be a royal pain in my ass. Why? Because the important things outweigh the trivial, because I've not felt this way about anyone; not even Jake. I've never shared as much with anyone... Do you understand? Not Aiden, not any man."

Ess pulled the pillow across her face. 'Just say it already.' She thought to herself. Yet she knew she couldn't. She couldn't even tell her best friend that she loved him, why should she be able to say what she was feeling now. 'Knowing and hearing are two separate things', she thought again. "When you and I were fighting...you asked me:’What do you want from me?’" She mumbled beneath the pillow, before peeking out to look at Luckas again. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before opening them again, glossy ripples reflecting off her violet orbs. "Just… You, Luckas."

Luckas listened carefully to what Ess was saying until the very last word, his face focused on his boots and his expression void of any emotion, aside from a slight grimace at the mention of Jake... That was a whole other story he'd have to deal with eventually. "Just me... Might be a little more than I am able to give at this time." He whispered softly, running both his hands through his hair, suddenly feeling very tired. "Here's what I know: Beast Boy says that I am a predator; and I am... I like being a predator, I enjoy killing... I would enjoy killing anything or anyone, in the moment at least... I've learned that about myself lately; a kill is a kill and it feels the same no matter the victim. I was stupid to ever think otherwise. Period. I would enjoy killing anyone in this camp." He snickered. "Some more than others, I'll admit, but the point being that what people say about me isn't wrong. I know you know this, but it just doesn't seem to matter. And I suppose... I keep waiting for the day when I'll be bored of you or that you suddenly see me the same way everyone else does, and the reason I am your friend is not even the fact that the day never comes, but the fact that I fear it and I fear the silence that would follow, and I hate it..." Luckas kept his eyes fixed on his shoes, not turning to look at Ess as he spoke. "Sometimes, I resent the fact that you've gotten so close, that you know me so well... That you care so much, and how easily that can hurt me... How weak it makes me... Now of all times I can't afford that. Still I come back because here is a place where I'm never bored and I don't have to worry, or hide. It has... Kept me sane... If I could dare refer to myself as such a thing…" He admitted, a little smirk breaking through his expression before he finally turned to face her leaning closer to where she was lying and whispering. "I like you... I care... I hate myself for it sometimes, but I can't help it. Is that what you wanted me to say, Lady? Is that what you need?"

Ess watched him intently, absorbing every single breath as a curious ache swelled inside her chest. She may never fully understand Luckas' need and desire to kill and not differentiate those that cross his path, but she still saw herself as different and even those around her. He made a choice every time he came to her 'home', one he openly admitted to battling with daily. Ess kept silent until he turned towards her, leaning closer just as several tears fell across her cheeks. Her voice was similar to a whisper, airy, mostly moved by breath alone with no tone. Not noticing as she spoke she leaned into him as well and smiled as more tears fell. "Luckas...You're not stupid....I may not know everything that you are going through, but.." Violet orbs shined through her tears disappearing and reappearing when she tried to force them back. "Sometimes, even though something inside me says otherwise, I think each time I see you will be the last. I mean, we only have today, so why not enjoy life while we are here. I guess I just needed you to know, and I needed to not feel delusional." Essence stretched her fingers slowly out towards Luckas' face but froze, heaving a shaky sigh. "I hate myself sometimes too, my Dear Luckas...No one really wants to be alone, and we all want to belong and feel safe." Boldly, Ess was so close to Luckas, her lips could graze his skin, yet she hovered as she spoke her last words, her voice rising a bit. "I'm not a greedy person… I'll take what you can give."

Luckas breathed in and out slowly, his eyes closing momentarily at the words; they felt foolishly comforting, and a perfect distraction from the fact that he was no longer a man with nothing to lose... He was human and he made it so the moment he allowed himself to care. He opened his eyes to realize how close Ess was to him, and he sighed at her last statement, slowly pulling his face away from hers, but reaching out to carefully wipe a trail of tears from her face with his sleeve. He didn't say anything more; he didn't think he could... He turned away and laid himself down to 'sleep', back turned to her, but eyes wide open as he whispered under his breath. "But you deserve it all, Lady."

Ess' head fell when Luke moved away after wiping at her tears to lie down, not hearing another word from her friend. A wave of guilt rushed over her for selfishly speaking her mind as much as she did. She would make herself be content with his friendship for however long it lasted. Ess wanted to remember to appreciate the time she was given and not dwell on what she couldn't have, even if it hurt. Slowly she pulled a blanket over her friend, making sure not to touch him, sliding back to her spot beside Tala. Nestling down beside her wolf she whispered, "I'm sorry..." Closing her eyes, several more tears squeezed out past her lashes, her breathing slowing as she focused to keep her emotions to herself. Ess very much wanted Luckas to know how sorry she was for causing any and all pain, and wished she could take it away. It was another moment before she realized she had lost control, unintentionally pushing her thoughts outward instead of keeping them in check. With a sigh she forced herself to relax, her mind still whispering, "I truly am sorry..."

The setting changes from the-manor to Blackpond

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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#, as written by Essence
13 Days Post Ball...Valcrest..Just outside of Blackpond. Morning into Afternoon

A few hours had passed, Shockwave not slowing a bit in pace as he ran, Ess occasionally patting his neck encouragingly. Turning her head to the side she shouted back to Luckas, "You good, or do you need a quick break before we get closer?..." Ess wasn't sure exactly where in BlackPond Ian was, but she knew a few places she would start with. The idea of going back there was awkward, leaving a heavy feeling in her gut as she saw the city in the horizon.

Luke was feeling a little bit nauseous from the ride, but he sure as hell wouldn't admit it. Still he decided to keep his answers as short as possible "I'm fine!" Going back to Blackpond this way was making him slightly nervous, and more so for knowing that they were walking right into a trap. At the moment he only hoped he wasn't recognized by someone potentially dangerous before finding Ian.

Ess nodded, leaning towards the right, the Stallion feeling her change in direction easily. She would not of course go through the main gate and felt they should walk the rest of the way on foot once she found a spot to leave Shockwave. "Eaaasy now boy...." Ess sang gently to the horse who responded with a slow trot, making their way towards a cluster of trees still about a twenty minute walk from the city. "Easy..now.” She continued as she swung her right leg forward and slid off the horse before he came to a stop "Ok Luckas....gonna go the back way in.."

Luckas was more than pleased to get off the horse, but not as much as he was to not go through the main gates, still something made him uneasy and he felt himself absently reach for the back of his left shoulder as if something there stung, walking silently a few steps before replying. "Sounds like a plan." He stated, with a nod, his eyes discreetly checking their surroundings as they walked.

Ess stretched her body, checking her weapons at her waist before running her fingers through her curls. As her fingers passed her hair turned a dark brown, straightening in unison to the skin on her hands darkening to a golden tan. When she faced Luckas she smiled, the contours of her cheekbones lower than before, her eyes smaller and slanted slightly. She gradually began slowing her pace, as they neared a grate, where a stream of water trickled out. "This will lead us near where I use to live..."

Finally letting go of his shoulder Luke stretched slightly and breathed in and out, his eyes momentarily sparkling as if there was something hiding behind them. "You haven't been back here in how long? He asked suddenly, glancing at Ess' changed figure as they reached the grate. "City's changed quite a bit. Not as easy to find your way around as it used to be. Dare I suggest you stay close to me, or will I be accused of caring again?"

Ess bent down a bit, her fingers tightening around the grate as it didn't want to budge. Nodding as if this is what she expected she sat down, ignoring the steady stream of water, sending her feet forward several times, kicking at the grate until it came loose. Once she stood back up she grabbed the grate to replace it after them as they entered. "I know you mean well, if you won't admit it, believe what you will, My dear Luckas." Ess whispered, motioning for him to follow. "But you won't hear me arguing with your suggesting to stay close to you." She winked before disappearing through the tunnel.

Luckas chuckled. "Well, Lady... It's your family reunion, I'm just here to make sure it all goes as smoothly as possible. That's what I believe." Luckas stated following after Ess through the tunnel, shaking his head in amusement. "Wish you'd take all my suggestions that easily, but nooo..." *He chuckled. "Double standards, isn't it?" Heaving a sigh he added. "Not far from where we're headed... there are some seemingly abandoned buildings. I'd say we check those first. Some businesses run there." He said absently.

Ess made sure to replace the grate before they wandered in too far, letting Luckas take the lead. "Well if all your suggestions involved being close to you, then maybe I'd listen more." She giggled softly. "What double standard am I being accused of?” Ess trailed off as she saw a light appear at the end of the dark tunnel, faded and distant. She continued to whisper so that her voice would not echo. "They rebuilt since I was last here then...not surprising. What kind of businesses?" She asked casually.

Luckas chuckled. "I'll remember that. Well, if you trust my judgment only when it's convenient then it's also a double standard, no?" He joked as they neared the exit of the tunnel. "All sorts of businesses: Bars, illegal gambling, cock fighting, dog fighting, human fighting, weapon smuggling, pros...titution..." He trailed off for a second and snorted half annoyed at the things he'd seen in some of those places. "That's how I found Jasper." He added after a while, as they crossed the exit of the tunnel into the light.

Ess followed Luckas out the exit, silent for a few moments before she paused in her step. "You're right Luckas, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to come off that I'd only listen to your suggestions when convenient. This is just something I need to do." She still whispered, slowly her tone grew louder as she began to move once again. "...Did they rebuild that brothel then too?" She growled, keeping the glow of her eyes dim, not wanting to draw attention as they began to blend into a crowd, Ess playfully sneaking between several patrons without bumping them. She pulled her hood over herself, hiding her hair as she let the color change to a bright blond, remembering how Mageria told her to keep her disguise a constant change to keep up the deception.

"Of course I'm right." Luckas stated with a satisfied grin. "I understand that you need to do this, but there are safer ways than this." He said absently, slightly shrugging as they walked. "Not that talking about it matters right now." He added, moving towards a sort of center square amongst a few buildings that were boarded shut. "Not that same brothel, no." He replied to her question with a slight nod of his head."These places are different, all businesses legal and illegal run by the same people and not people anyone would like to mess with. On the outside, they seem nicer than the people you worked for, but they are without a doubt worse if crossed the wrong way. "There's a place here for every nasty habit. I'd guess gambling for a start." He said, choosing a path.

"When did you start speaking with a voice of reason?" She teased "I lived this life.....the life people either were apart of, or they simply ignored. You're preaching to the choir Luckas about the dementia of a person’s mind. Or have you forgotten what you've seen in my head? What I have never uttered to anyone.." Clearing her throat she followed Luckas to a building, alive with laughter and shouts of competition. "Ok...split up inside....I know how to blend" Ess smiled, letting the hood fall back, exposing her blond hair with brighter sun-kissed highlights, her eyes now wider like a doe, giving her the sweet and desirable persona. There were all sorts of gambling going on in this building: from card games to animal fighting upstairs, feathers drifting down from above. Ess started with the card players, a sultry smile curling her lips as she slid her arm along the shoulder of one man, whispering softly in his ear. The balding figure turned and smiled up at her, offering her a seat on his lap, which she graciously accepted, chatting away. At one point she made a bold move by placing a bet on a hand for the man, and to the bald man's surprise, won the pot.

"What part of staying close to me do you not get?" *Luckas muttered as Ess just walked out to blend in with the crowd. Shaking his head and heaving an annoyed sigh, he wandered to a small bar in one end of the room, tracing his index finger through the outlines of a crest marked into the surface of the wood. As the man tending the bar came to him, he ordered a shot of their strongest drink, and when he was given a price to pay, simply flashed his eyes red and received a frightened nod of acknowledgement, one eye always on Ess as he felt someone sneak up on him. "What are you doing, Brother?" *Zeke's voice sounded in his ear. "Who is your friend?" Luckas chuckled "Why are you always after me? You need a woman. I'm just showing my friend a good time." He replied downing the shot and waving the bartender for a refill. "There is still room for that in the brotherhood, no? Or do you have something I need to take care of this instant?" He inquired, turning to face the other man with an angry glare. "Because if you don't, be kind enough and piss off." He muttered, leaning closer to the man with a growl.

Ess stood up, excusing herself with a reluctant expression as if she was having a great time to get herself a drink. She found that table boring and the others who she spoke with were of no help as she casually hinted a question here and there between hands. Politely she shook their hands, her fingers caressing their palms playfully, stating how she would see them again. Ess glanced around, knowing full well where Luckas was, but acted like she lost sight of him, her hand covering her mouth in an innocent giggle as she walked up to the same bar, catching sight of someone speaking to Luke. She played into her familiar role, slipping her arm gently around Luke's waist as she leaned in and pecked his cheek. "Can I have one of those, sweetness?" She purred playfully, her fingers attentively twirling a lock of his hair.

Ezekiel opened a slight grin as Ess approached Luckas, looking from her to him as if he had just won the lottery. "Won't introduce us, Luke? That is so rude of you..." He chuckled. "Piss. Off." Luckas repeated, still glaring at the man and ignoring his provocations, not wanting to show just how much his desire to see him gone had increased with woman's presence and hoping he failed to notice the inconvenient reddish tone that had taken over the sides of his face. "I said I will see you later." He muttered, knowing he had said no such thing, but that he would understand that as the promise for an explanation. "Fine, I'll leave, but don't forget what you owe me, Luckas. The people I work for aren't quite as forgiving as I am." He smiled wickedly at Ess before walking away to join the crowds. Luckas snorted out in anger as he waved at the bartender again, and placed a shot for Ess. "You didn't give me a chance to say... They don't like..." He lowered his voice to a faint whisper. "They don't like Enlightened here. So if you don't lay low we'll be in serious trouble."

Essence kept her sweet smile, taking the shot happily as she leaned back into Luckas in a seductive manner, her lips just grazing his ear as she whispered back. "I got that hint when I was chatting with my new friends over there, their derogative joking and I played along just fine, sweetness. You...didn't look too happy to see that friend of yours...." Ess pulled back, leaving it at that, glancing upstairs then back to Luckas. "We going to check out the festivities upstairs?"

Luckas heaved a small sigh trying to not act bothered by the closeness. "You're going to get me killed one of these days, but there are definitely worse ways to go." He stated absently, a chuckle escaping him as he took his shot and pushed himself away from the counter, taking Ess by the hand and beginning to lead her towards a back room through which they could reach the upper level pushing through the groups of people rather easily and ignoring the stares of some who knew his face. He knew he'd have to deal with Zeke, but the man was the least of his troubles if compared to Sam. Whenever she got word of this there would be hell to pay. Up a rather shaky flight of stairs, the upper level was far less neat than the first floor, but the patrons there were far more serious gamblers. This was where people got into serious debts, and what generated most profits. Small rings were several fights took place at once were scattered around a great open hall as people took bets. Dogs, poultry and other animals were kept in cages or leashes awaiting their turns. People seemed to enjoy watching this, but Luke sincerely didn't see why.

Ess noted the stares Luckas got by some as they passed through the crowd, but made sure to keep her gaze averted, giving a rather tight squeeze of his hand. After she made it upstairs, she remained close to him, not wandering this time. Again she leaned into him so he would hear her against the rowdy noise of the men and women shouting. "Ok...so I don't want to get you killed....what next then? What do you want me to do?"

Luckas chuckled softly. "I was kidding Lady, I can take care of myself, but here's the deal..." He pointed to several men in grey clothing taking bets. "See the guys with the books? Anyone who comes here ends up owing money at some point, and if you owe money your name goes in the book. Once your name gets in that book, every other detail of your life does as well. They keep records so detailed they most likely know how many times their gamblers sneeze on a weekly basis. So, if you'd like to find someone and that person's owed money here, peeking at one of those would give all you need to know on that person." He snickered slightly and nodded towards one man in the farthest end of the hall. "He's new. Distracting him for two minutes would be enough."

Ess adjusted the bodice of her top and nodded. "More questions keep coming to mind...but here's me..giving you the benefit of the doubt..." She smiled, her lips brushing his cheek as she pulled away. "That one I meant." Ess slinked through the crowd, pausing here and there to watch curiously at the fights that were mercilessly occurring in the cages she passed. She couldn't help the sickening feeling and a soft burst of anger that filled her as she watched a dog fight; but by looking at her, one would think she was simply turned on by the event. She continued to smile, sauntering over towards the man that Luke pointed out. How Luke knew so much, made it clear how much time he'd spent lurking and such in this city. Once she reached the young man in grey, she 'accidentally' bumped into him as if another had caused it, giving her the motive to profusely apologize to the man for her clumsiness. He didn't seem to mind as he turned from his podium to speak with Ess. "I'm Talena..." She giggled playing into his obvious interest, her fingers teasing the flesh along his large forearms. At one point he leaned into Ess, running his fingers through her hair asking how long she planned on sticking around that day and when he could sneak away to buy her a drink. Coyly she played this game, keeping her eyes averted downwards for the most part, safeguarding the glow of her eyes while she worked.

Luckas couldn't help a small snicker at Ess' comment, but he was pretty sure the questions would eventually be asked one way or another. He let her go ahead and make her way to the man while he followed from a short distance, ending up amongst a small nearby group of gamblers watching a dog fight, the corner of his eyes watching as Ess faked being pushed into the book keeper. That was really all it took to put the man's attention completely on her. Luke had to admit he would be impressed if it just didn't annoy him so badly, luckily he didn't have time to think about it as he quietly made his way to the podium and leaned against it as if waiting for the man to finish his conversation, meanwhile peeking into the book and finding Ian's name on it, as well as where he spent great part of his time. Luke knew the place and it wasn't far, which meant getting out of that building, making him extremely happy. He then turned away from the podium faking annoyance for not being able to place a bet. He walked to wait by the stairs, but still casually keeping an eye on Ess to make sure there would be no trouble with the man.

Ess noticed Luckas from her peripheral vision as she kept her attention on the bookkeeper. Offering another apology when someone complained on the obvious distraction from being able to place their bet, the man turned back to his work with a promise to be available in an hour or so. Ess simply nodded as she turned about to 'wait for him' at the bar, stumbling a bit when she received a firm smack on her backside. Instantly she wanted to hit him, but she choked down her anger, using the red rushing to her cheeks as embarrassment when she forced a smile over her shoulder at him. When she made it to the stairs she walked past Luckas in case the bookkeeper was still watching, her smile turning into an annoyed glower as she brushed Luckas' arm, making her way down the stairs and towards the main door.

Luke gave about thirty seconds before following after Ess, through which he glared at the bookkeeper, making a mental note to do something painful to the man when he came back alone. He caught up with her downstairs heading for the exit door, but out of the corner of his eyes he caught three familiar figures, two dressed in dark blue and one all in black which was Ezekiel. Heaving a sigh, he caught Ess by the wrist and whispered quickly. "Leave, take a left and enter the third building down the road; it's another bar. If he's not there he will be." The moment he finished that sentence a hand gripped his shoulder. "I apologize friend, but apparently the higher-ups don't feel like waiting for an answer." The man stated, obviously not sorry in one bit. Luke nodded smirking as he replied, glaring at the man. "Oh, I'm sure you're broken hearted, Zeke." He then turned to Ess with a smile and nodded towards the door. "I'll catch up with you in five minutes. I promise."

Ess felt the familiar fingers upon her skin, so she didn't flinch when she was suddenly stopped in mid step by Luke, nodding to his words, her head snapping to attention as the man from before came up behind Luckas. The familiar sweet smile curled her lips as she nodded from Luckas to the dark skinned man, Zeke apparently was his name. Politely she bowed her head and slipped out the door of the establishment, making it a point to remember those faces she had just encountered. Luke had promised to meet up with her, but that didn't ease the hairs standing up along her arm. Something was most definitely going on and Luke didn't want Ess around at the moment, more than likely to do with what he said earlier: about the place not taking kindly to her gifts. She wasted no time, out the door taking a left like Luckas instructed and casually entered the third building down the street, where she found herself at the bar. A few moments went by and she was already three shots deep, as she kept to herself, acting uninterested in the gatherings around her while she tried to focus her mind on the task and not worrying about Luckas. Of course that was easier said than done.

The moment Ess was out the door Luckas turned to face the other two people Zeke had with him; both women, one dressed in only dark blue, but the other had dark blue robes with golden trims. Luckas literally twitched as the woman left to a backroom, silently motioning for him to follow her. He immediately complied, finding himself in a private room with her and the other woman in blue, who simply stood in the corner with her head bowed, and Zeke, who shut the door and stood blocking it. At this point the woman with the golden trims removed the hood of her cloak and glared at him with a severe look in her eyes. "What are you doing, playing with your meal, Luckas?"

Luke winced at the familiar words and simply mumbled. "How did you get here so fast?" The woman immediately slapped him across the face, the gesture stung, even if the blow in itself was weak. "Don't ever question me. What are you doing with her?"

Luckas didn't raise his eyes to meet Sam's as he replied. "I'm following my orders to get the information you wanted."

Sam snorted angrily. "How so? You're interfering with our plans Luke."

Luckas sighed. "Because it won't work. Even if you get her, and even if she knows something, you won't get it out of her by force. Me? I have her trust. I can get that information easily if you give me time. And if you still want to kill her afterwards, fine." He shrugged "What have you got to lose?"

Sam seemed to think about it for a second before she reached and gently caressed the reddish mark she had left on his cheek. "You make me proud Lukey, and that's why I will give you time, but don't you dare betray me. Are we clear?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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[Blackpond - 13 days after Castle Ball]

Luckas went back into the city after watching Ess ride away back to the Nest, making his way to the first establishment they visited... He found Ezekiel there waiting for him at the bar growling a little under his breath as he sat to order himself a drink and the man spoke. “She wants you to go to her the moment you return to the manor, boy.”
“You had to send for her, didn’t you?” Luckas hissed in anger. “You can’t help yourself!”
“You are obviously involved with this... aberration... And I thought it was about time the Mistress saw it with her own eyes... Maybe then she’ll lose some of this blind faith she has in you.” Ezekiel stated, calmly sipping from his glass.
“I am not involved.” Luckas protested. “I am doing what was asked of me and you are twisting the facts, Ezekiel. Seems to me, your problem, is that you want her for yourself.”
“My problem is that I have sworn to protect that girl, from all harm, at any cost... If the harm is you and the cost is her affections then so be it; you keep that in mind... BOY. Her trust can protect you from anyone, but not from me. Nothing will ever protect you from me if you hurt her.” Zeke growled. “And you are clearly involved. I have not twisted anything... I’ve seen the way you look at her, I saw how protective of her you’ve become. So whether you are a liar, or extremely foolish, either way it will end badly. And my Lady will suffer for your foolishness.”
“I would never hurt Sammy.” Luckas mumbled.
“You already have, kid. I suggest you drag that Enlightened whore to the dungeons and get this over with as soon as possible.”
Luckas’ felt his entire body tense immediately as he heard the insult, but he didn’t address it, simply snorting out a snicker. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, old man. Do you really think the dungeons will get us anywhere with her? Even if she did know what we want, which she doesn’t, at least not now... There is no way to simply beat it out of her. Life has done quite a lot to break her, and no luck so far.”
“You’ve come to know her well enough... Perhaps better than anyone, and I’m sure you could find a fitting torture...” Ezekiel smirked. “I suspect you might even enjoy that... If you wanted.”
“Maybe...” Luckas muttered, standing up and walking away without another word; leaving his empty glass on the counter. Once out the man’s hearing range he sighed and mumbled under his breath. “If I wanted.”

After leaving the gambling house, Luckas walked his way slowly back to the manor, worried that Sam was angry with him still. Truth was, he wasn’t sure exactly of what he was doing, or how he expected this to end after all, and Zeke was right: It would probably end very badly one way or another, but then... Thinking about it didn’t seem to make anything any clearer, so he willed himself to stop.

He had barely reached the limits of the property when he felt the all too familiar glare of Sam’s cats and sighed heavily as Seth greeted him with the usual growls and hisses while Pandora insistently got in his way meowing and rubbing up against his legs. “Piss off!” He muttered, as the cat nearly caused him to trip. “Annoying little flea bag!” Luckas pushed Pandora out of the way with his foot, his annoyance growing as the damn thing only allowed him to walk freely for a couple of steps before getting in his way once again. All the way into the house and up the stairs Pandora was persistently in the way of his footsteps while Seth followed behind him growling softly, all the way until he finally made his way down the hall towards Sam’s room, at which point both cats ran ahead of him to her door; sitting and staring up at him as he reached it and knocked. “Sam?”

“Come in, Luckas, it’s open.” Sam’s voice sounded from within the room. Slowly Luckas opened the door, letting both the cats run inside ahead of him, glad to get rid of them for the moment. Once inside the room he looked around for Sam, but didn’t see her at first, so he assumed she was behind the drapes that kept her bed, and a good area surrounding it, concealed from any visitors. As he walked further in with the intent of sitting by the fire to wait, he noticed a sizeable opening amongst the drapes through which he caught the sight of Sam stepping out of a tin bath, aided by two servant girls; her back turned to him. Luckas would have looked away right then, except his eyes were fixated on the image tattooed across the woman’s back; it resembled the Order’s crest somewhat, but it was a far more elaborate symbol. The design marked the entire length of her back and consisted of a sword pointing downwards, its blade fitting in between a pair of tiger eyes, several smaller symbols formed the pommel and several small arrows made the hilt, the mirrored images of two dragons, each seemingly clinging to one side of the hilt, served as the sword’s guard, each of them hovering above one tiger eye. There was a lot to absorb in that image, so much that Luckas seemed to have lost himself in it, only snapping out of his trance as the other women brought a robe over Sam’s shoulders, covering her naked form. At this point one of the servants noticed the fact that Luckas was there, and openly staring, which caused him to startle and promptly look away, wincing at the sound of the curtains being pulled tightly shut.

The maid surely said something because he was almost sure he heard a small laugh, but didn’t turn around again until he heard the curtains being pulled once more; a sound followed closely by Sam’s footsteps walking towards him. “See something you like, Lukey? Hm?” She whispered playfully into his ear, a small giggle escaping her as she came up behind him and wrapped her arms around him in an unexpectedly gentle embrace.
Luckas inhaled deeply, letting out his breath in a small sigh as he caught the pleasant flowery scent that emanated from her skin. The sudden warmth and the pleasant scent actually caused Luckas’ mind to momentarily shut down on him, and he found himself forcing a cough to clear a knot that seemed to have suddenly gotten caught in his throat. “I didn’t mean to... Look...” He mumbled, his voice still weak as he lowered his head even further, an uneasy and awkward feeling creeping up his spine.
“It’s alright, sweetie... I did ask you to enter, didn’t I?” She replied, giving him a squeeze before pulling away. “Although I will admit you did return awfully fast...” She said, her tone becoming just a hint colder as she walked around him so they were face to face, one warm hand still lingering on his shoulder. “I expected you to... Take your time... As you usually do. Not return until morning and such...” She snickered softly, a slightly bitter note to her sweetness as she added, sliding her hand from his shoulder to his chin, pushing him to lift his head and meet her gaze. “I wouldn’t blame you... She’s quite a looker, that one.”

“That has nothing to do with anything.” Luckas stated quickly, trying with very little success to keep his voice calm. There were too many things going through his mind, and so much clouding his judgement at the moment. Sam did usually have that effect on him, but at this moment he was also angry at Zeke for the way he’d been set up back in the city. Although, he had been foolish not to expect it. “I’m confused, Sam... What... You can’t slap me in the face one moment and then act as if you’re just fine with everything...”
“Sure I can. I didn’t think I needed to explain this to you, Luckas; I cannot be your friend out there in front of the others. Out there I own you, and you don’t question me.” She sighed, stepping away from him to sit in one of the chairs by the lit fire. “Sit. And if you are confused, then explain to me how is it possible that you don’t see why this upsets me.”
Luckas stood for a moment, staring at Sam as she made herself comfortable in the chair and stared up at him as if expecting him to tell her a story; the pure mockery of the gesture not escaping him, although only causing him the urge to laugh at her fake expression of interest. He narrowed his eyes at her as if to say he wasn’t amused, even though he was somewhat, before sitting down across from her and heaving a small exasperated sigh. “Are you changing my orders?”
“Not at this time, no.” She replied, with a small shrug.
“Have I harmed the Brotherhood in some way that I’m not made aware of?”
“No.”
“Then what exactly is the issue here? If there is one, then I don’t see.”
“The problem is just that… Sweetness… You don’t see.” Sam chuckled. “I honestly think you don’t see, even though I recall explaining it to you. I clearly recall this conversation. Perhaps your memory is still a bit defective, is that so?”
“My memory is perfect, Sam.” Luckas muttered, feeling himself beginning to lose his calm. “As I already explained to Zeke after he, so kindly, cornered me: If you want to find out what she knows it’s best to do it this way. If you want me to drag her to the dungeons then say the word, but I warn you it will get you nowhere.”
“I understand that. It’s sound logic Luckas, but what you fail to see is how close you’ve brought her to us today. Do you want those Newhaven pests to catch our trail because of this? If they do, there will be bloodshed, you know. It will be messy, and I hate messes.”
“Well, you were the one to march into their camp and tell them where you live.” Luckas pointed out, a little smirk crossing his features. “I’m just saying.”
“Yes, well... It was a stupid and impulsive thing to do, so you see my point.” She stated simply, glaring at him for bringing it up. “I’m trusting you, but more and more I’m getting the feeling that my trust means nothing to you. Is that a fact, Luckas?”
“Of course not, but you know... For someone who trusts me, you sure question me a lot. I don’t think I give you reason for so much doubt, considering all I’ve done.” Luckas retorted. “Perhaps you’d like me better if I blindly followed orders during the day and curled up at the foot of your bed at night... Even though your stupid cats seem to have more freedom than that.” As soon as Luckas said that he regretted it for two reasons; the first was the angered look on Sam’s face, and the second was one of the stupid cats running up to him and climbing on his lap. “What the hell is your problem, huh?” He muttered, pushing Pandora away from him yet again. The cat simply meowed and jumped onto him again, pacing on top of his lap and rubbing up against his shirt.
“Her problem Luckas... Is that she can smell the whore on you.” Sam said, a sharp cold tone in her voice. “She’s trying to get rid of it.”
Luckas growled softly in annoyance this time grabbing the cat and tossing her onto Sam’s lap. “I’d rather not stink of cat either, thank you. And I’d rather you don’t use that word.”
“I’d rather you don’t call my cats stupid.” Sam replied. “Insult my pets and I’ll insult yours.”
“I thought I was your pet.” Luckas stated, raising an eyebrow in a questioning expression. “I’m hurt.”
“You are not a pet, and no you’re not.”
Luckas grinned at the words. “I’m sorry, I’m not a what?” He asked, leaning forward as if trying to hear her better.
“Shut up. You heard me. Don’t be a smartass.” Sam rolled her eyes, a little amusement breaking through. “Are you going to tell me what happened in the basement, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?”
“Please, you hit like a girl.” Luke chuckled. “Nothing much happened really. The squealer talked about the journal, as I assumed was expected...”
“And you sent him flailing and screaming in a ball of flames.” Sam added.
Luckas giggled. “Yes! That was fun!” He exclaimed. “Oh, and she knows about the mark.” He added, lowering his voice slightly as if meaning for it to go unnoticed.
“What?” Sam growled. “How... How does she know the mark, Luckas?”
“I have no clue... She just did.” Luke shrugged.
Sam rubbed her temples and let out an annoyed growl. “AJ...Oh, I told Zeke this would come back to bite us.”
“What?” Luckas asked. “What... What are you talking about?”
“He was a traitor of his people... much like Ian, only he wasn’t tainted and didn’t quite have a family of his own. We brought him into the Brotherhood and in exchange he gave us the identity of the family that was meant to have the last journal, but it wasn’t there. He died trying to get it back... His body wasn’t found by our people.”
“Where did he die?” Luckas asked, leaning back in his seat, a bit more relaxed now that Sam’s annoyance was directed at something else other than him. “If there’s no body, how do you know...”
“I know.” Sam stated simply. “He died in the desert. He’d tracked down a survivor all the way there, but he insisted to handle it himself. I let him, he was really good at his work... I assume whoever the person was he tracked got the best of him.” She paused running her hand through her hair and looking up at the ceiling. “Whoever it was managed to reach the Raven’s encampment, it seems.”
“People go in and out of that place like it’s a freaking bar. Could be anyone.”
“You being one of those people, isn’t it so?” She added, lowering her gaze back to him.
“Oh, so now you want me to go there?” Luckas mumbled. “Make up your damn mind, will you?”
“Well, if those people are stupid to trust you... Then yes. I need to know who has that book.”
“And if I find it?”
“Then we will go there and get it. Just like in the desert.”
Luckas sighed. “No, not like in the desert, Sam. Know your enemies before you make them. The Crimson were at war, it was expected that they be attacked.”
“Wh...” Sam flinched slightly at the words. “You’ve been reading my father’s notes?”
“You said I could read anything in the library... Were those not meant to be there?”
“I thought I had burned them all... Suppose I missed a couple...”
“Three full journals... Although, they were hidden.” Luckas informed. “Would you like me to get rid of them?”
“Keep them if you like, I don’t care.” She responded, standing from her chair and walking to one of the open windows, quietly leaning against it to watch the sky. “Probably nothing of importance there.”

Luckas sighed staring at the sudden expression of pain in Sam’s face with curiosity. One thing was true; there was no mention of her at any point in those books, overall they were pretty dull except for bits and pieces that had to do with how the Order ‘acquired and trained their soldiers’, in the man’s own words. Never any names were mentioned, or places, but Luckas had recognized the methods he’d experienced himself. After a moment of quietly thinking about what he would do to the man if he was still alive he spoke. “You’re right... There’s no reason to keep them.”
Sam half smiled in response, still looking out the window in silence; resting both arms on the window sill and leaning on them. Pandora had now occupied Sam’s empty seat and was curled up in a ball staring intently at Luckas, her tail slowly moving from side to side in an almost hypnotic motion.
“Are you tired?” Sam asked softly, still staring at the darkness through the window. “If you want to, you can go to bed. Or get something to eat, when was the last time...”
“I eat.” Luckas muttered. “I’m not tired, but I can leave if you want.” He offered, mentally scolding himself for bringing up her father... It had clearly upset her and he was wondering if she actually wanted him to go away now.
“Well, suppose you wouldn’t be willing to curl up at the foot of the bed?” She asked, a small smile forming itself, but her eyes still fixed at some distant place outside her window.
“I thought you said I wasn’t a pet.” Luckas protested.
“I don’t recall that.”She replied simply.
“Would that make you feel better?”

Sam turned to face Luckas with a slightly intrigued look in her eyes. “What?”
“If I did that, would it make you feel better? You look sad, Sammy, I don’t like that.”
“I’m not sad.” Sam stated, wandering back to her chair and scooping up Pandora in her arms rather abruptly, giving the cat a forceful squeeze that caused her to hiss in protest. Sam softened her hold on the cat with a chuckle. “I’m just thinking about some things.”
“What kinds of things?” Luckas asked. “You know... You can tell me... I’m good with things; or at least I try.”
“I know. I know.” She sat back down in the chair, releasing the cat onto her lap. Pandora immediately leapt onto the floor and ran to climb on Luckas’ lap once again, purring and curling upon his legs. “She likes you better than me, I think.” Sam snickered.
Luckas sighed in annoyance, but let the animal have its way for now. “You mean she likes me better than you like me, or that she likes me better than she likes you?”
“She likes you more than she likes me.” Sam replied. “No one likes you better than me, Luckas; no one.” She stated seriously. “Even when you make messes and cause me trouble. I always like you.” Falling into a moment of silence she smiled gently, leaning back in her seat. “You have something you want to ask me, no? I can see there’s a question floating around in your mind, I see it in your eyes, Lukey. So, what is it?”
“Well, there’s one thing, yeah, I... Uhm... I couldn’t help but notice your tattoo. I mean, I caught I glimpse of it at the party, but couldn’t quite make it out until now.”
“Ah.” Sam snickered. “So that’s what you were so fascinated by... And what do you make of it?”
“It’s very detailed... Is there some meaning behind it?”
“A few.” Sam stated, leaning back in her chair and heaving a sigh. “I have some marks... Reminders of my father and his punishments... A couple of years ago I started to cover them up little by little.... Started with the tiger eyes, added the sword afterwards... Now and then I’ll add a detail or two. You know there’s a story, back in Terra, of this tiger that terrorized a few villages many many years ago... No one could ever catch the animal because it would only attack when people had their backs turned to it. The villagers started wearing masks on the back of their heads so they tiger would believe they were facing it at all times.”
“Did it work?”
“It did not. Because of the story though, tiger eyes have become a symbol of betrayal in that region. I thought it was a more than fitting replacement for the one eye in the Order sigil, for me. Killing my father, as deserved as it might have been, was a betrayal to the Brotherhood, much like what we stand for; our beliefs, pursuing them is a betrayal of sorts. A necessary one the way I see it, but a betrayal still.”
“It doesn’t bother you to be a traitor?”
“Someone has to make the sacrifice, Luckas, take the fall... That’s we’re here for. I’m not sure betrayal in itself makes me proud, but it’s a means to an end; if it’s needed then so be it.”
Luckas nodded in agreement for a moment, then stopped as something caught his attention. “Sam... What do you mean ‘take the fall’?”
“I mean that if we are successful, most likely I will die; the last of my line... It’s the end of the Order, Luckas. This new world we fight so hard to create... It has no place for us. That’s the price to pay. My father couldn’t accept that, he was afraid of the outcome, he became an obstacle; and that, for the most part, is what justifies my betrayal. If we don’t go through with our mission then all the lives we took and all the destruction we caused would be for nothing.”
“It’s important for you to honor the people you kill, Sam?” Luckas asked, a bit amused at the idea. “I thought they were ‘tainted’ and ‘freaks’ and whatnot...”
“I don’t blame them for what they are, Luckas... They are innocent in all of this. Victims of the Gods and their recklessness. I don’t hate enlightened, not in general.”
“You hate the White Shadows though, don’t you? I saw you talking to Annie at the party, it didn’t look very friendly.”
“Oh, so you can tell when that kid’s not being friendly?” Sam asked, not hiding the contempt in her tone. “You’re right, Lukey, I do hate the White Shadows for what they represent to this land, but that is a whole other issue.” She stated, falling silent for a moment, before very calmly steering the conversation elsewhere. “How long are you staying around the Manor this times, Luckas?”
“That depends on how soon you need me to go snoop around the Ravens’ camp. Why?”
“I’d really like you to wake up early tomorrow and go to the training arena. Adam will be there waiting for you. You really need to learn to put up a fight. It’s getting annoying to see you beaten up every other day.”
“Huh, sorry for the inconvenience. I think I’m fine though... One thing I’ve learned in life is to take a punch.”
“I’m not asking, Luckas. It’s an order.”
Luckas sighed in annoyance, but simply shrugged instead of protesting. “Fine, if you want it.”
“I want it.” Sam stated sternly.
“Alright, fine, then I suppose I should get something to eat and go to bed.” He stated, standing and stopping to brush the cat hairs from his pants as before walking out of the room with a mumble of “Good night.”

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[White Shadows encampment - 17 days after Castle Ball]

“...We have an injured man here..”

“Please it is urgent we leave him in the care of the Healers... it is important we get back to the Raven’s nest at once.”

“It was suppose to be just a scouting expedition...I don’t know what happen..”

“He had some sort of fit and hasn’t regained consciousness…”

Darren looked paler than normal except for the blood that stained his skin around his eyes. He had the appearance of someone that was already dead. Lifeless and yet peaceful. His expression was somewhere complacent, as if he were merely faking his sleep and was listening to the clamor of voices around himself in subtle amusement at all the fuss. Tiny, black curls were plastered against his forehead from sweat, yet no trace of perspiration was left to be found.

“Hey, we’ve got another incoming... And I could use some help, if you don’t mind. Everyone has their hands full today.”

Annie had spent most of her day in the archives again. She was starting to feel stupid, and a bit crazy, because she couldn’t figure out where to find the key to the encrypted journal. At this point she kept trying books at random, because her mind was simply out of any logical ideas to approach the situation. When Alistair’s call drew her attention from the book she was currently trying to use, she realized she had no clue what time of day it even was anymore. Maybe it was time to put her attention elsewhere. “Symptoms?” She asked, dropping the book and standing from her spot in the center of small mess of books and papers; tripping over a few things on her way out of the archives. “Hello.” She greeted, finding her friend waiting outside the small cabin where the clan’s files were stored. “So... Symptoms?”
“Well, I didn’t have a look at him yet, but for what I was told; some sort of fit followed by loss of consciousness. That’s how his friends described it; they don’t know what might have caused and for what I hear they were pretty startled.”
“Hmm... Sounds like a seizure or something similar, have we ruled out poisoning already?”
“Would I be bothering you if it was poisoning?” Alistair retorted simply.
“Since when do you need reasons to bother me?” Annie chuckled. “I’m serious, did someone actually check?”
“Yes, yes... Everyone knows the procedure, don’t worry.” Alistair assured her, stopping by one of the many tents in the encampment and waiting for Annie to enter ahead of him. The night before, when Annie was last on duty, there were three patients in that one tent, two of them had not made it through the night, the other had his wounds treated and was released to go home; refuseing to wait until morning. Now that tent was empty aside from one patient. “Oh, look Al... It’s my attacker!” Annie teased, nudging Alistair as he entered the tent after her.
“Oh, ha.” Alistair muttered glaring at the girl for a second. “You know, if someone had actually attacked you, you wouldn’t be laughing.”
“And neither would they.” Annie replied with a small chuckle. “I do, of course, always appreciate your protection, Alistair.” She added in a more serious tone, an amused smirk still crossing her features as she examined the unconscious Darren. “Did his companions know for sure if he has any enlightenment?”
“Not for sure. They suspect.” Alistair replied. “Do you think he is being affected?”
“It’s a possibility, but... Who knows... Most symptoms are still too common to tell. If he had a seizure... Well... There are other possible causes for that. You were the one to go around telling people that everyone is sick though, you tell me.” Annie retorted, with a slightly displeased tone hiding underneath her teasing as she leaned over Darren, pressing her ear against his chest for a few seconds, proceeding to check his eyes and his temperature before giving a light shrug. “Well, his breathing sounds fine, heart rate is tad bit higher than normal, but it’s not too uncommon after a fit like this; it should return to normal soon. Whatever happened, he seems alright now... Probably passed out due to the physical stress he suffered.”
“We should just monitor him then.” Alistair concluded with a tired sigh. “Alright.”
“Are his friends still around?” Annie questioned, settling down on a nearby wooden stool.
“We welcomed them to stay, but I’m not sure.” Alistair responded. It had been a while since visitors weren’t allowed in the examination areas of the camp anymore so if the men were still around they would be in another area of the camp entirely.
“You should maybe see if they’re around and let them know he’s not dying... Well, not today anyway.” She raised an eyebrow at him playfully. “Unless you’re afraid the patient will wake up and bite me while you’re away.”
“Shut up, kid.” Alistair half-scolded, laughing a bit in amusement as he started to walk out of the tent.


It seemed like such a slow process; the act of waking up. Darren felt groggy and hazy as if he were dreaming. The voices around him sounded distant and muffled in comparison to the pounding of blood throbbing against his temples. He was trying to focus on the last image he saw before he went under, but he couldn’t remember it. Darren felt trapped as he tried to get his body to react in some manner but instead it was as if he was behind prison bars, banging and screaming, yet there was no one to hear him. It was a mockery of sorts, to hear that he was not alone, yet unable to communicate. Did he hear someone giggle? It was the first sound that was almost as clear as the pain in his head. If only he could get his heart to stop racing, maybe the pain would lesson.

Darren suddenly felt a gentle, warmth against his chest which seemed to drag his attention somewhat from the pain in his mind, becoming quite aware of his own body and that he was lying flat somewhere. An image flashed behind his eyelids and just as quickly as it arrived, it disappeared, like smoke dissipating from an enclosed space only to diffuse into the environment. Sounds became clearer. Smells became stronger. The moment he became entirely self aware, the voices began to make sense, but he only caught the last couple sentences.

“Unless you’re afraid the patient will wake up and bite me while you’re away.”.....“Shut up, kid.”

Darren groaned in an expression of pain but more so to let his company know he was going to be engaging in the conversation at hand. “...Hey...I’ve never...bitten anyone before…” He paused to clear his throat, trying to ignore the scratchy feeling as he spoke, opening one eye and gazing curiously at the girl beside him. “...Maybe if they asked me to..maybe I’d consider..” Opening both eyes now, he slowly turned his head, still pushing his attention somewhere else. Anywhere else. Yet, he couldn’t quite remember why, besides the pain..

“...And don’t listen to him...please. Talk to me..Where am I? How did I get here?” Darren quirked a brow, a slight smirk crossing his lips. “Am I dead?”

“Well, some say you should try everything at least once.” Annie chuckled slightly. “I don’t think biting will be on my list of priorities anytime soon however.” The girl’s playful response was accompanied by a moment of silent staring during which she seemed to examine several little things she couldn’t quite observe on an unconscious person. She remained silent still while Darren questioned her, although standing from her seat and pacing to the entrance of the tent, quietly signaling someone outside before returning to her seat.

“Am I dead?”

“It’s all the white isn’t it?” She asked glancing at the white canvas of the tent walls around them. “I don’t know why, but people assume the afterlife is just... Very... White... Hmmm.... I hope they don’t get that idea from us.” Annie paused for a moment honestly wondering where that notion might have originated from, but then she shook her head briefly and started to address Darren’s questions. “I’m sorry, I’ve been awake way longer than I should... To answer your questions: No, you are not dead yet. You are at the moment in examination tent number six at the White Shadows encampment. You were brought to us unconscious after having an episode of some sort; your friends were not very clear on what exactly happened, but for what I hear they were quite startled. How does your head feel?” She questioned, not even flinching as another healer randomly entered the tent with a pitcher of water and a visibly tattered medicine bag, setting them by Annie wordlessly and leaving in a haste. “Never any time for manners nowadays.” She mumbled to herself in an amused tone as she found a metal cup inside the bag and filled it up with water, adding the contents of a tiny vial to it before setting it down by Darren. “This is pain medication, nothing too strong, but drink it slowly.” She advised. “What is last thing you remember before waking up here?”

“It’s all the white isn’t it?”

Darren moved to sit up, turning onto his side and propping his head upon his hand for support in an attempt to fight against a small dizzy spell. Closing his eyes he listened to the other sounds around him, appearing to be deep in thought. The boy sighed, his head dipping forward so that when he opened his eyes, those cerulean blues darkened beneath a subtle violet glow. Every little movement Annie made, Darren’s eyes followed. They weren’t just glued to her, they were entranced. “Might I say...that anyone who awakens to behold such a lovely woman staring down at them...anyone... could be influenced to wonder if they have passed into heaven. Something too good to be true..usually tends to be…”

Not tearing his eyes from Annie, he sat all the way up, accepting humbly the glass of water. Whispering thanks, he sipped the water, a puzzled look furrowing his brows. “..Well...been on the road for about a week scouting..” Darren paused not sure what he should tell of his travels as of late and shrugged carelessly as if it was just the normal run of the mill expedition. “...We...my companions are the Captain Talsheir’s..well they are. I’m just a guest of your cousin’s...guess you could say. We...stumbled upon something...I believe is groundbreaking and ...I don’t remember….think it happened when I touched the cages…” Shaking his head he groaned, gulping down half of the glass’ contents before continuing. “..Odd….I’ve never...blacked out...like this before..” Placing the glass down at his side, he gestured to Annie to sit at an empty chair across from him, letting his eyes finally pull away from the young lady, not really wanting to discuss himself much more. The more he tried to think on what he last remembered the more his head throbbed. “How about you? How’s your head?”

“Hmm... Well... I like to think all good things are true, one way or another.” Annie smiled, casually brushing past the compliment he paid her. “My mother used to say that our mind functions exactly the same while we are awake and when we’re dreaming, and because of that it’s pretty much impossible to be completely sure anything is real... Or unreal for that matter. So I guess there’s no such thing as something too good to be true; only our unwillingness to accept good things.” She concluded, finding another empty cup and briefly sniffing the insides of it before pouring herself a bit of water. The cup still emanated a strong scent of herbs that would be considered unpleasant to most people; Annie was more than used to everything always smelling of medicine at some point. She watched Darren carefully as she sipped the water listening as he tried to remember what happened before he passed out; her expression turning curious at the bits and pieces of information. “Hm, so... Is your enlightenment triggered by contact, or were those cages you touched just really really dirty?” She mused, his question causing her to flinch only slightly as she was forced to actually stop and think of an answer. “My head is... Well... Alright, I guess. At least at the moment and considering my sleep deprivation. I should really start taking more breaks, but then again... So should everyone else, right?”

Darren’s eyes widened in a bit of surprise as he listened to Annie, nodding here and there, agreeing with the girl’s words on the mind’s willingness to accept good things in life. It intrigued him how she spoke in such a way that seemed years beyond her age. Leaning forward, resting his elbows above his knees, he casually looked around the room as if he had misplaced something of value. “You’re different than most girls our age. You’re smart. You read a lot, don’t you? I do too. In fact, I learn more from holding a book than actually reading it’s contents sometimes. So you are correct….my Enlightenment is triggered by physical contact.” The man sighed, forcing a sad smile before reaching for and finishing off his glass of water. He tried to remember again, what he had seen before he went down, flashes of darkness and fire startling him from the present moment. “...We thought the cages had held livestock at first. The smell...the conditions…”

Shifting in his seated position, Darren’s gaze examined Annie from head to toe in a shy, curiosity. “..It is good to take breaks...focus on something else and then go back to...whatever it is you were doing. Or...sometimes an outside perspective to shine light onto something that may have you stumped. I..” He hesitated a moment before continuing. “..I am not sure of what I am allowed to explain without breaking promises to the Captain. I want to remain cautious but I also wonder...delicate information...would it be safer for one or two people to know or to spread it a little thin? I have a feeling what I know is dangerous for those who have shared in that knowledge but also...it is so important that if those who know.. “disappear” in some way, then would that knowledge disappear with them?” Reaching beneath his shirt he retrieved the journal copy Irv had made him, tapping it thoughtfully along the bind. “Something similar to my sleepless nights has been keeping you up still, yes? When we met...I saw…” The sadness in Darren’s smile touched his eyes as he trailed off, reaching out with the journal to an opened page and pointed to a symbol, changing the subject slightly. “Thing about trust is, I was told, I have to give a little to get it in return...so..Have you seen this before? That one with the sword.”

Annie nodded at Darren’s mention of her being different. “Not always a good thing, being different, but surprisingly it works for me. Not like there’s a way around being different when growing up in a place like this... Surrounded by old people and books. Although I will admit that as of late I’ve become a bit frustrated with books, and the fact we have so many of the bloody things.” She chuckled taking another sip of water, a sympathetic look crossing her. “My enlightenment was triggered by contact for the first three years after my awakening, it was... really bothersome; not to mention bad on my health. It took some effort to control it. You have visions, yes? Must be unpleasant for you at times, I imagine.” The comment was followed by silence as Annie poured herself a bit more water, choosing to let Darren speak. Her silence extended for a bit longer than she originally meant it to, as some of the things he said actually caused her to wonder about some other, unrelated, issues. Eventually the symbol he was showing her brought her mind back to the present moment, to this specific situation and the matter at hand. “Knowledge is a funny thing sometimes... And so is trust. I suppose there are two very important things you should know about me if we are going to trust each other: The first thing is that, since I am here as a healer, anything you tell me dies with me unless you actually give me permission to tell someone else. The second is that... This also means that I will never really be able to tell anyone everything I know about anything. Personally, I believe everyone is entitled to secrets, but at the same time I believe that ignorance only truly protects the ones keeping the secret and never the ones left in the dark. I guess that is slightly hypocritical of me, but... Suppose people are entitled to protect themselves by keeping secrets, but if they believe or try to convince others that they’re doing it for any other reason... Then it’s different. That’s what I think... My opinion of the secrets I keep.” Annie sighed softly, simply moving onto answering his question. “That symbol, I know it. There are things written about it, but I won’t bother showing you because they’re not true. What I know for a fact and can say about it is that about... hmm... Twenty years ago, for a period of four to five years there were several cases of deaths... Of children who had awakened to enlightenment way too early, at ages between four and six years old. The White Shadows were called to investigate possible causes; early awakenings are rare and they don’t usually happen this early. It was too out of ordinary. My mother looked into it, and it was discovered that most children had been reported missing and were in fact not enlightened at all. That was as much as it was ever discovered, the deaths eventually stopped... People forgot, but... There are similar stories that date back to when Blackhurst was still standing that were connected to this symbol and this group that called itself The Order. Before that they were believed to just be stories, but they’re not. I guess that’s all the factual information I can give, unfortunately. Hopefully it helps.”

“..Too many books? Sometimes I fear I’ll run out. I read whenever I can….and actually usually carry an old tattered book on different myths. I’m always reinterpreting them. I don’t believe they are the simple stories of how things came to be or even the meanings behind them. The inspiration or morale...hey even some sort of path...I believe there’s still something I’m not seeing...I can’t explain it.” Darren went to sigh and instead an awkward laugh came out instead. “Well..maybe I like puzzles so much, I see everything as a piece of a larger and much more complicated picture. Or..it’s not so much on what I see, but ‘ Who I see. Experiencing those things..can be unpleasant. For the most part I can control it..except when I sleep or the random flashes I get that I just can’t seem to keep out. Last time I had this intense of a reaction was ...my awakening.”

Darren stared at Annie in silence, his gaze relaxed with a curious expression that was frozen for some time as he dwelled on a few things she had said to him on how well she can keep secrets. A sadness flashed in his eyes and faded into a violet twinkle as he smiled. Darren gently tapped his father’s journal against his knee. “What if I were to tell that I know someone who possibly works with those people associated with that symbol? That there are dates in this ledger that coincide with the dates of the village burnings in Blackhurst and from some of what I’ve learned mention not just many deaths but missing people. What if the records kept are that of a tradesman’s own bookkeeping? I have heard of children taken away to become servants but not until recently did I hear of complete disappearances or worse. At least in those noticeable numbers.” Darren flipped over the ledger to what seemed like a random spot except for the permanent crease that appeared along the binding. “Usually transactions are coded by weight, or color, especially if not by name..but not usually by age. At first I thought it could be cattle..as the records explain...and they don’t go as far back as All the burnings in Blackhurst, but the ages are always around the same three year span. The thing is…” Darren lightly rubbed at his left temple before casually pushing his sleeves up to his elbows, exposing some of his flame like tattoos. “I’m in this book. At first, when I ran into a strange, old woman at that Ball we met at, I thought she was maybe insane or had some vendetta…” Darren paused and looked Annie dead in the eye, “I won’t ask you to promise to not tell anyone what I tell you...I only ask you use judgement when mentioning to anyone the information I share..as you have done with what you have shared with me so far. Reason I say this, is because the information is dangerous and it’s personal. You see, my father is the tradesman I speak of and I think he’s involved in some sort of slave trade. It was brought to my attention that many disappearances couldn’t have been all for slavery because it would have been on a larger scale and until now, with the bit you told me, we didn’t understand the possibility to what those children were taken for. I have siblings possibly still alive, out there. They were not favored by my father, so they were sold...and even maybe killed.”

Abruptly and too quickly, Darren stood, clenching and uncurling his fingers as if he was just stung by something painful. It was clear he was startled but didn’t really mention the vision of a man that had died in the very spot he was sitting, appearing to shake it off and move to lean against a pole of the tent, beside Annie. His mind was everywhere and he scolded himself for not containing his focus, but that was when some of the flashes from the cages returned to him. “..Asher...my father..was in Blackpond with Jake and I..in the prison. I doubt he is still there but wherever he centrally had his people working out of, that we think we found, left in quite a hurry. I...believe they burned some of their cargo..whatever they didn’t have time to move. There were human remains in those cages... I shouldn’t have touched those bars. It was...unnecessary to confirm what was already at our feet…” Nodding towards the cot he had been laying on, Darren shifted the conversation a bit. “..What happened to the lad who slept there before me?” Twitching somewhat, he went to itch a spot his curls were tickling against his ear only to find a warm, sticky substance began to trickle down his neck.

“If you believe there’s no such thing as too many books then I owe you a visit to the White Shadows’ archives... Trust me, there are too many books.” Annie stated simply; an slightly frustrated sigh escaping her. “Puzzles are great.” She agreed with a smile. “They can also be... Way too involving sometimes. Addictive even, if one is not careful. And as far as puzzles go, people seem to be the most intriguing ones of all... Even if mostly unsolvable. Personally I’ve found myself being forced to accept that some answers are simply lost to me... And others will never be what I expected them to be.... As a norm though, I’m not the type of person to admit defeat; hence my sleepless nights; as you’ve pointed out yourself. Stubborn runs strong in my family as you might have already learned from hanging out with Jacob.”

Annie didn’t react with much shock to what Darren had to tell, it was clear that not all of it was new to her, but there was something behind her calm exterior that came very close to revulsion as she listened. It was there and just as quickly as it appeared it vanished as the girl heaved a sigh, lowering her head for a moment and rubbing her eyes as she felt the start of a headache striking at her temples. As tolerant as Annie had learned to be with the world in general, there would always be things in life she just couldn’t understand, or accept, and considering all that she had already seen in her short years, that was a good thing. The ability to still be sickened and outraged by some acts of cruelty was somewhat relieving even if it made the thought of not getting involved all the more frustrating. She kept her head down seeming distracted with trying to stop her tiny headache from exploding, but the moment Darren stood up she jumped to her feet, half reaching for his arm as though expecting him to fall over. “Careful, you’re not supposed to stand up so fast.” She scolded, frowning for a second as she glanced at the cot and moved to sit there, motioning for Darren to take her seat as if to assure no one had died there as far as she knew. “The man who slept here before came in a few days ago terminally ill, he died at some point during the past night. He had no family or friends left so he was buried here.” She explained, lowering her gaze to the ground momentarily before focusing on Darren again. “I can only think of a few people I would actually want to share your information with, Darren, and as is you’re likely to see them before I do. Just tell Mageria when you discuss this with her that if any children are found alive and presenting unusual gifts, I would be personally interested in taking them in and helping them cope. Twins only know what they would have been put through, and what, if anything, they would know of the world.” She sighed again, going silent for a few moments before trying to steer the conversation to a less depressing place, even if momentarily. “So, are those meaningful somehow or they’re just there to make you look tougher?” She asked curiously, indicating the flames upon his arms.

Darren’s eyes lit up at the offer to visit the White Shadow’s archives. For him to think about so many books to be located in one place, it put him in a bit of awe. For a few moments he spaced on if having so much information in one place was a good thing; if it was safe or dangerous. He figured that would depend on the kind of information that dwelled within those pages or lingered on the bind of their skins. The written word was meant as a record so that knowledge could be shared and not forgotten, wasn’t it?

When Annie moved to the cot, Darren sank into the now empty chair, absently wiping at the bit of blood below his earlobe and glanced at his fingertips. “..You’re probably right..I mean...you are a healer..this is what you know..this is what you do..But I can’t take it easy for too long. As much as I’d like to..” He smiled, quirking a brow, alternating that twinkle in his eye to signal something that was edging forward from the back of his mind. “..I will be sure to let the Captain know of your offer. In a short time, both you and her have shown me glimpses of a strength fueled from many things but compassion and duty stands out thus far...to me. That commands respect that seems to fall in effortlessly. I think the decision you’ve made to listen to another’s secrets; their pain and misery; their darkness..is not just a lonely burden but also a life saver. To be that crutch is something everyone needs and not everyone gets.” Darren took in a deep breath, his own words weighing on him curiously as he looked over Annie from head to toe, his expression shifting to one of perplexion. “If I may ask though, do you have someone to be that crutch for you? Who gets to bare your secrets? A dear friend? A lover? Or are you left still wondering, like so many, who can be just as strong as you...or stronger?”

Darren wasn’t sure if he was actually expecting an answer, his meaning he initially went for as subtle, but realized it may have been a bit too forward. He only gave a short moment for pause for the words to be thought on but not yet answered as he pulled back his sleeves more to reveal the black flames upon his skin. “You think these makes me look tough? I was going for...sexy..but I’ll take tough.” Darren chuckled. “Naw, no seriously? I saw it for what it is..for what it was. Fire. People think more on what is consumed by it but I like to think of it differently. I like to think on what pushes people forward...what fuels our goals...our purposes..and for me...there are many things that keeps me burning. I just have to consider the brighter I burn the faster I’ll go out. I’ve seen it happen. Maybe..these are just a reminder.” Darren’s gaze shifted, his smile fading some. It wasn’t a look of discomfort but more of humility. He had been so fixated on the conversation and the lovely girl before him, he hadn’t noticed the pain in his head dissipate.

“The brightest flames burn the quickest... My friend Isaac used to say that often, bless his soul. I used to argue with him that the Sun is the brightest flame there is and it’s been burning for thousands of years, so that statement is very likely to be untrue. Don’t know why he’d always be a little pissy when I said that, but yeah... Fire is an interesting element, the people of Brightvale used to believe that the entire process of Creation was set in motion by one single spark... That the world was born from fire and will eventually end in fire as well. I think to me that’s what fire represents; the power to choose between creation and destruction.” Annie smiled, a hint of sadness crossing her dark eyes, but soon fading away as she chuckled. “And well.... hmmm....” She mumbled, looking over Darren playfully as if inspecting him. “Don’t know about sexy, but for what I can tell it suits you.” She stated simply. “As for bearing my secrets, well, are you offering?” She asked, not exactly leaving room for him to answer and shrugging slightly. “I do have people I confide in, Jake, Alistair; I’m sure you remember him, some other friends, but like I said... I’ll never be able to tell anyone absolutely everything about my life. I suppose, that’s the main reason why not many of us actually go and get married and start a family and stuff... I don’t speak from personal experience, but... I’ve seen it over the years, growing up here, that this work takes its toll on a person’s relationships; not matter the nature of those relationships. I imagine it becomes increasingly difficult to ask another person to share their life with you when you always have a piece of yourself you’re not allowed to share with anyone; because no matter how hard you try, the things you see, the secrets you keep, even if not your own, they become a great part of who you are.” Annie fell silent for a few moments, breaking said silent with an amused chuckle. “Well done, sir... You have managed to properly distract me from my work. That doesn’t actually happen very often, so... It’s been a few minutes now: How does your head feel? Any better? For what I can tell there is nothing wrong with you right this second aside from the after-effects of a seizure, so I see no reason why you can’t be on your way, but I’d advise you to stay here at least for another twelve hours, ideally twenty four, but at least twelve just so I don’t have to worry. That and you should observe yourself from now on; if anything like this happens again or if you have particularly strong reactions when using your gift from now on, you should come to us as soon as possible.”


Darren fell quiet for some time, absently reaching into his shirt pocket for a handkerchief to wipe away the blood below his ear. “Rest….can’t avoid that I guess..” He whispered, fading off with a nod. “I’m feeling better, thank you.” He stood again, but this time slowly, only to slink along the floor with this head pointed towards the corner of the tent and his feet just touching the cot where Annie sat. Gradually he laid down, curling one arm back around, beneath his head as a pillow. His gaze flickered from Annie to the ceiling and back as he thought over what she had said about how the position of keeping secrets had affected relationships in general to those in the camp. Darren thought on how being stuck between a rock and a hard place would affect the person keeping those secrets compared to the one who was left in the dark. “..Hm...I’m no expert..but seems to me some people need to accept what someone will share with them and not dwell on what they can’t share with them. Maybe..those relationships didn’t work out for other reasons..and that was an excuse. It’s not fair of me to speculate I guess.” Darren cleared his throat before speeding through the next few sentences. “..Does doing what you do, harden you to life’s losses? Is it harder for you to shed tears sometimes? Or does it make it easier? I would imagine being exposed to this kind of work, softening someone’s soul but leaving them to shield themselves from certain attachments. Thus, secrets are understandable; undeniable; and apart of life just as much as death.” Staring back up at the ceiling, Darren’s eyes squinted as if he was trying to avoid the sun. “..I don’t think I could ever get use to it...because knowing what is, doesn’t make it any easier.” He chuckled. “Sorry..I think aloud when I get tired or nervous. I’m curious though, what is your gift? I don’t think you mentioned and I wasn’t sure if it would be considered rude to ask. Is it rude?”

Annie nodded along to Darren as he spoke. She could hear the movement in the camp outside, the minor chaos that had been their daily routine for a while now, but somehow at the same time it all felt a bit too quiet. “Hmm... Well... I don’t know... I’m speculating myself, but I believe that some things are simply inevitable to us as human beings. Sometimes knowing and accepting some things when a relationship starts doesn’t really stop people from growing frustrated by them in time. Our perception changes the longer we know people and in any type of relationship while it may be easy to tell yourself that you don’t need to know certain things, or that you don’t need more than what this particular person is able to offer, in five or ten years you may feel different. Then it eventually comes down to trust and whether it does or not exist between two people and more often than not that tends to be a breaking point. A lot of people seem to think that if they’re not confided in they aren’t trusted. My mom used to say to me, often, that if she could always tell me the truth she wouldn’t need me to trust her and at this point in my life when I think of some answers she could have simply given me before she died I still question whether or not she did; regardless of what I know, it’s the truth. Humanity is a beautiful and painful thing like that and it tends to, sometimes, sneak up on us.” Annie fell silent for a few moments as though going over a series of things by herself before she heaved a sigh, a curious smile crossing her features. “Us right now for instance; me telling you these things... does that mean I trust you? Does that mean you know me? Is that even actually relevant?”

Annie silenced again, not really expecting answers to her questions, her expression gradually changing as she contemplated just how her work had affected her. It was a complicated assessment to make, to say the least. “Working in a place like this, living in place like this, it eventually changes you one way or another. For me, when I was younger I thought I didn’t have a choice in being a healer, but in the past couple of years I realized that it has to be a choice. I have to be able to tell myself that this is a choice, because some days, some people, get to you. And here’s the deal; death is not the problem. It’s bad to see people die and losing a patient, it feels like it is... feels like losing someone, but the problem is that the patient is not your someone to lose. So there are time when you have to look someone in the eyes, and say something like ‘we’ve done all we could’ or ‘there’s nothing more we can do’. You say that, look them in the eyes, and you can see all hope die. Sometimes for a moment, sometimes for a very long time. When you lose someone that’s yours, for me at least, it’s.... Well, not better, but it’s a process that you go through and it’s yours, it’s private, and you can allow yourself to stop and feel it... All of it. When it’s someone else’s you don’t get a process, a mourning period, you can’t afford it, because someone else is falling apart and you are the only one there to be strong for them. It never gets easier, but you never show it, and you move on... In a good day by the time you get to stop and think about it you’ve saved more than you have lost. Today is shaping up to be a pretty good day; just a guy with a headache so far.” Annie chuckled momentarily. “I can’t speak for everyone, I think it’s a personal thing, but for me... Seeing the things I’ve seen has taught me that Death in itself is a small moment in Time, and nothing more than that. It doesn’t change how I suffer my losses, just what I consider a loss. I mean, my mom died, but that was one moment in her lifetime... It doesn’t erase the years she was there for me. It doesn’t take away all our moments.” Heaving a small sigh Annie took a suddenly professional attitude as she recited. “Regenerative cellular manipulation by transfer, it’s the fancy name; all enlightenments have one, except mine so I made up this one. The White Shadows call it, officially, spiritual healing and the reason why it doesn’t have an official fancy name is because it is such a rare enlightenment that no one has been born with it for nearly a hundred years before me and no one has actually studied it before me, and even now no one is exactly sure how it works, my guess is that it is a combination of accelerated regeneration and reverse physical empathy; to put it simply I can heal wounds, first by touch and involuntarily, which was an issue since doing so would greatly drain my energies, but now I can channel it, although it still takes some physical proximity, it doesn’t require touch.” She shrugged lightly her tone returning to casual as she added. “I don’t think it’s a rude thing to ask, no. I don’t go around telling everyone if I can help it for obvious reasons, but I don’t hide what I can do. It’s just hard to explain to people that it doesn’t mean I can instantly fix everything.”

It was relaxing for Darren to lay in silence and let Annie speak. Even when she paused, he wasn’t sure if he had anything to add to the conversation at hand or if the healer was waiting for him to answer. A couple times his mind drifted almost to that peaceful place where dreams dwelled, yet even with this eyes closed he was still hanging on Annie’s every word. He snorted through a chuckle. “..By the way you talk, it seems like you do more here than patch up wounds and send people on their way. At least in the physical sense. I don’t come across too many in general who talk like you do. Humanity is a touchy subject and can put some on the defense. But I like how what you say, puts me into deep thought.” Darren stifled a yawn, opening one eye to peer at Annie curiously. “I can understand why you don’t parade around, bragging about your enlightenment. The kind of attention that could draw some people in, is not what you need or want. That’s how my Fa-..eh, Asher would talk when he found out I was enlightened. Except it wasn’t like people would want me to use my gift for their advantage. At least, I don’t see it that way. He always said there would be people out there who would be jealous or who would not understand. He said it would be safer if I kept it to myself. Which brings us back to that bit on trust. I never really trusted Asher and with good reason, I came to find out. He use to try to tell me that I could trust him with my life and that was the only kind of trust I would ever need.” Darren sighed, opening both eyes to glance at Annie a bit awkwardly. “I tried to understand that..and in many ways it makes sense. But then, there are bigger things in this world than just him and I.”

Darren rolled over onto his side so he was now facing Annie, yawning into his arm and muttering an apology for it. The conversation wasn’t by any means, boring him, but the lack of sleep was most definitely catching up to him. “...The things I’m telling you may not necessarily be relevant to trust and it does not mean I indeed do trust someone I barely know. I want to though and you seem like someone worth taking the time to know and to have in my corner.” He yawned through his next sentence a bit comically, slowly letting his eyes droop shut. “Besides you’re related to Jake, so you must be interesting.” He smiled, mumbling a bit to himself, “..Maybe you’d want my in your corner too..”

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[Forest - 18 days after Castle Ball]

“...Is there a reason you’ve been following me, mate? I mean..sorry to disappoint, you’re not a bad looking guy...just I like brunettes....” Darren chuckled as he retrieved the throwing axe from a Cherry tree, happy to be exercising his new toys. “.......women of course..” He continued, staring off into the shadows, not seeing who exactly was there but knowing and feeling a steady pair of eyes upon him.

“There’s always a reason... I think...” Luckas made absolutely no effort to pretend he wasn’t actually following the guy, he was barely trying to be discrete even; it didn’t really seem necessary. “And I’m flattered, but that’s really not on my list of motives... This time.” He chuckled a bit under his breath. “Just... You are strangely familiar. Strangely familiar people tend to make me nervous. I still haven’t been able to get rid of the last one.”

Darren strained his eyes, a half smirk peeking into view as he stepped forward quirking a brow. “...Your voice doesn’t sound familiar....but then again I’m a visual person....maybe you’re a leprechaun.....so tiny I can’t see you?” With a flick of his wrist, the axe he held at his side was implanted into the snow along the borderline of the shadows. “So...there’s an advantage and disadvantage all in one glance....it makes you nervous aye? How so? Is this other poor soul your stalker instead?”

Luckas withheld a laugh, retrieving the throwing axe from the snow, and absently moving deeper into hiding without another word. When he spoke again he was standing behind Darren, examining him with a curious gaze. “Instead of what?” He asked. “And you know... When someone, who may or not be a tiny creature, is stalking you... It’s not very wise to give them a weapon.” He chuckled. “Assuming that said individual, would actually need one.” He added, with a little shrug. “When someone is familiar, it usually means I’ve seen them before, but can’t remember when, and that... That is rather unnerving. How old are you?”

Darren almost doubled over in chuckles as he turned about to face the figure, clapping his hands slowly in an impressed gesture. “..Niiice....I need to learn that trick...” His smile broadened, blue eyes flickering, tiny lilac colored specs glinting in his gaze. “Hm....I suspect not much younger than you, guy....Name’s Darren..and perhaps...I am just not as paranoid as I should be in the wilderness.” Absorbing the dark haired man before him he added, “Nope....don’t know you....You from Blackpond? Perhaps you have seen me around there before I was tossed into prison and found my way here.” Widening his stance, the young man opened his arms giving the impression he was not a threat, holding out a palm for his weapon. “So...is there something I can help you with, friend?”

“Maybe...” Luckas mumbled under his breath. “I’m from Blackpond at times... Sometimes I’m from around here... It depends. And then, Darren... Just because you don’t know me, doesn’t mean I don’t know you... I am a bit of a stalker after all... just a bit...” He said, looking up at Darren with an increasingly curious gaze; his black eyes narrowing slightly at the strange feeling of familiarity. At this point, Luckas was thinking, maybe he’d seen the guy in someone’s memory, he was sure he hadn’t seen him on the streets, it was when he decided to look into Darren’s mind that he actually flinched; the moment he stared into the guy’s eyes something seemed to stop him in his tracks and he looked away, a slight twitch forming itself in the corner of his right eye as he shook his head, something that sounded in between a choke and a laugh escaping him in one single breath. When he lifted his head again, he smirked as if nothing unusual had happened and simply handed Darren his weapon. “Luckas... That’s my name... and it’s the only one I have so don’t go around sharing it.”

Darren accepted his weapon, the very tips of his middle and pointer finger just grazing Luckas’ thumb before slipping the handle of the axe beneath his belt. His eyebrows raised, bunching together in an almost confused gaze. “Er...something wrong Guy?” Darren absently turned away, the light dimming in his gaze to a normal blue, the quickest flash of an image blinked in and out in his mind. Shuffling a few times to his left he sat himself upon a freshly cut tree stump, shoulders slumped forward in response to an ache from the day’s excursions. He stared upwards towards the treetops before glancing back towards Luckas. “No worries Luckas, I’m not one for gossip....” Trailing off Darren had a sudden thought and smiled, the light twinkling in his eyes. “Hey..maybe you’ve seen me fight? I use to participate in boxing matches for coin back in BlackPond before they shut us down this time last year...how I would pick up mercenary work.” Darren raised his head in a proud gesture, while simultaneously keeping his eyes downward in a modest gaze. “Only been beat once...at most things...guy was built like stone...” The boy rolled his eyes nonchalantly, not honestly trying to show off but still coming off as such.

“Huh...” Luckas mumbled, scratching his head slightly. “No, I doubt you’d fight where I would be watching, and even then, I never cared for watching people slam their fists against each other for sport. Seems rather pointless to me. No offense.” He smiled slightly. “I am of the opinion that one should always take pride in what they’re good at. We all have... Our own personal games... So to speak.” Luke stated, grinning widely at something that momentarily crossed his mind, his eyes fixed upon Darren’s face as if still searching for something in him, even as he shrugged. “I’m not so sure I know you after all, well... Suppose now I do, right?” He snickered. “So, you’re a kid nearly as old as me, huh? And you were fighting for coin about a year ago... No family?”

Darren reached for something in a pouch, his fingers fumbling along a cigarette and patting along his pockets for matches. “Well, maybe there’s more there than is actually witnessed...maybe I wanna sit here with the choice to smoke myself to ashes...” He slid the cigarette between his lips and after a moment of frustration, spat the foul thing to the ground, standing on the balls of his feet. “Maybe I’m more worried for the other families out there....children rumored to be going missing...a lot of bad people out there...” ‘Choices....choices....’ A fleeting thought, quickly tossed aside, his heel crunching upon the cigarette, buried beneath the slush.

Luckas raised an eyebrow, quietly watching Darren’s struggle with his cigarette, catching his words and taking more than the usual time to process what he’d heard, blinking a few times as his gaze suddenly grew a bit distant, staring at some point in the ground as he thought it through. “Worried, are you then?” He asked, turning his eyes back towards the boy’s face. “And how does smoking help with that? I’m missing whatever point you’re trying to make if there is even one, Kid. If there are children missing, and families to worry about, what makes them your concern exactly? Have you been missing yourself? Or perhaps you missed someone else?”

“Well Guy, smoking is an excuse...we all make them.....some more forgivable than others...” Darren shrugged, “Missing myself....I don’t think I understand, sorry...” Darren pulled back his foot and stared down at the crushed cigarette, looking almost torn. “ I believe too many people look the other way until it directly affects themselves, and then usually it’s too late...maybe change is needed.”

“Whose forgiveness are we talking about exactly? Personally, I don’t worry about my actions being unforgivable unless they directly affect someone whose opinion matters. And there aren’t many, that’s for sure. It is somewhat liberating... Not to care... I guess, people crave that sort of freedom in a way, but at the same time they feel the need to justify it... It’s a very silly thing... You can’t not care and worry about what others will think of your lack of care... Stupid, that’s what it is...” He chuckled. “My point being that... Sometimes being good just for being good can be worse than being evil. I’d rather see someone who is honestly evil than someone who is a false do-gooder.” He heaved a small sigh, averting his gaze once more as he added. “By ‘missing yourself’, I mean... Do you lack understanding of your own self? Suppose it’s a silly question, most people do, but then... To some it is far worse than to most.”

“Alright Man,...I do honestly agree that one needs to only worry about affecting those of importance....Yourself. In that reasoning, I don’t see myself as lost. I’ve seen those fake individuals, and sometimes you catch those of us still learning..in process...Sometimes it’s good to be selfish, but I just trust my gut. Life happens, but I don’t just sit and watch it fly by.” A soft sigh left his chest, feeling a bit antsy, his new found purpose in that second was to crack every finger in both hands. By the time he reached his ring finger, he paused for so long that his mind may have appeared to have left him. It wasn’t until his eyes flashed a dull aura of light, that he blinked and came back to the present.

“Life happens...” Luckas repeated, shaking his head slightly. “That’s true, but it’s impossible to move with it. At least it’s impossible to constantly move with it. So at some point, you’re going to sit down and have a smoke, or sleep, or you know... Die... Life’s going to keep happening.” He absently tilted his head back to watch the movement of the branches above as he sighed. “And yes, I know what you meant by that, but it’s an unrealistic statement. Just as unrealistic as expecting people to give a shit about things that can’t hurt them in the future... Or things that haven’t hurt them in the past. I mean, doing something is always a possibility, but to expect change... Is unrealistic.Even if you do change something right now... Ten years in the future things will be as they were before. So what you get is the illusion that something was done, it’ll last long enough for the ugliness to fade from the minds of the general public; that assuming it actually becomes known, and then... like all good illusions... it shatters.” Luckas ended his statement with a little snicker, finding the hypocrisy to be thoroughly amusing, despite how sickening it truly was. “And by that, of course, I’m not saying that doing something, or even seeking this illusion of change is not worth the trouble. It’ll be worth it for a few, but really... That’s as good as it gets.”

Darren’s smile faded for a few moments before a comical grin spread across his lips, infecting his eyes. “If enough people want the change...it’ll happen....if we have nothing to give a shit about....what’s the point? Fleeting the outcome can be, so we give ourselves goals.” The boy stared long and hard at Luckas, his fingers still twitching as he wanted to reach out and stretch his enlightenment, but something told him to keep his hands upon his lap. “Why, we all have felt like someone who has tried and failed but maybe some people just need higher expectations so when they are crushed, it’s not disappointment, I feel, the goals that are met, fleeting or not, should be worth it. But hey, I’m still a pup, I never would pretend to know it all.” Darren snorted, “Maybe I’m just too damned optimistic, but why the hell not.”

“Optimism is like a damn poison, so are high expectations... You can build a resistance, but just enough of it will still get you killed. The higher the goals the harder it’ll be to get people to play along, because no ultimate goal is going to be unanimous. Why do you think the War hasn’t ended when probably every single person in Valcrest is so damn sick of it? Because; everyone wants Peace, but no two people can agree on what the hell it is. You can’t quite blame people for being greedy even in their best intentions, that’s just human nature, but it sure is fucked up. The same goes with things like these; it’s easier to gather 20 people who each has their own personal agenda than to gather a thousand who want a major change.” Luckas shrugged slightly, still watching the trees above as if in a trance. “Suppose I’m too skeptical, or perhaps just not as greedy as I should be. I think that if, in the process of living, I happen to get rid of a few pieces of trash it might not cleanse the land, but it’ll at least clean up someone’s lawn.” He lowered his gaze back to Darren with a smirk. “Like I said, I’d rather be honestly evil, even if some would call it unnecessary evil.”

“Doing nothing I learned young, gets one killed...One of my first memories...had to been around three or so, and hanging around at a friend of my father’s during a raid or some kind of battle outside my window, I noticed a bleeding girl upon the ground, the mother doing nothing but holding her daughter in her arms while she died. I was too young to understand then, but when people like my father feed the carnage and are a large reason the war continues on, doing nothing is why people just circle the whirlpool.” The boy now appeared younger than he was, perhaps he was still clinging to something he was scared to death to lose. He moved as if to leave, the deep tone of his voice softening to just above a whisper. “Speaking of trash always brings up the subject of my father, and ‘trash’ is simply too good of a word to call him especially for what I’m learning he’s done to the people and children of Blackpond, and perhaps more...perhaps I will find out what really happened to my mother.” Darren cleared his throat, taking another few steps towards the treeline. “I should probably stop being lazy. “ He teased, attempting to change the subject. “ I’m sure my companions are starting to wonder about me.. See you around, Luckas?”

Luckas was quiet this time as Darren spoke, none of it actually did a thing to his opinions, but rather it taught him something, in a way. Finally he opened a little smirk. “Alright, so you don’t quite have a family. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just say that in the first place?” He asked, amusement in his tone. “And I do agree that people shouldn’t just do nothing, I just don’t think they will actually do anything, but...” He chuckled softly. “Maybe we should just agree to disagree on this one. Seems like the healthy thing to do in this case.” Luckas nodded as if to confirm his own statement and stretched lazily where he stood, running one hand back and forth through his hair as he sighed. “Far from me to keep you from being useful, I’ll just go back to my hideout.” He joked. “And maybe you’ll see me around... I probably will see you though.”

“Huh, no curses or put downs for another’s beliefs...you are different in some way Luckas, especially for only having, what...a few years or so on me? Not many I’ve met have your attitude.” Darren smiled not really giving in to whether he agreed to disagree, but he felt this conversation was coming to an end for now. “...Although..” Darren added as he kicked at a stone in the snow, “..this place seems to be obsessed with redheads, no? You know Jake? You both seem to have the same woman on the brain...wonder why that is..” Darren winked before walking off. “..Be funny if she was the one you can’t get rid of...just saying...”

“You’re yet to see just how different I am, friend.” Luckas stated simply, a light smile crossing his features. His smile didn’t change at the mention of Jake, despite a momentary clenching of his fists at the comment. He waited quietly until the kid had walked off before turning his back and muttering. “Freaking hilarious... I can pretty much hear the giggling in my head.”

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

[White Shadows encampment - 18 days after Castle Ball, late night]

Annie had finally managed to get some sleep. She was sure it had only been a few minutes though when she felt herself being watched and opened her eyes.
“Hello.” Luckas greeted calmly from where he sat at a corner of her tent. “You know, you really should see about getting some security for this place.”
“What for, Luke? I don’t see anyone but you being stupid enough to just wander into my tent in the middle of the night.” Annie muttered, rubbing her eyes and trying to make out the dark clad figure of Luckas in the darkness of the tent.
“I didn’t want to wait outside... Someone might see me, I’m not anyone’s favorite person around here at the moment.”
“Were you ever, Luckas? Since when are you scared of a bunch of healers?” Annie chuckled, sitting up to face Luckas once she managed to properly spot him in the dark.
“I’m not scared, don’t be stupid. I just didn’t want to start a commotion. I could get into deep trouble for coming here after what I did the other day.”
“What did you do the other day?” Annie questioned.
“Confidentiality?” He asked simply.
“Of course, but... You don’t trust me not to gossip if I’m not bound by my oath?”
“I like to be sure.” Luckas said. “You know why.”
“I understand, but rest assured; nothing you speak in here will ever be repeated.” She confirmed.
“Alright.” Luckas stated, taking a deep breath and taking the time to explain to Annie what he been doing in the past couple of days and what had happened once he returned to the Manor the night after he and Ess had parted ways in the city.

“I see...” Annie mumbled. “So, what is bothering you exactly? You’ve come here because you needed to talk to someone about this, yes?”
“You’re the only one who knows what I’m doing.” Luckas shrugged. “Where else would I go with this? Just.... Don’t flatter yourself, alright?”
“Fair enough. I promise I won’t let it go to my head.” Annie snickered. “So, you two going after her brother and setting fire to him... does that mean you and Essence are friends again now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we last saw each other at the Ball, remember? And you were pretty much avoiding her then, although you were watching her closely all the same... And again setting fire to people... I honestly wonder what is the deal with that. Is that how psychos flirt or something like that?”
“What, no... I don’t know... That’s... None of your damn business.” Luckas mumbled, shaking his head as if genuinely confused by the question. “Look, I’m not here to talk about my friendships... Or fire... With you.” He muttered.
“Well, I was just curious... I mean, I remember the fireplay seemed to somewhat upset you at that time... And there was that talk about letting go of something and not wanting someone else to have it...”
“Yes, I know... I was there. Thank you.” He cut her off.
Annie held back a giggle forcing herself into a more serious posture. “I’m sorry, Luke... Something was bothering you. What is it you’ve come to talk about exactly?”
“Well, I... Uh... I’m thinking, maybe I can’t do what your mother asked of me. And I... I suppose I can’t quite decide on what to do. My loyalties are... Confusing at the moment. I mean, I know the fastest way to end this... Sam straight up told me how to end it, in fact, but...” He shook his head as if the tought disturbed him greatly. “No, I can’t, but....”
“I see...” Annie sighed. “You know, I’m biased, Luckas... I’d like to see you keep your promise to my mother and I’d like it if those people were stopped before they hurt any more innocents, but I can tell this is personal to you, so I can’t tell you what to do about it. It wouldn’t be fair of me.”
“I want nothing to do with the Order, and I know that, I do... It’s just... As awful as it may be, those people are the only ones who know, who really understand, what happened to me. They’ve been through it all; the pain, the conditioning, the memory loss... They’re not all terrible people and... What happens to them after this is over? What do they deserve really? Death, even though for the most part they barely really have a choice? Freedom? Is that what breaking up the Order amounts to in the end; unleashing who knows really how many other people like me into this land?”
“You can’t take responsibility for all these people, Luckas. I understand that you feel the urge to do so, I really do, but you cannot. They may not have had a choice at some point in the past, but after a certain point it does become a choice. It’s their responsibility and not yours to decide their fate.”
“It’s not a choice for me. Not entirely. My actions, I can take responsibility for that and I do, but what’s behind them, under the surface... In my head... Every waking moment...” Luckas shook his head once again, the sentence left unfinished. “See, you don’t understand. That’s exactly what I mean. I thought I was the only one, but I’m not. Your mother let me believe that.... She let me think that, that all the others like me were dead until she needed me for something. Why should I be any more loyal to her now?”
“That’s not true, Luckas. You know that.” Annie protested calmly. “She was trying to protect you, and she really didn’t want to involve you in this until there was absolutely no other way and for this exact reason. Didn’t you say yourself that you wanted revenge on who made you like this?”
“I wanted revenge, but... Now, it just doesn’t seem to matter. The guy is dead and I know he was the one responsible, I read his journals and all the things he did.”
“It’s still happening though. Did you bring that up with Sam: The child kidnappings? The girl you brought to me? Did you ask her if the Order is imprinting these missing children, Luckas?”
“It didn’t exactly come up when we spoke, no...”
“You didn’t ask, because you know that she’s either going to lie to you or say something you don’t want to hear. That’s called denial, Luke. If you truly don’t want any more people like you in this world then you need to start facing some facts soon.”
“I’m not in denial. I just... Am I supposed to forget that she saved my life? That I would’ve been like Matthew if it weren’t for her?”
“Mom told Alistair, the week she brought you in that if you and your brother have been brought straight to us instead of taken to that orphanage she could have help you both.”
“That’s crap... She said she couldn’t help him!”
“She said she couldn’t help him when she saw him in the dungeons, by then it was too late. I’m not saying that your brother wasn’t significantly more messed up than you, Luckas, but then you have to wonder why that is if you were both in the same situation. Why did she protect you so much and left Matthew to drown?”
“She couldn’t reach out to him... She tried, I was there.”
“Maybe he just wasn’t as trusting as you were... As... Vulnerable. Maybe that’s what she says she saw in you... Because that’s what predators do... Of all people you know that well.”
“It’s not like that!” Luckas protested. “I’m not...”
“A victim?” Annie sighed softly. “I’m sorry, Luke. I warned you, I’m biased, but I won’t try to tell you what you should do. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t let Sam or anyone else for that matter manipulate you into thinking that you’ll have no one if the Order falls apart. Because that’s not true, and you wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t make such a great deal of effort to return to the Raven’s Nest as well, if you didn’t know that that’s not true. It worries me that only a few days after spending time with someone who has shown clearly to care for you, you come out of that house thinking stuff like that. If this is the kind of hold that woman has on you, then maybe Essence and I need to have a conversation.”
“You can’t tell her anything, you promised me.”
“Mom wanted you to tell her though, didn’t she?”
“How do you know that?”
“I didn’t, Luckas, I assumed. I know now though.” Annie replied, unable to hold back a smirk as she heard Luckas mutter curses under his breath. “I know I can’t tell her what you’ve told me. I promised you and I will always keep my promise, but then... I have a strong feeling that I don’t really have to. Just think about that for a moment.”

"Listen, I know that I can’t keep doing this indefinitely. I’m not that much of an idiot. I know... I’m living two separate lives, and... I’m being two opposite sides of myself and... I know, sooner or later, a part of me will have to die. I also understand that I... If I don’t make the choice, sooner or later it will be made for me.”
“So why not just wait if that’s the case?” Annie asked, filling two cups of water and handing one over to Luckas.
“Because the only thing I’m certain of right now is that... Whatever happens... I want it to be my choice. I want it to be in my hands. That’s how it has to happen.” He said, taking the cup from her and simply holding it in his hands.
“And what is stopping you from making that choice?” Annie asked, sipping her water and staring at him curiously. “You’ve changed, Luckas. And I think your problem is you try to rationalize things the same way you did before, and that’s why nothing ever seems right to you anymore. You are a different person, you see things with different eyes, and you can’t use the same logic now than you did back then.”
“I don’t know... I guess I’m partly still the same person, but... Then there’s this other stupid part of me; the one that actually believes I can have more.” Luckas mumbled, staring down at his cup of water. “And I don’t need this right now... I never wanted it in the first place... I just want to go back. To feel like myself again.”
Annie nodded quietly, sipping from her cup as Luckas spoke. “This... Stupid part of you would be the same part of you who accepted when my mother offered her help, Luke. The same part of you that cared to know the reason you are the way you are in the first place... You always wanted more for yourself. So why is this suddenly so foolish and unattainable that you won’t allow yourself to accept it?”
“It’s not the same as accepting help. Your mother and I, we had a deal which we both benefitted from. It wasn’t like this. This... Is completely different. There’s no...”
“No benefit?” Annie cut in. “Do you honestly see no benefit in caring for another human being?”
Luckas sighed, taking a large gulp of water and setting the cup aside. “There’s no logic... It goes against any self-preservation instinct... And it’s just... STUPID.”
“Luckas...” Annie laughed. “Is that really your best argument right now? It’s stupid?” She smiled at him. “You say against self-preservation instinct... As in you would be willing to give up your life?”
“If I’m not rational about it, then... Yes, sure.”
“Aww... Cute.” She chuckled.
“Shut up.” He snorted, giving her an angry glare. “I don’t want... This kind of responsibility. Do you understand? I want to go back to a place where I don’t care enough to worry for myself and I have no need to worry for others.”
“You don’t want others to care for you because it forces you to care as well, and you think that your life was easier when you could live it without worrying about consequences.”
“Yes.”
“Alright, Luke... I have one question for you, just one. When you first told me about Sam, right after mom died, you told me she was the first thing you remembered on your own, you also told me how exactly you remembered it. Right? So, my question is this: Why do you think the memory came to you in that exact moment, when you were... Sharing memories with another person? I mean, what in that particular moment could have unlocked that bit of your memory?”
“I... Never... Really... Thought about that.”
“Really? You never thought about the fact that the first time you remembered anything about your past was while you were sharing memories with a woman you had previously formed a psychic bond with?”
“No. I really haven’t. You think that’s important?”
“I’m no telepath, but yes, Luckas... It sounds a bit important.”
“Oh...” He scratched his head. “Well... She did... Ask me about my eyes, if they had always been black. I guess I was subconsciously trying to remember... I don’t know.”
“Do you think you wanted her to see?”
“What? Why would I want her to see that?”
“Are you sure you want my opinion on this, Luckas? I know for a fact you won’t like what I have to say.”
“And what else is new?” He snorted. “Go on, spit it out.”
“I think, you wanted her to see. I think, that’s what you wanted from the start; for someone to see you. That’s what you were really searching for in your past all along, and that’s why you were still so conflicted even after you remembered everything. I think that is also what you are searching for in the memory of Sam and that is why you can’t seem to let go of her even though she doesn’t seem to understand you quite as well as you hoped. Most of all Luckas, I think you’ve wanted this for so long, and you were denied and rejected so many times, you simply gave up hope of ever actually having it quite some time ago and now you’re just afraid to allow yourself to hope again. You’re afraid that no matter what happens you’ll end up alone either way, but this way it will just be twice as painful.” Annie paused her speech, simply to take a deep breath and another sip of water, before adding. “And you fear that this might just be how you finally break for good.”

Luckas was silent staring at Annie, even though blankly; as if he could barely see her in front of him in the darkened tent. After a moment or two of simply sitting there in that trance, Luckas cleared his throat and shook his head. “You’re right...” He mumbled, standing from his seat and bowing his head in a parting gesture. “I don’t want your fucking opinion.”

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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

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The spring that flourished in Valcrest this year had come as one of the most beautiful in recent times and the formerly frozen and grey fields of the plains had come alive with the color and scent of flowers and fresh grass, hummingbirds and butterflies roamed the gardens filling them with even more life. While in previous years those same fields would be filled with the laughter of children and adults alike, this year it was left abandoned. The beauty seeming now as nothing more than a painful reminder of all that was lost, all that was taken. Even for the most faithful amongst the White Shadows; the beauty was painful as though the earth itself was mocking them for their efforts. The only one still seen in the gardens from time to time, tending to the flowers and sitting amongst the butterflies and birds, was Annie. The girl was the only one seemingly still capable of caring for the plants and for the animals and for all other things that were supposedly smaller and less significant than the loss of human life. In those silent and insignificant gestures she had managed to somehow keep the healers working steadily and relentlessly for what seemed to most like a clearly lost cause.

In the six months that had come and gone the mysterious illness had spread and evolved from afflicting a few people here and there to decimating hundreds, taking more and more victims each passing week; less on its own than through the chaos it had created in its wake, and for the healers all that was left was dealing with the increasing numbers of victims, knowing there was little they could do, knowing that they were far away from any answers whatsoever, and unable to stop and feel for the loss of their own. In the first months of the outbreak there were fights and riots in the desert with the number of enlightened rushing to flee the land, but soon enough word reached every corner of Valcrest that leaving was pointless. It only sent the general public into a deeper sense of despair. Soon after came the voices shouting in the streets that the Gods were angry, that the world was ending, that humanity was being punished for its shortcomings. With nowhere left to run to the people turned on one another, on themselves... Riots had awoken in the cities, blaming their Kings and Queens for the supposed wrath of the Twins. The world might not have been ending, but society was taking its dying breaths in the land of Valcrest; that much was clear.

Annie wouldn’t lie and say that she wasn’t tired, that she didn’t feel helpless, that she wasn’t angry; and that was exactly why she hadn’t done what her mother would do in a moment like this, which was to speak. She hadn’t gathered the healers and addressed the dire situation they were in. She had no words to give them; she wasn’t that kind of leader and she wouldn’t pretend to be. All she could do was show that even if everything else was showing signs of crumbling down around her she wouldn’t allow fear into her heart, and hope that it would be enough to keep the faith of her people from fading completely.

The White Shadows’ encampment had miraculously remained a safe place, despite the tension and violence that had spread across Valcrest, but to keep it safe had become a chore in times when any little thing could escalate into tragedy.

“Are you listening? I said put your hands on him.”
“It won’t work. I’m sorry.” Annie replied calmly to the man that stood behind her as if she hadn’t noticed he was pressing a knife to her throat.
“You’re lying! You can fix him! Do it! I swear, I’ll slit your throat right here!”
Annie had closed her eyes, for just a moment, as if the act somehow helped her see more clearly. She could hear the voices of the healers around, someone had shouted for Alistair, but she knew he was far away on the other side of the camp. She wasn’t afraid. She opened her eyes and sighed, dark brown orbs fixating on the young boy laying ill on the cot right before her, he looked frightened at what he was seeing and she smiled at him in an attempt to soothe him. “Sir... My enlightenment doesn’t work that way. I know this isn’t what you need to hear, but I can’t fix this. I can’t save him. I wish I could, but I can’t. Now, please, put down the blade. You don’t want your son to watch you become a murderer.”

The man flinched, his grip gradually loosening around the surgical knife he had been holding until it finally dropped to the ground at her feet. The man turning to the sick child and falling to his knees beside his cot in defeat. It was in that moment that Alistair arrived, pulled the man to his feet, and punched him hard across the face. “I want you out of this camp in twenty minutes, or I swear to all the Gods, I will kill you!” He muttered at the man.
“Alistair... Leave him alone!” Annie protested, grabbing Alistair by the arm and pulling him away from the man and his son. “What the hell is wrong with you!?”
“He threatened your life, that’s what’s wrong with me! Do you not understand what has been happening to the world lately, Annie? Do you understand!?”
“Al... I’m fine. No one hurt me. Why do you want to punish this man? Look at him. He’s just... Desperate and angry... I know you can’t feel their pain anymore, but... Just... Look at them. That man is going to lose his son, and there’s nothing he can do. He can’t be rational right now, he can barely hold together enough to be strong for the kid... We’re the ones who need to stay calm and be strong and act within reason... Because they can’t and we shouldn’t demand it of them. Not now.”
Alistair sighed in defeat, pulling the girl into a hug. “You are too kind for your own sake, kid. I wouldn’t want to see you get hurt.” He muttered.
Annie wrapped her arms tight around her friend, falling into a silent moment of appreciation. “I know you wouldn’t.” She mumbled simply, not knowing what else to say to her friend when she couldn’t bring herself to promise she would be alright.
“Everything’s going to be fine.” Alistair stated simply as he released her, noticing her hesitation. “I think it’s about time you go get some sleep... I’ll keep an eye on things and I promise not to punch anyone else.”
“Hmm... I don’t know... Do you really promise, now?” Annie chuckled. “I’m not tired, Al... Not yet. It’s fine, I’m fine.”
“You look tired, Annie.” Alistair insisted, frowning at the girl in a half severe expression.
“Everyone is tired.” She retorted, rolling her eyes at him. “Really, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me, okay?”
“I’ll try.” Alistair said, sighing at the girl’s stubbornness. “Just call if you need me, alright?”
“I will.” Annie mumbled, calmly waiting for her friend to walk away, her eyes staring past him to the man still kneeling beside his son. Annie didn’t know what to say to the man. Even if she thought there was a chance to save the boy, she wouldn’t dare say so. More and more hope was proving itself a curse rather than a blessing. Heaving a weary sigh Annie turned away, forcing herself to carry on with her errands for the day.

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

[The Manor]

It was a few hours before sunrise as Luckas got out of bed; all he wanted was to go back to sleep, but he knew that if he was a split second late Adam would make him pay for it on their next session so he forced himself to move out of bed. Looking around the room, his eyes spotted a chair out of place; moved from its original spot to the side of the window, and he knew Sam had been there at some point during the night. One eye still half closed, Luckas stripped off his shirt and started to rummage around the room in search for a clean one when he heard a familiar snicker. “My, oh my... Such a nice sight to start my day with, hmmm... What is THAT, Lukey?”
“Amber... How did you... When did you get in here!?” Luckas asked, turning around to spot a pretty-looking brunette sitting on his bed.
“Sweetie, you should really check under your bed more often. Who knows what monsters may be crawling under there, hm? You didn’t answer me though...” She smiled, hopping off the bed and pointing at the tattoo in Luckas’ forearm. “What... Is... That? Oh, my... Twins... How permanent is that little doodle?”
“First of all; that’s insane and creepy, and I better not find you under my bed, ever. Second of all: It’s a tattoo, not a ‘doodle’, and it’s very much permanent.”
Amber frowned slightly as she walked over and grabbed Luke’s arm to inspect the image traced upon his skin a bit more thoroughly. “She signed it! You let her sign it? Are you mad? Sammy is going to go crazy when she sees this.”
“Well, I... Asked her to sign it, but... What, why would she?”
“You ASKED to have this woman’s name permanently branded onto your skin, Luckas... Do you seriously not see the issue here? I honestly don’t understand what they see in you...” Amber muttered, shaking her head in amusement and disbelief.
“I don’t see how it’s any of Sam’s business what is drawn on my body, so no; I don’t see an iss-... Wait, what do you mean by that?”
“What do I mean by what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Amber snickered. “Uhm, Adam said I could watch your session today, that’s why I came... To see if you were awake and all... It’s going to be a fun one! I’ll wait downstairs!” Amber retorted, quickly making her way out the door before Luckas could ask anything more.
“What... Just happened?” Luckas mumbled, a bit confused, staring at the closed door for a few seconds still after Amber left the room. He honestly hadn’t really thought of Sam’s reaction at all... He didn’t even think of whether she had or not noticed; he didn’t think so, but then he could never really be sure of that. Great, that was just great... The last thing he needed before seeing Adam was another concern.

Luckas was just about to leave the room himself when the sound of something soft thumping against the stone floor of the room caught his attention, making him turn around and actually pay attention to his surroundings, his expression changing to childish amusement at the sight of a furry tail sticking out from the space under his bed. Crouching down, Luckas slowly paced around the bed, careful not to make any sounds, but of course when he looked under the bed there was nothing. “Alright.... Where are you?” Luckas snickered, standing up straight but seeing nothing different in the room. “Stalker...?” Luckas snorted as there was no sign of life in the room besides his own. “You should have a minion, she said... It’ll be good for you, she said...” He mumbled impatiently to himself.

[Raven’s Nest - About 4 months ago]

“Stop following me.” Luckas muttered, turning to face the pup, raising a brow as the young wolf simply sat and stared up at him. “Good... Stay. Staaay...” He commanded, beginning to pace backwards away from the puppy, frowning in annoyance as the animal promptly stood and began to trot after him. “No, no, no...” Luke muttered, stopping again and watching the puppy sit and stare again. Sighing he paced towards the wolf and nudged him with his foot. “Piss off now, go on.” He mumbled. “Go find a rabbit to chase.” The wolf snorted a bit at being nudged and immediately pounced on Luke’s boot, chewing on the leather and growling playfully. “No, no... Stop it... Bad wolf...” Luckas muttered, trying to shake the pup away from his foot but only managing to lose his shoe. “You’ve got to be kidding... Fine...” He sighed, removing his other boot and dropping it in front of the wolf as he turned to walk away barefoot, growling as he realized the pup had left the shoes to continue stalking him.

“What....” Ess began with a perplexed sigh. She was used to Luke rising earlier than her most days, but that wasn’t the problem. The issue was Tala nudging Ess relentlessly to wake up and sunlight was only just beginning to touch the horizon. “Ugh...Tala...what...why...ah! Cold nose!” Ess rolled over, pulling her shirt down, and wiping a bit of drool off her back. “Gross Tala....really?” Sitting up, Ess counted several pairs of eyes staring her down patiently. “One...two....three...four...five....we are missing the black one.” Releasing a groan of frustration, Ess crawled out of the tent and slipped on her boots, rubbing at her eyes. “Ok Tala, this is like the third time this week your little guy has gone running off. Last time he was in the bloody river. Why are you staring at me? You’re the one with the nose.” Shaking her head she began walking away from the group, holding up a hand to still Tala, her pups staying beside her automatically. Where Tala went they usually went, so it was a bit odd this little guy kept running off. So Ess began her run, keeping to the routine while searching for the little stray. When she had completed a lap and was coming back into camp she noticed tiny tracks and bent down to inspect them, a smile appearing on her lips. “Ah ha....gotcha now” She muttered, following the tracks. Ess heard a voice before she even saw the pup, instantly recognizing it as Luckas and that he was headed in her direction. She paused, leaning against a tree so that Luke would pass right by her, her form mostly blocked by the array of branches that draped almost to the ground. Her smile widened as she crossed her arms and waited, holding back a laugh at the words, ‘Bad Wolf’ and Luke appearing in view with no shoes. Remaining silent she waited until she was noticed.

Luckas was focused on getting rid of his pursuer, an annoyed frown crossing his features as he rushed his footsteps; the pup persistently chasing after him. After a few more moments of trying to escape the wolf, Luckas stopped and turned. “Piss off... Go... Stop following me! What the hell is your problem!?” He exclaimed, raising his voice and lunging forward in the pup’s direction. The puppy didn’t as much as blink at his movement, sitting and staring up at him as if curiously questioning his sanity. “Don’t look at me like that, I know how stupid it looks.” Luke muttered, running both hands back and forth through his hair in frustration. “Annoying fleabag.” He whispered, walking back through where he came to retrieve his boots, keeping his head down as he walked as if it somehow made him less noticeable to his furry stalker, and muttering curses under his breath.

Essence was surprised Luckas didn’t see her as he walked past, but he was looking at the ground she noticed which at that point she couldn’t contain her laughter, letting it echo towards him. Quirking a brow she remained still as she spoke. “Looks like you have an admirer. How does it feel?” Ess snickered. “And he doesn’t understand why you won’t play with him..” Ess glanced down at the pup who had continued to stumble after Luckas, her voice softening as if she were speaking to a child. “Isn’t that right my little minion....yes, good boy.”

Luckas startled slightly and stopped walking as he heard Ess’ voice, looking around a bit disoriented until he spotted her he frowned. “Very funny, Lady.” He snorted, shooting the wolf a glance and then looking back to her. “I only know one way to play... And that is reserved for ‘deserving’ humans, not animals.” He continued walking until he found where he had left his boots and picked them up, sitting on a nearby rock to put them on, an annoyed look on his face as the puppy followed and sat next to the rock, fixing his dark eyes on him like a little fluffy statue. “Can you make him leave me alone?” Luckas sighed, putting on his boots, noticing the several teeth marks on the right one and examining them.

Pushing off from the tree, she weaved out from behind the branches to stand behind Luckas and the pup. “I’m surprised, Sweetness you didn’t notice me. Think you need to step up on your game, hmm? Growing too comfortable maybe?” She teased. “Oh, you do so know how to play. You and I have been training, and you can do the same with the pup. In fact, that is another reason I was out looking for him.” Turning her attention back to the pup, Ess spoke gently. “Isn’t that right boy?” Clearing her throat she noticed Luke’s boot and laughed. “Luckas, don’t be giving the pup boots to chew on. He is teething but I don’t need him destroying everything I own. It’s called a bone or some leather hide to chew on.” Ess played knowingly. “And no, I can’t make him do anything. Besides, what’s the big deal? He likes you. What’s wrong with that? You don’t mind Tala.”

“Well, I was, as you know, rather distracted.” Luckas muttered, rubbing the bite marks on his boot and shaking his head as he noticed one of the bites had punctured a hole through the sole. “And maybe I don’t want it to like me... Or my only pair of boots, for that matter.” Wincing slightly as if trying to make himself look smaller Luke turned trying to ignore the wolf, but failing to do so as the pup simply moved to sit on the other side of him. “Tala doesn’t stare at me... It’s creepy.” He mumbled.

“Uh-huh...” Ess mumbled shaking her head. Stepping so that she was standing in front of Luckas as he moved, she kneeled down in front of him and widened her eyes playfully and stared up at Luckas in silence. After a moment she snickered. “You didn’t answer my question really...Tala...she did stare at you actually and growled at you and bit you, I seem to recall. But this little fluff ball is ‘Creepy’? Really? That’s rich.” She joked, reaching over to pick up the pup with a grunt, noting how much heavier he seemed in a week. Ess made a face at the pup and kissed him on the head before giving a loving squeeze. “He’s cute and sweet....Here...” She stated in a serious tone, pushing the pup onto his lap. “Try petting him. Maybe this will be good for you. You should give him a chance. And don’t you dare drop him.” She commanded. “You will have an angry mother after you if you do...” Ess winked playfully before standing once again. “If you want him to have better manners, then teach him. Make him ‘Your’ minion. He could be like you. Maybe you should keep him.” Nodding to herself she smiled. “I mean I’ll help but I really think he’d be good for you. You know, like a companion of sorts. A bond with a wolf....there’s really nothing like it, Luckas.”

“He’s too... cute...It’s annoying.” Luckas muttered almost inaudibly; shaking his head and sighing as he rose his voice. “It’s different... Tala was protecting you... He looks at me like he’s expecting something. It’s unnerving.” He mumbled, wincing slightly as she pushed the little fluff ball onto his lap without as much as giving him a chance to protest. “What do you mean ‘good for me’?” he asked, eyeing the pup with a comically suspicious look in his eyes as if he expected it to explode or something. The pup simply stared at him curiously motionless until Luke made a rather hesitant move to give it a little awkward pat on the head. “There, there.” He snorted; the puppy curiously starting to sniff his hand and his clothes as if the simple gesture was viewed as clear permission to explore. “Hmm... I don’t know... Keep... Him...? Luckas mumbled, leaning forward as if to get a closer look, the little wolf mimicking his gesture and inching closer to his face, sniffing him some more before cheerfully licking him on the nose. “Iiww... Puppy breath...” Luckas complained, turning his head and snorting, amusement breaking through his annoyance when the pup mimicked his gesture by turning his head and emitting a little huff. “I’m not sure if he could be like me... He’s a lousy stalker for starters... Persistent, but lousy... And I don’t know much about wolves you know... Except that they have very sharp teeth.” He mused, watching as the pup curled up in his lap, eyes still persistently fixed on him. “...Maybe...” He mumbled. “...Could be fun to have a minion.”

Ess’ jaw dropped in an overly fake exasperated expression, “Huh...well I keep you around even when you’re annoying..” She smiled turning to walk away. “Good for you...I can’t explain it because you probably won’t understand until you experience it. That’s all I can say and I think you should...you know...experience it. You will not find anyone or anything as loyal as a wolf, I can promise you that. They tend to have a way of choosing us, in a way so it would be more of him keeping you. You just need to be patient and be consistent with training for him to understand and I’m sure he could be a great little shadow. We know you weren’t born a natural fighter which is why it takes time.” Ess bit her lip to hold back her amusement. “Besides, he won’t be little for too long. Again, I’ll help you. I mean, what are friends for?” Glancing over her shoulder she winked. “And..you have to give him a name too you know. Can’t just call him wolf or whatever. Think about his personality or something and go with it.”

“You keep me around just to break chairs on my head, Lady.” Luckas snickered softly. “I don’t think that example applies to this situation.” He played, picking the puppy and landing him gently on the floor before standing up. “Stay.” He commanded firmly, starting to slowly pace away from the wolf. The pup simply stared at him a moment before responding with a faint bark and starting to follow. Luckas stopped and waited for the puppy to sit before repeating the command. “Staaay.” Again he paced away from the pup and he immediately stood and started to follow. Luckas sighed. “Maybe we should start with something simpler, huh?” He mumbled, looking down at the puppy and tilting his head curiously; his gesture mirrored by the young wolf. “Now you’re just messing with me, aren’t you?” He snickered, shaking his head. “Great, now I’m talking to it too... Lovely.” He snorted, looking back to Ess with an amused expression. “I can’t call him ‘wolf’? Really? The pup of a hound named Puppy and... What does ‘Tala’ mean again?” He asked, with a chuckle. “Fine though... Hmmm... How about Bob? No... Too common... People names for animals are weird too... Eh... Hmmm....” Luckas scratched his head, looking down at the pup with an intrigued expression. “How about Stalker? That’s more than fitting to his personality.”

Ess’ lips parted to crack another joke, her expression falling somber a moment as she actually took a moment to think about why she did actually keep Luckas around. Pausing in stride she turned around, moving her focus towards Luckas attempting to train the pup. “He doesn’t know what that means, silly. You have to show him and then put the command to the gesture. Like so.” Ess approached the pup and lightly pressed against his hind quarters until he sat, standing back up she raised her hand and stated. “SIT.” Taking a few steps back her hand remained palm facing the pup and she paused again. “STAY.” Ess commanded, an amused smirk crossing her lips as the pup twitched and finally couldn’t hold it any longer and came bounding after them. “Good boy!” She stated, kneeling down to pet the pup. “Now it just takes repetition. He’ll learn. He’s smart like his Momma, huh?” She whispered, ruffling up his fur. “And your Momma’s name is taken already so no, no more wolves. Tala is short for Talena...Tala yes is wolf or wolf princess but Talena means ‘Temptress or hardworking’....ironic enough.” Ess chuckled standing back on her feet quirking a brow at Luckas. “Stalker? Really?” Her expression was vacant as she stood and thought on it for a moment before snickering. “Why not, I shouldn’t be surprised though. What you think little guy, hmm?” Ess nodded as the pup sneezed and wandered after Luckas, muttering under her breath in a playful mockery. “Bob....ha...”

“Hmmm....” Luckas mumbled, watching Ess interact with the pup, noting that he almost stayed put, but not quite. “Stalker is quite fitting, for sure.” He muttered under his breath trying not to show his amusement, but not doing a great job of it. “You think I can teach him to pee on Jake? That’d be hilarious.” Luckas snickered, a goofy expression momentarily crossing his features before he gave a little shrug. “Well, I was trying to get him to let go of me because I was wandering off into the woods and I wasn’t sure if it’d be alright to let him follow me... Last thing I’d want is an angry Tala thinking I’m stealing her kids or something.” He said, squatting down and looking back at the pup as if trying to make a game out of his staring, as if to determine who would dare look away first. “Wolf... Princess... Explains the attitude.” Luke chuckled. “Or maybe that comes from hanging around with you, Lady... Hm?” He mused, tilting his head to the side playfully. “I wonder, how do you know the meaning of those names? Are there books for that? Quite curious...” Luckas mentioned, going a bit cross eyed and shaking his head with a chuckle. “Fine, you win.” He stated, reaching out to discretely scratch the pup behind the ears before standing up. “Do the little guys hunt yet? I was going to try and catch a rabbit or two... Even though I don’t quite have a weapon on me... I just realized...” He shrugged.

Ess’ eyes narrowed as if she were annoyed, yet they twinkled in a subtle amusement at Luke’s question if he could teach Stalker to pee on her brother. “Ah, I’m not involved in that...nope...not a word...just better not ruin my pictures....” She glared playfully at the pup and shrugged. “They’ve been eating what Tala brings back from hunting. The instincts are there; which was why I was planning on bringing them all out and give Tala a chance to train them in the field. I’ll just tell her you have him.” Ess laughed not very sure how well that’d work but soon enough those pups were going to be on their own and if they decided to stick around as a pack or what she was curious to see. She was only use to one wolf for so long and the past couple months had been quite the ‘experience.’ It was a wonder how those little fluffballs would turn out. “Princess....attitude? Wait who....what you trying to say there, Luckas?” Ess laughed, thinking on his question to how she knew meanings to names, trying to not pay attention to the cute staring contest Luke and Stalker were having. “Well, I did become obsessed with the name for a while...my name is out there in books because it’s not a name really but just a word of speech. I bet there are books though, but a lot of it comes from stories...songs..” A curious smile curled her lips, her voice rising in pitch to take on an innocent but still playful tone. “Do you know what your name means Luckas? I believe it’s probably derived from other words. You know, more than one word meaning the same thing.”

“Hm... I’d say is more like he has me, not that I have him.” Luckas stated, playfully rolling his eyes. “And that’s silly Lady... How can you say your name is not really a name when it’s clearly your name? If a word is used to name someone, or something, it becomes a name... Like, Stalker is a name now too... So it’s not just a word anymore... You see?” Stopping to think for a moment or two Luckas shrugged, deciding to set aside the fact that Sam had actually picked this name for him; that was something he hadn’t thought about in a very long time. “I don’t know about my name. Never thought about it like that really.” He snorted trying to conceal the fact he was slightly bothered, not by the question, but by the sudden thoughts it had brought up. “Well, I like hunting with a crossbow, but since I don’t have one here and I’m sure Beast Boy won’t lend me his... I’m gonna have to... improvise and see if I catch something anyway.” He smirked, gladly changing the subject. “Should be a fun bonding experience, no?” He asked her, turning to Stalker. “What do you think? Should we go get ourselves some tasty rabbit meat?” The wolf sat staring up a Luckas and idly scratched at his ear with his paw before responding with a little yip. “Yep, he’s going to be a killing machine this one.”


Luckas frowned slightly; there was no denying that Stalker had learned to do his own name justice. “Stalker! Where are you hid-.... Aaah... You little bastard...” Luckas jumped as he felt a cold wet nose poke his lower back; reminding him that he hadn’t yet put on a shirt. Luke spun around to face the large black wolf that had immediately sat down to stare at him with his most adorable innocent-puppy face. “You bad, bad, wolf... Bad puppy, Stalker... What did I tell you about sneaking in here like this!?” Luckas scolded frowning at the wolf for a moment, but sighing in defeat as Stalker responded with an apologetic whine; giving the wolf a few affectionate pats and scritches before resuming his task of finding a shirt. “Come on now, champ... We’ve been over this. It’s only been a couple of weeks since I left the Nest, I shouldn’t go back so soon... You’re not making this any easier on me.”
Stalker barked excitedly while Luckas spoke, immediately going around the room sniffing everything, stopping momentarily to growl at the chair by the window, he then hopped right over the bed to reach Luckas, playfully trying to snatch the shirt off his hands.
“No, no, no... Bud, I can’t play with you right now. Stalker... Knock it off.... Stalker....” Luckas groaned getting the wolf to release the shirt before it ripped and putting it on with a frown. The wolf going around him and trying to push him out the door, letting out barks and short howls that grew louder and louder by the second. “Stalker, I can’t go with you right now... Stop pushing me... Stop it... Stalker... Hey... Hey... HEY! SHUT UP!”
Stalker stopped pushing Luckas his howling fading into a whine as he layed on the ground with his tail between his legs. Luckas groaned, sitting on the floor beside the wolf. “Alright, I’m sorry, champ.” Luke mumbled, snorting in a mix of amusement and annoyance as the wolf crawled closer to rest its head on his lap. He was sure the pup had actually gotten bigger since he had left him at the Raven’s encampment and Luckas found himself constantly having to remind himself that it hadn’t been that long since he was just an annoying little fluffball Luke could pick up and carry around. Now he was a giant man-eating fluffball that could wrestle Luke to the ground without much effort, but still very much a puppy; at least as far as Luckas was concerned. “I can’t go out right now. It’s not safe.” He told the wolf, patting him firmly on his side so that he get off his legs and let him stand. “I can do it after training though so... Go wait for me on the trail.” He told Stalker, peeking outside his door to an empty hallway before opening it to let the wolf out. Stalker immediately rushing past him and disappearing down the hall.

- A few minutes later -

As Luckas reached the training field Adam was standing there waiting for him as usual, Amber standing beside him; Luckas could see they had been talking but stopped as he approached. On the ground at Adam’s feet there were two wooden chests with iron handles on the sides. He calmly picked on up and started to make his way towards the woods. Amber calmly reached for one handle of the remaining chest and waited for Luckas to pick it up from the other side. Luckas lifted the chest with Amber’s help, and it was heavy. “What is this?”
“No spoilers, Lukey. Trust me though... You’ll like it... Agility training.... Always fun.” The girl replied with an amused chuckle. Luckas was anything but amused, he didn’t like how excited Amber was with whatever Adam was planning and he sure as hell wasn’t going to trust her.

As Adam seemed satisfied that they had wandered far enough into the woods he dropped the heavy chest he was carrying, Amber and Luckas dropping the second chest right beside the first one. Adam opened the lid of one chest only slightly so he could peek at its contents and then he did the same for the other as if trying to make a decision. After a bit of thinking Adam opened one chest fully and Luckas could see that it contained long and sturdy metal chains, at each end of the chains there were heavy metal spheres about the size of coconuts. “Run.” Adam stated simply.
Luckas flinched, slightly confused by the situation. Adam was never one to elaborate much on his instructions, and by now Luckas had learned the hard way that it was best to follow them immediately instead of wasting time trying to make sense of them, but he was just too curious at this point to just run off without knowing what Adam intended to do with the chains. Adam, realizing this, nodded as if agreeing to give a demonstration. The man closed his eyes for a moment, breathing slowly for a few seconds before opening them; a ring of silver light surrounding the icy blue of his irises and spreading slowly in a pattern similar to cracks spreading through a frozen lake. As Adam’s eyes changed, the chains began to stir and slither within the confines of the wooden box, making soft rattling sounds as they moved.

Then, without warning, one of the chains shot up into the air at an incredibly high speed, shooting right past Luckas’ face. Luke turned around just in time to see the sphere at the end of the chain collide with the trunk of a tree, a fairly sturdy tree, and smash a hole right through it; bits of wood flying in every direction as it passed. Luckas turned to face Adam and the man had very discrete smirk playing on his lips as he repeated the instruction. “Run.”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Luckas exclaimed, a very uncharacteristic tone of panic in his voice as he turned and started to run as fast as he possibly could into the cover of the trees, the sound of the rattling chains following him closely. Luckas knew that there was no way to outrun the pursuing metal, but that thought became so much more real as he was forced to dive out of the way of a heavy iron sphere; the force with which the object hit the ground rose a curtain of dirt and formed a round crater in its surface. Luckas actually felt the earth tremble under the palms of his hands as he crawled away trying to get back on his feet. He could feel his heart pounding in his ears, his breaths becoming heavier and heavier in his chest forcing him to push them out. It was a rare thing for Luckas to actually feel the tension of a situation this way, if it was Adam’s intention or not to push a healthy sense of dread into him; it was working like a charm. “Agility training my ass!” He muttered out under his breath, finding a place to hide in a hollowed out trunk, his ears following the sounds of the chains coming closer and closer. Luckas was a good enough hunter to be able to tell how far and from which directions sounds were coming from, he knew better than almost anyone how to be silent, how to stay hidden, but he wasn’t really used to being the hunted one. His cover wasn’t safe for too long, only maybe a minute, before the rattling sounds became faster and louder as something that was undoubtedly moving closer at great speed. Luckas only had a split second to move before the trunk was smashed to bits. This wasn’t going well. Not at all.

Raven’s Camp - About 2 months ago

Luckas smirked slightly, looking down from the tree branch he was perched on as he watched a black ball of fur frantically search the bushes, following his scent. It took a bit of work for Stalker to finally get the hang of playing hide and seek, but the puppy was getting better and better at it the more they practiced. Luke readied himself as Stalker started to sniff his way under the tree he was hiding in, circling it a few times before emitting a long howl to indicate he had found his prey. Luckas sneaked his way along the branch carefully as not to put too much strain on the wood and passed on to the adjacent tree, slowly and quietly making his way down to ground level, one eye minding the pup’s movements as he was still focused on the tree for the moment as he started to pace away. Luckas didn’t make it very far, only about five or six steps away before Stalker suddenly stilled, ears perking up as he caught the sound of Luke’s boot crushing a patch of grass. “Fuck.” Luckas whispered under his breath, not minding with stealth any longer and bolting his way amongst the trees, watching with the corner of his eyes as the wolf disappeared in the bushes instead or running straight after him. Stalker had vanished within only a few seconds and Luckas had completely lost track of him.

Luke kept running, his eyes scanning his surroundings until he found a good climbable tree and made a turn for it, sprinting towards one of the lowest branches and leaping to grab hold of it and pull himself up. It would have worked perfect if Stalker hadn’t jumped out of nowhere and latched onto his ankle, weighing him down. “Shit, shit, shit...” Luckas muttered, failing to free his ankle and feeling his hold on the tree branch slip further and further until he was forced to let go, dropping down onto the ground with an audible ‘thud’. Stalker barked cheerfully pouncing on Luckas and laying across his chest. Luke groaned, slamming his palm against the earth a couple of times. “Alright, alright, I yield!” He muttered. “At least you didn’t try to sit on my head this time.” He chuckled patting the wolf gently before pushing him aside so that he could sit up. “So, what’s the score then, champ? Fifteen to none?” He asked, snickering as Stalker circled around sniffing him excitedly, a cold wet nose poking around the back of his neck and causing an involuntary shiver down his spine. “Alright, alright, champ, settle down... Stalker, Stalker, sit.” He commanded, immediately scratching the wolf behind the ears as he obeyed. “Well done, bud... You really got me there, didn’t you? Yes you did, you bad, bad, wolf. You’re a bad wolf, yes you are... A big bad wolf...” Luckas sighed softly going into silence as he ruffled Stalker’s fur; the wolf sitting absolutely motionless aside from a happy tail lifting up a small cloud of dirt as it swept across the ground.

“You still need to learn to stay though, don’t you, champ? I can’t have you following me out of here, we’ll both be in a lot of trouble if you do that.” Luckas whispered to the wolf as if telling him a secret. “We can’t have none of that. I go to Blackpond, you stay here with the rest of the pack.”
Stalker seemed to strongly disagree with Luke’s words as he emitted growls, barks and short howls in protest, sounding pretty much as though he was scolding his friend.
“Hey, hey... Don’t you take that tone with me, mister... I go, you stay. I goooo.... You staaaay..” Luckas stated playfully, poking the wolf on his snout with his index finger. Stalker huffed, uttering yet a few annoyed barks and howls, pushing Luke’s hand away with his paw and laying down, looking up at Luckas with his most adorable and innocent expression. Luke shook his head, an amused snicker escaping him as he stared at the wolf. “Yes, you’re adorable, champ, but you still can’t go with me. Sorry.” He said, patting the wolf and chuckling as Stalker rolled on his side demanding belly rubs. “Besides, someone needs to keep that Beast Boy in line when I’m away... We don’t want that guy getting too comfortable, do we, champ? No we don’t... It’s my territory... MINE... And he better not forget it.” Luckas couldn’t help a spiteful tone from crossing his voice at the thought of Aiden, but he pushed it aside, calmly rubbing the wolf’s side for a few long moments before giving him one final pat and jumping to his feet. “Come on, we’re not done for the day yet, you lazy bum. I seriously need to stop spoiling you.”


Luckas had been running for a long while at random, being chased from hiding spots, knocked down from tree branches, more than once had the chains caught his ankles and dragged him across the ground, before releasing him and disappearing within the forest. The sun had risen and was high up in the sky by the time Luke started to consider admitting to the fact that he was getting tired and he was nowhere near figuring out how to end that little game Adam had started, when he finally understood what he was doing wrong when he remembered his training sessions with Stalker. The wolf could catch his scent, the wolf could hear him... Luckas had never managed to hide from him for long because of that, but this was metal... Metal could chase him down, and it could hurt him, but it couldn’t find him. He had been so stupid to run and hide from it as though it was a living creature, like his wolf. Adam had been finding him easily, because Luckas hadn’t been hiding from him; he had been so distracted with the metal chains that he barely realized that for the chains to hurt him, Adam had to find him first. Once he realized that, the game became a lot easier; not easy, but easier. It was with some effort that Luckas managed to hide from Adam, quietly waiting for an opportunity to sneak up on the man. The opportunity to strike arose as Adam passed Luckas’ hiding spot, seeming completely unaware of his presence. Luckas took the opportunity by pouncing at the man armed with a sharp rock. The unexpected attack was successful in knocking Adam off his feet and for a moment Luckas had the man on the ground with a sharp rock pressed to his jugular, but only for a moment. Soon enough Luckas felt the metal chains wrapping around his neck and pulling him away from Adam, choking him slightly but releasing him as soon as Adam was free to stand up straight. “Good.” The man mumbled simply in what Luckas assumed was praise; he was honestly too annoyed to care.
“Good! Are we done?” Luckas muttered out as he regained his breath.
“No.” Adam replied.
Luckas pushed himself to stand and glared right at Adam. “No?”
Adam shook his head and pointed to where Amber was still standing by the remaining wooden chest. The girl waved cheerfully at Luckas as she opened the lid of the chest and more chains started to slither their way out of the wooden container. As they came closer Luckas noticed that, instead of iron spheres, the ends of these chains contained spear-shaped blades. “Oh... You... unbelievable... ASSHOLE!” Luckas shouted at Adam, as he immediately began to flee into the trees once again.

- about an hour or so later -

When Luckas reached his room again after training he had several cuts and bruises on his legs arms and torso, as well as one long cut on his left cheek where he had barely avoided the sharp end of Adam’s chains; it slicing right past his head. Luckas groaned, removing his blood-stained shirt and tossing it to the floor as it was nearly shredded to bits and therefore useless.
“Adam really did a number on you, hm, Lukey?” Sam’s voice sounded behind him in a curious and nearly amused tone.
“He did.” Luckas agreed a bit coldly, as he rummaged through his things for a clean shirt.
“You should have that cut on your face taken care of before it scars.” She advised.
Luckas stopped what he was doing to glance at Sam over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of her sitting on the chair by the window. She didn’t look upset, but Luckas had a very strong feeling that Amber had been speaking to her about some things. “What’s one more scar?” He mumbled simply. “I rather like the idea, to be honest.”
Sam didn’t answer him, which in itself was something; she always had something to say, instead she stood from her seat and paced her way to where Luckas was standing with his back stubbornly turned to her still. “If something cuts you deep enough that you want to remember it, Lukey; then you let it scar.” She mumbled, calmly tracing her fingers along the brand on his left shoulder.
Luckas winced at the touch as if the mark still burned him somehow, turning abruptly to face Sam with an angry spark in his eyes. “Don’t touch me.” He muttered at her. “Just don’t. I never said it was okay.”
“You never said it wasn’t.” Sam replied calmly, a look of genuine shock and confusion crossing her green eyes. “At least have those cuts cleaned, if you won’t get them healed.” She insisted, slowly reaching towards the cut on his cheek.
Luckas snorted in response to Sam’s statement, grabbing her arm as she reached for his face, feeling his grip a bit more forceful and a bit more angry than he intended. His eyes locked on hers for a moment and followed her gaze to the tattoo on his forearm. He watched her eyes change, gradually, as if browsing through an array of emotions and trying to settle for one; yellow streaks of light exploding and fading along the irises like bolts of lightning. After what felt like a really long moment had passed, Sam pulled her arm from Luke’s grip. “Fine.” She muttered at him, turning away and returning to the window, not sitting at the chair but leaning against the sill.
“What is it?” Luckas asked with a sigh.
“Nothing.” Sam replied, not turning to look at him.
“Say it, Sammy... I know you want to say something... Go on.” Luckas insisted, impatiently.
“What else is there to say, really? You don’t listen to me... So fine.”
“Fine... FINE... I’m really, really, starting to hate that bloody word!” Luckas muttered. “Come on, tell me how badly this will end for me... You know you want to...”
“Is this a fucking a joke, to you, Luckas!?” Sam cut him off, still not looking at him. “Is it!? You should hate that word, that word is the sound of me giving up on your shit. Let’s just see you pull the same amount of crap you’ve been pulling the past few months once that happens.”
“Are you threatening me, Mistress?” Luckas questioned. “You know, if you want to, if you think it’s best, then order me around like you do the rest of your minions... Play me like the little pawn we both know you think I am... Do that! I’ll play along. I can be a good pet if that’s what you want from me, but don’t say you give a shit, and don’t say I have a choice if you don’t really want to give me one. Make up your fucking mind, Sammy; do you or don’t you want to own me? Huh? Tell me!”
“I do give a shit Luckas. I kind of wish I didn’t at this point, but... FINE. You know what I think already.” Sam started calmly, turning to face Luckas with an undeniably resentful look in her eyes. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I understand. I do. I understand why you like it there so much... She helps you with your abandonment issues, you help her with her little revenge fantasies and you both have a part to play in each other’s sickness. It works. I see that, but you know... There’s only one way that this can end, because it’s my job to see to it and so help me; I will... So this is me giving a shit the only way I can, because I can’t change what’s already happening and you are in denial. So there, Luckas... Enjoy your freedom.” Sam spat the last words as she passed him by, stopping to firmly slap him on his injured cheek. “And get that healed before you run home to your whore; that’s an order, pet.”

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson'

0.00 INK

[Otium 17, morning]

Sam didn’t want to make a habit out of entertaining visitors in person, but this case was different, she wouldn’t pretend otherwise, so she commanded that particular unexpected visitor to be brought straight to her in the library. Ezekiel objected, as it was his usual lately, but Sam ignored him. It wasn’t that she didn’t see the danger in such a decision, rather she believed she hadn’t taken a close enough look at it yet. Crystal Rivers had a reputation that Sam could understand better than almost anyone; a great deal of it originated from name alone and another great deal from escaping Death’s clutches, repeatedly. That wasn’t to say the woman hadn’t earned said reputation, but what exactly she had done to earn it remained unknown, her nature remained unknown, and Sam wasn’t too pleased with not knowing. Ignorance was the only true danger in the world; she made that mistake before.

The woman was led into the room by a servant girl and shown to the seat across from Sam; a comfortable stuffed chair, identical to the one Sam herself was sitting on, lined with dark red velvet. In between the two chairs there was a short table with tea and biscuits. Sam smirked noting how the woman had not taken the seat as if calmly awaiting permission. “Please sit, Miss Rivers. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Crys smiled as she accepted the seat offered to her, her expression remaining unmoving although she was a bit amused at how direct that woman could be without coming off as aggressive. It was as though every little thing about her words was expertly calculated in the mere seconds it took her to speak them. “You know who I am.” She noted simply. “So you must know, or at least assume, the reason why I’ve come here. Probably the same reason why you agreed to see me instead of allowing your lackey to claim he was the one in charge of this place.”

“Lackey is a bit of a strong term. I’m sure you’d not enjoy it if I were to call the people under your command such a thing, would you?” Sam questioned calmly, pouring them both tea. “Besides, Zeke probably assumed you had come to talk business. If you have, Miss Rivers, he would be the man to talk to and I’d be only wasting your time. However, this is still my house. I’ve not denied that. In fact I’ve told the Black Knight Captain not too long ago exactly where to find me. You asked for the Lord or Lady of this Manor, and that is one claim I would never allow another to make on my behalf.”

“I have, brothers and sisters, Milady. You have lackeys. You can gather a pack of rats and call them wolves all you like: they still won’t howl at the moon.” Crys smiled accepting the tea that Sam was offering, holding the cup in her hands but not drinking. “I’ve heard plenty of this house, some stories truly bizarre, and I’ll admit they got me curious. As much as the fact that your people, or perhaps your... Associate’s people. Would associate be more acceptable? Perhaps his people have been everywhere in Blackpond pushing people away, but not us. They’ve stayed away from us.”

Sam chuckled at the woman’s words, calmly sipping from her cup of tea before replying. “Please, call me Sam. I absolutely detest being called a Lady in any way. I don’t have much tolerance for formalities of this sort. Perhaps you have a point, however it’d be unwise of anyone to underestimate a pack of rats. They are remarkably intelligent and resilient creatures; not to mention they are virtually anywhere and it is near impossible to get rid of them completely. Eliminating wolves completely would be just a matter of unleashing some expert hunters and laying some carefully placed traps. Predators are creatures of habits, Miss Rivers, while scavengers adapt to survive; if you poison one food supply after a couple of deaths they learn to avoid the poison and seek sustenance elsewhere. They smell it in the air, you see?”

“They also eat one another if food becomes scarce.” Crys pointed out, sipping the tea. “Am I the poison in this analogy then, Sam? And, since we are dismissing all formalities I would appreciate that you call me Crys.”

“Poison represents all forms of danger, Crys; so you tell me whether or not that applies to you and your own. I understand your presence in Blackpond and we have no actual interest in the city... It’s a convenient place to do business, but we don’t particularly mind who’s in charge of what. Nor do we require the city to be in its current state to operate there. If it’s your intention to change things who are we to get in your way? We could easily adapt or, worse case scenario, we could relocate. Let the wolves fight over territory while the rats live another day. There’s no shame in that.”

“Is that what you would call the nature of your business, Sam? Scavenging?” Crys questioned. “I see that the goal of a pack of rats is to feed... What are yours?”

“I’m an enabler, Crys. The nature of my business is that of all businesses, yours included. Name one, any one, and we’re involved as well. I could even help you in your goals if you like. I see no reason not to.”

“Alright, I’ll name one; child slavery.” Crys started. “That’s a business, Sam. How involved are you in that?”

Sam flinched, only slightly, taking her time with setting her empty tea cup on the table. “Asher Hearst is an associate, well... An associate of an associate would be a better way to put it. I know he is currently a wanted man for dealing with such things” She admitted. “Before you ask, I know nothing of the man’s whereabouts. Trust, I’d have no problem in handing him over to you or the Guard; I’m not particularly fond of him in any way, but he’s unfortunately too smart to disclose his location, even to us.” The woman grabbed a biscuit from the plate and bit into it, slowly chewing on it as if to give herself time to think. “I must insist, however, Crys, that if you’ve come here to talk business you direct your questions to Ezekiel. He would have better answers for you. I don’t usually concern myself with the particulars.”

“You know we’ve been hunting Asher.” Crys’ tone was noticeably displeased, she had only told Nicholas and one other person about this.

“Perhaps you’d want to ask his son where to find him.” Sam advised. “Estranged as they are he would still know the man’s habits better than anyone. I would know a thing or two about that. I know you had a close relationship with your father however, is that true? He must have been a remarkable man.”

“My father was the most remarkable man I’ve known.” Crys replied simply, emptying her cup of tea and setting it down. “I’m sorry you and your father didn’t get along, Sam. That must have been tough on you, no?”

“I adapted.” Sam replied dryly. “Not all can be born wolves, no?”

“No, not all can.” Crys agreed, a kind smile crossing her features. “We are more alike than I expected however. My mother taught me to never underestimate an opponent’s intelligence by telling them unnecessary lies. I can see that that’s a notion you clearly understand.”

“Your mother sounds like a smart woman. Were you as close to her as you were to your father?”

“Not exactly. We had a complicated relationship, she did some things I was really angry about, but... I understand her better now. I still loved her very much, we just disagreed about a lot of things.” Crys shrugged, helping herself to one of the biscuits. “So, what about your mother?”

“I was one year old when I saw her last. I do remember, at least I think I do, her telling me a story. My father said I was being ridiculous, that I couldn’t possibly remember; I was too young, but I remember. She told me how dragons would travel miles away from their lairs and lay their eggs in depths of a volcano. When the younglings would hatch they’d have to fend for themselves until they were old enough to find their way home. I always thought that meant that one day I’d find her again.” Sam chuckled softly at herself. “That probably won’t happen. I don’t remember anything of her besides that story. It’s unlikely that she’s still alive either way.”

Crys nodded along to Sam’s words. “You don’t think she’s still alive? I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, I really do.” Sam smiled. “See, you’re a very nice person, Crys. The Ravens’ Captain, she’s a nice person too. Not everyone would have admitted to killing a complete stranger’s loved one like that. That takes character, I appreciate that.”

“You have a strange way of appreciating people.” Crys snorted. “I mean, I’m sure that you understand what will inevitably happen.”

“Yes, but that has nothing to do with my appreciation. It’s not personal. If I took everything personally I wouldn’t be involved in so many things, Crys. That is the point of our little analogy, no? What separates us is the fact that I’ll do whatever it takes. If the cost is nice people like you, then so be it. I understand respecting my enemies, their abilities and intelligence, and appreciating their qualities. It doesn’t mean I’d sacrifice my objectives for them. In the end of the day we’re all but grains of sand. No one is special.”

“No one?” Crys questioned, a tone of disbelief in her words as she leaned forward to take another biscuit from the table. “I thought you told Mageria Luckas was very special to you. Was that not true?”

Sam froze halfway through reaching for the teapot, it was just a momentary flinch, but it was clearly there. She shook her head resuming the activity and refilling Crys’ cup without asking. “I didn’t lie, no. He is very special to me, but then I’m just a grain of sand as well; how much do I matter really?”

“Fair enough.” Crys chuckled. “I suppose that’s just a matter of perspective, no?”

“It’s the truth, that’s what it is. Maybe it’s not the most hopeful view of the world, but it’s undeniably true. Our wants and needs, all the pain we endure in Life, eventually our Deaths, are incredibly small occurrences in the end. So, my sacrifices mean so little in the grand scheme of things, I see no need to make that much of a deal of them. If they hurt it won’t be for long. Not even that lasts forever, right?”

“I guess that’s logical, in a way, Sam.” Crys smiled. “I just find it sad. I mean yes, eventually all pain subsides, and yes we’re all very small compared to the whole of the Universe; that’s true. However, I would much rather see the world from the point of view of a grain of sand. You know, I’d rather say that the Universe is so much greater than myself, than to think of it as I’m insignificant.” She stated simply, standing up from the chair as if excusing herself. “Our rationality should never take such hold of us that we survive without a reason to other than practical objectives. Life is in the details, in the smallest of things, I’d risk my survival any day for those little things. Those nice people aren’t just specks of sand to me. I’m a very nice person, as you can see, but I am a wolf at my core. Sad as your perspective may be and as much as I sympathize, and I do, keeping them alive is my objective; get in my way and I’ll show you what I do to hunters in my territory.”

“Such aggression, Miss Rivers. This is just the sort of thing that can cause a person a great amount of grief in life.”

“There’s only one way I know to avoid grief, Sam. And the toll that takes is one too high for me to pay.”

“Don’t you ever consider that if you had not been grieving your mother’s death, Crys, that you may not have lost your clan all those years ago?”

“That’s a possibility. Although, never losing anything would also mean never finding anything new. Where would I be if I had never gone anywhere or learned anything? Like I said; there is a price, one I’m not sure I’m willing to pay.”

“See, that’s where you and I differ... You believe paying that price is a choice you can make. I know for a fact it is not.” Sam snickered. “Sad as you may find my way of seeing the world, it is an inevitability that someone like you would eventually see it as well. The soul, much like every part of ourselves, has its limitations after all. If a person screams loud enough, for long enough, their voice inevitably gives, breaks. They lose the ability and the will to scream. They fade into silence, into compliance. Such is pain; feel it with enough intensity, for long enough, and it takes away your ability and your will to feel much of anything at all. You can allow yourself to die then, or you can live with what you’ve become, beyond that there is no choice. The people under my command, one way or another, understand this. What we are is something we have to accept in order to live and everything else is a consequence of that one choice.”

“Every action is a choice, Sam.”

“Actions are consequences of who and what a person is, Crys. A physical manifestation of one’s nature. Coming here, talking to me, that wasn’t as much a choice as it is a reflection of who you are. You need to know me, to understand. Then, if killing me becomes inevitable, you can tell yourself why. Here is where it becomes complicated though, because you do understand. If anyone is able to, it’s you. Not many people would be able to sincerely imagine a moment when pain becomes intense to the point it dulls everything else, but you... You, Miss Rivers, you’ve felt that pain and more. Do you wonder why you haven’t gone insane like all the others before you? What is that one little thread that keeps you whole and how long before it breaks apart?” Sam heaved a long sigh. “My apologies, Miss Rivers, these questions are a tad bit too intrusive, are they not? I’m sure you understand the nature of my curiosity though.”

Crys had kept the pleasant smile upon her lips, but her eyes had hardened at Sam’s words. It wasn’t just how deeply they cut or how casual the woman kept herself while doing so, but the fact that Crys found herself listening, and in part agreeing. In the end she wasn’t sure what to make of that woman other than she was dangerous. “There’s no need to apologize, Mistress. I do understand the curiosity. It is unfortunate that I can’t really give you any concrete answers. I just am... What I am... And I’ve accepted that.”

Sam snorted a laugh at the response. “Fair enough, Miss Rivers. Now, was there anything else? As interesting as this has been, I do have some matters that require my attention today.”

“Far from me to keep you from your affairs, Mistress... And don’t worry, I remember the way out.” Crys spoke, bowing in a short courtesy. “This surely has been a fascinating visit.”

“Surely.” Sam agreed, watching as the blind woman exited the room. She remained seated for yet a few minutes, finishing her tea, before someone finally called her away to something important.

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

[Otium 17, early afternoon]

Luckas was a bit confused to find Amber waiting for him instead of Adam in the training field that afternoon. The girl smiled sweetly as he approached, her blue eyes sparkling in childish delight. That was a bad sign. A very bad sign. Luke knew that much for sure.

“Nice of you to show up, Lukey! Ready for today’s exercise?” She asked, grinning widely.

“Hmm...” Luckas mumbled, looking at her with suspicion for a moment before glancing around in search of Adam, sincerely wondering if she had found a way to dispose of the man to take over the training session. “What are you doing here? Where’s Adam?”

“Don’t worry I didn’t bury him in the woods or anything... He’ll be here soon to observe.” Amber said cheerfully. “We just agreed that the best way to assess your skill is for you to fight someone you’ve never fought before. Someone who can... Catch you off your guard.”

“You?” Luckas asked, honestly surprised and unsure of whether he should be wary or amused of this situation.

“Yeeep... Me.” Amber replied with a proud smirk. “Would you rather it be Zeke? That ended so well last time, didn’t it?”

“Shut up.” Luckas muttered. “Zeke is going to get his.”

“So cranky since you came back, Lukey... Are you feeling a bit homesick already? Hm?” Amber snickered, tilting her head to the side and staring at him as if trying to assess his state of mind. “Poor little puppy...” She added in a soft and condescending tone. “Come on, take your frustrations out on me. You can do it, I have faith in you.” She playfully encouraged.

Luckas sighed softly. “Not like I have much of a choice, right? Should I fight you empty handed or...?” Luckas asked, spreading his arms wide open to show he had no weapons on his person.
Amber nodded, unable to hold back the smirk from forming itself across her features as she spread her arms in a similar manner to his. “Last one to the weapon rack gets a brand new scar.” She teased, nodding towards the stands that held the training weapons, not waiting for him to express acknowledgement before dashing towards them.

“Fuck.” Luckas muttered out running after her. Luckas had never even seen Amber actually fight before, he knew she was very skilled with ranged weapons, and that she was fast as hell; both physically and mentally so. She rarely favored strength in the body types she chose for herself, but then Luckas wasn’t exactly known himself for his physical strength.

Amber reached the weapon rack before Luckas and in order to take a blade he was first forced to duck under a violent slash that would have certainly slit his throat right open if the weapon had been sharp. Quick as the wind, the girl was. Luke pulled a short-sword from the rack and struck, meeting nothing but air, Amber had seen him coming a mile away and moved. Her training sword poked his torso. “Deeead. Care to try again?” she teased.

Luckas snorted, knowing very well that Amber meant to annoy him as much as possible. The girl paced slowly to the center of the training field and Luckas followed. “I’ve seen you do better Lukey. If you hold back on me I’m gonna have to punish you,” she warned.

Luckas didn’t respond, he was trying to keep some semblance of focus, his hand gripping the sword just firmly enough that it wouldn’t fly from his hand when struck. He was still more tense than it would be wise, while Amber was practically bouncing in place waiting for him to make a move. Luke tilted his head to the left and then to the right, trying to relieve some tension but not wanting to take his eyes off of Amber for a fraction of a second. She seemed to be waiting for him and Luckas didn’t like that at all.

Amber rolled her eyes at his hesitation. “How are you not dead yet?” she questioned. “Come on.”

Luckas snorted, raising the sword and striking, finally, at Amber’s midsection. The girl parried and countered with a series of quick strikes. Luckas blocked the first few and dodged others with considerable ease, which caused Amber to flinch. “Bad, Lukey, you’ve been playing around, haven’t you?” She backstepped and circled around Luckas a few times. “Hmmmph... You guard yourself well, but you come short on the whole attacking thing; which is the fun part I might add... We need to fix that.”

Luckas slowly turned as Amber circled him, facing the girl at all times and not answering any of her comments. He was a bit confused by her reaction just then. First he assumed Amber just knew everything he did and second, he didn’t understand why that would faze her. The words ‘we need to fix that’ sure did something to put him on edge, and rightfully so, she was thinking of an approach and Luke wondered to what effect.

“We need someone you hate. And I don’t mean Beast Boy type hate. I mean HATE.” She mumbled under her breath, but audible enough for Luke to catch. The first thing on his mind was ‘yes, Lady already tried that’ but of course Ess wouldn’t cross certain lines. Amber had no lines and, like it or not, she knew him quite well.

Amber stopped in front of Luke and changed her appearance to a mirror image of him. Even the girl’s stare, blue as it might be, was a much accurate impersonation of him. Luckas snorted. “This won’t work.” Echo followed his voice as Amber spoke the exact same words at the exact same time. “Stop that.” Again.

Luckas moved and she mirrored his movement exactly, like a reflection. He couldn’t even tell himself it wasn’t working, because the change in his expression was visible in her as well. A chill ran down Luke’s spine and he realized he was sweating cold. Amber might know a lot about him, but how could she know this? Luckas tightened his grip on the sword as he struck at his ‘clone’, metal striking metal in a rapid succession. Luckas saw contempt in his own expression, a mocking grin that was very much his own and he just wanted to erase it.

The fight was evenly matched for quite a few minutes, but despite holding his own Luckas was increasingly frustrated, even more so when Amber managed to get inside his guard and slap him in the face. He brought the training sword down on his clone with violence, once again hitting only metal. He pushed against Amber’s sword and when he saw the grin plastered on his mirror image he realized that was stupid. Amber brought her sword down in one quick motion, stepping aside so that Luckas lost his balance and stumbled forward. Amber’s sword hit him hard in the back and he fell to the ground. He rolled away immediately to avoid another blow and kicked Amber’s feet from under her. Luke rushed to try and pin Amber down. Even though he managed to pin her momentarily and struck her hard in the face with the hilt of his weapon, she still managed to put both feet to his abdomen and shove him off.

Luke stumbled backwards for a couple of steps, but caught his balance quick enough to avoid a blow to the face. He had no idea how Amber recovered so quick, but she was on her feet and on him in a matter of seconds. Luckas couldn’t help a satisfied smirk as he caught sight of the bloody gash caused by the pommel of his training sword; blood trickling down her face - his own face - the same smirk plastered upon it.

More blows were exchanged, this time mistakes were being made more often on both sides, or so it seemed... Luckas wasn’t sure how much of what Amber was doing was intentional under any circumstance. Finally it all seemed to end when she stabbed at his chest and overreached, Luckas spun away from the blunt weapon and gripped Amber’s wrist so that it forced the training sword out of her hand. He twisted her arm in such a way that it seemed very close to breaking, forcing her down to her knees. Aside from a subtle groan she didn’t seem to even feel it. Amber grabbed a handful of dirt with her free hand and tossed at Luke’s face over her shoulder, freeing her arm from his grip and elbowing him hard on the face. The blow stunned Luckas enough, but before he could try to recover a fist followed... and then another...

Everything flashed red for a minute... Then black...

“Wake uuuup...”

“Wake uuup...”

“Come on you pathetic little shit... wake up...”

Luckas felt he was drowning, and awoke to the sound of his own voice. He wasn’t drowning, Amber was sitting on his chest and pressing the training sword slowly against his throat. She still wore his face, a manic grin marking his own features. “Are we done playing then?” Amber asked. “And you were doing so well too... tsk...”

Luckas could still breathe, with difficulty, but he could. Amber was still trying to push him into a reaction, but her words were lost on Luckas. He closed his eyes again... Black...

“Sweetness... Wake uup...”

It took a few moments for Luke to register the change in the voice speaking over him... A familiar giggle piercing his ears and sending shivers down his spine. For a second he could smell lilacs... and lavender... and herbal tea... but that... That was just his mind playing tricks on him, because once that second passed he became very aware of where he actually was.

“I said... Are we done playing? I thought we were having fun?”

The body weighing him down moved very slowly into a different position now straddling his waist, the metal pressing down on his windpipe was replaced by a hand. Luckas tensed, still refusing to open his eyes and look. Strands of curly hair tickled his face and the voice now wasn’t so far above his head; it was whispering straight into his ear.

”Aren’t you? Having fun? Hmmm?” She laughed. It sounded choked and pained. ”Isn’t this what you wanted from me, Sweetness? What you really want? We all end up where we started eventually... This is what we are, you and I, you’re just a little monster and I’m...” She laughed again, and Luckas felt teeth slowly sinking into his ear lobe. ”Business... Illusion... We’re not special, Sweetness... You’re not special... to me.”

Luckas reacted before he even thought to open his eyes. When he fully regained consciousness he was the one pinning down the woman. He knew it wasn’t Ess, or at least he hoped he knew, either way he was very much determined to choke the life out of her. “It’s not true. It’s not true. Not true!” He muttered over and over. Red glowing behind his eyes, spreading over the blue to no effect other than further the illusion. Luke was pressing down on her stomach with one knee and gripping her throat with both hands, squeezing, tighter and tighter by the second, not even flinching as she tried to pry them open. Luckas’ expression was beyond manic as he watched her strain for breath, tears trailing down porcelain skin, staining that pretty face he knew so well... If he could muster one coherent thought he might have wondered why Amber wouldn’t change back, but he was too far gone to care.

When the woman was just about slipping out of consciousness Luckas was grabbed and pulled away from her. He was then tossed to the ground painfully. Adam stood over him for a moment as if to make sure he was going to stay down before walking away to check on Amber. Luckas didn’t turn to look, but he could hear her wheezing and heaving violently; her voice momentarily still sounding like Ess, finally changing as she started to laugh. “Well done, Lukey!”

“Screw you.” Luckas snorted, slowly getting off the ground and walking towards the house.

[4 months ago]

‘I died. I died and I am buried. I died and I am buried. No one is coming for me. I’m going to choke to death and no one will save me. I’m going to drown and no one will ever know I existed. Maybe I don’t exist... Maybe I’m not real... I’m not real... This isn’t real... I’m dead...’ The echoes inside Luke’s mind were the only sound as he found himself trapped inside a coffin-like box; his breaths short and heavy. Time had stopped for him. His eyes were blind... At first his body ached from being trapped in such an enclosed space, but even the pain had long left him... And now there was only... Nothing. At first, as it was usual, Luckas had struggled, and fought, and screamed, even knowing it was pointless. He fought and screamed just for the sake of proving he was still alive. After a while though, being alive just didn’t feel as important anymore and he fell into darkness and silence.

“Did you know Lukey, that once your eyes get used to the dark, your mind creates the illusion that it isn’t quite so dark anymore?” A familiar voice whispered in the back of his mind. “And... If you spend enough time in the shadows, light actually becomes hurtful. See, love... If you spend enough time in the dark, it doesn’t matter whether or not you find the light, because in the end all the light will do is blind you.”

“Sammy...” The boy mumbled under his breath; his own voice failing him as he tried to push against the walls of his prison, his hands and fingertip aching from all the time already spent clawing at the wood of the box; every other pain and ache returning to his body as he resumed his fighting and struggling. Alternating from whines and pleas to curses and threats to whatever faceless figures had locked him up in the wooden box.


Essence had been in and out of sleep for the most part, finding herself lingering more in that limbo between dreaming and awake, still thinking about how it seemed like she could never sleep if she wanted to prevent those things she feared. Nightmares and invading telepaths. “Shhh Tala...” She mumbled with a slight annoyed tone, thinking she heard the wolf whimpering from outside with the pups, instead again came the subtle noises and a cold nose at her cheek. Ess sighed, opening her eyes to find her wolf staring at the other side of the tent, head cocked to one side. Slowly Ess sat up, rubbing at her eyes, a soft glow emanating from them as she stared over at Luckas, her expression shifting from hazy to amused curiosity. “Is....he dreaming Tala?” She whispered quirking a brow when her friend began to fidget and squirm, a muffled whine escaping him. “..Thought he didn’t dream...” Ess wondered aloud, inching closer towards her friend and paused at the sound of a name: Sammy. Her brows narrowed at the name as she remembered the woman and that smile she wore that seemed to make her skin crawl. She still wasn’t sure if it was from annoyance, mistrust, or spite. Either way, she had admitted to herself how much she did despise how pretty the woman was and the way she had looked when discussing Luckas. Her cheeks began to flush with a purplish red, her chest tightening the more she thought about it. Ess had told herself she wasn’t competing, but her actions, although not always obvious, still showed a competitive motive within. ‘Is it my business...or isn’t it?’ She thought, noticing a pain forming against her jaw, the only thing alerting her to the furious grinding of her teeth. Closing her eyes she let herself breathe, slowly outstretching a hand but never touching her friend. “Luckas...” She called, wondering if that would even be enough to wake him. When he didn’t wake, his squirming appearing to increase she sighed, letting a soft hum escape her lips. “If I sing...you’ll hear me..” She whispered, still keeping her voice low but loud enough to make our her familiar words.

You burn like fire...
Haunting my dreams...
Hidden desires...
Chosen realities...

How did you ever know...
To assure the danger...
Within your eyes..
How did you ever question..
My love inside the fear..
Denying all ties....


Luckas stirred, mumbling incoherently under his breath as the silence faded to the sound of a familiar voice; a voice different from the echoes inside his mind. Slowly he became more and more aware of himself until he began making out words and focused on them until he felt himself completely conscious. The realization that he had been dreaming startled Luckas a bit more than the actual dream in itself and as he awoke he involuntarily shot up before even opening his eyes and exhaled strongly as if he’d been holding his breath all along, slowly opening his eyes and blinking as he focused on Ess’ face. “Hmmm... Am I awake now... Or is this one of those dreams where it looks like you’re waking up, but you’re really not?” He mumbled, looking a little bit confused as he scratched his head sleepily. “Is it morning, or...?” He asked absently, looking around but not seeming to come to any conclusions or care much about what time it was really. “I forgot I was here, I think...” He concluded.

Ess’ eyes opened when she heard Luckas wake up, taking in a long breath. Falling silent she let her eyes move over him from head to toe as if she were assessing his disorientation before nodding. “Well....let’s see...” She smirked, reaching over and pinching Luckas on the arm hard. “I’m pretty sure we are awake....you were dreaming? Didn’t look like it was completely pleasant. Are you alright?” Ess whispered, the color in her cheeks slowly diffusing back to their pale tone. She gave a sincere, concerned smile before handing Luckas her flask, offering him a drink. “Want to talk about it?”

“Heeey...” Luckas whined. “I would take your word for it, you know.” He playfully complained, faking a look of annoyance. “Nonetheless... If I was dreaming you wouldn’t be pinching me... Not in the arm anyways...” He snickered, stretching with a little groan and sighing. “It didn’t look completely pleasant? Does that mean it looked partially pleasant from your point of view, Lady? How curious.” He mumbled, rubbing his eyes and laying back down even though he didn’t feel like he would go back to sleep. “When I was in the orphanage... After it was discovered what I could do.... Well, people do cruel things out of fear, it seems. Can’t completely blame them for it... One of my recurring punishments was being locked inside a wooden trunk. I dream of it sometimes... It’s not unusual, just doesn’t usually happen when I’m, you know... Here.”

Ess laughed lightly, shaking her head and playfully leaned in closer towards Luckas. “If you and I were both asleep, how would we know it? Does this mean you’ve had dreams about me before? Shouldn’t let all that creativity go to waste, hmm?” Letting her smile fade she sighed. “I didn’t mean it like that. I meant, you were squirming and whimpering...and then you said, ‘Sammy..’...” Ess paused taking in a deep breath and leaning back against Tala who simply stared at Luckas, wagging her tail. “I couldn’t tell much of what was going on in your head...you know, the norm.” She teased, pushing to hide the annoyance that came back at thinking of Sam. Quirking a brow she smiled again, “I am sorry I didn’t keep the nightmares away this time...maybe you can understand what those people did to you to an extent, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was not the correct way to go about it. You said it was a punishment....do you dream it randomly or is it triggered by something? If you seem better off here, then why not just stay here all the time?” She questioned, honestly curious for the answer. “If you were dreaming about being put in a wooden box, what did Sam have to do with it?” Ess muttered, a hint of contempt in her voice at the last question.

Luckas’ eyes widened momentarily at hearing he’d mentioned Sam’s name, but he didn’t address that fact at first. “Yes, in fact I’ve had dreams about you before... Is that surprising to you in some way? I mean, you’ve dreamed about me being pretty much everywhere if I recall correctly.” He smirked. “My dreams are... Not too different from that.” He stated casually, crossing his arms over his chest and staring straight up at the ceiling for a couple of moments before starting to answer to the series of questions Ess had asked in the order in which they were asked. “Well, I don’t know if it was actually meant to be punishment, but it was how I saw it. It was probably the only way to keep me from controlling others, supposedly they just never realized or never cared about the fact that it was just because it terrified me. As for the dreams, I don’t know if they are random or not exactly. I am definitely better off here, but I can’t... Yet...” He sighed. “Sometime though, maybe... And Sammy... It’s complicated... It’s not that she had anything to do with the box, directly, but... She was just the only person I could think to call for back then. Even while I thought she was dead.” He glanced towards Ess with a slightly apologetic look in his eyes for some reason. “That’s probably why I called her now.”

“Uh-huh...” Ess whispered with a shrug. “It makes sense, I guess I just still find it surprising even if it shouldn’t be. I’m sure, quite similar they are..” Rolling her eyes in a comical disbelief. “I know, there’s more to life and other things to focus on besides our own wants and desires. You’ve been hanging around a lot more lately, maybe you miss her.” Ess turned away, distracting herself with petting Tala, pulling herself further away from Luckas. “She seems awfully important to you...our pasts can be a tricky thing sometimes. I understand those ties better than some, I think.” Ess sighed, muttering into Tala’s fur, “I also understand when someone is hiding something...” Her voice went from fuzzy to inaudible as she muttered something about ‘a painted smile she knew too well.’ “Is that where you go when you leave here?” Ess asked, raising her head from Tala’s neck. “...Reason I ask is maybe I find it a bit...awkward and odd to be moving back and forth between women, hmm?” She forced a smile, trying to keep her tone light, yet the glow in her eyes faded leaving the silver outline of her pupils curiously dominate and unmoving, a hint of a blue vein appearing at the corner of her temple.

Luckas frowned momentarily, a look of curiosity crossing his expression quickly followed by one of confusion as Ess spoke. He didn’t exactly understand how the conversation had reached this exact topic and he didn’t know what was the meaning exactly behind the woman’s tone or the look in her eyes, but he suspected that whatever it was it might make him wish he was still asleep. “I don’t think I have quite thought about her while I’ve been here...I don’t actually have a habit of... Thinking about people while I’m not with them... Usually...” Luckas mumbled, unable to hide the fact this was an awkward topic of conversation for him. “That said, I guess I could say she is considerably important to me, yes. I have a room in her house, I use it for sleep when I’m not here, yes... And I don’t quite understand what the oddity here is exactly. I may not be all that well versed in what is normal social conduct, but as far as I know a lot of people know more than just one woman...” Snorting slightly he mumbled. “I can sure feel the awkward part of it though.”

Essence felt her entire body tense, letting her smile fade only a bit. “I see...” She said softly, dragging out the last word as if she were thinking, actually not understanding as she claimed to. Ess hated this feeling and how it was building, wincing at a sharp pain in her jaw she reached for her cheek and sighed at herself. She tried to pass off the stretching of her jaw as nothing out of the normal and turned so her back was facing Luckas, curling up to a line of pillows she had along the edge of the tent. “You’re right about people knowing more than just one woman or just one man and that’s not what catches me as odd. What caught me as odd was something deeper....But hey, no worries. It’s not like you and I are more than friends, right. Because IF we were, it would not be ok with me with you having a room at a woman’s house, who acts like you belong to her...no matter how sweet and innocent it appears.” Ess sighed and turned onto her back, staring up at the Oak tapestry hanging from above. “Maybe...I don’t like sharing either....”

“Well, you know I suck at ‘something deeper’ so if whenever you feel the need to elaborate on that, please do go ahead.” Luckas stated calmly, sitting up and turning to fully face Ess as he spoke. “And it’s a pretty huge house you know... Your tent is probably closer to Beast Boy’s bed than my room is to hers.” He pointed out raising an eyebrow at her, as if trying to mimic a playful expression, but not quite pulling it off. “Shall I get started on how he acts towards you now? Is this somewhat like that, then?” He asked, honest curiosity in his tone. “I mean... Uh...” He paused, not sure exactly how to finish the sentence. “I’m not sure what I mean... Never mind.” He muttered. “I’ll keep it in mind though... That IF we were, that would not be acceptable. I don’t think it constitutes sharing however, either way.” He stated.

A humorless laugh escaped her, brows narrowing once again, but still she kept her voice calm. “I thought I did explain it, I apologize.” Ess scoffed. “Aiden....may be in closer proximity to where I sleep than ‘Her’, but Aiden does not share where I sleep. So I don’t see that as a proper comparison...unless...” Ess unfurled her brows, a flash of violet passing over her irises. “Unless...sometimes you do. But hey, I’m sorry if it’s not my business...some things are a bit fuzzy on what exactly IS my business and what ISN’T. I also don’t care if you watch me sleep and I would very much care if my..” Ess emphasized her next words with a cold and dangerous tone. “...Friend Aiden there was watching me sleep...I may momentarily lose sight of who he is and slice out his eyes. The ONLY other male I have let sleep this close to me that wasn’t blood related, would be Jake and there is a huge reason for that. Well many reasons, actually, including the fact I feel absolutely safe with him and trust him. Perhaps that helps in explaining how I would see that as sharing?” Ess sat back up, glancing at Tala whose ears fell back when meeting Ess’ eyes and let out a soft whine before slipping back out the tent to tend to her pups.

“Oh, so it’s the fact we’re somewhat within the confinement of the same walls that bothers you?” Luckas asked, raising an eyebrow. “I suppose I can start camping out in the yard if it makes you feel any better...” He offered, a hint of annoyance in his tone. “And I don’t think I have ever said, or ever will say, that anything is not your business, Lady... I really just don’t get what the problem is... I mean, Sammy and I share a common... history... So to speak... But I don’t spend all my time with her when I’m not here, I don’t exactly think about her while I am here, I don’t drop everything and run off if she calls for me... So I don’t see how that would fall under the ‘sharing’ category. I mean, there was an incident or two, but it’s not like I would willingly share my sleeping quarters with her... Even so, Sammy is like an adoptive sister of sorts the way I see it.” Luckas said with a shrug, heaving a frustrated sigh as he fell silent. He couldn’t really understand why he was feeling the need to defend himself in this situation. It wasn’t a big deal after all... He hadn’t really done anything wrong. “Is it weird that I almost feel proud of myself, Lady? I actually managed to piss you off in my sleep.” He chuckled, running both his hands through his hair leaving it in a ruffled mess. “That’s almost brilliant, isn’t it?” He laughed, a slightly cheerful hint of amusement crossing his dark eyes. “Lady, you need to understand that, and I’m not saying it isn’t you business... Not what I’m saying... You need to understand that Sammy was the only person in my life for a very, very, long time who didn’t hate me, fear me, or hurt me. Even if she is clearly not that same person anymore... I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for her and... I... It’s complicated. It’s really, really, really... Complicated... With her. Difficult. And uncomfortable sometimes, but...” He ended the sentence in an awkward shrug and stopped talking.

Funny how talking was considered therapeutic; a way to sort out one’s thoughts and lead to a calming place. Funny indeed, especially when the more Luckas spoke the more annoyed Ess became, finding it almost pointless as if she were speaking to a feeble child. “I’M NOT PISSED OFF!” She belted out suddenly, surprised by the ferocity of her own voice. Ess blushed at herself and cleared her throat, speaking softer once again. “I’m not pissed off at YOU.” She insisted. “Maybe I’m a bit frustrated with YOU because I can’t seem to help you understand what I am saying.” Ess sighed, shuffling to her feet and walking out of the tent for some air. The nights were getting warmer now that Spring was here and the idea of Summer suddenly grossed her out; mostly with the idea of sleeping indoors. At least she would have the chance to sleep under the stars again. “Luckas...” She called gently. “The reason I keep mentioning I don’t know if it is or isn’t my business is because I feel like I’m intruding. In many ways, it’s not my business, but...” Ess trailed off a bit before turning her gaze to look at him, strong concern in her eyes as all her focus moved away from herself and only to him. “What did you mean when you said ’Willingly?’ Has something happened that shouldn’t have? If there’s one thing I was made to understand, is that even those closest have boundaries and they should know when not to cross them. I don’t flirt with Jake, Luckas. He’s like family and that’s just....” Ess made a disgusted face. “By the Twins...just gross and wrong on so many levels. If you look at your friend as family, I will be the last one to object to it, no matter what because I can’t tell you what to think or feel.” Shaking her head, a wounded look crossed her eyes, her smile forming once again, only now with an obvious sadness. “Maybe I wanted you to be calling me...because I’ll always hear you...and I’ll always find you. Do you ’Hear’ Sam when she calls to you...like when I call to you?” Ess asked, averting her eyes as if she feared the answer.

“Alright, you’re NOT pissed... Thanks for reassuring me...” Luckas mumbled, making an effort not to point out that it was surely unfair of Ess to be frustrated with him if she admitted to be the one unable to make him understand. It wasn’t as if he was trying to hide the fact that he didn’t understand, he’d made that pretty clear. Remaining still where he sat, Luckas followed Ess only with his eyes, keeping silent until she addressed him again. “You don’t intrude.” He mumbled quietly. “I don’t see why you’d think that.” Luckas leaned forward, resting his arms over his knees. “I’m not a woman you know, if something bothers me I make it clear.” He said, a playful smirk crossing his features. “I don’t quite get what you mean by ‘something that shouldn’t have’, but what I meant was that... I’ve woken up a couple of times and found Sam in my room... She just sits there sometimes, I think... Because she doesn’t sleep...” He sighed and stopped himself. “I can’t go into much detail here, she told me things in confidence...” He mumbled, shrugging dismissively and moving on. “It’s not like that though... I know where all the lines are drawn, you know, I’m not that... uh... Innocent.” Luckas stopped, unable to seriously use that word, and chuckled for a few seconds before getting back on track. “Lady... Sometimes dreams are only dreams. You are still the only voice in my head... The only real one at least.”

Holding back a smile she quirked a brow, her expression purely inquisitive, playing on Luckas’ words. “You’re not a woman? Reaaaally? Huh...” Ess teased, holding a straight face. “Well, it wouldn’t matter to me either way if you were or not.” Finally she let that sweet smile show through and shrugged. “I don’t intrude, huh? Famous last words...What I don’t understand is how you ask questions, clearing showing you don’t understand but then you answer my question or what I was hinting at. But, alright. Let’s define ‘something that shouldn’t happen.’ How about a hypothetical hmm? Girl and boy. Girl likes boy. Boy likes girl. Boy doesn’t see how much girl really likes him. Maybe even to the point she’d want to be intimate with him. You know, like some men pay women to play behind closed doors. So..” Ess snickered. “Boy is oblivious to how girl looks at him..yearns for him...and maybe even tries to sabotage any other chance he’d have at happiness because she wants him for herself. Example of something that shouldn’t happen. But ok, let’s go simpler..pray tell I lose you. Boy likes Girl. Boy tries hugging and kissing on her without her permission, but she gives in because she thinks it’s the norm and what she is suppose to do. That, is a fine lined example of abuse. Someone not accepting or respecting those lines you say you understand. So ok, maybe we are on the same level. Maybe you don’t understand quite what I mean yet. I do have a decade on you. Those were merely examples anyways.”

Ess stretched out across the log beside the fire she neglected nowadays to keep going, closing her eyes. “I wouldn’t ask you to tell me anything personal of your friend, just like I’d expect you not to talk about my personal business...just as I don’t talk about yours you relay to me in confidence.” Ess let out a long sigh, her lips twitching behind a smile. “Your voice is the only one in my head too, Luckas. Maybe, I just don’t trust some things I’ve seen and maybe I’ve grown more protective of you as of late. See what happens when you hang around so much?” Ess groaned, laying her arm across her face so that her eyes were hidden. “I’m selfish..” She muttered. “I want you all to myself..”

[Present Time - Otium 17, afternoon]

“So, that was quite the exercise, I hear.”

Luckas didn’t answer. He’d been staring at his bedroom ceiling for at least an hour. The door was open but Amber was the only to ever go in his room, and right now she was smart enough to stay the hell away. Sam knew no such boundaries though. When the woman sat on the edge of the bed, Luckas sat up and turned away from her.

“Okay, we’re still doing this then?” She asked.

Luckas frowned, not understanding the question at first, but then remembering that he hadn’t talked to her since before Jake’s party and the talk hadn’t been friendly. “Doing what?” He muttered, pretending not to understand.

“Seriously, Luckas.” Sam snorted. “I just want to know if you’re okay.”

“I’m fine.”

“I thought you hated that word.” Sam teased. “You don’t look that fine to me.”

“Did you tell her to do that? Luckas asked, failing to hide the accusing tone of his words.

“Do what?”

“I know you were watching, you can see the training area from the library, Sam.”

Sam sighed softly. “Yes, Luckas, I was watching. What I’m asking is if you want to know if I told Amber to push you or if I told her exactly what to do... If it’s the first; yes, if it’s the latter; no. I actually would love to know what she said to put you in that state.”

“I bet you would.” Luckas sighed, lying down and staring at the ceiling again. “So you didn’t tell her about the mirror?”

Sam snorted a laugh, pointing at the covered mirror on the wall. “Seriously?”

“Right.”

“That’s not why you’re angry. You’re angry because of what you did. You’re wondering, if it was really her saying those things; whatever they were, and not Amber, if you would have done the same thing...”

“Don’t tell me how I feel.” He muttered.

“Well, isn’t that why you’re angry?” Sam questioned simply. “Tell me I’m wrong, then. Amber told me you wouldn’t attack her when the two of you trained; yes, I know about that... Is it because you didn’t want to hurt her or because you do?”

Luckas turned to look at Sam, her face was void of any emotion and she simply stared back at him in mild curiosity. Luke sat up again, facing her this time. “What do you want me to say? What the hell do you want from me?”

“We’ve had this conversation. I’m not going to repeat myself to you.” Sam shrugged carelessly. “You wanted to be free of me, remember? So it shouldn’t matter what I want. Answer my questions, don’t, as long as you think you know the answers.”

Luckas shook his head, running his fingers through his hair. “I’m not going to hurt her, not like I did out there, it’s not who I am.”

“If you can’t look at yourself in the mirror, Luckas, then you don’t know who you are. You think it’s your nature that makes you dangerous, but it’s not; it’s all your doubt.” Sam spoke, standing up and tugging on the sheet covering the mirror. “The one thing, one thing, you should have learned from that healer, Luckas, and you ignore it.”

Luckas got off the bed and stood in front of Sam, ignoring the uncovered mirror. “I know what I’m not, that’s more than enough right now. I’m not like my brother, like you, I don’t have to break everything I touch.”

“Like me...” Sam repeated under her breath. The woman fell dangerously silent for a very long moment, staring down at her hands as if she was trying to remember something.

“Sammy...” Luckas mumbled.

“No... Don’t...” She cut him off. “That’s what you said, that’s how you see me.”

“I’m just tired.” Luke sighed. “I didn’t mean it like that...”

Sam heaved a long sigh. “I believe you.” She said. “I always believe you, Lukey.” Her tone was freezing cold unlike anything Luckas had ever heard.

For another disturbingly long moment Sam was just silently staring at her hands, fists clenching slowly, and Luckas wanted to know what was exactly going through her mind. Her expression was completely void and her eyes seemed to darken like the forest trees on a stormy night.

After the silence seemed to drag on for hours, Sam abruptly smashed her fist into the mirror opening her hand and pressing her palm against the shattered glass, sliding it down the cracked surface and leaving a bloody trail. She didn’t look angry, or fazed by the glass shards sinking into her flesh, nothing. She pulled her hand away from the mirror and watched as the blood started to drip onto the floor as if in some sort of trance. She only seemed to snap out of it when Luckas moved as if to reach for her wounded hand.

“Don’t... Touch me.” She muttered, anger finally showing in her eyes as she watched Luckas step back as though she’d slapped him in the face, sitting back down on his bed and looking up at her. “You think...” She sighed, calming her tone and turning her bloody palm to him. “This is what happens when something breaks, Luckas. So, you think I broke you, fair enough; I did. I never denied that. I never lied about it... I answered your questions.” She laughed coldly. “And you keep asking what I want from you, but... What do you want from me? What do you expect me to say? Look in the fucking mirror Luckas.”

Luke shook his head. “Sammy... You’re bleeding a lot...”

“That’s what I do. What I’ve done my whole life... I break things and I bleed. Maybe my father was right and that’s all I am. Maybe you’re right and you’re not like me. And I used you. I used you to fool myself into thinking I wasn’t alone. We used each other... And now we’re done.”

Luckas felt her words weigh a lot heavier than he expected, standing up from the bed as if he meant to reach out again, but sitting back down as if he lacked the nerve. “Your fath-...” He stood up again as she turned to leave the room without another word, not showing signs of wanting to listen anymore. She closed the door behind her and Luckas sat back down again, staring at the closed door with the look of an abandoned puppy. He stood up as though he meant to follow her, but sat down again soon after, staring blankly at the tiny pool of blood on the ground. He couldn’t come to terms with what he was feeling. Moments ago he resented Sam, and rightfully so, but at the same time he didn’t want her to leave... He didn’t want to lose whatever the hell that was... “Stupid. Fucking stupid.” He muttered. “Idiot.”

[4 months ago]

Luckas frowned slightly as he listened to Ess’ words, absently scratching the side of his head in thought at her scenarios. “Harmful... love...” He mumbled softly to himself, suddenly recalling Sam’s words on the Twins. “The second case is pretty clear, okay, but... Abuse is a strong word for your first scenario, don’t you think?” He asked, raising his voice to normal level again. “I’d say it’s more of a case of...” He sighed softly, pausing as he tried to remember specific words. “I read something in a book once... ‘No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness’. Lena said that sometimes that’s true... The first case sounds more to me as something like that, mixed in with a bit of denial...” He shrugged slightly. “I don’t know, maybe you’re right... I don’t quite understand everything, but... I can understand clinging to something, someone, anything just for the faint possibility of happiness and not caring whether it’s not real, whether it’s harmful... Lines can become awfully blurry then... When you want something so badly that things like ‘wrong’, ‘right’, and ‘boundaries’ simply become meaningless.” He went silent for a few seconds as if mulling something over before speaking again in a barely audible mumble. “Some would argue that this is what you and I are doing here.”

After a small moment of silent contemplation Luckas smiled in amusement. “I suppose that’s a risk I take... That one day I just won’t be able to leave anymore. As is, Lady, I’d say you already have about ninety percent of me to yourself... Give or take...” He yawned quietly and nodded. “...And the remaining ten are beginning to feel slightly jealous...”

Ess moved her arm to support her head, glancing over at Luckas curiously. “I would tell anyone who had the audacity to look at our situation and say it was ‘harmful’ or that how I feel or what I want is wrong....and smack them upside the head with a chair.” She smirked, slowly sitting up. “If there are boundaries with us, they are ours to deal with, not anyone elses. I don’t feel being your friend is wrong and it feels right to me. So screw ‘them’. I would not interfere with something that was right or good for you if that was what you wanted, just like you tell me if I want you gone, you’ll go. So to me, some lines are pretty clear, but I understand how some can be blurry...I guess. Perhaps that is only us playing on our own fears and doubts..” Shaking her head she sighed, mumbling. “Always easier to see from the outside than in...” Ess was silent, still staring at Luckas, her expression disappearing from curiosity to a vacant one. “I think...until recently....I had only been myself around one person, truly and now there’s you. With that said, I am pretty sure I am only showing you what is real...a change I am getting used to more and more....so maybe I just don’t..or won’t understand why someone could look at me and say this is risky...If it’s real and I’m not causing harm..”

“Hmm... I’m not sure if I’m okay with you hitting other people with chairs, Lady.” Luckas played, narrowing his eyes in a fake look of annoyance. “Your point, however, leads me to another question... hypothetically, of course... How does one know what constitutes abuse when the person on the receiving end of such abuse doesn’t know where the lines are drawn? I mean, it is up to every individual to impose limits, but if they can’t, or don’t know when the lines are being crossed? Like the Boy in your example... If he can’t see, he’s... Oblivious, you said... To how the girl is acting with him, he can’t possibly feel violated, right? So who is to decide that for him? Is it even a proper thing to do, decide someone else’s lines are being crossed?” His tone was honestly confused at the question as he stared at her with a nearly blank stare, seeming almost as if he had gotten himself into a trance of sorts. Staying like that for a few moments before snapping out of it and shaking his head. “Sometimes... We’re not aware of what’s real or harmful... So, really, are you sure of that?” He asked.

Essence sighed, running her fingers through the ends of her braid, twirling the curly strands around her fingertips. “That....is the question every child learns the answer to at some point, Luckas. Everyone makes decisions on what is abuse and what isn’t...for themselves and for others. Honestly, tell me...what makes the second scenario so much easier to understand than the first? If the girl thinks her force of affection is normal, then can we really constitute that as abuse then? I say yes...” Clearing her throat, Ess frowned at a thought, her eyes narrowing as a memory came back to her. “Luckas...a few years back...before you and I met in that alley...I knew this butcher and his daughter. I knew them since I came to NewHaven, and I watched the little girl grow over the years. She always seemed happy, but slightly nervous and when I looked at her I felt...I guess you could describe it as discomfort. When she became a teenager, that light in her eyes, so to speak, began to fade and I noticed one day how ‘close’ her father was to her. Now some may argue it was normal affection, but for a second...one moment, I saw the awkwardness in that girl’s eyes when she looked up at me. Come to find out, the father was treating the daughter like a wife ever since she was small. Now...I know this is wrong...I know something like this needs to be stopped..but the little girl didn’t understand why she felt so uncomfortable to something she grew up thinking was normal. Do you think it wrong of me to explain that to her or to take matters into my own hands?” Ess paused, turning her gaze away casually from Luckas as a few tears fell down her cheek hidden from his view. “Ignorance was not bliss...but a prison. The only reason it came to light was when the girl started to show she was with child. Of course the father made up some lame excuse of his daughter getting herself into trouble with a stable boy, but I saw...and I got her to tell me...and I swear Luckas, when I sliced that bastard from neck to belly, I saw the light come back into her eyes. There are some things in this world that just are. The other thing Luckas...is when the person who is crossing those lines, KNOWS what they are doing is wrong....it makes it wrong. When they don’t know what they are doing is wrong...it’s called denial.”

Casually wiping away those tears she turned back around to face Luckas. “Do you think I am harmful to you? Do you think I would ever use you, purposely hurt you, abandon you? If you think I would, then...I think you have a lot to learn. We can be sure when we have something to believe in and trust. I can understand someone being oblivious but it doesn’t change the truth of it all....and sometimes we just need to trust those feelings we don’t understand. They are there for a reason...just like pain.”

“Hmmm....” Luckas mumbled, taking his time to process what Ess was telling him. He didn’t seem, or feel, less confused, but he was paying full attention and honestly trying his best, which, considering it was Luckas, was really a very big deal. After a few moments of quiet, the confusion never leaving his expression, he spoke. “I don’t know if I can answer that, Lady, because honestly, I’m not sure I have a clear view of what is hurtful, or even painful. I mean there’s physical pain, and I understand that it is hurtful, but even that at times just doesn’t seem like such a big deal; it was a great part of my ‘normality’ for quite a bit of time after all. Never something I could mistake for affection, but it’s just... Too familiar to bother me now.” He sighed, shaking his head and absently fiddling with the collar of his shirt. “That said... I don’t think you would intentionally hurt me, in any way. I know that you can, but I don’t think that you would. I’m not sure though, if you did, if I would actually mind that.” Luckas fell silent for a little while longer, scratching at the back of his neck as he lowered his head, resting his forehead against his knee. “The difference, to me, between your first and second examples is simple... It’s the, hm, physical aspect. I mean... This is something even I know; if a person touches you, you will always know what the intention is, you may not quite understand, it may not be apparent, but you will feel it if somehow it’s not an acceptable touch. Even if you are told otherwise. Generally, if someone has to say something is okay, it’s usually not, but even if the person in question can’t make that distinction, it is still possible to feel that... Sickening feel in the back of your stomach... Like there’s something crawling its way up your insides...” He snorted and let himself fall silent for a few moments before moving on. “Without that physical aspect though... What constitutes abuse? I mean, I’ve been told that it’s not always physical, and not always exactly a violent act, so... What is it?”

“Just because something is familiar....doesn’t mean you are immune. You still seem unsure of certain things, you’ve made that apparent, but you say at the same time that ‘I could hurt you’. Physically, yes I know, and I know you don’t seem to mind that, because you keep coming back.” Ess smirked for a moment before it faded away. “It’s not right of me to do that you know. I shouldn’t be smacking around people I care about....even if they do have it coming. And I’ll probably do it again at some point...” She half joked. “But I’m distracting myself now...you must have some sort of idea of what I’m talking about if you think I could ‘hurt’ you. That it’s possible, I mean. But..why would you say you wouldn’t mind it? Then it wouldn’t be hurting you, would it?” Ess randomly bent down to pick up a handful of tiny rocks, and started chucking them against the trees, seeing how far she could bounce them, a delicate frown shaping her lips still giving her appearance an alluring aura. “That distinction you speak of...the sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach...you talk about it like you understand it pretty well. I would get that feeling any time ANY man would even come near me. Think that’s changing though..”

Essence sighed, trailing off and pausing to think of how to explain to Luckas what constituted abuse in a non physical way. “Luckas...do you understand what manipulation is? I can give you an example...Ebony. She was quite good at it too..probably her only talent besides running her mouth until someone got pissed off enough to get all stabby on her. For a time, that...slimy hag actually had me believing that I had no soul and that I was nothing. I think she did in fact break me a couple times, but to her annoyance it never stuck. For one, she didn’t get to me until I was around eight and two, I met Jake. I still struggle even though I know better now. The entire incident with Asher and me thinking my son was dead....manipulation...that was not all physical abuse. Making someone believe in something good that is simply a lie, to twist it and break a person’s spirit would be a form of mental abuse. Ebony use to tell me all the time how ugly I was and I know now it was out of jealousy and to keep me under control. The will of a person, strengthened by their own determination for survival, revenge, family, friendship...whatever the source, I found to be a great weapon. That is what I think frightens those who seek control the most...when they realize they have lost that power...lost their leverage.” Essence groaned at herself, her fingers gently massaging the base of her neck. “It’s always about power...that’s what rape is...rape of the body and of the soul.”

“Pain exists to show us when we’re hurt, Lady. If you numb the pain, it doesn’t make you any less hurt, it just makes you unaware.” Luckas mumbled quietly, lifting his head to look at Ess. “So, me not minding doesn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t be hurting me. That wasn’t exactly what I meant either, but... never mind.” He shrugged, moving from where he was sitting to a spot closer to the fire pit. “Fine, I think I get it, at least in theory, but... Not sure if I can say I understand everything... Not everything...” He frowned, trying to stifle a yawn. “So, are you worried Sammy is manipulating me? Or something of that sorts? You said... You don’t like things you’ve seen... What does that mean exactly?” Scratching the side of his face and holding back another yawn Luke sighed. “Also, by your definition, isn’t Jake right to say I’m no different from a rapist, Lady? If it is in fact a matter of control, that’s kind of my thing.”

Ess quirked a brow, a confused look clouding her expression. “...When I was numb...I wasn’t unaware....it was more along the lines of denial...and when I started feeling again....” Glancing over at Luckas she sighed and averted her eyes again before standing and scooting closer to where Luckas sat. “You can’t do that....I have this uncontrollable urge to know everything..and maybe I don’t always ask what you were going to say but I keep thinking about it ...and right now...is one of those times you may wish you didn’t just tell me that I don’t intrude.” Ess smiled, a compassionate and gentle smile. “What did you mean then, because now I’m the one who doesn’t understand, Sweetness.” For the moment, Ess skipped over Luckas’ question on Sam, thinking about how to answer that one while she playfully bumped her shoulder into his. “Oh, now you are going to start agreeing with Jake? Maybe I should...tell him....” She joked, giggling a bit before taking on a serious tone. “I agree that there are many who deserve what you’ve done to them. I also see ‘Rape’ as taking away something against that person’s will. Maybe I can understand the memory snatching thing sorta...as a comparison...but then again I think someone I know....” Ess pretended to think hard of who she was talking about. “..someone said that we can’t take away something that was already gone...or something like that. Many of those people had no souls...I believe. And I also don’t feel like you’ve taken anything away from me....instead quite the opposite. You...I’m not afraid of you...I don’t act differently in fear of your anger, or of some punishment, like most in controlling situations do. You have not physically hurt me...even if you’ve said there’s been a temptation.” Ess pulled her gaze away and towards the empty fire pit. “I dunno Luckas, I don’t have all the answers..I can’t explain everything I feel. I’m just trying to be a good friend, the only way I know how. With that said...Sam, I am only going on instinct and feelings. I don’t know for sure anything because well, I don’t know. You don’t talk about her and I don’t ask....for the most part. When..her and I chatted...there were things I picked up on that would not necessarily be obvious or even completely correct from my short encounter. Let’s just say I know another great actress when I meet one. Is it wrong of me to worry about you? Even when you piss me off, I still worry. Just one of those things that just is and you will have to accept I guess.” Ess smiled, reaching towards Luckas to ruffle up his hair. “We can sit here until the sun comes up and I think we may end up more confused because of the whole lack of sleep thing. Go back to sleep Sweetness...I’ll be here. Besides, we have lots to practice tomorrow.”

“I meant... I can understand clinging to some faint possibility of happiness and not care whether it’s harmful.” Luckas stated with a shrug. “That’s what I meant. Which leads me to something I don’t quite understand, since we’re on the topic of ‘things we don’t understand’... I don’t understand why you call me that.” Shaking his head Luckas frowned slightly, unamused by the thought of agreeing with Jake. “That’s not what I said, and you shouldn’t say that to him unless you want me messing with his memory. And I don’t think you should judge what I do based on your personal experience Lady... At least not yet.” He said, a playful smirk crossing his features. “I was not nearly as rough on you as I could’ve been... And I paid you, so there’s that.”He chuckled softly, shaking his head. “I don’t mind the comparison, I certainly didn’t mind it as much as you did, if anything it’s only fitting that that’s what it feels like to them, right?”

Luckas playfully leaned away from Ess when she messed with his hair, faking annoyance and straightening up some strands that fell over his eyes. “I should cut this shorter...” He mumbled, heaving a small sigh. “Eh, what’s one more thing after everything I’ve already learned to accept so far, right?” Failing to cover up his next yawn Luckas shrugged. “I don’t need to sleep... It’s fine... I don’t want to go back there tonight.”

“Clinging to the faint possibility of happiness...thought happiness was only found in moments.” Essence whispered, her tone slightly sad even though she still smiled. Quirking a brow she held back an amused laugh. “Why do you call me ‘Lady’?” She shrugged. “I am definitely not one by definition, although I am a woman....I mean not in the ‘cultured’ term it is taken as. ‘Sweetness’ is a term of endearment Luckas and it is also what my father use to call me. I use to not realize when I said it, years ago because...well you saw. Much was only for show. There was nothing behind the term then, but things change. I am sure the more time we spend around one another the more nicknames I’ll start using for you.” She teased with a playful wink. “Maybe I shouldn’t judge by only my experiences, but really, how do we learn except by experience and the experiences of those close to us.” Leaning slightly against Luckas her eyes widened. “Maybe you just go too easy on me. We’ll have to change that.” Ess snickered. “What did you pay me for exactly? You weren’t the typical customer and I always wondered about that. You know I gave that up so if there’s something you’re after, you’ll have to find another method of payment beside coin. Now that I think about it, ironic....huh...” Ess muttered trailing off as she realized she was thinking aloud.

“Huh..” Ess shook her head, flicking a strand of Luke’s hair back into his eyes. “Maybe a trim...want me to do it? Not too much though...I like longer hair.” She smiled, exaggerating the way she batted her eyelashes. “You just don’t want me watching you sleep..which is just too bad because I could help keep you out of the box....or whatever it is you find yourself trapped inside of. It’s only a few hours til sunrise, I won’t be going back to sleep at this point I think.”

“Moments can be faint, Lady... They can end before they begin... Or they can be eternal... It depends, I suppose.” Luckas replied, a bit amused at Ess’ question of why he called her Lady, a slightly surprised expression crossing him as held back a laugh. “I didn’t think ‘Pretty Lady’ was a complicated nickname... I thought I was being as obvious as I usually am with these things... I mean, you don’t think to ask why I address Captain as such, it’s because that’s... What she is.” He shrugged. “The only person I had more than one nickname for was Lena, I think... Mostly because ‘Evil Bitch’ wasn’t always a proper thing to say out loud. Hmm...” He mumbled, thinking for a few moments before moving on. “I’m not much for the ‘cultured’ meaning of things, I’m a literal guy for the most part... So yeah... You are a Lady who I happen to think is Pretty... That is the reasoning behind most my nicknames. Stalker is lucky he didn’t end up with ‘Annoying Black Fuzzball’... I’d probably end up calling him ‘Fuzzy’ though so I guess we’re both lucky.” He snickered. “Well, you know you can call me whatever you like and most likely I’ll answer, or possibly come running, but I like ‘Lukey’ better though.”

Luckas laughed in a childish way as once again he pulled hair away from his eyes. “I see...” He chuckled. “Well, if someone is to be holding sharp objects near my head, I’d surely prefer it’d be you... Plus, you know what you like too.” He played. “So, yeah, why not...” Yawning once again Luckas heaved an annoyed sigh. “You know... It’s not fair... You brainwashed me into taking care of myself and now I can’t stay up all night anymore.” He complained, holding back another yawn. “I don’t mind you watching me sleep Lady... I’m a bit concerned with you hearing me now though.” Rubbing his eyes, and hiding his face in his hands in the process of doing so, Luckas suddenly halted and went back to a bit of conversation he’d overlooked. “What do you mean what did I pay you for? Your time, Lady... What I thought I’d taken...” He shrugged. “Not payment in the sense of a business transaction, mind you... In the sense of compensation. Although I am constantly after something, if it’s something I can purchase it’s usually not worth it... Generally speaking.” He stated, raising his head from his hands to look at Ess. “What... Is so ironic though?”

Ess casually stretched backwards over the log, slow and dramatic like until her fingers found her belt upon the ground and snatched up her dagger, sitting up straight once again. She unsheathed the blade in one hand and stood so that she was taller than Luckas, her free hand gently running through his hair. “Ok...you must be crazy..” She played. “No one trusts me with a blade..” Ess giggled, sifting through his hair to find the natural parts, absently holding out a handful of hair and began slicing through at an angle. She started with the back, not holding still for too long as she circled Luckas a few times, her blade easily melting through the hair without pulling a single strand. “Don’t wiggle...” She muttered sternly. “I didn’t brainwash you silly....I don’t think...well wasn’t my intention...and I thought that was what brainwashing was...intentional.” Ess paused stepping back to look at her progress, her fingers reaching towards Luckas’ chin to raise his head and instead hovered over his face to motion for him to look up. “Eyes on me...” She stated with a wink, carefully taking about an inch or so off the lengths around his eyes. “I’m a bit concerned on what comes out of your mouth while you sleep too....especially when you’re away. You know whatever you say around me stays with me, right? I don’t believe in talking about people behind their backs....telling other’s secrets.” Her gaze fluttered around his face before finally locking with his dark stare. “So, you think I’m pretty and I’m worth it. Careful Luckas, you’ll make me blush.” Essence sighed, circling around Luckas once again, thinking about the nickname ‘Lukey’. “Reminds me of when my father use to call me Essy...which by the way...don’t call me that.” Ess winced, giving a playful shiver. “I hated Ian for calling me that...felt like when he did it, it was like a name for a prized cow or something. When my dad did it, I didn’t notice half the time....but that is just different...family....personal...” Ess distracted herself for a moment, the blade cutting through the last bit of Luckas’ hair and into her pointer finger causing her to flinch and startle in surprise. “Damn..” She mumbled, sucking on her finger.

With a flick of her wrist she imbedded her dagger into the wooden log and used her free hand to sift and shake out the loose stragglers of severed hair, brushing away the scratchy pieces from his neck. “Ironic...just how much has changed from that night in the Castle, Luckas. I met the Captain, life changing....I ran into you again...” She sighed, sitting down in front of him. “It was like...an awakening of sorts. That night was the last night I...” Ess averted her eyes to her dagger. “I...the last time I abused myself...the last time I allowed a stranger into my bed. So yes...Ironic because I wanted something more and now I’m searching for it. Looks like I’m finally getting somewhere.”

“Hmm...” Luckas held as still as he possibly could, his eyes obediently fixed on Ess in a manner much similar to a puppy. Overall, though, his expression was one of contemplation as he listened to her words. “I know you wouldn’t go around telling people my secrets, that’s not what concerns me actually.” He stated simply, not quite going into why he was concerned. “Is there some sort of danger to making you blush, Lady? I highly doubt you haven’t been called pretty before.” He stated, a slight questioning tone to his voice, even though it wasn’t exactly a question. “Regardless... I don’t see stating a fact as paying a compliment exactly... But if I did, I would be implicitly complimenting you every time I address you, which happened hundreds of times in the past months... I’d assume that’d be enough to get used to it.” He said, a playful look crossing his eyes momentarily, but melting away in seconds as he continued in a very ‘matter of fact’ way. “I never quite liked being called ‘Lukey’, but it sounds better when you say it. I don’t know... I guess I like it now then.” He mumbled the last couple of words, closing his eyes for a little bit and letting out a long sigh as she mentioned her brother. “Too bad can’t kill ‘em twice.”

Luckas opened his eyes when Ess moved to sit in front of him, idly running his fingers through his hair. “Huh... That was considerably painless...” He joked, snickering softly for a moment and then taking a serious tone as he gave a nod of agreement to her words. “Lots changed, I see what you mean... And you know... That was a good night. I didn’t sleep then either... I almost, almost, followed you home, I remember... Because the castle was so very boring at night.” Lowering his hand from where he had been still messing with his hair, Luckas paused to silently stare at Ess for a few moments as if questioning himself, after which he spoke, averting his gaze. “If I... Uh... I was wondering about something, just out of curiosity but you don’t have to answer...” Luckas paused again, scratching the back of his neck. “I remember you saying you have never ‘entertained’ without a price... And you just moments ago described intimacy as something men pay women to do behind closed doors... Have you always seen it that way? I mean... Was there never a moment when you didn’t? Even hypothetically so?”

Ess looked at her cut finger, satisfied that it should stop bleeding and retrieved her dagger from the log, flipping it over in her hand and tossing it into the earth between her feet. Again and again she retrieved it and chucked it into the dirt in the same spot. An uncomfortable feeling irked its way along the back of her neck at Luke’s comment about her having heard that compliment before and she shrugged. “Sure..you said so the night at the Castle and at first I had the same reaction I did when any man said that to me. That he’s full of shit. Do you realize the only other two men in my life who have said that to me, who I actually believed, were my family? My father and Jake. Any time that was said to me, it was either a lie, a form of manipulation, or some way for them to attempt to royally screw me over...literally sometimes too. So yes, to accept it now, is a big deal....especially when I hear it from someone who isn’t family and isn’t only hanging around me for one thing.” Essence twitched slightly, a look of confusion crossing her eyes as she looked up at Luckas, the blade in her hand which froze in place as she asked a question. “When have I called you Lukey?” Ess smirked. “I honestly don’t remember...was I drunk? I’m sorry if you don’t like Sweetness...”

Ess’ eyes narrowed slightly, intently absorbing the haircut she had just given him and nodded finally after a bit of silence in approval of her work. “Looks good, not too short...not too different in style from when we met...If I remember correctly...wanna see?” She asked, getting up to grab a shard of the mirror she had smashed the night she first had her nightmare and came back to her seat to continue tossing the dagger into the hole in the ground she was forming. She put down the piece of mirror between her and Luckas. “You know, if you followed me home, I don’t honestly know how I would have reacted.” She laughed, letting her smile close as she thought on Luckas’ question, not actually expecting something so personal to be voiced and at first she couldn’t tell if she was ashamed to answer, angry, or simply embarrassed. Her expression contorted in several directions, each time she went to speak she stopped, changing her mind on how she was gonna answer so that she came off almost like she was stuttering. “Well...um...ok...remember how I said in the Castle that, well basically I mentioned it being only business and how I never...” Ess cleared her throat. “In my experience...never enjoyed that kind of intimacy. I mean..can anyone really blame me? I never wanted to and it was always forced upon me..and at such a young age, so when it became a choice...I still didn’t want to and it became a necessity instead.” Ess made sure to find Luckas’ eyes before she continued, a subtle glow emanating from her stare. “...Like you agreed, seconds ago...a lot has changed...and if I wasn’t starting to accept the possibility of...seeing intimacy differently, then I would still be falling into ‘old habits’, no? I think I hope...even if foolishly, to not miss out on what it could mean for me, like so many others...even though I’m not sure it’s possible. Intimacy is a big word and can mean many things. Like...a hug or a kiss.” Ess let a sad smile curl her lips, her tone softening. “Now that was always something I never did for money...that was always an ‘intimate’ thing for me to keep and use when I thought it meant something. I never let those bastards take that away from me.”

“Not drunk, more like sleepy...” Luckas replied when asked when she had called him Lukey. “Think was on the first night I visited here actually... Or... Hmm... No, it was the second time... When I brought you Jasper’s memory... I got up to wander about, ended up chatting with Beast Boy... Was when I came back from that.” He concluded, nodding at his own words, but stopping when the memory of what he’d almost done right after that came back to him, causing him to wince slightly. He made no direct comment on it though simply mumbling to himself. “Good girl, Tala...” Shaking his head as he pushed that thought away, he gave a slight shrug. “I don’t dislike that you call me that, I was just confused by it I suppose.” He shrugged. “Nothing that would call for apologies, I’d say.”

Luckas stared quietly at Ess, seeming a bit intrigued when she asked if he wanted to see, sleep starting to cloud his thought process for a moment, making it so he didn’t quite understand what she meant at first, only becoming clear when she brought the mirror shard. Luke’s first reaction to seeing the broken mirror was jumping up from where he was sitting as if the harmless piece of glass was going to come to life and bite him, but after another moment he calmed himself and sat back down, still making sure to look at anything but the mirror. “No, thanks, I... Don’t need to see it.” He stated, trying to sound casual, but coming off a bit shaky, eyes still avoiding the general direction of the mirror shard; first looking away completely, but eventually focusing his attention on Ess’ face as she spoke, nodding along to her words as she answered his question. “I see... I understand that, or least I’m confident that I do...” He replied, a slight awkwardness to his tone. “You know, you shouldn’t use that word so much, ‘foolish’, ‘foolishly’... The only times when you should make a fool of yourself are when you can have fun with it.”

Ess nodded, thinking about that night Luckas had visited with the news of her brother and Jasper, her eyes glittering at the memory of Jasper’s justified fate. “For Jemma...” She whispered, thinking about her friend for the first time in a long while. She had been distracted with the thought so only caught Luckas’ reaction to the mirror piece with a bit of a delay. Ess stared at him in silence for a bit, not quite understanding what the exact issue was, but instead of asking she quietly used her dagger to widen the hole between her feet and dropped the shard into the hole, burying it. “Ok...no mirror. Gotcha...eh I guess if you really wanted to know you could just look into my eyes.” She stated sweetly, opening a smile. “I don’t say the term ‘foolish’ in the meaning you’re taking it. I say it thinking, well a nicer way of saying idiot, or delusional...or for the end result in wishing or searching for something in vain. Perhaps in the past it’s even been entertaining for others to watch and enjoy, but never something I see as having fun with.” She shrugged, letting her smile falter and went silent. Ess’ stomach twisted in a dull, sickened feeling, the conversation making her slightly uncomfortable, but it hadn’t affected her quite as much as she had expected; she was able to talk about it and she didn’t avoid it. Not knowing what else was left to say she just turned back towards Luckas and smiled, once again reaching out to ruffle his hair.

Luckas arched an eyebrow at Ess’ explanation of foolishness and nodded. “Well Lady... Maybe you should just use my meaning instead. Because it’s better... It’s way better than thinking things to be delusional or in vain ahead of time. Some time... We should be foolish with fire... Fire makes everything more fun, right?” He played, snickering and shooting a quiet glance at the spot where the mirror had been buried, shaking his head and once again trying to pull away from having his hair messed with. “I just gave you a perfect excuse to keep doing that, didn’t I?” He asked, a look of amusement in his eyes, his expression gradually turning more serious as he stared at her. “Is it alright that I asked that? You’re not... Upset, right?” He smiled. “Wouldn’t want to be intrusive or anything.”

Ess stood, sheathing her blade into her belt and leaving it beside the fire pit, her eyes searching for her boots. As she found them and put them on, tucking her pant legs into them she smiled, “Is it time already for another party? Since I threw the last one, I say it’s your turn to pick the...time and place for fiery fun, no? Only fair.” Absently she fiddled with her hair, re-braiding it and rolling it up into a tight bun, a few straggler curls dancing at the corners of her eyes. “You’re tired...go relax...I’m going to start early with my routine I think...so when you are ready..come find me by the river, north of the camp.” Moving around Luckas she let her fingers brush along his shoulder and sighed. “I’m never upset with you for taking an active interest in me. I would tell you anything, so long as you ask.” Walking away from Luckas she brought her fingers to her lips and waved, jogging off towards where her son slept in the camp. “I think Darren’s slept long enough...” She muttered to herself.

[Present Time, Otium 17 nightfall]

Luckas stirred when he realized the room was starting to darken. His body hurt now from the training session, his eyes casting an eerie red glow upon the sheet of paper he’d been staring at. The drawing Ess had given him the morning he left the Nest hung loosely in his grasp, Sam’s words still burning in his ears. “If you knew what I’ve been thinking, Lady... You might just hit me with another chair...” Luke muttered at the drawing.
-----------------------------

[Otium 17, early evening]

“How long are you going to sit there and mess up the floor?”

Sam snorted, looking up at Amber with a dangerous look in her eyes. “What is the one thing I told you to never ever do in front of me?”

Amber sighed. “Never ever be Lukey.” She smirked, changing her form to the redhead boy she’d been at the Blackpond party. “Well, I had to get your attention somehow. That hand needs healing and you’re blocking the door.”

Amber had been jumping on Sam’s bed when she came into the room, slammed the door shut and just sat on the ground leaning against it. She was still slowly bouncing on her knees as she tried to get the woman to at least say something. Her usually amused demeanor all but gone.

“I don’t want any healing.” Sam muttered.

“Okay, what did he do?” Amber questioned, bouncing off the bed. “Maybe next time I’ll bite his ear right off.”

Sam laughed weakly. “There won’t be a next time. And you... What the hell... He was very close to killing you.”

“Not nearly close enough.” Amber snickered, sitting on the floor beside Sam. “I’m sure I can do better.”

“That’s not funny.”

Amber shook her head, reaching for Sam’s hand and carefully picking some bits of glass from the bloody gashes. “I’m not trying to amuse you. I’m just stating facts. I took it easy on him, I could have done a lot worse. I would have, but I was sure you wouldn’t approve of that.” She smiled. “It’s either healing or stitches... Do you really want me poking at you with needles?”

Sam shrugged. “If you want to stitch it I won’t stop you, but I don’t want to see anyone; not Celeste, not Zeke: no one. There are supplies on my desk.”

“You are such a child sometimes, I swear...” Amber muttered, standing up to pick up the supplies. “Can you at least get off the floor? Or you want me to carry you? Tuck you into bed? Sing you to sleep? The works?”

“I didn’t bring you up here to be my caretaker Amber.” Sam mumbled.

“Someone has to be, the way you are... You don’t let healers in your room, Zeke is only useful for one thing, and that little weirdo you’re so enamored with can barely feed himself if left unsupervised.” Amber dropped the medicine kit on top of the bed and sighed, returning to Sam’s side and offering her hand to help the woman off the floor. “I’m not actually carrying you.”

Sam accepted the offered hand and pushed herself off the ground with Amber’s help, stumbling a little bit and realizing she must have lost more blood than she realized. “Don’t say that...”

“Which part?” Amber smirked, leading the woman to sit on her bed.

“Enamored. That’s pathetic...”

“Well, then you’re pathetic, Mistress.” Amber shrugged, opening the medicine pack and finding alcohol, needles, thread and bandages. She stopped in her tracks when Sam suddenly ran her fingers through the short copper colored hair of her chosen persona. Amber smirked. “I forgot, you don’t like red hair. I can change, if you want.”

“I didn’t say I don’t like it. I said I’m not into redheads; there’s a difference.” She smiled. “It’s shorter than when you wore it last time... I didn’t know you could do that.”

“Ah, I have my tricks.” Amber tilted her head to one side and shook her head as if to try to shake Sam’s hand away, her own hands busy with sanitizing and threading the sewing needle. “I can’t change individual facial traits, but hair is different. That I can play with. There other things, like, scars I can hide... Open wounds, as you can see; they remain.”

Sam frowned momentarily at the open cut on the redhead boy’s face. “You should stitch that too.”

Amber snorted a laugh. “It’s clean and it’s not that deep. I won’t die of it. I can go to Celeste or one of the other blue bitches in the morning.”

“Blue bitches?” Sam arched an eyebrow.

“They are. Don’t think I’ve forgotten them from before. Don’t think they’ve forgotten me either.” Amber shrugged, calmly cleaning and starting to stitch Sam’s wounded hand. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Luckas didn’t do anything wrong.”

“That’s what you always say.” Amber smiled. “So what did he ‘not do’ this time?”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Amber.” Sam’s tone was harsh and she tensed so much that her fists involuntarily clenched, disrupting the stitch work and causing her a great deal of pain.

Amber slapped Sam lightly in the face. “Don’t move damn it.”

Sam responded by gripping the redhead boy’s chin with her good hand rather roughly. “I should cut off that hand.” She sneered.

Amber grinned. “You definitely should, or else I’ll just do it again, but you won’t do that.” She continued working on the stitches, without looking, laughter in her blue eyes as she held the woman’s angry glare. “Amongst other reasons, you and I both know how useful these hands have been in the past three years.”

“Three years is hardly long enough for you to assume to know what I’ll do... Or that you know me all that well... It’s that arrogance that’s bound to get you killed one day.” Sam snorted, releasing Amber’s face. Her tone had been amused despite the harsh words. The trace of a smile that had formed itself upon her face disappeared when there was a knock on the door.

“Sammy!”

Amber had finished the stitches and didn’t even glance at the door. “Let him knock.” She reached for the bandages and snorted gripping the woman’s hand with a bit more force when she stirred, looking at the door. “Let him.” She repeated, calmly wrapping the bandages around Sam’s wounded hand. “Three years ago I was nothing to you and now I’m here. I think I’ve earned the right to be arrogant.” She shrugged, moving their conversation forward as though she couldn’t hear the increasingly desperate banging on the bedroom door. “There, all done.” She announced, releasing Sam’s bandaged hand.

Sam heaved a long sigh, staring at her hands for a few moments and then reaching out to run both hands through the short red hair. “My brother had red hair.” She admitted. “It reminds me of him... this... Face... Reminds me of him... It doesn’t look like him, but it reminds me still.” She let her hands rest in the back of Amber’s head just behind her ears, leaning forward to plant a firm kiss on her forehead. “You were always something to me, even if I didn’t know it yet.” She whispered, letting her hands trail down from the boy’s hair and sitting back with an aggravated sigh. There was no more knocking on the door, but he was still there. She knew he was still there. “Let him.” Sam muttered under her breath. She wasn’t angry, not truly, but spiteful, yes; wounded maybe. That was new. She never wanted to hurt Luckas, or at least that’s what she told herself, but right in that moment she couldn't help but enjoy the thought of him sitting outside her door. Like the pet she claimed he wasn’t.