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Sean Fletcher

Leader of the Wolfpack: "Keep your enemies closer? I think six feet under is just about close enough." (DECEASED)

0 · 657 views · located in Newhaven

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

Groups

Assassin group that reside in the Valcrest forest.

Description

Full Name: Sean Fletcher

Rank: 1st Command of the Pack

Gender: Male

Age: 22

Ability (if enlightened): N/A

Description: Sean is 190cm tall, strong build, but agile. He has light brown hair, almost at shoulder length, but not quite. His eyes are hazel and tend to shift from a light golden brown to a light green. He has no visible scars (yet, heheh) or tattoos. His skin is lightly tanned and his face is constantly shaved clean. He is considered to be quite a catch, although he doesn’t seem to care much for being told so.

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

Theme Song 01 (Main Theme): Remember Everything - Five Finger Death Punch
Theme Song 02: Breath - Breaking Benjamin
Theme Song 03: What Lies Beneath - Breaking Benjamin (ignore any romantic implications in this song)
Theme Song 04: This Time - 3 Doors Down

Personality

Sean can be described as a manipulative bastard; and not without reason. Most people to him mean nothing other than what they can do for him or for the clan. He doesn't trust anyone completely and only slightly trusts a chosen few. He tends to be as loyal to people as they are to him and completely unmerciful if betrayed. He calls himself a rational man and preaches leaving emotions out of important decisions. In that aspect he is a good leader, however, when he does get emotional about someone (in a good or bad way) he tends to do anything imaginable and unimaginable on account on those feelings. Which means that if he ever actually takes a liking to someone he would do anything for that person, no matter what, and if he actually hates a person he would go to the ends of the world to make that individual suffer in the most horrible ways. Even if takes years of planning to actually accomplish such things.

He is calculating and patient, always looks for the right moment to do or say certain things and never let's an opportunity pass him. In short: Sean knows how to take advantage of situations and/or people, and he will not hesitate to do so if the opportunity presents itself. Even so, he is not arrogant. He knows what his weaknesses are and has learned to play only his strengths, never going directly against a stronger opponent without first finding a soft spot to exploit.

Equipment

Weapons:

Sean's primary weapons are two one handed axes. He also carries a short sword, throwing knives and skilled in hand to hand combat. Although he has never actually been seen in a fair fight since the end of his training, so no one knows just how skilled he actually is.

Other: He carries his mother's graduation ring in his pocket. Retrieved after the Shadow Hunter sent it to Dani as proof of his kill.

History

Background:
Sean's father was an Instructor and personal friend of the Pack leaders, his mother was an active of the clan as well. He is the second of four children, having an older brother (Lionel), who is now deceased and two younger siblings, a sister (Katelyn) and a brother (Donovan), who are both sixteen. Sean was born sick, his parents were told that he would probable not survive. For some reason though, the boy fought through his sickness and grew healthier and stronger over the first few years of his life, living a completely normal and happy childhood until a couple of months after his ninth birthday.

Sean was woken up in the middle of the night by the sounds of his parents having a fight. He couldn't make out all of his mother's words, but it was clear to him what it was about. Moments after his mother stormed out of the house. Thinking that she wasn't going to come back, the boy escaped through his bedroom window and followed her out of camp in the depths of the forest. A few hours into the woods and she stopped, noticing the small footsteps running to keep up with her pace.
As she grabbed Sean by the collar, the severe expression on the woman's face shifted into to pure horror as she realized that he son wasn't the only one following her. All she could do was push the boy into the bushes before being attacked. Sean sat silently in the dark, watching as his mother barely put up a fight, in fear that the merciless man would find her child there. Sean still doesn't know if the man spared his life or failed to notice him; and itt doesn't matter to him in the least.

The Shadow Hunter had gone, left his mother bleeding where she had fallen, taking her ring with him. Sean, however, couldn't bear to do anything other than just sit there. He watched as healers discovered his mother's dead body and dragged her away to the ruins, he watched as people from the clan passed by calling out his name, and he sat there on the same spot where his mother had left him. For 36 hours he stood there, until Dani Rivers finally found him and took him home with her. He was examined for injuries, considered to be physically unharmed, but Dani was told to keep an eye out for his behavior from then on; surely something as traumatic wouldn't be easy to get over.

A year later, Sean was allowed to begin his training with Bastian as his instructor, at which point he met Jake. Having the death of a loved one in common, the two boys became friends, spending great amounts of time plotting revenge on those who caused them harm. After Jake discovered his enlightenment and made his first attempt, Sean's father took his training into his own hands. After having his father guarantee that the Shadow Hunter would pay for his crimes the moment he was caught, Sean gave up the thought of going after the man himself. That until the moment Theron was finally caught, and Sean heard the news that, not only he wouldn't be killed, but he was being accepted into the clan as an instructor. Sean was furious to hear that, as well as his brother Lionel, but their father had accepted Dani's decision and told them that that was the end of it. The boys weren't willing to let it go, however, and they went to Jake to order a hit on the man. Jake wasn't sure and told Lionel he would think about it. However, soon after that Crys called him back to the Wolfpack and he decided to tell Eldric what his sons had asked him to do, worried that they would try for themselves and end up committing treason.

Both Sean and Lionel were suspended, and Sean realized that he could never do anything about his mother's death while Dani was still leader. However, he didn't give up the thought of revenge. After Dani's husband, Sebastian, was killed by the Shadow, Sean overheard Dani and Theron speaking about the man. That was when he finally understood the truth. Dani had forgiven Theron after he murdered her entire family, because she knew it was all her fault. She had brought a Wolf Hunter to their camp, made him second in command, married him... And kept it hidden from the rest of the clan. In that moment Sean realized he had to do something.

For the following year, Sean made connections within the clan, as well as in the cities, and prepared to take Dani out. The pressure added by Newhaven after the death of the Shadow helped him gather allies in the clan, since many were dissatisfied with how thing were handled in Newhaven that night. When the woman died before he had the chance, Sean had to alter his plans, and greatly, but it was a turn for the best considering Crys' weak leadership in the first weeks of command (which he contributed to, by convincing Lionel to challenge her, forcing her to kill him), and her willingness to open dialogue with the Black Knights that were attacking the camp didn't really make her case. Sean went to King of Blackpond, convinced the man that the best way to break Newhaven was to keep the Pack hostile towards the Black Knights, and taking Crys out would make sure that happened. The assassins from Blackpond attacked Crys, however, Sean still had Evin to deal with. He knew Evin was good friends with Dani, and it was unlikely that the knowledge of Bastian's past would do anything to change that, therefore, Sean needed to get rid of him. However, Evin had made him second in command, and attempting against his life would draw to much attention to him. Sean tried to push the Pack further against the Black Knights, but that didn't seem to do the trick. Before he could come up with another plan, however, Evin found out about his involvement in Crys' "death" and demoted him to worker, threatening to make his life hell.

Sean denied everything, even though it was useless, but it didn't matter because in a matter of minutes after Evin walked away from him, Crys appeared in camp and exposed him as the one behind the attempt on her life. Knowing that he had no way out, and that she was still wounded, Sean challenged her for command, defeating her. Moments away from taking her life, he was interrupted by Allison, who held a dagger to his neck. Knowing it wouldn't look good for him to kill her there, he let Allison go and take Crys with her. He would deal with them later.

Ever since taking command Sean has suffered an immense amount of pressure, between Evin killing each and every Second he has chosen since, Jake poisoning, kidnapping and even murdering his actives, and his own little sister rebelling against him. Even with all of that, the Pack seems to be in a more peaceful moment than it has been in a long time, since the truce with Newhaven and the majority of the clan still remains loyal to his leadership.

Other: Sean hates Allison with a passion, for reasons only known to him.

So begins...

Sean Fletcher's Story

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[The Desert]

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from assassins-camp to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassin’s Camp]

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Assassin's Camp]

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

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

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

[Forest - Near the Newhaven walls]

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

The setting changes from the-desert to The Ruins (Healer's camp)

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Annie Turner woke up before Sunrise, as she usually did, after only a few hours of sleep the night before. She knew she would be hearing from Sean very soon after the way she treated his assassins, but she wasn’t worried about it at the moment. She knew he was capable of quite a lot, but he still had some sort of respect for the healer clan, which made it easier to deal with him than with the rest most of his subordinates.
The day before had been busy and the next ones didn’t show signs of getting any better, but Annie had three years to get used to the fact that she would probably never have another quiet moment again. It had been difficult to gain the clan’s respect, and most of the elders had chosen to leave the White Shadows in protest after Annie reinstated the healers who had fought in the battles against Blackpond, they were offended with how she responded to their claims that her mother would never allow such a thing. They had called her a foolish child for that decision, but that was something she felt was right, and if she had learned anything in her short lived life is that sometimes you just need to follow your instincts, and if the rules are against that… Well… She’d just have to change the rules.

As it was usual, at the first sign of movement coming from her tent, someone came to break the silence. Except, it wasn’t who she thought it would be.
“I hear movement. Are you awake, then?” Ali’s voice called from outside the tent, in a tone only slightly above a whisper.
Annie took her time carefully folding her covers and setting them down on top of her sleeping mat, before replying. “I’m awake, yes. Why are you here, Ali?”
Allison walked into the tent and nodded a greeting as she sat on the floor as she had done many times in the past couple of years. “I’m just visiting a friend.” She stated innocently.
Annie chuckled as she sat down in front of her. “You are never ‘just’ doing anything.” She stated.

“I followed Trevor here, I think it has to do with Katelyn, but I wouldn’t know that for sure, now would I?” She said in a slightly bitter tone. “Because, even if I could ask, he wouldn’t be allowed to tell me.”
“How is your hand recovering?” Annie asked, changing the subject to something a little less dangerous and more of her concern.
“Not much of a change since last time I was here.” She said, holding out her right hand and pulling off her glove to expose the scar that ran across the palm, she slowly began to close her hand, but stopped halfway through, with a sigh. “It’s as far as it goes without pain, and I can barely hold my bow drawn. I mean, I can… But not for very long.”
“Any spasms, shaking or numbness?” Annie asked absently.
“No.” Ali mumbled putting the glove back on and staring at her hand with an angry expression.

Annie sighed. “You were very lucky; if he had been a little more precise your hand would be useless right now. And you’re recovering; slowly, but you are recovering.”
“I know, I just…” Ali sighed running her fingers through her hair. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“You don’t think I understand what it feels like to hate someone so badly that the mere thought of him breathing keeps you awake at night?” Annie asked, standing up and moving to light a fire. “You don’t think I understand going over a decision over a thousand times in your mind wondering what could have been done better, unable to stop even though it’s clear you can’t change anything even if you do find the answer?” She chuckled. “Allison, do you have a clue how many people die on my hands every day? I don’t. I already lost count. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night simply because I figured out how I could’ve helped someone who had already died hours before. Still, I’m the leader of this clan and so… I have to act as if I’m not worried about this land clearly going further and further down the worse possible road.” She sighed. “I’m tired of this war, even more than most people if it’s even possible, and it makes me feel just as angry and helpless as it makes you.”
Ali nodded, quietly, at Annie’s words. Obviously she hadn’t considered it. “I suppose so, but what do you suggest I do? I can’t just take this quietly. I really can’t.”
“Do what I do.” Annie stated. “Ask yourself one question before you act: ‘What good does this do?’ If you can’t think of an answer, then do nothing.” She said, calmly. “Tea?”
“No thank you.” Ali mumbled, still a little lost in her head. “People say ‘do nothing’ as if it was easy.”

Annie sat back down gently stirring a cup of tea. “They say ‘do nothing’ because they believe you’re strong enough for that. Even my mother thought of you as a strong spirit, or so she said, are you really going to act weak and foolish now?”
Ali sighed. “I might just be weak and foolish after all.”
Annie smiled, taking a small sip from her tea. “If you believe that, then yes, you are.”
Ali chuckled in response to Annie’s words. “You sound just like your mother.”
Annie smirked slightly. “Well, someone has to.”
“She really didn’t tell you where she was running off to or why?” Ali asked, with an intrigued expression crossing her face momentarily. She remembered the last time she saw Lena in the desert, but the woman had simply vanished after that, and no one had heard from her since, nor did she give anyone an explanation as to why she was leaving.
“No. She did leave me a few instructions and assured me that she would be back one day.” Annie stated absently, drinking the rest of her tea.
“You seem awfully calm about it.” Ali said, giving her a slightly concerned look. “I mean, I would be a little mad at least.”
“I’ve been mad, but it’s been three years. At some point you just have to let these things go.”

Ali was going to say something else, but at that point a healer entered the tent and interrupted the conversation. “Annie, there is a man here asking to speak with you.” The older woman said as she gave Ali a curious look, noting that the young assassin was still fully armed and had not walked past the gates. “He didn’t give his name, but he asked for you directly. Also: He is accompanied by a young lady, an elf and an orc, it seems.”
Ali nodded quietly and lifted her head to face the woman who was standing. “Is he wearing a mask?” She asked, already sure of what the answer would be.
“Yes, as a matter of fact he is.” The healer answered.
Ali nodded, and gave Annie a slight smile as she explained. “Theron.”
“Hum…” Annie mumbled. “Do you know what he wants?” She asked.
Ali shrugged. “Not a clue.”
“I see…” Annie mumbled, standing and walking over to a locked chest, opening it, and going through its contents until she pulled something out, which she held out of Ali’s sight as she walked out of the tent and followed the healer to where she had left the man named Theron.

As Annie walked towards the man in the mask, she let her eyes wander through the encampment, locating the three companions the man had brought along with him. She also spotted the assassins Ali had mentioned and a few scouts of the Wolfpack that were constantly lurking around in the limits of the forest. Finally she turned her brown eyes the man as she stopped before him and offered a smile. “Theron Lockwood. I have been expecting you.” She told him. Before she could say another word, however, a shout was heard throughout the encampment.

“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”

Annie turned quickly to see the healer named Isaac rushing towards the orc with his fists clenched and eyes glowing pure red, his face was turning red and he was shaking from head to toe in pure rage. “Hell, no.” Annie muttered under her breath and she took off running towards the healer and literally colliding with him in order to pull him away, fully aware that the shock of being tackled was the only thing that kept Isaac from tossing her aside and moving on.
Isaac simply sat on the floor where he had fallen, still shaking, and visibly fighting to control his enlightenment. “She’s going to get herself killed. He has no right!”
“Isaac, get a hold of yourself.” Annie said, in a calm tone, sitting next to him and placing her hands in both sides of the man’s face, forcing him to look at her. “Breathe before you end up hurting us both. Just breathe.”
Isaac took a few moments to calm himself enough to speak. When he finally managed, he spoke in a calmer tone. “I was up all night, trying to keep that woman from running off and doing something stupid, and now this…” He sighed, holding back the insult he wanted to make as he pointed at Barca. “He spends five minutes with her and she runs off to do just that!”
“It was her choice. Otherwise, no amount of talking would have been enough to push her into it. You know that.” She told him.
“Her husband died last night she wasn’t in her right mind just yet.” He argued.
“You have no right to decide that, and you know it. We can’t choose what’s best for people, all we can do is help when we are asked, if we can."
“She’s going to get killed.” He muttered, still visibly angry.
“Probably, but then she knows that too.” Annie replied, getting back on her feet a dusting herself off. “Now go get some sleep. If I managed to tackle you down, then you’re probably too tired.” She told him with a little grin.
The man chuckled, pulling himself off the floor and turning his back to head for his tent.

Once Isaac was out of sight Annie heaved a long sigh and found Theron again, continuing the conversation as if there had been no interruption. She handed him and envelope and smiled. “Like I said, I have been expecting you. My mother left you this, obviously I don’t know what it says, but she told me to give it to you as soon as you came over. Apparently she knew you would be coming here.” She told him with a light shrug. “Why don’t you have a read? If afterwards you still need to talk, you can find me in my tent.” She informed, leaving him with the envelope and starting to walk away. “Oh, and… If your friends need anything, they can ask for it. I just ask that no one upsets my healers, since that would probably end badly, and I have very few of them left.” She said over her shoulder as she walked back to her tent.

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

[Desert – Crimson Shadows Camp]

Crys had slept very little and spent hours playing music in her room, thinking of what to do about all these changes. She had been trying to find a word to describe what she was feeling about all of this, and the only one she could think of was ‘frustration’. She was frustrated about a great deal of things, her greatest frustration was the possibility of three years of work and planning going to waste. She had come to the conclusion that it didn’t matter either: The moment Sean realized Theron was back in Valcrest he would throw any caution out the window. He would present the clan with the opportunity of taking vengeance and, of course, they would gladly take it.

Another concern in her mind was with the Crimson Shadows, it had taken a while, but they were slowly feeling the losses and there had been discussion of whether or not their support to the assassins was worth it. It was Dastan’s decision, and his word was law to the clan, but she knew that eventually he had to think of what was best for his people, and she would never hold that against him. They could move outside the Crimson’s territory, if needed; the desert was big enough for that.

As the Sun finally rose and she could feel the room getting warmer, she got out of bed and made her way out of the temple, stopping at the altar to say her prayers. Crys was never used to praying, but spending time with the Crimson had given her that habit. Dastan often spoke of how he wanted to rebuild the city and make the temple as glorious as it once had been, but he had never actually moved a finger to do it in the time they knew each other. She had asked him why a couple of times… He simply mumbled something about not being ready to let go and quickly changed the subject. She figured it was something he had to handle himself, and simply dropped the subject.

Halfway to the encampment she stopped as she heard some excited whispers from a group of Crimson Shadows, she approached them, simply listening until the noticed and stopped talking. She smiled at the group of mercenaries. “Why do you people sound like you’ve pulled some sort of prank?”
One of the mercenary chuckled. “No, that’s not it. We’re waiting to see if Evin gets out alive."
“Gets out alive from what?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. “What’re you people up to?”
“We built this awesome death trap contraption, type, thing.” One of them stated cheerfully. “We put so many traps into that thing that we don’t even know for sure all it does.” Another added. “Hope he enjoys it. After all we put a lot of thought into it.”
Crys chuckled as the distant sounds of a crumbling structure and several explosions reached her ears. “Oh, I’m sure he’s having fun with it.”

All of a sudden the sound of Dastan’s voice echoed through the small encampment calling his people to scatter the ashes of their fallen companion. The small group of mercenaries left to answer the call of their leader. Crys shook her head still amused by the whole ‘contraption’ thing, and wandered off in the direction the noises had come from until she found Evin. “Huh, so you did get out alive.” She stated absently. “I have some things I’d like to talk about, when you have the time. I’ll be in camp.” She told him, beginning to walk back to the camp to get something to eat.

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

[Assassin’s Camp]

“So, let me see if I get this straight…” Sean started glaring at the actives that he had sent to the healers the night before. “This guy killed two of our men, ran off towards the plains and you three simply left him there and came home. You didn’t even consider standing guard to get him on his way out?” He asked. “You are, of course, aware that he is probably in the desert by now, right?” One of the actives opened his mouth to speak, but Sean cut him off. “I don’t care for your excuses.” He sighed, rubbing his eyes in clear exhaustion. “I will go to the healers myself and have a chat with their leader. Send another messenger to the Crimson offering another truce. Tell them it’s their last chance to surrender the traitors; there won’t be any more warnings.”
The actives bowed their heads and left Sean alone in the office. It had been a very long night, but Sean had slept through it. Aside from an argument that broke out between two brothers, late at night, the camp was quiet as could be.

Standing up from his seat and walking to his bedroom, Sean armed himself before walking outside to the center of camp. Workers were putting out was left of the campfire and the guards were changing shifts, he called one of the instructors over and ordered him to gather a couple of actives and retrieve the bodies of the two men killed, that if they were still where they had been left the night before, only then he would inform the men’s families of their deaths, which was something he absolutely hated doing, but always made sure to do in person.

Walking to the training field he found his brother practicing archery by himself. Opening a grin he sneaked behind him and as the boy was about to release the arrow he shouted. “DONI!”
Donovan jumped up and sent the arrow flying in a completely crooked angle, causing it to sink into the ground, nowhere near its intended target.
“Screw you, Sean!” He muttered. “What do you want?”
Sean chuckled. “Nothing... I’m just saying ‘hi’.” He said, putting one arms around his brother’s shoulders. “I’m going to go see Katie in the plains.”
“I still think you shouldn’t have left her there alone.” Donovan said, frowning slightly. “It’s not safe.”
“She was attacked here, so I don’t really see how that eve matters.” Sean replied. “It’s not safe anywhere anymore, but at least the healers are somewhat left alone.”
“We just need to get rid of them.” Donovan said. “Evin and Crys, they’re the reason why it’s not safe here, right?”
“Yes, I’m working on it.” Sean said with a little nod. “…As we speak, actually. So for now all you have to worry about, little brother, is how easily distracted you are.” He chuckled. “I mean, really, that was a lousy shot.”
Donovan shoved him, annoyed by the comment. “Shut up, you idiot.”
Sean nodded. “Tsk, tsk… You shouldn’t talk to your leader like that. You know, I could have you suspended.”
“You could, but then I’d have to challenge you.” Donovan replied with a grin. “Now, that would put you in a rather awkward position, wouldn’t it?”
“You’re blackmailing me, you little punk!” Sean exclaimed, faking shock.
“Blackmail is such a heavy term, brother. I’m simply reminding you of the possible consequences of your actions, that’s all.” Donovan explained with a less than convincing innocent tone in his voice.
Sean chuckled, patting his brother on the head. “That’s funny, kid, but you don’t want to try me.” He stated walking away from the training field and towards the exit of the camp. As he passed the gates he warned the guards that Avius would be in charge until he got back and that anything important should be taken straight to him. He was going to try, one more time, to offer the White Shadows his protection, and get them to separate themselves from the Crimson for good.

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

[Healer’s Camp]

Ali had walked to the other side of the encampment to one of the small flower gardens that were quieter and more isolated from the camp itself. There she sat by a rock and tried to enjoy the silence and sunlight for at least a moment. Annie had a good point: everyone was tired, everyone was angry for a reason or another nowadays. She needed to breathe, and try to act rationally, or she would only make things worse. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, putting all her attention in the smell of flowers and the cool morning breeze, trying to clear her mind from all the troubles that had been afflicting her lately.

“Mind if I sit?” A slightly weak voice spoke and pierced through Ali’s thoughts. She recognized it as being Sean’s sister and heaved a small sigh.
“You shouldn’t be talking to me Kate.” She replied, not opening her eyes.
“I love my brother, I do, but he needs to stop. Tell me what I can do to help.” The girl asked.
“No.” Ali replied, still not looking at her.
“I can help.” Katie argued.
“Sure you can. You can also get yourself killed by standing in the middle of this and I don’t want that on my conscience. Wait for your brother to pick you up, go home and stay as far away from this as possible.” Ali said, finally opening her eyes and looking up at the girl with an angry look in her eyes.
Kate nodded, and sat down on the grass, resting her chin on her knees. “I was poisoned at home, having done absolutely nothing, simply because one of you guys wanted to mess with my brother’s head. I would much rather be accused of treason and have my life threatened for an actual reason.”
“Your life was never actually at risk, you know that. Do you want to end up like Owen? Because I don’t believe, not for a second, that Sean would be any more merciful to you. Not after what he did to Lionel.” Ali muttered. “If you really want to do something, be there for the clan. Help them because, the Gods know, when all hell breaks loose no one is going to be thinking of them.”
“What do you suggest I do?” Katie asked with a frown. “I’m not even a recruit, who is going to listen to me?”
“You’re the leader’s sister. If you find the right people they’ll listen to the truth.” Ali told her. “Tell them what you just told me, change things from the inside, like your brother did.”

Katie nodded quietly, and for a little while silence lingered in the garden. That until a voice called from behind the two of them; a cold and enraged voice. “Katelyn… Go back to camp.”
Ali didn’t turn to look; she knew that voice all too well. She simply watched with the corner of her eyes as Katie stood up and slowly began to walk away. The girl whispered something to Sean as she walked past him, but Ali couldn’t hear. She couldn’t hear anything anymore, the mere sound of Sean’s voice got her blood boiling and ears ringing in rage. Whatever was left of her senses were turned towards the effort necessary to remain seated and calm. As Sean took a step towards her she finally broke the silence. “Walk away, Sean. Don’t make me disrespect the sanctity of this place by gauging your eyes out.”
Sean stopped walking, but didn’t walk away. “You’re no different from me.” He stated. “Sending Evin to do your dirty work, seriously? I expected more from you Ali, but you’re just a coward who sends a psycho like that to attack a little girl!” He shouted, walking closer. “Does she know? Doe she even know what this was really about? Did you tell her? DID YOU?”

As Sean finished screaming his accusations Ali stood quickly and turned towards him, gripping her bow firmly as if hanging on to it was the only thing stopping her from pulling out a knife. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” She muttered, glaring at him with a disgusted look in her eyes.
He walked closer yet another step, and another, and then another, until there was less than an inch of space between the two. “Tell Sean, this is what he gets for killing Ali’s recruit: Those were the words that piece of shit spoke to my men when he invaded our camp and poisoned my little sister.” She told her, his voice only slightly above a whisper. “So now, I’m just kindly pointing out to you that, out of the two of us, you were the one who dragged a fifteen year old kid who had barely made it through his first mission into something he couldn’t handle, you were responsible for leading every mercenary I’ve killed into MY territory and then causing their deaths. YOU were the one who almost caused my sister’s death, and you are the one hiding while others act for you, I assume because Crys ordered you to stand down. Out of the two of us, who is really the coward, Ali? Tell me!”

It was a split second, maybe even less; all Sean had the time to do was pull himself back to avoid the knife slashing at his chest. Ali didn’t try again; she calmly sheathed the dagger as she replied. “This was me asking a second time for you to back off. Make me ask again and I won’t give you time to dodge. Now: I don’t know that the hell you are talking about. I haven’t asked Evin any favors and Crys didn’t give me any orders. As for what you did to Owen… When I do something about it, believe me, you’ll know it’s me.” She said starting to walk past him towards the encampment.
As she passed Sean shook his head. “Advise your mercenary friends to reconsider their allegiance, Allison. Unless you want to witness yet another massacre…” He whispered. “How many more families can you bear to lose?”
She sighed softly. “Sean, you’d be surprised with what I can still bear. Just remember: the less I have to lose, the worse it will be for you in the end.”

With that said, Ali walked past Sean and began to head towards the exit of the camp, in the direction of the desert.

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

[/b][Newhaven][/b]

(dialogue written in collaboration with The_Sickness)

Jake left the dining room absently thinking about going into the city and visit the market if he had the chance, only half-concerned with the council meeting Dominic had mentioned. If, or when, he was needed, surely someone would ask for him, until then he did have a few things of his own he could tend to around the city. After all, it had been a while since he was last around Newhaven he had some acquaintances he could visit for information and a few things that he could do.

While he walked the hall he caught pieces of conversation between the guards, they seemed to be talking a lot about Mageria leaving in a hurry and something to do with Thomas keeping something from her. Aside from thinking that Thomas wasn't being very smart he didn't really pay attention. He just kept walking the halls in the direction of the courtyard.

Michael walked the hall after collecting his armor from his hiding spot and setting his cloak back where it belonged.
He then skipped back through the hall in full armor causing the same "thunk" sound over and over again that he had the night before.
Michael was headed back to the main room when he happened across Jake.
The man for whatever reason didn't seem to be like anyone else in the castle.
He just seemed different from the usual, boring, run of the mill, knight.
And thus Michael stopped in his tracks and walked around him like a shark circling it's prey.
"Hm you're no black knight.
Or if you are you certainly aren't the spoiled child in armor this place breeds"
He stood in front of Jake only a moment seemingly sizing him up, with a raise of a black gloved finger Michael once more started to circle him.
"So tell me my boy what..." he said walking by his left ear.
"brings you.." he said walking by his right ear
"here." which was said as he stood in front of Jake his hands clasped by his waist.
Michael's voice then rose slightly as he said "Hmm?"

Jake stopped in his tracks and simply let his eyes follow the man that was circling him like a hound. Once the man finally stopped in front of him, inconveniently blocking his path, Jake gave a slightly curious look as he answered. "My horse, brought me here. And I might be a Black Knight, or I might be something else entirely... I can be a lot of different things if I want." He stated with a light shrug of shoulders. He then crossed his arms over his chest and added "The name's Jake, by the way. Not 'boy', not 'kid'... Jake. And you, pal, who are you? " He asked, scanning the man with his eyes, not yet sure what to make of him.

Michael wagged his index fignerback and forth a smile playing at the corners of his lips.
"Touchy, touchy..tsk tsk tsk.
I thought you different from the rest of these sods in their shiny armor but no..."
he sighed before continuing with his hands clasped behind his back.
"you're not are you? After all if two tiiiiiiiiiny words can unnerve you so quickly imagine the damage done by an entire conversation.
Still though..."
The ghost of a sceptical look haunted his face over and over as he watched what he could only view as a boy before him.

"Jake you said your name was yes?
Your horse brought you here, very astute, though not quite the reason for the question.
You see dear boy I have little patience for the lack luster performance of many here.
As you have no doubt seen.
The guards this place wields are litle more than toy soldiers for the most part.
Save a few..."
Michael then put his right hand over his heart and his voice lowered to just over a growl as he said
"such as myself. But I sensed something different about you. Perhaps I was wrong though or perhaps I still have something to learn from you yet.
Which one is it?"

Jake raised an eyebrow at man's speech, thinking that this place had grown far more crazy than he remembered it and that maybe there was something specifically peculiar about his person for him to be drawing so much of it. Even so, he decided not to be unnecessarily rude and indulge this person. "Well, everyone is different in some way, friend. So I take it you are looking for something different in me, but different in a specific sense, therefor you are seeking something which is similar to some sort of trait or quality you believe to be better or more important, which the others here, or most of them, do not possess. You think I may be different than them in such a way. I may or may not be, but either way I wouldn't really be completely different nor completely equal to anyone. Now, would I?" He made a short pause following the question, after which he went on. "As for whether you have something to learn about me, well... I think you can always learn from people, but then... If I told you, how would you ever learn?" He asked with a small grin. "And I'm sorry, Sir, but I don't think I caught your name. He added, knowing very well that the man hadn't given any name.

Michael's face and tone quickly took on a less than pleased atmosphere.
"My name is not "sir" not now, not ever.
Do bear that in mind my good man and pardon my manners."
He then bowed with his right arm folded at his waist.
"My name is James, Michael James"
As he stood to right himself he said plainly
"At your service."
He then looked up as if in thought a moment before continuing, his eyes now meeting the man in front of him.

"Oh you would surprised at the things I can and have learned.
Perhaps more surprised at the things I know.
Buuuut..."
His voice became deeper and more cynical in nature.
"As you said, if I told you, how would you ever learn?"
This was accompanied by a slight laugh.
This guy was managing to if nothing else entertain the former general.
And holding Michael's interest longer than a minute was something few managed to do.
"Now dear boy the question remains.. are you the warrior I think you are?
Or are you like any of the rest of the lot here?
You know incapable of action without orders?"

Jake chuckled. "Well, I can say I have learned quite a bit with this much conversation, but I won't bore you with the many things I see in you, as I am certain you know yourself too well to find it interesting." He stated, seemingly unaffected by the man's reaction to such a harmless term as 'sir' although it had told him something, as well as his overly polite speech and the way he carried himself altogether. It all added up to a very interesting individual, that to say the least. "As for your question: There is very little I'm incapable of, Michael. Whether I accept an order or not usually depends on whose order it is, what kind of order it is and what situation I'm in. So, I'm not sure if I can answer your question unless I'm faced with the opportunity to follow a given order or not." He replied, tilting his head to the side only slightly in curiosity. "Now, I have a question: What is a man such as yourself doing amongst toy soldiers and spoiled children? You don't seem devoted enough to Newhaven to be making the sacrifice of surrounding yourself with such mediocrity just so you can defend it. So I'm left to assume something else keeps you here."

Michael started circling him once more, his hands clasped behind his back.
"Very astute, my purpose here is simple.
This job pays me where none anywhere else would.
I would dare to say I could cure this place of the pit of mediocrity it has turned into but alas the leaders of this place will not allow it.
Of course I have other reasons to be here my boy but those are a lesson for some other time. Yes?
In keeping with the spirit of the conversation, perhaps you might endulge me. After all..."
he said with a devious, yellow toothed smile
"I showed you mine, now you get to show me yours... what brings you here exactly? You do not strike me either as the type to be entirely devoted to Newhaven."

"Hum..." Jake mumbled again following Michael with his eyes as he circled. "Suppose I can't say I am devoted to Newhaven or anything else for that matter. What was left of my devotion has been taken from me a while ago. So, to answer your question, I'm here simply because I want to. Why do I want to? I'm not really sure, I suppose because it's a familiar place and it's nice to sleep in a bed and eat real food for a change. You know, those little comforts you simply don't get while living with the healers." Giving a small shrug, he added. "Of, course, I do have small bit of history with the Black Knights, but that might be a story for another time, if you can push enough alcohol on me to make me willing to tell it."

"Sleeping?
Here of all places?
Come now I would sooner sleep in the forest. Although.."
He said rubbing his chin a moment
"Your answers indicate some similarities between yourself and me.
How very..."
He looked up in thought and righ as his eyes lowered once more he said with his voice lowering to just over a growl a he continued.
"disturbing.
Though I should've expected no less Valcrest seems to be filled with self serving sinners of all kinds.
Some more covert in their self serving nature than others.
No, no my boy you are deffinetly no knight.
You may well wear the armor, you may even take inclination to take orders from time to time but you are not now.
Nor have you ever been a knight at heart.
Something around your eyes betrays that vert sentiment."

Jake chuckled in response to Michael statements. "We are all selfish at our core. However some people's selfishness actually serves the purpose of doing others good, and those who benefit from said selfishness perceive it as a selfless act. I mean, do-gooders wouldn't help others if it made them feel like shit, so the fact that they help others is nothing more than an attempt to make themselves feel good, which is actually pretty selfish. Everything we do in our lives is done either to achieve some sort of gratification or to avoid pain. No more, no less." He said, casually leaning against a wall. "I've been a part of nearly every faction in Valcrest, give or take a few, so I can tell you this: No one is really a Knight or assassin, or healer, or mercenary, at heart. In our hearts we are all simply human; whatever the hell it means. In that I'm no different, and neither are you."

He grew silent after that statement for a moment or so, before opening a small smile. "Bottom line: We are what people see in us, at the same time as we are what we believe we are. So who, or what, I am... Can be anything at any given moment. It just depends on whose point of view it is. It's pretty funny, to say the least. Wouldn't you say?" Following the question he pulled away from the wall and stretched, groaning slightly as he felt some of his muscles still sore from the training session the night before. He then nodded towards the path leading to the main entrance and added. "I have personal affairs to tend to, friend. So unless there's anything else you wish to discuss, I better be going now."

Michael listened carefully and for once a thoughtful expression crept across his face.
"I suppose perception does make a great deal of what one is.
Both perception of oneself and how others perceive us."
His step now took a long, pacing stride.
He then watched Jake walk and chuckled cynically at being called "friend"
"Oh my boy, there is a world of difference between us, you will come to know this in time.
For now though I also have more pressing matters to tend to."
With that Michael strolled once more to his seat in the great room in front of the fire with his legs stretched out.

Jake left the castle in a hurry after speaking with Michael; he really didn’t want anyone else to approach him for conversation or tell him what they thought he was like. While that was entertaining in a way, two conversations like that in less than an hour was more than he could take. He only made one stop to let a member of the Black Guard know he’d be in the city for a couple and he could be reached there if something came up. After that he left the castle without even paying attention to whether someone tried to speak with him or not.

Upon reaching the city, Jake’s first stop was the Inn where he had been the night before. He had read the information he was given, and now he had to return the favor, so to speak. As he walked through the front door he quickly scanned the place for anyone who might know his face. There was no one he knew, only Sheila and two or three customers, probably there to get something to eat. He looked a little more intently at this one guy; he looked like a mercenary, but something about him seemed different. Brushing it aside, he jumped over the counter and stopped before the woman he had spoken to the night before and gave her a playful smirk. “Come sit with me, we need to talk.” He told her.
“I’m working Jake…” She stated simply, walking around him to clean something that had been spilled on the counter.
“Oh, come on… There’s, what, two customers here? It will only take a minute.” Jake argued, taking her hand and pulling her around the counter and towards a table in the corner.
She chuckled. “Now… When you say that, I know for a fact that I won’t be having any fun.”

Jake sat down and indicated the seat across from him. “Just sit, Sheila. I’d like to finish this conversation before someone familiar shows up in here.”
Sheila sat down on the chair across from him and leaned forward so they could keep their voices down. “What is so important?”
“Have you sent your weekly report yet?” Jake asked her, also leaning forward.
“No, I’ll be sending it this afternoon, why?” She asked, a curious expression crossing her features.
“I need you to pass Sean some important information. First, tell him that a woman came to see the Queen yesterday; a representative from Blackpond. I’m not sure what exactly she wanted, but the Pack was mentioned, so I think they should try contacting Sean at some point.” Jake said stated, with a small frown, remembering the conversation he had with the woman. “Last, but not least… Tell him I’m in town.”

Sheila nodded. “First of all, that’s very helpful information… Why are you passing it along? Second of all: Are you insane? If Sean finds out you’re here he is going to go crazy.”
“I’m passing it along because I think Blackpond is something no one should be getting involved in for any reason right now. And yes, I know. I’m counting on him going crazy; the crazier the better. Flipping out and doing something to upset Newhaven authorities would be greatly welcomed. So you may tell him I’ll be residing in the castle if he wants to come get me.” Jake told her with a slightly evil grin.
“You’re insane. If the ‘Newhaven authorities’ find out you are doing this, won’t they be pissed at you?” She asked.
“Probably, but I don’t care what the consequences are for me… I want Sean buried, and for that I’ll make sure he digs his own grave.” He stated, firmly. “Will you do this for me?”
Sheila sighed. “If that’s what you want…”She said with a small shrug. “It would be such a waste if someone put yet another mark on that pretty face of yours, though. Promise you’ll be careful?”
“I’m always careful.” He stated, smiling.
“Uh-huh… Do you forget how long we’ve known each other Jacob?” She said, giving a highly skeptical look. “So, tell me: Are you still into that redhead or can I put my hopes up finally?”
Jake grimaced slightly at the question. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”
Sheila chuckled. “Oh, so you still like her. What did you do wrong?”
“Why would you immediately assume I did something wrong?” He asked, raising an eyebrow. “I haven’t seen her in over a year, so I really don’t know what to tell you there… I should get going, though.” He stated, standing up to leave.

The moment Jake got up though, three assassins walked into the inn, the two that walked in first didn’t seem to notice Jake, but the third man took one look at him and whispered something to the others. They immediately walked to where Jake was, pulling daggers. “Jake Turner.” One of them stated. “You don’t remember me, right?”
Jake sighed, knowing that he was probably going to have to cause some sort of commotion to get out of this, which wasn’t what he wanted. “I don’t know, should I remember you?”
“I was there on the last time you visited our camp.” The man stated. “You killed my brother that night.” The man told him, stepping forward and pushing Jake into a wall.
“Come on now…” Jake said holding up empty hands. “This is neutral territory; I’m not here to fight.”
“It’s not neutral for you, traitor!” Another assassin said, holding up his blade against Jake’s neck.
Jake sighed, nodding slightly at Sheila when he noticed her move towards the men. He watched her back away towards the counter. “Now, gentlemen, let’s be reasonable here. If anyone of you had the guts to kill me here, I would be dead right now, so… The only question is: How badly do you want to get hurt, before I walk out of here?”

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[Newhaven: Castle]

(This cutesy little scene was written in collaboration with Trickster)

Lilly was humming softly as she worked on her latest masterpiece. Knight Mica was sad, so she was making him something pretty. She had a collection of chalks in lots of bright colors and she was using them to draw a whole field of pretty flowers on his door. Maga had made her promise to never ever ever go in a Knights room without asking first, but she never said anything about staying outside their room. Humming softly, Lilly stretched up as high as she could, adding a couple of hearts and stars to the sky above the flowers.

Behind her, Puppy sighed softly as he lay on the floor. Bright streaks of color were clustered around his shoulders and head were Lilly had wiped her hands on his fur. Suddenly he wolfed softly and sat up, Lilly spun around and glared at the person standing in the hallway, both hands on her hips.
“You can’t look, I’m not done yet!”

Luckas was just strolling carelessly down the halls of the castle, beginning to feel extremely bored as he hadn't encountered anyone fun to play with, only a few guards who were barely even interesting and had no relevant information to give, they didn't even try to stop him and ask what he was doing there... So boring.
Turning another corner, he saw something he didn't really expect to see wandering this part of the castle: A little girl, around six years old, drawing on a door with a wolfhound lying near her.
The dog was the first to notice Luke, but soon he was being scolded for looking at the drawing before it was finished. His response was to cover his eyes with his hands immediately. "Sorry, not my intention. I was just passing by." He said, opening a small gap between his fingers to peek at the girl. "So... You're the new decorator, I'm guessing?"

Lilly scrunched her face up in confusion. This was somebody that she'd never seen before, so that made him a stranger, and she wasn't supposed to talk to strangers. But he was in the Castle which meant he was ok, 'cause the people in the Castle were always nice to you. But Puppy wasn't getting angry and that meant that it was ok to talk to him. "I'm not a decorator, I'm Lilly." Moving over to Puppy, she grabbed his ear; turning it bright blue in the process and looked up at the stranger with her head tilted to the side. "Who're you?" Puppy whined and she patted him between the ears. "Are you lost?" She swung one arm back and forth and accidentally jerked on Puppy's ear with the other. "Cause if your lost all you have to do is ask onna the Knights and they'll make sure you find where your 'possed to be." She smiled brightly. "I can help you find a Knight. All you have to do is be where your not 'possed to be and cry and they find you. And then they find where you belong."

Luckas chuckled at the girl's logic on how to find a Knight. "I'm Luckas. You can call me Luke though." He said, lowering his hands and looking at the door. "So, Lilly, if you're not a decorator, why are you decorating the door?" He asked curiously. "And I'm not actually lost... No. I'm looking for a friend and she is a Knight, but I haven't had any luck finding her and I don't want the other Knights to see me because I want to surprise her." He said, absently offering his hand for the hound to sniff as a greeting. "You live here then?" He asked, still a little confused as to why there was a little girl in this part of the castle.

Lilly waved with one hand. "Hiya Luke. I'm givin' Kni' Mike some flowers 'cause he needs somethin' pretty." She watched Puppy sniff Luke's hand and looked over at the door. Picking up the orange chalk, she added one more big flower right in the middle of the door and stood back and nodded happily. She pointed at it and looked over her shoulder. "You can look at it now." Carefully she started to pick up her chalks, making sure that each of them got found.
"Yeah, me and a buncha kids live down in those rooms." She pointed over her shoulder. "We's not supposed to know, but Maga got inna bunch of trouble over it. They tried to tell her what to do and she got mad and then she got her way." She leaned over and whispered. "You always wanna listen to what Maga says. She get's scary when she's mad. If your a grown up anyways. Jason burned off somma her hair when he found out he was 'Lightened and she didn't yell at him or nothing."

"I see... Well, we all need something pretty sometimes, that's for sure." Luke said with a little nod as he got permission to look at the drawing. "Very nice. I'm sure he'll enjoy it." He said, looking at the pretty flowers and hearts the girl had painted all over the Knight's door. He looked a little intrigued while Lily explained to him that there were other kids living in the castle as well, and that 'Maga', who he assumed was Mageria for what the girl was saying, had picked a fight to make that happen. Luke chuckled. "Yeah... She was pretty scary when I tried to use my ability on her." He said absently. "Suppose she thinks I'm a grown up then?" He said, slightly amused. "You wouldn't happen to know where she is, now would you?" He smiled.

Lily scrunched up her face and thought for a moment. "I think she left to find somebody. Maybe he gots lost? But she'll come back. You can come play with me till she comes home!" Holding her bag of chalk with one hand she grabbed Luke's hand with the other and started towing him down the hallway. "Puppy, come!" Puppy whined and heaved himself up, following them and sniffing at some of the doorways. Lilly towed her new friend into the sunny day room that was where most of the other kids stayed during the day. There were tables along one side where they ate and made stuff and things, while the other side had all the toys and games. She pulled Luke over to her corner, past some of the other kids, to where there was a little table covered with a pretty cloth and a couple of chipped dishes.
"Here. You can have tea with me an' Puppy." Puppy, being used to this, made his way to another spot and laid his head on the table, sighing and looking over at Luke with a resigned look in his eyes. In the spot across from Luke there was a battered teddy bear, it was canted to one side and looked like it had lost a fight or two.
Lily hurried over the dress up chest and pulled an armload of things out, coming back and handing them out to the people at the table. Luke got a child's cape with some sort of Knight's symbol on it, Puppy got a princess hat that she had to tie on, and the teddy bear got a little crown.
"Would you like some tea?" she asked Luke, holding out a small tea pot filled with juice and waiting for Luke to hold out his cup.

"I, uh... Yeah, sure." Luckas mumbled under his breath, not knowing how to say 'no' to this. Not that Lily was actually giving him much of a choice as she dragged him down the hall to what was clearly a playroom and pulled him to a small table to have tea. Well, it's not like he didn't have the time to waste on a tea party anyway, he wasn't in a hurry. Besides, he wasn't the kind of guy who denied kids of their fun. So, he examined the cape he was handed with an amused expression before putting it on and holding out his cup. "Sure, I'd like some tea." He replied. "And who's your friend?" He asked nodding towards the teddy bear.

Lily carefully poured some 'tea' into the cup that Luke held out for her, then into a saucer for Puppy, and finally into a cup for both the bear and herself before sitting down. Luke wanted to know how her bear was and since they were having a tea party she had to say it the way that the grownups did. Carefully she sat up straight and said, "This is Sir Penic, Knight Captain of the Order of the Eternal Light," in her most grown up voice. Noticing that he was all crooked, she reached over and carefully sat him up, fixing his shirt and patting him on the head. "He's done lotsa brave things, like fighting monsters and stuff. And he goes on quests and finds treasures and . . . and . . . lotsa things like that."
Across from her Puppy leaned over and started slurping up juice from his saucer, the gauzy ends of the scarf on his hat caught over one ear. Behind them she could hear Mally and Tina arguing about something, just like always.

Suddenly Sarah noticed that she had a new friend and came over to be bossy. Sarah was one of the ladies that took care of them during the day, and she hated it when Lily went anywhere she wasn't supposed to, even if she had Puppy with her.
"Lily, who do we have here?" Her voice was all nice and pretty but her eyes were all mean when she looked at Luke.

Luke listened to Lily's introduction of the bear and nodded politely taking a small sip from his 'tea', raising his little finger as he did so, much like he had seen rich people do when he was a kid. Setting the cup down on the small table he immediately turned towards the bear and bowed the best he could. "Well, it is an honor to meet your acquaintance, Sir Captain." He said.

As he sat up straight again he caught sight of a woman walking over with the the corner of his eyes. As she stopped next to the table and asked Lily who he was, Luke caught the woman's eyes on him and his smile shut as he held her gaze, but only for a moment. As he stood up again and extended one hand to her, he offered the woman a smile, although a slightly different one than he had offered Lily. "Well hello there, ma'am. I'm Luckas." He greeted. "I was just wandering past, looking for a friend I've come to visit and Lily invited me for tea." He chuckled. "I couldn't say no, now could I? That would be very rude of me."

Sarah's eyes darted between Lily, Puppy and Luckas. Seeing that Puppy was just trying to get the last of his juice out of the saucer, she relaxed fractionally and took his hand.
"I'm sorry, but I have to watch out for the children. May I ask who you're here to see?"


Luke, seeing that the woman accepted his handshake and didn't try to scare him off as if he was some kind of lunatic, as most usually did, relaxed a bit himself. "The Captain of the Black Knights." He answered simply. "She's not expecting me though and I would bet she'd be surprised to see me. We haven't crossed paths in, I think, three years. "Actually, I was hoping to sneak up on her... For old times sake. It's a little game, of sorts, that we like to play." He said, with a small grin. "Well, I like it at least."

Sarah raised one eyebrow when he said he was there to visit the Captain. She always had the strangest visitors . . . Nodding, she patted Lily on the head and smiled fractionally. "Please don't upset the children while you're waiting. Especially Jason." She indicated an older boy sitting over by the window reading a book. "There's too many things around here that could burn if he get's upset. And if you can, keep Lily here, she's not supposed to be wandering around the Castle." She patted Puppy on the head and went back to the girls that she had been watching, leaning over to point at something in the lessons that they were working on, while at the same time making no bones about the fact that she was continuing to watch over the two of them.

Lily made a face at Sarah's back as the woman walked away. "She's bossy." She plopped back down and chewed on a finger. "You're playing hide and seek with Maga? You must be really good at it." She poured more tea into his cup and drank her own with tiny little slurps.

Luckas didn't answer the woman and just let her wander off, perfectly aware that she would continue to keep an eye on him. Not that it mattered; he didn't plan on doing anything unusual right now... At least not yet. Sitting back down, he nodded. "Well, grown ups can be like that sometimes." He said, glancing at the boy the woman had called Jason with slight curiosity. "And I am pretty good at hide and seek, I'm better at hiding than seeking, but yeah..." He answered with a little smile. "That's one of my favorite games." He said with a little nod, looking around curiously and deciding he might as well sit there and play until he found something more interesting to do.

Characters Present

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

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Sean watched Allison leave, frowning as she walked away. He resisted the urge to stab her in the back and walked into the encampment, where he spotted a healer and asked her for Annie.
“Miss Turner is speaking to a visitor right now, would you please wait for her? I will let you know when she’s free.”
“Alright, good… Have you seen my sister anywhere? A teenage girl, dark brown hair…”
“Oh, yes, she was talking to Isaac.” The healer pointed at one of the tents. “Over there.”
“Thank you.” Sean mumbled walking towards the tent he had been pointed at. As he got nearer though he stopped as he could listen to the conversation going on inside:

“… I know, but I’m really confused. Sean is my brother, I love him, and he was always great to me, but I can’t ignore what he’s done to the clan… To our family… I mean, he told me he tried to stop Lionel, and that was a lie. I can’t trust him, no matter how hard I try, and Donovan is very close to turning out the same.”
“What do you think your father would say about this?”
Kate let out a small, embittered chuckle. “If my father knew half of what Sean pulled… I think he would want to kill him personally. I think about it sometimes. I’m not much of a fighter, and I don’t have it in me to kill anyone, even less my own brother, but I do think about it. I think Sean is doing more harm than good, and I know he won’t listen or change.”
“You don’t think he is doing the clan a service as a leader, then? For what I’ve heard they seem pleased with his leadership.”
“Sure they do, within the clan things are fine, but we have more enemies now than we have ever had; The White Shadows are a good example of this: Our clans used to cooperate, now our actives are openly threatening healers as if it was no problem. The Crimson will eventually take a greater stand against us because, fools and mercenaries as they are, they don’t respond well to anyone or anything threatening their way of life; They are faithful to their traditions and their land, and they will fight us before betraying an ally.” She sighed heavily and went silent for a few minutes. “I’m sorry Isaac, this is really not your problem.”
The man chuckled. “No, no… That’s what we’re here for. I’m more than used to listening to people.” He told her. “It’s just easier sometimes to talk to a stranger, right?”
“I guess it is.” She replied.

Sean shook his head slowly at Katie’s words, but decided it was best not to let his sister know he was there. Katie was just a kid; she still believed there was justice in the world, somewhere. It was a matter of time until she realized that there was none. What was considered fair by most was only available to few, and those were the people who had the power and means to make justice for themselves. Everyone else was just fated to conform; there was nothing they could do, and no one who would do a thing for them. Forgiveness was nothing more than that: A pretty word for conformity. Sean refused to forgive; he wanted justice and he just didn’t care what price he would have to pay for it. Not anymore.

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

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

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

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[The Desert – Crimson Shadows Camp]

After the conversation she had with Evin, Crys spent most of her day in the training area, thinking things through. There was something she desperately wanted to do, but she didn’t know if she should. It was risky, to say the least. Finally she heard steps behind her and snapped out of her thoughts when Ali spoke in an angered tone. “Where’s Evin?”
“He said he was going to the plains, you missed him, I think.” Crys told her, not turning around from where she was standing, throwing knives at a dummy. “And where were you?”
“I went to see Annie, I needed to vent. Why?” Ali said
“You went to see Annie, and…?” Crys asked walking towards the dummy to retrieve the knives she had thrown at its head.
“And, Theron was there, I avoided him… And Sean showed up. I couldn’t avoid him.” Ali stated.
At that moment Crys turned around to face Ali with a serious look on her face. “Sean was in the plains?”
“He was. I think he was there because of what happened to Katelyn, but… I don’t know. I don’t like it.” Ali said, taking a seat on a nearby boulder.
“Did he see you?” Crys asked simply.
“Oh, he saw me. We spoke.” Ali responded.

Crys went silent for minute or two, facing Ali as if she saw something amusing there. “Alright, you know… I’m sick of this attitude of yours; stand up.”
Ali snorted out a chuckle. “What?”
“Are you deaf? Stand. Up.” Crys repeated.

Ali didn’t know what this was all about, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out either, but even so she stood up and walked a few steps to the center of the arena, watching Crys walk to the weapon rack and pick up a wooden sword. She walked back slowly and threw the sword to her. Ali grabbed the training sword in the air with her left hand, looking at Crys with suspicion as she dropped her own weapons on the floor. “What do you expect me to do with this?”
“What the hell do you think?” Crys told her, walking closer and crossing her arms over her chest. “Hit me.”
“I’m not going to do that.” Ali said simply, dropping the training sword and turning to walk away.
“It was your fault, what happened with Owen. You should have known better than to get him involved. You should have known he wouldn’t be able to tell when things got too risky. It was your responsibility to make sure he got out alive. You failed him completely, and that’s why he died.”
Ali lowered her head and sighed. “I know that.”
“Yes, and you also know that Sean was the one who actually killed him, and no matter whose fault it is, there is nothing you can do to change that.” Crys said, picking up the training sword and offering it to Ali again. “Take it.”
“I don’t want to hit you.” Ali told her, with an annoyed expression.
Crys laughed out. “Oh, yes you do, but I didn’t say I was going to let you. Come on, pick it up or you’ll have to fight me empty handed.”
Ali turned to face Crys and took the training sword heaving a sigh. “Are you sure? I’ve been practicing you know.”
Crys shook her head, laughing. “Not enough, you haven’t.”

-Two hours later-

Ali walked out of the training area with a small limp and a visible bruise on her neck, where Crys had punched her to end the fight. She was muttering to herself things she should have done differently, frowning, although it did help her feel better. Crys had a very good point in what she told her: Owen was only one person that was going to get caught in the middle of this, if she wasn’t prepared to be responsible for those deaths, she was useless.

Ali was so distracted with her thoughts that she didn’t even noticed Jackson walking in her direction; she collided with him before looking up to face the mercenary, who was visibly about to fall down drunk. “Jack, are you feeling alright?”
The man stopped and stared at her for a long while, trying to focus on her face. “Ther’s a woof at th’ gates, lookin’ for tryscal.”
“There’s a what, looking for… What?” Ali asked, looking at him with confusion.”
“A woof, lookin’ for tryscal.” Jackson repeated, apparently confused about what part of the message was unclear.
Ali stopped to think and try to make sense of what the man was trying to say. As she managed to put the pieces together, she smacked her own forehead and laughed out. “Oh! A Wolf! Looking for Crystal!”
“Tha’s wut I sad!” Jackson exclaimed, laughing as if Ali had said something incredibly silly.
Ali shook her head and patted the man’s shoulder. “Sure it was… Sure it was. Can you go tell ‘Tryscal’ for me?”
“S-ure.” He answered, a hiccup breaking the word in two as he stumbled off towards the arena.
“Well… He’s going in the right direction at least.” Ali said, watching to make sure the man actually went to the training fields where she had left Crys, before walking towards the gates.

Once she got to the gates she saw a shaky, pale and scared-looking figure of an assassin. The guy was shaking from head to toe, and had a terrified look in his eyes; he also he his right hand wrapped around a bloody cloth. “What the hell…” Ali muttered, before walking past the Crimson that were all facing the man as if he would jump on them at any moment. She stopped in front of the man and waved the mercenaries away. They walked back to a more comfortable distance, but still stayed close enough to watch her back. “What do you want?” She asked him.
“I… I… I need help.” He mumbled, stumbling forward and landing on his knees.
“Are you joking?” Ali asked raising an eyebrow. “Why would we ever help you?”
“I had n-nowhere else to go, there’s was n-no one else…” He stuttered. “Sean went crazy after Evin invaded camp yesterday. Me and a couple of friends had smuggled some booze in, for kicks… He blamed it on us that Evin got in so easily. We were punished…” He stopped talking, and simply sat there on the ground shivering for a few moments before he managed to speak again. “Sean told Avius to ‘handle us’, we were whipped in front of the whole clan, an example to the others. I got the worse of it though. Evin was sitting right next to me and I didn’t recognize him. When Sean found out about that he….” The man sighed, slowly freeing his hand from the bloody cloth that protected it, showing that his ring finger had been cut off. “I can’t go back. I have no place to go. Please.”
Ali took a good look at the injury… It looked very much self-inflicted, and she knew for a fact that Sean was the kind of sick bastard that would talk someone into this.

As she thought about it, Crys showed up behind her. “What is this?” She asked, frowning at the man that was now sobbing on the floor. “By the way, next time don’t send me a drunken idiot for a messenger. Took me quite some time to understand what the hell he was trying to say.”
Ali chuckled. “Sorry, I wanted to check this out for myself before you got here. This poor loser here is asking that we take him in. Apparently Sean took his ring, finger and all.”
Crys immediately picked up on the fact that Ali didn’t believe the story, but as she raised an eyebrow and turned to her she sounded interested. “You don’t say…” She mumbled, looking back to the man. “Well… I don’t really know what you expect us to do about it, but if that’s true, you can take your plea to the head of the Crimson Shadows and if he believes you, you’ll be welcome to stay.”
“T-thank you. I’ll do that.” He answered.
Crys nodded and gave Ali a very discrete signal that told her to keep an eye on the guy. “You do that, now excuse me… I have some errands I need to take care of.”

Ali sighed heavily watching the shivering figure. The guy was lying, but it seems like Crys wanted Sean to believe they had bought it. Fine, she’d play along. Looking at one of the Crimson who seemed to be a little less intoxicated and asked her for clean bandages and a bottle to clean the man’s wounded hand. Sitting next to him on the floor, she grabbed his wrist without asking permission and mumbled a “this will sting”, before pouring a good amount of alcohol on his wounded hand, and act that was followed by several complaints of the Crimson due to her ‘waste of good booze’. “So…” She mumbled starting to wrap the bandages around the guy’s hand. “What’s your name?”
“Eric.” He answered.
“Very, well, Eric…” She told him. “While I’m usually a very nice person, Sean Fletcher has harmed me to the point of anything slightly, remotely, related to him being able to turn me into a violent bitch. So, let me make something perfectly clear…” She sunk her nails painfully into his wound and leaned closer, staring menacingly into his eyes. “If you do anything, ANYTHING, that leads me to believe you are still working with the Wolfpack, I will cut your every finger, toe, hand… Hell, I will slice you into little chewable pieces and send you back to Sean in a little wooden box. Are we understood?”
The man simply nodded in response, since he was in too much pain to be able to utter a word.
“Good.” She said, releasing him. “Welcome to the desert.”

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

[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 12 years ago]

Crys was sitting by the lake, it was cold away from the camp fire, but at least she was alone. She had another outburst that morning, she couldn't stand being around almost anyone anymore ever since her enlightenment began to manifest itself, almost a year ago. She was scared all the time and she just didn’t know how she would ever be able to live with this her whole life; it was unimaginable.
After a good while of enduring the shivering cold, Crys felt a blanket dropping down on her shoulders and sighed. “Hey, uncle Eldric.”
“Hey, kid.” The man greeted, sitting next to her on the ground. “Are you trying to freeze?”
Crys moved away from him slowly and simply shrugged.
“It’s your birthday, Crys… Why are you hiding out here?” He asked.
“I can’t handle a party right now.” She said, rubbing her eyes. “I’m tired anyway.”
“I’m sure you are… Kicking and screaming can be pretty exhaustive.” He said with a little chuckle.
“Shut up.” She muttered.
He laughed. “Oh, come on, kid… Don’t be like that.” He said. “I made you a present, but… Before I let you have it, you’ll need to sit through one of my stories.”
Crys sighed. “Fine. Not like I’m doing something important anyway…”
Eldric laughed some more, it seemed he just couldn’t stop laughing at her, she didn’t know whether she should laugh right back or be angry at the man. Finally she shook her head and opened a little smile. “What’s the damn story?” She asked.
“When I was a kid, not older than you, Dani’s mother, you grandmother, had the habit of gathering the recruits and telling them stories of the Twins and the time they spent in Valcrest.” He chuckled. “Now, Dani wasn’t a recruit yet, but she was an annoying little thing, and wouldn’t shut up unless she was allowed to hear the stories too. And her favorite story happened to be about the origin of music. You like music, right?”
“Sure.” Crys nodded.
“Sure, but do you know where it came from?” He asked her.
“I assume that you’re just about to tell me.” She replied with a grin.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.” He said, letting another chuckle. “It goes a little but like this:

Heart and Mind were the fifth pair of Twins to arrive in Valcrest. As soon as they arrived, Heart was amazed by the Land and its beauty. She found it all so perfect that she felt there was nothing she would change or improve, thus, she decided she would give something to the humans; something that would allow them to appreciate the beauty of the world and of the people around them much better, she gave them the gift of emotions.

Now, at first, the humans weren’t all too pleased with Heart’s gift. Emotions were complicated, they were impossible to control, and even after Mind gave the humans reason, emotions seemed to often overcome it. As a result, a group of humans decided to go to the Goddess and beg her to take the gift away. They didn’t want to have their actions controlled by emotions anymore, most of all: They didn’t want to feel pain anymore.

Heart listened patiently to the complaints of the humans, and then told them to follow her into the forest. The humans didn’t understand, but complied and followed Heart to the depths of the forest, to its darker and quieter corner. Once there, Heart said that she would not take the emotions away, but she would give them another gift; something that would allow them to feel happy any time they wanted. She then asked them to close their eyes and be silent.
Intrigued with the offer, the humans did as they were told and closed their eyes. After a moment or two a sound filled their ears; a sound like nothing they had had heard before. As they listened to it, they felt their troubles fade and their hearts fill with joy.

Heart then told the humans that this was music, and that music was something that could be created at will by their own hands, at any moment and it would always bring them comfort. Ever since that day, wherever there were humans in Valcrest, there was also music.”

Crys listened to the story with interest. She’d never heard it before. “That’s a great story, but it’s not true.”
“What is not true?” Eldric asked.
“Music doesn’t necessarily makes you feel happy.” She stated.
“No, but you can choose what songs to hear, or play, and it makes it seem like have you control, even if a little while.” He explained. “And Heart would much rather let the humans figure that out for themselves, or at least I like to think that.”
“Mom told me Heart could sense every living creature in Valcrest… At all times. What if trees had emotions? Where the hell would I run to?” Crys muttered out, frustrated.
“You can’t avoid people forever, Crys. You know that, but…” He took her hand and placed an object on it. “You can pretend you have some sort of control, at least for a little while until you figure out the rest.”
Crys examined the object in her hands; it was cylindrical wooden casing. Opening it she reached the object inside, removing it from its casing she began to examine it with her finger tips and smile growing wider and wider across her face. “It’s a flute!” She exclaimed, unable to hold back the excitement. “Did you make this?”
“Yes, I did, missy. It took a good amount of my time too. I can’t take complete credit for it though; it was your mother’s idea, but the work is all mine as you can probably tell.” He said with a very satisfied tone in his voice.
“It’s the best gift ever, uncle… Thank you.” She smiled.
“I’m glad you like it, hopefully it’ll help you too.”


. . . . . . . . . . .

[Flashback – Wolfpack camp, approximately 4 years ago]

”YOU LIED TO ME!!!” Sean’s words exploded and echoed through the camp coming from the leader’s cabin. It caused chills down Crys’ spine; she had never felt so many rage coming from one single person before. All directed towards her mother.
“Sean, lower your voice.” Dani asked him in her calmest tone. “I know what you want, and I know how you feel, but this doesn’t solve anything.”
“No… You don’t know how I feel.” Sean stated, lowering his voice like she had asked, but not changing his tone in one bit. “You saw with your own eye what he did to her, what it did to me. You gave me your word that he would pay for this. You. Promised. Me.”
“He was punished for it.” Dani stated simply.
“How? How was he punished?” Sean asked with a chuckle. “You think that because he’s ‘sorry’, that’s enough punishment? Really? Didn’t you slay the Wolf Hunters for what they did to your mother? Huh? So don’t give me that crap about redemption and forgiveness now! You can’t have it both ways!”
“I did that, yes.” Dani stated. “I was punished for it too, over and over with every death that occurred as a result from it; your mother’s death included.” She sighed. “I’m very sorry Sean, but it has to end. It has to end here.”
“You’re not sorry.” Sean spat out in anger. “Not enough, not yet… I’ll make you sorry. I’ll make sure one day you truly know how this feels; that is my promise to you.” He stated.

At that moment the cabin door opened and Eldric walked in with firm footsteps to take his son away. Sean had to be dragged out, still cursing and screaming at Dani for her injustice. Crys simply stood where she was, silent even after she heard her mother speak.
“I am sorry, kid.”


[Reality - Wolfpack Camp, early evening]

Fingers grazed the name in the cold stone. It had been a long time since Crys had been there, a little over three years actually. She had spent a lot of time there, she even talked to some of those who were buried there. Out of those people, Eldric Fletcher had been a great friend to both her parents; and to her personally, but Crys had somehow forgotten him. “My dear old friend, I am so sorry.” She whispered. “I know this isn’t what you wanted. I know you did the best you could, maybe I could have done a little more, I don’t know… But now here we are.” She sighed. “I hope you will understand why I have to do this. I hope you will forgive him whenever you see him again, because I can’t anymore. He took almost everything from me, even if not by my hands… He’ll have to pay. And I am truly sorry.”

Crys knew she had a little bit of time to be there before she was seen. People usually paid their respects to the dead in the morning. For some silly reason most people avoided the memorial at night. She moved from Eldric’s to her mother’s grave and there she sat, right beside it, with her back against a stone that held her own name. Sean had left it there for whatever reason. It was funny in her opinion.

After sitting she sighed slightly. “I’m still a little mad at you, but tomorrow we celebrate creation, and the Crimson believe it’s a day to think of new beginnings and ask the Twins for blessings. I have faith in the Twins, but I have trust in you, so maybe you can bless me instead, I think I need it now more than ever. I also wanted an excuse to come here again. But still; here I am, right? That must count for something.” She sighed, surprised at how stupid she felt asking questions to a grave; not like she never done it before. “The other reason though, you know what it is. I think it’s what you’d like me to do, but understand I’m only trying this once.” She brought her knees closers and hugged them tightly, feeling a slight shiver. It was starting to know, and she was no longer used to this kind of cold. “I’ve been alright, all in all. Jake is constantly a concern though, I keep expecting someone to show up and tell me he dropped dead somewhere. I wish there was some way I could help, but I know there isn’t. All I can do is hope that he’s alright somehow.” She paused for a minute then shook her head. “Oh, Theron’s back, which is good in a way, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. Evin is angry, hurt… I’m not sure… Sometimes it’s actually difficult to tell with him, although it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. He’s always telling me how friends should act though, makes me wonder if he demands these things from all his friends, or if he’s just doing it to mess with me. Again, it’s hard to tell.” She chuckled. “I don’t know, I knew he wouldn’t be happy, but I still expect him to suddenly start giving Theron attitude like he did four years ago. Those two were such stubborn idiots back then, but I do miss it sometimes.”

Finally, she took one deep breath and pulled her flute from the bag she was carrying and started to play. Soon enough the breeze carried the music into the camp. It didn’t take long for people to start wondering where it was coming from and heading towards the memorial area.

“What is she doing here?” A female voice asked.
“We should do something, she’s trespassing, and is a traitor.” A male active suggested.
“Yeah, but… You know…” Another one mumbled. “We should probably call Avius. He’s in charge.”

Crys snickered softly at the whispers of the confused actives, which interrupted the sweet and calm melody that had been echoing through the clearing. She hadn’t shown up, been heard from, or even given proof of life after Allison had escorted her out of the encampment three years ago. It was very amusing how people seemed confused and frightened to see her there, sitting by her own gravestone (that had never been removed), playing flute as if she was right at home. They were shocked, and didn’t know what to do about the whole thing. Finally she lowered the flute and turned to face the small crowd of actives. “Please, just pick one already. You’re making me frustrated.”
“Why are you here?” One of the actives asked.
“I’m here to see Dante. Could you please go get him?” She asked, not saying anything more and simply going back to playing her music.

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

[Newhaven]

The pyre was about to be lit.

The pyre was about to be lit and Jake was stuck in his room, pacing back and forth trying to make a decision. He wanted to pay his respects, sure, but being at a funeral would remind him of every other funeral in his life… His sister’s, which was practically inexistent, only a few old friends of her father watching as she was buried next to their parents in the local cemetery, an empty grave next to her held his own name and marked him dead as far as the records of Blackpond were concerned.
Bastian’s funeral, which he had to sneak in to the Pack camp to see. The sight of Crys, covered in blood, looking pale and shaky, suddenly popped in his mind. He stopped pacing and sat on his bed, hiding his face in his hands… Dani’s funeral… He was in Newhaven then; he didn’t even know she was dead.

He sighed heavily, deciding not to go to the funeral after all. Instead he left his room and made his way to the courtyards, sitting down on a stone bench and closing his eyes for a moment to take noticing of the chilling night air.
Jake was never the kind of man that prayed, and he constantly mocked Crys for speaking to graves as if the dead could hear her. Still he sat there, took a deep breath and spoke with a little chuckle. “I don’t know why I came here, but suppose it’s as good of a place as anywhere else; I was told the dead can hear you anywhere…” He sighed. “Everyone is outside now, shedding their tears and saying their goodbyes. I was supposed to be there with them, but you know me though, I’m not much of a sentimental type, and when I have something to say I prefer to say it privately; even if it is ‘goodbye’.” He scratched the back of his head nervously, feeling a little bit stupid, but going on with what he wanted to say. “I suppose it’s not as much a ‘goodbye’ as it is a ‘thank you’. After all, you were a damn good friend to me in a time when it was hard for me trust myself, even less anyone else. Now, I know Valcrest is yet to find peace, the way you always said you wanted it, but I sincerely hope that you have.” He opened a little smile and added. “So, you just enjoy your freedom, and let the rest of us take care of this mess. It might be a little slower without you, but if there’s a way we’ll find it.”

With that said, Jake simply sat there in silence. He could hear the voices singing in the distance, but couldn’t make out the words. He raised his head as he felt it began to snow, if he sat there for long he’d be wet from head to toe, but for the moment he just didn’t feel like moving.

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

After a good while of sitting out in the cold Jake decided it was best to just go inside and change into dry clothes. He had decided he would wait a bit before running off to do what he needed, wait to see how things would be in the morning; for everyone. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there in the dark, he’d heard the people passing coming back from the forest and some other movement, but he couldn’t really bring himself to pay attention, and if someone had noticed him there they didn’t mention.

Finally he stood and slowly made his way into the castle and up to his room to change, dragging his feet and thinking over things he needed to find out soon. Probably easier if he hadn’t associated with the Black Knights again, but he had stopped questioning why he made these sorts of decisions a long time ago, he just learned to accept his own stupidities. Halfway through changing into a dry set of clothes, the sound of crashing and yelling was heard echoing through the stone halls. Jake stormed out of his room with his head half stuck in a shirt, but managed to get it on properly before reaching the group of seemingly confused members of the Guard standing outside Mageria’s bedroom door; the shouting and shattering coming from inside. “What’s this?” He asked the men.
“Uh… We don’t know. Should we… Break the door down, maybe?” One of them asked, clearly expecting the he give them some sort of order; something he was not at all used to doing.
“Hum…” He put his ear against the door for a moment, but quickly pulled back as something broke right close to it. “No. I don’t think so.” He told them. It was loud and ugly, but to him it seemed like she’d just had a meltdown and started breaking things. Or at least at first it did… Not soon after the guards had dispersed, as if Jake’s words had given the perfect excuse to just run as far away from the door as possible, the shattering stopped and a scream was heard loud and clear coming from the inside of the room: “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!”
That made Jake doubt his theory to the point of making him press his ear against the door and consider barging in himself. However, what he heard next caused him to relax a little bit. Mageria was clearly sobbing, which was a little bit frightening to overhear, but in a way it was good, because it was bound to happen eventually.

Jake thought he’d heard someone else speak though, so he stood there and listened in for a little while longer.

"Stupid arrogant overdressed prick. I thought you were dead."

Jake didn’t need to listen to anything else after that one. There was only one person he could think of to fit that description, so he walked away trying not to think of how incredibly intrusive he had been, but thinking that this was a good thing. “Son of bitch isn’t dead.” He mumbled, as he walked down to hall. He was moving his plan along then, as soon as possible, which meant he needed to find Sham.

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

Jake had been almost everywhere in the castle looking for Sham. It was difficult to look for someone you barely know in such a big place, Jake could barely take a decent guess to where she would go. Finally, he went back to the tower where he had been sitting prior to the funeral. If he didn't find her there, he'd just sit around and wait until morning, he didn't feel like sleeping at all at this point and he liked the view from that window.

When he went inside though he couldn't help but open a grin when seeing her there, he couldn't understand why it didn't occur to him to look there first. "Huh... Why didn't I think you'd be in a high place? I must be tired or something." He stated, finding the little wooden bench Luckas had used earlier and sitting on it. Remembering Luke, he looked around for any sign of that little freak being hiding there, he could be surprisingly sneaky, but he wasn't there, so he figured it was safe to get into the subject at hand. "So, what you said earlier about being all for messing with Blackpond... How serious are you about it?" He asked.

Sham twisted around from where she was perched on the window sill and raised an eyebrow. She had changed out of most of her formal uniform, but still wore the coat and tunic. The hood was pulled forward, hiding the glint of her hair from anybody looking from below. But the winter air still cut through the cloth.
"I like high places because so many others avoid them." She pulled her legs up and crossed them in front of her, tucking each foot under the other leg.
"You'd be wanting to cause trouble over there then?" She leaned one shoulder against the frame. "I'd say that that'd be something I'd be most interested in." A dangerous glint shown in her eye. "I've got a bone or two to pick with those over there myself."

"Does that mean you like to avoid people?" He asked in an interested tone. "And that's good, because I do plan to cause a lot of trouble there. I have reasons of my own to do it, but I figure it might actually benefit Newhaven if I can pull this off." He paused a little thinking about just how much he wanted to tell, how much he was willing to admit to at this point. finally he decided to give just the most relevant part of the information he had, for the moment:

"There are some strange things going on in Blackpond ever since this new King took the throne. I spent close to two years sneaking around trying to find out wh Everyone who could have given me decent information on the things happening inside the castle, disappeared before I could get anything useful out of them, and anyone who speaks against the crown is dragged to the dungeons never to be seen again. I tried to sneak into the castle one time, but somehow they knew I was there and I almost didn't make it out." He said trying not to think too much about what happened that time, it had been a very close call. "I've had this idea in my mind for quiet some time, and while it's absolutely stupid, it might be crazy enough to work... I'll get myself taken to the dungeons. I'll make enough of a scene for anyone in there who might be having problems with the new King to be able to find me, at the same time, maybe there is someone alive in those cells that can give me something useful." He smiled slightly. "This, is my stupid plan. I'm going to do it by myself if I have to, but It'd be nice to have some backup. Mostly since I can't know what will happen once I'm caught." He didn't tell Sham everything, not yet, but it wasn't relevant anyway, besides... He didn't know how much she knew about the whole story.


Sham shrugged. "I don't have a lot in common with most anybody in this place. I grew up in the gutter, learning to steal to survive. First time I saw the Cap'n? Couple of me mates was being chased by Blackpond soldiers. We was giving 'em hell, and outta nowhere a couple of crazed folk in Black armor showed up, killed 'em, ended up offering us supplies for our help." She shook her head at the memory. "I really did think she was a bit cracked, but it worked for a while. Anyways, I got less idea how to act with some of these noble folk than I have to fly."

Sham curled her legs up under her chin and listened quietly as Jake outlined his plan. "Why do I not think you've told Cap'n about this? The woman who came the other day, she's holdin' the lives of a bunch of our folk over the Cap'n's head, at least from what I can gather. Me, not to be darkcast, but I have trouble believin'' that they're still alive." She stayed quiet for a long moment. "So that'd be one o' the things we'd have to find out. Along with what ever it is else you want to find out."
She measured Jake with her eyes, considering what she saw. He looked as if he could hold his own in most any situation, and resolved enough to go through with his plan and not break halfway through.
"So, do ya have an exit plan, or is that going to be up to your back-up?" She grinned and gestured at herself, indicating that she was going to be going along with his mad scheme. Then she tilted her head to the side. "You know, she's really not going to be happy about this. And with the walking around covered in blood and not even realizin' it; you think we should go off like that?"


Jake chuckled. "Well, nobles are strange folk, I give you that, but there's a decent number of misfits amongst the Guard too."
He said absently. "We're a small, but ever growing group." He said in an amused tone. "And no, I didn't tell her, but I like to think she knows me well enough to expect this kind of stupidity." He said still smiling, letting the smile fade slowly as he thought about the situation with the prisoners. "Those soldiers... Yeah, you're right. It's hard to believe they're still alive, but as long as there's chance they are, they're a great bargaining tool. Knowing for sure will help us know what to do... If there's something that can be done."

He stretched lazily where he sat and let out a small yawn. He wasn't sure how late it was, but even thought he knew he was tired, he was also wide awake. "Exit plan? Hum... No, I don't have one." He laughed. "I heard starting a riot is an effective way to escape from prison, but I have a feeling that it won't work very well." He joked. "Seriously though, it's very difficult to know how to get out of a place without knowing what's there, but... I'm sure there's a way. Worst case scenario they'll have another bargaining tool." He stated with a small shrug. "I'm hoping that woman the guy in the Inn mentioned, Rita, will be smart enough to contact me in there... She'd probably want to help us if she believes Lamya killed the King."

Jake went silent for a little while. Then he heaved a little sigh. "As long as we don't get killed and get some actual results, we'll be fine. As for the walking around covered in blood... That's not strange. She and Grim were very close, now he's gone, and that hurts like... Well, there's really nothing the hurts quite like it." He shook his head, not sure if he should laugh or not as he added. "Besides, I have a feeling the Captain will be in good hands while we're away. And I certainly don't want to wait for her to be well enough to know what we're up to here. I mean she probably will, but I don't plan on being anywhere on sight when she does." He said with a small grin.

Sham grinned back. "Well, unless they've done some major remodeling, there's a secret passage or two in there. They know about them, but they might come in handy anyways. We happen to have a map that shows where they be. Shouldn't be too out of date." She thought a bit more and suddenly laughed a little bit.
"So, your whole plan for not getting in trouble is to simply not be here when Cap'n finds out and not get dead while doing it? I can't argue against the stupid part. Maybe even insane. But it sounds like a lovely bit of fun. You'd be wanting to start trouble for that Lamya?"
Smoothly, Sham rolled forward out of the window sill to land on her hands, rolling into a handstand and then flipping over to land on her feet once more.
"When do you want to leave?"

Honestly, she wanted to get away from the Castle. Seeing the Cap'n in that much pain brought back memories of when she lost her entire crew to a pack of Blackpond dogs. She had wandered lost for a long time before Mageria happened to cross into her sight once more and give her a reason to keep going.

Jake laughed out. "Oh, no... I think I'll probably get in trouble either way, that's my plan for not getting strangled." He said, still chuckling. "If the map you're talking about is the one I think it is... It is a bit old. I know for a fact that there's at least a whole new part of the dungeons that isn't on it, but those passages can still be useful, yes." He watched Sham with a slight curiosity as she moved. It was indeed curious. "Lamya is not really my priority unless she would like to be so kind as to put herself on the tip of my blade, but..." He sighed. "Since I doubt she would grant me that favor as much as I doubt it's possible to avoid having to deal with her again... Whatever I can do to cause her trouble, I'll sure do it."

He stopped to think for a little while about when would be the best time to leave. "Before sunrise, if that's okay. I would say 'right now', but I think it might be best to try and get a few hours of sleep." He stifled a yawn and stood up, stretching, and running a hand through his hair. "It was damn long day today." Jake knew he probably wouldn't be able to get any sleep, but he needed to try anyway... He didn't know when he'd get the chance to sleep in a bed again.

Sham nodded and stretched herself. "Aye, I can be up and ready to go. Take a couple of horses, ride over, I find a place to den up, while you go and make trouble. Then I'll lurk about and see what I can learn while you enjoy Blackpond's lovely hospitality." She nodded again. "Sounds like a fair deal."
With a slight snort, she linked her arm through his and started walking toward the stairs. "Soooooo . . . which one of us is going to leave the note? I mean, I guess that we're not to just mention that we're out on a ride. A note that get's to her somewhere abouts lunch ought to give us enough lead. You think? Maybe that there's something you wanted to check out and I went to back ya up a bit? It's all true enough."

Jake nodded opening a little smirk. “Oh, I’ll leave the note. I think I know what to say.”

Characters Present

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

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"I don't know why she was at the mountains. She wouldn't tell me." Alistair said with a shrug. "I honestly thought Lena had come back to the Shadows a long time ago. Never occurred to me that she had been away all this time."
"That's odd, even for Lena, isn't it?" Sean asked, a slightly intrigued expression on his face. He had been intrigued about Lena's disappearence for a very long time, and speaking to someone who had seen he recently had brought that feeling back. She couldn't have left for absolutely no reason; there had to be something more to it.
Before Alistair had a chance to respond, however, an all too familiar voice echoed through the encampment. "Hey Sean! It's good to see that your sister is alright! Maybe I'll try the same trick on your new right hand man the next time I decide to show up in camp!"

Sean froze for a split second while Evin's voice reached his ears, before he instictively pulled a dagger out of hiding and began to move towards the voice. However, he was caught by Alistair on a choke hold. The man had moved to stop him, before he even took a step.
"Relax, now." The man whispered to as Sean tried fight the hold. "Give me that knife."
Sean didn't let go of the dagger, but he stopped fighting Alistair's hold . "Let go of me, please." He muttered.

As soon as Alistair released him, Sean walked a straight line to Annie's tent, finding her standing right outside of it. He stopped in front of her, pointing the dagger to her face. "I trusted you, Annie!" He shouted. "You let that maniac near my sister!"
Annie shrugged. "I'm not a bodyguard, Sean. And I can't keep track of who goes near who in here. Hence the rules about leaving weapons outside. Which now leads me to the question: Is this a knife you're pointing at me? Because that's surely a problem."
"You have got to be kidding me!" She exclaimed.
"I'm not kidding. And please, keep your voice down, there are sick people in this camp, you know." Annie replied in her calmest tone. "Now, please lower your weapon, Alpha. Let's talk."
Sean shook his head. "I'm getting so tired of your crap Annie. Really, really tired!"
Annie tilted her head to the side and grinned. "I see... You are going to use that, then?" She asked innocently. "Because you know, if you're not, it just makes you look stupid."
Sean was furious, but he flinched; Annie wasn't the one he was truly angry at, harming her wouldn't do him, or anyone, any good. He needed to stop himself now. Slowly, he lowered the dagger, and sheathed it. "Fine." He stated finally. "Talk to me, Healer."

Annie sighed. "You and your men have disrespected the laws of this encampment one too many times, Sean. As much as you trusted me, I trusted you. Perhaps we are both equally foolish since we cannot maintain that trust for a full day."
Sean nodded. "Perhaps we are." He agreed. "What measures will you take, then?"
"All of them." Annie replied simply. "You and your people are no longer welcome in my camp as of now."
Sean snickered. "Wow, are you sure this is what you want to do?"
"You pushed me into making a choice I didn't want to make, Alpha. This is my decision." She told him.
Sean frowned slightly. "I have no reason to move against the Shadows, Annie. Don't give me one."
"Don't do that." Annie smiled. "Don't threaten me, or you might have to fulfill those threats, and believe me; you'll regret it if you do. Maybe not now, but one day."
"Who's threatening who, now?" Sean asked raising an eyebrow.
"It's not a threat... It's just what I know." She said with a small shrug.
Sean sighed. Looking over Annie's shoulder he saw his sister watching him from inside the tent, a disapproving look in her eyes. He turned his gaze back to the leader of the White Shadows. "Is that all you have to say to me, Healer?"

"No, Alpha. It's not." Annie stated. Cutting the short distance between herself and the assassin, she gave the man a hug, and added. "May the Goddess light your path."
Sean simply stood, sincerely shocked by the gesture, as Annie released him and turned her back. He didn't really know what had just happened there, but the other healers seemed to understand, because they looked just as confused and shocked as he did.

"Please remove yourself from my territory, Alpha. I won't ask you again." She said, as she walked past Katelyn and into her tent; she whispered something to the girl, but Sean couldn't hear what it was. Katie seemed pleased with it though, as she walked to join him.

"Come on. I want to go home." She said, pulling him by the hand towards the gates.
Sean let Katie him lead him to the exit of the camp, not understanding what had happened to make her suddenly less angry with him. He noticed some healers were moving out of their path as they walked, it was all just very strange to him. "Kate, what... What did Annie say to you?"
"She just said that I'm still welcome at any time." The girl replied simply. "Funny, I thought you'd ask about Evin first." She smiled.
"What did he want with you?" Sean asked, turning to look at his sister.
"He apologized for poisoning me, and then he offered to... Take me somewhere safe." She answered. "I said 'no, thank you' and that was pretty much it."
"Why?" He asked. "I mean... You're not happy. I know you're not."

Katie was silent as Sean retrieved all of his weapons at the entrance of the small camp, and remained silent until they were entering the forest. Then she replied to his question. "I'm not happy." She stated. "I wouldn't be any happier anywhere else though; I would just be unhappy and ignorant." She chuckled. "No... I'd rather stay and keep an eye on you."
Sean heaved a little sigh. "You know, if you ever... If you ever want to, you can leave. It's alright." He told her. "I mean... You don't deserve to be stuck in the middle of this. You deserve a better world than this. I'm just sorry I can't give you that."
"Are you really? Sorry?" Katie asked him. "Sometimes I'd love to think that you are, but I have trouble believing you."
Sean stopped walking and turned to face her. "I am sorry, Kate. I never wanted things to have to get this far, but now they have. It's too late to just turn around now."
"You talk as if you had no choice!" She replied. "I just can't understand why you had to do this in the first place. Was it all because fo mother? All of this just because of what happened that night?"
"No!" Sean shouted. "It's not all because mother. Not all! I could have gotten over her death if only there had been justice, but no... Dani wouldn't let me have that. She forgave the Shadow Hunter as if the whole thing didn't concern the rest of us; as if the lives he took meant nothing. That woman had looked me in the eyes and sworn to me that she would make him pay. She betrayed me, she betrayed the clan!"
Katie shook her head in disbelief at his words. "She wanted to end it, Sean! She wanted this to be over."
"It wasn't over for me! Sure, maybe he was sorry, maybe they were both sorry, but it just doesn't change what they did; and it doesn't mean they paid for it. It's not justice."
"When will you pay, then? For lionel, and Owen... And whoever else is still about to be killed in this mess you creted?" She asked him, tears beginning to form in her eyes. "What's the price for this revenge of yours, Sean? How much are you willing to pay?"

Sean faltered under his sister's gaze; Katie always had a way of making him feel ashamed of himself, mostly because she knew that he could stand anything, but he couldn't let her hate him. "I'm already paying. I pay a little every time you look at me this way. I pay a little every time someone dies in that camp. I pay a little bit everyday and I don't think I'll ever be done paying even after I'm dead, but you know what? I made a choice, all I can do now is keep going."
"What about me and Donovan? For how long will we have to pay? Father is dead, Lionel is dead, and you..." The girl's voice broke as the tears finally began to roll down her face. "I want my brother back, Sean. The one who used to tell me stories when I couldn't sleep, the one who used to make me laugh... I loved him, I miss him. And I hate this stranger you've turned yourself into."

Sean sighed heavily and pulled the girl into a hug; holding her tightly as she began to sob against his chest. "I'm still your brother, Katie." He whispered to her. "I'm still here."
"You have to stop, Sean. Please. I don't want to see you get killed." She begged. "I don't want to lose you too."

"I know, sis. And I'm so sorry, but I can't turn back now."

[Assassins' Camp - Few hours later]

Sean was immediately bombarded with a thousand reports from different scouts and messengers, the moment he stepped foot in camp. Looking around he could tell something wasn't quite the same in the air around the camp. He could catch glimpses of people talking amongst themselves in whispers. Somewhere along the way to the Leaders Cabin he lost track of Katie's movements; the girl disappeared somewhere in the camp, its crowds and noises. Perhaps Sean had disapperead in there as well some time ago, but it was useless to think of these things now.

He took his time to sit at his desk, rub his temples and focus his eyes on the reports he was handed; very much aware of the messenger that had followed him into the common room, but paying the man no attention. "Hum... Salamanders attacked, aparently no survivors... Smaller mercenaries caught wandering around again..." He mumbled to himself as he read the messages, not showing much interest in any of it, until he reached Sheila's report. "I see..." He muttered out, anger burning in his eyes at the words. He had warned the Captain of the Black Knights that there would be trouble if they were associated with any traitors, but apparently the woman didn't listen, or didn't take him seriously, because Sean was now being informed that Jake had rejoined the Black Knights.

[Flashback - Newhaven, approximately 3 years ago]

It was early morning and Mageria had already dealt with half a dozen problems. She had to figure out what to do with the captured Blackpond soldiers, now that there was no one to exchange them for; she had to deal with the holes in her chain of command that occurred from losses during the fighting; someone had just realized that some of the children living in the Castle were now orphans and just what was going to happen to them? Normally this would all have been dealt with by someone else, at the very worst it would have been the Captain of the White Knights who had to figure all of this out. But he hadn't been seen for quite a while now, and if she ever caught up to him . . . . Thomas was doing the best he could, but he was mostly occupied with trying to smooth over difficulties between Lady Sarris and the Council. That didn't even begin to cover the fact that they now had an heir running around that needed to be protected whether she liked it or not.

Mageria had assigned two of her most discrete Guard to watch over the girl and told everyone else that they would get their answers when she had answers to give them. That being done, she escaped up to the bell tower, where she could have a moment of quiet, locking and bolting the door behind her. There was no one else around and so she leaned against one of the windows and just looked out at the land stretching out past the walls of Newhaven, one hand idly gripping the hilt of her sword.

It was early morning in the castle, an unnamed shadow roamed the halls,unseen. He had a message to deliver, and very specific instructions regarding what he was supposed to do: "Deliver this message to the Black Knight Captain. Don't kill anyone. Don't let anyone see you." That was what the young man had been been instructed to do. Might seem like asking too much, but for a Wolf... Not really. Well, except maybe for the fact that he was meant to make sure that the message got to the woman directly, that could pose as a problem.
The young wolf did managed to keep a watch on the woman at a distance until see finally entered a room alone, locking the door behind her. A little bit of a setback, but fine.

"Hey, you there! Who are y-" The soldier didn't have the time to finish the question, and before the answer became clear as the man, who he assumed to be a servant, had turned and hit him in the face. Having started a commotion and knocked out a guard, the young assassin had to leave fast, but he still needed to deliver the message. "Aw, screw it." he thought, pulling a dagger.

When the woman on the other side of the door, reached the hallway, she would find a passed out guard and a note pinned to the door, with a dagger, saying: "Meet me outside the city gates at noon. Don't be late."

[Noon]

At exactly noon the new leader of the Pack reached the walls of Newhaven. Sean had been strongly advised against this, but he thought it was an opportunity he simply couldn't let slide. After all, the Pack needed some breathing room, Newhaven needed some breathing room. A truce, even if temporary, would give him room to organize the clan better.
Of course, Sean didn't plan on telling Mageria any of this. If she wanted him to play nice, he was going to ask for some things in return. After all, Newhaven had a rightful ruler, that would have been killed by the Shadow was it not for the Pack, and the clan had taken many losses in return. It was only fair that they got a little bit back.

This was the point of this meeting after all: Not what the Pack had done or the Knights had done... Only what was fair. Plain and simple.

Mageria spent the time waiting for Sean by picking out the right spot for them to meet. Out of sight of the ruined gates, in a clear enough spot that he didn't think it was an ambush, but close enough to cover that it wasn't suicide for her. It was a delicate balance. After she found the right area, she found her attention drawn by the work of the people rebuilding the walls. Among the townsfolk were a number of men dressed in bright orange tunics. They were the captured soldiers from Blackpond. Given that there was now no chance to trade them for Newhaven soldiers and the fact that she wasn't willing to execute them or house them in the dungeons, she had chosen to put them to work. From now until Newhaven was rebuilt or they were traded with Blackpond for some favor, they would work rebuilding what they had destroyed. It was fair, she thought. And more merciful than what her own men had received at the hands of Rory and Hastings.

A scuff of leather on stone drew her attention to the side. It seemed that Sean was being as careful as she was about not provoking the other person. She leaned against a bit of stone and looked over at him.
"I appreciate your restraint on delivering the note. Not elegant, but effective; and no one was permanently hurt." She turned and face him squarely. She was still fully armed, but kept her hands carefully away from her blades.
"We're telling people that the Wolves that killed the King have all been brought to justice. So there's no more need to continue to attack the Pack." She tilted her head just slightly to the side. "Are you going to give me another one?"

Sean snorted slightly as Mageria mentioned the note, he should have never sent a inexperienced active deliver it. However he said nothing until she finished talking. He shook his head slightly, with an amused grin, his arms were crossed underneath his cloak, however he wasn't in one bit tense. "Far from me to want to complicate things captain. However the Pack would have more than enough reasons to attack the Black Knights. I would have let the trespassing go, but you provided aid to a traitor, after he killed our second in command, and kidnapped one of our recruits. So, are you sure you want to be asking that question?" He asked her, raising an eyebrow. "You asked me for a truce, remember?"

He stopped to look around at the people rebuilding the city walls. He always did like Newhaven, it was such a lovely place once upon a time. Finally he heaved a sigh and looked back at Mageria. "The Wolfpack had an Inn established in Newhaven, the Shadow had it burnt down. We would like to rebuild it. We would place workers there, and it would be a neutral zone. A safe place for my people to sleep when away from. Like it once use to be." He leaned against a piece of rock. "You give me the Inn back, and you can consider the past erased."

Mageria thought for a long moment then shook her head regretfully. "We don't have the resources to build an Inn at the moment. We have people sleeping in warehouses and corridors in the Castle and even in the streets. We have to rebuild the walls and then homes first. At least using city workers. Private businesses don't really tell us where their workers come from."

She idly stretched the muscles in her neck. "Here's the thing, Sean. Right now the nobles are busy doing other things; they don't give a damn about the Pack right now. Give them a reason to stay awake at night, and they'll be looking your way again. So much as you and the traitors are going to be at each other's throats, keep it out of the city. No knife battles in the middle of the road, no corpses missing their guts showing up. If you want a neutral zone, it's going to be truly neutral."

Sean nodded, listening to the woman's concern with care. He honestly didn't care for the people of Newhaven right now, but when you are a leader, you have to learn to give a little for what you get. "I never asked you people to build it. We will tear down the burnt down construction and rebuild it ourselves. I can also put a few workers at your disposal to help rebuild civilian homes. Aside from that, once the Inn is functional we will be paying taxes." He smirked. "What your city council does with it, is your concern, but we will be paying nonetheless."

He made a small pause to let the offer sink in before continuing with the next point he needed to make. "A neutral zone, is a neutral zone. Which also means I won't have your soldiers knocking down any doors or asking any questions. Once my people are within those four walls, they are not to be touched. In return, no one else who enters the Inn will be harmed, not even Evin Bana himself, after all he did. In the future, should someone from Newhaven need to contact the Pack for any reason, it should be done through the messengers there; no more sneaking into our camp." He took another glance around, then looked back to her. "It's the best deal I can offer, and if anything I'm being too nice."

Mageria lowered her eyes for a moment then flicked them back up to Sean's. "Fair enough. I'll pass the word. Anyone that I can order or terrorize will stay away from your camp. Anyone stupid enough to head your way when there's a safe alternative will have to face the consequences of their actions on their own." A brief smile crossed her face as she turned and looked back at Newhaven. "And I'm sure that the Council appreciates your future buisness." The slightest trace of sarcasm leaked into her voice. "I certainly appreciate your altruism."

She held one hand out between them. "If that concludes things?"

Sean hesitated for a moment, did making a truce with the Knights made him feel slightly sick to the stomach? Yes. However, this was for the best. At least in this moment it was the best for the clan and for him. Anything personal could wait. Finally he pulled one hand from under his cloak and reached to shake Mageria's hand. "I say we've reached an understanding Captain. There is one thing I should warn you of, however." He crossed his arms over his chest again as he continued. "As promised, I will not hunt for traitors in your city, but if I suspect Newhaven, or the Black Knights, of helping one of those rats, we will have a problem." With that clarified, her turned around to leave. "I will have my workers in the city by nightfall. I trust that they will be fairly treated."

Mageria inclined her head. "Of course, Alpha." Her tone left it uncertain as to what she was replying to, however. She would make sure that the workers weren't harmed; however, given that she was on much better terms with Crystal and those that followed her, there was no doubt in her mind that there would be trouble in the future between the two groups. It was as inevitable as the sun rising in the south. She watched Sean turn to leave.
"I'm glad we could come to an agreement."


[Reality - Wolfpack Camp, present time]

Sean was still staring at the report, rereading it one more time. Actives were attacked, there had been damage to the Inn, although the traitor was kind enough to pay for the troubles... Jake was provoking him into making a move. Fine. He would do just that, but not they way he was expected to.

Standing up, he walked to a bookshelf and pulled a book from it; a book of myths, nothing much, but inside of it there was some vital information on a sealed envelope. "I'm so glad I removed this from the archives before Evin torched them all." He said, now addressing the messenger that was still staring at him at the doorway. He turned towards the man and extended the envelope to him. "See that this makes it to the hands of the Head of the Newhaven Council, with my compliments. I know hoe badly they have been bothered by the Black Knight Captain, I think it's only fair they have something to defend themselves with."
The messenger blinked, holding the envelope with shivering hands. "The Newhaven Council, Sean? Are you sure?"
"Absolutely." The Alpha replied. "And one more thing..." Sean mentioned, scribbling down a note and folding it neatly. "Deliver this to someone of the Black Guard, tell them to deliver it to their Captain." Sean smiled wickedly as he put the note in the messenger's hands. It read:

I thought we had an understanding.

Instead of a signature, there was simply the symbol of an alpha to mark who had sent it. Sean nodded towards the door to get the messenger going. "Be on your way now."
The man left, still a little bit wary of his assignements, but Sean was sure that he would get it done no matter what.

As the messenger left, Donovan stormed into the cabin and slammed his fist on the table. "She was here, Sean!" He shouted.
Sean raised an eyebrow at his brother. "Shut the door, lower your voice, and tell me who you are talking about." He said calmly. "Sit." He said montining towards a chair.
Donovan didn't sit, however, he closed the door and took a breath. "Crystal was here. She spoke to Avius. He just let her go!"
Sean sighed. "Why am I not surprised?" He mumbled. "Don't worry about it, Don. I'll talk with him."
"How can you be so calm, Sean?" Donovan asked. He was furious, it was noticeable.
"Well, I've been wanting to drive her out hiding... There has to be a reason why she showed now, of all times. Something changed." Sean explained. "It could be good or bad for us, we just need to find out what it is."
Donovan finally seemed to calm himself and sat down. "How?"
"First, I'll talk to Avius, but I have other means of finding that out. I think it's time I use them." He smiled. "Relax, Don... She'll pay for what she did, be patient. Now, go tell Avius I want to see him."
The boy nodded firmly and stood up, leaving the cabin to do what he was asked.

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

[Blackpond]

Jake kicked down the door and, as he did so, he immediatelly felt the cold steel of a dagger on the back of his neck. He could be dead now, but he wasn't yet. A male voice sounded in his ears. “I hope you don’t expect me to pay for the door. Its real agar wood. Almost three hundred years old.”

Jake took his time looking at the inside of the room, before responding. It looked like a murder had occurred there just yesterday; aside from the blood on the carpet, which was visibly dry. He ran his eyes from the bloodied floor to the ripped curtains... That was the spot where Hastings had fallen. If only those walls could tell him what they witnessed that night...

Finally, he responded to the man holding him a knife-point. "Send me the bill if you like." He told the man. "If I live to pay, that is." He added. "Which begs the question: Are you going to use that. Mr...?"

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

[Newhaven]

Luckas was intrigued by the woman's reaction. He expected a White Knight to be, well... Boring, but no. He was even a little surprised when she touched his face. If only she knew what he could do to her with just a little touch... He snickered, but only on the inside. She seemed to be enjoying the idea of messing with his head, and he was going to play along for the moment. As she moved on, he walked after her. for a while, just letting her talk. For another simply watching her expression. She seemed like someone he could play with, someone easy to push into madness; she certainly had things in her mind that she wanted to conceal, but the fact of the matter was that his hands were still bound by that damned healer. As long as Lena Turner lived, it wasn't safe to go back to his former ways. He'd have to make good with what he had at the moment: An entertaining chat.

“Veronica Zein, but you may also call me Zein, and what brings you to the Newhaven’s castle, or even better, who allowed you to enter?” The woman had said.

Luckas finally answered the woman, if not for any other reason, simply to see how far she would go in this little game of theirs. "Veronica, huh? I'll call you Ronnie, it kinda suits you. I don't adress people by their surnames, it's too impersonal. Nicknames are far more friendly." He said with a cheerful smile. "That said: You may call me Luke. My reasons for being here are personal ones. I might tell you sometime, when we know each other better, but not now. And, this might come as a surprise to you, Ronnie, but no one let me in. I was allowed to stay though; I'm just that charismatic." He said, flashing a smile that was, at most, amusing, but not really charming. "As for my answer, I don't think it was at all complicated. It's a simple thought: You cannot fully know anyone, not even yourself. Think about it: How many people truly know what horrors they are capable of? Let's say you have to make a choice: Kill someone you love dearly, or kill an unknown child, in plain sight of said person. If you kill your loved one, you'll suffer. If you kill the child, you save your loved one, however, the person will always see you as a monster capable of killing a child. Tricky, huh? And you can speculate as to what you would do, or how far you would go... But unless you live it, you can never truly know. That's what makes the world around us bearable: Those little illusions that give us room to believe we're not monsters; that we have lines we would never cross. The truth of all matters remains unknown; buried in the back of our minds while we hope we never need to unleash it upon ourselves." He said absently as they walked. Then he chuckled. "I sound complicated again, don't I? Let me put it in few words: 'Reality', as people like to call it, is nothing but a lie. The actual truth lies within a little area of our minds we cannot reach. The only way to see it, truly... Is to allow it to shatter. So that is what reality actually is: What you people call 'insanity'."

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ari Lupir

0.00 INK

[Forrest-Wolfpack Camp]

Written by Blackbird26 and Nibblesnbits

Sean wasn't asleep, although he probably should be. He had one too many thoughts in his mind to be able to relax. He felt guilt for what he was putting his sister through, for what he was putting the clan through, but it would pay off in the end; it just had to. Another thing he couldn't get out of his mind was what Annie had done; it was simple gesture, a hug. Simple, and apparently meaningless, words, but it had caused such a reaction amongst the rest of the White Shadows that it actually began to concern him as he thought back to it. Lying awake in his bed, the Alpha also didn't know what to make of Crystal's sudden appearance; it seemed she had gone there simply to talk to Avius. He couldn't understand why she had done that, and no one was able to find the man all day. Had it been anyone else, Sean would've considered it a betrayal already, but Avius was a friend, and so he wouldn't jump to conclusions before he had the chance to hear his side. Still, he couldn't pretend this wasn't troublesome for him... His Second was the only person he thought he could still trust. Now he wasn't so sure anymore. Maybe that's what Crys wanted all along.

"Argh!" Sean growled, covering his face with both hands as he tried to organize those thoughts. He'd made so many powerful enemies, and the few allies he had were so damn unreliable... The odds of his plan backfiring were so great, and if that happened nothing short of a miracle would hold the clan together. Finally, he jumped out of bed with a sigh, giving up on sleep and walking outside towards the lake. There he stood, staring the icy water as it reflected the bright image of the moon; a howl echoed through the silence of the forest and was replied by another in the distance. He crouched down, staring that reflection, an insolent snort escaping him as he stared at the round orb reflected in the water. "The Gods divided this land... What hope do mere mortals have to ever bring it together? Answer me that, oh wise one! Or do you only speak to your beloved Knights? Do you only care for Newhaven? Huh?" Sean whispered at the reflection.

"The Twins now only speak through the Hearts and Minds of men, young one." A female voice spoke behind the young Alpha. "In other words: At this present time, they only speak to us through you, my beloved leader."
Sean turned to face the woman, only seeing a glow of blue eyes in the dark clearing. He snickered softly. "Tell me, Adria, did this kind of false flattering work on Dani as well? Or did you not take her for a fool as you take me?"
"There are all kinds of fools, dear Alpha, but far from me to ever consider you one." The woman replied, bowing her head in respect, although the gesture was clearly filled with sarcasm. "Franklin sends his regards and says he has someone who may be a great asset to the clan."
"We are not recruiting. Your brother knows that." Sean replied.
"He does, but he insists that this one you must see." Adria told him. "He is bringing her as we speak. Shall I make arrangements?" She asked.
"Fine. Prepare a welcome for her and... Let me know when they're close enough."

[Forest-Near Wolfpack's Camp]

Not long after his talk with Adria, Sean found himself waiting for Franklin to bring this person that had impressed him so; honestly hoping this wasn't a waste of his time. Franklin was a smart man and he had a keen eye for true talent, however, the man also had a few soft spots here and there, eventually wanting to bring in strays for the sake of not having to kill them. Usually kids. And while usually Sean would humour the man, lately they needed to see if someone was worth the food and bed they would be using. The Alpha waited, leaned casually against a tree, eyes fixed on the center of the clearing where the man was to bring his 'visitor' to; archers positioned all around amongst the trees, waiting for the command to shoot.

It didn't take very long for Sean to spot Franklin and the teenage girl he was with. At first, Sean thought it was rather disappointing; another kid. Once Franklin gave a discrete nod of his head and the arrows began to fly towards the girl, however, Sean couldn't help but be impressed by the fact that she managed to avoid them; that not to mention how she managed to avoid them.

"Franklin says she knows the Commander of the Crimson, and she asked for us." Adria whispered into his ear. That was more than enough to convince Sean. One signal of his hand was all it took to hold the second wave of arrows. Leaving the assassins room to throw intrigued glances at the 'wolf' that had been brought into their trap. After another moment of watching the animal, Sean stepped forward one more time and out of the shadows, clapping slowly and looking very amused. "This is the first someone brings an actual wolf for a recruit." He stated, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's poetic, to say the least." He opened a smile. "You're safe girl, for now at least. Do you mind assuming a human form so we can speak?" He asked, hazel eyes fixed on the animal's silver gaze. "If you want to enter my Pack, young wolf, I first need to know your reasons."
Her body hit the earth, her paws stretched as she howled and yelped in pain. Her mussel disappeared and her beautiful face returned. She lay on the ground, panting and shaking. It was never this painful to shift back, never. She could sense amusement and laughter among the archers watching, and she forced herself to her feet. She was very glad her hair was long and it hid her breasts from view as she walked briskly to where the Strangers cloak lied. She pulled it tight around her body, taking her time in responding to the Alpha. When she was ready she walked up to him, hiding a smirk at his annoyed face, his eyes betraying a small bit of wonder.
“They call me Ari,” she said softly, quietly afraid that her voice would break the spell of the moon on the trees, dripping her hair in its silver waves. Her eyes still held a lingering of the silver from her change, her body and mind on high alert to any trickery.
“And I’d say I am safe for any time,” she growled lightly, the spirit of the wolf lingering in her body, “I’ve escaped death from you and your men twice now and I’ve lived in your woods for quite some time,” then as an afterthought she added, “Alpha.”
“But my reasons for being here are entirely my own and I would prefer to keep it that way. We all have secrets Alpha,” she smiled, a knowing smile in hopes that he would catch where she was going with this. She cocked her head and smiled innocently, her eyes hiding her amusement.
“Tell your archer to lower his bow. Or shall I change into a jungle cat and burry my fangs into his throat,” she asked lightly, not bothering to turn to see as she had heard the air stir, “Surely you understand that the walk across the desert is barren of water and food and I am sure to be sedated by his rich blood.”
She watched him carefully, smiling inwardly as the archer did indeed lower his bow, keeping it strung but not ready.
“They tell me that being humble is the best way to make an impression,” she continued, tossing a dagger playfully in her hands, “But surely you have been sought by dozens of wanders, all with the same approach. So I intend to make an impression, not being humble but being proud and strong. A warriors approach. What I seek from you is a place to call home.”
She waited for the laughter but none came and she could tell that her game was going well now. She stood straighter up, making herself taller and continuously playing with the dagger without looking at it, making a good first impression. Ari smiled lightly, showing off her teeth and trying not to think about the others who had curses and were ready to use them on her. She had heard of beings that could touch your emotions and she wished that one was not amongst the ranks of men and women. Inside she was just as scared as everyone else would have been surrounded by who knows how many men.
“I didn’t come to chat though. I came because I need to be part of a pack and Stranger has already informed me much about what you call home. I feel as if I can offer something to you,” she took a hesitant step forward, closer to his massive build.
“You have seen my curse and what I can do; I’ve avoided the arrows you so kindly sent my way in greeting. And if that is not enough to impress you then I will be on my way, just after I receive a message for Indrani and deliver hers,” here Ari paused a moment waiting for a response. None came and she shrugged.
“‘Effect’,” she whispered lightly before turning and taking a couple paces away from this Alpha, the moon shining down on her back and filling her up with a sense of courage. Deep inside, she knew that she had touched his curiosity.
“And also I would bow but because you are no one I fear or respect yet, I refuse to do so,” she called back, waiting for him to call her back.
Sean was like a statue all the while the girl named Ari spoke, internally laughing at her insolence and stupidity. She had potential, and talent, he'd give her that... But she was arrogant and lacked the discipline needed to successfully fulfil the threats she was making. So if, and only if, he let her in his Pack, that would need to be worked on, and he would see to it, but for that to happen, he needed to know how much she was willing to learn.

He held back grins as the assassins around gave him nervous looks as if expecting the same reaction they would receive if they talked to their leader that way. Sean was being patient though, he wasn't going to show his hand until it was the exact right moment. He nodded at the archer, as she demanded to him that he lowered his bow, the man did as she asked, looking at Sean with confusion. He was letting her arrogance build as much as possible, the higher the better... And then he would break it down to see what was underneath.

He didn't respond until Ari had turned and started to walk away, expecting him to call her back, no doubt. Sean then unleashed the devious smile he had been holding in and took two steps back, giving a nod. As he did so, Arrows landed in the soft soil forming a circle around the girl, and the assassins moved to form a closed circle around the two, but leaving more than enough space in its center for them both to move freely. Sean then paced slowly around her until they were face to face again. "Very well, girl. You spoke all you wanted: Now it's my turn." He said, locking his eyes with hers, a smirk crossing his lips. "You sure did impress, do you wish to know my impression of you? You're an arrogant brat, who believes that making threats she can't possibly fulfil and running her mouth as she pleases will get her somewhere in life." He chuckled softly and leaned forward, just a bit closer, looking at her eyes as if he expected to see what lied within. "Kid, you're enlightened: So what? You want to turn yourself into a wolf, a bear, a jungle cat? Go ahead. I do need a brand new rug." Some assassins laughed at the words, but Sean raised a hand and they silenced. "That's how you'll end up if you keep betting your life on empty threats and fortune. None of which had any influence in the two times you were spared by my people tonight."

He pulled back. "Now, I suggest you start acting like an adult, kid. Not everyone has my patience." He nodded and the assassins cleared the path. "You may go if you wish, but for your sake, I hope you carry with you my advice."
She stepped back as if she had been slapped. Blushing deeply, she realised she had been the fool for trying to battle the Alpha with words. Her heart beat in her chest and she struggled to find the language to breathe life back into her mind game. Finding no way she dipped her head in shame and bowed to the Alpha, having not caught his name.
“Forgive me lord, I have shamed myself and see how true your words ring. Forgive me for my rant of childish words and tricks. I was in the wrong. I would much rather stay here if I haven’t betrayed your trust already and if I have, I offer my deepest apologies and will gladly move onward. If I haven’t yet destroyed what little bit of chance I even had of being welcomed, then I would gladly and willingly follow your leadership. I believe I can learn much from you. As for tonight I have learned my place, as a child,” she paused hating using those words, “I beg your pardon and a shot for a second chance to offer my curse and my bow.”
She caught his eyes for a moment, starring deeply into them but finding nothing. He hid his emotions well, but then what else was to be expected from a leader of a group of killers. Her soul withered inside, beaten down and bruised from his harsh words. She kept her eyes on the earth, glancing only at his face when she was sure he wasn’t looking. The longer the silence the further she caved in on herself until she could feel the tremble of her body and was sure that he had noticed it too. The archers pressed in on her and her mind told her to run. But maybe it was out of stupidity or just the glimmer of hope he had offered that kept her body human and her feet planted where she was.
And so the hunter has become the hunted. She thought to herself as the man walked slowly around her, analyzing every inch of her form. She hoped that he didn’t see her quake and if he did, though it was out of respect for him.
Sean circled the girl a few times, watching her carefully and registering every sign of weakness she showed. A scared little girl, yes, but she could become as strong as she liked to pretend she was, with just a bit of work. Finally he stopped before her one more time. "Return to camp." He ordered, and the archers finally lowered their bows and put away their arrows; the circle was dismantled and in a matter of mere seconds there was no one left in the clearing but the two of them, and Adria and Franklin who were very well hidden nearby. Once the crowd was gone, Sean reached for the girl's chin and gently pulled it up until her eyes met his. "Wolves don't cower in shame, never. We lower our heads only in respect." He told her, before retreating his hand and sighing softly. "Don't accept your place as a child, better yourself until you become worthy of a better one. Become as strong as you like to say you are, and then... Your threats will no longer be empty. Do you understand what I'm saying, kid? You have talent, but talent alone won't save you if you can't act smart and think fast in face of a challenge."

Opening a kind smile, for a change, Sean walked to a nearby boulder and sat. "Now, if you're smart enough, you should have learned your first lessons already..." He sat pulling an apple from a bag he had hidden underneath his cloak, biting into the fruit and leaning his back casually against the trunk of a tree, fully aware that the girl should be starved from walking the desert, but there would be plenty of food in camp waiting if she managed to focus past his teasing. "So, tell me: Aside from following a strange man deep into the woods and falling into a trap... What should you have done differently?"
Ari felt the air lighten and her heart slowly slow. She kept he chin held high and ignored the sharp crunch of the apple in his hand. Her eyes glanced over him, wondering if he did care for her in some way. She shook her head clearing her mind from such crazy thought, but still his gentle touch on her chin had sent her stomach twisting.
“I should have approached with respect,” she paused and her nose searched the air for the scent of people. Finding none she took a step forward, moving slowly.
“I should have kept my mouth shut, listening instead of running my mouth. Not making threats that I am not ready for but still be proud,” she paused, standing still before backing quickly away, “ that and don’t try mind games or duels with words when faced with the Alpha,” she smirked lightly before continuing, “And never, never underestimate your opponent.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly, her whole body tiered and confused. Ari shook her head and hid her face in her hands, breathing shallowly. Her energy was spent and she felt her body swaying slightly.
“Please,” she cried lightly, sinking down to the ground, “I am not afraid to tell you that I am exhausted, spent from all the trials and confused out of my mind. I’m old enough to admit that I don’t know what I might be getting myself into and that I am scared. But fear is what has kept me alert and alive for so long. That and being spared,” she added as an afterthought. She knew she must look pathetic, sitting in the dirt with the moon shining down around her. But she didn’t care.
“I want this more than anything,” she whispered looking up at the moon, her eyes swirling with a tiny bit of silver before fading to blue. She closed them, paying no heed to the crunch of the apple, not wanting to be drawn back into a mind game which she could not win. The reality of her situation finally hit her.
Ari was alone; one person surrounded by many, with no one she could lean on or turn to for support. Her parents had abandoned her and the only friend she might have had was across the sea of sand. She was a child, alone and frightened. A tear worked its self free from her eyes and fell down, sparkling in the moonlight as it fell to rest on her cheek. Her hand shot up and she brushed it away, not daring to show any weakness in front of the Alpha. Her lips pulled into a thin smile as she noticed he was watching her. Sighing she stood to her feet, dipping her head in respect.
Sean chuckled slightly at the girl's answers; they were almost correct, but not quite. He let her breakdown, and whine, and beg, because he knew she needed to get that out of her system, but he wouldn't allow it again. He didn't respond until she was back on her feet, at which point he stood up as well. "Fear is good; it lets you know when you're in danger. However fear is simply a warning; like a sentinel's blowing horn. Its sound will let you know there's danger, but when you face the danger, you wanna be carrying a sword." He finished his apple, quietly and tossed its core onto the earth. "Come, walk with me. I know you need food, water, and a bed to sleep on." He smirked slightly and added. "I'm not completely heartless, you know."

He began walking towards the encampment, slowly so that she would follow and not be lost. As they walked he addressed the answers she gave to his questions. "You should always approach with caution." He corrected. "Respect must be earned, so you should not offer it to anyone or you make yourself vulnerable. Yes, you should never make threats you can't keep; if you're not strong enough to fulfil your threats then do the opposite, act as harmless as possible. Over-confidence makes people careless, the more careless your opponents are, the better for you. And yes... You should never, ever, underestimate an opponent; rather you should learn to judge an opponent quickly enough to know just where you stand before you make a move. Like I did with you, although you did make it easy." He concluded, another little smirk crossing his expression.

As he they entered the camp Sean went silent, a lot of heads turned their way as they walked through the small trails around the wooden cabins. Sean whispered something as he walked past a woman, the woman bowed to him and walked away without a word. Finally, they walked past the enormous campfire that was lit in the center of the encampment and to a trail that led to the most secluded and largest, cabin on the camp. Sean opened the door and motioned the girl in before going in after her and closing the door. With a small sigh Sean sat by a round, and seemingly ancient table and indicated the seat across from him. "Sit, someone will bring food and something to drink." He glanced towards his bedroom door noticing it had been left open, exposing the mess of sheets he'd made while unable to sleep, he stood up and closed it, before sitting back down and speaking. "You said you wanted a home, correct? This is my home and the home of everyone in this camp; it is the only safe place we know, most people who live here know no other home. When accepted into the Pack it makes you part of our family, and that means that you'll never be alone again. However it also means that when you make a mistake, we make a mistake, and when you endanger yourself, you endanger the clan. That is why tomorrow, when you are rested, I will assess your skills and assign you with an Instructor, or perhaps I will take charge of your training myself, haven't decided yet. Whoever this person is, he, or she, will be the one who will teach you and eventually judge how you could better serve the clan. Do you accept these terms?" There was a knock on the door and he ordered whoever it was to enter. A woman stepped in, left a bowl soup, a loaf of bread, and a jar of fresh water on the round table, leaving without a word. "This is for you." He stated, leaning back in his seat. "And my name is Sean, if you wish to use it. Some people feel they need to call me Alpha, but I don't demand it."
She nodded slowly, absorbing the information Sean gave without question and without comment. She had seen the messy bed and felt a pang of pity for him. She knew what it was like to lay restless in ones bed, not being able to find sleep. Her eyes were still tinted blue and her sadness pushed away her hunger but as the scent of the food hit her, her stomach roared in protest, demanding that she scarf until she was sick. She didn’t though. She barely touched the food she was given and instead gulped down the water, whimpering as the coolness soothed her irritated throat. Her eyes began to brighten and as she munched quietly on the bread she found herself assessing Sean. She didn’t trust him but he had shown that he wasn’t at all like the others she knew and that gave her confidence. His eyes watched her and she watched him.
She pushed the bowl away from her, finishing it only out of respect and not to waste it before looking Sean dead in the eye. Her eyes shimmed golden and she blinked back the flood of colour, grateful that she did not have to explain to him just yet why her eyes so easily changed. She smiled lightly that cocky grin appearing on her face again.
“As you wish,” she said quietly, her eyes excited and her heart racing with just the thought of being tested. She would show him what she could do, that she was sure of but how she did it was going to be an adventure. She stretched and stood, carefully dipping her head, showing respect.
“I would stay and chat, but,” she paused searching for the right words. Her eyes flickered to his face, seeing the rings under his eyes and again that sense of pity filled her. Ari blushed and looked towards the door, trying to figure out a way to excuse herself so that he could finally get some sleep.
Sean watched the girl and noticed that she hadn't let her attention stray from him for a minute. She seemed eager to prove herself, which was good if used correctly. In a way or two she reminded him of himself, when he was still a young recruit; the same arrogance, the same inexperience and the same eagerness. With enough work she could be great, even without an enlightenment.

As she stood and gave signs of wanting to leave, Sean noticed a look of pity cross her eyes and smiled, amused. "Do I really look that tired now that you're not scared?" He asked, giving a chuckle. "There's a lady just outside the door, she'll show you where to sleep. Be here tomorrow at sunrise, we'll talk some more then, you haven't even told me how you know Indrani after all." He added.

Standing, and stretching with a soft groan, he walked over and opened the door for her. "Just one question: Why do you call it a curse?" He whispered, letting a bit of curiosity slip out.
She felt her cheeks redden at the question but she knew the answer well. Her eyes met his and for a moment she felt connected.
“A curse,” she whispered, “is what I have. So I can change into anything I please and be able to communicate with those who are in the same form, it’s still a curse. It destroyed my family and my life and I have run from it as often as I can, never daring to use it unless in dire need. Sean,” she said taking a step forward until all she had to do was raise her hand and take one more step so they would touch, “Every gift has a price to pay. With mine, it is losing those I love and even myself.”
Without another word she left, leaving him to think about the meaning of her words. She nodded shyly at the women standing nearby and was lead to her sleeping place. There she collapsed, swiftly willing herself to rest and her body obeyed. As she curled up, too tired to care what was going on around her, she told her body to wake when the sun kissed her face. Ari slept.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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[Healer's Camp - Sunrise]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Flashback – Wolfpack Territory, approximately 5 years ago]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality – Desert, present time]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Flashback – Wolfpack Camp, approximately 10 years ago]

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality – Desert, present time]

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

[Flashback – Newhaven, approximately 6 years ago]

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

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

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

[Flashback – Desert, approximately 3 years ago]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Blackpond – Some moment in middle of the night]

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

Flashback – Desert, approximately 3 years ago]

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

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


”Hey, pal! You alive?”

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

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

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

“Helloo… Name. What’s your name?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassin’s Camp – Early morning]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Flashback]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from valcrest to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassin’s Camp – Hours later]

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Blackpond – In the morning]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yup, I get it." Viktor replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ari Lupir

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“What the hell were you thinking going after Crys, Donovan?” Sean hissed at his brother as the boy looked up at him from his seat with a guilty look in his eyes. “You almost got yourself killed! Not to mention that you endangered the entire clan by leading them to us!”
“What was I thinking? I was thinking that someone has to stand up to her! Someone has to stop her and if you won’t, fine: I’ll do it, because, guess what: I’m not afraid of her!” Doni shouted out in anger.
“Did you? Did you stop her? No! You got yourself humiliated in front of the entire clan, and guess what: Ears don’t grow back, you moron!” Sean yelled back.
Donovan stood up, now glaring at his brother. “Someone needs to stand up to her, Sean. And if you’re too afraid to face her, how do you expect the clan to follow you? I hear what’s being whispered around camp… They think you’re weak! Honestly, I’m starting to agree with them!”

That was one step too far, and Doni knew it even before Sean’s fist struck his face. The punch was forceful enough to push the boy onto the round wooden table; that miraculously remained intact even after suffering the impact of Doni’s body colliding with it, causing a loud and painful sound. Donovan slid onto the floor, momentarily stunned by the pain and the shock, tears beginning to fill his eyes, even though he would never allow them to drop.

Sean waited a couple of moments, calming himself down and allowing Donovan to slowly recover from the blow, before he crouched down and muttered to his brother. “You’re not a child anymore, Don. It’s about time you start taking the consequences for the things you say and do. This time I tolerated Crystal’s presence here on your behalf, I obeyed the demands of those traitors to spare your life. However it was the last time I allowed anyone to give me orders in this camp. So you better think twice before acting this way again, because if you do, you’ll be on your own.” He warned. “I won’t endanger this clan again on account of your stupidity. Do you understand me?”

Donovan answered with a low growl, instead of words. His ribs were aching badly from falling against the table and he was so angry that he feared any more words would make Sean jump at his throat. Finally Sean repeated the question and he managed to mumble: “Yes, Alpha.”

“Good.” Sean stated. “If you want to be respected, Don, if you want to be seen as a man… Own up to the choices you make, and accept the consequences. Don’t hide behind the fact that you’re my brother, because you know what? You may always be my brother, but I might not always be Alpha.” Then he sighed heavily and offered the boy a hand to help him up.

Donovan ignored Sean’s offered hand and slowly got on his feet by himself. “Can I go?” He mumbled, looking at his feet.

“Yes. Go get some rest.” Sean answered, moving to his chair as his brother left the Cabin without another word. He sighed heavily running a hand over his eyes, feeling as tired as he had ever felt in his life. Things didn’t get any better when a group of Wolves entered the Cabin seconds after Doni walked out. The Instructors, most experienced Actives, as well as Franklin and Adria had entered the office and stood around him, closing the door of the Cabin without a word to their Alpha.

Sean stood from his seat and gave the men and woman a nod as if indicating they were free to speak their minds, it was Adria who spoke as Sean sat in his chair once more.

“Alpha, two days have passed and no sign of Dante anywhere. We have no choice but to consider him a traitor to this clan.” The woman stated. “Being so, it is required that you choose another Second as soon as possible. If, Twins forbid, something happens to you there will be no one in charge of the clan. We cannot allow that.” The woman stated. “There is also the matter of the new recruit…”
As Adria said that, Franklin interrupted. “The girl has been here for half a day, we cannot possibly expect her to know who the traitors to this clan are.”
“What are you talking about?” Sean asked, speaking for the first time since they entered.
“She engaged in conversation with Allison Blake, as she held Donovan hostage.” Adria stated, shooting her brother a glare for interrupting. “She also fled the encampment soon after.”
Franklin took the word back from Adria. “The Instructors also need to know who will be taking charge of her training.” He stated, giving Sean a look that expressed he was extremely displeased with the idea of any of those men alone with the kid.
Sean picked up the thought behind the man’s glare and opened a small grin. “You’re all fighting over who gets the kid already? Why am I not surprised?” He asked, running his stare through the line of Instructors one by one, making one or two of them shift uncomfortably. “I thought it was clear enough that I’ll be taking charge of her training myself, must I spell everything out for you people?” He shook his head slightly. “As for her transgressions… I’ll see to it personally. Be sure they won’t go unpunished.”

Sean sighed, leaning back in his seat and staring at the ceiling at the Cabin for a moment or two. “As for choosing another Second…” He started, still looking up. “I’ll have to think about it for a bit. We’ve been through enough Seconds as is, apparently when Evin can’t make them go away, Crys does the job. So I suppose I’ll have to find someone who can survive them both.” He stated, in a slightly bitter tone. “…If such a person actually exists.”

One of the Actives suddenly took a step forward and stammered a question: “W-what… What did she want after all?”

Sean looked at the man for a little while then answered. “She wanted to know if we have plans to attack the healers; which we don’t.” Sean stated.

“It was a rather long conversation…” One other Active started, but silenced as Sean’s eye locked on him.

“We have a personal history, Crys and I, many things were said, but they do not concern you in the least.” He replied, a bit coldly, ending the subject. Still he asked: “Any more questions?”

The Wolves nodded, quietly, at Sean’s offer to ask more questions and Adria opened the door to leave. Franklin made sure to stay behind as if he guessed what Sean’s words would be and he wanted to be the one to hear them.

“Bring me the kid.”

Ari slowly stood as the hand moved away from her shoulder, turning to face her intruder. He was taller than she was, older, maybe in his early twenties. He was pressingly close, too close for her comfort and she blinked up at him, tossing her hair out of her eyes.
“I’m sorry m’lady,” he said stepping back respectfully. His green-gold eyes shone with laughter though his face remained a complete mask, as he bowed towards her. His eyes didn’t leave hers and his auburn hair fell over one eye, giving him a wild secretive look. She shrugged her shoulders, feeling her breath catch and walked past him, back to where she had left her quiver lying. He followed her back, his eyes running over her body as she turned, raised her bow and loosed another arrow. Ari smiled as her eyes slightly glowed, using her enlightenment for just a moment to listen closer. She heard the air scream as the arrow cut through it followed quickly by the whomp of her arrow as it embedded its head into the target, right in the centre again. She slowly lowered her bow, turning to look at the Wolf that was busy starring at the target.
“What is your name,” she asked, watching as he blinked, but didn’t take his eyes off of the target.
“Alex,” he smiled, still not taking his eyes off the arrow, striding forward and retrieving it for her, “You really are an excellent shot,” he paused, waiting for her to give her name.
“Ari,” she smirked taking the arrow from his outstretched hand and watching as his eyes darkened.
“The girl who spoke to the traitor,” he asked carefully stepping back as she strung her bow yet again. Ari released the arrow and it flew wide, implanting its self into a tree. She ran forward and grabbed it, swearing as it broke before slowly wandering back to Alex.
“Yes I admit, I spoke to her. Funny thing too, I ran into Crys,” she smirked as he glared at her, “I will not apologize for probably saving Donavan’s life. I did what I saw necessary and then happened to go out,” she examined the broken shaft, “I ran into her. She is really frightening and I must say she scares me.”
“You know if this reaches Sean you will die,” he said taking the arrow shaft from her and studying it himself, “You can salvage it.”
Ari smiled at him and he smiled back carefully. She nodded and took it back, placing it carefully into her quiver shrugging slightly, “I do not fear death.”
Alex shook his head, laughing lightly at how calm this girl was. His eyes travelled up the hill to a lone Wolf who was slowly making his way down toward them. He glanced nervously at Ari as she shot again, this time quicker but her accuracy off by a tiny bit. She didn’t seem to notice the other wolf prowling forward and Alex ran up the hill to meet him.
Ari watched mildly amused as Stranger and Alex met face to face, Alex seemed to be talking swiftly to him. Shaking his head as Stranger responded and stepped past him. The red hair flashed and he motioned for her to run. Ari saw Stranger reaching for his sword, Alex for the dagger at his hip. She fled; bolting into the trees and grabbing her bow and quiver. Ari had no idea where she was going and she ran around trees and slapped branches out of her face, their rough bark slicing open her cheeks and neck as she ran. She paused in a clearing, her heart racing and her chest heaving. He would hunt her down, but he wouldn’t know where to start. She collapsed into the centre of the clearing, taking a moment to cry and curl close into the trunk of the tallest tree. She found some peace, knowing that he wasn’t Enlightened and Sean would not be able to find her out here. What she feared were the other wolves. She shook her head, wiping away the tears and the powder along with it, revealing the whorish marks on her face. She cursed lightly and sighed. She needed to do something and so she did, weaving a target out of fallen branches and then shooting arrow after arrow into it, tears blurring her vision. She felt safe.

Sean thought he couldn't possibly be more frustrated, but as it turns out... He was wrong. After what was soon to be a fight was split up and brought to his attention. He sent Alex off, promising he'd deal with the man later. Probably he'd just give him a suspension, there was no need to go further than that. After Alex left he stood with Franklin as the man frowned deeply behind the other man's back. "Let it go, old man." Sean told him, knowing well that Franklin didn't take kindly to people getting in his way. "Which way did she go, did you see?"

Franklin pointed Sean in one direction, but he said he wasn't completely sure. Fine. He'd hunt her down if she wanted it that way. He'd much rather do this away from camp either way. "Can't believe I'm back to tracking down recruits, what am I a damn babysitter?" He muttered under his breath, pulling one of the two axes he carried at his waist to cut through the thick of woods and make his path shorter. It wasn't as hard to find the girl as he thought it would be. Not for a trained assassin. She didn't seem to be trying to hide her tracks. Footprints and blood were left behind on the wet earth and tree branches; apparently she ran, but Sean wasn't in a hurry, his eyes scanning his surroundings for more traces at every step he took.

She didn't look where she was going as she ran, it seemed, but Sean recognized the path. He knew those woods back and forth, every stash ever hidden by a traveler, every rock, every tree. Reaching a clearing he could hear the sound of arrows hitting wood. He stopped, putting the axe away at his belt, before walking closer. As he entered the clearing he spotted the girl, amusement crossing his face as he noticed she had sliced her hair short. Walking a bit closer and leaning against a tree he let his voice break through the silence. "So... Covering your tracks: There's something else we need to work on." He stated, a slightly severe tone in his voice. "You are aware that fleeing can be viewed as admission of guilt, right?" He asked her, raising an eyebrow.

Ari wasn’t surprised that he had found her; probably one of his pet magicians had told him where to find her. She snorted in laughter, quiet enough so that he wouldn’t be able to hear it. She tossed her hair so that it fell over the markings and her eyes burned silver. She could tell he was just slightly annoyed and she carefully thought about her options.
“So you decided to show up,” she said not bothering to turn and face Sean as she loosed another arrow, hitting her makeshift target in the centre, splicing another arrow in half. She walked forward and retrieved her arrows sharply, “If I was running for my life I need not cover my tracks, only out run my opponent. As for fleeing, I prefer to think of it as an escape from you.”
Ari passed him leaning against the tree, standing as far away from the target as possible without a tree in her way. She raised her bow again, prepared to shoot, her eyes narrowing before sighing and unstringing it, deciding she couldn’t and wouldn’t dare ignore or irritate Sean more than necessary. Better to be humble and beg for forgiveness.
“And why is the Alpha,” she growled lightly, “Out in the woods chasing down a recruit like me? Has some news reached your ears about how Ari Lupir dared to speak to Allison? Well I have, I admit.”
Ari dipped her head slightly, not daring to mention Crys and how she stumbled into her. If he knew about that then he would bring it up; but the lack of knowledge as of this point, Ari figured, was bettering her chance of survival. She kept her eyes on the ground, taking a submissive stance and waiting patiently for his punishment.

"What's the point of running fast if you leave a trail? Unless you can run forever, kid, it's useless. Besides, you never know who'll find your tracks. Sometimes the person you're running from is actually the least of your problems." He said absently. "And why would you need to escape me? Do you not love me anymore?" He asked, although in a sarcastic tone, as she walked past him. He waited for her to shoot, but she didn't, which caused him to raise an eyebrow slightly, wondering why she hesitated. As she asked if he'd heard of her talk with Allison and if that was the reason he was there, his expression shut. Of course it was, but for some reason he felt the urge to put off that conversation and be an Instructor first, now that she had brought it up though, he'd have to talk about it.

He sighed looking at her as she stared at the ground. "Yes, I've heard." He answered, walking up to her and pulling her chin up in the same way he had done when she first arrived, his eyes scanning her face he noticed markings he hadn't noticed before, mostly covered by hair, but slightly visible; he'd seen markings like those before, but aside from a momentary frown, he ignored them completely and went on speaking. "What did I tell you, kid? Wolves only bow in respect, and even so, we don't keep our heads down for long. Now..." He paused slightly before reaching the question he wanted to ask, sincerely dreading what the answer might be. "If you have any news I haven't heard yet, now is the time to tell me. Because, trust me, I will hear them eventually." He stated, lowering his hand which, he had just realized, was still touching her face. His eyes, however, kept locked on hers, serious and cold as he asked. "Is there anything else I should know?"

She flinched, not ready for the soft tone in his voice and her green eyes caught his brown ones. That and his words stung her.
Do you not love me anymore?
Ari hoped that he didn’t know what she felt for him and she blushed faintly. Nevertheless, she kept her chin high, her heart pounding in her chest.
“Swear to me that you will not judge me on what I am about to tell you,” her eyes grew pained and she continued after he nodded, “I ran into Crys.” She stepped back away from him and shook her head sadly, already seeing the mistrust growing in his eyes. “We talked for but a moment, I swear I didn’t know who she was until she told me. And I am willing to swear on anything that I did not give her my loyalties or anything. Sean, “she pleaded, “My loyalties lie with you and the Pack. What I did with Allison was to help keep Donovan safe, I couldn’t stand to see him hurt and then when I realized what I had done I fled into the forest and ran into Crys. I didn’t know who she was until she told me and then I grew curious, and when she mentioned you well I guess you could say I grew defensive.”
She backed away from him, stepping back quickly as he felt his anger gathering like a storm around him. Her eyes were moist and threatened to form tears but she held them back, only fearing his response. Her memories kicked in, and she quickly shook her head, wanting to stay focused but she couldn’t help as she whispered, “I fear neither death nor pain.”

Sean was angry as hell. He was angry for every reason one could possibly imagine, and even a few others he couldn't quite understand completely. The fact that he was so angry in itself was what stopped him from immediately lashing out at this girl, for nothing other than speaking to someone she randomly ran into in the woods. That considering she was telling the truth, however, Sean would like to believe that she could make up a better lie. Finally, he sat down under the shade of a tree and decided that best way to go around his feelings was to avoid the subject of Crys for just a little bit more. "I didn't fully explain our laws to you when you arrived." He stated, after a long silence. "It was late, I was rather tired and I foolishly assumed they were simple enough that you wouldn't break them before I got around to it." He scratched his head absently and continued. "There are four basic laws in this clan. Not even my orders should ever go above these laws, and they are in fact pretty simple: Never leave a companion behind; never harm or kill another member of the clan, unless in case of self-defense; Never kill another person unless when ordered by the leader, or in case of self-defense; Never reveal information concerning the any member of the clan, yourself included, or the clan's laws and traditions." Sean listed, counting on his fingers the fours laws of the clan. "Breaking any of the laws may result in an accusation of Treason. Treason may be punished by death, at the leader's discretion." He sighed. "Execution is our more severed punishment, but first comes suspension, second comes expulsion, only in cases when a member knowingly endangers the safety of the clan or openly turns against the Pack, do we execute. Do you see that when you revealed information on yourself to Allison you broke one of those four rules? Do you realize that any information, no matter how insignificant, can and will give them advantage over us? It is a serious infraction." He told her, with a frown. "As for Donovan... He'll have to answer for his actions too. He made us vulnerable by going after Crys and getting himself captured."

Once he was finished with the explanation, he moved on. "You are in this clan as a recruit, still. You have no say in absolutely anything that is decided here and, as far as hierarchy goes, you are less than nothing. It is important that you understand this because, as I said in our first conversation, your Instructor is the one who decides when and if you'll ever be more than that and since you have no say... Your Instructor is also the person whose job is to protect you and speak in your behalf when you do something as stupid as converse with a traitor in the middle of camp. That makes the decision of training you personally a huge hassle for me, reason why the Alpha shouldn't take recruits. Anything you do wrong makes me look bad, because or they'll say I'm punishing you too harshly, which makes me a bad guy, or they say I'm punishing you too lightly, which means I'm playing favorites." He pulled a knife, from seemingly out of nowhere, and began swirling it around between his fingers, obviously trying to decide which path he'd rather take. After a moment or two he asked. "So... What did you make of her? Crys." He asked, his voice filled with contempt as he spoke the woman's name, but still curious for the answer.

Ari was completely speechless. She stood there her eyes flicking nervously to her quiver and then back to his face. For a moment she watched the knife, deciding that he’d toss it faster then she could change or defend and her shoulders fell.
“She is beautiful, and has a good mind,” she paused for a moment, thinking, “I don’t trust her.”
She shrugged leaving it at that and tossed her hair out of her face. She couldn’t help as she thought of her friend who knew everything about a person just by looking at them and how silly the rule was to not reveal anything about yourself. If they wanted to use her against the clan they would be out of luck. She was a nobody and had no say so why on earth would they even consider it. Her eyes darkened as she thought about the shifting thing, but she hadn’t told them much and that would be fine. Her eyes flickered from his face to the knife he was playing with and then back to her quiver. She held her tongue and kept quiet, not wanting to push him over the edge.

"That's true." Sean mumbled in response, a half smile breaking through the anger. "She is beautiful." He stated, watching the girl's eyes as they moved from the knife he was playing with to her quiver, to his face, and then back... He chuckled then, it was inevitable. "Are you wondering if I can throw this knife before you have a chance to defend yourself?" He grinned. "Suppose you concluded that I can, but then, do you think I would?" He asked her, raising an eyebrow. "Can you trust me just enough to believe I won't immediately kill you, not even for this?" He said, putting the knife away, not showing where he had hidden it in his person. "My Second in command is missing. Crys came down here, while I was absent and the clan was under his command, spoke to the man for about five minutes and he vanished into thin air. Which is too bad, because now he's considered a traitor and if he is ever found and captured, I'll be forced to kill him. I honestly hope they don't find him.” He said absently. “That woman can know everything that goes on inside a person in a matter of seconds, did you know? Not inside your mind, kid, but far deeper than that, more private than that. And that’s how dangerous she can be and that's why you should worry." He explained. "Don't ever, ever, stand in her way if you can avoid it." His tone was slightly concerned for a second, but he quickly changed the subject and amusement took its place. "And what the hell did you to your hair?" He asked.

She smiled, her cheeks reddening. “I don’t know what to think about you,” she said walking away and grabbing her quiver, “As for Crys, I’m not worried. Before you call me a fool, I am sure that she has no reason to harm me.”
She turned toward him, standing tall and proud in front of him, demanding some respect. Her eyes were bright and lively, shinning with some hidden emotion.
“Not yet anyways,” she laughed and ran her fingers through her short hair, “As for this I decided it was better to not have long hair when training with the Alpha. Apparently he is willing to take advantage of anything that will help him win the fight. And according to her it’s a great opportunity to be picked by you to train with you. ”
She bowed mockingly, a smile spreading across her face, “It is an honour.”
Ari shook her head, her stomach twisting as she lied, but keeping her face straight. She restrung her bow again taking aim at the target. The arrow make a cracking noise as it sank deep into the wood and she smiled at him gently.
“You always are right,” she laughed lightly jogging forward to snatch up the black arrow, “So how are you going to test my skills at running? Shall I make a run for it and see how long it takes the great Alpha to find me? I am guessing from the look on your face when you first found me, that you think it will be no problem to do it again.”

"Well, that makes two of us, kid."He replied, as she said she didn't know what to think of him. Nodding, as she said Crys had no reason to harm her, he gave a light shrug. "You're probably right. At least for now, but you never know who will have a reason to hurt you in the future." He said, jumping to his feet in a heartbeat when she stood in front of him, making sure to stand taller, and chuckled. "Are you suggesting I cheat, Miss I'm-not-afraid-to-fight-dirty? Don't think it'd be any different with any other Instructor, if anything I took it easy on you. Had anyone else been in that training field you would have been stomped for not getting up immediately." He wasn't kidding, but he couldn't get rid of the amusement in his tone. "And I don't know what words Crys used exactly, but I'm pretty sure that's not what she meant by them." He stated simply.

He leaned back against the tree casually watching her string the bow and shoot. "If you run around aimlessly and leave the same amount of tracks behind, yes, absolutely." Sean replied. "I do think that you can do a better job of it, if you want though. Or at least, I hope so. If it's easy it isn't fun, now is it?" He asked, raising an eyebrow. "Although I guarantee that I'd eventually find you, even if you can outrun me by miles. The great Alpha is an assassin after all, and he has spent most of his life hunting people down." He tilted his head to one side and grinned. "Do you want to bet I can find you again?"

“I’ll bet you anything that you won’t be able to,” she snickered, her eyes brightening at the challenge. She took a step forward, resting her hand on his chest gently and smiled up at him. “Let the games begin.”
With that she left her bow on the ground, sprinting off into the trees, not caring how much noise she made at the moment. When she was sure she had gotten a head start she circled back, making sure to step lightly yet quickly, avoiding the trees and shifting playfully into a small sparrow. She chirped and flew up into a tree, perching on a branch and waiting for Sean to show his face.

Sean withheld a small wince as the kid laid a hand on his chest, absently wondering why the hell she kept touching him all the time. He promptly pushed the thought aside however when she quickly ran off into the woods.
Sean immediately left after the girl not bothering to try and match her speed, rather following her footprints and the sounds of her running. As the sounds stopped, so did he. Moving slowly, following the marks of footsteps on the ground until they disappeared as well. The only trace left was a pile of clothing, left where he imagined she had used her ability. No paw prints visible, Sean opened a little smirk. "Who's cheating now?" He mumbled, although he didn't seem upset in the slightest, simply amused. Scanning the ground, his eyes caught a small feather that was way too clean to have been there long and he crouched to pick it up. Examining it, he quickly identified it as being that of a sparrow. "Humph." He mumbled to himself, standing up and scanning the trees around him, thinking that it would be nearly impossible to find the girl that way. "Flying is just not fair you know." He stated aloud, hoping she'd make a sound so he'd know in which direction to look at least

Ari had nearly died when she had seen him see her clothes and she had quickly shifted from a bird to a panther in a matter of moments. With a small growl she pounced form her spot in the tree, landing onto Sean’s back and knocking him to the ground. She barked in cat laughter, keeping her claws in so she didn’t hurt him. Before he could react though, she snatched up her clothes in her cat jaws, springing away yet again, her body growing slowly freezing into that form for all eternally. When she was sure he was out of sight she shifted, screaming at the horrible pain before gingerly pulling back on her clothes and leaning against a tree, her body shaking horribly. She was frightened, and her eyes stared wide at the trees in front of her, pressing her body as close as she could to the other tree. She forgot about Sean, her eyes and thoughts fixed straight ahead.

Sean didn't even see it coming. Next thing he knew he had been knocked down by what felt like a very big cat. Aside from his pride, he was unscathed. A mix of annoyance and amusement could be seen in his features as he caught a glimpse of the large feline running off with the clothes he had found. He snorted softly, thinking that he should have picked them up when he had the chance.

He was standing and brushing himself off, not in any hurry to run off after the recruit, when he heard the girl scream. That got him in a hurry and he ran, stopping to a full halt the moment he spotted her, leaned back against a tree, shaking from head to toe, eyes wide as if in a panic. Heaving a small sigh he walked up to her and placed in her line of sight, staring into her eyes as if he hoped that'd would give him an answer without him having to ask. As it didn't, he went ahead and asked the question."Hey... Are you alright?" He didn't have to be enlightened and he didn't have to be a genius to know that shape-shifting was a painful thing, but that didn't quite explain why she suddenly seemed so afraid.

Ari trembled, a long red line scathing up her arm from where she had touched the tree that had caused her to shift back so violently. Her heart broke at what she saw, sickness gathering in her stomach. She flinched back as Sean passed in front of her and she couldn’t help the tears that fell from her cheeks. She needed to show him, words wouldn’t, couldn't, explain this and she feared that if she opened her mouth, only the sobs she was holding back would escape.
The silver vanished from her eyes and she grabbed his hand leading him forward into the horror she had seen. The second she hit the clearing she stumbled back, leaning against him gently as her eyes took in all the dead animals hanging from the trees, their innards hanging from the branches. She turned into him, hiding against his chest, hit hard by what she saw. Deer, wolf, lynx, bear, birds; any animal that she had crossed in the woods was there in mass hanging in the killing field. The main tree was decorated richly with blood and intestines, spiraling up with the head of a wolf mounted at the very top. She shook her head sadly stepping back from Sean feeling him tense, she couldn’t tell if it was because she was so close or because of what was behind her.
“Who,” she choked out, her eyes angry and pained, her blood burned and she was dying to sink her teeth into whoever could have done this.

Sean let the girl lead him by the hand, at first not understanding what was going on. Soon though, he froze where he stood as his eyes caught the sight. Not once before had ever seen anything like that, not even coming from the most psychotic of hunters that ever crossed those woods. "... The hell?" He muttered, his eyes still lost in the mess of blood and intestines; wandering through the clearing until they locked on the wolf head. His fists clenched at the sight of it and he felt a wave of anger go through him immediately. He didn't care for animals personally to the point of going around threatening hunters for setting traps, as a few Alphas before him had done, but the wolves in that forest were believed to have been brought to Valcrest by Heart herself to protect her children once she let for the Afterlife, they were sacred as far as the Pack was concerned and hunting them was never permitted as long as the clan existed. It was one of many unspoken laws of the forest. This amount of unnecessary killing was something he couldn't get past all on its own, but he wolves... The wolf head was a direct offense to him, to his clan and to their Goddess of worship. He would and couldn't let it go unpunished.

All that rage building at the young Alpha's chest, however, didn't show in his face or in his tone as he spoke. "I don't know who, but I intend to find out." He said, calmly, putting one arm around her shoulders and pulling her away from the clearing, if not for any other reason, because he couldn't stand to look at it anymore. "We should go back, I'll have someone build a pyre." he stated, a frown crossing his expression. If the person, or people, who did that had stuck around there would be nothing left of them by now. The clan wouldn't take this kindly either, he just knew it; the Pack would be doing some serious hunting today.

Ari let him lead her away, happy to get out the sharp smell of blood and death haunting her. She nimbly avoided the trees that were ashen coloured with small spines. She didn’t know their name but she knew their effect on her enlightenment. She wouldn’t be able to shift anywhere near them and it had deeply shaken her to see all the dead animals around, everything she could become inside a grove of the trees in which she couldn’t shift. It was a personal attack on her, but who? She shook her head and sharply turned to face Sean.
“Whatever you plan on doing, I am coming to help,” she said sharply, anger slashing through her voice. She was glad that it did so Sean couldn’t hear the fear and the tone she always got when she was hiding something. Her face might have betrayed the fact that she was hiding something. She turned and began to head back to the clearing where she had left her bow before turning and ripping a long stretch of cloth from her shirt. Ingoing the curious look from Sean she tried it to one of the spiny trees, kissing the cloth gently. Ari sniffled and glanced at Sean.
“About how far are we from the camp,” she asked, itching to shift and run back to grab her bow and then back into the camp, still as an animal. If it would take a long time she would offer to shift into a horse or something and carry him into the camp after picking up her bow. If it wasn’t far she would stay here, lament for her fallen kin and then go hunting by herself, no one would escape her claws. She cocked her head, shaking slightly as her eyes burned brilliant silver, her hand reaching out to steady herself. Sean was close enough that if she shifted now he could get hurt, and she didn't want that; the thought of him hurt because of her kept her in control, but very very loose control.

Sean was silent for a very long time of walking and what, if anything, was said and done didn't really sink in completely, although it was heard and seen. He was going over what had just happened and as he reached a conclusion he heaved a sigh and mumbled. "We're not far." In response to her question, he had stopped walking however. "Ari..." He called, a very serious tone in his voice. "Don't think I'm stupid enough to assume this is a coincidence." Sean stated absently, looking at her sideways, and hiding his hands in his pockets. "While what was done back there is very personal to the Pack, it's obviously far more personal to you. And while I know for a fact you're hiding something, I'm not going to ask you any questions. I'm just repeating what I already told you, to make sure you understand: You are part of a family now, and that means that if you're missing we'll find you, if you have a problem we'll help and if you get yourself killed we'll avenge you... Whether you like it or not; it's not negotiable." He sighed and continued to walk. "Just try to remember that should you get in trouble."

A few steps up the trail he added. "I won, by the way."

She kept quiet and her heart hammered in her chest. Family. That was something she never thought she’d ever hear again and coming from him it felt like someone had just tucked her in and kissed her good night, something she’d never had. She couldn’t tell if his last words were offering her to tell her secrete or if he just felt like he needed to say it because he did care. The thought made her breath catch in her throat and she smiled slightly.
“Did not,” she laughed lightly, glad that their conversation was turning to try and be lighter, “If I remember I got distracted. But if you want to say you win then so be it,” she gently nudged him, causing Sean to take a step to balance himself. “So then, what is it that I owe you?”
The silver in her eyes hadn’t settled and she was still trying to stay in control. For a moment her mind flickered to some great injustice and she looked up at him nervously, he still had yet to punish her for her foolish behavior. She smiled, wondering if he even remembered.

Sean chuckled as she nudged him. "Well... That's too bad, but I did find you. If I had bet that you couldn't pounce on me from behind, then you would have won. Although, next time you leave clothes behind trying to escape me I will have to set them on fire." He informed, opening a slight grin. "You said you'd bet anything, right? I'll let you know when I think of something then."

They were considerably close to camp when all of a sudden Franklin was walking over in their direction. "What do you think you're doing?" He asked, looking at Sean with a slightly severe expression. "You can't be away from camp for so long when you don't have a Second!" He scolded.

Sean scratched his head absently and sighed, heavily annoyed. "Yes, I know... A Second." He paused for a moment and patted the older man on the arm playfully. "Congratulations, then, Frank. You're my new Second."

"You can't be serious." Franklin frowned as Sean walked past him.

"Sure I am. I thought Avius would be the one to take care of Bana, but... Crys got to him somehow. You won't have that problem, I know that much. I think it's important to up the challenge, Evin will get bored otherwise." He said playfully. When he noticed Franklin's severe look, however, Sean laughed. "Oh, come on... You know me since forever, I trust you. And I know Adria wants the spot, but I sure as hell ain't going to let her have it."

Franklin sighed heavily. "Until you find someone else. Got it? I ain't going to be stuck running this pack of fools while you're out in the woods..."

Sean gave the man a frown. "We were training." He stated, his smile shut as he glared at the man. At this point Franklin's eyes sparkled blue as Sean stared onto them, when they stopped glowing Franklin shot a glance to Ari and muttered. "I'll see what I can do." With that said the man wandered off in the direction the two of them had come from.

As he continued to walk, Sean rubbed his temples with a groan, he absolutely hated telepathy. "Franklin will be leading a search group in a couple of hours. I convinced him to let you tag along with them, if you want. Until then, they will be lighting a pyre in that clearing and... Taking care of the remains..." He said, trying to be careful in his words. "Meanwhile, I have to go be the Alpha. You can go anywhere you like, Ari, but... Keep your head down while in camp, and if anyone asks you're suspended. Got it?" He asked, with a half-smile. Not like Crys had never let one of her recruits off the hook once or twice.

“Like I said, and you can probably see that I don’t have much to offer. As for the clothing,” she smirked, “burn it all you want. Do you have to go?” she asked gently, her face falling slightly, finding that she wanted to spend time with him. As he looked her over carefully she blushed. She nodded and smiled slipping in a gentle touch on his arm before running off after Franklin.
“Franklin! You must be extremely careful out there. Whoever did this is after me,” she whispered gently, quietly so Sean couldn’t hear.

Sean didn’t answer the question as to whether he really had to go; he just went on walking until he reached the Leader’s Cabin. He barely walked in when someone walked in behind him.

“You punched Doni in the face?!” Katelyn angered voice sounded in the room. “What the hell is your problem?!”
Sean didn’t answer at first; he was unlocking the door to his bedroom. Once the room was open he kicked off his boots and went inside barefoot, looking for another pair under the bed. “He got off easy, Kate.” He stated simply, slipping on the boots and tying them as tightly as possible. “He could have himself, and other, killed because of what he did. Don’t expect me to apologize for that.”
“Why is there blood on your boots?” She asked him, raising an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you killed your recruit and buried her in the woods…”
“Shut up.” Sean muttered. “Do you actually think I’d do that?” He asked, looking up at her.
“Of course not… I was joking. Seriously though: Whose blood is it?”
“It’s better if you just don’t know, alright?” He told her, standing up and grabbing the dirty boots before walking past her and out of the Cabin.

Katie followed him all the way to the lake and stood watching with a concerned look as her brother pulled a piece of cloth and dipped it in the cold water in an attempt to wipe the blood off the boots. “You should throw them out, they’re getting old anyway.”
“It’s my favorite pair.” Sean muttered. “Lionel gave them to me.”
“That’s why you should throw them out.” She replied. “He’s gone, you can’t take that back, and if you want Doni to forget, if you don’t want him to turn out like you… Then you have to help him.”
Sean sighed, sitting down on the ground and giving up on the blood stains. “What do you mean with ‘like me’, exactly?” He asked her.
“I mean exactly how he acted today. That’s what I mean.” She said, crouching in front of him to get in his line of sight. “You told me yesterday that it was too late for you, but it’s not late for him. Not yet. So you better apologize to him before this gets out of hand.”

“I’ll think about it.” He replied, not really wanting to admit defeat. “He started it though.”
Katie chuckled. “Well you’re going to finish it, or I’ll push you in the lake.”
“You mean you’ll try to push me in the lake.” He corrected. “And I’ll put it on my ‘to-do’ list.” He told her, with a playful grin.

“Oh, while adding things to the list…” Katie said, standing up. “Amalia knows what you did, and she’s not happy.”

“Oh, bother…” Sean muttered. “Who the hell told her?”
“I told her. What if they actually ask you to produce your witness?”
“They won’t want to draw attention to the fact that the information came from us.” Sean replied. “Suppose I’ll have to deal with that now too.”
“She promised he would never tell anyone, and she trusted the information to be safe with us.” Katie stated. “I would be upset if I was her.”
“I would have kept my mouth shut in the first place if I was her.” Sean stated. “It’s not my fault if she was stupid enough to trust Dani in the first place.”

The setting changes from assassins-camp to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Kirsten Somare

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[Blackpond]

Kirsten was very proud that he had gotten Ari out. She would be healed by now, he thought, leaning against the wall of the throne room where the Lord was ranting, throwing around things. He was unable to figure out how this girl had gotten out and Kirsten was very amused. He stayed mostly in the shadow, his back pressed against the cold grey stones that gave the room a strong and commanding sort of feel. Kirsten had watched with black eyes, his hair masking over them, giving him a wild untamable look, as servants and others were brought into the room to be questioned and a couple had even ended up dead. He was dosing off as a sharp voice cut through the silence he had been enjoying.
“Kirsten! How could this happen? I want you to find her, bring her back alive but barely. I won’t rest until I have that horse thieving Wolf back in my control. This time I will kill her,” he snarled and looked to where Kirsten had been. Instead Kirsten now stood behind him, his sword causally drawn as he leaned on it.
“Would you have me give up the hunt for Lady Phantom, milord,” he asked his voice dark and dangerous.
“Can’t you hunt both,” the Lord demanded, turning to face Kirsten with a little shudder, “You will hunt both. In the meantime, I’ll send out my men to the woods, see if they can catch another and if not they’ll be watching for her. That and I’ll send a small group to Newhaven to do some spying. You will leave now and find her,” he growled and his icy eyes narrowed as Kirsten made no move to leave. Instead Kirsten felt rage boiling up inside of him but he kept it buried down. He snatched his sword and sheathed it with a loud hissing noise and with unnecessary force.
“I would remind you,” he growled, his voice even darker, “That I cannot be ordered around. It would be wise to remember it.”
“You will obey,” the lord hissed, his eyes narrowing, “If you want her to live.”
“How dare you,” Kirsten growled, drawing his dagger and pressing it against the lord’s throat.
“I would advise against killing me. She’ll be dead before you can get to her,” he said a wicked smile spreading across his face. Kirsten frowned and reliantly moved away as the Lord smiled at him. “Here are your orders, disobey any part and the gies will destroy her. Go find this Wolf. Extract all that she knows. Kill her. Don’t tell anybody about this that would do something about it. Now go.”
His eyes flashed and he stormed out, his leather boots hitting the ground and causing the sound to echo around the room. He pushed open the doors, smirking as they hit the walls on either side and even more as the servants that he passed scattered to the sides of the hallways when he stalked past them. Their fear made him stronger and as entered out into the sunlight without batting an eye, he laughed manically. He turned and walked briskly toward the stables, his cloak blowing back behind him as he picked out his second horse, a large black Friesian. The beautiful horse tossed his head, his long fetlock tossing up and over his eyes. Kirsten smiled lightly, running his hand along the length of the thick muscular neck and moving down to his back. Kirsten had to jump slightly to mount up, the horse was so large. He turned the huge beast out of Blackpond, riding quickly toward the forest. He needed to find the Wolves, tell them what he could before it was too late.
He quickly thought about how he could get around the last order “don’t tell anyone who would do something about it” and his mind clicked. If he could convince himself that the leader wouldn’t do anything about it, then she would be safe. He never understood why he had continued to stick with She, he guessed because it made his girl seem less human, it allowed him to distance himself from her in case anything did happen. That is what he feared, losing her because he couldn’t or wouldn’t kill anyone. He ducked under a large branch, already breaking into the woods. He needed to convince himself that Sean, that was his name that Ari had screamed, didn’t care about the girl and hopefully Sean wouldn’t care. He slowed his mount from a bouncy trot to a slow walk, riding straight forward on a small path that would lead him within sight of the Wolves and hopefully his red cape would make him stand out more.
"There's a rider heading this way." One of the scouts had informed Sean. Sean wondered if this was one of the men that had taken the recruit, and if he was, he couldn't understand why the man would be heading into their territory so recklessly. Either way, he was personally greeting this stranger, placing himself on his path on the trail, other assassins hiding amongst the nearby trees, silent and out of sight.

Nothing identified Sean as Alpha, and an outsider wouldn't know his face, therefore he acted as a scout would, calling out as the man's horse approached. "Halt! You are trespassing on the territory of the Wolfpack."
Kirsten slowed his mount and pulled the war horse to a stop, the beast tossing it’s head. He pulled the hood back from his face and glared at Sean. His eyes flashed red and he smirked lightly.
“You are Sean, yes? Good. I come with news of Ari,” he said without waiting for an answer, dismounting and leaving his sword attached to the saddle of his horse. He didn’t explain how he knew that his name was Sean and he was able to convince himself that this man didn’t care. He hoped that he would keep the façade of a cold hard leader.
Sean flinched only slightly in response to the man's behaviour, he caught a flash of red in his eyes and knew immediately that he was Enlightened, fact which was confirmed when the man mentioned his name without it being given to him. He said he had news from Ari, and he seemed agitated, in a hurry, which meant he cared for her safety somehow. That, or he was a very gifted actor, and Sean wasn't going to risk showing just how badly he wanted the information. "Ari? That kid? We had her for less than a day, I was convinced she left us. What news do you say you have?" He asked, raising an eyebrow in and expression of curiosity and slight disbelief.
“She’s in danger. You have to get to Newhaven as fast as possible. Keep her hidden, even from me,” he said in a hurry, already a bit of dread rising within him. “I’ve been ordered to kill her on sight, and I’m afraid that I cannot disobey this order, even if I want to. Newhaven, as fast as possible.”
He turned and mounted back up, looking down at the man who Ari had feelings for. He cocked his head, riding forward just a little bit and leaning in his saddle to whisper, “She only thought of you.”
With that he spurred away, knowing well enough that his Enlightenment was working and he was gone from their visions before their sight. He pressed the war horse into a reckless gallop, already running for Newhaven.

The setting changes from valcrest to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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


. . . .

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

. . . .

“Sebastian...”

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


. . . .

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

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

“One little cut… And back to hell.”

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

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

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

. . . .

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


. . . .

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

. . . .

“Breathe, Crystal…

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

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

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

“You… Psychotic… Bitch.”

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassins’ Camp]

“She only thought of you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Sean dismounted the moment Indrani led them past the city gates. “You go stable the horses and meet me at the Inn.” He told her. “Doni…” He gave his brother a signal that told him to patrol the rooftops.
“What am I looking for?” Donovan asked.
“Trust me: You’ll know it when you see it. If those guys are anything like their leader they just scream ‘creepy’ wherever they go.”
Donovan chuckled as he dismounted and handed Indrani the reigns of his borrowed horse with a bow of his head and a smile, blushing slightly as his hand brushed against hers. After the boy wandered off she smiled at Sean. “Your brother is adorable. So much like you at his age.”
Sean ignored the comment completely and simply began to walk. “I’ll be at the Inn, just meet me there, alright? And watch yourself.”
“I always do, Alpha.” She chuckled as she rode away in the direction of her favorite stable.

It was raining and freezing cold, pulling the heavy cloak he was wearing closer to his body, the Alpha couldn’t help thinking about how much he’d rather be home with a hot cup of tea right now. Sean always disliked leaving the forest for more than the duration of an assassination, which of course could mean minutes or weeks, but as soon as he completed the job he was headed home. He was much like Dani in that sense; she never really liked wandering the crowded city streets, if she was ever seen in one of the clan Inns it was as a kid, a very long time ago, but rarely even then. Sean was pretty much the same.

He stopped for a moment before entering, looking up and down the street with the corner of his eyes, taking notice of Doni in the frozen rooftops… He’d have to graduate that kid when they got home and his suspension was over. Didn’t matter how stupid he had been, Don had really become a gifted assassin, and the fact that he managed to even take a shot at Crys proved it.

Finally Sean opened the door of the establishment and immediately every Wolf in the common room rose from their seat in surprise. Sean paid them no mind; he simply removed his cloak and hung it in a coat rack behind the bar, running a hand through his hair repeatedly to get rid of the excess of water that had managed to get past the thick fabric of the hood. As he did that, Sheila walked a straight line to him, smiling wide at. “Sean, love!” She exclaimed, rather loudly. “To what do we owe the honor?”

Sean smirked slightly. He knew Sheila didn’t really like him in one bit, but the fact that she could be that pleasant to anyone and still be believable is what made her so damn good at her job. Not to mention she was pretty to look at, and he didn’t mind pretending to believe her false flattering. “My business is my business...” He stated, smiling back at the woman, looking around as he did so. His eyes caught sight of Ari and internally he felt a wave of relief, but the look he gave her was the most severe he could manage, making sure that she saw him before he turned his attention to Sheila again and heaved a small sigh. “I got myself a recruit, now and… Man, what a headache.”
Sheila chuckled. “The kid’s giving you trouble, I see.”
“I doubt I’ve seen the last of it.” He replied, reaching for the woman’s face and gently touching the bruised area. “Whatever happened here?” He asked, a slight frown crossing his features. “Is there someone out there who we should have pay for this?”
Sheila smiled a slightly more honest smile this time. “You’re so protective, sweetie…” She said in her sweetest tone. “I can fend for myself however, and this is a rather personal one for me.” She moved closer and hugged him gently as she said. “I appreciate the concern though.”

That hug lasted a very long time, much longer than a normal one would, while Sheila whispered things in Sean’s ear; things she was smart enough not to say out loud even amongst other wolves. To anyone watching the two, however, it would seem as the woman was being overly affectionate with her leader and the gesture was being very much appreciated. As Sheila pulled away slowly she let her hand slide from the back of his neck all the way down his chest, playfully as she asked. “And what can I do for you in this cold dark evening, love?”

Sean laughed, but he couldn't help a slight chill down his spine at woman’s gesture. “I’ll just have a cup of hot tea and my key for now.” He smiled. “But who knows? It is a cold night.” He stated, walking past everyone in the bar and taking a seat next to a hooded woman on the furthest end. He didn’t look at the woman as he spoke in a half-annoyed tone. “If you want the best room in my establishment, you’ll have to share it with me… And pay for it. We pay our taxes to your city and that’s about as much as you’ll ever scam out of us, Your Highness." He spoke the last two words in less than a whisper. Perhaps Ella didn’t know, or didn’t care to know, how dangerous it was to announce the fact that she was the Queen in a place like this. “And don’t think we’re speaking now on account of any stupid threat you made, because you have no authority in here. This is my territory and if my recruiter had actually taken your little bitchy remarks about execution seriously you would have had your throat slit faster that you could even think of the words ‘oh, fuck!’.” He whispered, making a pause when Sheila brought him his tea, taking a small sip from it as he spoke in a calmer tone. “Now… State your business if you will… I am not here at Your Highness’ request and I have far more important business on my schedule.”

At this point the door of the Inn opened once again and a young woman walked in, her golden eyes sparkling slightly in the poor lit room as she opened a wide smile. “Lovely weather, isn’t it?” She stated as several eyes turned in her direction. Some people seemed annoyed by the total lack of sarcasm in her tone as she said that. They were probably mentally cursing the Twins for their rain, but of course most people didn’t know how to appreciate the gifts they were given in Life. They only knew how to whine about it. Indrani was never one to whine about lack of water, so she didn’t see why those people should whine about the excess of it.

She shook her head thinking that most of them wouldn’t last an hour in the desert, even less in the mountains… City folk would be city folk and nothing more. “Mead.” She stated simply as she reached the counter, she didn’t sit just yet, her eyes catching sight of Sean as she stopped by Ari, playfully poking her as she greeted. “Hello stranger! Long time no see. You know, that little assassin camp is turned upside down because of you… it’s quite an amusing thing to see.” She remarked, leaning against the counter and shooting a very discrete glance at Sean, wondering what could have possibly distracted him from scolding his recruit, before turning to the people Ari had been conversing with before she arrived. “Who are your friends?” She asked, giving a thankful nod and paying with a shiny gold piece as Sheila brought her drink.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Sean listened to Ella with a raised eyebrow, honestly amused by her attitude in showing him the ring. "Assassins don't make threats, indeed." He replied. "You are not one though. No assassin would wander into a neutral zone and make promises of this sort, Lady Ella. Because actual assassins are smart enough to see the consequences of taking such stupid measures. Even your precious Instructor." Sean's tone, unlike Ella's, was absolutely calm and centered. "You are nothing but a stuck-up noble with an identity crisis... What Dani ever saw in you, I'll never understand." He said, shaking his head slightly. "Of course, if you actually plan on fulfilling such promises, I'm afraid letting you leave this room alive would be a stupidity I don't plan on committing. I've learned from my mistakes, believe it or not. So, unless you think you can execute every Pack member in the building, and trust me there are a lot more than just the ones in this room, all by yourself... You should keep your promises well shoved in the tight spot you're pulling them from. And if you insult my worker one more time, I'll see to it that you no longer have a tongue... Your Highness. That'll surely make it difficult to order your little slaves around the Castle, now won't it?" As he said all that, Sean's tone was still calm and filled with disdain. It would actually be useful to him if Ella would just snap and attack him right there in front of witnesses. It would be the perfect way to keep his word to the Shadow's Conflict and get away with it. There were enough civilians there to make it impossible to deny self-defense, even if it was the Queen. A part of him, however, wished that she didn't... It had nothing to do with the little stuck-up bitch, but Sean didn't like the thought of doing what those people wanted. Something in the back of his mind told him that there was a trap of some sort behind that request of theirs, even if he couldn't see it. As Sheila came to bring Ella her drink, she slipped the key Sean had requested into the front pocket of his shirt, she squeezed his shoulder in a supportive gesture before leaving them and he couldn't help but smile at that. He took another sip of his tea while Ella compared him to Rick and called him a pathetic shit. He could care less what she thought of him, and he just let his hand rest over the book as he pulled it towards himself, sliding it across the wooden surface. He didn't know what that was, not without opening it, and he wouldn't do it at the Inn. It took a moment for him to speak again as he looked around the place, he gave Indrani a very meaningful look and nodded towards Ari, before looking back to Ella. "I owe Blackpond a hit, Highness, care to know who they want dead?" He asked. "Now I care as much for you as you care for me, but I don't like the idea of getting the Wolfpack involved in killing another city ruler, even if I personally think we'd be doing Newhaven a favor." He drank a little more of his tea and heaved a sigh. "I will consider this, whatever this is, an act of good will, despite your manners, and offer one of my own. I can't go back on my word, but I will be here until noon tomorrow. If your White Knight Captain has an interest in stopping the order I received from being spread to every assassin in Valcrest, he can come to me, quietly, for a conversation." Sean gave a light shrug emptying his cup. "That offer expires at noon tomorrow, after that there's no turning back." With that said, Sean stood, finally taking the book from the table top. "I have other matters to attend, so unless you would like to attempt keeping your promises, or insult me some more... We're done here."

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

Indrani took a sip of her drink, her eyes going through every patron, carefully. Most of them were wolves, some she'd seen before, others were more discrete, but the graduation rings gave them away. Her eyes fixed on the man Ari had introduced as Stephan, she watched him carefully before moving onto the the stranger who Ari said she had just met. The man dressed fancy, but his posture was that of someone who was used to places such as this, even if not this one in particular, and he seemed as if expecting something to happen, even if most of his attention was on his food. His eye gave away that he was enlightened, and she noticed him fiddling with something in his hand... "Hum..." She mumbled to herself, feeling a little unnerved by the man, but turning her attention to Ari and always keeping one eye in Sean's direction. "Oh, I wouldn't worry so much about that. You ran ahead of your group, yes, but you were taken, it's not like you ran off to Newhaven by yourself. It shouldn't be that serious, probably a scolding for wasting the clan's time and resources and endangering other assassins... Who's your instructor?" She asked absently. "And I rode here, silly. The Alpha needed horses." She said, rolling her eyes in annoyance. "And the idiot thought I was going to put two of my horses under his care, no sir." She stated, taking another drink. "I don't understand though. He seemed in a hurry to take you back to camp, I don't know why he's stopping to chat..." She mumbled. Watching Sean's face he didn't seem to enjoy the company of the woman he was conversing with, and then she saw something she wasn't expecting: A sign. Sean looked at her and nodded discretely towards Ari. As she saw that, Indrani turned towards Sheila and grabbed her arm as she was passing through. "Did Sean get a key from you?"
Sheila slowly released her arm from Indrani's grip as she looked at her a little startled. "Yes, he did."
Indrani heaved a sigh and muttered "Bloody idiot!" under her breath, before turning to Ari and her friend. "I don't know what Sean is doing, but he wants you out of here, and apparently he's not coming." With that said, she emptied her glass. "When you're in the Wolfpack Inn, and the Alpha wants you to leave, is best to follow his advice." She stated calmly, looking around to see if she spotted something that Sean might have seen.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Donovan had stayed in one of the rooftops until the moment Sean had entered the Inn. He watched his brother through the window and saw him repeatedly run his fingers through his hair, and Doni knew what that signal meant; prepare a quick exit. So the boy came down from the roof, almost sliding down and smashing his head on the frozen ground, but managing to hang on last minute and landing clumsily on his feet. He retrieved Indrani's horses from the stables and rode his way out of the city wall, to where there was the exit of a small sewer passage. And there he waited, trying to ignore the stench.

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

Sean didn’t bother giving Ella any more words, he stood quietly where he was as she turned to leave, seemingly unfazed by the commotion of people fighting. “Watch your step on the way home, Kid.” He said, raising his voice only slightly. It might have seemed as if he was threatening Ella as he glared at the back of her head, looking quite upset, but the comment was in no way directed at her. He waited patiently for her to leave before nodding at Sheila. The woman pulled a whistle from her pocket and at the sound of it about fifteen assassins came down from the upper levels. Sean gave them a sign of hand, nothing more and they immediately attacked the invading group without mercy, pushing the fight towards the exit of the Inn.

Indrani listened to Sean’s words and immediately understood that the tunnel to the sewers contained a few traps. “Really, Alpha?” She chuckled when more Wolves were called down to help. “You can’t handle these guys without help? I’m so disappointed in you.” She had pulled two curved daggers into her hands, but she only bothered to move the moment she spotted a hunter manage to get past the Wolves towards the bar, she then got in the man’s way, slashing at his face with one of her blades. She would’ve thought he didn’t notice her except he easily dodged the hit and quickly countered. She struggled to block the hit, the guy was a little faster than she would expect for someone his size, a little faster than she thought would be normal; in fact, a little too fast.

Sean chuckled at Indrani’s comment, but his expression was serious. He had pulled both his axes and was holding them behind his back, scanning the bar. Amongst the fighting Wolves and Hunters a few civilian patrons were hiding under the tables, way too afraid to try and reach the exit, movement was difficult due to the increased number of armed people waving swords and daggers around, and someone could easily get a limb sliced off be walking in the middle of that mess. His eyes finally caught everyone, something in his instinct told him Ari would be safe with that guy she was with, even though he didn’t know who he was, and getting out wasn’t really in Sean’s plans, so he figured he’d give Indrani a hand as he caught her struggling to fight off a man who seemed to be way faster than a normal fighter should be.

The man was obviously enlightened. There was no way anyone could ever be that fast otherwise. Indrani seemed so caught up in trying not to get her head sliced off by the man’s blades that she didn’t even see where Sean had come from. Next thing she knew the guy was fighting both of them without the least of difficulty. “Where’s that ridiculous contraption of a weapon you so love to use?” Sean asked, ducking under one of the man’s swords and attempting to hit the back of his neck, finding nothing but air as he had already moved.
“Not very practical for a bar fight, love.” Indrani replied. She chuckled despite almost having a blade slash her face. Sean took notice of that, and the fact that the man was way too fast. No matter how fast, in what way, or where, they tried to hit; their blades met nothing but metal or air and this was heading nowhere. He could do this all day, but not Indrani; he needed her out.

“Hey, Princess… Take it as payment for the horses.” Indrani heard Sean say. She didn’t understand what he meant at first, but a split second later it became clear when the Hunter turned to stab him and the idiot dropped his weapons instead of trying to stop him. It was useful. As the blade went through his abdomen Sean managed to grip the man’s arm with all his might to stop him from pulling out the sword. In that moment, the man put all his attention on Sean and as he raised his second sword, pointing it downwards to run it through his chest, Indrani caught his arm a split seconf before the blade broke through Sean’s skin, with one quick motion she ran one of her daggers across his throat, slitting it open and killing him instantly. “You dumb bastard!” She exclaimed, as Sean fell to his knees, still holding on to the sword.
“Just go already.” He muttered out. “Doni is… Waiting outside...”

Sean fell to the ground along with the Hunter, trying to breathe through the pain of the stab. It wasn’t such a bad spot, if he got medical attention soon he’d live… “Hey, Sean.” Indrani called. He looked up to see her walking away. “There were two horses, so you still owe me for one.”
Sean choked a bit in laughter. “You… Mercenary bitch…” He blacked out to the sound of her chuckles.

Indrani had lost Ari and Stephan and wasn’t sure if they had made it down, but the way things were going there was little time to think and she had to assume they had, or would. As she passed Sheila behind the counter she shot the woman a glance, knowing what her real feelings were towards Sean she stated casually. “If you even think about letting him die I’ll come back and murder you. Have a nice evening.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Mageria nearly screamed when she woke up. Literally everything on her body hurt and it took all her willpower to move. But she had to move, had to get things done. Her grace period ended today and at the rate things were falling apart, she had to get her people out of range fast, before fate could take aim at them. With a hissed curse coming from between her clenched teeth; she sat up, attracting the attention of a nearby medic.
“Cap. . . Mager . . . You shouldn’t be up and moving.”
“You want me to stay here and take up space for the rest of the week?” Mageria smiled wryly as she used the medic’s shoulder for balance as she stood up.
“No, but you shouldn’t be moving. Not on your own like this. You need more rest.”
Mageria sighed heavily as she started rummaging through some supplies on the table, choosing a couple of vials to shove in a pocket.
“I’ll rest when I’m dead. Might be sooner than you think. But not till then.” She choose one vial and ripped the cork out with her teeth, spitting it to the side and gulping down the contents in one long swallow. It left a vile taste in her mouth, but the painkillers were enough for her to move with some ease. She grimaced and left the room, leaving the medic sputtering behind her. At her feet, Tala whuffed happily; apparently Ess hadn’t returned overnight and the wolf was still in her care.

Mageria shuffled down the hallway, hearing it echo just a bit as she took in the emptiness. Her people were getting ready to move out and it showed. It seemed like most of them had stayed awake throughout the night, packing and probably smuggling things out. Although they still hadn’t told her what was going on. She continued her shuffling down to her room, opening the door and blinking in surprise. There wasn’t a scrap of furniture left; it had been completely cleaned out.
“That blind friend of yours did a lot of damage in a real short period of time.” From the side Mathew stepped around the door.
“She was caught up in the berserker rage of Grim’s. We’re lucky that all that happened was some furniture damage.” She sighed, looking at the room she had lived in for the past seven years. It seemed oddly appropriate that there was nothing left.
“There’s something that I though you might like to know. There was a bit of a dust up at the Inn last night. None of ours, it was between the Pack and some new faction. But there’s a really interesting bit. The Alpha was involved; injured, and is still holed up there. We could take a few people and . . .”
Mageria shook her head sharply, ending the thought before it began. “We’ll not be the one’s to break neutral ground. We might need it ourselves someday. But I do want to have a chat with our esteemed Alpha. Thanks for the update.” She looked over with one raised eyebrow. “Are you ever going to tell me what the hell is going on?”
Mathew grinned. “You remember the training camp? The one that we have to keep chasing the birds out of? We’re taking it over. It’s far enough that no one will care and close enough that we can take care of business.” He shrugged uncomfortably. “We figured you felt the same way that most of us do; we don’t want to leave people without someone to look after them. Fought too hard in the first place to keep them safe, can’t just walk away now”

Mageria wrapped herself in an old cape and slipped out of the Castle, grateful for the cold that let her cover herself from head to toe and not be noticed. Of course, the fact that Tala still trotted at her heels made her a bit noticeable; but not, perhaps as the Captain of the Black Knights. Former Captain, anyways. She sighed, a cloud forming around her face momentarily. That was going to be hard to get used to. But she pushed the thought away, concentrating all her energy on moving without limping too badly. The herbs had done their work, the swelling was down enough that she could see out of both eyes; now she just had to sell the idea that she wasn’t that badly injured. Although the fact that her face looked like someone had decided to paint the left side of her face didn’t help that any.

She had to stop for a moment to catch her breath outside the Inn, stubbornly refusing to show any weakness in front of those that she knew would be inside. She smiled crookedly down at Tala. “Let’s go put on a show, shall we?” Tala whined a bit, jumping up a bit in what seemed like excitement. Mageria brushed her fingers over the wolf’s ears and pushed off the building, walking into the Inn with a steady gait.

Pushing through the door, she had to stop for a moment and survey the damage that the fight from yesterday had left. At least none of her people had anything to do with it. Walking to the bar, she waited patiently for the woman behind it to come over.
“Mistress Innkeeper.” She nodded respectfully. “I have it on the best authority that the Wolfpack Alpha spent the night here. I’d like to talk to him.” She raised one hand. "Just a talk. Unlike some others, I respect the fact that this is neutral ground."

Sheila was overseeing a couple of other workers as they cleaned up the mess of broken chairs and tables; the blood specs and other messes had already been cleaned the night before. As the door opened she slowly made her way to the counter, watching the woman who entered with curious eyes and a smile; that until she asked for Sean. No one was supposed to know he had been hurt, not even within the clan, although the rumors were probably reaching camp already. "The Alpha does not wish to be disturbed by visitors, Miss...?" She gave room for a name before continuing. "I can ask him, if you like, but I doubt he will be willing to see anyone right now..."

As she said so, a voice sounded along with footsteps coming down the stairs. "It's fine, Sheila."

Sean came into the bar walking slowly and bearing the sickened looks of someone who recently lost a decent amount of blood, but other than that he seemed to be in perfect health. Sheila gave him a slightly severe look. "You really shouldn't be..." She silenced as the Alpha glared at her, bowing her head and heaving a sigh. "Something to drink, love?" She asked, realizing that it was stupid to argue with Sean.

"Some tea would be good." Sean replied, as he sat at a corner table, groaning softly as she lowered himself onto a chair. "Sit, Captain." He said motioning for the chair across from him. "Leave us." He added, glancing towards the workers, that had still been replacing broken chairs, as they left the bar. He then looked at Mageria with a raised eyebrow. "Didn't think the city Council was that severe, you look like a battered wife." He stated, with a little smirk. "So... To what do I owe the joy of your visit?"


Mageria snorted. "Actually, this," she gestured at her face; "was a conversation I had with an old friend. And you should see the other guy." Tala growled softly as she followed Mageria across the room, then curled up around her feet. She sat down a bit stiffly herself, then leaned back and rubbed her fingers against the wolf's ears.
"Actually, I was going to drop you a note, but when I found out that you were here, I decided to stop by." She leaned back and smiled. "Just a friendly warning, really. There's someone out there who's targeting Enlightened. You might want to keep an eye on your recruits." She snorted. "And that's the warning I would have given you before you pulled your little stunt." She waited for the tea to arrive and poured herself a cup. "Speaking of, do you have any clue what you've done?"

"Is that so?" Sean asked when Mageria mentioned she'd heard about him being in the Inn. "And how, if you don't mind me asking, did you find out that I was here?" He then poured himself a cup of tea and sighed, trying to assimilate the information she'd given him. "What, again? Didn't we already kill that guy?" He sighed. "I appreciate the warning, on behalf of my recruits." He stated. "And I know what I've done. In a way I am sorry that it had to be done, I know you have, had, have... People under your command who have nothing to do with this. I am sorry for them, but, as you may or not recall, I warned that there would be consequences if you or any of your people associated with that group of traitors. I simply kept true to my word, if you didn't listen, or didn't take me seriously, then there's nothing I can do about it."

"Do you really think that I don't keep this place under surveillance? Yesterday's activities weren't exactly discrete." Mageria reached out and took a sip of her tea, choosing her words carefully. "What you've done, my dear Alpha, is give well over a battalion of well trained men and women every reason in the world to hunt you and yours down. I do believe that the Wolf Hunters were formed in a similar situation." She raised one eyebrow and leaned backwards, smiling grimly. "Not that I'd allow them to do such a thing, of course. But I do wish you'd chosen your actions a bit more carefully." She tilted her head to the side. "How many people have you angered lately? You've never been on good terms with Newhaven, Blackpond is calling it's debt due, you've got the Wolves that followed Rivers . . . and now me and mine. It's said that it takes a genius to fight a war on two fronts. A madman fights on three . . . And you? Is there anyone you could turn to for help anymore?"

Mageria shifted in her seat and eyed Sean hard. "As for the consequences . . . you are the Alpha of the Wolfpack. Jake showed up in Newhaven without a scratch on him and not looking as if he's had so much as a bad nights sleep. If you can't manage to take care of one man in three years with all those highly trained assassins at your beck and call . . . Well. You figure it out."

"The Wolf Hunters, Captain, were a group of, I don't know... Five, six, seven people at most, who managed to almost wipe out our clan in one single night. Not matter how highly you think of yourself, or your people, comparing yourselves to them is ridiculous. Seven of your people alone wouldn't survive doing what they did." Sean leaned back taking a drink from his tea with a slightly amused look in his eyes. "You think I'd be worried in a situation like this, but I'm really not. Maybe I am crazy, or very, very, stupid... Pick one and believe it, I don't care. That's exactly how I got where I am in the first place. Arrogant people just make it that easy." He stated. "And Jake is a coward who hides behind the White Shadows until he feels like he has to do something to make himself feel like less of a selfish bastard, at which point he comes out of hiding behind the healers for five minutes to hide behind you. I do owe him however... If Dani hadn't sent his incompetent ass to Newhaven so he could kill her, I might not have gotten Crys where I wanted." Sean drank slowly and quietly until he finished his tea. "Say, did your surveillance people miss the fact that your idiot brat of a Queen paid me a visit? Well, either way, I gave her fair warning, but since she was too busy bitching about how pathetic I am, I doubt she paid it much attention. Either way... The Blackpond people have ordered a hit on Your Highness and, as I already told the little idiot, I'd rather not do that, I know first hand what killing a city ruler will bring me. At the same time, I don't have much of a choice and as you so kindly pointed out yourself, Newhaven is not much of an ally to me either way, so I have considerably little to lose." He set his cup down over the table and leaned forward, holding back a painful groan. "I have nothing against Ella. Not even after she wandered into a neutral territory, insulted my people and threatened them with execution, but unless I'm given a better option, and soon, I will make sure that the contract is fulfilled. At any cost." That said, he poured himself another cup of tea and leaned back again. "Pass that message along to the Whites if you can. I'm pretty sure Your Highness didn't take me seriously enough to do that herself."

Mageria snorted. "You seem to have missed the part where I lost pretty much any credibility I used to have up at the Castle. The fact that I'm talking to you right now will just make it that much better. But I'll pass the word along." She poured herself some more tea and set the pot down with a small thump. "You do realize that Blackpond is trying to cause trouble for their own reasons? That they have their own assassins if they really wanted the Queen dead. And given the offer they came to us a couple of days ago . . . their goal is to have us at each other's throats while they wait to take out the winner when they're weak. Typical, really. I could almost admire the strategy if it wasn't so underhanded." She eyed Sean. "It should be interesting to see if the Whites manage to work with you though. They have this thing about following the rules, normally such a thing would be left up to me. But now . . ." She raised one eyebrow.

Taking a breath and shifting a bit uncomfortably, Mageria drummed her fingers on the table. "Why make this offer, Alpha? Just because you don't want to take out our Queen? That will just get Blackpond after you in turn."

"I'm afraid you answered your own question, Captain. I know that Blackpond came to you first and I do realize they have their own motives, and I'm not fond of the idea of being used. Allying with Blackpond, back when I did, was necessary. Despite how careful your attacks were, I wasn't the only one uncomfortable with the fact that, had Newhaven wanted it, we would all be dead within a few hours. Thing is... Old man Rory was always good on his word, and I rather liked him... And I don't buy the fact that this unknown son popped up out of nowhere right after he was murdered..." Sean groaned, trying to adjust himself in his seat. "Bottom line: I don't like Rick. And if I'm going to have someone after me, then I'd rather it'd be for..." He laughed. "Well, not the right reasons, but at least my own." Sean paused for a second then, added with a frown. "Honestly, there is nothing I would love more than to get rid of those people. Absolutely nothing. All I need is a decent excuse."

Mageria resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Much as I would love to be the one to give you that excuse, I can't. I have my own reasons to go after them, but I doubt they're ones that you would be interested in falling behind. And I certainly couldn't hire you. Besides, you and I don't exactly get along, away from neutral ground." She shrugged a bit stiffly and carefully rolled her cup from side to side. "I met Hastings, before it all happened. He was an unmitigated ass, but . . . I've always had my doubts that he was the one that held the dagger."

Looking at the empty cup in front of her, Mageria sighed and pushed it away, shifting in her seat in preparation of getting up. "Much as this has been fun, I'm afraid I have to go. You've been good about keeping our business out of Newhaven for the most part, and I appreciate that. I'd suggest you keep to that, because while Newhaven has turned away from us, we still hold to our oaths. I also suggest you stay away from my people in the near future, because we have nothing holding us back anymore." She nodded in a sort of respect to an equal gesture. "Until we meet again, then. I'll be sure to pass your message along to the Whites, if I can."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Sean snickered. "Surely Captain, there's no amount of gold that would make me work with or for you." He stated, leaning back in his chair, holding back a groan. "There's is one thing I would happily trade for my services, by I'm sure you wouldn't even consider that offer, which, admittedly, is the main reason why will never get along. When does Jake come back from Blackpond again?" He asked absently, smirking a little and not expecting an answer. "Hope he returns safely, I'd hate it if he never got the chance to return my knife."

Sean didn't move or stand as Mageria said she would be going, only nodded his head slightly. "Until we meet again, Captain..." He replied, with a half amused smile. "It's always a pleasure."

A vicious smile crossed Mageria's face. "There are a couple other reasons, Alpha." She tilted her head to the side just a bit. "You see, when I killed my Captain, I had the balls to do it myself. And the son of a bitch stayed dead." She pushed away from the table and stood, tossing a coin down to pay for her half of the tea. "And it was indeed a pleasure. We'll have to do it again sometime." At her feet, Tala sneezed, her expression somehow conveying amusement. Mageria ran her fingers absently over the wolf's ears, drawing her away toward the door; on the way out she said a quiet thanks to the woman behind the bar.

Mageria walked out of the Inn, feeling every step jar up through her body, the pain burning away the painkillers far too quickly. She clenched her teeth, fighting an slight dizziness that washed over her. She didn't have time to loose to the need to rest, she had to get her people out of Newhaven and safe as soon as possible. She managed a couple of blocks before she had to duck into a alley, leaning against a wall and panting as the pain of abused and torn muscles burned like fire. Mageria leaned against the wall and took slow and even breaths as she fought to stay upright; slowly the pain died down to the dull roar that she could deal with. Pulling her eyelids open, she stared blankly at the wall before dipping her hand into her belt pouch and pulling out two different vials. One of them was the ordinary painkillers that she had used that morning and countless times before. The other then . . . It was a a vial of something called Dragon's Blood.

Dragon's Blood was a highly addictive combination of pain killer and stimulant, used only as a last resort when a fighter had no other choice. Used more than once or twice in a row and the side effects would be worse than whatever the fighter was trying to get past. Risks included multiple organ failures, addictive behavior and eventual death once one stopped taking the drug. But sometimes the need over came the risks. Tala whinned, picking up on the stress that Mageria was under. Mageria smiled down tiredly, leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes for just a moment. She still had so much she had to do. She had to get her people out of the City, she had to see the ones who were staying here settled, she had to get everything set up so that she could over see it from the base in the City. . . . There was no way that she was going to stay so far away, not when her City was in danger.

Mageria sighed heavily and twisted the cork on the vial of Dragon's Blood. There was too much for her to get done for her to be weak. She'd be careful, only use what was necessary. She raised the vial to her lips . . .

Lena had spent the night with old friends, also former healers, after leaving Luckas at the castle gates. A few good hours were spent catching up and reminiscing and a good night's sleep followed soon after. As soon as morning came she headed for the Castle only to discover that the person she wanted to see was nowhere to be found. She was informed that Mageria was in the medics ward, but as she got there, the woman had already left. A small conversation with Crys and she moved out to the city to see if she could find her on the streets. It was a long shot, but it was worth the try anyway.

The streets she walked first led her towards a familiar path. Much like Dani, she was never one to frequent the Inn back in her time as an assassin, but she had kept the habit of always stopping by the establishment whenever she was in town, even if she rarely entered. Entering now would certainly draw attention which she didn't need, so she simply planned on walking by and taking a peek inside. As she walked past the entrance from a far, Lena stopped in her tracks as the door opened and someone walked out. She recognized this person as being the woman she had been looking for, but she also recognized all the signs of someone who shouldn't be standing, even less walking around in the city, and she hurriedly followed Mageria until she entered an a nearby alleyway. "Captain..." She called, as she entered the alley and took in the sight of a battered warrior holding a vial of something possibly too strong to be safe. "What are you doing?" Lena asked, raising an eyebrow and giving Mageria a look that explicitly said she knew exactly what the woman was doing. Walking closer she absently smiled at the former Black Knight Captain, her eyes sparkling a brighter tone of blue for a split second only as she added in a severe tone. "This is not the kind of sacrifice you want to be making, Captain."

Mageria sighed heavily, sagging against the wall as she turned to look at Lena. "With all due respect, I have an entire company of people to move to a safe place before the end of the day, I have people in danger in Blackpond, I've been exiled and am under threat of death, and I had one HELL of a day yesterday. I don't have a choice in this Lena." Her voice started to crack. "I have to take care of things and in order to do that I have to be on my feet and able to take care of things. So unless you have a better idea, this is what's going to happen." She took a long look at the vial she still held. She'd seen quite a few mercs over the years that had taken the same road that she was considering right now, and very few of them had managed to pull back in time. Dragon's Blood overdose was an ugly way to die; the only reason anybody used it was because they were truly desperate. And she was. Yesterday she had managed to mask just how badly she was really injured, keeping moving through sheer will and force of personality. But the truth of the matter was that she had several cracked ribs, torn muscles all over, bruises over almost every inch of her body . . . She had always been a fast healer but this would take her a few weeks for her to recover from. And she had only a matter of hours to get an entire company of people who depended on her to safety.

Mageria pressed a hand to her temple, feeling the pain gnawing at her control. She was so damned tired . . . But she couldn't stop. She couldn't ever stop. She sighed heavily. "I've lost almost everything I've worked for in the past seven years. I need to make sure that my people get to safety. I need. . ." her voice broke for a moment. "I need to make sure that one thing that I've done works out the way it should."

Lena sighed softly, but her eyes maintained the stern look they held. "With all due respect to you and your people, what kind of a Captain are you if you can't rely on your men to move to safety without you holding their hands? Yes, you need to be there for them, but is being there for them now worth maybe not being there when you're truly needed Captain?" Lena tilted her head to the side slightly. "Or maybe your ego is getting the best of you and you think the world will just fall apart the moment you're not there to control everything? Either way, I think we've both seen enough of life and death by now to know that it just doesn't work that way."

Lena took a long pause during which she eyed Tala curiously, recognizing the wolf from the walls of the house she had been to the night before. She gave the wolf a half-amused smirk as she mumbled under her breath. "Stubborn people everywhere, huh?" She then lifted her eyes back to Mageria and added, reaching for the arm holding the vial and gripping it gently. "It's been a rough couple of days, Captain. I understand that. Just as much as I expect you to understand that, as is, I can and will overpower you, take that vial from your hands and drag your stubborn ass back to the sick ward. I may not be able to sit around and babysit you all day, that's true. So if you wish to be stupid later, I won't be able to stop you. But don't tell me, or yourself, that there is no choice. It is a choice and if you go through with this, you will be making it: Own up to it. It's just a bit pathetic, the way I see it, that after everything the contents of a little vial will get the best of you. Is that really how you want to go?" She waited for a second maybe two before she went on. "So, Captain, what will it be? Will I be forced to knock this stupid idea out of your head?" She smiled. "Today, I'm pretty sure I can take you."


Mageria sighed in defeat, pushing the cork back into the vial and holding it out to Lena. "If my mere presence and my actions of seven years ago can bring down something that was started back in the time of the Twins; doesn't it mean that it really is all about me?" A weak laugh escaped her lips. She wrapped her arm around her chest, cradling sore ribs. "I suppose that does sound conceited, doesn't it?"

She leaned back against the wall again; shoulders slumping as much as the bindings around her ribs would allow. "Besides, you couldn't take me down without making things worse, and I think that's against that code of yours, isn't it?" She cracked the seal on the ordinary painkillers and tossed back a dose, grimacing at the taste. "Healers are all bullies at heart. Everybody knows it." She drew in a couple of deep breaths, waiting for her aches to settle down to a manageable level. "Honestly, I'm not usually this crazy. I just . . . It's because of me that my people are losing everything. How do you make up for that?" Then she looked up suddenly, a puzzled look on her face. "What are you doing here anyways? Shouldn't you be . . . No, you wouldn't have heard yet. That item you told me to watch for. It's in Blackpond."

Lena finally let laughter escape her as she took the vial, hiding it into one of her pockets. "Captain, things end, with or without your help. I'm sure if not now, in a year, or ten, or a hundred, something would have done the trick. Nothing is built to last forever." Her laughter toned down to a simple snicker as she added. "And I'm no longer a White Shadow, so... What code do you refer to? Taking you down would be, to my eyes, the lesser of two evils. I've come to believe that to truly be the closest one can get to doing good in this world." Lena stated, absently reaching down and scratching behind Tala's ears. "You borrow the wolf from a woman named Essence, I assume. Why was she pretending to be you and torturing the city Warlord with Luckas?" She shook her head. "...Or maybe I don't really want to know that."

She stopped to look Mageria over as if wondering if the woman would manage to walk or if she would need to eventually be carried; the wounds were serious and that much she could easily tell. "As for how do you make up for your people's losses... You don't. You can't. And if you could, killing yourself is certainly not the way to go." As she heard the news of where the dagger had ended up, Lena raised an eyebrow. "Blackpond... Of course it is. Where else would it be? I assume Jake would be getting himself in trouble over there then? Someone needs to knock some sense into that boy." She sighed softly, holding in the rest of the scolding for whenever she ran into Jake. "I'll be heading there later in the day, actually, so if you have a more specific location, I'll try and look into it. I only came by to make a couple of visits... I got word while I was in the Castle that Ella is Queen now. Is that so? How long has it been since...?" Lena's voice trailed off for a moment, deciding to keep the focus on what she was there to say and do, not asking the question she actually wanted answered. "And Thomas is Captain of the Whites, now?" She asked as if to confirm the information she had already been given. "Suppose I'll have to see him as well." She added, mostly to herself. "So little time..." She chuckled. "And I thought retirement would give me a chance to rest." She stated jokingly, as if trying to draw attention away from the fact that she seemed in a hurry. "Do you think you're alright to walk now, Captain?" She asked, hiding her hand into her bag and blindly searching for something inside, the sound of what seemed like a thousand small vials being shuffled around could be heard as she did so. Finally she pulled out three, very small, vials from the bag; its contents a pearly-white substance. "These are your average painkillers, with one mighty kick of something that can really only be found in the mountains, and that if you know where to look. I made it for my personal use mostly, but I suppose it's a fair trade for the much more dangerous stuff. Each vial is one dose. More than one dose in a period of twelve hours and you'll regret it deeply, but otherwise it takes the pain right out." She smiled. "It does not mean you won't have to lay low either way."

Mageria took the vials, tucking them safely deep in her belt pouch. “Luckas and Essence were torturing the Warlord because of some things that happened when our dear Alpha was kind enough to produce proof that I was the one who dispatched the last Black Knight Captain. He was . . . too eager to get rid of me, there had to be an ulterior motive. And I think Luckas was pissed purely on my behalf. But they used my image? That’s going to cause some problems. Damn.” She pushed away from the wall and slowly started walking out of the alley and towards the Castle, taking a path that would keep them away from the main flow of traffic so that they could still talk without being overheard.

“And yes, the dagger is in Blackpond. The Castle, last I heard. Probably not there anymore, giving that Jake got the information to me via a telepath being held prisoner. That bit of information would buy far too much for me to believe that it would be kept secret.” She kept her pace smooth and without a limp purely by a force of will, however her breathing was labored and her voice had a tendency to fade out momentarily.
“Let’s see, Ella’s been Queen now for about a year. Sarris fell victim to a fever before that, it hit so suddenly that there was really nothing we could do. We called on the Healers, but all they could say was to tell us that it wasn’t a poison of some kind. And yes, Thomas is Captain now. Very rule bound, you’ll have to watch out for that.” She kept walking as the Castle walls came into view, although she had slowed down noticeably.

“You do seem to be rather busy for retirement, Lena. Mind sharing what that’s all about? You know, to keep my mind off the pain?” A small smile worked it's way across her battered features.

The setting changes from newhaven to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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[Newhaven - Wolfpack Inn]

Sean didn't say anything and simply glared after Mageria as she exited the Inn. While he would usually love to respond and make an argument out of her little visit,he just didn't have the time or patience for that kind of bullshit today. Once the woman crossed the door he let out a pained groan he had been holding back. Sheila moved to sit across from him with a severe glare.
"You shouldn't be out of bed so soon!" She muttered.
"I'll be fine." He sighed, looking up at the woman's face. "So, Crys was here, huh? She wanted to know where Jake is, I take it?"
Sheila blinked a couple of times, as if wondering how could he possibly know that. "That's right, yes."
"And, I assume you told her." He insisted.
"Well, I... Tried not to." She mumbled.
Sean chuckled. "Aye. Don't worry about it. I expected her to come. People think Crys is so smart... Well, and she is for the most part, but not when Jake's involved. Love makes people do the stupidest things."
"Like getting themselves stabbed..." Sheila whispered under her breath, trying to hide her amusement as she stood up from her seat taking Mageria's tea cup with her behind the counter.
"What did you say there?" Sean raised a brow at her.
"Nothing, love. You need to eat something, what would you like?" Sheila asked, walking out back for a moment.
"Oat meal, and an apple if you got it." Sean replied, taking another drink from his tea cup and absently tracing his index finger over the letters of a name someone had carved into the wood. He knew he had to move as soon as possible, wounded or not. It wasn't safe to stay there too long, neutral zone or not... If he needed to stay down for a bit, then he'd do it in camp.

As Sean waited for Sheila to return with his breakfast the door opened and a familiar voice sounded in a tone of anger mixed with relief, none of which made any sense to the Alpha; not coming from Franklin at least. "Are you completely stupid?! Didn't we agree you would stay in camp?! What the hell are you trying to do, boy?!" The man shouted slamming the door of the Inn shut behind himself.
"Uh..." Sean mumbled, a little shocked at the man's outburst. Franklin was usually the most level headed person he knew. "It's a long story, really... Is there something wrong?"
"Adria contacted me asking to confirm if you are actually dead! Dead, Sean! Do you have any idea what kind of chaos that camp must be in right now?"
Sean's eyes widened a bit in shock and he jumped to his feet, which was a rather painful mistake. "Argh, dammit." He muttered, reaching for his wounded stomach. "Who in their right mind would ever say that out loud without being absolutely su-" He stopped mid-sentence and let out a frustrated growl. "Ari. Tell me, what was I thinking when I decided to train that kid?" He muttered.
Franklin let out a small chuckle in face of Sean's annoyance. "Do you really want me to answer that, Alpha?" He asked, a blue flicker of light crossing his eyes.
"Shut up." Sean muttered in response, although seeming amused at the same time. "Suppose we should go back now, then."
"You shouldn't travel this way." The man replied. "I can run ahead and let everyone now you're safe. There's no need to take such risks."
"I rather they see for themselves. Besides, I don't like being stuck in Newhaven, I had one too many visitors from the castle already, and even the most polite of them is not exactly friendly." Sean explained.
Franklin heaved a sigh, knowing he could only get Sean to listen to him up to a point. "Alright, then I will escort you back to camp." As he caught sight of Sheila he turned to the woman. "Send a bird ahead of us to camp, to let them know the Alpha is alive and on his way."
She nodded in agreement. "Will do, Franky, love." She said winking slightly at the man and walking back to back of the bar.

Sean heaved a weary sigh, shooting a glance at the bowl of oat meal that had been placed on the counter, but simply grabbing the apple that sat beside it and bitting into it on his way out the door.

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

[Newhaven]

Crys simply nodded as Essence made her way our of the stables, giving a couple of minutes before leading her horse out of the stables. As she stepped outside the bird began to fly circles over her, and he would continue to do so until she was standing in Ali's presence. She absently stroked her horse's neck to calm it, as it seemed to grow nervous by the bird's constant presence, before mounting, slowly and carefully. "If there's one thing more uncomfortable than riding, is riding with broken ribs." She whispered. Gently kicking at the mare's sides to make her go, quickly discovering that there was no pace that would make it less painful. Still, she thought it best not to ride at full speed, she would make it by nightfall, and it gave her time to think on Lena's words to her. Not to mention the woman's return in itself and the fact that she didn't seem as well as she would like others to believe. She might have missed the signs that something was wrong with her mother, but she could tell something was off here for sure. Now she regretted not stopping to talk with her for just a minute longer.

Eventually Crys heaved a long pained sigh, trying to stop her mind from going into any more concerning thoughts, at least until she finally reached the desert. She began humming to herself in an attempt to distract from her many aches and concerns. Something Lena said echoing in the back of her mind. "... When time comes to settle that score." Perhaps this whole thing didn't have to be anything more than that: A score she needed to settle with Sean. If so, then one of them would have to die; she didn't see why anyone else should... Why couldn't it be as simple as that?

The setting changes from valcrest to Newhaven

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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Lena made her way in and through the castle with considerable ease. The few people she encountered were familiar with who she was, even if that person they knew was no longer existent, they believed it to be her. Everything went smoothly, until she approached the White Knights' ward. That was a place she had visited very little in her time as healer and had sneaked into two times, at most, in her assassin days. One of those times had ended badly, and she had a bit of a nasty falling out with the guards. That had been ages ago, and those men were probably not in the castle anymore if they were even alive. Even if by chance there was one left, he would never recognize her now... She was very different now from the kid she was back then.

Only a few steps into the ward and she was approached by three guards at once, each of them with one hand to the hilt of a sword and asking her to state her business. She raised her arms as if to show she meant no harm and spoke. "I've come to see Sir Thomas Sidin, I believe he is your Captain nowadays, yes? Would one of you gentlemen mind to go let him know Lena Turner is here to see him?" They seemed to hesitate, which caused her to chuckle softly. "I'm sure that the three of you are not necessary to guard an unarmed woman." She stated, tilting her head to the side and smiling. "I'm no threat, I assure you."

The men didn't seem all that assured, but one of them reluctantly walked away, Lena assumed, to warn Thomas of her presence.


Thomas had been having the start of a truly wonderful day, when it seemed that things were getting even better. One of the White Guards had stuck his head in, breaking his concentration on the myriad reports that he was now stuck with since Mageria had gotten herself exiled. He could hate her for that alone, let alone being stupid enough to get caught killing the former Black Captain. Idiot woman.

It only made things more stressful to hear that he had a visitor, one Lena Turner. He knew that she had been at the heart of most of the trouble that had happened in years past and now she was back from where ever she had been in order to cause more. Perhaps that was not her intention, but that's what was going to happen.

Well, not matter what, she wasn't going to go away. "Let her through, I'll talk to her here," he muttered while shuffling through the reports. He didn't raise his eyes again until he heard a footstep on stone, glancing up to see a figure worn by time and trouble. Politely, he signaled for one of the attending servants to pour them both tea.
"And to what do I owe this pleasure?"


Lena stood quietly waiting for the guard to return and ask her to follow him. The other two then relaxed and dispersed. She followed the guard until he stopped and motioned for her to enter a room. She stood for a second at the doorway, until the man addressed her, at which point she fond a chair to sit, examining the White Knight Captain with her eyes for a moment or two before speaking, "You know, not once I've had that question asked by someone who was genuinely pleased, Sir. Politeness sometimes sounds so impolite, wouldn't you agree?" She smirked slightly. "I won't take much of your time, Thomas, I'm just here to tell you something; whether you believe me or not is entirely up to you as well as whether you act on whatever beliefs you have. These exact words will be repeated in Blackpond to their King or whoever they allow me to speak to, I thought I should have you know..." She took a moment before she continued. "Three years ago, moments before Blackpond attacked my clan and slaughtered a great number of my healers, a young seer that was under my care called for me. The woman was absolutely terrified and when I got to her, she showed me exactly why. The vision she had, I can't describe. There are no words. What I know is that still within this year, some will die, others will flee, and there will be chaos on the streets, talks of the end of the world even. Not only in Newhaven, everywhere." She smiled slightly. "You're Enlightened Thomas, am I right? Tell me, how have you been feeling lately?"

Thomas's eyes flashed gold for just a moment at the question. "Yes, I am Enlightened. As to how I'm feeling, do you even need to ask? I'm bailing a leaky boat with my bare hands as it was and now. . . now I have three times as much work to do because Mageria couldn't be bothered to clean up after herself." He rubbed a hand wearily across his face and threw down his pen, leaning back in his chair and staring at Lena; abandoning the attempt to be polite for the moment. "And then you come to me and tell me that the end of everything is on it's way. In the hope that you don't merely enjoy sharing feelings of doom and dread, is there anything we can do about this or do we just wait for the inevitable?"

Lena let out a chuckle. No, she wasn't in any way amused by the conversation, but rather by the fact that it was actually taking place. She was absolutely aware that she sounded exactly as Luckas liked to describe her: 'A crazy old witch'. "I didn't say the end of everything is on its way, boy. Not exactly. I'm informing you of a seeing that took place three years ago. The only thing concrete I have to say about it is that it greatly involves Enlightened individuals. Some were dying, others killing, some were fleeing the land... In fact some already have been fleeing in the past years, for seemingly unrelated reasons, but in greater number than one would consider normal; most of them amongst the Shadows. My absolute lack of facts is the main reason why I have been distant and none of it was mentioned to anyone within the past three years. As much as something might be actually happening, panic alone would be enough to cause what was seen. I do not wish to be the cause of such a thing. I have seen signs, subtle changes in the air, in some people I know well enough, but if one searches enough, one is bound to find signs of anything, no?" She explained, leaning back in her seat for a moment and taking a long deep breath. "I had a very dear friend whose enlightenment was to see one minute, at most, into the future. He once told me that even though he couldn't see very far, it was enough to know that what he saw meant nothing, because the simple fact that he saw it might eventually change everything, or even cause it." She was silent for another moment before she continued. "Do you see my problem, Thomas? I don't know whether I am preventing or causing chaos with my actions. However, if this actually happens, it will happen soon. So can I really afford to keep to myself any longer?" She heaved a weary sigh and added. "For what's it's worth, I'm sorry if this adds to your stress, but I thought I should mention."

"Of course, why should any of this be easy?" Thomas muttered to himself, wearily scrubbing a hand across his face. "And you have no idea what is going to be the ultimate cause? Other than, perhaps, you yourself warning us?" He started twirling a pen between his fingers, eyes distant. "I do appreciate the warning, Lena. I can have people watching, make sure that there are non Enlightened to take over key positions if needed . . . I'm sure that there are a great many things that will need to be done, sooner rather than later. Other than that; it seems as if this is something that needs to be kept as quiet as possible, for the moment at least." He arched an eyebrow at the woman sitting across from him. "Was there anything else you can tell me?"

Lena rubbed the spot between her eyes, feeling a slight headache form itself there, but aside from the small gesture she showed no sign of being in pain as she spoke. "The White Shadows have studying enlightenments since they first appeared in Valcrest, not one of their records points to anything that could cause such a reaction. There are things in myths, but to find any truth in those would take more time than we supposedly have, not that I am not trying anyway." She stated, smiling faintly. "If I was to ask to keep an eye on something, however, Sir... I would tell you to ask yourself this question everyday, and pay very close attention to the answer: How do you feel?" She then stood up, and bowed her head respectfully as healers usually do. "When the answer changes from its usual, then you should really keep your eyes wide open." Saying that she slowly made her way out of the room.

Thomas sighed wearily and kept working for another couple of moments before a servant arrived with a note from Mageria. Apparently the joys of the day would never end. Well, he had something he needed to discuss with her anyways. Locking his papers away in his desk, he hurried downstairs and out to the courtyard where he found Mageria leaning against a wall watching as her people load things into wagons.
“Are you supposed to be using those?”
Mageria huffed a laugh and glared a bit at him.
“We’ll get them back on time.” She shifted and settled further against the wall. “Couple of things you need to know. Ella went to visit the Inn yesterday, had a nice chat with the Wolfpack Alpha. If you want to stop him from putting a contract on her, you need to go visit him today. Before noon. In about an hour.” She arched her eyebrows sympathetically. “Glad you get to have all the fun, now.”

“She . . . He. . . . At the . . .” Thomas literally saw red for a moment before he got his temper under control. This day just could not get any better. “Fine,” he snarled. “I’ll just go see what he has to say.” Turning with an unmeant flair of his cloak, he stalked out of the courtyard; in the process completely forgetting that he had meant to tell Mageria that he needed her set of keys back. She smiled innocently and patted the bulge on her belt and smiling after him. She’d just hold onto those for a later day.

Thomas had enough control to go change into something less conspicuous before he left, but he still made good time down into the Lower City. A quick glance around showed that the front was being watched, so he slipped around the back and worked his way in. He took a good look around and spotted Sean sitting at one of the back tables. He grimaced slightly to himself and went over.
“You wanted to see me?”


Sean lifted his head only when the approaching footsteps were followed by a voice, and he looked up at the man he knew was the Captain of the Whites. The one and only moment he needed to strike a deal with Newhaven he had dealt with Mageria, and at her request. The Black Knights were great for making deals, they didn't care about what rules to break in the process of getting something done, Sean did appreciate that. As much as the woman might have thought so, what he did to expose her was in no way personal, just a means to an end. Someone's end, particularly. He heaved an annoyed sigh at the man's question. "No. I didn't, but I don't have much of a choice, Sir Knight." Sean muttered, angrily remembering Ella's disrespect to his people and his territory. "I'll cut straight to the point, as I'm sure you're as busy as I am, if not more due to current events... I owe Blackpond a hit. They want your Queen to be the target of said hit. I would much rather not do this, I know the people in charge of Blackpond have some hidden motive to ask this of me, and I don't enjoy being a pawn in someone's world domination scheme, or whatever it is. However, they are a far greater threat to my people than your army will ever be, if I read them correctly, so my back is against the wall, because I am forced to first think of would be less harmful to the people under my command." Sean ran one hand through his hair, warily and the took a deep breath. "Suppose what I mean is that I need help getting these people off my back before I'm forced to obey them. However, if that is not an option, I suggest you guard your Queen more carefully, because she has been warned of this, and couldn't care less for my warning. She even casually mentioned where she would be on this day. It would be smart of you to keep a closer watch on her from now on."

Thomas suppressed the urge to sigh at the idea of guarding Lady Ella. They did their best, but at the same time, when somebody refused to be kept safe, there was nothing they could really do. Although the idea of chaining her to her throne had a certain appeal. Ah well. A thought for another day. Today he had to deal with what was in front of him.
"And what do you have in mind for this, help?" Thomas asked delicately. He hated, truly hated that he had come to this. The White Knights kept the law, they didn't break it. Merely being in this place bothered him and the idea that he might have to make a deal with someone like this made his skin crawl. But through long training he kept his face impassive, merely arching one eyebrow in polite inquiry.
"And . . . forgive my bluntness. But how do I know that you won't stab us in the back at the first opportunity?"

"For now, mate... Keep Ella under control, because I need to buy myself some time and she doesn't help me by coming here and harassing my people. That and the assurance that you will not make any deals with them against the Wolfpack if you can help it, or that at least I will get fair warning if you can't, will suffice for now. On my end, I will not pass the order to assassinate her along to the rest of my clan... Yet. When it comes a time when I can't delay this any further... Hopefully I'll have a way out of it." He said all that very quick, not wanting to even give a chance for anyone to walk in on him considering eliminating a city ruler. That was one hell the Wolfpack had lived before, and it was more than enough. "As for how you know I won't stab you in the back... I can't say you can, but honestly, Thomas... Killing the Queen? You and I both know what happens after that, and it's one bit of history I would just hate to relive as I'm sire you would too. So understand that I have nothing to gain by turning on you."

Thomas arched one eyebrow ironically. "Then we have a deal based on the fact that we are each the lesser of many evils. How delightful." He nodded and shifted as if he was about to stand. "Of course, if something were to happen, I'm sure Mageria and her people would welcome the chance to earn their way back into Newhaven's good graces." With a thin smile, he stood, turning towards the back once more. "It's been quite instructional meeting you, Alpha. Hopefully, it is an experience that will never be repeated." Turning quickly, he walked out the back way and into the alley heading towards the Castle with a swift stride. The experience of everything had left a bad taste in his mouth, one that he felt was never going to fade.

The setting changes from newhaven to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher

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[Newhaven/Forest]

Sean rushed out of the Inn without looking around, so he didn’t see who was sitting there until he heard a familiar voice. His only reaction was to stop, let out an annoyed growl, and continue to walk with the words. “Piss off.” That was the most of his attention he was willing to offer Ella in that moment. He had enough problems of his own to take care of; he wasn’t going to be a part of whatever crazy that girl had going through her mind. So he simply kept walking the fastest way out of the city, chewing on the apple he had gotten and not stopping to think until he reached the forest and Franklin’s voice shattered the silence. “There is something else you need to know…”

[Blackpond]

Jake flinched slightly at Rita’s immediate reaction to his words; perhaps he’d gone a bit too far in his anger. He didn’t know Hastings, and it was clear that Rita was close to the man. When she apologized he simply nodded. “There is no need for apologies, Rita. You don’t know me, and I can see that you and I have different views on what loyalty really means, so I have no reason to resent you questioning my honor. I can honestly say I never betrayed Dani Rivers, I can also honestly say I have not betrayed the Black Knights, but while I believe that to be the truth, I understand how you might not see it that way.” He said absently, with a little smirk. “It’s a matter of perception, I suppose” He added.

He listened that what Rita told him about Rory’s death and Rick in silence. It was nothing different from what he already knew, as he already expected it to be, rather he paid close attention to her expression and her tone. She didn’t seem too comfortable around him, but she also seemed to be honest in her words, which told him that she probably had no one she trusted to say those things to; she had no other reason to be telling him anything. “If I said I want to help, then, would you believe me?” He asked her with a slightly amused smile. “I have my personal reasons to be going after Rick, of course, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help you. I have nothing against Blackpond, only its ruler. Surely, I’m not the only one.”

As she asked him whether he believed in the Gods, Jake stopped to think a moment, going over the question in his head for about two minutes, before replying: “I think, I believe in what they represent, I’m not sure I believe they walked the Land.” He chuckled, and gave a light shrug. “I’m not sure what is real or not, if there is any reality to it at all. I’m not sure if I believe in Heaven. Sometimes I’d much rather not, because I might not be allowed in. Have you ever thought of that? Now, there’s a crazy thought, huh? I do like to believe in what the myths represent, though. I like to believe that no being was ever perfect, not even the Gods, I like to believe that there is balance in the world somewhere, or that it can be achieved somehow. It comforts me, and that’s just reason enough to believe.” He then paused for a moment, before shaking his head and adding. “I think I might have spent too much time with the Healers, but here’s the difficult question, in my opinion: Do you believe in people? Now that’s something I can’t make up my mind on.”

The setting changes from valcrest to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

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

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[Desert – Sundown]

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

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

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

[Forest – Early evening]

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

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

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

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

[Flashback – Forest, four years ago]

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


[Reality – Wolfpack Camp, present time]

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

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

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

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

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

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



[Desert – In the Meantime]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The setting changes from the-desert to Valcrest

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Ari Lupir Character Portrait: Phantom/Spirit Character Portrait: Stephan Kalir

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The sky hadn’t even begun to lighten when Ari woke. Her eyes fluttered open and she blinked, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness that surrounded her. Her breath rose from her lips in small clouds and she watched the clouds rise and dissipate into the stale air around her. She frowned, not able to discern what had woken her but with the urgency that it had, she was unable to fall back into the warm enfoldments of sleep. Ari slid out of bed, letting her feet hit the cool floor, involuntarily shivering as a spike of cold drifted up her spine. She quickly dressed, pulling on her training pants and a loose shirt followed by her bow and quiver of arrows. Ari knew that she would be out for awhile and that possibly, she would never get another chance to change into something better. She moved quietly to the door, pulling it open and sneaking outside, glancing back at the rumpled sheets she left behind her. A smile crossed her lips and without a noise, she left. The sky above her shone with the stars, the moon casting an eerie glow around the ground. Shadows bowed, reaching their black fingers for the girl as she passed Sean’s cabin. She glided past the door, drifting past like the shadows around her. The woods greeted her with arms wide open, whispering of things unheard and unknown. Ari entered their embrace gratefully, wandering past the trees she had grown to know so well.

It was true that living amongst Wolves was tough work, harder to deal with. They had laws, unspoken and unwritten but as alive as the trees before her now. The stories she had been told of were horrifying, but not true in the slightest. They did not eat their young and drink blood from their victims, in fact they were just plain people. They were as easy to kill as the next person and just as vulnerable to their emotions. However, the strongest person that led them was their Alpha. He was ruthless, a killer and driven by his instincts to protect what belonged to him. He was above, untouchable, and was not afraid to taunt that aspect during their training. Sean was rough, he pushed her until she gave him her all and then he pushed her some more. Nothing she did ever pleased him, she realized with a smirk. Even if she had been lying on the ground, bloodied and begging he would still push her. It would only be through beating him through which she would gain release. It was true, it was tough for her but the thought of finally causing a nick on his arm or cheek, just a tiny scratch would give her the release she needed. That is how she would better herself. And Ari realized, with some taint of horror, that she was willing to do anything to just get a shot at him. Not out of spite, she assured herself. All in all he hadn’t been that harsh towards her considering what she had done. Getting yourself caught after one day of training and talking to a traitor really placed a black mark on your shoulders.

Ari giggled to herself. The whole Pack had challenged her right to be there, to be a pretty little thing that could fight, but with Sesh’s memories floating around in her head they had gotten more of a fight then they had bargained for. She had snuck to him several times during the course of his rapid healing and they had spent time sharing memories and indulging in each other’s company. Those days….were fun now that Stephan and Alex both came as well. She smiled up at the stars, he face going slack and her eyes going blank as a memory consumed her.

[Flashback-Forest: Week one]

“Easy there Sesh,” Ari called holding up her hands to show she was unarmed. The Hunter sat back down, his black eyes still piercing her own. She had found him wandering the woods two weeks ago; still healing even after Stephan had released him in order to search for her. She smiled at him and approached him carefully, smiling as she took a seat across from him on the root of the tree.

“I don’t know what you see in me Ari, you or the other two,” Sesh growled, using the small dagger she had given him to whittle away at a piece of bark. He was carving it into a wolf, something he was determined to give to her before he left. “You do realize that the moment I can walk or run we’ll be enemies once again?”

Ari laughed a light bell like sound before reaching forward to examine his leg. Her delicate fingers undid the bandage and she was again struck by the soft glow of the scar she was looking at. Her fingers trailed over the new skin, amazed by his rapid healing. He pulled away, rewrapping the bandage, leaving the carving lying on the cold ground beside him. It was only then, Ari realized, that he was perfectly capable of leaving, but he was staying for some other reason. They both were startled by the sudden cracking of branches and Ari stood, brandishing her dagger in her hands.

Ari she heard her mind whisper followed quickly by the heavy presence of Sesh’s conscious. If you’re caught here….
Get out of my head! she snarled, pushing against his mind until she felt him retreat. Sesh’s warning was true though. Another wolf blundered into their clearing and had caught sight of the girl then.

“Ari? What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at,” the wolf trailed off, his eyes locking onto the boy lying on the ground behind her. “Explain.” His voice changed, from the questioning semi-scolding to the voice that rumbled with anger. She opened her lips to explain then, finding nothing coming forth from her lips. The Wolf was just another kid like her, not much older than Alex or Stephan and she watched as he produced a dagger from thin air. The hell, she thought. It was something most Wolves could do but she still hadn’t figured out how. “Traitor!” he cried, his eyes narrowing as he stepped forward. From the corner of her eye she saw Sesh tap the side of his nose, almost as if he were itching something. Ari smiled ever so slightly, all she had to do was hold out.

“Listen, kid,” she said hurriedly, letting the dagger rest against her hip as he advanced. “I know this looks bad but he’s just a traveler who was injured when I found him…”

“Do you think I’m blind Ari,” he cut her off, “I see the black clothing; you and I both know this is no mere traveler.”

“Alright, you’ve got me there but…”

“You’re helping out the enemy! I knew you were not on our side the moment the Crimson attacks began, I told Sean but he was too blind to see it,” the man growled, advancing now with a look of purpose, “But now I have proof.”

He was getting dangerously close to her and Sesh and so she reacted. He legs pushed her body forward and she collided with the wall of flesh. She stumbled back as did he, the force of the impact knocking the wind from her lungs. Ari cursed, it was running into a brick wall. He was solidly built, muscled, tall and he wasn’t about to lose this fight. His dagger cut through the air and she barely missed it, having to arch her back to avoid the blow to her stomach. His next strike came at her shoulder and she had no choice but to dive out of the way, leaving Sesh exposed. The Wolf threw his dagger, piercing through her shirt and into the ground, pinning her down where she lay. Her own dagger was just out of reach. The Wolf now was advancing on Sesh and she squirmed as the heavy presence fell across her mind again. Her hand, as if on its own accord reached for the Wolf’s dagger, tugging on it with a strength she didn’t know she had and yanking it from the dirt. She pulled herself to her knees, or rather Sesh did and with a flick of her wrist the dagger went sailing through the tree cutting right past the Wolf’s head and burying itself into the tree.
Slowly the Wolf turned, his eyes darkening and his eyes clouding over. He charged like a bull, bellowing out his anger and drawing a broad sword. Ari cursed again and just managed to move out of the way while snatching up her dagger from the ground. Her body turned, her hand rising to block the heavy blow from the Wolf. The impact of the two objects jarred her arm and her knuckles were cut from his blade. He forced he back into a kneel, her arms quivering from pushing against his sword.
Dive now, came a commanding voice. Her strength broke and she dove, just as his sword hit the ground where she had been a moment before.
Turn and face, ready yourself. Here he comes again.
The Wolf turned, but instead of charging he began to circle her, trying to catch her off guard. She held her dagger in front of her, knees locked behind her.
Tell me that’s not your fighting stance. Here. Her body was forced to bend at the knees her lips pulled into a snarl. She quickly returned her face to a mask, wondering how this was happening. The stance felt more natural, like a panther ready to pounce. Suddenly she found that she could be much more agile in a position like this, quicker and stronger. Ari internally smiled, wait till Sean saw how much she had already grown.
Get your head out of the gutter, the voice snarled, he’s coming again.
This time Ari moved gracefully out of the way, using just the slightest of touches with her own dagger to veer the heavy sword away. She danced with him for a moment, always blocking his movements and found herself enjoying the motions.
Watch!
There was a stinging pain on her shoulder and she nimbly moved away, pausing to look at the thin line across her shoulder. She rolled it experimentally, deciding that she could use that arm to fight but it would be painful.
Stay in the fight Ari, don’t get cocky. He’s not playing games here. Now you attack.

She felt her body lurch forward, her hand raise to knock away the blow that came for her stomach. She slid under his defenses, raising her foot to kick him in the chest. Instead her foot changed courses and it struck the Wolf across the shoulder. The man took a stumbling step back, his eyes widening. She attacked again, this time using her dagger to force him to leave his side open. She slid under a wild swing again, punching him in the side and causing him to gasp. He was weaker on his left side, which she finally saw with a little help from the Voice. It was there she would attack. Ari leaped forward, flying around the Wolf with a flurry of speed, watching him cut and parry her strokes. He cut into her side, not deeply but enough to cause enough pain to where she had to retreat and take a couple of breaths.

Almost, almost. You’re fighting with smugness now, keep your one goal in mind Ari, focus on that and you will succeed. She thought about winning, which was her goal when she felt a metal stab from the mind that was interlocked with hers. Not winning, defending. Never fight to win unless you absolutely must.
Ari watched the Wolf advance when he froze, his eyes widening with a blank expression. Without another sound he wiped the blood off of his sword and wandered back into the forest. Ari watched him leave dumbfounded.

“I think I did it,” she cheered and turned back to face Sesh who was pale. Blood dripped from his nose and he casually swiped it away, pulling his face into a tight smile. “I….didn’t do it did I?”

“Make him leave? No. That was me. You were tiring and I didn’t know how much longer I could keep instructing you so that you’d survive.”

“But….he’ll remember…and Sean,” Ari turned back to the way the Wolf went, her eyes burning gold as her body crouched.

“Ari, darling Ari!” Sesh said laughing; now standing beside her with his hand resting on her shoulder. “I swear to you that he will not remember. Your pal, Stephan is already modifying his memory as we speak.”

“How do-”

A moment later there was a shout and Alex came wandering out of the woods followed by Stephan. Both of them had a huge grin on their face, their eyes glowing with boyish expressions.

“Hey there Trouble,” Alex called which promptly ended with him hopping around clutching his shin. Ari smiled and Stephan’s laugh was joined by the throaty chuckle of Sesh. Her toe would hurt later but it was worth seeing the Wolf hopping around muttering curses directed at her. Stephan embraced the wild child, smiling as he did so and tossing a respectful nod towards Sesh who bowed his head in return.

“The Wolf-”

“Has been dealt with and is now headed in the opposite direction having no memory of this,” Stephan motioned to her and Sesh, “at all. Though if Alex keeps hollering like that…”

“HEY! She hit me in the shin where I have a bruise,” Alex muttered coming to stand beside them with a little limp. Ari laughed and his freckled face scowled at her. “You still can’t beat me.”
Stephan looked from Alex to Ari. She had drawn herself taller, her lips pulled taunt as her eyes flashed. She extended her hand out to him, beckoning with her fingers but not taking her eyes off of Alex’s face. Stephan glanced at Sesh who was grinning like a little boy before carefully drawing his sword and handing it to her. The metal glinted in the light, the simple handle molding to fit her hand beautifully. Her hand flexed around it, adjusting her grip ever so slightly and making sure it was balanced. Stephan watched as she lunged forward, sweeping the sword in a careful arc, it looked erratic but to his eyes he could see that she was very much in control. Alex barely had time to draw his sword, blocking the other blade with a sharp clang. With a flick of her wrist his sword was cast aside and she retreated a couple steps. Ari was never good with a blade and as far as Sesh knew, Sean hadn’t even begun to train her out for it yet. So how was it she was beating the man in front of her? His blade came down and hers rose gracefully to meet his, always knocking it away. She made him chase her, follow her around the clearing as she danced and twirled. Finally she hit his sword across the ground with a clang, watching with mild amusement as Alex scrambled to recompose himself. He made a step toward the shiny metal, Ari following quickly. Stephan saw what she was going to do and how Alex would react, a smile spreading across his face. As Ari turned and ran for her sword he lunged for her legs. Her body hit the ground, Stephan’s sword leaving her hand and sliding out of reach as Alex used his muscular body to pull her back under him.

Ari was thoroughly amused and so was Sesh who was silently directing her, showing the move he would make before he did and how to counteract it in a few heartbeats. Her actions were her own, the memories were his. She wasn’t expecting his surprise attack from behind her though; all she was focused on was getting that sword away from him. Hands closed around her ankles and tripped her, her face falling towards the ground. Her first instinct was to reach out with her hands to halt her fall but Sesh took control, pulling her arms up and instead, having her land on her arms. The sword bounded away and she was quickly yanked back under Alex. His large hand pushed her face into the snow as he straddled her back.

“Let me go,” she growled, wiggling under him with every inch he gave her. His legs closed tightly around her sides, pushing into her ribs and crushing the air from her body.

“Say ‘Alex is the best and I am a pup,’” he laughed pushing her face closer to the snow. Ari spat blood on the ground, having bitten her tongue and growled.
Sesh, she pleaded, help me outa here?

Fine, but you owe me double for this.


A memory flooded her consciousness; it was of two boys wrestling. The younger boy was trapped on the bottom and there was a bigger boy pinning him much like Alex held her now. The boy brought his legs up, slamming into the back of the older boy who was then pushed off balance. As the black haired boy fell forward, his hand slipped and the younger boy, which Ari assumed was Sesh, brought the back of his head up. There was a crack as the two boys collided and a moment later, blood was pouring from the nose of the black haired boy. There were numeral curses as the boy’s eyes watered and Sesh was able to throw him off with a simple roll technique. The memory faded and she quickly realized that she was free of Alex who now was swearing. Blood dripped off of his nose and down his face. Bright, red, warm, it sprang from his nose, from his lip as well, falling into the snow. His fingers were desperately trying to get a grip on the top of his nose and for a moment it stopped bleeding. Ari rushed over, already tearing at the white cloth of her shirt, watching as Stephan was packing snow into a ball. They combined the two and handed it to Alex who promptly placed it over his nose. His green eyes were watering profusely, narrowed and angry.

“The hell Ari,” he snarled, reaching out to grab his sword from Stephan.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, her mind horrified at what just happened. She turned her head to glare at Sesh who was smiling softly to himself by the tree. He was the only one who didn’t seem surprised or worried at that moment. Alex continued to swear, cursing her and the Twins as Stephan sheathed his sword once again. He gently looked at Ari, smiled an apologetic smile before hitting Alex on the back of his neck. Alex fell forward, Ari catching him before his face hit the ground again. Sesh was now staring at them intently, a surprised look on his own face. He didn’t say anything as they picked up the red haired, red faced, unconscious person. Ari was getting blood all over her shirt, making it look like she was injured as well. With each of them taking a shoulder and an arm around their shoulder they were able to drag him forward quite easily. Stephan nodded a respectful good bye as Ari took a moment to wave before disappearing into the woods. Sesh didn’t mind being alone, in fact he did enjoy not having to repel the Hunter instincts that were telling him to go for the girl’s throat. He would finish the wolf before leaving. It was all he could do. He, Stephan and Ari all realized that Alex had probably broken his nose but it was good to see her doing so well. He had almost missed the way Stephan had looked at him curiously; obviously he had protruded into Ari’s mind during the fight and had found him there. Sesh knew that his brother would be back to talk to him. Maybe, just maybe, working with Ari this way would better protect her from the things that were about to come, just maybe. He could only hope to the Twins that this would.

[Reality]

The learning telepathically was an interesting aspect; she could see how it was done, analyze every movement and with Alex’s help in their off hours sparring together she had become quite the defender. Alex was a swordsman, one of the best as far as she was concerned. He still teased her about breaking his nose and she smugly remembered heading to training like that, covered in blood. Sean’s face when she had appeared was something she would always remember.

[Flashback- Assassins Camp: Week One]

Ari bolted from the healer and Stephan, glad that they now had Alex under control and were resetting his nose as she went off to training. She had, however, lost track of the time and was already late. Her stomach roared in protest as she passed the food set out, smiling at a little boy who heard her hunger and saw her pause. He extended a dirty hand, offering his bread to her. He could be no older than five. She took it and scooped the kid up with it. She twirled the little urchin, his laughs raising through the crisp air and causing several of the Wolves to stop what they were doing and look at the girl who was now playing with the boy. She stopped and set the kid down, kissing him on the cheek and smiling as he ran off to get another roll. She swept a few of her blonde hairs from her face before standing up from her crouch and biting into the warm bread. Her eyes closed as the taste hit her and she realized that she hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast, much to her surprise. The kid was now explaining to his friends about the curious recruit, dramatizing his adventure by spinning around with his arms outstretched and squealing. They turned as he motioned towards her, before scattering like the changing leaves of fall. She had been staring at them and she worried that she had frightened them. Her heart raced in her chest, reminding her of more pressing matters. Her feet pounded against the earth as she ran, desperate to get there as soon as possible. She didn’t make any more stops, bolting towards Sean’s cabin. She bolted through the door, looking around the room expectantly. It was empty. She turned and ran again, heading towards the clearing where they normally trained. Before she could go far, Ari nearly ran into Sean as she hurried along, her eyes widening as he looked her over. Her shirt was still covered in Alex’s blood and she hadn’t the time to change it.

“Hi,” she said cheerfully, “I'm ready for my training.”

Sean had been pacing around the clearing counting the seconds and the minutes of his time that his recruit had wasted by being late for training. Of course it wasn't only a matter of him being kept waiting, but also a matter of discipline that needed to be dealt with. Time was precious, a split second could be enough to save or take a life, and assassins were required to do both depending on the situation; being late could be deadly. After about twenty five minutes of waiting Sean began to lose his patience, and decided to go see what was keeping Ari. A little past halfway back to camp, he spotted her at a distance as she almost collided with him. One look at her appearance and he could take a guess at what was the reason for the delay. He didn't let it show in his expression what he was thinking however, rather he raised an eyebrow and stated rather sarcastically. "Oh, you're ready, are you?" He smiled. "That's fine, I don't mind waiting for you to get ready. I have time to spare." With that said he began to walk back towards the clearing, strolling casually and in no hurry at all. "Tell me, if someone hired an assassination on a target that needs to be executed in a specific moment, say right before it enters or exits a meeting place, do you suppose sending an assassin who can't show up for her own training in time would be a wise decision on my part? Or do you suppose I could rely on said assassin on a rescue mission if one of our own is caught in a prison and we need to get in and out within a very small time frame in order to avoid detection?" Sean calmly waited for a reply, only turning to face his recruit as they reached the clearing, his eyes clearly registering the blood on her clothes; he crossed his arms over his chest and allowed a discrete smirk to spread across his features. "So, Kid, what kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into that you couldn't make it in time?" He asked.

After she had composed herself from her near run in with not only the Alpha but her instructor, and had smothered the anger for his sarcasm and complete lack of courtesy, she began to listen. He rambled, scolding her or what seemed like some sort of scolding but it was honestly just too light for her to feel really badly. He insulted her timekeeping and her ability to assassinate, or that’s how it came off but she remained in the light happy time from early that morning.

“Hey!” Ari shouted when they were out of camp, “That said assassin is right here, walking behind you with a very good shot at your back, be careful what you say Sean,” she teased, that little bit of guilt for being late fleeing. “And I could probably get in and out of a cell faster than one of your men can, do it and not be seen, until the last moment. That and I can transport that said person in the cell faster than you could run. It helps to have a horse at your beck and call whenever you need it. That AND I would be a trained killer in a different form.” Ari paused, wondering if she had gotten everything over with when she remembered something about assassinating a person at a meeting. Her heart raced in her chest and she began bouncing behind Sean, “A meeting assassination? Tell me you’re going to send me on one! My first mission?!”

She leapt gracefully over a root, excited to train once again with her adversary, now having something he didn’t have. She silently wished it was to be sword play when she ran into him. She looked up into his face, backing away and mentally reminding herself that the small critter that had made the tracks was not as important as watching the hulking figure of the man in front of her. The moon was strong upon her and it seemed to her that he had gotten bigger, stronger, and more powerful. He quirked a smile at her, or something akin to it and she blushed when she realized that he was waiting for an answer.

“Uhh….erm… ,” she stuttered, trying to think of something that didn’t involve the Hunter she was hiding right under the Pack’s nose. “Alex and I were sparring and I broke his nose and then Stephan and I took him to the healers,” she looked at the bloodied shirt, blushing as it struck her how stupid this would sound to Sean. Ari considered Alex a really good swordsman and she figured that Sean knew of this as well. It would make no sense that she had been able to beat him by giving him a broken nose when she had issues handling the metal blades in her hand. She frowned, already preparing to defend her story to the death if need be.

Sean stood staring his recruit in the eyes for a couple of minutes, absolutely sure that she was hiding something. He wasn't sure what bothered him most; the fact that she was hiding something or the fact that it was so painfully obvious. Finally he decided not to insist on what the lie was exactly, but rather use it as an instrument. "We definitely need to work on your deception skills." He stated simply, raising an eyebrow. "First of all: Identifying yourself as 'said assassin' on that hypothetical of mine was rather stupid since I pretty much stated that person to be unreliable, Ari." Sean chuckled. "Threatening to shoot me in the back doesn't exactly help your case either, but that's a different matter. Unless you're explicitly and officially accused of something, do not defend yourself. It doesn't matter if you did do it and you know the other person is aware. Rather you should have simply treated it as a hypothetical and let the subject move on without taking it personally, because questions like these are built to get a reaction out of you." He stated calmly, finding a small boulder and sitting casually on it as if training was the last thing on his mind at the moment.

"That was only the first stupid thing you said in that response." He continued, digging the tip of his boot onto the earth causally. "You also stated you 'probably' can get in and out of a cell faster than any one of 'my men'..." He paused as if re-examining those words. "Probably means shit to me when considering the fact that this hypothetical in question involved rescuing one of our own. Probably means there is a chance I end up with two assassins dead instead of one imprisoned; when you can say, truthfully without a hint of doubt 'I can definitely', then I'll consider seeing it for myself. I also would not send you on such a mission if you refer to people of this clan as anything less than family. It doesn't matter what qualities you have or how much you improve, until you see yourself as a Wolf, you are not allowed to kill as a Wolf." The last statement was spoken in a harsher, and nearly aggressive, tone, but it changed back to its former calm as he added. "That's the real challenge for you, is it not? Family?" He chuckled. "Maybe for now we should move on to something you can handle a little better."

As he spoke, Sean pulled something from behind the boulder he was sitting on, a bo staff that was just about the girl's height, and tossed it to her. "You'll be using this. I know you were expecting sword play, but there'll be time for that. Today, you gave me idle time so I prepared a little something." He let out a soft whistle and three figures stepped out of hiding and into the clearing. They were all dressed in seemingly equal black clothing from head to toe, and had their faces covered by equal dark masks, and armed with identical staffs. The only difference between the three masks was a colored circle at the center; one was red, one was yellow and one was blue. The three individuals stood before Ari side by side in a semi-circle, apparently waiting for Sean's command. "Two of these individuals are Wolves, one is an outsider. Your goal is not only to survive, but to find out which is the outsider." He then launched a throwing knife onto a nearby tree and smirked. "That... Is for when you find him. Be sure which one you pick."

After saying that Sean simply gave a wave of his hand and three figures spread, surrounding the recruit and attacked at the same time.

Ari dove out of the way, her mind racing. What the hell was he thinking! She wasn’t ready for this and now she had to kill someone. She blocked a swipe at her head, quickly adjusting her hands to the center of the staff, really just a giant stick, before thrusting it forward into the chest of one of her opponents. He staggered back and she yelped as a staff caught her hip with a loud pop. The blue fighter was moving in fast as the yellow recovered his breath, the red seemingly to have disappeared. She jumped as a swipe was aimed at her legs and she cracked the staff over the head of the blue, knocking the fighter momentarily to the ground. The yellow attacked then, leaving her just enough time to raise the stick in an effort to protect her face from the harsh blow. The wood cracked with a painful sound and his staff pushed against hers. She pushed back, her arm muscles straining to keep the wood away from her head. She screamed as a heavy blow connected with the back of her knees and her body dropped to the earth. She rolled, the staff hitting the ground right where her head had been a moment before. The red fighter towered over her, his staff pointed down as he aimed for her chest. Her eyes widened as her leg moved and connected with the fighter’s stomach. He stumbled back, colliding into another fighter who promptly pushed him out of the way. She began analyzing their movements, looking for traits that a Wolf would portray but they all attacked with the same aggressiveness. She took her time, running from them, making them chase her around, and sometimes luring them close to Sean to see if one hesitated. She thought she saw a stumble in the reds footing, a scent of tiring and she dove behind Sean as a staff hit the rock where she had just stood. She bolted between the fighters, getting in a good punch into the yellow fighters face. She turned then, and fought. The three converged on her and she helplessly looked toward Sean who looked as if he was enjoying himself. She blocked a blow to her stomach, returning the knock with one of her own as they took a step forward. She spun, her staff colliding with their shoulders and causing them to reel back. She gained nothing though as the blue fighter cracked his staff over her hand. Her fingers cracked and she dropped the staff.

Ari managed to move out of the way, backing out of the circle and using a hint of her enlightenment to move exceedingly fast. She would have laughed as the red’s staff collided with the yellows head, knocking him flat but she was too busy cradling her hand to her chest. She had to find something, something that was material on them that would reveal them as Wolves. The problem was, getting close enough to search them. The three were still trying to untangle themselves as she tuned to face Sean, her eyes widening with horror and anger.

“You’re insane!” she snarled at Sean, her eyes narrowing. Her eyes flickered over his body, memorising every detail about him that could give away what she was looking for.
That’s when it hit her. The ring. All Wolves had a ring, a graduation ring. Stephan wore his around his neck, had proudly told her that all Wolves received one and that’s what made a Wolf a Wolf. She smiled, but only for a moment before the ruthless beating began again. She didn’t know where her bo staff had gone, as far as she knew it was one of the ones hitting her now. She moved fast, ducking into the chest of the blue fighter and embracing him, pushing him back a couple of steps as the other two momentarily paused. She ducked under his arm, regretting it the moment her delicate nose passed his armpit. She reeled back, nearly laughing to herself. She could remember what Stephan’s ring smelled like: cold metallic, and sharp. However, the way they were fighting now she wouldn’t be able to smell anything for a year if she tried to find the ring that way. Fresh blood was staining her shirt and she tore off the bottom of it to wrap her hand, resetting the bones quickly. The fighters were advancing now and she realized that her staff was leaning against the rock Sean perched on. She had to get past three fighters to get there. The circles on their faces were the target; the knife resting on the tree just inches away from her while her staff would be risky. If she killed the wrong person, she didn’t want to know what Sean would do and so she went for the greater risk. She rushed forward, ducking her head as the blue fighter struck, her fingers trailing over the pockets on his pelvis and hips. Finding nothing she jumped a low blow from the red fighter, her foot clipping him under the chin. His head snapped wildly back, his body slumping forward as his face smashed into the ground. She spun round, her braid slapping her across the face and a moment later her jaw caught a light swipe from the yellow fighter. Her body veered off its course, her eyes watering as her jaw screamed in pain. Her bandaged hand gently cupped it as she began to work it back and forth. It hurt like hell but it had been a light blow and nothing was permanently damaged. She turned; catching the yellow fighter in his shoulder and knocking him back a step. Ari felt alive and she took a step forward, only to have the yellow fighter knock her off her feet. Her back hit the ground and with a groan she lay there. Her lungs burned for air and she greedily filled them, her spotty vision coming back. The red fighter was slowly getting to his feet; the blue and the yellow were slowly converging on her. She laid perfectly still, waiting for them to close in.
The yellow came too close and with an angry swipe she cast a handful of muddy snow into his hooded face. He bellowed, stumbling back and dropping his staff. She took the weapon and threw it at the blue fighter who was now running forward, watching as it struck him. He floated back, as she spun and caught the red fighter’s staff in her hand. It stung blocking a blow like that but it was better than receiving it to the head. She twisted on the staff, grimacing as her palm received several splinters. Ari pushed and with her last effort she was able to push the staff away. She bolted toward the rock, grabbing up her staff before settling into a protective stance. Her chest heaved and sweat mingled with blood. She could see that she was taking too long and that if she kept this up, the fighters would soon take her down. That’s when it really began.

She danced with them, flitting from person to person and running her hands across their moving bodies, dodging and blocking blows. She could have sworn she felt something small in the blue fighter’s chest pocket, something that didn’t quite fit as being natural and the same went for the red fighter. Rings, he mind whispered and she carefully selected her target. She split from the pack, throwing her staff at them with a frustrated scream that knocked them back giving her enough time to reach the tree where the hunting knife lie in wait. She jerked it from the tree, the blade flashing silver as it caught the sun. Her arm went back, her eyes pinpointing the center of the yellow circle. Her arm flashed forward, her wrist flicking and the knife left her hand. It spun through the air: handle, blade, handle, blade, handle, skin. The fighter dropped to the ground with a scream, his hand rising to grasp the end of the dagger that protruded from his chest. The other two fighters fell back, looking at Sean for further direction. Ari walked calmly forward; sure of her choice as she reached down to pull the knife from the flesh, her bright green eyes flickered to the red circle on his face.

Sean watched without a word, and without making a single move, only his eyes followed the movements of the fighters, a snicker or a smirk escaping him here and there; This was honestly going better than he hoped it would, but there were visible mistakes. As one of the masked fighters fell, with a knife to his chest, and the other two turned to him Sean finally stood up and walked absently to the fallen warrior. "Huh." He mumbled. "I honestly thought you'd hesitate..." He then turned to the blue fighter and nodded. "Okay, Ryan, we're done."

As Sean said that, Ryan nodded removing his mask, revealing a bright golden light coming from his eyes, partially hidden behind equally golden hair. As the light faded and the man's eye returned to their usual dark green, the other two 'fighters' disappeared, turning to dirt. He smiled at Ari with a rather playful expression on his face. "They're very realistic aren't they?" He asked, fetching his ring in his pocket and sliding onto his finger where it belonged, then digging around the dirt where the yellow fighter used to be and recovering another ring, which he tossed in Sean's direction, where the Alpha caught in the air, examining it for a moment, and carefully blowing any remaining dirt away before slipping it into a hidden pocket on the inside of his shirt; on the left side of his chest. Ryan simply bowed his head respectfully as he walked past Sean, turning to give Ari a playful wink behind the Alpha's back before leaving the clearing in the direction of the camp.

Sean stood listening to the Wolf's footsteps until they were out of his hearing range. Ryan was a very unusual earth manipulator, he could create up to five exact clones of himself made of sand, dirt, mud or clay, and control them with his mind. They were so realistic that, even while fighting them it was difficult to tell they weren't real. While the official test was for Ari to find the 'outsider' unofficially Sean was looking to see if Ryan could fool Ari, and the man had proved to be successful. He would prove to be very useful.

"You did well." He spoke finally, walking over to the recruit and holding out his hand, motioning for her to give him the knife back. "I honestly thought you'd get your butt kicked before you even got to search them. Next time though, don't waste time calling me insane, alright?" He snickered. "To be honest, this was quite tame compared to what I had to put up with when I started. I didn't even tie you to a tree yet." He stated, his tone absolutely serious as he spoke. Finally he chuckled. "You didn't really think I'd let you kill a real person like this during training, did you? Well, only if you had picked the real Ryan, but... The odds were in his favour I think.”

Ari handed over the knife, wiping a bit of blood from her lip as she bent slightly to catch her breath. He was insane! What if she had actually hit a real person? The wrong person could have destroyed her, a murderer of a member of her own Family. Something struck her then, her eyes narrowing.

“You wouldn’t put a Wolf in danger if you knew they didn’t have the upper hand on me,” she spat, her boots creaking as the mud on them broke, the spell of her semi victory falling to bits before her eyes. Her body ached as she closed her eyes, unsure of the mild shock in Sean’s voice that she hadn’t hesitated. Isn’t that what he wanted? An assassin that could kill without hesitation? Her eyes narrowed as the man left, throwing her a wink before ambling off. She hissed, taking in a sharp breath as her side groaned in pain, her ribs popping and crackling. She wanted to shift, but she wasn’t sure if Sean was done with her for the day, though she wished so as her hand screamed in pain. She was sure she would be covered in bruises and she wasn’t about to let the camp see that she had been beaten again. She tossed the bo staff away, watching as it clattered to the ground as she righted herself again. Alex would have a laugh with this one though he seemed to be the only one in the entire camp who could even talk to her still. Revenge on Sean did cross her mind, it had several times and this moment was no exception. A simple praise was all he gave her, his expression remaining that same smug expression. She didn’t know how she felt about him, she hated his guts right now but the Blood Moon was screaming through her veins. She shook her head clearing all of her thoughts.

“You did well,” she mocked under her breath, kicking the toe of her boot into the ground until she had worked a small hole into it. “Still not the hardest fight you’ll ever have. If Cry’s showed up with a mark on you you’d be dead.” Ari mumbled, her voice low and mocking, not caring if Sean heard or not. “I trained harder. Well then bring it on.”
She growled her eyes focused on the ground, her lips curled into a snarl. Ari thought she had done extremely well. She had survived three fighters, defended herself and had lasted longer than expectations. She peered up at Sean from under her lashes, done throwing her tiny tantrum.

“Are we finished?” she asked tersely. “I have matters to attend to, appointments to keep.”

Sean stood crossing his arms over his chest and waiting patiently for Ari to be done mumbling and ask if they were done. He didn't want to laugh, but he couldn't help a little chuckle. "Are you finished?" He asked, raising an eyebrow. "I did put Ryan in danger, kid. There was always the possibility that you'd pick him." He wasn't in one bit fazed by the clear rage in her expression. He knew that if she didn't hate him right now he wasn't doing his job. "But yes, we are finished. I'm sure you're very busy, unlike me." He chuckled. "Try not to be late next time, lest I get creative again." He stated, beginning to walk out of the clearing as he added. "After all, I'm pretty sure you'd rather have the opportunity to take me down, no?"
“Is that a challenge?” she called, the whisper in her head letting her know that Sesh was there, ready to guide her and he began gently soothing her anger. She heard him make some snotty remark about her looking like a puffed up kitten with her anger and she reined it in. This was the reaction he wanted and her mind drifted to the diplomatic science that Alex had been teaching her about. She stood calm and collected behind Sean, her hands uncurling themselves from the balls at her sides. “It’s the day I beat you that I’ve mastered myself, at least that is what Stephan has told me. Why not today? Today is a very good day to win, no? Or are you too cowardly to face me by yourself and instead will put little boys in harm’s way to take the shot for you, Alpha?”

Her voice rang sharp across the clearing, it was bold, possibly foolish to taunt this in front of a trained killers nose, but she couldn’t resist. She longed for his praise, caved it like a starving animal though he never showed any hint to even saying her name unless it was in scolding. He didn’t respect her and so she wouldn’t respect him, not like she respected Franklin. Yes, he was the Alpha, but she was here to prove herself to him, to show her worth and it felt like she never could. So she had challenged him. Now she stood, tall and proud, her chin held high and her eyes flashing. If he took her challenge, it would be interesting to watch, but if he calmly backed away, she would hold it over him. And so she waited.
Sean stopped in his tracks and stood for a moment, his back turned to the clearing as he listened. He let silence linger for a few moments, but after that time passed, he couldn't help but release the small fit of laughter he had been holding in. It lasted for a couple of minutes before he finally turned to face Ari again, still chuckling. "Would you consider yourself a challenge right now, kiddo? Attempting to attack my pride to get me to do what you want is a rather silly way of challenging someone, no?" He smirked. "I thought you had more important things on your busy schedule? You know, matters to attend to, appointments to keep..." He teased. "I would hate to keep you any longer. Besides... I don't want you whining about being tired or wounded after I beat you." He added, turning back again to leave. "Go get some rest and take care of those little scrapes you have. You don't have to do all at once, Ari. Today, you did well. You can master yourself another day." He stated beginning to walk away towards the encampment. "And as you so love to point out, I am the Alpha, and we're at war, so I don't have the time to properly smack you around right now."

Surely, Sean would've complied and given Ari a beating for her attitude alone, wasn't for the fact that he saw this as great improvement when compared to the kid who first walked in there and lowered her head at the first given scolding. He wouldn't deny he was actually little bit proud of her, but that wasn't something he was at all willing to show so soon.
Ari watched him go, stunned into silence. Her green eyes lingered on his back and a small smile actually escaped her lips. She never whined, it just wasn’t her style, and so she knew that Sean was trying to get under her skin but she didn’t challenge him, not again. Her green eyes lingered on his back, watching him intently. She waited until he was gone before picking up the bo staff and leaning it nicely against the boulders before pulling off her clothes and ripping into a large black wolf. She lay on the ground for a moment before standing up and shaking off the pain. She then howled, a low eerie noise that rose up into the cool crisp air before dying on her lips, her nose working the air before sprinting after Sean into camp. She would go check on Alex.

[Reality]

Her face leaned against the cool touch of the tree, her eyes blinking slightly as her night vision flickered before coming back. Sesh she had lost, she remembered returning to the clearing a couple days later and finding nothing but the carving of a wolf that had a strangely feminine look. It was the size of her hand, very detailed and absolutely a beauty to look at. The she-wolf had her head thrown back into a howl, her nose dipping over her shoulder as the chest was puffed out. One paw was raised off the ground and the tail dipped low before rising in a husky’s curl. There were strange wind like marking carved into the tail and the elbows and knees of the legs. There was a pattern, stained red with what could only be blood under the eyes and along the face to spread across the body in the wind like designs again. Today that wolf sat in her window and only Alex and Stephan knew where it had come from. She sighed and blew a kiss to the wind, sending a quick prayer to the Twins to keep the boy safe. Somehow though, she knew that he was alright because she dreamt of him. Through him she watched the different ways to win a sword fight, an archery competition, a fist fight. Her feet moved deeper into the woods, bringing her further away from the safety of the Pack. She was sure that soon she would be able to beat Sean. Her stamina had increased greatly, her swordsmen ship as well. She could defend from almost any attack without using her enlightenment. Sean had been very very adamant about her keeping her enlightenment a secret. That didn’t mean that she still didn’t practice with it, in fact she did every single day. Stephan had taken control of her private training. She and Salji fought as snow leopards every day and for the first few days she returned beaten, battered and bruised. Luckily her enlightenment hid any mark of when she had injury. She sighed as she remembered the rough day of training.

[Flashback- Assassins camp: Week one]

“Clear your mind Ari,” Stephan growled at her and she lowered her black ears flat against her skull, roaring at him. “You have to become the animal entirely to beat Salji, give in to your instincts.”

Her tail flicked back and forth with erratic twitches. The cat across from her was sitting on his haunches, licking a bloody paw, his eyes sparkling blue as he looked at her face. She curled her lips at him as he purred.

“Ari/ Changer,” the cat growled, “What my bond mate says/tells/ speaks is truth. You must clear/empty your mind/head/soul of human thoughts. Become cat.”

Ari flicked her ear in annoyance; all the animals she had ever communicated with had talked just like this. The annoying choppy voice she assumed came from her human side but perhaps not. It didn’t matter anyways because it made no sense. She had been holding this form almost for a whole day. This was supposed to be her rest day but it appeared that Stephan had different plans. She stood, shaking her pelt and walked past them, her claws digging into the snow under her. Salji stopped the cleaning of his paw and watched her intently.
Stephan watched the Ari-cat leave, watching with intent eyes. He could tell that she and Salji had communicated, her ability to fight him had become better but she still hesitated on the swipes, on every moment she could make. However, Ari had made huge progress. Slowly she was losing herself within the form. She was Becoming, melding her Ari self with her animal. He could tell by the way her ears flattened across her skull and her tail movements. At first she had continued to bark, to growl, to try and speak using her voice but now she was relying more on her body to convey messages and emotions. Stephan was proud of her, she could now hold her animal form for two days without help from any type of bark and he wondered if that could very much help the Wolves. They had no horses and Sean could get a lot more done more efficiently if he was able to ride with a Wolf whenever he needed. Stephan nearly laughed at the thought of the enemy finding itself faced with not only a skilled Rider but a horse that seemed to know how to fight and dodge attacks. War horse, he laughed. Ari turned to glare at him, the shout of his laugh echoing annoying across the snow. As if in scolding, she turned and ran towards him, her body slinking across the ground as her jaws opened. Her body sprang in the air at the same moment Salji saw what she was doing and leapt for her body. Her paws curled up under her as her body twisted out of the way, almost reversing her direction backwards as Salji missed her. Stephan observed the two as they circled each other, Ari batting at the snow in front of her. Both of them had their teeth bared, the white fangs shining like daggers inside the powerful jaws. Fur bristled, hisses and swipes were thrown back and forth, each cat watching the other. Salji pounced first and Ari rose to meet him in the air, standing on her hind legs as she swiped a paw across his face, he returned the swipe with a kick, the giant tails flailing to keep the cats balanced. Salji pushed her back towards the small cliff behind her, forcing her in that direction with vicious claws and teeth. Stephan watched as she fell, tumbling off the rock. He ran forward through the snow, Salji leaping off the small rock himself. He slid off the rock, landing on the ground. What he saw made him smile.

Salji was pressed up against the wall, Ari prowling in front of him, teeth exposed. She leaped forward as the other cat made an attempt to block her. Her jaws closed around his neck and like a small kitten he went limp. She released him a moment later and he stood. Ari had done it. Beaten her foe by giving in. As she had fallen her animal instincts had ripped their way through her humanity and she had landed on her feet instead of her back. After that it was only a matter of moments until she had Salji, a much bigger snow leopard, up against the wall and later in between her teeth. She felt good, proud, and still she was able to flow between forms. The large cat watched appreciatively as she moved back into leopard form.

“Ari/Changer,” he purred, his blue eyes sparking with admiration, “you did well. It is the same for all creatures/animals/ prey. Become/change/ be them and you will succeed/win/vanquish. Stephan/ brother is proud.”
Ari turned, her eyes bright green. Stephan was smiling at her nodding in approval. Her heart warmed, this was about as much praise she received from anyone in her training. Sean rarely gave it, Alex only smiled when she did well, but Stephan was the one who made her heart glow whenever she trained. Slowly her cat form bubbled and her skin seemed to turn inside out as she began to shift. It was a horrible thing to watch, the turn of fur to flesh and the whole time she whimpered and twitched. Stephan waited until she had finished, lying there upon the snow with her eyes closed. He gently removed his cloak, throwing it up into the air and letting the light fabric settle around her. He didn’t touch her just yet; he knew that she was extremely sensitive right now to any sort of contact as her skin was brand new. That explained why scars never really marred her permanently and why marks of trauma faded into oblivion. The only thing that never left her were the markings on her face; if anything they seemed to glow brighter when she changed. He watched as her shivering ceased bending down to touch her face gently when Salji leaped forward, snarling. Stephan stepped back, his lips curling into his own snarl as the cat stood protectively over the body, tail flicking back and forth. His black ears were pressed tight against his skull and the fur along his back rippled. The cat’s massive paws were close to her skin but not touching and Stephan blushed as he realized that her skin was still very sensitive to any stimulation still.

“Alright, alright!” he growled, sitting down in the snow next to Ari and in plain sight of the cat. “You’re so freaking protective of her and she’s not even your species,” he grumbled, scooping up a bit of snow and playing with it in his hands. Salji relaxed, flicking his tail as if in annoyance, before bending his head to blow a kiss of air across Ari’s face. Stephan thought he saw her lips pull into a smile, but when he blinked her face remained perfectly relaxed. He reached out carefully, his eyes focusing on Salji as the cat watched the approach of his hand with intensity. Stephan gently touched the girl’s shoulder, watching as the cat curled his lip, before leaping over the both of them. He padded off into the trees, his fur bristling as he went out on patrol.

“Ari,” Stephan whispered, shaking her shoulder gently, “Come on Ari; we’ve talked about this recovery thing. You need to have it go faster or you’ll never be able to use it on a mission.” He heard a mumble of something, her body slowly rising off of the ground and he quickly averted his eyes until she had pulled the cloak tight around her body. The silver in her eyes was fading, the little tendrils slithering back into her pupil until none of it remained. She blinked, shaking her head and stretching out her muscles with a popping noise. Stephan flinched; he could only imagine the pain she had to deal with though it bothered her less now than it did a while back. Now that the physical part of their training was complete, she could have the rest of her day off, even though Stephan knew she would continue practicing. However as he stood to leave her hand reached up to him and pulled him back to the snow, her eyes troubled.

“Stephan, there’s something I have to tell you,” she said before leaning in and whispering her darkest secret into his ear. His eyes widened with surprise, his lips pulling into a thin line as he realized how dangerous this information could be and making a mental note to bring it up to Sean.

“You’re telling me that this….” he trailed off as she shushed him, her eyes wide with terror.

“You can’t tell a soul,” she said sternly, her eyes locked onto his until he crossed his heart. She felt a little better, such a burden was not one she liked to bear on her own, and as Stephan had taken to her Enlightenment training, she felt like he needed to know. She had told Sean many things, but not this. It was something her enemies could use against her, the one thing she couldn’t heal from. As her mind wandered upon it, she absently stroked the pink scar on her arm.

[Flashback-Assassins Camp: Week Two]

Hooves struck the earth, kicking up puffs like tornados with the sound of thunder. A throaty cry split the air, her head tossing back the obnoxious hairs that had found their way in front of her eyes as the rider on her back kicked into her sides causing her to squeal. She bucked, throwing her hooves forward and nearly throwing her rider. His hands pulled hard on the reins and forced the bit back into her mouth, his whip slapping her flesh. Ari screamed and reared, his hand pushing down on her neck forcing her back down. Her hooves twisted, her body coming to a stop as she pranced in the snow. Her black body was foamed with sweat and her muscles trembled under her. Her nostrils flared and her eyes rolled, the beautiful silver tinged with green. Her rider smiled, reaching down to gently stroke her neck, his large hand offering what little comfort it could against the gash in her side and the bloody spittle that foamed from her lips. She groaned as he gently squeezed with his knees, forcing her to walk forward. The saddle squeezed her body and the unfamiliar weight of carrying someone frightened her. The bit forced her to move around, tugging her lip and pulling her head one-way. Her body obligingly moved. Her tail drooped, her head low as her nose brushed the ground, too exhausted to hold it up anymore. Stephan watched from the tree, having watched his rider try Ari. His eyes burned, and he snarled swinging down from his branch. This was the fifth rider he had tired, the first one to have not been thrown by Ari’s terror. He had no experiences with the horses that were wild except when eating them so he didn’t even bother trying to ride her. His rider turned to stare down at him, his black hair hanging in his face, loose from the pony tail. His face was calm and he rode the Ari-horse with unmatched confidence, his hand on his thigh.

“I told you any horse could be broken, even a mare like this one,” he called tapping Ari on her shoulder with a loud slap. She stopped, and snorted, her eyes narrowing. “I’ll take her now as my reward, just like you promised.” He jerked on the reins, forcing her head to move as he chomped on the bit. She tensed as be bent forward slightly to see her face. The reins went slack. She twisted her head, grabbing hold of the reins and jerking them from his hands. He gripped with his knees as she reared up; tangling his hands into her hair as she leaned even further back. She screamed a challenge, her hooves striking the air as her back hit the ground, her grounded rider now rolling out of the way. It took her a moment to pull herself up to her feet. Her head snaked out toward the man in royal clothes. Her teeth missed inches from his flesh as he bolted, instead grabbing a mouthful of his clothes and ripping them. She snorted with pride as he bolted before trotting back to Stephan. Ari was immensely proud of herself, her eyes shining bright as she rubbed her head against Stephan’s back.

“That’s the fifth guy you’ve thrown today,” he laughed, reaching up to rub the velvety feeling of her nose. “”I don’t think you’re ever going to be ridden well enough by those you don’t allow.”
She tossed her head, whinnying into the air as he gently took the reins that were dragging on the ground. Ari shook, casting off what remained of the riders that had taken her challenge. She knelt, giving Stephan an easy way up onto her back and he took it, gripping lightly with his knees as she stood. He was not like the other riders, treating her like an animal but rather as the person she was. She wouldn’t dream about throwing him as they rode into the Pack Camp. People froze in what they were doing staring up at the big black horse that had wandered so casually into camp with Stephan on top. He guided her toward his cabin, dismounting at the door with a flourish before entering.
Ari stood outside, shaking her head with the jingle of bells, slightly changing her appearance to make her fetlock longer, the feathers around her feet thicker and her hair longer. People were staring curiously at her, a couple kids wandering over to gently touch her muscled flanks. She once again saw the kid who had given her his role and she bent her head to gently bump his hand with her nose. However, before he could respond to the pushing of her nose, the cabin door opened Stephan exited. The kids fled, the Wolves returning to what they were doing in the first place. She tossed her head, taking a step back as Stephan gently took hold of her reins. She peered out from behind her fetlock, her eyes hidden beneath the black tangle of hair. She stood perfectly still as Stephan looked towards her, his thoughts unreadable.
Stephan was proud of the way she looked. She had filled herself out while he was inside, slightly alternating her appearance. She was much bigger than she had been, her sleek coat sliding over her thick muscles. Her coat shone with health and her hair fell down across her withers in neat waves. Her tail nearly dragged on the ground and was likewise wavy. Her huge feet were now hidden by white feathers and on her nose, there was a white mark that almost looked like a wolf’s head. Stephan ran his hand over her withers and flank, her head bowing slightly to look up at him from under her fetlock. He smiled as her body twitched, further showing how toned she was. Ari let out a low whicker, her velvet lips brushing over Stephan’s hand gently as if looking for a treat. Her head then tucked into her chest, her beautiful long neck arching as the light flickered across her coat. Stephan smiled and mounted back up riding her back out into the woods as fast as possible. He pulled her back through the trees, bringing her to a small deer path that wove between the tall trunks. He let her loose then, and she roared forward, running until she couldn’t go any faster. This was the joy of her enlightenment and Stephan had shown her that. There was nothing and no one that could stand in her way, not like this. She felt the power surging through her veins and she tossed her head, hearing the shout from Stephan as he clung to her mane. She didn’t stop. She was free.

[Reality]

Ari nearly giggled, her eyes settling back down to the emerald green shade they normally were. Training with Stephan was always a joy and now that she had grown up just a little, it was normal for her to train with Sean. She had stopped flirting with him, choosing now to remain silent unless spoken to, choosing to answer with a nod or a shake of her head. She had some wisdom now, that was no problem and she had proved herself to many Wolves the night the Crimson had attacked. Just a freaking recruit had turned the tide on a fight, saved two lives and had taken many, in fact it was a night just like tonight, cool, crisp and foreboding.

[Flashback- Forest: Week Two]

Ari woke in a cold sweat, her body twisted and wrapped in the sheet that lightly hid her body. She was alone and her eyes blinked as she adjusted them to the blackness that the Twins had cast across the skies. Something wasn’t quite right and she hurriedly got up out of bed. Earlier in training that morning, Sean had told her something about the Crimson attacking sporadically and a hunt was going out every night to cover the basic inlay of the camp and keep the sleeping Wolves safe. She crammed her feet down into her boots, pulling them up above the knee before securing them tightly around her calf. Her shirt quickly followed and as she hurried out the door, she had snatched up her bow and quiver. The door closed silently behind her and like a ghost she ran past the other cabins, rushing down a small deer path that she had found previously and into a clearing where she kept her greatest treasure. The horse wasn’t sleeping when she arrived, its big black neck curved in an arch as it galloped around inside the small arena she had build from fallen trees. Ari passed through the thicket, raising her hands as the horse came charging towards her, sliding to a stop a couple inches away from her.

“Easy boy, easy,” she whispered stroking the stallion’s neck and rubbing his forehead. She slipped under his chin, wrapping her arms around the sweaty neck as the horse quivered against her. Sean didn’t know a thing about this, neither did Alex and Stephan was too busy readying himself for his trip back up to the mountains to spend much time with her anymore. He was her little secret, her treasure. “Sheggar,” she crooned, backing away from the horse she had trained when she was little. His black hooves struck the ground, his muscled body twitching at every noise as his ears swiveled and his nostrils flared. Something was definitely not right and she quickly snatched up the bridal from the hole in the tree. He took the bit willingly, opening his mouth to receive it and bending his head down so she could simply slide his ears under the leather. She walked over to the gate, Sheggar’s body staying in the center of the ring until she had walked back over. He knelt to the ground as she slid her leg up and over his bare back, her knees gripping his sides as her fingers wound into his mane and gripped the reins.

“Ha,” she hissed, giving him a little kick with her heels and he surged under her. His back body burst through the trees, stretching out as he galloped toward the danger. He was a war horse, her war horse and tears fell across her smiling lips as his hair lashed against her face. Rider and horse became one, moving and breathing together, finding the paths and trusting each other to lead the other to safety. They were a team and Ari felt her spirit soar as together they slowed to a walk. The warning hit her hard then and she dismounted, tying the horse to the tree before climbing up it. From the height she was at she could clearly see the forest floor, but nothing moved. She began springing from tree to tree until she saw a Wolf, perched, his head bent as his bow was drawn. She made it to him, and he started looking up into her face and the bow on her back.

“Two trees over, wait for the signal,” he growled and she obediently moved to do so. She made no sound, disturbing nothing as she used her Enlightenment slightly. She crouched against the oaks trunk, stringing her bow and knocking an arrow.
Ari’s green eyes watched sadly as the Crimson attackers moved silently beneath her tree, following the path on which she had, not only moments before, had been walking on. Her eyes flickered silver and her teeth sharpened, becoming more catlike. It wasn’t until the last Crimson had moved past her, that the signal was given. Her arm pulled back, the bow groaning softly as it stretched and bent before she loosed the arrow. It sang through the air, a soft hum before the scream split the silent air. Her arrow had dug its barbed head into the thick muscles of the man’s back. The party turned, several running back to check their fallen comrade, falling right back into the trap. People screamed as arrows fell down upon them in a rain, several of the Crimson breaking away to flee out of range, some trying to draw their bows and throw daggers up into the trees, only a few of the random shots hitting home as her own people’s screams joined the Crimson. She continued to shoot down into the swarming mass of people, her arrows flying straight and true as Ari made sure she was hitting her targets instead of the Wolves that had leapt from the bushes to join the fray. There was the harsh clash of steal against steal and the gurgle of people whose throats had been cut and their screams never reached their lips. She was quick, her arrows sliding through the air like ghosts, burying their heads into a Crimson who stood behind a Wolf his baked raised and ready to strike the woman down. She saw the sharp nod of thanks from the woman before she dove back in, her blades shining black in the night. Her arrows were able to save a few but still she gagged as a scream punctured the air. Her hand swayed as her eyes caught the horror of the skirmish and the silent glide of a Crimson as it fled into the woods. Cursing she released and arrow but it veered wide and vanished into the darkness of the night. A horse screamed as she sprang from tree to tree, her eyes burning the same bright silver of the nonexistent moon, their light beautiful and deadly. Her clothing ripped and she shifted on the fly, her black body slinking forward as her cat paws dug and gripped at the bark of the trees. Her bow was draped across her chest, between her paws and up along her stomach. Her quiver was tight against her back as well; the stretchy band that Stephan had created had shrunk to tightly hold her quiver in place. She followed silently until the Crimson had come to a stop. His head turned to look over his shoulder, his chest rising and falling as his eyes looked back over his shoulder toward the screaming of the skirmish. She growled and leapt from the tree, landing on top of the warrior and digging her claws into his shoulders. He roared as his body went down, her paws pushing free and back into the darkness of the trees. She completed a quick shift, something she had been privately working on and she drew a long shirt from her quiver, pulling it over her head as she stepped forth from the bushes, her bow resting by her side. He was standing, his sword drawn and ready in front of him.
They circled each other their eyes locking and their bodies trembling, only one was coming out alive. He darted forward and slashed upwards catching her off guard. Her bow had caught the brunt of the force, the blade clipping into the bow and causing a knock into the soft wood. His hand moved quickly, with inhuman speed as he jerked his sword free and raised it above his head. She barely had time to dive out of the way before the sword cut into the earth where she had stood only a moment before. He cut, dove and sliced his way around her. She dodged and dove, each time his sword coming closer to her. With a sudden outburst he charged at her arm before stopping and instead kicking her to the ground. She looked up along the shiny metal of the steel into the eyes of the man as he pressed the tip of his sword into her neck.

“What do we have here,” he taunted, kicking away the bow from her hand as he pressed his sword harder against her skin. “What are you,” he growled his eyes glimmering with mischief.

“I’d rather die than tell you,” she cried as his sword sliced a small line into her neck, her eyes widening with fear.

“You’re a Shifter Ari, a most rare and delicate gift indeed,” the blade of the sword moved up to her nose, flicking away a strand of hair from her face. “You know that no one knows you’re here right, that I could kill you quickly or personally deliver you to Dastan and Indrani and the Wolves wouldn’t know until your blood soaked the sand. Tell me Ari, do you fear me yet?” He smirked, the corners of his mouth twitching with the hint of a smile as moved away, carefully pulling his sword away from her but keeping it in hand. She sat up at his urging, her eyes locked on to him as he paced around her. Something in the way he walked was familiar, the way he moved and it was then that she noticed that his side was torn open and bleeding quickly. She watched until he stopped in front of her again, bending down and burying the tip of his sword into the dirt. He reached up and pulled his hood from his face, smiling wickedly down at her, her heart going cold. Hair fire red, eyes green as pine and skin as freckled as a baby deer’s back, Alex peered out at her from behind his wild hair.

“Like it?” he said spreading his arms and smiling. As she moved to hit him his arms moved, pushing her shoulders back and pinning her to the earth.

“Traitor,” she screamed, her body twisting under his.

“Enough Ari,” he growled, a sad smile crossing his lips, “You mistake me my love. Sean asked me to help guide them here, to bring them to the trap, I was kidding about bringing you to the Crimson, but you shouldn’t be out here. Not alone.” He waited until she had quieted under him, nodding her head before slowly letting her up. Ari settled, willing to believe him because her nose and instinct told her to. Besides, he was bleeding pretty badly and he needed medical attention. He stood with a groan, sheathing his sword and laying his hand across his side. “I need to get back to camp, as quickly as possible Ari, perhaps…”

Ari shook her head, she wasn’t about to shift for this, her pride was hurt and she pulled herself up. It wasn’t a moment later that a Crimson came running from the trees, her eyes flickering to Alex and then back to Ari.

“Alex…stop toying with her and get it over with,” she snarled, her blade dripping with blood. She saw the confused look on Ari’s face as Alex stood and walked over to her, placing his arm over her shoulder. She could hear them whispering, seemingly to argue when he turned back, drawing his dagger from his pocket. Ari pushed herself back, her eyes narrowing.

“Alex…”

“Tell me you didn’t give her the whole, ‘Sean sent me here’ speech. You did! And the wolf girl fell for it?” the girl smiled her eyes laughing lightly, “Oh sweetie, you really thought that he was on your side? Well it seems that Cry’s really can get to anyone huh, should have listened to Sean.”

Ari blanched, her heart breaking as her dagger left her hand and collided with the woman’s chest with a sickening crack as blood frothed from her lip as she collapsed to the earth. Alex turned away from the body and a moment later, his life was taken too. Ari turned; giving a sharp whistle as Sheggar came running from the brush. Her ‘War’ horse, reared up, pawing the air before walking close towards her and bowing his head as tears from her eyes fell upon his velvety nose.
She had killed one of her own, but even she knew that Alex had been missing for quite some time. He was her first friend, the best fighter she had known and now he was dead. She wasn’t sure that he would willingly go against his own family after doing so much for her and her training, and so she pulled Sheggar forward, forced him into the kneel that she had taught him and dragged Alex’s limp body onto the black horses back, the arrow that had killed him snapping in two. She pulled herself up behind the body, kicking her heels into Sheggar’s side and riding forward towards camp. On horseback it didn’t take long and she soon rode straight into the midst of the Wolves, all roused from their sleep by the sounds of fighting. Sean was up as well, looking none at all collected this morning. She dismounted, taking a cloak to gently drape over Alex’s dead body. She approached Sean, not bothering to hide her tears as her fingers clutched desperately at the bow in her hand and the reins in her other. Her quiver lay empty across her back, attesting to her joining in the battle but she didn’t care. So it was that she walked forward in the early morn, already her day seemed bleak.

"War always takes a toll." The most spoken phrase in the history of Valcrest it seemed, but never more true. The fighting had died down and now the Crimson that were left alive were retreating back to the desert, leaving their dead behind. Sean was torn between the honorable gesture of letting the mercenaries claim their dead or the gesture that truly expressed his current feelings, which would be using the corpses to feed the campfire, or the forest animals. If he spoke only for himself he'd choose the latter, but as he spoke for the clan he was bound to do the honorable thing and leave the enemy's fallen warriors by their border to be properly laid to rest.

At this point Sean was hearing accounts of injured and dead coming from several Wolves who simply passed him with a word or two of information. Workers had been ordered to aid in gathering bodies and aiding the injured. Those with medical knowledge or skills, were tending to wounds the best they could, since the Pack and the White Shadows were currently estranged. When it seemed everything was going to finally be quiet for a little bit, the ever increasing sounds of murmurs reached his ears and his head turned in the direction they were coming from. In the exact moment he caught sight of Ari and then the sight of the dead body she was bringing along with her, whispered words caught his ears. "Sean... It's Alex." Sean didn't turn to look at the person who gave him the information, but he recognized the voice as being Donovan's. At first glance one could assume that both Ari and Alex had a run-in with the Crimson and he ended up dead. One would assume that, but Sean could tell by just looking at the girl that it hadn't been as simple as that, so when two Wolves moved towards Alex, he waited for them to lay the man down near the fire and for one of them to check his pulse and make sure the man was really dead, but halted them before they took him to be prepared for burial. "Leave him for now." He stated simply. The men flinched slightly, but obeyed.

Sean heaved a weary sigh and walked past Ari, finding Franklin and whispering something to him before finally turning his attention to the recruit. Feeling now the stares of the Pack becoming more numerous and more intense, he simply put a firm grip on her shoulder and led her into the leaders cabin. Once the door closed he released her and moved to sit across the wooden table. "Alright, Kid... What happened? He asked, looking up at her.
Ari watched as Alex was taken away, hearing the mumbles from the Wolves. She didn’t take her eyes off of his body, not even as Sean took her by the shoulder and lead her away into
his cabin. Ari didn’t want him to see her cry and she slowly tried to pull it together sending an angry swipe across her face. The grime for the battle was smeared across her face and she looked at the Alpha sadly.

“I killed him,” she whispered, a horrified sound in her voice.

Sean sighed, a slightly bitter chuckle escaping him at the answer. "Yes, that much I could tell for myself." He went silent for a moment, watching her expression as if trying to read the story in her eyes. "Listen, Ari, You have lied to me a lot since you got here. There are times when I can overlook that, because assassins have secrets and that's just a given fact. No one who wanders in here comes from a happy place or is fond of sharing, so... I overlook things here and there when circumstances allow. This is different, however. You killed a Wolf, and an Active assassin of this clan. I know that, the people outside know that, and had Alex lived whatever he said happened would most likely be accepted as the truth. He can't speak for himself however, do I'm left to decide what the truth is, and your words are all you have to shield you now, so use them wisely. This is not a test; you know what the punishment is for traitors." Having said that he stood and wandered into his room, less than twenty seconds with a bowl of water and a clean cloth, which he sat on the table before sitting again. "Sit down, wipe your face clean, take a breath, and then tell me what happened."

Ari took a sharp breath, or more like several before she had the courage to sit down and reach out for the cloth and dip it into the bowl to wash the grossness from her face. It was only then she realized that she had a gash above her eye brow that was dripping blood down across her cheek and some into her eyes. She held the cloth to it, gritting her teeth at the pain that was there. She knew there would also be a direct knife line on her throat and it occurred to her that she just might be able to manage to pull it off with just that little bit of evidence. When she was sue that she could hold her voice steady she began to tell her side of the story, sticking straight to the details, no emotion in her voice.

“He...was with them, the Crimson and he claimed that you had asked him to lead the Crimson into the trap. I...I believed him and so I didn’t attack until a girl came out of the woods and she was obviously a Crimson. They went off, talking or arguing and I couldn’t hear them. He... came back and then attacked. I didn’t hesitate, I couldn’t they would have shredded me,” she cried, hysteria rising in her voice. She steadied herself again, seeing the look on Sean’s face. “I killed her first and a moment later my arrow pierced his chest. I panicked and shot, but he was already walking toward me. I didn’t stand a chance Sean. If you need me too I can take you back to the woman, show you exactly what happened and then you could see for yourself what happened. Or if that still concerns you then please, by all means send in a telepath to read my mind, I’ll willingly do it too. I would have run Sean, not come back here to face the punishment.”

Her eyes were pleading, her face a mask against the emotions threatening to boil up inside of her as she removed the red blood from the cloth with a quick rinse in the water in the bowl. She focused her attention there, doing the repetitive emotion to help calm her nerves. Every sound made her jump though and it took an amazing amount of energy to keep her from bursting into a cascade of tears.

“He was my friend,” she whispered, flinching as someone walked past the door.

Sean leaned against the table as he listened, unable to conceal just how tired he was, but his eyes were not losing track of Ari for a split second as she spoke. "He was your friend." He repeated, once she went silent. "Alright, well, I already have asked Franklin to read your mind... He says it works better if you don't expect it... And I don't find it at all hard to believe Alex would have done this. As you know, the clan is currently split, not even those on our side are entirely on our side or permanently on our side. It's just how it is." He stated simply. "Perhaps he was your friend up until that moment, Kid. Maybe he would still be your friend today and for a few more days if you hadn't been there. However, the moment he took a stand on the other side, he wasn't your friend anymore. If he was a traitor, then you did the right thing." He stood from his seat and walked to the door slowly. "You'll take Franklin with you to the woman you killed, he'll be just outside and I advise to not go anywhere without him for now." He told her, walking out of the cabin and closing the door after himself.

Heads turned and people stopped in their tracks as they saw the Alpha walk towards the body. Sean didn't give much explanation; all was very clear when he knelt down next to the fallen Wolf and removed the ring from his right hand. As he stood he simply muttered an order to one of the men who had laid Alex down by the fire. "Take him to be buried with the others." Alex was not formerly accused of treason, it couldn't be proven, and the man was unable to tell his side of things, therefore he would still be buried as a Wolf, but he wouldn't take his ring with him to the Afterlife.

Ari kept her eyes on her hands, looking up at Sean as he left and then she stood, placing the rag down on the table. She could have shifted, could have changed to heal the wounds in her neck and face but she would rather the wolves see it and decide that she was innocent. She stared out at the people, taking a steadying breath before stepping out the door and walking straight to Franklin, she didn’t want to have anything to do with Alex’s body but she couldn’t help but spare him a glance. Her lips parted in a silent prayer, a blessing, forgiveness.

[ Wolf Pack Camp]

Ari still didn’t know how Alex could betray them like that, how he could betray her. His death was meaningless and it stung like fire when she thought about it today, salt in a wound. He was just a boy for the love of Twins! Though Ari looked towards the sky, she knew that he was up there, laughing down upon the Wolves with hatred unmatched. That’s what she had seen in his dying breath, a look of triumph and of hatred.
Were her people really that hated? Did they even deserve the hatred directed at them? Ari thought not and she shook her head forcefully as her eyes caught sight of the deep rich brown coloring of a hawk. It made her think of Phantom and her hand reached up to gently touch the beautiful necklace that the strange sprite had given her. They had met in Newhaven on one of her training missions and Ari couldn’t help but to remember how much they were connected. Sisters almost. She stroked the stone, smiling as she remembered that day.

[Flashback-Newhaven: Week three]
“We have received your order, we will dispatch the birds this afternoon with the messages,” the man whispered in her ear. Ari was sitting at the tavern drinking her usual when her man came up out of nowhere to personally deliver the message. However, his appearance was extremely dangerous.

“It’s been too long,” she whispered as he took a seat next to her, raising his finger to alert the bartender to his needs. She took a long sip of her own drink as the bartender slid the man a large glass. The man didn’t pause to snatch his drink and he brought the brew to his lips.

“Delivering the message is my obligation,” he said into his drink before taking a sip. Ari snickered at the look on his face. Only the drink could ruin his day and confuse him. Even she couldn’t screw it up unless she started something here and now.

“Please give the plans to Stephan and me,” she said, finishing her drink quickly.

“I will send the message to Sean and you,” he growled, obviously not at all pleased with having another person involved in the transportation of the information. “It’s very dangerous to be dealing in this and laws are laws Ari. Your little scheme could cost the Pack.”

“You can’t leave a Wolf behind but I’m sure there have been plenty of Wolves that are now rotting in the ground where they shouldn’t be. I’ve left a wolf. I haven’t been arrested,” she muttered, now playing with the rim of her cup. “Besides, Sean is too busy with his own planning to worry much about me. I expect those birds soon.”
Ari stood, tossing some coins down onto the table before noting the small piece of pie she had ordered before she had been disrupted. Sprinkled with some sort of spice, Ari loved the pie. However, she left the thing lying on the table, pushing it towards the hooded figure next to her. With that, she left.
The dealings were done, Sean should receive a bird saying she had completed the task given to her but she would get something much grander. She and Franklin had been in the city for two days. The whole week however was spent in the cities and already she longed for the openness of the woods and the freedom they offered. Blackpond had been the main stay of their trip. It was there that she had learned of the many different hiding places, people she could trust and who to be aware of. It was one of the last places she wanted to return to though. Newhaven she had already explored on her own, and Franklin had let her roam loose, letting her arrange the mission in a tavern of her choosing and to her own devices. She had to contact the man she was looking for, set up the meeting and then make sure everything was in order and surprisingly, the Wolves that were supposed to be keeping an ear out to see how well she could do this hadn’t heard a thing otherwise they would have jumped her or her ‘informant’.

She pulled her brown hood tighter around her face, a smile spreading across her lips and she merged into the market crowd. It was done. She had won without a fight and she wanted to laugh with joy. Her shoulder collided with another and both turned a quick apology escaping lips at the same time. The two girls’ eyes locked and without another word, Ari was dragged willingly across the square and into a side alley. There was no fight to be had, both were just amazed to see each other here of all places.
Phantom had been hit while walking around, buying things for Kirsten and his minions, held on a short leash since she had been initiated to him. There wasn’t any hope for her, not now. Or at least that is what she thought until she had run into the green eyed girl. She snatched her hand, pulling her towards the alley and the girl followed willingly. Now here they stood, face to face, both of them smiling at each other.

“I dreamt about you,” Ari whispered, her smile radiant in the dark.

“I’ve been searching for you for moons now Green Eyes,” Phantom gushed, “Call me Phantom.”

The two studied each other, not understanding really what brought them together but Ari trusted in the Twins and she was willing to embrace their path for her. The two on silent agreement exited the alley, perfectly content to walk along in silence.

“What brings you here Green Eyes,” Phantom asked gently.

“I'm training to become a Wolf,” she answered simply, shrugging her shoulders. They walked the rest of the way in silence, both learning about each other from just the movements and the dreams they had of each other. There were no more spoken words, just a built understanding, and a friendship coming from nowhere. Phantom stopped before the road that led to the Night Hunters residence, tuning back to Green Eyes.

“I have a feeling that we’ll be in touch Green Eyes,” Phantom said with a smile watching as the girl nodded and then began to walk away, “Wait!”

Ari turned back, watching as the woman with silver hair set her basket down upon the ground reaching up to pull something around her neck to give it gently to her. Ari took it and watched the girl disappear before opening her hand to find a beautifully sculpted silver dragon, curling around a ball that at first looked blue but slowly became green in her hand. Ari tucked the trinket into her pocket before melding back into the crowd.

[Reality]

Ari still didn’t know what Sean thought when he had received the bird telling the whole thing. Things that Franklin had told she had been tested on were: set up, presentation, communication, meeting point, exit, and if any of the Wolves had heard about the meeting. She hadn’t so much gotten a good job and it occurred to her that she should approach Sean and ask him that. She smiled and decided it was time to head back when Stephan came bolting from the trees. She screamed but his hands covered her mouth before the sound could actually resonate and awake the sleeping Wolves.

“Ari! Ari, please be quiet,” he cried, eyes wide until she calmed in his gasp. “Come with me fast! We’re going on a trip just for you.”
His eyes were bright so Ari didn’t hesitate to send a sharp whistle to the sharpness of the night. She was answered with a low whicker and a moment later Sheggar came running from the trees. Together they both mounted up Ari’s bow resting across her lap as the rode off into the night. Sheggar loved the night rides and Ari just adored them. She had to be careful though; Sean didn’t exactly like the idea of a horse running around camp. She was uncomfortably aware of how close Stephan was behind her, his body pressed tightly against hers as he guided them toward the place where he was taking her.

It was a long ride and Ari was very happy to dismount. Sheggar was panting and Stephan turned to her, smiling happily at her.

“There’s and Archery game going on in a camp not too far from here. But unfortunately they don’t like Wolves very much which means you’re going to get in there as something else,” Stephan smiled as a grin spread across her face and she listened eagerly as they went over a plan to get her in past the guards. Then after a short time sleeping, the plan was set into action and Ari’s journey began.

Essence didn’t budge when Tala awoke from slumber and quietly stepped over Ess, snout first peeking out the folds of the tent. If someone saw the scene, the wolf stood as if a statue, inching bit by bit until her head only peeked outside the tent, a constant breath cloud appearing from the end of her nose against the early morning chill. One paw pressed against the frosted ground and she paused, ears twitching on alert. The fire was still burning away, crackling through the pine which gave off a comforting aroma even Tala took the time to sniff at before she was fully revealed to the night. Something or someone was about that she was not familiar with, catching the scent her furry body huffed in a muffled bark before she sprinted away from the tent and over the bridge away from camp.

The wolf began her rounds on the outskirts of the camp, passing through a trial that was guarded by archers and such hiding in the trees. “..Look another wolf...” A male voice whispered from above.

“No....that’s Tala, you idiot...” A woman’s voice retorted.

Tala paused, not quite understanding what the voices had said, except she understood ‘wolf’ was another name for her. She sat momentarily on her haunches, tilting her head up at the trees as if she were going to speak to them. A minute of silence went by and when she looked back along the ground, the wolf picked up a curious trail along another set of paw prints in the bits of snow left amidst the traffic that trail received. Tala tilted her head back, blue sapphire eyes closing as she released a lonely, almost eerie howl into the night.
Stephan had mastered the mental training and he had, as she had slept, poured his wisdom into her own mind, teaching her how to calm herself and deal with the pressure that he had a feeling that Ari had made it. The guards hadn’t done a thing as she slipped past, the bow and the clothes she would need were tied nicely to her underbelly, the rope hidden in her fur. When she was sure she had just made it past she slid out of the contraption, letting it fall to the ground with a muffled click. An eerie howl sounded and she raised her black mussel to answer. It was a wolf, there was no doubt about that and Ari assured herself by sending her own call higher and higher until it hit a screaming note. There she cut the call, the sound lingering in her ears, haunting and dark. She nosed at the parcel, her black ears swiveling in the dark when another wolf howled again. Ari felt the longing of her animal instincts and so she ran forward through the trees, hoping that the sight of a wild wolf would make her brave, able to face down her fear. She ran out her eyes burning silver as her tongue lolled from her mouth, colliding with a white wolf. She tried to stop, her paws scrabbling against the ground as the sharp scent of humans overwhelmed her. The snow was hard like ice and she slid across it, yelping as the snow cut her paws.

“Watch out,” she barked, her shoulder connecting with the wolf’s own and knocking both of them to the ground.

Tala wagged her tail when the night cried out in response to her call, bolting forward at her maximum speed, enticed by the sound of kindred she soon tore through naked pricker bushes only to collide with another wolf. A startled yelp escaped her as she spun around in a circle, her claws curled, trying to stop herself, finally rolling to a halt on her side. Tala whined at the black wolf before getting to her feet, instantly her nose began grazing fur, picking up a curious scent causing her to sneeze suddenly. Tilting her head in a slight daze, Tala readied herself on all fours the hair along her back spiking up at attention as she barked furiously at the other wolf. It didn’t make sense to Tala why this creature looked like her but the smell was off...that and she was in ‘her’ territory. After a moment she paused to sniff in the wolf’s direction once again, as if she was second guessing her blue eyes.
Ari wrinkled her nose, her canines flashing in the moonlight as she got a whiff of the wolf in front of her. She smelled strongly like humans but yet there was no doubt that she was a full blooded wolf. Ari quickly came to the conclusion that this wolf belonged to someone at the camp and she slowly wagged her tail, lowering herself to her stomach and crawling forward to lick under the she-wolfs mussel. She whimpered an apology, before standing to her full height. It was with some great amusement, that she was much taller than the wolf that stood a few paces away and she couldn’t help the humanlike laugh that came from her lips. Her black nose slowly worked the air; her silver eyes flashing as she quickly figured out that she would have to remain on her best wolfish behavior if she was to survive this encounter. Oh Ari was sure she could take on the white wolf, erm grey now that she stood closer, but it was the humans that could be within earshot that worried her most. She gave a wolfish grin, not knowing what to say or do.

Aiden knew he should have gone to bed hours ago but he couldn’t get his mind to simmer down. Not being able to shake that feeling Luke left him with, he had taken to the Captain’s words and was keeping an eye on things, which meant watching Ess and Tala from a distance or up close. It was obvious most of the time when he was around, as he wasn’t one for spying and didn’t want to come off as a creep. Ess may not have been fond of it per say, but she didn’t say anything to Aiden about it, not even once.

Aiden had just reached his cabin, determined to fight his insomnia when a familiar howl erupted the darkness, sending a shiver through his spine accompanied by a solemn smile which he quickly shut as his dried lips cracked from the winter chill. At first he thought nothing of Tala’s song until it lingered longer than expected as if it were searching. He turned about, pulling his hood tighter around his neck as another strange howl answered back in a mournful cry. Without a word he shuffled through the snow in the direction of the wolves, a few moments later distant barks blended into a painful icy wind. He would cut across the tiny cliffs and cabins imbedded into the hills, crossing the bridge away from the center of camp.

Tala whined, her tail wagging on and off in spurts as she twitched her head not quite letting the other wolf touch her per say. After a moment, as if satisfied she yipped dripping her head and front legs into the snow, her tail end rocking back and forth happily, pouncing left to right of the her new friend. Prancing circles around the wolf she bounded off expecting chase, drifts of snow catching in the wind as she tossed it aside in her play.

Ari was thrilled. Here she was playing with a wolf, a domesticated one but a wolf none the less. Momentarily she forgot about the contest, finding herself full of energy that she had spent last night training with Stephan. She consoled herself with the knowledge that she was technically training and she leaped forward. She barked, running forward past the wolf, her body stretched out, a black streak against the snow. She tuned, bounding back, her paws slapping the snow. The two played, tangling with each other, spraying each other with snow and spinning and whirling with the snapping of teeth and the sharp barks that cut through the cold air, the ice crystals breaking under the weight and harsh tears that the Wolves dug into the snow.

Aiden followed the sounds towards the river, gushing and bubbling beneath the bridge, he came to a stop just as he crossed, leaning against a wooden pole tied to the rope railing. Carmel eyes sparkled listening to the wolves play in the distance, tiny figures appearing along the tree line as they broke through into a clearing. A sombre smile curled his lips as he stood for some time, basking in the comfort and tranquillity Tala was feeling at that moment. He would have never been able to understand how free she felt at that moment unless he could ‘hear her.’ Tala chose to stay with people for the most part, the profound love she had for her friend Ess was something Aiden may have been a bit jealous of, not every knowing what that felt like. But in that moment he understand how ‘guilt free’ so to speak, Tala felt for giving in to her instincts and focus only on the moment and not where Ess was that second.

Gradually Tala and her furry companion made their way closer to the river, Tala leaping clear over the larger wolf barking as if to command her to follow. The winds had changed and Tala could smell Aiden just at the bridge, her mind reaching out to his as she whined up at him, nuzzling his hand when she finally found her way at his side. Sitting on her haunches, panting heavily her tongue curled out of her mouth like a snake, misty breath clouds fogging in front of Aiden’s face as he squatted beside Tala to scratch between her ears. “Who’s your friend Tala?”
She turned her head barking at the black wolf behind her, showing her the human was not a threat.

Ari was confused. One moment they had been playing through the snow, snapping at each other’s paws and tail and ears, not a care in the world, and then the white wolf had left. Now she was alone. The moon smiled down at her, her black pelt shining in the soft bathe of its light. Her ears priced forward, her black paws shifting nervously on the crust beneath them, the crunch of the snowflakes ringing in her ears. The halo around the moon covered most of the sky, vanishing from time to time behind the light dusting of clouds that helped block the radiance of the stars. Wind ruffled her fur, its cold fingers working its way deep into her pelt and touching the skin with a shiver. The trees behind her lay dead and bare to the elements, having shed their colourful coats long ago. Their white bark was no match for the luminosity of the snow which cast the moonlight back up upon Ari. From afar it looked like she was shining, her silver eyes matching the bright radiance of the snow around her body. The wind whispered through the trees and for a moment Ari thought she caught sight of Salji running through the dark needles of the pines behind her. His bright blue eyes were locked on hers but in a flash of black spots he was gone, and Ari was never quite sure if she had actually seen the big snow leopard or had only wished that he was there. She leaped forward out of her trance as she heard what she thought was the twang of a bow, followed by a scream. Ari bolted after Tala, her much bigger body quickly overtaking the other wolf. The eeriness of the woods fled and was replaced with the pounding of her feet against the snow, the flap of her pink tongue as it lolled from her mouth and the whips of breath that formed little clouds but were ripped apart before they could truly come together. She slowed her mad dash as she carefully picked her way over the boulders and toward what looked like a bridge. She slowly followed Tala across, wondering if it was just another chase before she slid to a grinding halt. Ari smelled the human, her ears flatting against her skull, her lips curling into a snarl before seeing that obviously this wolf knew him. Her black nose worked the air, not relaxing as her body padded closely forward. Tala. So that was the wolf’s name. She shook her pelt and her eyes gleamed. Thank the twins, maybe this would be her ticket in. She extended her nose out to the man’s outstretched hand, shying away as his mind brushed against hers. Het long black tail tucked between her legs, and she whimpered. If the man had been standing, Ari’s head would have been almost level with his hips, but as of now he was below her. Her silver eyes peered into his own, never once blinking as she assessed him, before opening her mind up to him, flooding him with thoughts, sensations, and a sense of being trapped.
Aiden’s eyes widened at the unusually large wolf before him, his fingers not reaching further as he wanted her to come to him. He let her take in his scent, keeping perfectly still expect for his eyes and smile as he took in the strange wolf’s silver gaze catching the moonlight, the comforting orb sneaking peeks out from behind the cloud cover. “Hey there...I won’t hurt you....Tala would kill me.” He snickered, Tala yipping in agreement while she moved to sit behind her new friend, the obvious size difference was indeed quite comical. Aiden’s brows narrowed a bit perplexed as he tried to read the black wolf, getting mixed emotions that were not quite normal in comparison to Tala there. Something was voided from instinct, conflicting with the fear he most certainly saw and sensed. It was almost as if there were two...“What...are you?” Aiden whispered in awe, unable to understand the creature when he should of, just as easily as breathing came to him. Turning towards Tala they shared a brief moment, Aiden simply nodding; it wasn’t in satisfaction but more the passing of any tension that may have lingered inside him of a present threat. “Tala seems to like you....” His continued to whisper, his voice resonant and mellow in a similar tone he took with the children of the camp.

Ari took a step back before sitting on her haunches; she didn’t really know what to do. Communicating her predicament would be difficult and she didn’t want to end up with a dagger in her throat tonight, not while there was still life pumping strongly through her veins. Of course could this, man, attack an unarmed girl? She sniffed the air again, smelling fear and smirking. Yes, it was a wonder to have a Beastspeaker trying to read the mind of a half wolf half human. The expression on his face was priceless as he tried to ask her what she was, as if she could talk. She let him think about it for a moment, still conveying the thoughts that she choose before slamming her mind shut with the soft pine smell of a girl, that and a pair of bright green eyes. Ari smiled, her tail wagging. Yes he would do, strong, brave, curious, not to mention kind of cute. She moved forward again, extending her paw to touch his knee gently with it, almost in a handshake. She sat there for a moment, her silver eyes conveying the almost humanlike expressions on her face. She yawned, her eyes sparkling green for a moment as she reared up screaming. Her body curled inward as she leapt away from the man, her teeth snapping the air. Ari tore at her paw, and when the sharp thorn had been cast out her eyes settled back to silver, the green fading almost as fast as it had appeared. Her form stopped blurring and she settled back into a black wolf. She bowed her head, her hackles rising before seeing the tiny branch attached to the man’s pants. He hadn’t tried to attack her she realized, moving slowly out of her attack position. He probably had been walking through the most deadly thing to her ability and had picked it up along the way. She, being the wolf that she was, didn’t notice it until one of its poisonous thorns was lodged in her paw. She didn’t bother to try and pull it off, if he had been paying attention he would have momentarily seen her human form, but she wasn’t yet ready to shift until he asked her to reveal herself, that or she just got tired of trying to communicate this way. However, the poison was spreading through her body at a surprising rate and she couldn’t hold back as her body began to wither and convulse. Slowly her wolf scream became human. Her fur fell and bones popped and groaned as she shifted, muscle reforming with sickening crunches and flesh with a soft hiss. She lay there in the snow, the wind caressing her bare skin as the moon smiled mockingly down.

Aiden had lost his balance in his squatting position, falling backwards only to have Tala barking frantically before him. One moment the black wolf and him stared into eachother’s eyes, Aiden reading the immense intelligence behind them, a paw almost the size of his own hand resting on his leg; the next a piercing scream of shock and pain unraveled into the night, echoing a haunting array of human and animalistic vocals. One hand instantly rested the hilt of his blade at his side, his other outstretched palm flat, silently signaling the creature to stay back. He couldn’t read what the being was thinking, but he knew others would be stirring from their beds at the commotion. “Tala!...Back...Tala!” Aiden commanded, trying to get the wolf to settle a bit, his jaw dropping when he swore his vision was playing tricks on him. If that large creature attacked him, it would be a brutal fight, one he may not survive, yet she seemed to settle once she realized he was not going to make any sudden moves. “Tala?...Captain!” Aiden commanded in a gentler tone this time, his furry friend not hesitating as she spun about in her tracks, bolting further away from the river into the center of camp. He knew something was wrong...something was not right. Another curdling scream burned into his mind, his hands slapped over his ears wanting to block it out. He pushed himself to his full height, towering over the seizing creature, her body popping and splitting as it changed into the naked image of a young woman collapsed against the snow. At first Aiden stared, a strange smile planted on his lips as it started to make some sort of sense and when he hearted the shouts of others who had awoken and the mixed yips of Tala and what only could be Puppy, Aiden snapped out of it. Drawing his sword in one hand, he managed to wiggle out his jacket, gently draping it over the girl’s body for modesty’s sake, his smile shifting into an annoyed glower. Another stranger in the camp, someone who had quite a useful talent and was able to sneak by unnoticed; except for Tala of course. This would not go over well with the Captain.  Mageria had been inspecting the armory, such as it was, when the combined barking of both Tala and Puppy summoned her outside. Grabbing her sword in one hand and slinging her cloak about her with the other, she dashed outside to see what was going on. Tala was dancing in place, claws digging into the snow; once she saw Mageria, she jumped forward to gently tug on her cloak. Taking this as a request to follow, Mageria ran off after her. It was only a quick run over and around a couple cabins in order to get to the bridge by the river.

"Aiden? What. . . . what do we have here?" Mageria was somewhat unsurprised to find what had to be a naked young woman lying in the snow. She knelt down, Tala and Puppy on either side of her, to see what had wandered into camp this time; Aiden quickly reporting what had happened.

"Another lost wanderer? One who managed to get into the heart of our camp with almost no trouble. That's not something I like to hear." Her gaze darted over the girl; child almost. Some sort of wound on her hand, other than that she seemed to be ok beyond being unconscious. No, there was something lodged in the flesh of her hand. A thorn. Almost absently,
Mageria used the blade of her dagger to pry it out; glancing at it briefly before tossing it aside.
With an annoyed sigh, Mageria stood up, glaring downwards. Briefly, she considered letting the intruder just lie in the snow, but she couldn't talk herself into it. There was the slightest chance that she was simply the child of a nearby village that had been lost in wolf-form had come to them for help. So instead she ordered her taken to the medic's cabin and laid on one of the beds; bundled up in blankets, while she perched on the next one over and watched their latest stray carefully with Puppy at her feet and Aiden leaning on the wall nearby. Looking helpless didn't make one helpless and if this girl showed the slightest hint of a threat she would make sure that she was eliminated quickly and cleanly.  Ari felt her lungs burn, her body hurt and she couldn’t move. The moon’s light made her shirk away, every sound was like the sharp crack of a whip to her ears, every scent no matter how sweet burned, and her tongue felt dry and cracked inside her mouth. The cold air soothed her hot skin, the fire deep inside her slowly settling as her senses began to dull. She could feel the inside of her body still rearranging, her vocal cords slowly melting away only to be reformed. The transformation was harder to complete and she had to remain perfectly still as everything finalized or she could be stuck. She didn’t will her change faster; she couldn’t have if she wanted to. The poison was making everything so much slower as her body fought against it, trying to stall its progress and rid herself of it like it normally did with her scars. She shivered as she felt the soft fluttering of a cloak around her body, most likely from the man she had only known as a wolf. She knew he was doing it out of modesty but it still made her nerves scream.  She quaked as the bark of the dogs and wolf reached her and still having a bit of her wolf voice she whined, begging them to please be quiet and to her relief, they actually listened. Others were around her, she could feel their heat and their breath stroking across the air to her skin but there was one presence that demanded more respect than the rest and so it was there that she turned most of her attention. Her scenes focused there, regretting it almost immediately as the thorn that was hiding in her paw was dug from her hand, causing her to reflexively curl into herself, her hand clenching as her mind fled from the pain that was pressed upon her. She would have fought, would have screamed as the others came and picked up her body and carried her. But of course they didn’t know, didn’t know how much pain the slightest touch caused and Ari snarled when she thought of all the bruises she would have because of them. More blankets, she thought before she disappeared.
Her bright green eyes fluttered open to the warmth of what looked like the medic’s camp and she discreetly smiled to herself, she had made it, whilst shying away from the woman sitting on the cot next to her. She was glad to see that the man was still here, his golden eyes locked onto her, calculating and cold. The two canines were here as well, the wolf’s eyes not as judgemental as the dogs, but Ari knew she had the same smell to the wolf, and hopefully it would remember her as a playmate and not a threat. Her eyes flicked over to the woman, looking in great detail at her, slowly putting pieces together to mark her as Mageria and she silently thanked Franklin for his little bit of training. She knew that Wolves would most definitely not be welcome and she was gladdened that she was not yet marked as a Wolf, and no one could tell unless they really dug for it. The change had ended though there was still a dull ache and she brushed the hair out of her face, her wide eyes peering around the cabin and glancing fearfully at Mageria.

“Thank you, m’lady for rescuing me,” she whispered her voice cracking at the use and Ari blushed, “But, I’m afraid I’m very lost. Where am I?”
Tala at first had sat at the foot of the girl's bed, whining curiously, not sure what to make the change in her 'friend.' Aiden had managed to quiet the wolf, watching absently the strange wolf-girl with a narrowed gaze, yet the flicker of light in his eyes hinted to his curiousity. He kept quiet when the girl spoke, the dark circles beneath his lids giving the obvious clue to his lack of sleep that was piling up on him. Without taking his eyes off the Captain, Aiden whispered, “Captain....it will be light soon..and there is much to do for the archery contest...With your permission, may I by releaved to my cabin before I join the others with the preparations?” Aiden stretched from his position against the wall, “I could get Zane...or one of the others if you'd like?” Mageria tilted her head to the side, studying the young girl for a long moment before she spoke.

"Of course, go get some rest. Don't worry about waking anybody else up, I think it can handle it." She reached down and absently scratched Puppy between the ears, digging in her fingers as the wolfhound leaned into the caress. She watched as the man left, closing the door firmly behind him. Then she turned back, eyes shifting a bit from a dark blue towards a green.

"As to where you are, my dear. That's a bit of a difficult question to answer. You're about half an hour's ride north of Newhaven. There's a village or two within about a day's walk from here. Are you from one of them? We'd be glad to help you find your way back, if you simply wandered too far astray." Absently, she flicked the clasp on her cloak, swinging it off and to the bed beside her. This revealed the fact that she had one sword slung across her back and a short sword at her waist.

"Although, I'd like to hear how you found your way here. We thought we were quite well hidden and instead it seems as if there are signs hung in the trees."

A brief smile suddenly crossed her face. "Although, I will grant that you might want to get something to eat and perhaps something to wear before you tell me the extent of your travels. It is a bit disconcerting to defend yourself while completely unclothed and hungry, is it not?"

“M’lady, that would be kind indeed though it has no effect on my fighting skills,” Ari couldn’t help the glow of colour that momentarily flushed up around on her cheeks. She pulled the blankets closer around her body, a little unnerved at the sight of the two swords but Sean had trained her well and she was sure that she could handle this if it got out of hand. “Excuse me for being bold but, it is hard to fool a wolf. Nothing is hidden to us. I know the forest inside and out and when changes were whispered from the animals and the trees,” she shook her head, a little smile flickering across her features, “It was not difficult to hunt you and your kin down. But the reason I stray into your camp is not for gloating’s sake. My brother has a telepathic ability and there was some buzz about an archery competition, which I see he was not wrong about. Mageria, it would be an honour to test my skills against your archers.”
Her lips pulled up into a brisk smile, her eyes lightning as her hands briskly played with the edge of the blankets. She was studying the room as it were, noting how many people there were in the beds, of course most of them would be injured, but her eyes never left Mageria’s.

“I brought my bow and there’s a change of clothes out in the woods as well,” Ari cleared her throat noticing the almost questioning look on the Captains face, “I don’t travel without some supplies for when I’m human. I was taught better than that.”

Mageria tilted her head to the side, her eyes suddenly flashing from a sapphire to ice blue. There was a, tension to her body; a readiness to explode into sudden violent action. Both the warhound at her feet and the wolf at her side tensed as well, hackles raising and low growls rising from their throats.

"If know my name, then you know who and what I was. Which means that I'm forced to wonder just what makes you feel like wandering uninvited and unannounced into my camp. And if your brother is a telepath, then you cannot say that you didn't know who we are. Which means I really must wonder, what is it you seek here?" A slash of a smile crossed her face. "Please don't lie to me. You've told me once that you were lost and once that you hunted us down. The archery competition was thought up just a few hours ago, which means that you two must have been in the area to begin with, watching us. So. Are you insanely foolish or just insane?"

Ari wanted to laugh, really just throw her head back and let it out, joyous and loud and sweet. However, it would be foolish to do so in front of an extremely anxious ex Newhaven Black knight. Instead she chose to swallow her insane giggles as that question of insanity presented. Ari had never thought about her sanity and now that the question had been presented she really considered it. Crazy? Yes, there was no doubt but it wasn’t because she chose it, but rather because of the foolish mistakes, the reckless decisions she made.
“Aren’t we all a little crazy? I would not say I am insane, just foolish and not even that. Inexperienced.” She could see the Black Knight inside of the woman was restless and the tension was disturbing the animals quite a bit.
“I mean no harm against you or your people Mageria,” Ari tried to soothe, her voice low and almost pleading. “Sometimes it is better to approach with the false appearance of a hurt, lost, embarrassed little girl than to wander into someone’s camp seemingly knowing all that they are. It causes disturbances and that can lead to a knife in your belly before you can truly explain who you are and what you’re doing there. Excuse my actions if you disapprove of my methods but seeing that I have little experience in diplomacy or any human contact, I would say that I was doing pretty well. That is until I misjudged who you were. But that mistake has been cleared.” Ari paused, not letting Mageria in on who she thought she was and what she had been taken for. Her eyes flashed sliver and she sent a calming noise, to high for humans to hear at the two canines and they seemed to settle, if only for a little while. Ari continued, her eyes glowing green again, “As for my brother being a telepath; he was headed up toward the mountains and just happened to be passing by this general aria when the ‘shouts’ from the minds of the people engulfed him. That’s how he learned about the competition and he knows I can hit a squirrel in the eye when we hunt so he figured that I would enjoy being able to show off my skills. Is it a crime to want to come forth and test your skills against the best? A crime to have a dream?”
Ari smiled softly, warmth seemingly about her and she let out a tiny sigh. This was going to be difficult, that much was obvious.

"First lesson of dealing with extremely paranoid people. Don't contradict yourself within five minutes. We tend to pick up on things like that." Mageria didn't relax any, but she didn't seem to be as ready to kill at that moment. "It's no crime to want to prove yourself, but if you can't even keep your own lies straight then you're not going to survive for very long. You might get further in the door, but you'll end up dead all the same." She drew a deep breath, almost forcing herself to relax a bit. There had been some disturbing reports from Newhaven; that combined with a few other things had left her constantly on edge. And now this child had walked into their camp, seemingly for her own reasons, but who knew what they really were? She fixed the young girl with a ice cold glare, studying her reactions.

"Now, I'll give you this one last chance. You say you don't mean any harm to me or mine, but at the moment we have several guests. Given that we would respond to a threat against them the same as we would one of us, can you say that you mean them no harm as well?" “I come only for the games. I swear it, on my honour.” Ari nodded her head gently, bowing it for a moment with respect before her eyes met the cold stare of the woman’s. Mageria sighed. "Very well then. You may stay for the contest. Please stick to the common areas and guest quarters, I'm afraid I don't know you well enough to trust you in the restricted areas. Treat everyone with respect and we can talk again after this is all over." She went over to a cabinet and pulled out a set of cloths, leaving them on the foot of the bed. "Let somebody know when you leave for your gear, have them walk out with you. There's room for you to lay your bedroll in one of the guest cabins." She nodded and turned to leave. "And . . . good luck latter today."

Ari nodded and watched Mageria all the way to the door, shouting a quick thank you at her back before slipping out of the blankets and then sliding on the clothes that were at the bottom of the bed. She pulled them over her, shivering at the feeling. They were stiff and tough against her skin after being a wolf and she couldn’t help the small whimper that worked its way up to her throat. She turned to see that Mageria was still there and Ari huffed out a breath of relief. “Mageria,” she called, walking forward to stand even with the woman, “Would it be alright if we kept my appearance hidden from the others? I don’t want to be seen.”

Mageira raised one eyebrow curiously. "And how did you want to do that? We don't get many visitors as it is, so a new face tends to stand out." She let out a sigh, sending a plume of white upwards, pulling her cloak around her tighter. Things kept getting more and more tangled. "I can see you wanting to perhaps conceal your name or your gender, but there's no way that you're not going to be the subject of some curiosity." War. It was a deadly conflict that should have been avoided. A warning to the people, both good and evil, to the solider, the civilian, the martyr and the victim, it began with a lie and was now fought for the truth. No one didn’t feel its effects. Prophets, liars, honest folk, the leaders, the pariah, the victim and the messiah all suffered and Ari did too. It was not her fault, yet as a Wolf the Crimson saw her just as guilty of murder as those who had run into their camp and slaughtered their people ‘on orders of Sean’. Being the only Wolf within a couple miles around the aria, inside a camp where the Crimson could be as well, and Ari having met a couple before the war, made her incredibly vulnerable. She didn’t like that feeling at all. If they were here she didn’t want to run in and look just like the silly little girl they had met so long ago. An easy kill. No. She wanted to be who she was now but she dare not show her face, better to go as a man during the day as Stephan had suggested, just in case. The trouble was explaining this without being caught, tripping on her words and letting it loose that she was a Wolf. “I know. It’s just that I have made plenty of enemies and acquaintances who may not take kindly to my appearance here. That is if they happen to have wandered into your camp as well. I would just feel safer, with your permission of course, to walk hidden for now, dressed as a man.” Ari knew it probably sounded silly to the woman in front of the door but Ari didn’t know how else to put it and she was already working out an answer for the question that could be on its way, though she pleaded to the Twins that Mageria would be too tired to continue and she smiled at the woman.
Mageria suppressed a sigh and cracked her neck to the side, stretching the kinks out. "If you have enemies that are that angry at you, that might be here in camp, why in the Twins name did you decide to stop by? If winning means that much to you, you're in the wrong line of work." She slowly looked the girl up and down, arms crossed in front of her. "This is the best I can offer. I don't know what you've got going on, or with who. But so long as you don't cause harm to my people, this will be something of a neutral zone. What you all do away from here, that will be up to you. But it won't be happening here. So you can dress as a male if it will make you feel safer." She looked away over her camp, her people resting safely for the moment. "Just remember this. You give me reason to regret my offer, I'll nail you to a tree myself." Her gentle smile didn't touch her eyes, which instead showed a glimpse of the lengths that she was willing to go to in order to protect her people.

Ari nodded, watching the woman leave before slipping out of the bed and walking carefully out the door and back into the blistering cold, or what felt like blistering cold. She found the nearest awake person and walked up to them, putting on her most innocent face while calmly asking if they would escort her around for a little while. Of course they agreed, even bowing slightly, a twinkle in his eyes as he led her out across the bridge. After she had crossed it her feet struck the earth and she ran off. She didn’t stray from her path, didn’t waver until she collapsed into the snow and pulled out the precariously wrapped items. She didn’t quite understand why she needed the boy to follow her and it occurred to her that perhaps Mageria had misunderstood and thought the gear was all outside the camp borders. Oh she would have been even more furious to see that Ari had been able to sneak them inside the boundaries. She cradled the fur wrapped bow and the clothes that Stephan had lent to her before she left and she stood just as the boy rounded the corner and nearly collided with her.

“Hey,” she snapped, her eyes flashing as she felt her bow bend and twist with the collision. He muttered something about trying to flee and Ari laughed and apologised for her hasty reactions before he led her back towards the guest cabins. He showed her in and helped her get comfortable even helping her slice her hair off so it was cut boy short. She watched him leave before settling onto her sleeping pad. Tomorrow would bring whatever came her way; she could only ride the current now and rest her eyes for the Tournament.

The setting changes from valcrest to Assassin's Camp

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Ari Lupir

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"This is a problem, now isn't it?" Franklin asked. "You can't simply go and kill the Queen without putting Crys in a way too powerful position. Maybe she is just counting on that too."
Sean nodded. "No, my friend... I know Crys, this isn't her doing." He said, leaning back in his chair. "She was probably not pleased with this level of attention." He sighed. "Well... Screw trying to be nice to Newhaven, if this is what their stupid brat of a Queen wants... It's exactly what they'll have!"
Franklin leaned forward in his seat towards Sean, his voice lowering as if there was suddenly someone else in the room. "You are going to take that risk? You would be putting an army or Crystal's hands."
Sean chuckled. "If it was just the army I'd be worried, but then there is all the rest that comes with it. If Crys once thought she couldn't handle the Pack... She'd seen nothing." He snorted out angrily. "They're all just waiting for me to crack, I see that, well... Let's put all the weight on Lady Rivers' shoulders and see how long she lasts. I'm not afraid of Crys... Like I said: I know her."
"That's insane." Franklin muttered. "It's just insane. You are honestly going to involve the Pack in killing a city ruler and leaving someone who wants you dead take said ruler's place? She'd have the perfect excuse to use Newhaven to get to you! And before you argue she wouldn't do it, think long and hard about everything you've taken from her, Sean... Can you honestly say it's beyond her to crush us like insects? And then there's Blackpond: Are you sure this isn't exactly what they want?"
Sean was silent for a moment, thinking of all the facts... It seemed that he was cornered and he didn't like the feel of it in one bit. "You have a good point, Frank, but then... I have to make a decision, it's been a month, and waiting any longer won't make the problem go away. So... Do you have a better idea?"
Franklin sighed softly, not giving any answer and moving on to another subject. "Are you really going to meet Dastan? Will you reconsider doing this in Plains?"
"No. We are doing this in the desert. I need to show good faith if I want this over and done with. Too many losses, and this stupid war is doing us nothing. If I have to bow my head to the Crimson this one time to finish this, then I will do it. Besides... The last thing I want is to give the White Shadows a reason to worry, I still plan on getting back on their good side somehow..."
"You are taking way too many risks, boy." Franklin shook his head, standing up and stretching slowly as if preparing to leave the Leaders' cabin.
Sean chuckled from behind his desk. "Yeah, yeah... You're just worried I'll get killed and you have to be Alpha. Say, Frank, do me one more favor... Would you please find Ari for me, tell her I need to see her and... Make it sound like she's in a lot of trouble?"
Franklin raised an eyebrow at the request and at the look on Sean's face. "What are you up to now?" He asked, a suspicious and amused tone in his voice.
"Just thinking we could all use some cheering up... In times like these..." Sean shrugged lightly, laughing as the expression of his Second became more and more suspicious. "Oh, come on now, just go get the Kid. You'll see what I mean later."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Ari stared up at Mageria, slowly rising from her crouched position, to take the quiver and arrows from the woman. She was standing just outside the right of light, her shinny eyes reflecting the light from under her hood. Had anyone glanced at her a moment before she would have looked like a demon. But not anymore. Her hood had been pulled back so that just her face was showing, the soft feminine lines of her lips twitched with a bit of a foxy smile, one corner pulling up just ever so slightly as she accepted the prize. Her tattoo was also clearly visible, the swirling lines seemingly sparkling under the firelight, the little gems in her skin reflecting the light with an almost magical property. Her green eyes flashed, melding with the blue as her lips pulled into a real smile. Her sharp ears caught the hushed whisper as the unsuspecting archers realized that they had been beaten by a woman. There was a momentary hush as she raised the quiver and arrows, the markings there seeming to take off into the night sky as the fire flickered behind her body, her curves more visible now under the clothes as eyes finally saw the truth. The cheer rose then, roaring in her ears as her heart pounded and a giggle escaped her lips. Her eyes momentarily met Alison’s and she could have sworn she saw a flash of red hair that was almost the same shade as Cry’s, and somewhere amongst all the faces she swore she saw someone that looked like the girl Essence. She bowed her head to the men and women who had also taken place in the competition, her hood slipping forth to hide her face once again. Her cat like stance was forgotten as everyone moved onto the festivities, congratulating each other and boasting, passing over bets and many other things. However, if the competitors wished to congratulate the victor, they would have had to move a bit faster.
Ari vanished into the crowd the moment they took their eyes off of her, slipping along the sides of the buildings like a ghost. Tala, the wolf she had first ran into didn’t catch her now as with a running leap her clothes shredded in an explosion of blood and fur, scattering to the four winds looking slightly charred. The only bit of clothing that was unharmed was the cloak that hung down around her massive shoulders and back, hiding the quiver and bow she had secured around her shoulders before slipping off. She dashed through the trees, winding through them and under the guards undetected. She slid to a halt, throwing back her head and howling, the broach on her neck hummed against her fur, the melody happy and loud as it rose into the night sky. Somewhere people woke and clung to their blankets in terror and animals froze as their blood thinned to ice. Then the moon shattered.
Ari woke slowly, her eyes fluttering open as her fingers gently stroked the cloth on her bed, her hair a wild mess around her face and her green eyes lined with tiny tendrils of sliver. She smiled and stretched, pleased at her dream. Hr arms fell to her side and her eyes widened as she caught sight of the quiver placed by her bed. Her fingers moved over the raven, her eyes drinking their fill as her lips pulled into a smile. So it had been real and the dream was just a memory. She had beaten Ali and all the other archers that Mageria had thrown at her and she had proof she was there. Ari abandoned the quiver on her bedside, standing up to move toward a small chest at the foot of her bed. She shoved open the lid, flinching away from the sudden burst of light from the necklace that was lying on top of her clothing. She took the small silver dragon, turning it in the light from the lantern before tying it around her neck. The tiny creature fell between her breasts and settled there, the small ball it was clutching appearing green and blue. Ari pulled up the clothes she had set aside from her tree; a loose white shirt with large sleeves and a tight pair of black leather pants. She tied her hair up with a piece of leather, tightening her corset strings and watching with amusement as the pendent was pushed up atop her breasts as she was squeezed together and drawn upright. She tugged the shirt over her head, shivering as the cloth fell down across her freckled skin, a powdery white. Ari then pulled her pants on, pointing her toes and dancing around the room as she did on last final turn she slid to a halt, starring at a woman who looked shocked as well.
“Oh, excuse me,” she said crossing her legs and staring at the woman who had also crossed her legs, the pants stretching slightly over her skin. “Are you lost?” Ari asked as she took a step forward, the woman mirroring her movements before stepping back the moment Ari did. It was only then that Ari realized that she was looking into a mirror, and that the woman she saw was actually her. She looked older and her hair had grown paler with the dearth of light. Her body was lean but even Ari noticed the animalistic quality to the way her movements connected and even in some of her features. Her eyes were big and her nose slender and her ears sharp. She smiled and the woman looking back at her smiled. Her fingers delicately reached up to touch her lips, giggling as her reflection did the same. She made a silly face, trying out different poses and even growled at herself when there was a gruff noise behind her. Ari wheeled, in her hand the wolf dagger and her lips pulled back into a snarl showing off her fang like canines. It was only then that she recognized Franklin.
“Hi Franklin,” she said clicking the dagger into its sheath attached to her leg. She blushed as she turned back around to the mirror, taking a comb and running it through her long hair and pulling it up into a ponytail. It was shorter than when she had arrived and now she kept it mid back length instead of hip length.
“Ari,” he responded with a nod, watching her with those piercing eyes. “Alpha wants your presence, now.”
Ari turned, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly. She had no idea he had been there but his little smirk just barely visible in the corner of his mouth told her he had seen enough. However there was something in the tone of his voice and as Ari sniffed the air she realized that he was slightly worried. She bustled about; rolling her hair up into a tight bun and securing it with the knife that looked like a running wolf. She then grabbed the new quiver, looking around the room quickly.
“Don’t bother hiding it Ari, you’re going to have to explain your absence for the past two nights anyways, might as well bring it. Besides its not wise to keep Sean waiting,” he said placing his hand on the outside of his thigh. Ari nodded and secured the quiver against her shirt, grabbing up the black bow she had taken from her tree the night of her return. She wasn’t supposed to have her weapons anyways, Sean had locked up her bow the moment she had arrived, but he didn’t know about the others she had stashed all though the forest and she was sure to keep it hidden from him if possible. She stepped around Franklin, his presence suddenly seeming so sinister as he gripped her elbow and steered her forward across the camp towards Sean’s cabin.
“How did you guys…”
“Find out that you had left? Did you forget that you were supposed to show up to spar with me yesterday? Now, keep moving,” he shoved her forward, a little smile curling on his lips as he passed a group of younger Wolves. Ari shut up then, keeping her head held high as Franklin rapped on the door to Sean’s cabin and then practically shoved her inside the door. She caught her balance as Franklin stood at the door way.
“You wanted to see me?” Ari asked, her eyes trying to adjust to the sudden change of light while trying to find the Alpha, her fingers resting delicately to the deer horn dagger attached to her leg, “Alpha?”
In the time it took Franklin to go get Ari, Sean had barely moved from where he was seated, the only change in the whole scenario was that the Alpha now had book open on top of his desk and was writing something on it, for a moment or two he didn't as much as acknowledge the other people in the room until he put down his pen an looked up. "Ari. Have a seat please." He gave Franklin a nod as the man's eye lock on his for a second. "Frank, would you excuse us a moment? Set things up for me, Donovan was already informed this morning."
Franklin nodded his agreement. "Alright, boy... If that is what you want to do." He stated, bowing his head momentarily before stepping out and closing the door after himself.

Sean was sure he heard the man laugh outside the door, and shook his head slightly in amusement, going back to writing in his book as he addressed Ari. "Evin Bana was Crys' Second when she was Alpha, the man was a close friend of Crys' parents, he is as much of a friend to her, I believe, and he is a dangerous man. The day I challenged Crys the man burned down the clan records to the last one. Centuries and centuries of history turned to ashes is something that makes one think, and that day I decided I would rewrite history into something I could be proud of. And I may not be proud of myself at moments, but I take pride in the Wolfpack." He finished writing and closed the book, leaning back in his chair a bit. "Now, I won't get into the subject of where you've been, although I am told there was some sort of archery contest going on and I know for a fact Ali and Crys were in the camp where it took place; a camp that is inhabited by the former Black Knights, and a camp I have people watching for the sake of our safety, since they are not at all fond of Wolves... I won't get into that right now. I called you here because a month has passed, and I have come to the conclusion that it would be a waste of time and resources to keep you as a recruit any longer."
Ari didn’t know what to expect as she sat down across from the Alpha. She listened intently as he talked about Evin Bana, not able to help the small sense of dread that worked its way into the back of her mind as he talked about fire and the fiery death of all records. Why on earth would a Wolf destroy all that they were supposed to be proud of? She couldn’t just comprehend what was going on and as she watched his lips move she shifted uncomfortably. It wasn’t until he had finished speaking that she realized the words he had said. Ari blinked slowly, her ears rejecting the words she heard almost immediately. Waste of time and resources? She kept her composure, her face a mask as she waited for him to continue. What frightened her the most was the possibility that she could be forced to leave and all the effort she had placed into the training would be wasted. But Sean wasn’t a fool. He knew that if she couldn’t be a Wolf here she would find Cry’s and Ali, he had to know that. Right? So his only other option, and the one track she sincerely hoped he was headed on, was the one she had prayed to the Twins for. She would Graduate and become a full blood Wolf, a part of the family and an Assassin at last. But it was to soon to be making judgements so she just gave a slight nod, her green eyes searching his face, locking onto Sean’s eyes and starring deeply into them. She waited.
Sean was silent for a few moments, but since Ari didn't speak he went on. "I'll be very honest with you, kid... I'm still a bit torn between making you an Active and denying you graduation. What I know for sure is that keeping you as a recruit would be a waste, there's no more that I can teach you, you made an amazing amount of progress on only a month; which means that from now you'd have to learn from experience. Training, no matter how insane it can get, is never the same as the real situations... So there's that." As he spoke he opened a drawer from his desk and pulled from it a silver ring. The ring had no markings yet, those were to be made after the initiation took place. "But there is also the fact that you take a lot of unnecessary risks, for no other reason than to just see if you can get away with it, I assume. Risks such as wandering into a camp full of armed, expertly trained, soldiers that have more than enough reasons to hate us." He placed the ring on the table, over the closed book. "We wear a ring that binds us to an oath, we say we are born the day we receive it, and from that day on we live with it. If we are honoured... We die with it, and take it to Afterlife with us. If the oath is broken in our lifetime, the ring is taken from us, depending on how it's broken, our lives may be taken as well." He stated, pulling another ring from the drawer, the one that belonged to Alex, and placing it beside the other. "Now, if you receive a ring like this... You will be giving your word to remain loyal to the Wolfpack above all else for as long as you live; and that means you will be required to think of the clan before yourself and before any personal friendship, is that honestly something you are willing to do? Because, trust me when I say this: It may not sound like much of a sacrifice right now, but one day it will."
Ari stared at the two rings, recognising Alex’s without a moment’s hesitation, her words getting caught into her throat as she thought about the sweet red head. Several memories of them playing and laughing engulfed her then and she let them pass. If she had whimpered she couldn’t tell, but the loss of this Wolf still struck her to the core but then, who hadn’t been a little unsettled by his death? She raised her fingers as if to touch the small ring that lie in front of her before letting her hand fall into her lap again. She took a deep shuddering breath and blinked back a few tears, her face turning to the ceiling as she gathered herself again. Was she ready? Sean thought she had done well. But if she said yes this would mean sacrificing her freedom. There would be no more sneaking out for archery contests, and she made a small note to mention later that she was perfectly safe running into the camp as she wasn’t a Wolf yet. But if she did give away this freedom, this wild spirit of hers, what would she get in return. Freedom for what? She closed her eyes, replaying their first training session ever when she found it. Freedom for family. As she looked back at Sean she could tell that he was watching her and this time as she reached her fingers out to delicately touch the two rings that lie on top of the book, her hand did not tremble. She stared at the markings, dragging out the silence before she looked up at Sean with a small grin and as she spoke her voice was strong.
“I am ready.”
Sean waited patiently for Ari to answer his question, examining her expression carefully as he did. It was clear that Alex's death still affected her, but he didn't expect anything different right now. He nodded simply when the answer finally came, reaching out and retrieving both rings from the table. "If you are sure, then... Head to the center of camp and go stand beside Donovan, you will both be taking the oath tonight." Sean instructed, standing up and picking the book from the table to place it next to a few others upon a shelf. "I'll be there in a minute." He added. He knew the entire clan would be out there waiting; there were a few traditions involved with graduating recruits, and it ending in a party was one. Sean was aware that it might be the last celebration they had in a while, and he was sure everyone else could feel it too. Which, more than anything, meant that the clan was going to make this one count.
Ari nodded and stood as Sean did, her eyes trailing his movements as he placed the book away. With a small bow of her head in respect and thanks she turned, walking calmly to the door. She was about to become her dream, the real thing and become part of a whole. After exiting Sean’s cabin she smiled before raising her fist in the air, unable to stop the little giggle that rose from her throat, breathless with exhilaration as tears coursed down her cheeks. Family. That’s what she would have now, a big brother that stood up for her, and now, she would have a big brother to protect as well. She walked forward, taking her time until she had pulled herself back together into the strong woman she had been before. She was a little surprised to see the entire clan gathered around the boy she had previously insulted and as she walked forward, she felt several eyes fix on her. As she took her place next to Donovan she smiled shyly at him, nodding her head in acknowledgement. He looked older that was for sure and as she scanned the faces that were in front of her she thought she saw Franklins smiling face. How Alex had talked about this day, the day she would graduate, how he had even longed for it. Now he would never see. She turned her attention back on Donovan, not able to stop the small stirring in her chest as she parted her lips to speak.
“Congratulations Donovan,” she whispered.
The mass of the Wolfpack was gathered around the two recruits in the center of the encampment, the clan never seemed as large and intimidating as it did when they were all together in one place, however the expressions on most people as well as the tone of their whispered conversations was that of excitement. The air was lighter in the forest than it had been in a long time, and for that alone it was a great night, but for Donovan it was particularly sweet. He has waited for that night for a very long time, and he found himself almost in reluctant to believe it had finally arrived. He gave Ari a nod and smile, when she came stand beside him, he didn't say anything however as he suddenly found himself a bit nervous. Voices were beginning to rise from whispers to loud conversation in the time the two recruits were left to wait. When the voices slowly faded to absolute silence, that was what let Donovan know Sean was coming.

Silence filled the encampment the moment Sean walked into the light of the fire pit that lit the center of camp. He stood before the two recruits and gave each of them an acknowledging smile before he started to speak loudly enough so that everyone in the encampment could hear his words. "The Wolfpack was created with the single intent of standing on the very center of the land, and outside of the war, to keep Valcrest in balance while it cannot have peace; we do not takes sides, and we do not let ourselves in. And even if in some moments we have failed in this task, and in others it's very easy to set it aside in face of personal resentments, this continues to be our main purpose in this world." He walked a couple of steps until he was standing before his brother. "Donovan Fletcher. Place your right hand over your heart and answer: Do you now swear on your life and your honor to live by, and enforce, the laws of the Wolfpack?"
Doni placed the palm of his hand over the left side of his chest, feeling his own heart beating rapidly as he replied. "I swear."
"Do you now swear on your life and your honor to defend this encampment and protect its people, to the very best of your abilities, for as long as you still breathe?"
"I swear."
"Do you now swear on your life and honor to never harm, betray, or abandon any member of this clan for as long as they remain true to this oath?"
"I swear."

Sean then pulled a shiny silver ring from a little black pouch tied to the left side of his belt. The ring was not yet marked with the figures of twin wolves facing opposite directions; representing Heart and Mind. The markings would be made after the new assassins completed their first assignments as Wolves, even so... The ring was visibly that of a Wolf, markings or no markings. He then pulled Donovan's right hand from where it had been resting against his chest and turned his palm upwards, placing the ring in its center and closing the boy's fist around it, and holding it between his hands. His voice now lowering to a more personal tone, despite it still remaining perfectly audible. "With this ring, you are now bound to this Oath until Lady Death claims your soul or you are released of it by the Alpha. Let it be a constant reminder that your life now represents the lives all of those here present, as well all of those who await in the Afterlife." At those words he released Donovan's hand and stood watching as the boy took the ring and placed it on his right ring finger with a satisfied grin. The gesture was followed by a few moments of loud cheering and applause.

Sean calmly waited for the noise to settle before pulling Donovan by the shoulder into a firm hug."You make me proud." He stated before releasing the boy and leaving him where he stood, quietly awaiting while he walked to Ari. Word by word Sean repeated the questions exactly as he asked them to Donovan, he placed the ring in the palm of her hand in the same way and close her fist around it, holding it in his hands and just as he spoke, he spoke to her. "With this ring, you are now bound to this Oath until Lady Death claims your soul or you are released of it by the Alpha. Let it be a constant reminder that your life now represents the lives all of those here present, as well all of those who await in the Afterlife." He then released her hand and leaned forward, a little smirk crossing his features as he whispered. "Congratulations on the tournament, Kid." He winked playfully at her and nodded to the rest of the Woves as he started to walk away from the two recruits. Doni caught the look in Sean's eyes and nudged Ari discretely, nodding in one direction. "Go that way." He whispered, just as someone in the crowd yelled out: "GET THEM."

Donovan didn't look back as he started to run in the opposite direction as fast as he could. Having been born in the clan, he knew it was tradition to hunt down the new Actives and toss them in the lake, he also knew that there was no way to escape the entire clan, but it was more fun to put up a fight. He didn't go far though, and soon he was being carried away towards the freezing water.
Ari nodded at Sean, blushing slightly as he congratulated her and winked. The fire flickered, casting its mesmerising spell as Sean left its comforting glare and Ari couldn’t help but feel a pang of loss as his silhouette disappeared into the surrounding crowd. She looked down into her hand, the unmarked ring resting there gently and casting back the firelight as bright as the hundreds of eyes that belonged to Actives, who, Ari noticed with a small grin, were beaming at her and Donovan. Her attention was stolen though as he gently nudged her, telling her to run in a certain direction right before someone in the crowd screamed. Ari bolted the direction he had told her to go. She didn’t know what was happening but she didn’t hesitate to move, the ring clutched tight in her hand as she heard the voices of a mob headed in her direction. However, she realized with a small growl that he had gone the opposite way of her. If this was a game of cat and mouse, they would do better together.
She spun back, this time running through the crowd as hands tried to grab at her as she ducked and weaved thought the surprised people who seemed more focused on the chase then being charged. Within two or three bounds she thought she could see Donovan and a little ways ahead she swore she saw Sean’s laughing figure. She bolted past Donovan, her eyes burning silver as she moved with deer like quality. But it was only then that he quickly got picked off by the excited Wolves. Ari dipped around what could have been Sean; she didn’t know nor care at that moment, using him for a place to hide, when he too threw her to the Wolves, so to speak. Her body was lifted high up into the air, her shrill giggles and screams cutting through the air as she wiggled in their hands. No was apparently not a word they understood. Her eyes sparkled sliver as she saw Donovan, also being carried away, nearing the lake. So that was what they were going to do, douse them both in the freezing water, eh? Ari let out a bubble of laughter as she realised they were chanting Wolf. What could she say? They asked for it.
Ari tore up in their hands, those that had held her to the sky now lay pinned under her massive black paws. With a cheerful howl she dove forward, leaping over and diving around the Wolves that tried to grab her body and tail as she flew by. Surly they must have heard her coming, she wasn’t being quite about it but they never once turned her direction. The Wolves holding Donovan didn’t see her coming until it was too late, and by then they didn’t stand a chance. Ari bowled into them, knocking several to their knees as Donovan dropped from his high seat on top of them. There was a wave of roaring laughter, as she turned back to the Wolves who were trying to stand up and she bounded across their shoulders and backs to reach Donovan. Her silver eyes shinned as her lips pulled into a grin and she motioned to her back. She wasn’t horse sized, but Ari was unnaturally large for any normal wolf, and she wasn’t going in without a fight!
Sean was having a good laugh watching the actives run around trying to get Ari and Doni into the lake, but his smile began fading slowly as he let his thoughts wander to what tomorrow would bring; and what that past month had brought... Somehow, the words Lena Turner had spoke to him had stuck to his head... Was he strong enough to hold the clan together if something big was to happen? He couldn't help think something was already happening and he just couldn't see. There was this strange calm in the land, and anyone who's lived in the forest for as long as Sean had would know that too much quiet usually meant something was coming. Quietly he paced away from the party and into the graveyard; the only place that was still quiet, and there he leaned by a tree, watching the lines of graves intently... Pulling from his pocket an old, worn silver ring... The one that once belonged to his father. At first he was confused when Sheila had found it in his pocket while treating his stab wound, but then he remembered that Annie had hugged him, and as crazy as it all may seem... It was the only fact that explained how something he had been seeking for years had suddenly appeared in his pocket. He really didn't know what to do with it now.
"You should throw that out... And go back to the party."
"Hey Kate..." Sean mumbled, a little smile crossing his features. "A party isn't a party in this camp unless someone is avoiding it." He told her, putting the ring away in his pocket as he turned to face her. "You knew, huh?"
"That Annie had the ring? Yeah, I knew. She told me, and Doni too, but she didn't want to tell you. She was afraid that you'd react badly... Can't blame her, we all were. You... Seem awfully calm about it actually."
"What can I do about it. really? I would love to punch dad in the face, but he's gone... And Lena is just too scary."
Katie chuckled. "She is scary!"

They were both silent for a bit, Sean's eyes crossed the line of graves and landed on the one with Crys' name on it; that empty grave that he had never gotten rid of. It was reminder a of his failure...A promise left to keep... He couldn't just let it go. Lost in those thoughts he startled slightly when his sister leaned into him, but immediately put one arm over her shoulder protectively. Still he didn't say anything until the girl herself broke the silence.
"You know, when Evin came to see me in the Plains... I was very angry with him, I didn't want to listen, but... Even when we want to ignore things... Sometimes they are just there, and he was sorry. I could see it clearly on his face that he was. I know he did mean to kill me at some point, because he tried, and for the look of him he was either disturbed by what he almost brought himself to do, or by the fact that he couldn't go through with it, maybe both..."
"Why are you telling me about Evin now?" Sean asked, not liking where the conversation was going.
"Because I had seen that once before and I couldn't remember when, but now you just reminded me... It was when Evin came back holding Crys' weapon. I saw that same look in your eyes. You regretted it, didn't you?"
"I didn't regret what I did... I just wished I didn't have to do it. I respected Dani Rivers, and... I even looked up to her, I never had a thing against Crys up until then, and you know what? Those feelings made the truth more painful and my choices more difficult, but they didn't change what I believed was right. Do you understand? Let them say what they will, but you need know, when this is over, that I did what I felt was right."
"Even pushing Lionel against Crys?"
"I did push him, I did encourage him, but I didn't think she would kill him. She always had the choice not to, and I assumed she would make it. It never occurred to me that she would just kill him like that, after everything... I never planned for that to happen, and what I said to her... Was just to make her angry. It wasn't all true. Do you understand?"
"I guess, Sean... I just wish you would... Take care of yourself. You don't seem to realize, or care about, what this is doing to you."
He sighed, pulling her into a tight hug and forcing a smile. "You should go back to the party... It's an important night to Doni... And I think I will just go to bed. Tomorrow is a new day, huh?"
"I guess." She agreed. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, just a bit tired. When you see Don will you tell him I want him and Ari both to come find me in the morning?"
"You will be sending them away already?" Katie asked, a bit of shock in her tone.
"It's nothing dangerous... Well, not too dangerous. It'll be fine."
"Alright. I will tell them." Kate agreed. "Goodnight Sean."
"Goodnight, sis." Sean replied, listening to Katie's footsteps as they slowly disappeared amongst the noisy party. Not long after he made his way to the leaders cabin and locked himself in for sleep.
Ari had felt him leave, pausing mid run to cautiously sniff the air. Something was troubling him again, she could smell it. But before she could bound after him, talk to him and maybe get him to release some of his fears she was tackled to the ground. Donovan had chosen against the ride that could have taken them into the woods, a poor choice she had thought and it confused her a little bit but his eyes were alight with joy and his lips were smiling and laughs escaped from his chest, so she had let it go. After all, he knew better right? She could hear the actives laughing, their hands digging their way through her coat as she struggled under them, forgetting all about Sean for the moment and instead focusing on escaping. With one wild kick to the jaw and a snap and a roll she was free of their hands once again. She skirted away from the pond, her silver eyes training back on to her fellow graduate. Donovan seemed to be faring well, but even so the actives would still have them soon. With a growl she ran at them, the ring that was slowly closing in on him breaking the moment she flew past. She stood beside Donovan, her eyes glimmering as she looked up at him, the slight motion of her mussel directing. He glanced at her, giving a slight nod before the actives dove in. There were two loud splashes followed by Ari’s scream as the water stabbed through her skin as she shifted. Water crystals fell from the air, tinkling across some of the frozen patches and across Ari’s skin. Her powder was wiped clean from her face and the silver in her eyes faded slowly, leaving the moon above and the fire below the only two things glowing in the dark of the night. The actives stood on the bank having to have detangled themselves from the pile they had left where Ari and Donovan had once stood, some laughing, some just smiling and shaking their heads. What else could they do?
Ari swam over to Donovan, her wet hair clinging to her face and her lips tinged blue. They had won. Well they had ended up into the lake, but they choose to put themselves into the freezing water and had denied the actives that guilty pleasure. Ari knew that they would never escape the water, but by leaping into its icy cold embrace, she had bested those that would rather have thrown her in. Donovan was wiping the hair from his eyes, his lips pulling into a smile as Ari swam up to him, her ripples slightly disturbing the pattern from which he was treading water. Her teeth chattered as she smiled at him and with a little laugh Ari kicked herself away and toward the shore. She could hear Donovan’s chuckle behind her as he fell in tow, both of them making way to the shore where the actives had once stood.
“I guess their happy that we made the water,” Ari giggled, watching as Donovan climbed the bank, his clothing sending a waterfall back down into the water. Ari watched him from the water, keeping everything but her neck and head under the water as it offered some protection from the loss of her clothing which lay scatted about in small bits. Sean wouldn’t be too happy with the way she was going through clothing, but most of it was hers from her tree. But her thoughts were not left to roam as a shiver ran down her spine and she looked up to see that Donovan was starring down at her, with what emotion, she couldn’t say.
The moment passed and he turned away, walking back to the party as she slowly climbed the bank into the warm night air. Well that is in comparison to the water that had felt like death. She quickly and quietly made her way over to the scattering of cloth, bending slightly to pick through them until she found her ring. She held it in her palm, her finger stroking the thing gently as it glittered in the moonlight, her eyes locked to it as she slowly stood from her crouch and slipped it onto her finger. Her head shot up as there was a loud crash and her eyes narrowed as she saw a group of men walking towards her. Her body quivered and she snatched up her arrows and bow, gathering everything she had left from her transformation before looking up again. The men had come closer, away from the fire light and away from its warmth. She bolted, running through the trees as nimble as a deer before circling back to her cabin, slipping inside. She would have to think of some manner to be able to shift without losing her ring, she thought with a sigh, looking at the silver object that glittered on the table next to her quiver and bow. She quickly got dressed, pulling on something a bit more modest than what she had on before the ceremony. Ladies didn’t dress in men’s clothes, she thought with a sneer as she pulled over the white dress she had been saving for this very moment. She redid her hair, pulling her chin up as she took her ring and slid it back onto her finger. She would discuss the issue with Sean tomorrow, she thought with a grin as she opened the door and walked smack into Franklin.
“There you are you little scoundrel,” he grinned, pulling her into a tight embrace that crushed the wind from her lungs, “You’re missing your own party girl! Get out there and make a name for yourself!”
“Beta,” she wheezed as his arms disappeared from around her chest and instead on her shoulders, steering her toward the fireside. “There’s a problem with my ring.”
“What did you say,” he asked, pulling her to a stop.
“There’s a problem with my ring.”
“No no before that,” he laughed,” what did you call me?”
“Beta, it’s what the wolves call their second.” Ari stared up at Franklin, not sure if he was drunk, her arms crossing over her chest as she stared at him. Her eyes narrowed as his face lit up in a grin, his arm clutching her around her shoulder tighter. “Are you drunk?”
“Twins forbid!” Franklin laughed, his hand falling over his chest, “‘There is no alcohol to be consumed inside pack territory Ari.”
“How do I know you haven’t scurried out to the woods and drank there,” she teased, wincing slightly as she was shoved forward and toward the party.
“And how do I know you haven’t been carrying a weapon in your hair this entire time,” he winked as she reached up to touch the small wolf in her braided bun. He was right, in the end it narrowed down to a needle like dagger but she never intended to use it. He laughed at her face giving her another push toward the roaring fire, “Get in there girl and dance. Enjoy yourself; your ‘beta’ commands it.”
With another shove she was forced into the ring, the music she had heard earlier picking up pace as an active caught her and began to pull her into a dance around the fire. Her feet moved lithely under her dress, easily keeping pace with the man as he pulled her around, darting in between other dancers. She thought she caught a glimpse of Donovan dancing as well but before she could get close enough to see her partner swung her away to the opposite side of the fire. Actives laughed and clapped along, some shouting out insults to other dancers which would set of another wave of laughter. She found herself enjoying it, the way everybody’s cheeks glowed with a ruddiness that hinted toward drink but was entirely false. She too began to feel the buzz, the excitement and cheerfulness that ran through the camp and that feeling intoxicated her. She laughed along with the rest, threw her soul into dancing and even took the chance to lift her skirts above her knees and twirl until she fell down to the ground which again set of another roar of laughter. Her partner had taken the sidelines, along with most other dancers as she wove her way around the fire, dancing and laughing and singing. The music ceased and Ari took a bow, giggling as the actives cheered and she moved out of the firelight. Ari moved around the actives, her eyes looking for Donovan when she caught sight of him with a girl, her heart skipping a beat as she turned away. She was quickly pulled back into the circle, and sat in a group of actives that had first bullied her. They cheered and patted her shoulder, congratulating her over and over until she was sick of hearing the word. Finally her eyes drooped and she smiled slightly, exhausted from everything that had been done that day and the nights lack of sleep was slowly getting to her. She rose slightly and the crowd cheered again, causing her to freeze in her steps.
“She’s going to sing for us!” a voice called and Ari nearly groaned aloud but instead took her place near the fire, her eyes closing slightly.

Welcome to a land of lullabies,
Where everything will be alright,
The world around will laugh and cheer
As Wolves come marching there and here.

Are hearts will beat loud as one
As we raise our mussels to the sun
And our howling will spread hope and fear
As we fight for those that we love dear.

Come my children, come!
Come my Children come!

Family, friends come one come all,
Come and answer the Wolves call.
Join the wild and bring your gear.
We are wolves we shall not veer.

Come my children come!
Come my children come.

Come and join us wild and free
The earth is ours to see.

Her voice faded, the song cut short as her memory failed her, the words that her mother used to roar out gone from her mind as the fire behind her lashed out at the people that had wandered too close. She blushed, her voice still lingering as the Wolves around her stared in awe, waiting for her to continue. She bowed her head, blushing.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, walking out of the fire light and disappearing as they sighed, some even calling for her back. She ran to her cabin, reaching the door as tears fell from her eyes and she closed the door behind her, brushing the wetness away. There was a soft knock at the door and with a huff she walked over and jerked the door open.
“What!” she cried, pulling short when she realised that it was Donovan, “I’m so sorry, my deepest apologies. I had no idea it was you.”
“It’s alright Ari,” he said softly his eyes shining slightly, “Sean wants us to meet him in the morning, that is all.”
“Alright,” she nodded, sighing slightly. “Well, I’m going to bed Donovan; I’ll see you in the morning. Good night.”
He nodded and she closed the door, falling into the bed a moment later and falling into a fitful sleep.

-Next Morning-

"Just... Tell me the truth Sean. Why did you hurt that woman? That's all I want from you."
"Why bring that up now, what does it matter? It happened ages ago! It's done, it won't bring her back, won't fix anything..."
"It was completely unlike you to do something like that to an innocent woman and I never got you to tell me why you did it. I want to know."
He sighed. "They never pay. If you let them live they don't pay, because they don't care. If they cared they wouldn't live with what they did... They wouldn't just move on like that. Jake couldn't see that... I had to make him care. Was it the wrong thing to do? It was, I admit it, but I'm not sure I wouldn't do it again."
"And can you live with you've done? Or have you become like 'them' now? You... You are better than this."
"No, I'm not." Sean laughed. "I'm not! And we're past the point when you can 'talk sense' into me, because I don't believe a word you say anymore. You are dead to me, Alpha."
Dani chuckled. "Well, you can be better Sean, but that's really just a choice you'll have to make." She stated. "I know this much, kid: Your mother was a good person, she didn't deserve to die the way she did, and it's not fair. Life is not fair, but what you had to go through doesn't excuse inflicting the same on others. Nothing will ever excuse that. Do you understand me? Jake refused to say you did it, and your father thought it was sane to protect you whenever you pulled this kind of stunt, but I always knew better..."
"What are you trying to say?" Sean muttered.
"I know you are doing Sean. I have been Alpha for over twenty years, you don't think I know everything that is said and done in this camp? And I know you, boy." Sean tried to argue, but she didn't let him speak. "What I'm saying Sean... Is that I sincerely hope you change your mind, but if you don't..." She sighed. "I pray the Twins will care for you... Because I don't think you understand what you are getting yourself into and I won't be here to talk sense into you any longer."
"You're not trying to stop me?"
"Of course I am... If I had proof of anything you would be accused of treason, but I don't... So all I can do is give you some advice; let it go Sean. No matter how this ends, it won't bring you peace and no one knows that better than I do.


"Hey, kid, are you listening?" Franklin slammed his palm against the wooden table Sean was leaning against and chuckled when he startled. "Am I boring you?"
"A little bit, yes..." Sean snorted, scooping up the last remains of oat meal from the bottom of his bowl. "What is it you were saying again."
"I asked if you are stopping by the healers before heading to the desert, or if you changed your plans."
"I'm going straight to the desert, I think. Sooner we get this done the better... I'll go to the healers afterwards." Sean replied, setting the bowl aside and rubbing his temples.
"Bad sleep again?"
"Is it that obvious?" Sean muttered. "Was a loud party, that's all...Kept me up."
"I see..." Franklin stated, not seeming convinced at all. "Aren't you supposed to be talking to the new kids about their assignments right about now?"
"You're right, I really should. They might already be at the leader’s cabin waiting." He stated standing up and giving Frank a simple nod as he walked out of the cafeteria towards the leader’s cabin.

The world mocked Ari as she stood outside of Sean’s cabin in nothing but pants and a loose shirt. She dare not step inside, but chose to lean against the walls, near the window. Walls frightened her today. Her stomach growled in hunger and she stood alone, nearly doubling over as her pain caused her to cramp. It was all from hunger but Ari had quickly figured out that nothing she ate would stay down and it was a fight to even get it down without gagging. This morning had not come kindly, she thought as she let out a huff of air, the markings on her face visible once again and her hair quickly pulled back into its long braid. She rapped her fingers against the wall, her sharp green eyes searching for Sean. He was probably still at the dining hall, she realised with a small sigh as she sank to the ground. This morning was also cold and she couldn’t stop the small shivers that crawled up and down her spine because of the cold, or was it the dream. She flinched inwardly, her face becoming a mask as she remembered the entire thing.

The sun shone down though the trees, the snow sprinkled over the aspen with precision and beauty that shone in its light. Small birds flittered from tree to tree, chirping and signing sweet songs to each other with the coming of spring. It was magnificent to see and the girl in the white dress almost blended in if it wasn’t for her long blonde hair which fell in waves down to her hips. Her green eyes were fixated on the path ahead of her and the only sound around her was the crunch of the snow under foot as she walked. Ari walked like a vision, moving carefully thought the trees, her mind consumed by thoughts of the previous days and the life she now lived. From rags to riches as far as she was concerned; the assassins part of her life. She had a home and friends. She wandered through the trees; the light dusting of powder on the ground getting kicked up from the trailing of her dress. It was a bit nippy and her cheeks were flushed red with the cold, the markings on her face standing stark against the virgin snow and skin. She smiled, her lush lips pulling up in the corners as her hand reached out and she ran her fingers along the tree, leaning into it and pausing in her walk to admire it.
A twig snapped in the distance and she was pulled from her thoughts, her head snapping up to look off in that direction, her green eyes narrowing as she caught sight of a women approaching though the trees.
“Who goes there,” she called, her voice sounding as crystalline as the snow around her.
"Fear not, just a lone traveller making her way to the city" spoke the woman with jet-black hair, the armor that protected her torso well hidden under the black cloak. Her twin swords still sheathed, hanging from the two belts that crossed over the armor. Her forearms protected by the same steel that protected the torso, and a dress that would allow her to make fast movements, if needed be. She dropped the hood and the silent cold wind kissed her face. It was cold and that clothing wasn't supposed to warm her. "And yet, you could always help me."
Ari leaned against the tree, wondering how she could have missed this daunting figure stark as a black wolf against a white world. She sighed, realizing that she was again too deep in her thoughts that any assassin could have taken her out if there had been an ambush.
“How may I aid you sister,” she called, returning back to her town’s common greeting of others. She had noted the protection of this other and she cocked her head slightly. Such a display of armor could mean two different things: one, that she was not a good fight or two; she had power that was displayed through her clothing. Ari mentally shrugged, even unarmed she could still put up enough of a fight to cause trouble and it looked as if this stranger wanted none.
"Just on my way to..." the woman laughed when she saw the expression on the green eyed woman's face "By the look on your face you must be a Wolfie... and you surely wasn't paying attention, were you?" she still laughed, the psychopathic sound of it making a few birds fly from their nests. "Doesn't matter where I was going to... since I have something far more... interesting here to deal with." The woman unsheathed her swords, the laughter stopped but a devilish smiled appeared on her face.
“Hell,” Ari cursed, her eyes glimmering. Fight with an opened mind, stay calm, don’t move first. She crouched slightly, the dress she was wearing making it difficult to move, there was the sharp sound of tearing cloth as she ripped it up the side, shivering as the wind caught her exposed leg. Better but it would still make it difficult. “I didn’t want this,” she growled, “May I ask why?”
"What about....." she sprinted jumping and spinning in mid-air her right sword almost doing the down-cut "...just for the fun?" the sword motioned.
“Fancy,” she said moving quickly out of the range at which a strike could be made. “But can you fight?”
From seemingly out of nowhere she withdrew a curved sword, its blade and hilt coloured so that it looked identical to an aspen tree. She playfully twirled it in her hand, the blade light as it sang through the air. She smiled and playfully lunged forward, aiming for the girl’s left leg but quickly bringing it up to strike at her sword arm instead, at the last moment before it could be blocked Ari changed her style again and instead went for her chest. The swipe was true and good, her eyes glimmering with the bit of fun.
"Fancy moves..." she moved her body to the right, watching the woman's sword softly touch the black armor. The heavy cloak and quick movement gave the impression that she floated over the ground while she gained distance. "But that's surely not what you have, eh?" She spun both swords on her hands, when the motion ended both swords were aiming to the ground. "Show me what you really have."
“Convince me,” she said with a wild laugh, her eyes glimmering slightly. She turned and made a run for it, the girl following in the game of chase. Ari ran toward a tree, her eyes burning silver as she flashed, her cat senses coming to her. Her feet hit the trunk and she flipped up and over the head of the woman, landing on the balls of her feet, her body down in a crouch. Her head snapped up, a smile spreading across her features as she saw the bewildered look on the woman’s face. This was turning out to be very fun, she just hoped that the sounds they created wouldn’t cause one of the other Wolves to come running. She could get in trouble with Sean for this. With a yell she jumped forward, spinning and slashing down at the girl’s calves.
"Ah..." she once again evaded the attack by moving to the right; she was angered by the wild moves and lack of strategy. The woman still attacked her and she only dodged them."Fast" another swing that almost hit the woman's face "Strong" only the face moved this time "But you don't actually care to think.... do you?" She avoided a swing from left to right. "Too young to do that, is this not true?" The woman's psychopathic laughter sounded once more. Ari paused, letting her sword point down at the ground as she took a step back, her eyes darkening in anger. “I was always one for defending.” She spun and jumped, her kick aimed for the woman’s shoulder as she began to slowly push her back towards a tighter grove of trees. Ari was getting confused, none of her hits ever reached their targets and the woman had never stuck back. She shook her head and with a growl, launched herself forward. The kick hit her shoulder, although it barely affected her. She walked to where the young woman was driving her. Every step the shadows grew longer, darker. The sound of silence little by little made both deafer. The wind emanated the smell of death. "Too bad thou cannot understand it, little one." Both still moved, the tree that hit her back was nothing but an amount of living darkness. She smiled as she saw the woman's expression."Horror is amazing, is it not?"
Ari flinched, and her eyes burned silver. “I fear nothing! Who are you,” she cried, her sword arm shaking slightly with exhaustion and anger. She could smell the death, the fear, the pain. She knew the woman was flesh and blood just as she was; there was no doubt after her kick had gotten well into the shoulder of the woman. She shook slightly, maybe it was wise to fear her, this woman but yet she didn’t fear, only stood in awe and wonder. The silence sounded deafer than before, the earth trembled, the shadows grew deeper, the air taste worsened. The woman laughed, amplifying all of these sensations. "Who I am is not important. Lady Ari. Just remember these words. Remember them." Everything worsened, bringing everything to the blink of madness. "Temný rytier sa blíži!" And then there was nothing.


Ari bit her lip again, wiping the small bead of sweat that dripped into her eye with her damaged hand. She had sliced open the palm reaching for her hair dagger that morning after she had woken from the dream in a cold sweat and screaming as she cried. The pin lay nestled in her hair again, the only weapon she had on her, and even then she was not going to reveal it until it became quite necessary. The woods, the woman, the white and the black, the trees and the shadows, what did it all mean? What did the dream mean? What did the woman mean? Those words were so foreign; she realised with a small twinge and thought about mentioning it to Sean, then dismissed it. He may know what they meant, but how on earth could she tell him without sounding rabid. She sighed and with another shiver that sent her teeth clacking she looked up to the sky. Twins have mercy, she thought with a small grimace. She would have to appear steady and brave today. Her hand reached up to clutch the small ring that she had tied around her neck with a piece of soft leather. That was yet another thing she needed to talk to him about. Better meet him on the way up so she could discuss it with him as they walked. She stood and ran down the path, making her way to the very beginning when she saw him, slowly making his way up the path. She let out a sharp laugh, having smelled him the moment his foot had stepped onto a branch.
“Alpha,” she called, dipping her head and waiting for him to get close enough before she fell in step with him. She couldn’t help but to notice how exhausted he looked, she swore she saw dark rings under his eyes from a lack of sleep and his lips were pulled into a thin line as they moved forward. “I need to talk to you about my ring,” she said after a moment’s hesitation, pulling it from around her neck.

Sean wasn't at all surprised that Ari had already been waiting on him, although he was forced to wonder where Donovan had gone if he wasn't with her, or anywhere in sight. Maybe the kid had enjoyed the party a little bit too much and was sleeping late. When he finally glanced towards Ari she had already finished speaking for a few seconds. "What about your ring?" He asked as he removed his cloak and casually wrapped it around her shoulders. "And don't you own a coat? We're in the middle of winter, you know." He added giving a more watchful glance as they walked, but not saying anything more.
“Thank you,” she said accepting the coat gratefully, wondering if he really expected an answer to the coat question. If he did, she would have answered no, she had given it to Stephan who was high in the mountains by now and Twins know where else. She pulled the coat tighter around her, catching glimpse of Sean’s glance. She slightly shook her head, not understanding what it was supposed to mean and decided to let it slide. The coat smelled of him, powerful, musky and something else that set her teeth on edge, but best of all it was warm. If he would let her she would run to get her cloak from her hiding place, but until then she would be cold and as soon as he looked cold, hand him back his coat. But in the end she let it slide and continued onto the ring. “I realised last night, if I shift, the ring would break or harm me in the shift, or it might get lost.”
"Huh." Sean mumbled, scratching the back of his head as he thought. "Well, it's not necessary that you wear it on your finger, but not losing it is kind of a big deal. It's also kind of important that you keep it on you, as it identifies you to other Wolves... Not all of us spend enough time in camp to know everyone's faces and names. That's why we have rings and healers have robes and the Crimson wear a random red item of clothing." He stated as they reached the leaders cabin and wandered in. "But... We can think of that later, because you'll be leaving your ring behind for this." He told her, sitting behind his desk and leaning back in his chair comfortably. "I'll explain as soon as Doni gets here. Which should be soon, I hope. I'd hate to have to suspend him on his first day." He joked, giving Ari another watchful stare. "So, do you own a coat? Have you slept the night? Have you eaten? I'm not sending you on assignment unless you're fit to travel." He stated.
“I was thinking about tying it round my neck,” Ari said, sitting down across from him and removing his coat. With a shrug Ari pulled the ring off from around her neck and placed it onto the desk in front of Sean, nudging it towards him. “I slept, ate, and I do,” she responded, everything in her words the truth, but not the whole truth. She hadn’t slept well, nor had she been able to keep her food down and she did own a coat, several in fact if you wanted to count her pelt, it just happened to be out in the woods. She beamed at him, her eyes sparkling at the remark of her possibly going on her first assignment, and she sent a silent prayer to the Twins to have Donovan show up soon.

Sean raised an eyebrow at Ari's answers to his questions; he wasn't all too convinced. "You don't look like you slept all too well, and believe me, I know a thing or two about that. I won't get into detail until Donovan gets here, but this is the kind of innocent looking task than get a Wolf killed fast if said Wolf is reckless. So I expect you both to be in your best condition." He warned, pulling her ring towards him across the table and feeling the smooth surface of the silver with his fingertips, keeping silent as they waited for Donovan to arrive.

It was a few minutes later that the door opened and Donovan entered smiling shyly and apologetically. "I'm sorry... I should've left the party earlier than I did." He stated.
"It's fine, Don." Sean replied. "Just lock the door and have a seat."
Donovan locked the cabin door before pulling a chair and taking a seat beside Ari, giving the girl a brief smile before turning to Sean and patiently waiting for him to speak.
"Donovan, give me your ring." Sean asked, indicating that it be left on the table. "I'm sending you both to Newhaven, to infiltrate the Castle as workers. I need reliable information on the Queen and the White Knights, so I want you to take positions as close to them as possible."
"But Sean... Ella knows my face, she would recognize me the moment she laid eyes on me."
"I know that, that's why she can't see you. You'll stay as close to Thomas as possible without drawing attention to yourself, but if someone as much as give you a second glance; get out, alright? Don't risk getting caught, because if you do, and this goes for both of you, you're screwed."
"Huh... Comforting." Donovan chuckled, placing his ring on the table. "Will I be looking for something specific?"
"You'll know it when you see it." Sean replied. "Ari, I want you find a spot amongst the Queen's maids, stay as close to her as you can for as long as you can, pay close attention to her schedule, who she speaks to in the Castle and who visits from the outside. Be careful of former Wolves roaming the Castle, and..." Sean sighed. "Knowing Ella, I'm pretty sure I need to remind you to keep your temper in check and keep to yourself no matter what happens." He smirked slightly. "Your Highness can be a royal bitch at times."

Sean then took both the actives' rings and locked them within a drawer, looking from Doni to Ari with a serious expression. "Now, look: No one in this camp, aside from me and Franklin, knows of this assignment; the other person who is informed is Sheila at the Inn. You'll arrive at Newhaven and enter the Inn through the sewer tunnels and NOT the front door, once there you will be given clothes to wear, and it is up to you to make your way in the Castle to where you have to be. Avoid being seen together once you're inside, and in case one of you gets caught and captured the other should come back immediately and let me know... Please don't try to be heroic in a castle full of Knights. Whatever you need to inform is to be send through Sheila at the Inn... Castle staff are not allowed to drink there for obvious reasons, though, so make sure to never be seen going in or out. Any questions?"
“One does not simply become a maid to the queen,” Ari sighed and rubbed her temples gently, “Tell me you know how I’m going to get to rubbing elbows with the queen? If you don’t, then I’m sure I have some friends in the castle that could get me in.” She saw a look of scepticism cross Sean’s and Donovan’s face and hurriedly added, “Don’t worry; no one knows I’m a Wolf. They’ll still think I’m a poor orphan girl from the woods.”
Sean chuckled. "Oh, you want me to do the work for you now, Kid? You're an active now; you should find ways to get your jobs done for yourself, but... This is a very important task, so I have contacted a friend that cooks the servants' food make sure one of the girls falls ill so you can take her place. Whatever you do to get there is your business as long as no one asks questions about why a poor orphan girl wants to be close to the Queen of Newhaven." He stated with a little smirk.

"Alright, how close do you want me from the man in charge of all the Newhaven army?" Donovan asked, a slight sarcastic tone in his voice as he grinned at his brother.
"Not close enough that he'll look at you. Stay close to the nobles, that should be enough to watch his movements."
Donovan nodded in agreement. "Alright, well that's all I need to know... I'm going to pack a few things and I'll wait by the gates." He announced, standing up and walking out the door.

Sean leaned back in his seat as Donovan walked out the door waiting a minute in silence, before turning back to Ari. "Anything else, Kid?" He asked, running a hand through his hair and wandering if he would be late to meet Dastan. "I have something I really need to take care of today, and I'm also running a bit late."
Ari turned to watch Donovan leave and then turned back to Sean and gave him a wicked grin.
“I think that covers it, don’t worry Sean, we won’t let you down. Oh and Sean, be careful”
With that Ari sprang to her feet and bowed her head before dashing out the door, heading through the woods to get to her tree, not cabin. Everything from the Wolves was too grand, for this she would have to get dirty, at least for the first part. She tore into a wolf, the cold leaving her body the moment it happened and she ran into her tree, under the roots and into the small cavern that lead to the trunk. There she grabbed a pair of pants and a shirt, her jaws closed around a cloak and she managed to stuff it all into a bag along with her small bone knife. Then, without even bothering to shift back she took off at a run, pack in her mouth as she skidded to the gates a moment before Donovan showed his face.

The setting changes from assassins-camp to The Desert

Setting

Characters Present

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

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[Crimson Shadows’ Camp]

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Such as?”

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

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

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

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

“I see...”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ali seemed to know who he was...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well...?” The man insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[White Shadows Camp]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“What are you doing here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Big mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

[The Manor]

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