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Sham (No Last Name)

Black Knight. There's no point in worrying about it, until there is.

0 · 856 views · located in Raven's Nest

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

Groups

Former Black Guard

Description

Age: 22
Gender: Female
Rank: Black Knight
City: Newhaven

Ability: Sham is a hunter. When she activates her Enlightenment, she gains superior reflexes and heightened senses. She can see in low light; she can practically run up the wall using only her fingertips and toes to hold on; she can jump from great heights and not hurt herself; she’s capable of great feats of agility; see here and here Just an idea, this sort of stuff only crazier. The problem is that when she uses her gift, she uses up energy even more than normal. The more she uses it, the worse the effect is. A normal use would leave her tired and extremely hungry, while extended use could leave her dangerously weakened and near comatose. For this reason she tends to the thin side while eating like a male twice her size.


Description: Sham is about 5’9”, well muscled with an athletes build. She has very short blond hair, kept about an inch long mostly because she absolutely hates to mess with it. She has bright green eyes and a nose that was broken a couple of times in the past. When she moves it’s always no more than she needs to and she’s always balanced and centered. She tends to be very aware of her environment, part of her Enlightenment.

Personality

Sham is a very ‘in the moment’ kind of person. She tends not to worry about things in the past or what’s going to happen in the future. She knows that this will mean that she’s never going to advance to a position of command and she’s fine with that. In the past she was part of a street gang that had a run in with Mageria during the siege, that’s when she first got the idea that she could use her skills for more than just stealing. She has a very loose grasp of the law, instead relying more on what she considers right and wrong.

Equipment

Sham uses two bladed eskrima sticks when she fights example 1 example 2 along with hand to hand combat. She wears gauntlets to protect her forearms when she blocks a blow and refuses to wear anything more than banded leather armor on the grounds that it restricts her movements. Her back up weapons tend to be a couple of daggers that she has tucked in her boots and at the small of her back.

History

Sham ran with her gang ever since she was a little girl, they taught her to fight and to steal and to run. When she came into her Enlightenment it meant that she was a more efficient thief and better able to defend the territory of her gang. She never managed to become more than second or third in command, not because she was bad at what she did, but because she didn’t bother with planning or thinking too far ahead. If she saw something that she wanted, she tended to wander off with it.

Sham first met Mageria during the second siege of Newhaven by Blackpond. She had given the gangs the go ahead to do what they could to the Blackpond soldiers, offering medical support and supplies in exchange for them causing what trouble they could. It was the first time that any of them had seen that anybody official cared about them. Sham was so curious about the Knight that she met that she followed her for the rest of the siege and tracked her through the city for weeks afterward. It was after the events of the last RP that she actually tried to steal something from Mageria, just to see what would happen. Mageria caught her and the two of them fought. It was the only time that someone could keep up with her, more than that it was so amazing that someone with no Enlightenment could keep up with her that Sham couldn’t stay away. After about six months of following Mageria around and bothering her, the Knight finally managed to recruit her. She was put through another six months of intensive training, then eventually became a Knight. Her loyalty is more directly to Mageria as a friend than as a Commander, she doesn’t really do the whole, chain of command thing.

So begins...

Sham (No Last Name)'s Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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“Just breathe, slow and calm.” Mageria’s voice was smooth and steady and she watched the young boy sitting next to her though eyes that were half closed. He in turn stared at the pile of tinder in front of them both with a determined expression that carried with it a heavy dose of dread.
“There’s nothing to worry about, Jason. The tinder’s the only thing that would light and we’re far enough away that we won’t get burned. Just concentrate like we practiced and don’t worry about it so much.”

Jason was one of the orphans that now lived in the Castle along with the men of the Guard. Three years ago his parents had died in the siege of Newhaven, leaving him nowhere to go. His father had been one of the Black Guard under her command and his mother had been one of the servants who had died when they got in the way of a Blackpond assassin. Because of the madness of the siege and it’s aftermath, it took people awhile to realize that there were now several orphans living in the Castle. The Council had wanted to simply chuck them into the orphanage and call it done, but when Mageria had found out about it she had thrown a fit. She inspected the orphanage and found it to be in a horrible state of disrepair; not fit to house children in her opinion. She had gone to the Council to secure funds for it’s repair, but they had turned the idea down flat. Sarris had been beyond furious, but Mageria had simply smiled and thanked them for their time.
The next morning, each Council member who had voted no for the extra money woke up with a note neatly pinned to their nightcloths, asking “What do you think would happen to your children if you were no longer around?” Somehow after that the money was suddenly available, but there was no way that she was letting the children of her men live there while she was still around. She had taken care of their parents and when they died that meant she was going to take care of their children. And so the children of the Guard had moved into a set of rooms at the Castle, being taken care of by some of the servants and mentored by the soldiers that lived there as well. It had been difficult at times, but Mageira had made a promise; she would take care of the families of her people. It was really that simple for her.

Jason, the boy sitting next to her, had been about nine when the siege happened. Now, three years later it seemed that he was growing into an Enlightenment of his own. He was a firestarter, or perhaps someone who could control fire as he willed. It was really too early in his training to tell, so far he could only manage to cause fire to flare up unexpectedly, mostly when he was upset. This came to light when they realized that the problems they had been having with fires had been due to Jason; he had been in an argument with Lily, another of the orphans and Mageria had moved in to break it up. Right as she had, the logs behind her in the fireplace had burst into flame, blackening the ceiling and causing her to loose several inches of hair in the process. The braid that hung over her shoulder used to stretch down almost to her waist, now it merely reached to below her shoulder blades. The number of jokes about red heads having flaming tempers had more than tripled. Jason had taken one look at what had happened and had run out of the room in complete terror. Once she had calmed Lily down and changed into other cloths, it had taken her and several other men almost five hours to track the kid down and another hour of her talking to him though a locked door for her to convince him that she wasn’t going to throw him out into the street just because he had almost lit her on fire. Ever since then they had been working together several hours a day in order to help him get control of his new found ability. At least to the point where he wasn’t causing random flareups every time he got upset. Jason was having trouble controlling his ability and she had written a letter to the White Shadows asking for advice on training him. But until their answer arrived she was making do with her own best instincts; which for now told her that working with him and making sure that he wasn’t afraid of what he could do was the best thing that she could do for him. Which left them sitting in the middle of the courtyard, staring at a pile of tinder with several buckets of water sitting behind them.

“Come on, Jason. Deep breath in and focus. Once more and we can be done for the day.”
Jason nodded and took a deep shuddering breath, focusing entirely on the pile of dried twigs and grass in front of him. Sweat gathered on his brow and his muscles clenched; then with a hissing roar the pile in front of them was engulfed in a merry bonfire. He sat back with a sigh and looked over at her; Mageria smiled and reached over to hug him with one arm. “Very good.” They watched the pile burn down to ashes before getting up to go in.

------------------------------------
Thomas growled in frustration under his breath as he watched the newest recruits working in the yard. The problem with some of them is that they were straight from the nobility, which meant that they had private instructors in the art of fighting. Not that this meant that they were bad fighters, but that they weren’t up to the standard that he expected from his Guards. Even worse that some of them hoped to someday become Knights, if they tried to fight beyond their abilities most of them would end up dead on a battlefield someday. Finally he had to step in. Drawing his rapier he walked into the middle of the bout and disarmed them both with just a few moves, letting their weapons spin away to hit the dust.
“You both fight too pretty. You flourish and pose and act like this is a duel. It isn’t. You are both fighting for your lives, not honor. If you continue to act like nobility when you fight, you will die. It’s that simple.” He sheathed his sword and planted both hands on his hips. Both young men looked scornful at his words. It was obvious that they believed that their lineage would protect them, and not all of the words that he had would make a difference. Shaking his head, he looked around at the rest of the Guards standing around at ease in their crisp uniforms, waiting for their turns to practice. Then he walked past them to a different corner of the yard, where a ragtag group of men and women sat in the dirt, watching a few of their number go after each other in something that was just short of a killing frenzy. He tapped one young woman on the shoulder, smiling politely when she looked up at him.
“Excuse me. I need to teach a few of my recruits a lesson. Would you mind helping me out?” She nodded in return, picking up a set of sticks and brushing the dust off of her pants as she followed him. He returned to his group and stood in front of them.
“So, you two believe that since you’ve been taught to fight since you could hold a blade, you don’t need to learn anything else, right?” They at least had the grace not to nod, but he could see the answer in their eyes. He stepped to the side and gestured to the young woman standing behind him.
“So, here’s the chance to prove that you’re right. If you can win in a bout against her, you’ll have proved that your way is better. The both of you, formally trained, against one person who never had a day of formal training before she got here.” Thomas stepped back and gestured for them all to start. The two men lost a moment glancing at each other in confusion, while the young woman took her sticks in both hands and went on the attack. It was clear after just a moment that she was the better fighter as she chased them both around the ring, working first on one then the other, pushing them into each other and tripping them up. In the first minute of the fight, it was clear that she had won, but Thomas let the bout continue for the full usual ten minutes, just to prove his point. Once the bout was over, the two former nobles were panting and gasping in the dirt, while the young woman dressed in Black stood over them with her sticks in hand.
“Thank you for the demonstration, it was much appreciated.” Thomas gave a respectful nod while the young woman bowed in return. She went back to her group while Thomas turned to his. “Now. Start again. And do it right this time.”
-------------------------------------

Hours later Mageria was sitting alone in the common room of the Black Guard’s barracks; stitching together a broken piece of practice armor. The braid that hung over her shoulder was streaked with white; the patch at her temple had remained white ever since her brush with death three years ago. Between that and the stories that evidently went around about ‘The woman who came back from Death’ had lead to some interesting rumors floating around the barracks that were evidently used to frighten new recruits. She didn’t mind so much, if they were already afraid of her she didn’t have to work so hard to get them worked into shape. It was quiet and almost peaceful, the only sounds ones that floated in through the open window.

Suddenly she raised her head, alerted by the sense that something had changed. Since she didn’t have any type of Enlightenment, Mageria had honed her senses over the years until she frequently sensed things that others missed. She couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but something was different. Slipping the hilt of a dagger into one hand, she turned and peered into the shadows, searching for what had alerted her.
“Hello?”

From behind her there was the slightest scrape of leather on stone, that was the only warning that she had before a figure dressed in black leather launched itself at her. Mageria barely dodged out of the way in time, twisting as she did so that she could land a firm push on the other’s back and send them stumbling on past. Spinning on the ball of one foot, Mageria pulled another dagger and set herself for a fight. Unfortunately she recognized the person that was attacking her, and she knew that she wasn’t going to get away without a struggle.
“All right then.” She gestured with the daggers in a ‘bring it on’ motion. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
The other woman grinned evilly and pulled a pair of sticks from her back, setting herself in a fighting stance as well; she pressed something on the sticks that caused sickle like blades to pop out, making them fighting scythes. With a quick pair of steps the other woman pressed the attack, while Mageria dropped down and brought one leg around in a sweeping motion. The other woman jumped up on the table, kicking a bowl at Mageria’s head. She in turn rolled under the table and launched herself upwards, slamming the table up and over. She heard a grunt as the other woman fell, then rolled and sprang back up. She brought her scythes up and around in a move that would have ripped her throat out if Mageria hadn’t blocked it with her forearm. The only thing that saved her from losing her arm was the fact that she wore vambraces heavily reenforced with metal ribs. She’d have a bruise, but it was worth it as she rotated her arm around and used the motion to pull the scythe from her opponent. Her opponent hissed in frustration and brought her other stick around in a backhand move to try and smash it into Mageria’s jaw, she ducked and tackled the other woman, pushing her into the wall. For a few minutes, both women traded blows that would have done considerable damage if any of them had managed to land, yet they both kept fighting. At one point Mageria managed to get a grip on the other woman’s shirt and arm, using it to try and throw her against the wall. Instead of hitting the wall, she managed to use the momentum to run up and flip over Mageria, grabbing her in turn and spinning her around. The other woman used the opportunity to launch a roundhouse punch that Mageria wasn’t completely able to dodge, but she rolled with it and ended up standing a couple of feet away. Turning, she grabbed random things off the table and flinging them at her attacker with deadly accuracy. She dodged some, grabbed a few others out of the air, but she couldn’t dodge them all. The other woman took a couple of steps back under the rain of missiles, not noticing that Mageria was driving her toward a puddle of something that gleamed in the light. One boot heel caught the edge of it and went out from under her, she flailed wildly before twisting and landing badly. Mageria didn’t let the opportunity slip by, she sprinted over and grabbed her, twisting one arm up and planting a knee in the other woman’s back to drive her to the floor. With a grunt she grabbed the back of the woman’s neck and slammed her head into the floor.
“Yield, Sham.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Sham growled in frustration. She really thought that she was going to get the Captain this time, the woman had been completly distracted . . . . She should have been surprised! Mageria’s knee was planted firmly in the middle of her back and any more pressure on her arm and it would be dislocated. She was about to admit defeat when a strange male voice intruded.

“Hey, Captain, I have a letter for you, but I see you are rather busy. Should I come back later?”

Hopeful, she stayed still for a moment, hoping that Mageria would get distracted. She felt the Captain's weight shift just a bit, as she cheerfully replied. “Jake!? Hold on, I’ll be with you in . . .” Sham thrashed violently, turning so that she faced into the hold that Mageria had on her arm. It worked, up to a point. Her arm was in no more danger of being dislocated but now Mageria had a tight grip on her neck and was steadily applying pressure.
“Sham. You know the rules. Now yield, or it gets twice as bad.”
Sham sighed and finally yielded. Mageria released her grip and Sham gratefully drew in a deep breath of air. Looking up, she saw Mageria walk over to someone with long black hair with a rather interesting scar over one eye. Oddly enough, the Captain seemed really happy to see this stranger. Sham got up and perched on one of the few tables still standing, grabbing a piece of fruit and biting into it.
“Heya Cap’n. Old boyfriend?” She leaned over and took a good look, actually the stranger seemed a bit young for Mageria. “No wait, boytoy? Raise ‘em up right?” Mageria choked on something that sounded a lot like a laugh and turned so that she faced both of them. “No, an old friend is all. Sham, this is Jake. Jake, this is Sham, whom I foolishly have taken into the Knights a couple of years back.” She looked over at Jake. “It’s been what? Three years?”
Sham stretched, wandering over to the open window. “Are you sure he’s not a ‘friend’?” She sketched quotes in the air. “I mean, you really need to loosen up, Cap’n” She yelped as Mageria turned and hurled a mug at her head, leaping up to crouch in the window ledge. “Cause if he’s not available, I know a guy . . .”
“OUT!” Mageria grabbed another mug and sent it whizzing at her head, Sham leapt backwards out of the window in a backwards somersault, grabbing the mug and placing it in the window as she fell.

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

Mageria sighed as she turned back to Jake, rubbing one temple in frustration. “Every day it's like this. No, actually, this is it being calm around here any more. But still Jake, it’s good to see you.” She tilted her head to the side as she looked him over. “You look as if you’re doing well. Thanks for the letter, it’s been something I’ve been a bit worried about.” She took the envelope and gestured to the one untouched table. “Do you have time to stay a while?”

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Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Sham was running along the ledges of the Castle walls when she heard a couple of people talking about the deaths of some bandits down in the Lower City. Given the particularly gruesome manner in which they had died and the card left behind, there could be only one person responsible. And wasn’t the Captain going to be upset when she heard about it? Moving quickly she worked her way over rooftops and ledges, at a few points leaping across spaces more than six feet across, until she found where Michael usually went when he got back from patrolling. Grinning she wandered in and perched on a table next to where he leaned back in a chair.
“You just had to leave the cards, didn’t you? You know how the Cap’n feels about those.” Even years living in the Castle couldn’t erase the clear evidence of her street child upbringing. But around Michael her accent tended to become a bit thicker, just because she thought that it annoyed the former noble. Sometimes she couldn’t help tweaking people.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Lamya Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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You need to listen to this music for the chase scene in order to get the full effect. Please and Thank You.

Sham felt just a bit more delight in the chase than she should have. The woman in the red cloak was damn fast, darting in and out through the corridors with a a recklessness that wasn’t wise for someone who cared about their future health. Red Cloak ran down one of the more busy hallways, laughing as she ran between the people, grabbing a few of them and slinging them in her wake. Sham followed, leaping over the fallen servants when she couldn’t dodge them. Red Cloak glanced back and giggled when she saw Sham chasing her, grabbing a suit of armor and pulling it down with a loud clatter. The helmet the woman spun and threw at Sham, who dodged to one side and returned it with force. The other woman dodged it as well, spinning on one foot to leap down a stairwell. Sham followed, turning a corner just in time to see Red Cloak grab the edge of a tapestry and jump, using it to swing down to the ground floor. The reason she did so was obvious, the stairway was crowded with people. Sham on the other hand, drew on her gift and jumped up, running down the banister and gaining speed as she went.

Red Cloak simply smiled as if she was a child given the perfect gift and picked up her skirt with both hands. She whirled and darted through the staring crowd, moving as if they were standing still. Most of them screamed and ran, unfortunately the majority of them were idiots and managed to tangle themselves up and get in Sham’s way. So she simply leapt and started leaping from shoulders to backs to tables back to someone else’s shoulder. She really didn’t want to know what Mageria was going to hear about this.

Red Cloak simply grabbed a vase off a table and hurled it through a nearby window, following it a moment later. Apparently the woman really hated doors. Sham followed her, diving head first out the window, rolling when she hit the ground. It was purely luck that let her dodge the blow that the woman aimed at her from beside the window, swinging a heavy length of wood that would have caved in Sham’s skull if it had connected. Sham finished rolling into a crouch, planting her hands on the ground and pushing off of them in a tackle. Red Cloak gripped the staff in both hands, planted it on the ground in front of her and somehow used it to flip up and over Sham while leaving the staff behind. Sham couldn’t halt her momentum and instead just ran up the wall, flipping over and spinning to see Red Cloak taking off across the courtyard. Sham followed, but apparently ever damn person in the entire Castle was wandering through the area at that time AND GETTING IN HER WAY! With a loud oath, Sham leapt past people, over them, using some of them for springboards . . . She saw Red Cloak actually skid under a horse at one point, startling the poor thing into a wild rear. Sham certainly didn’t help, while the handler was trying to hang onto the reins and control it, Sham ran up, leapt, placing one hand on it’s rump and leaping over it, spinning in mid-air.

She couldn’t make it to the woman before she got out the gate, leaving her no choice but to follow as Red Cloak lead her on a chase through the entirety of Newhaven. Sham used her abilities at every turn, but Red Cloak was damn fast to begin with and she didn’t care if she hurt anyone in the process of getting away. Finally they neared the City walls, where a bit of scaffolding was all that remained to show that the walls had ever fallen. They were in the process of being dismantled, but that didn’t stop Red Cloak as she ran lightly up them, daintily holding her skirt out of the way.
“You’ve got nowhere else to go! There’s no other way out!” Sham yelled as she worked her way up the scaffolding, pushing from stairs to bracing to whatever looked like it would hold her weight. Panting, she reached the top to find that Red Cloak was standing at the very edge of what was left, far above the ground and the far edge of the wall. Turning around, she smiled gently.
“There’s always another way out.” With that Red Cloak fell backwards off the platform. Sham ran after her to see that she had somehow wrapped a rope around her waist and was running down the outside of the wall. Sham only wasted a moment in staring before backing up a few steps and running at the same place. As she went she whipped out one of her batons, the blade snapping smoothly out. Almost absently she severed the rope, then she was leaping, her eyes flaring brightly as she smoothly twisted through the air to land in a crouch a few feet away from where Red Cloak had landed in a tangle of dress and cloak. With a flick of the wrist Sham pulled out her other baton, extending that blade as well. Breathing hard, she planted her feet and stared at the other woman.
“You tried to hurt my friends.”

Red Cloak didn't bother to untangle herself from the mess her clothes had created. Looking down the edge of the blade, she just smiled. It didn't matter if she died right then. Nature would take it's course and things would work themselves out in the long run. Of course, she wouldn't see it all unfold, but it didn't really matter. Truth was, if she died, so did those soldiers and the corruptible shadow, Mageria would feel responsible, even if she didn't admit it.
"What makes them your friends?"

Sham tilted her head to the side and frowned, not letting her guard down. "I choose to call them that. My reasons are my own and nothing I think that you would understand." She shifted the tiniest bit to be sure of her footing. "Why does Blackpond think that sending someone who would threaten us with bombs would make us more inclined to do as they want?"


Red Cloak snickered, placing her forehead right on the tip of the blade, eyeballing Sham with doe eyes and an indifferent frown. "Well it's safe to assume that you like to deflect questions you don't know the answer to by making assumptions of your own about the person you speak to. Am I being a hypocrite? Yes. Do I care?" She continued eyeballing Sham, but her gaze grew more an more sinister the longer she looked into her eyes. She then placed the tip of her finger o the edge of the blade and ran it down towards her forehead. When her finger got close enough to connect with her forehead, she let the blood course down the blade and eventually onto her head where it ran down to the tip of her nose and slowly dripped. She then grabbed the blade and forced it to her where her heart would be, cutting her hand till it became a bloody mess, but she didn't flinch one bit. Instead that indifferent frown turned into a jubilant smile. "Blackpond doesn't think it. Why should a city have only one voice? I think Mageria has had the same idea as I have for a while now and she knows that it must be done to insure optimal survival."
She paused again for a moment, taking time to think about what she was going to say next. She wanted to word it perfectly as to not leave any room for stipulation. "Now I have a story for you." Red Cloak said. There was once a woman at the mercy of another woman. The first woman-- let's call her Yishka-- was on the ground with the blade of the second woman aimed directly for her heart. Yishka was a vile woman, who used threats and lied to get her way. No one could tell how many people's death she was responsible for. The second woman, with the perfect chance to kill this woman has a difficult choice to make herself however. She could kill Yishka, but face the consequence when 27 innocent soldiers die or she could let Yishka go, not knowing how many innocent lives she could possibly take herself. So, would you rather play the soulless tango with Mother Death herself or would you rather kill what you know you need to have to be happy?"

It seemed to Sham that everything froze for just a moment. She could feel a breeze blowing across the back of her neck, hear birdsong off in the distance. And in front of her, ruby red drops of blood ran down the length of her blade to drip onto the ground. She literally held the lives of 28 people with the twitch of a blade.

Almost gently, she pressed her scythe forward, digging it deeper into the other woman’s chest.

Finally, reluctantly, she stopped. It hadn’t advanced very far, but it was still enough to cause a scarlet patch to grow and spread.
“Yishka, is it? At least at the moment, I’d say. Your world must be a very cold place, that you can stand so bravely behind the shield of another’s life.” She withdrew her blade, not caring if she cut the other woman’s hand.
“Go back to your King, Yishka. You’ve delivered his message, you’ve made your threats. You’ll know soon enough what our decisions are.”
Slowly Sham backed up, giving the other woman the room to stand up and walk away. Stone faced, she watched as Yishka held up her bleeding hand to her face, watching the blood run down her wrist to soak into her sleeve. Then she brought the edge of her cloak around and started to wipe her fingers on it as if she was drawing some sort of pattern into the cloth.

Sham watched her get up and walk away, waiting until she couldn’t see her any more before turning and walking back into the City, stopping at the first food vendor that she saw in order to deal with the sudden pit that she held in her gut. She had eaten about a meal and a half as she was walking before she noticed that Thomas was riding beside her.
“Report please, Sham.” He raised an eyebrow at the trail of confusion that lead back towards the Castle. “A great deal seems to have happened while I was gone.” Sham snorted softly and did her best to catch him up in between bites.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Jake could guess what the whole thing was about before Mageria even spoke a word to him; the slightly evil smile on the woman's face was a very good hint of what was to come. His suspicions growing as she led him by the arm, and confirmed as they reached a training area. He heaved a small sigh knowing that he would probably leave this with a few bruises and aches, but grinned even so. It had been a long while since he had a chance at a (considerably) leveled fight. This would actually turn out to be quite fun for him.

Before picking up training gear, Jake needed to get rid of what he definitely wouldn't be using for this: his needles. So he carefully removed the sheathes located at his waist, forearms, and ankles, each containing ten to twenty needles. Afterwards he felt the weight of the training swords until he decided to arm himself with two short swords. They were heavier than his own sword, but weren't as heavy as the ones the knights were used to. He also got a couple of daggers, easily concealing them here and there as needed. Once done, he proceeded to join the Captain in the center of the courtyard. "Fair enough." He stated simply "You will have to excuse me if I'm a bit rusty though. You know, it's been a while." He added, a slight smirk showing on his face as he walked towards the woman, feeling his feet sink slightly in the muddy ground, one sword in each hand and some daggers hidden just in case, after all, old habits die hard.

Jake paced calmly towards Mageria, and never actually stopped before her. Not wasting any time in delivering the first couple of blows, he aimed a first hit with his left sword directly at Mageria's face and a second with his right sword at her chest.

Mageria snorted at the "a bit rusty" claim of Jake's. As if he would let any skills of his get rusty. She set her feet in a fighting stance and watched as Jake made his way towards her. Behind them both standing under the awnings were a number of the Guards watching them both and making bets on them both. When Jake struck at her face, Mageria brought her right arm up and deflected it off of her vambrace, letting it slide harmlessly past her head. The right hand sword she caught on the dagger in her left hand, twisting slightly so that she was inside Jake's guard. Bringing her right arm in tight, she aimed her elbow toward Jake's gut and jabbed it backwards . . .

Jake didn't try to escape the blow aimed at his gut, instead he simply decided to twist his body enough to protect his mid section and not get the wind knocked out of him. As he took the hit, he walked back a couple of steps so he could to put his guard up again properly, raising his left sword in a defensive manner while attacking with his good hand. Then he shook his head lightly and opened up a small smirk. "Now, what did I tell you? Rusty. It's almost shameful." He stated. Obviously, he didn't expect Mageria to believe that, but he was getting a bit of a kick out of messing with the guards who were betting on the fight. Following the statement, Jake advanced again; this time being careful not to leave another opening like the one before, aiming for body blows that were easily dodged or blocked and returned as he looked for an opening.

Mageria raised her eyebrows sardonically and tilted her head at Jake's words. Then a lightning grin worked it's way across her face and she started raining blows down on Jake, driving him across the yard and through a couple of puddles. He blocked every blow, so she took a moment to take a step back and dig her toe into a puddle and fling a glob of mud at Jake's face.



Jake notice the mud flying off the ground towards his face a moment too late to dodge, as the 'projectile' hit him straight in the face he dropped his left sword and let a dagger slide from under his sleeve, concealing it with his enlightenment. He then raised his hand as if to wipe the mud of his face, and threw the dagger in the direction of Mageria's face before to wiping the mud of his eyes.

Impressed with Jake's ability to conceal his actions, Mageria dove to one side to avoid the dagger flying at her face, rolling on the ground and coming up in a crouch. Bracing one hand on the ground, she brought her leg around in a sweeping motion towards Jake's legs.

Jake wiped his eyes and regained sight barely in time to see the incoming sweep kick. He attempted to jump over the kick, but it still caught his left foot, causing him to lose his balance and stumble back as he landed. The muddy ground didn't help his case, and he ended up slipping and falling backwards, immediately rolling over to his left and retrieving the sword he had dropped in order to defend himself better from the attack he knew would be coming next.

Mageria smoothly spun up from her crouch, settling her weight on both feet once again. She turned to see that Jake was rolling away, reaching for his sword and trying to bring it up. Walking towards him, she absently swung first the sword in her right hand and the long dagger in her left in circles, keeping her wrists loose and flinging a bit of mud off.
"Come on then. Stand up." Stopping a couple of steps away, she gestured with her sword, giving Jake the chance to get up out of the mud. When he hesitated, she raised one eyebrow and smiled.
"Don't you trust me?" Keeping back, she waited for what he'd do next.
Of course she pushed an attack the instant he started to move, aiming a couple of heavy blows toward his head.

Jake hesitated when Mageria told him to stand up. He did trust the woman with his life, but he knew for a fact she wasn't one to hold back, even if it was training, and he wouldn't really expect her to. Besides, the first thing he was taught, still as a kid, was: Never listen to a word your opponent says. Still, simply lying there would accomplish nothing so he took his chance at pulling himself off the ground, knowing it wouldn't be that simple.
Of course, the moment he moved he was met with several blows aimed towards his head. Jake wasn't even standing up straight yet as he was forced to lift up his left sword to stop Mageria's blade from hitting him in the head. As he blocked the first blow he almost lost balance again, but managed to steady himself, blocking the second blow as well. As the next blows came his way, instead of trying to properly stand and block them, he dropped to one knee, still protecting his head with his left sword, and swung his right sword towards Mageria's knees.

Mageria brought her dagger around to block Jake's blow, but couldn't block all of the force. It actually caught her in just the right place that it made her knee buckle, throwing her to the side and driving the air from her lungs for an instant. Forcing herself up, she rolled and drove herself to her feet.

Jake had an opportunity and he wasn't going to waste it. In the few moments it took for Mageria to bring herself up again, he activated his enlightenment and vanished, being careful to walk quietly and stepping over his own footprints not to give himself away, he circled her and attacked from behind, aiming a blow to her back.

Jake was gone. Well, obviously not gone, but not visible anymore. Obviously he was counting on his Enlightenment to give him the advantage, but like most Enlightened, he counted on it far too much, in her opinion. Drawing a careful breath, Mageria let her eyes drift half closed, pushing her dagger back into it's sheath to leave her left hand free. Most mercenaries practiced blind fighting for fun, but it was a skill that she had found extremely useful. It involved the ability to rely on senses other than sight, concentrating instead on trying to sense an opponent's movements with a sense of the space around a fighter.

Mageria settled her weight on both feet and concentrated. Half a breath in . . . she spun, eyes still half closed and brought her sword up, hearing it clang against another weapon. With her left hand she grabbed the invisible arm and seized a pressure point, using it to lever Jake's arm out and down in a rather painful hold. She smiled as she heard bets being settled back in the doorway.
"Nice try Jake. Care to try again?"

Later that night Mageria grinned a bit as she got ready for bed. Jake hadn’t done that bad, really. She’d have no problem bringing him up to a proper level of skill in no time. With a small sigh of exhaustion, she went about her nightly rituals. First was making sure that there was enough oil in the lamp sitting on her mantle. It was a small, squat lamp known as a Traveler’s Blessing, a bit of mercenary superstition that she couldn’t quite break herself of. Most mercenaries, once they managed to settle down, still had friends that were walking “The Long Road” as it was known. The belief was that if a light was kept burning for them, one day they would be able to find their way home. At the moment, there were two wicks burning, each of them labeled with a small metal tag. Because naming the person that was watched for meant that Death would also be watching for them, the tradition was that they were labeled with something that represented the person. One of the wicks was labeled with an ancient rune which meant “Strength through Courage” while the other read “Strength through Faith”. She brushed her fingers across it and moved on. One day they would find their rest.

Next she checked her weapons, another habit, but one she wasn’t about to break. Everything was in order, and her smile was tinged with sadness as she ran her fingers over a war hammer hanging from a rack. It was bright silver, with several ancient holy symbols impressed into it. The shaft was badly scratched, as if a hand with claws had tried to hold it. And it had, really. There was also blood that had soaked into the wood, no matter how hard she tried she hadn’t been able to clean it off. There was a leather thong on one end that would be used to attach it to a belt, from that dangled a battered iron cross.
“Hold on Daniel. I know that you’re out there.”

Finally she crossed to her desk to carefully shelve a couple of books. The knowledge that they held had been hard won, and not something that she would care to let just anyone know. The shelf that she put them on held several old and battered journals, most of them ancient and each stamped with either a golden sun or a silver crescent. Sometimes the best way to learn was to listen to those who were no longer able to speak.

Pushing herself to relax, she finally climbed into bed. Today had been exciting enough. Tomorrow might hold even more . . .

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

Thomas rubbed his hands through his hair and sighed in impatience. He just knew that things were going to get complicated with the Salamanders camped right outside the walls of Newhaven, but there was nothing he could do about it. Best to just move on to what he could control. Reaching out with one arm, he drug a stack of reports nearer and started leafing through it. He hadn’t been ready to become the Captain of the White Knights in the first place, ever since then it had felt like a desperate scramble to catch up. There had been months of late nights like this, trying to fill a role that he had been shoved into. Absently he ate with one hand while studying the reports with the other, not even tasting what he was eating. It took him a couple of hours, but he finally waded through them all. Putting them in a pile to deal with later, he wandered back into his bed room and shrugged out of his shirt. Not even bothering to pull anything else off, he just collapsed backwards and pulled a pillow over his head; dropping into a dreamless sleep.

-------

Sham was sitting on the edge of a roof watching the city when the stars started coming out. She liked to watch the city put itself to sleep, remembering when this time of day used to be her most active. For some reason nobody looked around during twilight. She hugged her knees to her chest, more disturbed with the actions and words of Yishka than she wanted to admit

“Why should a city have only one voice? I think Mageria has had the same idea as I have for a while now and she knows that it must be done to insure optimal survival."

"Now I have a story for you. . . . There was once a woman at the mercy of another woman. The first woman-- let's call her Yishka-- was on the ground with the blade of the second woman aimed directly for her heart. Yishka was a vile woman, who used threats and lied to get her way. No one could tell how many people's death she was responsible for. The second woman, with the perfect chance to kill this woman has a difficult choice to make herself however. She could kill Yishka, but face the consequence when 27 innocent soldiers die or she could let Yishka go, not knowing how many innocent lives she could possibly take herself. So, would you rather play the soulless tango with Mother Death herself or would you rather kill what you know you need to have to be happy?"


Did Mageria think the same way that this Yishka did? She knew that the woman was capable of almost anything, but surely there were limits to what the Captain would do. Weren’t there?

Finally Sham stood up and started running along the edge of the roof, her eyes flaring green as she shifted her sight to better deal with the dark. There was nothing she could do about it now. She’d just have to see how things turned out next.

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Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Mageria watched as Luckas pulled the bandages aside to reveal a set of slash marks across the width of his chest. Gently, she touched the edges, nothing the red puffiness that indicated infection. "You need to have those looked at again." she said absently. In her mind she was reliving the siege of the Lower City, moments after Daniel had used his spell to transform himself in a desperate effort to save Newhaven.

A chill ran it's way up and down her spin. Those marks, that description . . . could it be anything else? Almost without realizing it, she brushed her fingers across the scars running down from her left temple. Abruptly she turned and strode to her room, crossing to her bookcase and pulling a leather bound journal out. It was the sum total of three years of research, put together only with exhausting effort. She snapped it open the the first page, which contained a sketch of the Beast that she had fought. Walking back out, she brandished the open book at Luckas. "Was it this?"

She was waiting for his response when one of her scouts ran up to her at full speed. Skidding to a stop, he grabbed her shoulder and started to whisper harshly into her ear. “Salamander camp . . . attacked . . . Warlord was outnumbered . . .” She really didn’t hear much more than that.

The book that she had worked on for three years slipped from fingers suddenly gone numb. A sense of foreboding ran it’s way up her back; as if she could feel Death taking an interest. Taking off at a dead sprint, she followed her scout down to the stables.
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Sham had rather enjoyed watching the quiet guy take apart the new toughs, it was obvious that he was a professional of some kind. She had moved out of the way, leaning against one of the windows and privately making bets about what was going to happen. It was about halfway through when she noticed a few Black-clad riders galloping down the street. She thought that she recognized the Cap’n at the front, and there were few things that could cause her to rush like that. Looking over her shoulder, she saw that the fight was over.
“Jake? I’ve got a bad feeling about something. Com’on.” She pushed out of the Inn and saw that a second group of riders were following after the first. Reaching out with one hand, she grabbed the arm of one of the passing Guard and swung up behind him. With a few minutes of frantic riding they reached what must have been the camp of the Salamanders. Sham swung down and shook her head . . . there was so much blood . . .
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Mageria scarcely noticed the ride from the Castle to the camp. The report hadn't been clear, just that there was something appearing to be a coup and that Grim was involved. She just got him back, he couldn't . . . . she couldn't even think it. She just held on as her horse galloped out of the gates and into the forest where she had walked just hours earlier.

Swinging to her feet as the horse slowed, she looked around and was nearly sick to her stomach. A couple of her Guard walked into her line of sight, she hadn't even noticed them following.
"Fan out, search for survivors." But she didn't think that there would be any. She had seen battlefields often enough to read the signs of this one . . . Most of the men must have been drugged somehow, they lay as if they had been killed in their sleep or taken unawares by someone they trusted. Heart in her mouth, she started walking though the carnage, searching for that one familiar, beloved face. But Grim was nowhere to be found. She almost dared to hope when she was hailed from a path that took a winding way back to Newhaven. She followed at a lope as her scout lead her to a second battle scene. This one bore the familiar sign that Grim had been there, body parts lay about as if a child had ripped their dolls apart in a fit of rage. And leading away, a steady trail of blood.

Numbly, Mageria followed the blood trail. There had been one last fight, it seemed. Two bodies lay crumbled not far from one another. Chandos, recognizable only from the scars and eyepatch, had a spear through what remained of his head. She wouldn't mourn that overmuch, because it was obvious that the other man had caused that injury.

Grim.

Her friend lay in a pool of his own blood, a gaping hole through his stomach and an eerily peaceful smile on his face; scarcely breathing. Her mediocre healing knowledge had no hope to offer her, only one of the Twins could save him from a wound such as this. Anything she could do would only prolong the pain, and he wouldn't thank her for her efforts. Even if she could save his life, he'd never be the man he once was. Carefully, she knelt down next to him and ran her fingers through his hair before pulling his head into her lap.
"Ah Grim. What has the world done to you?"

Behind her she could hear some of her people starting to gather the bodies of the Salamanders together; she gladly left them to it, grateful for just a moment of peace to say goodbye in.

The edges of his fingers crept over her hand, what once possessed such strength could hardly hold her now. Meekly clinging to Mageria, he carefully lay down chuckling just under his breath. What voice he had carried just beyond his lips. The emeralds of his eyes watching as they drifted toward a distant horizon refusing to focus.

“You came- back for me.. I-I somehow knew you would…I’m afraid it’s- … I got in over my head Th- this time...”

The touch of his hand was ice and every breath was far too labored. His body shakily rising and falling, wincing as it did, but holding fast for his friend. Still smiling as blood dribbled from the corners of his mouth. It wouldn’t be much longer.

“T… the beast is gone. I am free.. The gift is spent and I am just another man.. What I always- hrk.. Wanted…
P-please do not- blame yourself..’

Mageria gripped his hand tightly and leaned over him, tears glinting in her eyes but refusing to fall. "But I'm the Captain. I'm always in charge, you know that."

He had forever been nagging her for trying to control the world, for fretting about things that were out of her reach. How many times had he pulled her away from her plans in the middle of the night, telling her; "If you don't rest Captain, how are you going to order the Twins around?"

Gently, she brushed some of his hair out of his eyes, taking a trembling breath as she did so. "Of course I came back for you." A choked laugh forced it's way out of her throat. "You always did have to bite off more than you could chew." A deep breath. "You know, I never got the chance to tell you how much it always meant to me that you believed in me. I sometimes think it was the only thing that let me hold on for so long." Leaning over, she brushed her lips against his forehead. "Thank You, my dearest friend."

The lights of his eyes dimmed and the lids grew heavy sinking over the green orbs. The pacing rhythm of Grim’s heartbeat slowed, drawing air shallowly. The old familiar darkness edging it from all around his mind.

“.. I-I’ve seen.. The Black Sea… and I’ve- spo- spoken with the Moon. I must go now.. But- will wait for you..
M-mm… My dear sister… I love you too.”

The Black Knight’s hand gently sank from Mageria’s and rested on the earth never to rise again. That night in the black skies of Valcrest, the Moon would show her face in full brimming down over the land. A light when all else is in shadow.

Mageria felt something in her break. “My brother. I will always love you.” She tried desperately to take a breath but a wire had wrapped itself around her chest and she couldn’t breathe right. Gently she brushed Grim’s eyes closed and looked away. Somewhere she could hear birds calling . . . it sounded so normal. So unfair . . .

She didn’t know how much later it was when footsteps approached her. Mageria didn’t look up, just kept holding Grim as if he might wake up at any moment.
“Captain?” It was Sham, kneeling down next to her with a worried look in her eyes. She looked over her shoulder where several of the Guard waited. “You need to get up now . . . They’ll take care of him.” Gently she reached out and shook Mageria’s shoulder. The blank look on her Captain’s face worried her. Always in the past when someone she knew had lost a friend, it was crying and tears and threats. Not this . . . emptyness.

Mechanically, Mageria laid Grim . . . laid Grim’s body down on the ground and followed Sham back to where the horses were. They had only taken a few steps before Mageria turned and looked back at where the Guard had started to pick up Chandos as well as Grim. “Not him. He betrayed his brothers. Leave him for the dogs.” The look that they gave to the body mirrored what she felt. To a group such as theirs, nothing was worse than that. Already she could see where her men were putting up a funeral pyre. It would be put to use tonight; but first there were duties to be seen too. Slowly, she started to ride back home.

The setting changes from Newhaven to Blackpond

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Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Sham made her way down to the stables, a pack of everything that she thought she might need slung over one shoulder and a couple of breakfast rolls in her hands. Her pack had a couple of changes of clothing, some food, some money, her backup weapons . . . . and a few surprises that she had in a special pocket sewn into the lining. But for now she just looked like a reasonably well off young woman who was out to travel into the city for a festival. Grinning at Jake, who had managed to get there before her, she tossed him a stuffed role and went to check out her horse. Finding it to be ready to go, she mounted and waited, following Jake as he rode out.

Sham looked around as she rode, she always enjoyed the Blessings Festivals, not the least because it had always been an opportunity for thieving. But even then, the sheer giddiness of the celebration always made the world seem a little brighter. Leaning over, she accepted a flower held out to her by a little girl, tucking it behind one ear as the finally made it through the gates and out of the city. Glancing sideways out of the corner of her eye she studied the young man carefully, waiting until they were well out of earshot of anybody else.

"So," she finally broke the silence. "I understand the need to be causing trouble, in the name of the greater good and all that. But you look to be walkin' up to a bee's nest and whacking it with a stick." She rode for a moment more in silence. "Now, you have your reasons, and I'll not push if you'll not talk of them. But nobody paints a target on themselves and invites the archers to take their best shot without a powerful reason." She looked at Jake and then away, waiting for his answer. "So what is it that gives you such a wish to queer Blackpond's plans?"

Jake had been quiet as they rode out, only stopping as they crossed the castle gates onto the city. There he handed one of the guards the note he had written for Mageria, leaning down and whispering something to the man before riding on. He looked around at all the people as they crossed the city, curiously wondering how the Wolves would be celebrating it this time. He had poisoned their food supplies the last couple of years, but he would be too busy for that this time, what a pity... But Sean had been moved back on his list of priorities just a little bit for now

He was lost in thought, he wasn't sure for how long, until Sham spoke to him about why he was doing this. He thought about it for a few seconds, thinking that he has way too many reasons to name them all. "So, I take it that now you know me well enough to ask questions, huh?" He started with a little grin. "I don't really believe in greater good, you know; it's an impossibility. All of my reasons for this are personal in a way, some are strong enough to be risking my life" He sighed. "My strongest reason? I like Blackpond. I spent a lot of my nights in the Inns of that city as a teenager, I always thought people there had a lot of spirit to survive with so little as they did. I always thought that the whole city had a lot of potential, which they wasted in the war, but potential nonetheless... So I don't like how things are doing there. I also don't believe their King is who he says he is, and I have a special kind of hatred for fake Kings."

He looked around a little bit in silence then added. "There is also something that I've been looking for, for about four years now, and I suspect it might be there, but that's mostly a guess." He said, patting his horse absently. "What about you? Why are you helping me? Aside from it being great fun."

Sham grinned back. "Sometimes you need to ask the questions, just to see how somebody don't answer them." She scratched her nose and leaned back a bit. "You'd be wanting to save the city from themselves? That's be a mighty big hope, even for somebody who's been a Knight, twice over. And even if ya can prove that the King not be who he says he is, what then? Newhaven had the same deal, somebody killed the King and everything went to hell. And then things just kept getting worse, leading to us going out to stir up trouble all over again."

Absently, Sham traced a scar on the back of her left hand, in the shape of a jagged X. It was the swearing in mark from her old gang, all that she had left to show that they had ever existed. Carefully, she peeled off the fingerless glove and showed it to Jake.
"I told ya, Cap'n found me during the last siege, me an' my mates. This be our mark. Our territory was square in the way of the fighting, so pickings was good for a while. Took the Blackpond dogs a while to catch on that it was a buncha kids taking 'em out one by one. Took them longer to track us down and do somethin' about it. But when they did . . ." She shook her head, for once losing the cheerful demeanor that characterized her. "I was the bait, out lookin' for a mark. I heard . . . screams. And things blowin' up. And . . . worse. By the time I got back, all that was left was bits. Just burned up and torn apart. Naught but kids, but they were old enough to fight back. Old enough to kill." Sham pulled her glove back on, rubbing the stiffness out of her neck.

"I wandered around for a while, just looking for a reason to keep going. Eventually Cap'n and I crossed paths a couple times. One thing to another, I joined up." Sham shrugged. "So aye, I'd be looking for a bit of revenge. But back with my gang days, there was one rule we held above all others. You never leave your mate in the wind. You always back 'em." She glanced out of the corner of her eyes at Jake and grinned. "No matter how mad they seem at the time."

"Oh, I don't want to save Blackpond. I think salvation, no matter what you think it is, is your own choice. I just think they also deserve to have that choice. No more, no less." Jake stated simply. "And I don't have to prove anything. Rita, or whoever else is interested, can take care of that... I'll just give it a push if I can."

He then went silent listening to Sham's story. Something in her tone while she told it seemed all too familiar to him. He'd used that tone way too many times before, each of those times left a mark he would never be able to erase, but in a way or two it was worth the price. He was silent all the while she spoke and few moments after that. Then out of the blue he talked again. "When I talked to Lamya she... She dropped her cloak in the middle of the hall. We walked past it, and when we reached the door to the meeting room, she told me I had the choice to pick it up myself and let her walk in ahead of me, or enter the room while she picked it up. She said it didn't matter which choice I made, it would only lead to the same meaningless result. That stuck in my head for a little while, not for any reason other than it sounded like the most honest thing she said. Or maybe I'm wrong and she was just messing with me... Either way, I can't decide if I agree with that or not. Does anything actually matter? One day we're all going to die, and be forgotten. If we end this war today, what's to say it won't start all over again in a hundred years when no one even remembers how much sacrifice it took to end it in the first place? Under that perspective, isn't it correct to say that nothing has actual meaning: Everything is temporary and pointless?"

Suddenly he took notice of the fact that he was just making himself sound a lot crazier and let out a small chuckle. "You know... Never mind that, I was just thinking aloud." He told her, scratching the back of his head. "Do you want to go through the forest or around it? Through the forest is faster, but we might have trouble with the wolves. As you know, they don't like me much." He shrugged. "Up to you, really."

Sham shrugged. "Aye, everything might just be a bit pointless. So the meaning, that be the meaning that we give them, no? We know that we're born, we know that we die, all that in the middle, that's what we make of it. We can waste it or we can take the chance the Twins gave us and try and leave a mark. The choices we make, that's what makes us who we are. Those that just allow the world to push them around? They be the ones that will be forgotten the fastest."
She shrugged uncomfortably at the look that Jake gave her. "One of the best places to stay warm during the winter was in some of the eating houses; a lot of time people got together and argued about all manner of things to pass the time. I was bored, so I listened."

Sham looked between the both of them, neither of them were anything that looked like it would attract too much attention. She shifted, looking up at the sun to gauge the time. "Well, we want to be getting to Blackpond as quick as can be, aye? I'd say we take the quicker path. Any trouble we get into, I'd say we can get out of fast enough. And you wanted to cause trouble with everyone, aye? Might as well get started."

Jake nodded simply, taking the path that crossed the forest. "Suppose, you're right, although depending on the kind of trouble it might slow us down a bit." He grinned. "Not that I'm complaining. I'm all for causing trouble." Riding further into the woods, Jake kept silent for a little while longer then he turned to face Sham. "Ever been to Blackpond before?" He asked absently. They weren't far enough in the woods for there to be Pack scouts around, but still, Jake made sure to keep his ears open for any movement. The snow from the night before had melted in the sun, leaving a pleasant smell of wet dirt in the air. It reminded him of when he was a simple Pack recruit, a smile even crossed his expression for a split second... It was funny how meaningless things brought back such meaningful memories. "Oh, I was meaning to ask: That little scene I stumbled upon when I first got to the castle..." He let out a little snicker. "Was that a... Regular occurrence?"

Sham kept her own eyes on the forest as they talked, her eyes growing faintly greener as she drew slightly on her Enlightenment in order to track the sights and sounds of their surroundings. Odd how skills that she had used to keep track of potential marks back in the city translated into use outside Newhaven.
"Aye, I've been there a time or three, enough to know my way around. Both before and after I joined the Night Crew, which lead to some interesting times. But one thing stays the same in both places, almost no one ever looks up." She smiled at the memories.

Turning, she flicked a glance at Jake before settling back in her saddle and shrugging. "You mean when Cap'n and I were sparring? Happen's every once in a while. For someone with not a bit of a Gift, I haven't an idea how she always manages to know what's going on around her like that. So I keep tryin' and she keeps makin' me eat dirt. The deal was, so long as she kept beating me, I had to do drills, longer each time I failed. I'm up to" she rolled her eyes back, counting on her fingers. "About six hours of drills if I want to keep trying to jump her."

"What about you? I heard about your match with Cap'n as well. Didn't even faze her when you went all see through. Any idea how she does it?"

"Some people don't need to look up, like I said." He chuckled. "But since I didn't notice you following me either, I'll just shut up about it. And that match was not my proudest moment, even when training is considered, I kind of expected a worse beating than what I got actually. Although... In a life or death scenario I would have worked it from another angle." He said absently, shifting in his saddle and patting Shadow when the horse snorted out in annoyance. "Some of the guys from the Guard used to go on about how she's got a hidden enlightenment, but I don't really believe that. With extensive training it's possible for someone to enhance their sense to a point of gaining a sixth sense of sorts. I know a few veterans of the Pack who had trained themselves to that extent. So I figure it must be that." He said with a little shrug. "So, I guess you just have to keep trying then." He said with a little smirk, turning as he heard movement in the bushes, but brushing it aside when realizing it was something too small to be human. "When we get there, there's one place I need to go before anything else." He informed simply.

Sham nodded. "Will you be wanting company? If no, then I'll use the time to stable the horses and start looking for places to cache supplies. I'm fine with sleeping out of the way, means that there's more ways out when some come after us. And it might even be better to just scout places where we can steal what we need on the way out rather than try and hide anything. It's not as if it's that far between Blackpond and Newhaven. Fair warnin' though. The longer I use my Enlightenment, the more I hav' ta eat. So if we end up runnin' we may end up huntin' on the way back. But that's the only problem that I can see."

Sham scratched her nose and listened carefully as something bounded away from them in the trees. "So . . . what was this I heard about the Cap'n wrecking her room? And somebody comin' back from the dead?"

"Sounds good to me, I'd much rather be alone for this, actually." Jake replied. He thought for a little while on Sham's next question, wondering just how much he should tell of something he had no business knowing about in the first place, but then he decided it really didn't matter, the whole thing had probably turned into gossip by now anyway. "The, uh, somebody who came back, for what I understand, is the former Captain of the White Knights. Everyone thought he died three years ago when Blackpond invaded. He was never found anywhere, not even a piece of him, only the sword. He was declared missing, presumed dead... I'm not sure, I wasn't there then. I never liked the guy much for the little I knew him, thought he was too loud and flashy for my liking, but he and Mageria were pretty close. And for what I heard of the shouting he just showed up out of nowhere, or at least I assume it was him... Can't think of anyone else who fits the description of an 'arrogant overdressed prick'." He scratched his head for a moment. "Gotta admit that the guy's timing was less than ideal."

They were riding closer to the assassins camp now, which made Jake straighten up a bit in his saddle and draw his hands closer to his sword on an instinct. Hopefully there would be no trouble, few of the Wolves who had remained in the clan knew his face, and unless he was recognized, they shouldn't try to stop the two of them.

Sham snorted. "I'll shove off then, I know when I'm not wanted." A grin took the sting out of her snarky comment. Then she tilted her head to the side. "So, three years ago, a bunch of you all took off at abouts the same time. And then you come back, and join back up. And Pondus comes back and dies in the Cap'n's arms. And this other Cap'n comes back and pushs Cap'n into a bout of screaming and breakin' things." She scratched her nose and nodded. "I will be very surprised if she doesn't end up a bit cracked after all that."

Watching Jake closely, she noticed that he was getting more tense and ready to fight. In response, she slipped one of her batons out of it's holder on her back and laid it across her lap. "Out of curiosity, just how much do they 'not like' you around here?"

"Who isn't cracked nowadays..." Jake mumbled in response to Sham's comments. It seemed there was so much going on lately, but still when he looked around there was nothing out of place. He felt like some crazy person chasing ghosts sometimes; he knew there was something there, he could just feel it, but he couldn't see it. Sometimes he had to wonder if he was just getting too paranoid.

"They don't like me in one bit." He stated. "I'm still well known as the traitor who pledged allegiance to the Black Knights and poisoned their most beloved leader." He said absently, lowering his head respectfully at the memory of Dani, but the moment lasted only a few seconds. "Although technically that's true... It's not really the whole story. The whole story is a bit of a long one... And it would require a considerable amount of alcohol for me to get through it." He said, keeping his eyes and ears open to any strange movement. There was none. "It's all quiet, they're probably celebrating." He concluded, relaxing just a little bit. "I remember these parties being good, it was one of the few occasions alcohol was allowed in camp... Can't get any funnier than drunken assassins." He said with a little chuckle.

"Unfortunately, I'm out of booze at the moment." Sham shifted and her eyes started darting around the forest. "That'll have to wait for later."

A brief smile flashed over her face. "Me an' my crew, we never really celebrated Creation day. We celebrated the day after . . . . day of was one of our busiest days. We worked hard enough, we had enough swag and glim to keep us eating for the next month or so. Half the time you didn't even need to sneak through the houses, everyone was down in the parlors getting as drunk as they could, no one knew who was supposed to be there because they hired extra help. One time I even walked into one of those parties with a drink tray, lifted some jewelry on my way through." She sighed wistfully. "We always ate well too, nicking food from the rich folks kitchens."

Sham looked down at the warm clothing that now covered her, well made with no holes, something that she could only have dreamed of just a few years ago. "Strange, the places that life will take you, aye?"

"The day after was fun when I was kid. I got to pull pranks on the Instructors while they were passed out drunk." Jake laughed. "Not so fun when I was an Active and had to wake up early for training or assignments." He said with a little grin. "And then, of course, I've been everywhere over the past few years, so..." The rest of the sentence was lost the moment Jake noticed the movement he had been looking out for; something had moved in the bushes to his left.

Jake pulled on the reigns, slowing Shadow to a halt, and gripped the hilt of his sword. There were five or six assassins surrounding them, as far as he could tell, but they hadn't decided to make a move yet. Jake stopped, and now it was clear that he knew the Wolves were there, so if they knew him, they would attack, if they didn't, they would most likely be very quiet until the intruders decided to move along. A moment passed in silence, two... "Shit." He muttered as he leaned back to dodge an arrow.

"My, my, my... Jake Turner." A man greeted as he walked out of the shadows, holding a bow in his hand. "Sean will be glad to see your corpse once I'm through with you. Who's your friend?"
Jake sighed in annoyance as he dismounted, he knew this man, and he knew he wasn't going to back down. "Terry... Nice to see you still manage to fire a bow without the fingers I cut off."
"Sean demoted me after that humiliation you put me through, but not this time, see, it's snowing, so you can't hide like the coward you are."

Jake sighed. "Come on, Terry... I have somewhere else I need to be, and my friend here has nothing to do with this. Can we settle this another time?" Jake wasn't scared of him, but he was a former Instructor and an enlightened, nothing like those idiots from the Inn, and taking him out wouldn't be so easy if it came to that. "Sorry, kid, but we settle this here." As he said that, four scouts came out of the bushes as well. "I was hoping you would show, Jacob... Didn't expect you to bring company though."

"Dani always said it was disrespectful to shed blood on the day of creation." Jake stated, with a little sigh. "Suppose you folks don't care as much for tradition as you claim, huh?"
Terry walked closer and closer until he was less than an inch away from Jake, then he leaned over and whispered. "Funny how much you still care for the opinions of a woman you murdered." In a louder tone of voice he added. "We're letting people through unscathed unless they make trouble, but that does not apply to traitors like you. So your friend can go on, if she wants, but you're not going anywhere."

Jake shook his head in amusement, glancing towards Sham. "You hear that? You're free to go. Ain't that nice?" He looked back to Terry his hand was still holding on to his blade, but he didn't draw it. He looked the assassin straight in the eyes and smirked. "No blood." He mumbled, releasing the hilt of the sword and striking with his fist instead. Terry dodged the punch and sighed, tossing aside the bow he was holding. "Fine kid, have it your way."

Sham frowned. “Five ta two hardly seems like a fair fight.” She shrugged. “But still, as if I’d leave when they went to the trouble to set up a party for us like this.” She whipped out her other baton and grinned wildly as her eyes flared a bright green. “No blood, aye?”

With that she pulled her feet free of the stirrups and pulled them up under her, pushing off the saddle to fly through the air at the man in the center. They had spread out in a rough fan pattern, which meant that she had plenty of room to move between them. The first one went down with a grunt as she landed feet first on his chest, Sham brought her baton around and smashed it into his head as hard as she could. “That was the easy one.” Sham muttered under her breath as she looked up. The rest of the folk surrounding her looked upset, to put it mildly.

The other three all attacked her with daggers and swords, some of them two handed and Sham had all that she could to to keep them from scoring a hit. She wove both her batons around herself in a dizzying blur, ducking and weaving as fast as she could in order to stay unscathed. She couldn’t managed anything beyond defense for a long moment, before a lucky strike drove one of her attackers back. The second one darted in, momentarily getting in the way of his partner. He struck high and low at the same time, trying to get past Sham’s guard. Sham blocked both strikes, but he used the movement to momentarily bind her weapons so she couldn’t do anything. Frustrated, Sham snarled and leaned back slightly, bringing her right foot up in a savage kick that caught him neatly on the point of his chin. His eyes rolled back almost comically and he dropped limply to the ground. Sham stepped back and spun her batons around her torso in a fancy bit of display. “Well? You two really want to keep going?”

Jake was barely managing to block the hits coming at him. Terry's enlightenment was, according to Lena, called Mirroring. Which meant that the guy could know the opponent's moved right before they were made. The only to go around it was if the opponent was out of sight. That wouldn't be a problem for Jake, wasn't for the snow. So at this point he was struggling to keep up. Finally, a slip of his foot, and he found himself face down on the ground.

"You lose, kid." Terry growled at him.

Jake chuckled in response. "No, I cheated. And you're dead."

Terry pulled a dagger at those words, but it was far too late. Before he had the chance to do anything else, he dropped unconscious. The other two assassins immediately rushed towards Jake as he stood, but stopped when he spoke. "He's not dead!" He stated. "Well, not yet. He will be if you don't get him to a healer in time though. So I suggest you get moving."

The two remaining Wolves looked confused as to what to do, but while they didn't move Jake was already walking back to his horse and mounting. "We'll be going now. You guys have a nice day." He said, as the two assassins finally decided to help Terry instead of just standing there. "And tell Sean I still plan on returning his knife."

Sham jumped on her horse as well and dug her heels into it's side, sending her cantering off after Jake as the assassins started pulling their leader into the bushes.
"And just what was that you'd be cheating with?" Sham twisted around and dug into her pack, pulling out a large strip of jerky and a hunk of bread. As her stomach growled almost embarrassingly loud, she ripped a piece off and nearly swallowed it whole.
"I'm only asking outa professional curiosity. I like ta know all the ways available to work on the sly."
Finishing the snack she dug out a bag full of trail mix, throwing the pieces up in the air one at a time and catching them in her mouth. Hopefully the rest of the ride would be quiet.

Jake shrugged absently and pulled a black needle, seemingly out of nowhere, and held it where it was visible. "Poison." He stated. "It's not really cheating, per say, but that's how they'd see it. I'm known for that too, a little bit. They think I don't fight like a man and all that crap." He said, putting away the needle and glancing at Sham with an amused smile as he heard a pretty loud growl. "Those guys back there were idiots, most of them, but the older guy, Terrence, is an experienced assassin. He was an Instructor until about a year ago when he caught me sneaking around camp. I escaped him, so he was demoted for it. To a guy like him there's nothing worse. I'll probably have to kill him eventually." He explained. "Which is too bad, because they don't make assassins like him anymore."

Rubbing his eyes in a clear sign of weariness, Jake figured it wouldn't be too long before they reached Blackpond, hopefully things would be a little lighter in the city during this particular date, it would be nice if he could speak to his contact without getting the man into too much trouble.

The rest of the ride was quiet and uneventful, thankfully. Jake wasn’t in a bad mood or anything, but he was tired and anyone else who tried to get in his way would not be as lucky as the assassins were. The man he was going to meet was his father’s best friend, he was retired from the Castle Guard, but he still had good connections on the inside, if Jake could find him and get the man to recognize him, he would be a great source of information. There was a small problem though: the man thought Jake had died thirteen years ago, on the same day as his sister.

As they crossed the gates, Jake wasn't sure if he should be glad or suspicious of the they stumbled upon; people were cheerful walking the streets without a care, having snowball fights, laughing and playing. Blackpond looked like a completely different city altogether. He couldn't help a smile as he watched the whole scene. "Well..." He mumbled. "This is surely surprising."

He dismounted once they were closer to the center of the city and offered Sham Shadow's reigns. "You said you were going to stable the horses, right? Careful though, he bites." He warned her with a smile. "I need to find an old friend, and... I'd rather do that alone, I have to talk him into helping and that might not be easy; amongst other things he doesn't like Knights all that much." He stated. "I'll be in the north end of the cemetery in about an hour, we can meet up there."

With that said, he began to walk away disappearing amongst the small crowds of people. He wasn't sure where the man would be, but he had a slight idea of where he should start looking; walking through a familiar street, he stopped in front of a particular house, not far from where he was born, and entered without knocking. The place was dark and looked abandoned, but two steps into the house and that proved itself not to be the case. Suddenly, Jake felt the tip of a blade on the back of his neck. "Who are you?"

Jake smiled as he heard the voice asking the question. "Nathaniel Morris?"
The blade was pressed harder onto his neck, almost breaking through his skin. "I know who I am, boy. Who are you?"
Jake reached slowly into his shirt and pulled the locket he wore around his neck, holding it where the man could see it over his shoulder. "Do you remember this?"
"Where did you get this?" The man growled withdrawing the knife. "Turn around."
Jake turned to face the older man, a smile still plastered on his face; the man looked exactly like Jake remembered him, a few wrinkles, grey hairs, and scars added to it, but it was the same face he knew as a kid. "Hello Nate." He greeted.
The man took a good couple of steps back, still pointing the knife at Jake, but now with a look of absolute shock in his face. "I don't know who you are, or what you are trying to pull, but i suggest you leave now." He said.
Jake chuckled. "You think I'm an illlusion? Take a good look at me... It's not a vision."
"I don't believe it. It just can't be... You." He mumbled, now lowering the knife and walking closer, narrowing his eyes at Jake. "Little Jacob?"
Jake laughed out. "Well, took you long enough old man. I was beginning to think you would never connect the dots."
"I thought those thieves dropped your corpse in the woods that day. Everyone saw them drag you away." The man said, finally sheathing the knife and relaxing. "Where have you been all this time?"
Jake sighed. "Everywhere. Anywhere. I was rescued by one of the leaders of the Wolfpack that day. I woke up in their encampment, I trained with them for almost six years." He explained, giving a light shrug. "I'd love to say I never looked back, but that's not entirely true."

Jake then walked back to the door and opened it. "Walk with me, I'll tell you everything you want to know before I tell you why I've come." He told the man, tucking the golden locket back underneath his shirt.
Nathaniel followed after him, always one step behind, as Jake headed for the cemetery. Both of them stopped as they reached a line of graves in the northern area of the graveyard. Jake eyes were fixed on the name of the second grave from the right. It read: Jessica Marie Turner, followed by his sister's date of birth and death. To the right of Jessica's grave there was another one that read Jacob Allen Turner, the same date of his sister's grave marked Jake's early demise... He did in fact die that day in more ways than one, but not in the way his father's best friend was led to believe he had.

Not taking a single glance at his parents' graves, Jake broke the silence after a long while of staring at Jessica's name. "I never had the courage to come here, I thought that maybe I should now." He lowered his head for a second before letting out a chuckle and shaking his head in an amused gesture. "You know what's funny? According to the Newhaven Archives, I died four years ago. Makes me wonder how many more times will I get to die before I'm really dead."
"Why are you dead according to Newhaven files?" Nate asked.
"I can tell you that, but you might not like the answer." Jake stated. "Remember after my father died, when you said he was always talking about how I could become anything I wanted and he would always be proud of me?"
"I remember that, yes." Nate answered.
"I highly doubt he would say that if he knew." Jake answered, with a little smirk.
"I don't think your father would mind it if you are a Wolf." Nate stated. "If that's what you're worried about."
"I'm not a Wolf, Nate. Not anymore." Jake said, turning away from the graves to face the older man. "I'm something far worse, to your eyes at least. Think of the absolute worse. I am it."

"You mean a..." Nate silenced the words he was about to speak, not even able to utter the name. "You are one of them? They killed your father, Jacob! What they have done to this city... There's no excuse for that!" The man exclaimed, spitting on the ground a Jake's feet.
"None of the people I know killed my father. Not that I would actually care if they had. The man who killed my father, I think his name was Morgan, is now dead. Yes, I did check." Jake stated, completely unfazed by the man's obvious anger. "Are you done now, or do you have more to say to that?"
"I have nothing more to say to a..."
"Traitor?" Jake asked, raising an eyebrow. "I admit that I am, in every possible sense, I sure as hell am. Although, not in this case." He nodded. "Unlike you, I owe no loyalty to Blackpond; if anything I should hate this place for everything it took from me. Instead I'm taking one huge risk to try and find answers people like you should be asking a long time ago. So, are you going to help me or not?"

Nate hesitated, Jake was his best friend's son, but he had just admited to being the one thing he despised the most in the world. He hadn't seen the kid in thirteen years, how much could he trust a Black Knight?
"Come on, Nate. I trusted you with my identity and I could have easily lied, give me some answers." Jake insisted.
"You still haven't told me why you've come." Nathaniel stated simply, his green eyes piercing through Jake in such a way, that if a simple gaze could kill, the young man would have dropped dead immediately.
"I was once asked what matters most: actions or intentions. If someone takes the life of someone you love, does it matter why they do it? No. Right? However if someone offers you help, that's the first thing you ask: Why?" He snickered. "Double standards are everywhere, huh? I have many reasons, doesn't matter which one I give, none of them will seem important to you. I'm not doing it in my father's memory, although I'm pretty sure that's what you wanted to hear." Jake answered.

Nate was silent again, still examining Jake with his eyes as if he expect to see something he could actually believe in. "Ask your question, and I'll decide whether or not I'll answer them." He said finally.
"Tell me about the assassin training program." Jake said finally.
"I cannot deny or confirm the fact that there was ever one. Just as much as you couldn't confirm or deny if asked if a certain person is in fact one of your people.
"I know it exists, Nate." Jake muttered. "I've seen the scar they left on a close friend of mine. So spare me that crap; What, if anything, do you know?"
"Only the King and the Commander knew anything concrete, Jake. What the rest of us knew was... Rumours, speculations. Most never believed they were actually real." Nate sighed. "Your father was head of Guard for almost ten years, but I doubt even he ever really knew anything."
"This I know you know: What happened when the King died?" Jake asked, lowering his voice as he noticed someone standing by a grave not far from them.
"What I actually know is that the King was found lying dead, apparently poisoned, Commander Hastings was found dead in the room as well, stabbed. The official story is that Hastings was caught after killing the King and killed as a traitor, but... I heard from a secure source that he was already dead." Nate looked around to see there were a few people paying their respects as well. "I never liked Hastings, a lot of people didn't. The man was a drunk and a bastard, but he was one of the best Commanders this city has ever seen in its history. And I would bet you anything you want that he didn't kill our Ruler."
"I didn't think he did." Jake mumbled. "Is there anything else, a detail maybe?"
"The curtains were missing. In the King's chambers, one of maids told me that, but... Haven't been able to find her ever since. She remembers it clearly, because the King seemed excited about the fabric. It was the same the White Shadows used."

Those words caused Jake's mind to travel back to Newhaven, to Lamya's visit, to that damned cloak that had disturbed him so much... "Shit."
"What, kid?" Nate asked, raising an eyebrow at Jake's expression.
"Nothing." Jake replied, shaking his head slightly as he tried to pull his thoughts together. "There's one more thing I need from you, Nate."
"What?" The man asked.
"A way out of the dungeons" Jake replied with a serious expression that showed he wasn't just asking that.
"Three years ago, maybe, kid. Now... I can't possibly give you that. I honestly doubt there even is one. What are you going to do?" The man asked.
"I'm going to protect Newhaven from any harm, at any cost." Jake stated simply. "That's... What we do." He said, opening a grin as he saw the disgusted look on the man's face. "But it might help Blackpond in a way or two. Or maybe make things worse, but that's really not my problem, is it?"
Nathaniel shook his head in clear disappointment as he turned to leave. "David Turner's son... A Black Knight... This land is really going to hell." He muttered. "Monsters... All of them, souless monsters..." The man mumbled on as he left the cemetery.

Jake simply stood, saying a silent prayer for his sister as he waited for Sham to meet him. He needed to talk with her one more time before he even considered causing the amount of trouble he had in mind.

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Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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"You said you were going to stable the horses, right? Careful though, he bites."

Sham snickered at Jake’s warning. “Aye, and so do I.” She raised two fingers in a kind of salute. “Good luck with your friend.” She gathered up the reins and rode off, looking for the common stables; which was where those who couldn’t afford to keep their horses with them stabled while they were in town. It was relatively easy to find and she didn’t have any problem getting room for their mounts. After that she found her her way to one of the rougher parts of town where no one asked any questions. Surprisingly, that part of town was quite large, larger than it should have been. Obviously Blackpond had fallen on extremely hard times lately. Judging it to be safer to rent a room, if only for appearances, she found a sleazy little boarding house. It took her a bit of arguing, but she managed to get a room for the week. Assuming Jake didn’t get himself thrown in jail right off, he’d get to sleep on the floor. Which, judging from the state of the sheets, might be cleaner than the bed. But she’d slept in worse places. After securing the packs and gear as best she could, she went out to wander the streets for a while as she waited.

She only managed to get a couple of streets before there was a scuff on the roof near her. Sham looked up, spotting a flicker of movement where none should be. Obeying her instincts, she worked her way over to a side alley and quickly swarmed up the wall while no one was watching. The sight that greeted her wasn’t entirely unexpected. It was a crew of thieves, not so very different from the one that she had run with for a good long while. She nodded to their leader, while at the same time tracking the three that moved around behind her.
“You look ta be moving in ta my territory, bitch.” The lead stepped forward aggressively, looking slightly disappointed when Sham didn’t respond.
“Just movin’ through. I’m not lookin’ to step on anybodies’ toes.”
Everybody seemed to find this enormously funny, laughing quietly with an edge of menace. Sham held up one hand, looking hurt and innocent. “Nah, tellin’ true here! Moon strike me if I lie.” It had always struck her as odd that the patron of the Black Knights was also the Twin that thieves swore by, but in the end it made sense.
The gang shuffled uneasily at her oath, calling upon the Twins was not something done lightly. One of the more aggressive stepped forward and got right in her face. “If’n you ain’t here to scout for swag, whatcha doing then?”
Sham looked at him deadpan for a moment, before taking a half step forward and head butting him as hard as she could. Blood spurted from his nose as he staggered back, before snarling and coming back swinging. Sham grabbed his arm and twisted it around and back, leaning gently on the elbow almost to the breaking point.
“My business . . . would be my own.” She looked around at everyone else, who stood uneasily. Thieves for the most part, weren’t that aggressive unless they were pushed; this crew ran the lift’n lay, not snuffing for sport and pay. For the most part, that meant that they wouldn’t try and stick a knife in her now that she had proven that she could take them.
“Word to the Twins, I’m not hear to make trouble.” Sham released her captive and stepped back. “Standard fees though. I do business, I pay the tax.” They had to be satisfied with that, because Sham pushed past them and stepped off the edge of the roof, grabbing a couple of loose bricks and ledges to slow her descent.

After that she worked her way past the Castle to confirm an idea she had while they were riding, seeing that her guess was right she quickly found her way to the graveyard. Slowly,, she worked her way respectfully through the markers before she found Jake standing off alone. She walked up, not even trying to walk quietly.
“You find who ya looking for?”

The setting changes from Blackpond to Newhaven

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Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name) Character Portrait: Thomas Sidin Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Mageria had dropped into a light doze when she felt a slight touch on one arm. Startled, she tried to grab at the wrist of whomever it was, but the pain of her injuries caused her to freeze up instead. Hissing in pain, she dropped back down and peeled her eyelids slowly open. A pair of dancing green eyes met her gaze, in a face that most people would have found to be very familiar if they happened to look around.
“Easy now, Captain. You have to rest after playing with the big boys.” Anna, one of Ella’s maids, scolded her gently.
“Should you even be here?” Mageira managed to raise one eyebrow. “I’m not exactly the person you want to be seen with right now.”
Anna snorted softly. “It’s easier to get you alone right now than it would be tomorrow. And you don’t think I’d let you walk away without so much as a goodbye, do you?”
Mageria grinned and closed her eyes. “Of course not. Not after all that time I put into training you.”

Anna had been handpicked by Mageria three years ago for a very special purpose. She was to be a bodyguard to Ella, one that the girl would never suspect. She could fight, she could spy, and best yet, she could think. And she had a very useful Enlightenment, one that would come in very handy soon.

“Can you keep up the act? Are you willing to?” Mageria’s voice was light, barely a whisper. Anna leaned in closer and kept her tone at the same level.
“Yes; because if nothing else, you’ll need it now more than ever.” Anna’s eyes were grave. “Your not . . .”
“Leaving you alone? Of course not. There will be a crew in the City, a couple in the Castle itself. The rest of us will be out at the training grounds. We can be back within twenty minutes. Just send the word. You still have what you need?”
“Yes, Cap . . . Mageria.” Anna nodded.
Mageria shifted slightly, pulling out a slightly crumpled letter. It was folded and sealed with a blob of wax. “Here. This is for Lady Ella. Make sure she gets it?” Anna nodded and tucked it away, reaching up to brush a strand of hair off her forehead.
“I have to go. Take care Captain.”
Mageria sighed and settle back to sleep, comforted in the knowledge that Ella wouldn’t be alone.

Later that night, a battered letter appeared on Ella’s pillow, just before bed.

Ella

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that my past choices are causing you such trouble. I’m sorry that I’m leaving you like this. But I have to admit that I’m not sorry about what I did. Honestly, I’d do it again and dance on the son of a bitch’s grave. There’s a reason that I was never chosen to wear White. I never could follow all those rules.

But that’s not what this is about. The Council is breaking their ties with me and mine, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we swore oaths of our own. Oaths that we will not break. We will continue to watch over Newhaven, just not in the way we have in the past. It is my hope that someday we might be welcome in Newhaven once more, but until that day we shall do what we do best. Survive and deceive. There will be some of us around, those of us that are best able to conceal themselves. The rest will come when needed. If you need to get in touch with me for any reason, leave a letter sealed with black wax on your desk. It will find it’s way to me.

Until we are welcomed back, please be careful. Try not to go anywhere on your own, at least take one of your maids with you. I have enough white hair as it is.

I hope . . . I hope that you will be able to forgive me, someday.

Mageria


---------------
Blackpond

Sham watched her quarry from a secure hiding place and tapped her fingers impatiently. There was a young woman working in the secondary kitchens who looked enough like her that she could take her place. Sham had learned a couple of things living in the Newhaven Castle for the past few years, one of them that very few people looked at those who worked in the lowest levels of serving, and more importantly, nobody really gave a damn. She’d take the woman’s place tomorrow, working in the kitchens for what would usually be barely enough to keep her alive. But she wasn’t going to be going for the wage or the benefits. The kitchen that produced the food for the other servants also produced the food for one other group. The prisoners. And if she could work her way into delivering the prisoner's food, then she could find Jake. One problem was, it was going to take a good long time. Hopefully Jake could hold on that long. But it would be worth it if she could help him break out.

Heaving a sigh, Sham went to find a place to sleep for the night. It was going to be a long couple of weeks.

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

Thomas ran one hand wearily through his hair. He was going to be up all night, trying desperately to restructure things so that Mageria’s absence wouldn’t be disastrous. He had barely gotten started when there was a loud thudding and yelling at his door. He snatched it open only to find that Xypher was standing there, clutching a splinted hand to his chest.
“That . . . bitch tried to kill me! She had some mind raper dig around in my memories and was torturing me for the hell of it!!” The elderly noble was half screaming, eyes ablaze in a righteous fury. Thomas felt something akin to a blow to his chest. Xypher could only be talking about Mageria. He could almost understand what she had done in the past, but this? Even if she had a reason, how could she be that stupid?
“Let’s go find her then.” Acid burning in his gut, Thomas waved for a couple of the Guard to follow him as he headed towards the Black’s wing. If her things were gone, then he would know that she was running. Which was something that he would never have guessed for her.

Striding into the Black’s wing, Thomas snapped out an order for Mageria’s location. A couple of people pointed towards the medic’s ward, saying that she was resting. Thomas’s eyebrows started knitting together. From what he could hear of people talking, she had been in a fight of some kind and evidently she was supposedly resting. Pushing in through the door, his eyes landed almost immediately on Mageria’s figure lying limply on a bed, a wolf curled up on her feet. She also looked beaten to within an inch of her life.

Turning to a nearby medic, he asked how long she had been there. Confused, the medic replied that the Captain had been in the ward for hours, ever since she had been brought in after a fight with the former Sir Pondus. She hadn’t left or even been out of anybody’s sight the entire time. Feeling a growing rage, Thomas left and all but drug the Warlord down the hall, ignoring the way he kept snarling and threatening all sorts of things. Finally, he had enough.
“Warlord Xypher. I don’t know what the hell you are doing, but enough. Mageria couldn’t have attacked you, not when she was lying in a bed in the medic’s ward. And given that she doesn’t have an Enlightenment, there’s no way she could have done anything. So, kindly shut the hell up.” Stalking away, Thomas made a mental note to have the Warlord closely watched for the next couple of days. The man obviously had an ulterior motive.

The setting changes from Newhaven to Blackpond

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Sham grit her teeth as she worked, ignoring the ache in her fingers and the crick in her neck.

23

That was the number of ways she could kill the overbearing, arrogant, dictator of a head cook who insisted on making life hell of anybody who dared enter her domain; using items that were easily found in the immediate area.

“Get off your arse and clean those carrots!!” The bellow was accompanied by the harsh clang of a pot being thrown across the room and the yelp of the poor potboy it had been hurled at. Sham resolutely looked only at the turnips in front of her and ignored the nearby pot of boiling water and all it’s options. She’d managed to work her way into some strange underground city through sheer dumb luck and she was pretty sure that Jake was somewhere down here. She’d just have to find him. Somehow. Which meant that she couldn’t follow through on a variety of impulses. Not yet anyways.

He damn well better appreciate what she was going through trying to help him.

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It had been a very long month and it would be a very exhausting journey out of Blackpond. Getting in and out of that prison had been a difficult and unpleasant experience, and insane even by Jake's standards; certainly not something he would like to repeat in his lifetime. The Sun was yet to come up and the streets were filled with a slightly haunting silence. Blackpond had never been the safest place in Valcrest, never as long as Jake could remember it, but it had always been a city full of Life if one knew were to look... The city now resembled a walking corpse with no soul; it existed, and it still stood, but it wasn't quite alive anymore. "Such a waste." He muttered, looking down at the empty streets.

Jake had decided to go back to stop by the desert before going back, and so he had pulled Sham aside for a talk because he hadn't had the chance to tell her of the things he learned while down there and he thought it best if that bit of information reached Mageria sooner rather than later. For that they found a quiet spot on the roof of what Jake assumed had been one of the many shops that had shut down in the past couple of years. "So... I've found out some things Captain should be made aware of, and... I'm not going back right away, I have something I'd like to get done before that, so I think I should tell you what I learned. First of all, the object I mentioned seeing was in the hands of the King, it was my impression that he didn't know what it was, but it doesn't make it any safer, might even make it worse, I don't know... I also met a woman called Rita, she is the Commander of the Blackpond army currently; she was close to Hastings and is not in one bit fond of 'King Richard'. She mentioned Rick being just a puppet and that she thought Lamya was the one actually running things... She seemed unsure of that theory though, she... She said that there is yet another person behind them both, but... She also mentioned that Lamya herself was who told her this, and that in itself makes me dubious. I also saw Dominic down there, with Lamya, but what stories she told him and which are true are a whole new level of crazy." He ran his hand through his hair and heaved a small sigh. "And then there is the people in that 'underground city'... Majority of them worships Lamya and believe she will lead them in saving Blackpond from ruin. She told me she simply plans on unleashing her army to cause random chaos, and honestly... She might do either, both, or none. Independent of what she chooses, it's going to be hassle... I just know it." He kept his eyes on the street below as he finished speaking, scratching the back of his head slightly as he added. "You know, something has been bugging me... You went back to see the Captain and she sent you back alone, I mean... Did something happen in the Castle?"

Sham couldn't stop the bitter laugh that burst forth. "You don't know the half of it. Honestly, I don't even know most of what went on. I got to the Castle after leaving here, got told the bare bones of what was going on and had to come back here." She bit her lip and closed her eyes, trying to forget the look in Mageria's eyes when she said that she couldn't send anybody else. It had been a long month of biting her tongue and keeping her head down, now acting like herself felt strange, like a suit of cloths that should fit but didn't.
"I didn't want to tell you while we were down there, didn't want to worry you when there was nothing we could do about it. . . Jake," Sham took a deep breath, blew it out. The words didn't want to come to her lips. Swallowing, she tried again.

"The Black was disbanded. The Captain . . . was exiled." Once she finally said it, the words started tumbling forth. "She wanted to help, she really did, but there just wasn't anything that she could do, they didn't leave her with anything. She had to take care of as many people as she could and . . . she only had a day to get everybody to safety. She just, she had to trust that we could take care of ourselves."

Jake couldn't have helped the shock in his expression if he tried, his eyes widening as the news began to sink in. "What?! Exiled? Why would they do that? What... Happened?" He stopped his series of questions and took a deep breath to calm himself. "I'm sorry, you just said you don't know everything... This is just..." He shook his head trying to contain his anger. "What were they thinking? Newhaven is just unprotected without the Blacks, they can't be that stupid!" He muttered, fists clenched tightly at his sides as he forced himself to breathe it out until his voice could sound calm. "Where did the Guard go then?" He asked, sure that if Mageria left Newhaven, she didn't leave alone. "And I understand that under the circumstances Captain couldn't have done more, if it was up to me you could've stayed too. It's not like my life was in danger down there... It just would have taken a bit longer to get out." He said, with a little smirk. "Well... Alright, a lot longer, I'll admit."

Sham sighed and pulled herself tighter, curling into a little ball. "All I know, is what they told me. They said . . . Cap'n said it was true . . . Seven years ago, Cap'n took over when that Morgan guy died, right? Well, turns out . . . Cap'n was . . . was the one who killed him. I don't know the how or the why . . . just that somehow somebody knew what happened and when she did something that pissed them off, they sent something that was proof enough for the Council to believe it." She sniffed and rested her chin on her knees, looking over the city of Blackpond.
"She coulda fought it, but she said that the truth was gonna come out sooner or later and she wasn't gonna keep quiet any more. Said she woulda done it again, if it came to it."

"As for where the Guard went, I think they were headed to that training camp, the one a bit north of Newhaven, near the river? So at least there's beds and a bit of food waiting for them." Sham bit her lip, worried still. She had been hungry a lot in her past, she prayed that her friends had managed to find what they needed.
"And you can just forget being left on your own, pretty boy," she teased him gently, making reference to a running joke between them about his ear and scars. "The thing about the Black is we don't leave nobody behind. Never. Might take us forever and a day to get out, but we'll manage . . . somehow."

Jake raised an eyebrow at the story Sham told him, a little laugh escaping him involuntarily. "Captain killed Morgan?" He laughed a little bit longer. "Oh.. That's just..." He shook his head in amusement, unable to shake the laughter off for yet a few seconds, until he managed to breathe deeply. "He deserved it, that's for sure." he added, watching Sham with the corner of his eyes and seeing the concern on her face. "I'm sure whatever the conditions are in the camp they will have made it work." He stated, nodding as to reassure them both. "And don't think I still have any hopes of being left on my own, I knew what I was getting myself into when I came back." He sighed. "I have a favor I'd like to ask of you as well... The two kids we brought out of the dungeons, I'd appreciated if you took them with you to the Guard. I don't want anyone tagging along with me where I'm about to go... It's... Personal. If there is no place for them there I will find another, but I do feel that I owe them."

Sham turned to look at Jake with one raised eyebrow. "An' will these paragons of helpfulness fit right in around the camp? I mean to say, hide the fine china and hope they don't make off with the silver?" She shrugged. "It's not as if the rest of us are all that good company. We'll find a spot to put them. We always do. Or did."

Jake snorted out a laugh. "Well, Darren is an alright guy, as far as I can tell, he's smart and a good fighter, haven't gotten his life story quite yet... As for Irvin, well... Let's just say I hope I'm there on the day he tries to pick your pockets, because that will be entertaining. And he will try to pick your pockets, and that is just one reason to watch his hands, if you know what I mean." He shrugged. "He's an alright kid though, that just seems to be his way of saying hello." He silently watched the streets below for a couple of minutes before rubbing his eyes a bit wearily and stating. "Sun's going to be up soon, we should get out
of the city while it's quiet."

Sham grinned slightly. "Well then, we'll have to make sure that he doesn't get a chance to get into trouble. If he tries anything else . . ." she shrugged. "Well, it's hard to pick a pocket wi'h broken fingers." She looked down at her own hands. "I'd'a know. We'll find a place for 'im. Or rather, I'll tell the Cap'n that they need a chance. Irvin annoys her too much and she might decide he needs 'special lessons'." She looked over the city as well. "Yeah . . . we should get going. Gonna be a long walk, seeing as how we were down there long enough that my horse got sold." She mock glared at Jake, before reaching down and grabbing a pack. "Well, let's get started, eh?" She stood up and glanced back, eyes glinting briefly as she simply dropped off the edge of the roof. There was a soft thump as she landed in a smooth crouch then looked up with a bright grin.
"Com' on then."

It only took them a few minutes to work their way out of the city and to part ways, Jake to wherever he was going and Sham with her new 'friends' heading towards Raven Camp.

The setting changes from Blackpond to Raven's Nest

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Sham sighed as she turned down the final path on the way to the camp. It had been a irritating long journey, with the two newbies giving her odd looks the entire time. She didn’t really care though, so long as they kept their hands to themselves. If they didn’t . . . well you could live with just one hand. Just not very well. Anyways, they were almost there. Tipping her head back, she whistled shrilly, letting the trail guards know that there were friendlies incoming. They would be cranky enough just seeing that there were strangers, she didn’t want to push it.

A horse shout answered her, with one figure leaping from concealment to wrap his arms around her. It was Devin, a training partner and friend.
“Sham!! You’re back woman! What the hell have you been doing, holing up somewhere cushy while we slog through the mud?”
Sham smiled till her cheeks hurt, wrapping her arms around Devin in return. “Nah, been on assignment. No cush job, not no how! Was there with Jake, he had other things to take care of and left me with these two. Says I need to introduce them to the Cap’n.”
Devin looked the two men up and down and sighed.
“Well good luck with that. We’ve had trouble plenty around here, but maybe you’ll catch her at a good time.” He waved them through with one hand.

Mageria had been putting her new recruits through their paces when she heard voices raised at the path into the camp.
“Swords down, walk to cool down. Then I want you to visit the other instructors for testing.” She wrapped her cloak around her shoulders and walked over, peering over a couple of heads in curiosity. Suddenly a delighted smile broke over her face.
“Sham! Welcome, well, not back. But welcome to Raven Camp.” She snorted at Sham’s look. “We had some time on our hands, ended up naming some things, having a couple contests, killing a couple monsters. It’s been fun.”
Sham nodded. “Aye. We’d been having fun as well.” She quickly filled Mageria in, hitting the important bits. When she was done, Mageria turned and gave the two men a good look up and down.
“Well, and you two are?”

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Mageria smiled and bowed slightly in return, noticing the slight glow in the man's eyes and not about to take the hand he was holding out. She had been around far too long for that and given the look Sham was currently shooting him, she had to guess that it was a trick he had played on her already.
"Well, I'm glad we could help you out of a rough spot. I'm afraid that we're not in a good one ourselves, things are still really rough. But if you don't mind that there's no floor to the rooms beyond the dirt and treat the furniture carefully, I think we'll get along alright." She paused for a moment. "No, really. The furniture still tends to fall apart if you jump on it." She shrugged slightly. "We're soldiers. Good at the blowing things up and waving of swords, not so good with the building of things."

"But either way, welcome. Do you want something to eat or just to rest first?"

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Mageria nodded at Irvin. “Well, we are a bit short of space, but there’s a corner or two we can tuck a spare bedroll in. If you want to head that way,” she nodded towards the barracks, “and ask anybody, they’ll find you a spot. Sleep as long as you like, we’ll find something for you to do after that.”

She looked at Darren. “As for you, we do know quite a bit about codes and breaking them. I’d be glad to look at whatever it is if you want, or you can just give me a sample. Whatever you’re comfortable with. The food is at the end room of the barracks, and then somebody will find you with the chores. We’re not shy about asking for help around here.”

She shrugged slightly then turned towards Sham. “And what happened that took you so long to break out? I thought for sure that you would have been here weeks ago.” She eyed Sham up and down. “Are you loosing your edge? And you obviously didn’t get enough to eat.” It was true, Sham was at least a size smaller than she had been and she was on the small side to begin with. “Come on then. You can give me your report along with a good hot meal. We’ve finally got enough meat in the stew for you to chew. Makes all the difference in the world.” She clapped Sham on the shoulder and steered her towards the barracks and their kitchens, waving for the two newcomers to follow them.
Sham sighed and followed helplessly, it was pointless to argue when Mageria was in this sort of mood. Better to just keep your head down and endure.

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Mageria took the journal and started flipping through the pages, eyes scanning the pages rapidly. There was a pattern there, clearly a code that could be broken. It would take her some time, but she felt confident that she could break it, given time.
"Looks like a challenge. I'd be glad to help, gives me something to think about. It's been a bit boring around here lately."
She took a bit of bread and wiped the last of her broth up; it was too good to waste at this point. And the addition of fresh meat meant that they could chew it without risking a tooth.

Besides them Sham was busily working on her third bowl of stew, normally it would have been a glutinous waste, but she had lost enough weight during the past month that she needed it. Without replacing that, she was going to fall on her face the next time she tried to use her ability.
"Cap'n" She mumbled a bit around a chunk of some kind of vegetable, honestly she was eating too fast to tell what it was. "How much did you manage ta bring with? We makin' do or doing well?"

Mageria looked over and shrugged. "Somewhere in between, really. It was bad at first but we're getting better at it." She gave Sham a measuring look. "And I know what you're thinking, no we do not need to go 'acquire' things back at Newhaven. Don't even ask." Sham just shrugged and looked as innocent as she could. Mageria just shook her head and turned back to the two newcomers.
"So, is there anything else you can tell me about what's happening at Blackpond?"

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Mageria’s gaze grew a bit distant as she absorbed Irvin’s information. “That sounds . . . unpleasant. We should. . . .” She abruptly bit her lip, looking down for just a moment. “I mean, if I was still in Newhaven, that sounds like something we should look into.” She clenched her jaw as the reality of what happened hit her again. She still had all of her ideals, but none of the power. If she allowed her mind to dwell on it, she would go mad. Taking a deep breath, she pulled her mind back to where it belonged.

It did sound like something that she would have been looking into, had she still been with the Blacks. Yes it was good that the illegal element was being shut down, but it was the wrong way to do it. And that bit about children . . . she had a very bad feeling.

Sham speared her Captain with a glance and shook her head. Mageria had that look in her eye, the one that meant she felt like she was on to something that needed to be fixed. It usually showed up before events of great chaos, and never boded well for those that got in her way. She shook her head and polished off the last of her stew, glancing over at Irvin’s bowl. He was pushing the vegetables around like a fussy child and it didn’t look like he was going to eat them anytime soon.
“You gonna eat those?” She gestured with her spoon, hoping for a little extra to eat.

Mageria glanced over and shook her head, smiling just a tiny bit. “I would like it if you could draw out that map. You’re right, it could come in very handy.”

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Sham grabbed the bowl of leftover vegetables and almost ate them whole, finally slowing down a bit towards the end as she stopped to chew. An early childhood of never knowing where her dinner was going to come from had taught her that the best place to stoe food was where no one else could get at it. She glanced at Irvin as he walked away and then peered over at Mageria, a slight sideways grin on her face.
“Cap’n, I’m fairly certain that the club he’s talkin’ about, an’ the one you were talkin’ about, don’t happ’n to be the same thing.”
Mageria grinned briefly before looking back at the journal in her hands. “Why Sham, I don’t know what you mean. What could I possibly have said that would give him the wrong idea?”
Sham shook her head and got up, ready to seek out her own bedroll for the night. The Captain had the oddest sense of humor sometimes. . . .

Mageria leafed through a couple of the pages in front of her, face falling into somber lines as she thought about what it might contain.
“Darren, I promise you that if these rumors you’ve heard about the children are true, we’ll do something about it.” A hard smile slashed it’s way across her face. “Truth, it’d be harder to keep people here than get them to go, everybody here is used to solving their problems with a sword blade, we joined because we felt that we needed to, otherwise there were better ways to earn a living with a sword.” She looked him in the eye, her own slowly darkening to onyx. “Children are to be protected. Sometimes people need to be reminded of that. It’s not quite like what I did last time, but this is a different situation.” She took a deep breath and forced herself to relax, looking at the young man with a sharp assessing gaze.
“But if family was involved,” she gestured a bit with the journal, “are you going to be able to do what you have to?”

The setting changes from Raven's Nest to Valcrest

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Mageria shook her head at Ella's entrance. While she appreciated the show of support of the Black Guard, the girl never did learn the art of subtlety. She was there in a simple outfit of wide pants and high collared shirt, all in black of course. With the scars on her face there wasn't much point in trying for anything approaching beauty, but she did think that she managed to carry herself well. Sham was there as well, in a long split overdress over a pair of slim pants. Both were outfits that they could fight in and both carried as many concealed weapons as the could fit under their cloths. Not that they expected anyone else here to be any different.

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

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

The setting changes from Valcrest to Blackpond

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Silently, Sham materialized at the side of her Captain. She had seen most of what had happened from a perch high up nearby and had spent a bitter few moments worming her way through the crowd. She didn't know the Queen well enough to feel the grief that Mageria was obviously battling, but she felt a kind of frozen pain none the less. She looked up at Essence. "Go," she whispered. "If it's that important, just.... go while you can." She knelt down as well, looking at the wound. An accident. A stupid stupid accident. "Captain," she reached out and shook Mageria's shoulder. "We need to go. Now." Mageria didn't move. Taking a deep breath, Sham reached out and slapped the woman smartly across the face.

Mageria's head snapped up and she felt the frozen grief holding her start to crack. "Aye," she whispered. "It's time and past to leave this place." She brushed her fingers over the weapons she had never had a chance to draw. She shifted slightly and scooped up Ella's body, noting absently that it seemed lighter than it should. She stood up, easily bearing her weight. For an instant she felt a wild storm of grief and anger that made the room flash red, and all unwilling a wild howl of anger broke from her lips; one that rang from the very rafters of the ceiling. She choked it down in the next instant, locking everything down into an icy silence. She walked, bearing her Queen's body, toward the nearest side room, searching for shelter from the madness that was the ball room. She walked ahead of her Captain, moving people from their way.

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#, as written by Essence
“Annie Turner... And who might you be?”

The noise around Darren dissipated briefly, his mind focusing on the woman’s voice, baby blues flashing curiously as he noted the way her shoulders bounced when she giggled. A small smile took over his trance, bowing low in return while removing his hat and holding it tight against his chest. His eyes never left her as he spoke, his free hand gently taking her’s and turning it so that his lips lightly grazed the top of her knuckles. “..Darren. Darren, Hearst..Miss Annie.” He whispered, his deep blues reflecting a purple hue that faded just as quickly as it appeared when he squinted, pushing back against a dull pain between his eyes. Instead of releasing her hand immediately when he felt his enlightenment take hold and mere flashes clouded his vision, he gave a slight squeeze, his fingertips lightly massaging the palm of her hand. “Turner?” Darren chuckled, politely releasing the woman’s hand. “Why do I have the feeling I’ve already met one of your relatives..” He stated matter of factly, more so than as a question.

Darren’s amusement faded, taking on a somewhat sympathetic expression as Annie dark locs faded into view. Tilting his head forward he raised his hat, letting his longer strands hide away beneath the leather interior, slowly standing up straight once again. “...I’m so sorry...” He began, adjusting his hat. “..She was a very lovely woman...You look like her..” Darren cleared his throat a bit awkwardly, quirking a brow as something crossed his mind suddenly. “..So...you’re into puzzles?” He muttered, hinting more at the images that had just flooded his mind. It wasn’t enough to make a lot of sense out of but he saw images of an older, similar version of the young lady who was now in focus before him. He had heard her name whispered within the camp and upon hearing the girl’s name he made the simple connection. Then, there was the flutter of pages covered in odd groupings of numbers that seemed to go on forever. It reminded Darren somewhat of his father’s journal but at the same time it couldn’t have been more different. Needless to say, it was intriguing and it moved him to ask something else but he didn’t even get to open his mouth when he heard a sharp echo of a wounded animal, causing chills to shake down his spine. Darren stepped back, sighing some as his distraction left him and was brought back to his original purpose. “Apologies, I had a prior...engagement...” He winked, tipping his hat and without another word he trotted off in pursuit of the grey-haired hag and the wolf that followed.

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"Go," she whispered. "If it's that important, just.... go while you can."

Essence froze, staring at Mageria in silence, lips parting to speak but words never finding life through her dizzy array of thoughts. Nodding absently to Sham as if she heard her words, Ess yet remained kneeled as she watched the woman pick up what was now only a shell of the Queen. It wasn’t the personal pain of loss that gripped hold of her insides, but of the ideals and reminders of what the Captain must now be feeling; it was in her eyes. An icy breath of death which mocked those left untouched, yet again and helpless to prevent what happened in mere seconds before their eyes. In that moment, Essence felt torn. It was something she normally would not be so conflicted with; the pursuit and killing of Ebony. That, was something she long desired ever since it was realized that woman still drew breath and she had never let anything hold her back to any similar desires before, but now things were changing.

‘There’s nothing to be done now..’ Essence told herself, trying to ease the guilt she felt as the Captain moved away in a grievance, hypnotizing state. She knew there wasn’t much to be said, at least not now. Yet, she felt like there had to be SOMETHING she could do, and perhaps continuing her pursuit of Ebony was all she was able to do at the moment. It wasn’t just about her own personal vengeance and her self righteous feeling of justice. Ebony had wronged many, many people all in the name of money and her illusion of power. Essence had spent a good portion of her young life, fueling that illusion, like a dog begging for scraps but too afraid to reach out for them. That had been part of her control over Ess which she had believed to have been shattered long ago, yet remanence of past pains still thrived through her veins. That anger, as if only just discovered in that exact second, began to trickle down in discreet, reddish streaks across her face as she pushed herself to her feet and slipped fluid and wispful like, as a wraith, her features shifting in a confusing blur of those she passed so that her ghost-like form was faceless for a moment. Essence knew she had no control over the life that was lost right before her eyes, but she knew she would have control over the life that still mocked her from across the room.

Taking advantage of the shrill screams of confusion and fear amidst the teasing of light, Ess slipped through the occasional darkness, straining to hear the distant growls and barks of her furry friend who had not hesitated to corner Ebony and Joffrey, pinning them against what use to be a window, now a melted barricade that slightly resembled a tombstone. ‘How fitting.’ Joffrey was growing weak, his movements stiffening as the paralysis began to take hold but not quick enough it seemed. Ess came upon the two, Tala in mid lunge for the man’s throat; Ebony too scared to move. Essence wasn’t even able to shout out for the wolf to be still when a blade sliced through the air and cut the animal along where her shoulder connected with the scruff of her neck, silver fur spotted with crimson. The wounded yelp of the creature was drowned out by an angry scream which Ess didn’t realize was coming from herself, until Joffrey looked upon her in surprise, that pause long enough for Tala to rip off his bladed hand.

Holding out her own blade, not taking her eyes off of Ebony, Ess’ free hand inspected the wound upon her wolf as Tala turned to drop the emaciated limb at her feet as if it were a gift. The gesture caused her to smile, barely noticing how Joffrey screamed like an infant longing for milk. He wasn’t going anywhere now, Tala able enough to stand guard as Ess reached down for the hand and playfully smacked the man hard across the face with it before whirling it in Ebony’s direction, the woman barely dodging the hand. Ess’ features were still once again, a manic glow flickering in her eyes accompanied by a series of giggles.She hit the woman with the hilt of her dagger again and again, causing her to fall upon her knees so that she was now at blade level, staring up at Ess in a wild panic.

“You can’t kill me, Pigeon! If you do, you’ll never know about your son...or your brother...I know where he is, you know..You NEED me...” Ebony stumbled over her own words with a hint of desperation mixed with that illusion of power that still hung about her. It would have been somewhat amusing if not for the Bitch’s words that simply caused Ess to press the blade harder against her throat. It baffled her to see how delusional the woman was up to her very end. As if considering what the woman had to say, Ess loosened her grip and took a step backwards.

“Your words, are poison....I ‘NEED’ you...like I need a hole in the head...” Ess snarled, her leg snapping outward to kick the woman onto her back, falling forward to pin her upon the ground.

“You’ll never be anything more than a toy..a plaything! It’s all you know! But if you list-” Ebony’s words were suddenly cut short by a chorus of angry screams as Essence was overtaken by a blood frenzy, her dagger stabbing the woman in the chest, neck, and empty eye socket over and over until it painted her white skin in the woman’s blood.

“I BELONG TO NO ONE!” She bellowed, screaming insults and curses, refusing to acknowledge anything further that wretched woman had to say. “I AM NO ONE’S TOY!” Essence didn’t even hear the voice behind her that had actually yelled out an objection to the act, disappointment at not hearing what the pile of flesh beneath her knees, had to say. “Lies...lies...all you ever said were lies...I can find out the truth WITHOUT YOU! Stupid bitch...there...is no...coming back....from this...” She continued to rant, thrusting the dagger into flesh each time she spoke. Her anger wasn’t relenting. There was no comforting release as she witnessed the body go limp, her blood spilling across the floor, quickly thickening against the chill. Her pain and scars would never leave her but there was a certain amount of satisfaction knowing there was one less child abusing, witch in Valcrest. Still, it wasn’t enough to calm her rage and even in the woman’s death, Ess wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t. It was as if she were temporarily possessed by one of her inner demons from her drawings; never sating the hunger that was fueling her need for blood.

Darren could have cared less for the blond who had passed out upon the floor from a gruesome injury, leaving him with a ragged stump where his hand should have been. His attention upon the wolf who was now sitting on her haunches, appearing as if she were trying not to lie down in the small puddle of blood slowly forming at her side. He immediately noticed the wound and after a few seconds decided it wasn’t life threatening but it didn’t look like it felt too good at all. Tala rumbled with a defensive growl, eyeing Darren, suspiciously sniffing in his direction. Very carefully in slow, calculated movements, he kneeled down a few feet away from Tala, causing the wolf to snarl and spit. Darren froze, “...It’s okay, girl...” He whispered, hesitating before he inched and stretched his fingers outwards. Again, she showed her teeth but no noise accompanied the gesture this time. Both the wolf and Darren’s attention were drawn away from one another when Essence screamed and began brutally stabbing at Ebony a few feet away. If Darren had given himself time to think on it, he wouldn’t of objected as much as he did as he found himself yelling for the woman to stop. A look of defeat slowly turned into a mix of shock and awe when he saw how the woman pressed on, noting she must have pierced Ebony more than a couple dozen times now and soon he lost track. For the first time ever, he hesitated to speak to a woman, somewhat afraid of the crazed look in her eye as she kept pace, not growing tired in the slightest as the blood splattered and dripped along her face.