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Shadows of The Forgotten

Blackpond

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a part of Shadows of The Forgotten, by Blackbird26.

City of Blackpond

RolePlayGateway holds sovereignty over Blackpond, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

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Blackpond

City of Blackpond

Minimap

Blackpond is a part of Valcrest.

4 Characters Here

Ella Page [10] "The Queen is the strongest on the chess board. Why is it that I feel so weak?"-Deceased
Ari Lupir [6] "Huh. you think you have me all figured out. Don't you?"
Grim Pondus 'War' [6] Warlord of the Salamanders. "All will perish through war, but peace can't prevail by pacifism."
Dominic Adams [3] "Black and White are pointless terms for anyone who really wants to get something done here."

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Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“For Blackpond!”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir
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For Blackpond!!

Mageria didn't even think, upon hearing the cry and distinctive sound of a sword being freed of it's sheath. She simply grabbed Ella by one arm and all but flung her towards the nearest wall. Somethings, it seemed, simply couldn't be erased by a change of job titles. She didn't draw any of her weapons, but instead stood in a ready guard stance between the woman to whom she had given her loyalty and whatever danger it was.

"So Majesty, how's the Council been lately? Still upset or have they calmed down any?" She sounded almost bored, but she was almost hyper sensitive to what was going on around her.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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#, as written by Essence
“Well... Miss Talon... You were wondering how I knew your name... There you have it.”

Essence had her eyes on Sean, noting how his expression had shifted from innocent awe, quickly melting to something beyond disgust. Violet eyes brightened and flashed dangerously, something she couldn’t control as the light momentarily bled out from her sockets, appearing as if they held fuses burning to two mini, internal bombs. Tiny, blue veins accentuated the eerie light below her eyelids, her skin actually taking the illusion of a similar delicate and fragile decor of stone cracking under pressure as it spread. Her fingers appeared discreetly along her corset to slowly retrieve a small, purple vile she hid in her hand as she crossed her arms lazily. Blinking a few times, the glow emanating from her orbs dissipated, accompanied by a sly smile through grinding teeth. “Fucking bitch...I guess I was too kind to you when last we chatted...” She snarled, somehow her tone still remaining sweet. “I should have taken both of your haggard eyes...”

Ebony chuckled, staring at Ess whose back was still facing her and her mercenary entourage. “Oh, I’d be willing to forget that minor...transgression, little Birdie...if you give up that dagger of mine and come along quietly. It could be like...” Ebony sighed, pausing as if she were reminiscing about the good ol’ days. “...be like old times. Remember how much fun we had?” The old woman added with a mocking sarcasm. “Well....I remember how much fun I had....” She sneered.

Still holding the small vile, Ess turned slowly to face the group behind her, raising her hand to absently scratch the back of her head, the end of the vile nicked to spill its contents all along the fan like blade that was tight among the braids, nestled in her curls. Lazily she let the vile drop behind her, simultaneously as one of her braids fell loose, the barrette swinging in an almost hypnotizing fashion so that the razor edges were now coated with the sap like ooze.

“Riiight....because standing by and making money while children were raped and tortured was just SO MUCH FUN.... Children Ebony... It wasn’t a secret what kind of Mistress you were...”

“I ran a respectable business!” The woman hissed. “That is, until you tried to have me killed...and not to mention what you did to my brother...”

“At least...when I put a hit on someone..I have the balls to do it MYSELF.......Mistress...” Essence snapped, noting how Tala began to circle the group while staying just out of arm's reach; white foam dripping in bubbling clumps to the floor.

“Oh, we can see what a great job you did, aye Pigeon..” Ebony retorted with a wink from her good eye.

“Lucky for you, I was only a child and -” Ess inhaled sharply, her hands resting along her waist as if she were hugging herself, a chill creeping up her spine as a blond, green eyed man about her age stepped forward.

“Aw, now Beautiful, I seem to remember you had mastered quite a few...talents for one so young..” The man stated in a complementary tone, bowing his head slightly.

“Joffrey...” Essence breathed, nails tracing the outline of her throwing daggers tucked along her curves. “Finally...came out of hiding...”

The man smiled, nodding casually at Ess’ comment. “Well, after the rumors I heard about Vincent..and then recently with the..disappearance of Jasper...could you really blame me?”

“Vincent...Vincent....” Ess tapped her chin thoughtfully and shrugged. “Not sure who you mean..” She lied, not hiding a mischievous sneer crossing her lips. “Oh come now, how many times did you cut your tongue from all that boot licking? Although I think you may have enjoyed it. But, sadly, I can’t take all the credit there...” Essence bit her lip, glancing back at Sean as if to verify he was still there.

Joffrey chuckled, “I doubt you’d forget Vince, Pigeon..besides I saw you...but no worries..” He raised his fingers to his lips as if he was meaning to keep a secret. “You mean...you weren’t responsible for Jasper? How interesting...” Joffrey began. “I may have enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed you. So, since we are admitting things...I also seem to remember how much you liked it...”

“Tsk tsk..” Ess nodded as if she were agreeing with Joffrey’s words, but her attention was directed towards Sean in an unspoken agreement of sorts before turning back to the group. Firmly she stated, “Smart men...know how to treat a Lady... Maybe I’d play nice, if you got on your knees for me...

Ebony thought she was being sneaky, foolishly assuming Ess was distracted as she motioned for three of the men to go for Ess. Tala didn’t even let the first mercenary unsheathed his blade more than an inch before her teeth were piercing through flesh, followed by a girlish scream from the back of the group. The sound of blood gurgling and bones breaking, and the man was down in seconds. Essence’s head was already in full swing, long braids snapping outwards in a whip like motion, the sharp edges of her barrette slicing through empty air and then Joffrey’s cheek twice before the man was able to dodge. Another nearby man-for-hire felt the blade slice below his chin, spilling his blood in messy spurts so that it freckled across Ess’ porcelain skin, yet enough left in the man to not end him. It wasn’t meant to, nor needed once the poison began its work in paralyzing both individuals. Ess needed some leverage, even though she was able to move somewhat easily, the excessive folds of her gown constricting her movements enough to make the oncoming advances a little tricky.

“Ebony!” Essence screamed aloud, not caring that her voice echoed to blend with the chaos that was beginning to spread throughout the room. She was done with this woman and she would be damned if she let this fateful opportunity slip through her fingers. Another figure drew his sword, moving with the others to hold a circle surrounding Ebony. Ess released two of her finger sized daggers into the man whose throat she had cut, aiming for his hands to penetrate through his palms so that he dropped whatever weapons he held. One dagger went clean through, while the other only made it half way so that the man moved to use it to attack despite his anger and fury at the pain. It made it easier to block, Ess’ relic blade pushing back against the larger man for only a few seconds. Tala leapt from the side to rip through the man’s arm, hanging on until he stumbled backwards.

“Get your bloody wolf off me!” The mercenary barked from her feet, attempting to scurry backwards but his movement was slowing between the poison and blood loss which was also noted by the rapid, pale discoloration of his skin.

“She’s not mine....more like I am HERS...” Ess retorted in amusement, yet a look of concern crossed her eyes. It wouldn’t be long now for the poison to work it’s magic. A sudden breeze sent a chill up her legs, making her realize that somewhere along the way she had torn her gown, a clean slit just pausing along her naked thigh. Somewhere around that time it began to dawn on her that there were fewer mercenaries standing and more upon the floor than she could take credit for. Both Ebony and Joffrey had managed to slip away in the hustle but not without Tala already hot on their heels.

Catching Sean out of her peripherals she sighed, staring down at her dress, she slid her dagger along the tear to rip it in a horizontal fashion. Essence looked up to see a familiar dark, curly haired boy rolling to his feet, the image blackening as everything went dark followed by sporadic panic that echoed against the walls. With a sigh, Ess blinked, trying to make her eyes adjust. “Oh, this will not do...not at all..Uh, Sean, you still there? Would you be a gentleman and help a lady out? I can’t run in this thing..” Ess eyes flickered in their familiar glow; a violet beacon that quickly toned down but was enough to give her a glimpse of the man’s expression that sent giggles bouncing down her shoulders.
~~~~~~~~~

Darren snorted, holding back a chuckle when Jake poked at his side, playfully whining still about the shirt. His attention was more distracted so that it appeared he had to put effort into the jest as opposed to his normal, comical self. Quirking a brow he quickly glanced from Jake to the second fallen body, lightly tugging on his goatee in thought. “What the hell did you stick em’ with?” He asked curiously, his attention already wandering through his surroundings in pursuit of where the woman had disappeared into the crowd. “You’re from BlackPond, Jake...The name Ebony sound familiar? We don’t have time to get into it now, but let's just say I discovered she’s an old associate of my father’s...and more of a reason to finish much needed research.” Darren sighed, his expression momentarily blank before shifting to one of loss. He moved in one direction and stopped, turned around glancing in the direction of random shouts of guests as they moved to avoid the staircase. People began to push back; either from choice or by force. If they wanted to be apart of the battle or avoid it all together, Darren knew many wouldn’t be given much of choice as things began to escalate.

Turning abruptly away from the staircase, Darren began pressing through the crowd until he managed to pick out the small group of men encircling Ebony. In all honesty they stood out. It wasn’t hard to spot them as many began to push towards the blocked exits, against every corner and wall within the room. He didn’t need to turn around to know Jake was still within earshot as he spoke, “Hey...think I found who came here with that wolf...that...Redhead with no name..” Darren flashed a curious smile before it slipped away. He quickened his pace, zigzagging his way towards Ebony, determined to finish their conversation. Casually he kept his distance, coincidentally circling the group in the opposite direction of Tala so that they passed each other, only looking at each other long enough to acknowledge each other’s presence.

Only mere seconds went by before he witnessed the wolf take someone down with a graceful ease Darren felt only the female sex, no matter the species, carried alone. She was silent and deadly, and she wouldn’t have been noticed by others if not for the piercing scream of the man whose throat she had clamped down upon, silver fur stained in a sticky crimson. Darren saw a tall, fairly large man wearing a black, large brimmed hat with single red feather hanging off the front, approach Tala from behind. Raising a small ax over the wolf, the man was distracted with the blood feud so he didn’t notice Darren as he approached. “Aye Guy, nice...Hat.” The man hadn’t turned his head even half way when Darren’s fist collided with the side of his cheek. “You’re wearing it all wrong man...” He joked, popping the hat off the man’s head and catching it. “What the hell is this?” Darren laughed, plucking the feather from the hat and stomping it on the ground, his fingers crunching along the flexible brim to create a narrow, slanted point. The hat fit snug just above his ears, curling higher on his left along his temples compared to the right and just dipped low enough to cast a shadow over one eye.

“Thanks, Guy. I know it wasn’t suiting yo-” Darren took the first swing like a champ, barely budging even though his jaw was screaming. Stretching his jaw, he heard a pop, a subtle snort of amusement escaping him. Dropping low he swung his leg to bring the large man down, a smile spreading when the man lept out of the way, sending a series of low and high kicks in a fluid blur. Darren countered with several more kicks, dodging a boot to the face and the man paused to look at him curiously and nodded as if satisfied before attacking again. Forearms crossed before one another’s faces, mirroring each move as if they were dancing and couldn’t decide who would lead. A few moments passed and they shoved each other backwards unable to get in a proper hit and stared into one another’s eyes. Tipping his new hat, Darren winked before leaping forward into the air so his boots used the man’s torso and shoulders as steps to flip backwards while his heel connected with the man’s jaw twice. Hunched over in a small daze, Darren took the opportunity to repeat the move but instead of flipping again he locked his legs around the man’s throat and brought him down to the ground as Darren fell himself, putting pressure along several points at once so that the man’s eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out. He gave an extra squeeze before releasing and pushing the man away and somersaulting back to his feet just as the lights went out and he was encased in darkness. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t be seen, Darren adjusted his new hat in a fashion he thought suited him and stood as still as a statue, listening to the sudden shrieks echo around him.

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Ella almost couldn’t help but snicker a little when the fighting broke out. He heard a guard call out to protect the queen, but lucky for them, the head of the Black Knights was there before all of them. It was probably just instinct, but Ella wasn’t too happy with it all. The fighting wasn’t directed at her, that much was obvious. The whole thing, however, did seem a little odd. Ella was aware of the secret organization that was under control of Blackpond, but she had no idea who these rebels were who were trying to gain back control. How was it that they knew about this secret organization? Maybe the whole situation in Blackpond was more messed up then she had even imagined.
“The council is fine, for now. Xypher has been sentenced to death for his treason and the council seems far less cluttered with backroom deals and the likes now that he’s behind bars. There are a few councilmen lobbying for his release, but there is no way that they have anything to offer me that I can’t get in more honest of ways. As for their feelings towards you, well I don’t want to sound rude, but they’ve nearly forgotten about you. This little stunt was partially to remind them that you are still around and still have a presence because you are far too clouded in secrecy to do the work yourself.” Ella smiled, shrugging off the comment as if she had directed it at herself. “Honestly, the council doesn’t hate you as much as you may think. Xypher had a lot of control in the council and now that he’s gone, the power struggles have caused Xypher’s hold on the councilmen to be nearly nonexistent.”
Ella looked around at the carnage that was occurring all round her. New fights had started to break out. It wouldn’t be long until everything went downhill.
Then the lights went out. All in one sweeping fashion as if every fire in the place had been snuffed at once. The room was completely engulfed by the shadows. Every ten seconds or so, bouts of fire would flash, momentarily brightening the entire room as the battle at the top of the stairs continued. It was a spectacle at best in Ella’s eyes. She, instead, focused her attention on reading what the room looked like when the fire would light the room. The first thing she noticed was how the strobes of light would make things appear to be in one place one second and another the next time the lights flashed as if they were teleporting. Getting a read on how exactly the crowds were moving, she took the chance to slip away from Mageria…

-----

Dominic felt fine seeing that Ella had managed to find herself protected by Mageria when the fight broke out. His mindset changed a little, however, when the lights went out. It was almost a gut reaction. Find Ella as quickly as possible and move her from where she is, whether Mageria liked it or not. Ella was safe with Mageria, but the change in lighting could have very well meant that there was someone cutting the lights out in order to sneak past Mageria. He wasn’t going to let this happen. The moment the first burst of light from the fire went off, he ran. Every time the light came back, he saw people in different places. He had seen this before.
He called it the flicker effect. When lights flash quickly, he knew that he would see images and when the lights came back on a second time, anticipate them to be in the same place as before, but because the people had moved in-between flickers, his anticipation of where people were going to be was off.
It didn’t matter, despite smashing up against a couple of people; he quickly made it to Ella’s side, right near Mageria. The lights went up, giving Dominic a chance to see exactly where Ella was. When the lights went back down, he ran to grab for her arm. Grabbing hold, he ran with her, not caring too much if she could keep up. With each flash, the person who could have possibly been following Ella would see Dominic and Ella running in a different spot. Eventually, after about ten more flashes of light, he stopped, hoping that it would have been enough flickers to adequately lose any possible assailants. Looking behind him to see how Ella was his biggest shock. He realized that he had been dragging Mageria around the entire time and now Ella was alone in the dark, crowded room without proper protection. Without even thinking of apologizing, he said, “we need to find her.”

-----

… and go do something that she only just recently realized would be the right thing for her to do. Not many would agree with her, but she knew that what she was going to do, had to be done in order to bring some sort of peace to what was only a mess of people who didn’t understand the predicament that they were in. She didn’t even fully understand it, but she didn’t expect that much of herself. It would be way too grandiose of her to think like that. She hunched over to keep herself as small and as low profile as possible so none of her guards or Mageria would see her. There was only one face she was looking for in the crowds of people and that was Sean’s. Soon enough, she caught a glimpse of him when yet another flash of fire engulfed the room.
“You, Sean, are the cause of all things that are wrong in Valcrest right now.” She said, very boldly and blatantly. “Since you can’t do us the favor of offing yourself…” Ella slipped the dagger out of her corset. Without a moment of hesitation, she went in to cut a hole in Sean’s gut.

-----

Evin tried to follow the mania around him. It was hard to catch everything, but he instinctually grabbed for Jen the moment it all started. Especially as it started so close to her. The table that they were standing at just so happened to be one of the tables that was used to barricade the stairs and the woman that had been taken just so happened to be one of the ones that Jen had been speaking to. After he got her out of the way however, he calmed down a little. The fighting was in no way directed at either of them, so he had little to worry about. This would inevitably be the spark to ignite the fire though and that worried him just a little.
“Well aren’t you rough?” Jen said playfully.
Evin sighed, “Do you really have to go there? When have I ever been rough?”
“You were just now.”
“So you will judge me on a onetime thing when we’ve known each other for much longer?” Evin asked.
“We didn’t know each other long at all. What was it, a month or so? Do I really know the real Evin Bana, because sometimes I believe I don’t know your whole story.”
Evin just looked at her with amusement and said. “You know me well.”
“You’re telling me that I know everything about a man who I only knew for a month and who spent his entire life as an assassin? I’d be rather disappointed if I didn’t know everything about you. Besides, what’s the fun in that?” She stepped a little closer.
“I wish I knew everything about you. It’s been too long.”
The conversation was cut short when the light died. It blacked out completely, leaving Evin unaware of his surroundings. There was too much commotion in the initial screaming and clattered reactions for Evin to really pick up on his surroundings. He just let the whole thing engulf him as he stood in the same spot, not really sure how to react. His senses were failing him dramatically and it wasn’t a fun thought. Although Evin didn’t join in on the panic, he did feel unsettled. Rustling around with one of his hidden knives before finally getting his thoughts back together. H knew Jen was safe. He could hear her breathing. The fact that he wasn’t dead yet, made Evin realize that he was probably pretty safe as well. As fire began to ignite around the room, his thoughts led him to what the source of the entire thing was.
Before Evin had a chance to walk around to see what was happening, he dived out of the way as he saw the man who had been walking around in the Black Knight’s armour was dragging Mageria along behind him. It was curious, but not what he was looking for.
As he looked around, he caught a glimpse of the one person he was actually excited to see at the party. If anyone would be able to read the dynamic of the party better than he could, it would be her.
“Crystal… uh, Crys! I have to say, for someone who doesn’t like parties all that much, I’m having a pretty good time.”

-----

When Simon came to, he was completely confused. Everything indicated that he was no longer in Rick’s mind in terms of how he felt seemed to tell him that he was in fact no longer there. But then there was the scene that he was thrown into. The room he leapt back into was nothing like the room that he had been in before he met Luckas. Before, people were enjoying the party, but now a fight had Broken out. What if he was still in Rick’s mind? What if he had been fooled into thinking that he had left when really, Luckas was continuing to manipulate his reality. There was only one way that he would know for certain.
Knowing Luckas as intimately as Simon did, he knew that Luckas would never let himself die, even if it was just in the world of imagination. If he could kill Luckas, he would know for certain he wasn’t still stuck somewhere within the mind.

-----

Everything about the attack was against logic. It was unconventional and sloppy. From what he knew from the Conflict’s tactics, it was even unconventional for them. They would each come in one at a time to attack. None of them were using Rick’s teleport… but Alexander didn’t actually see Rick anywhere around either way. It was almost as if they were purposely trying to make it easy for them. Something was off. They weren’t even using any of their enlightenments. It was all wrong.
Alexander continued to defend the barricade, which was such a pointless endeavour. What were they playing at that they didn’t just break through the barrier. Then he realized it. There were only four assassins that weren’t present to battle. Simon, Rick, Vorso and Lamya. Rita was also someone who wasn’t yet present in the battle. This was something that he hoped continued for a long while. Sadly, he knew that there wasn’t a chance in Hell that she would ever stay out of it for long. Maybe she was waiting for the strategic advantage to pop up to join, or maybe it was the fact that she would want to see one or two of the Conflict drop dead before she joined, but what did he know. For all he knew, she could be completely subservient to them.
The thing about the four of the Conflict that weren’t joining in automatically made him know that he was already at an advantage.
Before he could fully process things, the lights all went out. He knew that it wasn’t the doing of Jacy as the fighting completely stopped for a moment. It was obvious that everyone was taking a moment to readjust to the new conditions before the started fighting again. The few moments of silence, without fighting lasted an eternity. It took such a length of time that Alexander actually found himself getting bored. It wasn’t until he saw a flash of light and felt a charring heat wave crawl across his skin that he realized the fight was back on. Alexander reacted quickly to this, ducking below the red blaze that flew across his head. He knew that Vorso was getting himself involved now that the elemental users were using their enlightenment. That would mean that the rest of them would be using their enlightenments soon enough as well, which was only frightening.
There was one thing that he was happy for though. Without Rick or Simon in the battle, he knew that they could not secretly communicate with one another or teleport where ever they want. This made the battling far easier, which made Alexander think that he would take a new approach to the battle. Taking a head on approach to the attack would work out far better this time. Hopefully better than last time at least.
“We will hold the barricade for a few moments longer; let them get close to us. When there is a significant amount of these bastards near the barricade, the one of you’s with a ranged weapon run up to the top and wait for us to force them back down to the ballroom floor for you to start picking them off.”
All were in consensus, but none of them did anything or said a word. It was the silent agreement of the warrior; the bold ignorance that aided them in constant vigil, resilience and honor. They all fought for War, Peace and Life and prayed to Death that they’d be given her blessing.
Alexander continued to wave his sword gracefully towards his combatants. It was enough to ward them off, every once in a while, he ducked in cover from another fire ball. With each fire ball, the enemy got closer, until they could put their plan into action.
The one ran to the top balcony area in the dark. There was no way that they would be able to tell that he had gone up as the shadows concealed him. This was the moment. The true fighting would occur now. Lazurus stretched his arms out past the barricade and dropped something on Alexander’s side, then he turned around and ran away from the battle. What he had dropped looked a lot like a seed. It was small and didn’t make a noise when it hit the ground. It just trickled behind Alexander and his warriors. Alexander didn’t think much of it, he just followed through with his plan. The Conflict was right at his doorstep and he needed to do it now or he would never have the chance to do it. Alexander lifted his leg, but before he could continue, he heard a yell. He could smell it before he could see it. A stench of a thousand deaths. It was a stench he knew well, but a stench that stung the nose with a million different pungent feel. The seed had grown into a human body, rotten and bloody with the blood of both itself and Alexander’s mercenary. It only took a moment, but he was dead.
“Fuck it!” He yelled, kicking the barricade over and on top of the assassins. He didn’t take a moment, he ran down the stairs. On the way down, he saw Sachi stuck under one of the tables, with a broken arm. He didn’t stop moving, but he plunged his sword into his sorry assassin ass.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he felt a sort of reunion. Surrounded by the surviving Conflict, and Lazurus’ dead doppelganger.
“It’s great to be back.”

-----

Rick’s fixations had grown immediately as he snapped out of his trance.
“Oh boy, glad you can join us!” Lamya said.
“Where is she? I need to find her! She’s the woman I’d like to see the most of.” Rick blared.
“Even better, you’ve gone crazy. Go find that girl, and maybe that dagger while you’re at it.” Lamya fund pure joy out of Rick’s mind being haunted by his inner most demons. Simon had really managed to do a number on him.
“Yeah, yeah, the dagger. But first the girl!” Rick said in anticipation, pushing Lamya, who whooped in laughter as she fell.
Rick continued looking around the room for the red head he was after. That absolutely gorgeous woman who had the real look for him. It was something of utter rareness to find this and to think that he could have it. She had to be in the room. Jake was in the room. Where was she?

That wasn’t her… her death would be worth it though. Then there she was. There she was. There she was. The utter trueness of sex appeal right in front of her. With a dagger drawn, swished it through the air. He swished it through the air. “Leave us. Leave us man. Just leave.” He looked at the man who was standing with the redheaded blind girl. “Are you, are you leaving? Are you leaving?”

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Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Dominic Adams
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When the strobbing effect started, Mageria had dropped back half a pace, closing her eyes to avoid being dazzled out of instinct.
"The Council's forgotten about me huh? Maybe I'll have to come back and visit then. Like, when we get out of this bloody mess?" She neatly kicked a nearby combatant in the gut when he swung towards them, taking him out of the fight without killing him. She was about to say something else when Dominic landed beside her and took up a flanking position. Evidently he also decided that they weren't safe enough where they were, and went to grab Ella and take her to a more secure position. At least that's what Mageria assumed was supposed to happen; however he made the mistake of grabbing her arm instead and pulling her away. Mageria actually restrained herself from gutting the man by the barest of margins and only because she knew who he was. She didn't even bother with responding when he finally realize his mistake, mostly because she had been occupied with twisting around to try and keep Ella in sight. Years of battlefields had served her well; that and knowing what crazy idea was most likely to slip into her liege's head next.

"This way." She grunted, slipping between the individual fighters like a fish through water. She was headed, not to where Ella had been, but to where she was most likely to be headed. Which would be the Alpha of the Wolfpack, Sean. And there the little lunatic was, headed towards the man and slipping a small dagger out of her sleeve.

"Majesty!" Mageria just knew she was really going to regret this. With one hand she reached out and firmly grabbed the back of Ella's gown, pulling her backwards and out of the way. "Not the time or the place!" Mageria spun slightly, placing herself between the two of them. Times like this she really missed her old armor. There was a roughly equal chance that either of them was going to do their best to gut her in the next instant.

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It only took a moment for Ella to realize it, but something was pushing her backwards. She stumbled back, nearly tripping, but not quite. She felt a bit of pressure on her stomach as well. It was just her hand hitting her on the way back though. It knocked the wind out of her, but she caught it back quickly enough to realize who it was.
It seemed that Mageria had caught her just in time to save the life of the rat bastard Sean, a man who truly didn’t deserve it. The excuse that “it wasn’t the time or place” was just a load of horse manure. Ella and Mageria both knew it. The party had gone to shit already. It was only matter of time before the rest of the fight came to her and Sean and Mageria. She didn’t really care if she was the spark. It had to be done.
Ella looked up at Mageria. She was very close to her. They were so close that the two of them would have to take an effort to look at each other from anywhere below the bust. Ella attempted to let out a word, but nothing happened. Her look said it all, but when she couldn’t speak, it made her a little more panicky than anything. That’s when she noticed the pain. An agonizing pain that forced her to cringe and collapse to the floor. She grabbed at her stomach, where the pain was emanating and she caught another pain in her hand. Something had cut her when she tried to grab at the pain. It took less than a second to realize what had happened.
Letting out an earth-shattering scream, she bellowed in a manic inflection. Tears started falling from her face as she realized that she had no chance in hell at this point. There was so much blood on what was once a beautiful dress.
She finally managed to get a breath. “Why? Why couldn’t you just let me kill him? At least, when I was killed, my death would ha—”
Her voice was cut short by a single breath, expelling what was left of her sentence. Her skin quickly turned an ashen grey and she went limp. The Queen of Newhaven was dead.

Where did the Queens and Kings of old go when they died? Did they go to the same place as everyone else or did they go to a special place? They had to go somewhere. Whether they were more important than common folk or not was something that was beyond intellect or wisdom. If the children of gods went to Hell, it would probably dictate that Kings and Queens, people who were less important than the sons and daughters of the Twins, were also only deserving of a regular afterlife. What a droll thought, living a regular afterlife. The kind of life that should only be fit for a commoner. The things that the common man did were far from the grandeurs that a King and Queen took part in.
For one Royal, the common afterlife would be a handsome reward. The only logical thing was that Ella would as well live that droll afterlife. She would revert back to the world that she once knew, the common life: the one life she always wished on herself. The only difference was that now, it would be after her living life. For once, she would feel normal again, like the little orphan girl who imagined a magical world beyond her knowledge. The life of the Queen killed that for her. It would be great to be back.

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Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher
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Mageria sighed wearily, every line of her body sagging in defeat. She had been struggling to hold the wound closed, but life had seeped out of her Queen in a red tide.
"You stupid girl. You stupid little idiot. You couldn't have laid a mark on him no matter what." Gently she reached up and closed Ella's eyes. She was a veteran of the battlefield and to the effects of those who survived one but never really left it. She could tell the difference between a wound that was inflicted purposefully and what it looked like when someone stabbed themselves. She knew what had happened and whether it had been an accident; or the hand of fate, reaching down to make the impossible happen, to bring Valcrest to the brink of destruction, she didn't know. But she knew what was going to happen.

They were surrounded in a strangely still moment, a bubble of serenity in the chaos. Slowly, Mageria looked up at Essence, her eyes shading from a verdant green to empty black. She was very quiet, holding everything that she was feeling inside. Once again, a monarch of Newhaven was dead and once again the Wolfpack would be blamed. Once again, it would be for the wrong reason. And she didn't think that she could stop it this time.

"Valcrest will burn.......And there is nothing we can do to stop it."

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#, as written by Essence
People were running in all directions, as hypnotizing bursts of flame gave Essence mere glimpses of faces and shadows; Tala was lost trailing what Ess caught as Ebony’s salt and pepper hair disappearing in the strobing reality, almost catching fire. Ess couldn’t help but laugh, tearing jagged rips of her gown to just above her knees. Then, instead of following immediately after Ebony and Joffrey, Ess froze. Her jaw fell in utter awe, staring, at what felt like was slowly dawning on her, the Queen falling lifeless to the floor. Holding her blade at her side, she didn’t look away but acknowledged Sean’s departure with a nod. “What....the hell..just happened..?” She breathed, moving to leave because her mind was screaming to pursue Ebony while at the same time her eyes locked upon Mageria and she couldn’t move. Essence wouldn’t just walk away now, yet her gaze strayed past the Captain and found herself being stared at by the boy who had introduced himself as Darren except now he was wearing a hat. Tipping his hat he signaled a silent departure, quicking looking from where he last saw the wolf run off to and back at Essence. It was as if the boy knew what Ess was thinking, “I’m on it..” Darren grunted, before running off after Tala, Ess still wearing a dumbfounded look on her face.

"Valcrest will burn.......And there is nothing we can do to stop it."

Essence kneeled down beside the Captain, lightly resting a hand upon her shoulder a bit hesitantly. “I don’t understand..” She whispered to Mageria. “...There has to be something we can do...I mean you saw what happened, right?” Ess cleared her throat, standing once again, her blade hovering at her hip in a subtle defensive stance. “Captain...we need to find a way out of this room...but not before I lose that haggard bitch...not again..” Still Ess didn’t move, as if waiting for permission to leave the Captain’s side while at the same time she most definitely didn’t trust to leave. Everything was chaotic but things were going to crumble and cascade into insanity in the next few seconds.

Darren had been weaving in and out of the crowd, ducking random bursts of flame which made it fairly difficult to keep track of the silver wolf and the prey it was pursuing. The strobing light paused out of sorts and it was dark for the better part of a minute before a violet, blinding array of light suddenly came into a view in what Darren could only recognize as the sun flying towards him. To avoid the ball of fire, Darren dove towards the floor, unintentionally taking down a figure in white, who had been beside him unexpectedly. Not to say there wasn’t people all around, but most were either engaged in some sort of conflict or making their way towards the walls and blocked exits in vain. The dark haired boy opened his baby blue eyes, straining through muttered apologies as he unshielded the form from himself, rolling to his side. The first thing Daren saw was an attractive, young lady with jet black hair and adoring brown eyes, and for a moment he forgot the chaos around him and simply stared at her as if there was nothing else in room. His eyes flashed an indigo, purple, several images flashed quickly through his mind that he was ignoring mostly in an attempt to clear his thoughts. “I’m sorry-” Darren gasped, feeling something or someone grip him by the collar and hoist him into the air before he could finish his sentence, an angry glare penetrating his own confused stare. Darren held up his hands defensively, as he rushed to catch his breath. “Whoa...least let me catch...my breath before the beautiful lady takes it away again...Guy...wait..you don’t understand..” He tried to explain, one eye still on the woman in white, feeling a bit ashamed to have not even helped her off the floor. “Ah..is this your boyfriend, Miss?”

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name)
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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.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Darren Hearst Character Portrait: Sham (No Last Name)
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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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"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.

Setting

Characters Present

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

-----

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

-----

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

-----

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

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

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

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

-----

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

-----

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-----

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

-----

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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#, as written by Essence
Essence had set her sights on the Captain, all noise drowning in and out around her as she passed nonchalantly by chaotic expressions and screams. Her focus was locked on Mageria as she laid the Queen down upon a table, taking note how stiff the Captain appeared, the woman’s eyes hardening. Ess didn’t know exactly what was hidden behind the darkness shaping the details, lining Mageria’s face, but it still caused her to hesitate from taking another step.

“Miss Essence....We meet again!”

Ess’ view was cut off and blocked by a familiar figure who appeared to sway slightly as he came to a stop. She smiled, giving a playful curtsy and exaggerating the flare of her arms as she did so, still obviously on a high from the excitement only minutes earlier. “Good Evening again to you, Handsome.” Glancing down at her attire she shrugged at the comment of less clothing. “I suspect this wouldn’t be the best weather to run around like this.” When Dastan draped his cloak across her shoulders, her fingers reached for the seams to pull tight around her neck, brushing warmly across the man’s arm. She relaxed her stance a moment, not expecting the gesture and looked back over her shoulder to acknowledge Darren was still with her. “Oh, the Kid? Common enemies tend to bring strangers together, it seems..” Ess smirked at Ali’s comment on Tala ‘not trusting Ali to keep an eye on Ess’ and sighed. “I think she had an agenda all her own. I actually feel like I am the one having to keep an eye on her...” Bending down the woman inspected the animals wound again, noting how the blood was already soaking through the rag and decided that being on her feet was only going to agitate the wound further. Quietly she slipped her arms beneath the wolf, careful to cradle her and not put pressure along her slightly swollen belly, the cloak encasing both of them as she lifted the wolf to her and stood back on her feet. Tala whined in protest but was silenced as Ess shot her a glare.

“Name is Darren....” The boy said matter of factly, facing Ali in his response but also speaking towards Ess. He bowed his head politely. “Not “Kid.” Nice to meet you Ali finally. Wandering around in camp, surprisingly we hadn’t run into one another yet..”

Ess quirked a brow at Darren. “You’re from camp?”

“Uh...well I kind of arrived recently with friends...speaking of Irvin..” He muttered, glancing around the room searching for his friend, yet his focus was still on the company before him. “So, Miss Essence is it? I could give you a hand...with Tala there...”

Ess was already in motion, back on the path towards the Captain, “It’s fine. She may be a bit more bitey with the wound and all...It’s best I carry her. Besides, I feel it’s time to say our farewells and thank our Host for such an extravagant event..” Her tone was light and airy, contradicting to the malicious grin spreading from ear to ear. Essence quieted as she approached the Captain, pausing a few feet away to not crowd the woman and waited until she was sure Mageria took notice of her presence. For a moment she thought she caught a flicker of light behind the Captain’s dark eyes. Ess let her smile fade and stood tall, still holding Tala in her arms.

“Your orders, Captain?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ella Page Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir
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Mageria had been standing there, feeling the ice of shock and grief slowly work it's way through her chest. She couldn't move, all she could do was stare down at the body of the girl she had sworn to protect. The slightest movement caused her to tilt her head to the side slightly, reaching down to where Ella's body lay on the table. The death wound was no longer there. She stooped slightly, sliding one arm behind Ella's shoulder's to see if she could detect any breathing. The .... body shifted, sitting up and moving of it's own accord. Ella stood up, turning around to face her fully.

The brutal clarity of shook was immensely useful at that moment. Mageria felt nothing. Her mind coldly flipped through a series of observations and deductions before coming to a conclusion.

Ella had been dead. There was no doubt about that, she had faced too many bodies, friends and enemies, to mistake that state for anything else.

There had been no sign of an Elightenment being used, no shifting of eye color or other wise.

When Ella looked into her eyes, she saw a different person looking back. Blackpond was known to have a necromancer in it's employ. Somebody who could put on a body like a suit of cloths.

This was not Ella.

Mageria's expresion never changed. Her eyes still as black as midnight, she flicked her wrist slightly to the side, a small dagger suddenly filling her hand. So fast that it was a blur, she drove the dagger with all her might towards the thing's neck.

Lazurus knew in an instant that Mageria knew the truth. But of course she knew the truth. The truth was lying right in front of her, dead only moments before. It wasn't even a change in the eyes that clued him in. It was the change in the tension of her cheeks. A tension that could only be seen by the slightest twitching. Lazurus ignored the twitch and continued looking right into her black eyes, waiting for something.
The strike came quickly and with only the warning of sound. A skilled Knight as she was going to attempt for the killing blows right away. Which made him do the only thing that he could imagine to do with the time he had to react. Ducking below the strike, he immediately started backing away. With the people leaving the room now, there was far more room for him to move and he knew that Ella wasn't much of a fighter. If he was to start pulling off some incredible displays of strength and be so nimble that only an assassin could really pull off the moves that he was going to do, no one still left in the room would believe that is was really Ella in this body.
"Stop Mageria! What are you doing?" The sweet, soft and elegant voice of Ella came out with Lazurus' words.

Mageria turned smoothy, almost inhuman in the preciseness of her movements. She was past the point of being able to speak. Past the point of being able to let her emotions get any hold of her. Tossing the blade in her right hand up and catching it in her left; she brought her right foot up and grabbed the knife tucked in her boot, drawing it smoothy as she stalked forwards. She would kill this monster or prove to everyone in the room that this wasn't her Queen. Lips pulling back from her teeth in a slight snarl, she leapt forwards, blades gleaming in the surviving flames.


Lazurus didn't bother to think about what he was going to do. He knew that even if he continually just tried to avoid her, that there would be no hope in winning a fight. He didn't want to fight, but it seemed as though that was the only option that he was given.
You had to have come here with a blade you bitch! Where is it? Lazurus thought.
Ella's reply was slow and controlled. She didn't seem to care too much about the impending danger of Mageria. It wasn't like she really knew that there was any impending danger to begin with... or did she? My heel turns into a blade. Good luck figuring out which one it is.
"Bitch." He whispered as he continued to watch Mageria approach. He turned around, completely to face the staircase. and kicked both her shoes up to the top. Mageria was taking her time with the approach, so he knew that there would be time to run up the stairs and figure out the heels.
He ran up, and grabbed both of the shoes in his hand. It didn't take much detective work to figure out which one was the right shoe. The sole of the left shoe looked slightly deformed as if it were modified. He flipped the shoe to look at the heel. The heel was the handle. He broke the heel off until he heard a clicking noise and then drew the blade. It was no bigger than Ella's foot, but it would have to do.
He turned around to see Mageria almost right in front of him. Before he even gave her the opportunity to swing her blade, he attempted a slash at her abdomen. It was blacked with her dagger and then a quick counter came back at him with the larger blade. In the dress, Lazurus had little mobility, but he had enough to be able to dodge the attack. The blade cut right through the side of Ella's dress though, shredding it in an ugly fashion where cloth was hanging on barely by a thread in places.
Again Lazurus backed away as quickly as possible to avoid any more strikes against him. Much more of this fighting and it would give away the fact that she wasn't actually the Queen.

Mageria was done allowing even the slightest opportunity for her opponent to fight back. She darted forwards, dropping her left blade in order to grab the necromancer's left hand in her own. She twisted slightly, pulling it forwards and turning so that she could slam her right elbow into the thing's stomach. She twisted back, dropping the wrist lock and grabbing the necromancer's throat in her left hand, she slammed it backwards over the banister, pushing it off balance enough that it wouldn't be able to strike again. Gazing down at what had been her Queen, she struck a final time; a quick clean blow to the heart. It was the last service she could perform for Ella.

Ella didn't know what was going on. All she could decipher was a few slight emotions that would rush through her mind. Lazurus was obviously flustered with something, but what he was flustered with was something that she couldn't figure out. Without anything else she could do, however, she thought it the only good way to pass the time.
While trying to interpret the fight, she felt a pain. It was in her stomach, but she also felt Lazurus feel the same pain as well as another entity. There were three different minds interpreting the exact same thing. This didn't make sense, until when she felt another pain on her back. Lazurus felt the same pain, but the third entity didn't.
If Ella could express herself in any way, she would have made the biggest expression of shock ever. Now she understood.

Lazurus was on his back. He had gone over the railing and fallen is such a way that he knew he would be fine, but it still hurt so much. He let out a scream of pain forgetting that he would sound like a woman when he did it.
Before he could get back up, he felt a wieght pile up on him. Mageria stared daggers at him. Then the blade came for what was hoped to be a final blow. Desperation was what saved him. His hand lifted up and blocked the blade. It blocked it in the most painful of ways. The blade went right through the hand. Letting the tears flow completely naturally, Lazurus twisted the hand with the blade still in it so that Mageria would loose her grip. With the other hand, he grabbed Mageria by the back of her head and pulled her close enough so that he could whisper to her. something.
Blood was pouring from her mouth as he had bit his tongue when the blade came through the hand. He spat blood into Mageria's ear as he stuggled to say. "If you kill me, you kill the baby."

Mageria snarled, an vicious animal sound as she pulled back from the necromancer's hold. When she spoke it was as if the sound was torn from her throat, as if something so civilized as speech has no place in her mind. "Lies..." Her right hand snaked back and grasped one of the ornamental sticks holding her hair in an elegant twist. She flipped the slender stake around so that she held it like a wooden dagger and plunged it towards the necromancer's right eye.

Lazurus moved his head before his beautiful face became a mutilated mess on the floor and then yelled back his reply. "But it's true! Mageria, if you have something against me please find another way! I can't stand to die like this when I'm expecting! I can't just let my baby go like this!"
The yelling wasn't exactly to try to convince Mageria anything. Mageria was beyond repair. Lazurus wanted the right people to hear this. And they did. The dead weight of Mageria fell over on top of Lazurus. It was a face that Lazurus recognized as the guard who was there when he had first attacked Ella a while back. You had sex with one of your personal guards? It makes sense I guess. You've probably had more alone time with in than anyone else in your life. Naughty. There was no reply from Ella.
"A baby?" The guard asked. Lazurus nodded. The two kissed passionately. "What should we do about Mageria?" Conrad pushed away to ask.
"We'll bring her back to Newhaven where we will find a proper cell for her." Lazuras said in enjoyment. That would get her out of the way.
"No!" A voice spoke well over the volume needed to be heard. "The two of you will leave and I will personally escort Mageria safely to Newhaven where she will be given back what was rightfully hers."
Lazurus moved the head to see probably the tallest man in the room in Black armor staring back at her. He wasn't going to take no for an answer and Lazurus didn't want to see what the Black Knight would do if he did say no.

Mageria slowly sat up, reaching around to touch the raw lump on the back of her head where she had been knocked out. She stood smoothly, turning to look around at her people standing around her. They stood staring at her is various stages of shock. She tilted her head slightly and closed her eyes, drawing the icy calm around herself again.
“The Queen is dead. That person, was a necromancer wearing her skin. We will stop her before she gets back to Newhaven.” With that she strode out, her people falling in step with her as they swept from the hall.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


She was going to have to kill her Queen.

She was going to have to kill her Queen.

She was going to have to kill her Queen.

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

She always had.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Duty.

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Ess Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Mageria Talsheir Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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#, as written by Essence
Ess would have acted beyond her mere confusion and trance when the Captain and the ‘Queen’ engaged in their confrontation of sorts, if it wasn’t for the Wolf. Even in the animals injured state, she wiggled and squirmed, growling and spitting at the entity who, in all appearances, was the Queen. It took everything Essence had in her to hold Tala back, afraid she would do fatal harm to herself. She was shocked at what followed and when the Captain quickly explained it all, it actually made sense; in a crazy, impossible kind of way. Essence knew it wasn’t possible for someone to just come back to life like that; at least she didn’t believe it so with no outside help.

“The Queen is dead. That person, was a necromancer wearing her skin. We will stop her before she gets back to Newhaven.”

The term Necromancer sent chills down her back. Someone who could control the dead was something from nightmares and twisted nursery rhymes that the other children in her village would stir up to make Ess cry but now it was real and it was getting away. The shock faded and the porcelain features smoothed out to an emotionless puppet, simply falling into line behind the Captain and the others. Readjusting Tala in her arms she carefully tucked her neck beneath the wolf’s mid section and rested her friend across her shoulders. Ess’ pace didn’t slow, however she did look to see if Ali or Dastan were still nearby, a subtle smile gracing her lips when she saw that they were but that the Kid, Darren, had suddenly made himself scarce. She turned to see a figure clad in armour purposely place himself in her path but she only caught a few words, not really paying attention. Tala snapped as the man reached out and tried to grab the hilt of her dagger at her back in an attempt to disarm her. Essence didn’t even have time to react when she heard a scream and multiple, small explosions, sending the remainder of guests either to the floor or into the Guard before her. The redhead kneeled, a bit off balanced with the Wolf still across her shoulders, whining some as if she were afraid she were about to fall.

Darren saw everyone making their way towards the exits and instead of following he meandered past overturned tables, charred furniture, and pools of blood, pausing here and there aimlessly. Or so it appeared. One couldn’t quite see what he was doing, except that he was grabbing some random objects off the floor including a spilt bucket of black goo that still contained singed morning stars from Ess’ earlier display of fire spinning. With a sigh, he adjusted his hat, stopping to watch a familiar figure it white disappear into the crowd before he pulled out a pouch and paper, walking and taking the time to roll himself a cigarette. Patting his pockets, he realized they were empty of matches and leaned in towards a burning tapestry to light his cigarette.

“Bad habit, you know..” A woman mumbled in annoyance at him as she passed.

Darren quirked a brow, inhaling deeply before releasing a laugh and a cloud of smoke. “Huh, I guess you are right...” A deviously handsome smile spread from ear to ear as he flicked the cigarette over his shoulder, doubling his pace with one hand holding his hat firmly to his skull and weaving through the crowd. Just when he was about to catch up with Ess that was when the explosions began. There could have been half a dozen going off, with no pattern except that it caused people to fall to the floor, jump back up and then fall again in an amusing dance of sorts. Darren adjusted his hat and kept walking as if nothing had happened, bits of debris flying past. Glancing at his new acquaintances, he nodded, his gaze trailing over the individual who was trying to confiscate people’s weapons. As he stumbled to his feet, Darren balled up a fist and popped the man in the nose, sending him back down towards the ground, an amused grunt escaping the boy as he continued forward.

When Darren was far enough away from the crowd he came upon Irvin who appeared to be watching the man’s approach. The man halted and put on an innocent face, tossing an arm around Irv’s shoulder, “What? I’m not allowed to leave a gift for our host?”

Essence felt someone grab her arm and help her to her feet, ushering her onward with the disarray. Finding Shockwave, she hoisted Tala across the horse’s shoulders and climbed aboard just behind the Wolf, adjusting the borrowed cloak to protect her from an icey wind. It wasn’t a question of what was to be done next exactly except she needed to get Tala back to the Nest so she wouldn’t follow in her state and continue after the rest of her companions. It was looking like a long night ahead of them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson' Character Portrait: Ess
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#, as written by Essence
13 Days Post Ball...Valcrest..Just outside of Blackpond. Morning into Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

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Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Samantha 'Johnson' Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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[Blackpond - 13 days after Castle Ball]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[White Shadows encampment - 17 days after Castle Ball]

“...We have an injured man here..”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Am I dead?”

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

“It’s all the white isn’t it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[Forest - 18 days after Castle Ball]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You took the city back," Oswald said.

"I was handed the city," Rita said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Are you okay, Rita?" Mayson asked.

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

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

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

"Because that worked well for us already."

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

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

"Exactly."

"And if we split the vote?"

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

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

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

"What?"

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

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

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

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

"Of course!" Mayson said.

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

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

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

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

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


[Otium 18th, Midday] Raven's Nest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," Simon said

"So you'll give it to Lamya?"

"I wouldn't give Lamya my socks."

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

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

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

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

"I want Blackpond to win the war."

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

"You know, I never liked you."

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

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

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


[Otium 18th, Evening] Blackpond

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

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


[Otium 19th, Midnight] Not far from Blackpond

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

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

"You can't sleep either?"

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

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

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

"Do you suppose--"

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

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

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

"And you know that vision?" Wyatt said.

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

"Long ago, yes," Wyatt said.

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

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

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

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

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

"What?" Dominic asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cron