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Shadows of The Forgotten

The Desert

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a part of Shadows of The Forgotten, by Blackbird26.

The ruins of Brightvale, home of the Crimson Shadows

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The Desert

The ruins of Brightvale, home of the Crimson Shadows

Minimap

The Desert is a part of Valcrest.


Setting

5 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Allison Blake Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar
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[Desert – Sundown]

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

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

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

[Forest – Early evening]

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

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

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

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

[Flashback – Forest, four years ago]

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


[Reality – Wolfpack Camp, present time]

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

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

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

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

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

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



[Desert – In the Meantime]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Indrani Nayar
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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[Desert – Early morning]

“Why are you meeting him?”

Dastan lost the little balance the alcohol hadn’t taken, when two hands forcefully pushed him forward. He simply groaned in anger with his face down in the sand before pushing himself up and continuing to stumble his way across the encampment. Ever since the morning after the Wolves attacked the camp Dastan had been straight up ignoring Indrani as if she was a ghost and even now, it was no different; he continued to walk as if she wasn’t there.
“You’re being a baby!” Indrani shouted, following after him. “DASTAN!” She finally lost her patience right then and there; it was one thing if he didn’t want to talk to her because he was angry, but this concerned her as well, and she wasn’t going to let it go. She stood for a moment, fists clenched at her sides; hesitating to anger him further. Eventually she decided that the silence had to end, for better or for worse. She ran after him at full speed, and jumped at him, clinging to his neck and knocking them both to the ground. “You asshole! Talk to me! I have the right to know!” She shouted, rolling off of him and sitting up in the sand. “I know you won’t forgive me, fine! You haven’t removed me from my position as commander though, so I have the right to know why you are meeting with the Alpha in our territory!”

“Why do you figure, genius? I want to discuss a truce.” Dastan muttered, pushing himself up again and stumbling forward as he continued to walk. “I trust you will not be here when he arrives.”
“Do you?” She asked, jumping to her feet and starting to walk after him.
“What?” He mumbled.
“Do you trust me?”
Dastan stopped walking and heaved a sigh. “Don’t push it, Indrani.”
“You could have ordered me to leave. You still can.” She stated. “I’ve told them what I’ve done.”
“They forgave you, I haven’t. Not yet.”
“You aren’t sure Sean is really responsible. I know you wouldn’t meet him otherwise. Are you afraid I might forgive him if you tell me the truth?” She asked him, placing one hand gently on his shoulder.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s responsible. It doesn’t change the fact that you weren’t here.” He argued.
“I know that. You didn’t answer my question, Dastan; are you afraid I’ll forgive him?”
Dastan simply shook his head. “Your personal life is none of my business, Commander.”
“Don’t do that!” She pushed him.
“What do you want me to say?” Dastan asked, turning to face her. “That I am afraid I’ll lose you? It’s too late for that! It’s way too late!”
“I want you to understand… I’m not going anywhere. I’m not letting you push me out of your life. I don’t know what is going on with you lately, but I’m not going to let you go through it alone.”
Dastan sighed softly and turned to walk away. “There’s nothing you can do for me.” He answered coldly.

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

[Desert, close to noon]

Jake opened his eyes and groaned wondering how the hell he managed to remain mounted in his sleep. Shadow was trotting calmly and slowly into the desert sands as Jake pushed himself to sit upright on the saddle, his back aching from the unusual sleeping position. Shadow whinnied and snorted as if to acknowledge that his rider had awoken and Jake gently patted the horse’s neck in greeting. “Good morning to you too, buddy.” He stated sleepily.

It had taken Jake longer than he would like to reach the desert. First of all, he had to make nice with his horse; Shadow wasn’t happy at all to be left behind for a month. The only reason the horse hadn’t been sold yet, was because he was too angry and no one wanted to take him. The result of this was that Jake had to walk great part of the way, because Shadow would refuse to let him mount. It took him a day later than expected to get there, but on the bright side… The trip was surprisingly quiet and uneventful, despite the fact he had decided to cross the forest; it was strangely quiet, but he didn’t make much of it until he reached the desert and was immediately surrounded by six mercenaries pointing their weapons at him.
“State your business.” One of them ordered.
“I’m here to visit a couple of friends… What’s… what’s with all the tension? Where’s Jackson?”
The Crimson who had spoken turned to another and whispered, probably asking him to call Jackson, before turning back to Jake. “You know Jackson?”
“I came here with the former wolves, three years ago. A couple of years ago I left. Are they not here anymore?” Jake asked, honestly confused.
The Crimson simply exchanged looks as if not sure what to say to this stranger; he seemed to know the assassins, but they weren’t sure. It was at that moment that a familiar voice greeted. “Well, hello there handsome! Thought I’d never see you again! And look what you carried home with you!”
Jake raised his eyebrow for a moment as the mercenary leader approached him in such a peculiar manner, but then he realized he was speaking to the horse, and snorted a laugh. “I take it she was very pissed, huh?”
Dastan shook his head and waved his men away. “Pissed doesn’t begin to describe it. Is that why you brought Shadow? Is he a Peace offering?”
“I retrieved Shadow they day after I left. I thought that she’d like that…” He said, dismounting and leading the horse along as he walked after Dastan. “What is going on around here? Felt like I was entering the forest. Come to think of it… It was unusually quiet there today.”
“We’ve been at war with the Wolves lately; been a month since they launched an attack on us. I was not present at the time, neither was Indrani, Crys, or Evin… Allison and Jackson had to hold everyone together and… Had I not been as close as the healers’ camp, well… They could have slaughtered everyone.” Dastan explained, casually, as he led Jake to where the assassins were camped. “Crys isn’t here.” He stated; a serious tone in his voice as they stopped by the group of tents and the nearby assassins began to whisper amongst themselves as they recognized Jake. “She left about a week ago, Ali went with her… She mentioned going to see a friend… Didn’t say when she’d be back.”
“What about Evin?” Jake asked, trying to hide his relief at the fact Crys wasn’t there. He wanted to see her, yes, but he couldn’t deny he was nervous about it.
“No one has seen him in over a month. People were wondering out loud if he got himself killed or took off for good, but Crys wasn’t worried about it. She said he’ll turn up eventually.” Dastan replied. “So… What brings you back? Something must have happened for you to turn up like this.”
“I came to see Crys.” Jake stated. “Not that it’s your business.”
“It is my business. This is my camp, and Crys is my friend. Besides you didn’t seem to show any interest in seeing her in the past two years. So, why now?”
“None of your business.” Jake muttered. “It’s none of your business.”
“You had a sister once, no?” Dastan asked casually.
“Yes. Not that it’s relevant.” Jake replied, leaning against Shadow and giving Dastan an agered look.
“Well, Crys is like a little sister to me. So, if you’ve had a sister, I’m assuming you will understand my urge to break all of your bones for what you did to her. Now, know that I control myself, because I know she still cares for you, but if you do it a second time… I will hunt you down just for that.” Dastan replied, opening a friendly smile and adding: “Have a nice day.”
Jake shook his head and sighed, but didn’t bother trying to explain anything to the man, he didn’t owe him anything.

“Sorry, I’m afraid I got him angry before you got here.” A voice sounded behind him. “Not that I disagree with him though. You were quite an asshole, and everyone talked about it for months. Which, coming to think of it, only got Crys far more pissed at you… Sorry.”
“That’s nice Indrani. Very nice.” He chuckled. “Thank you.”
“Do you want to let Shadow run around with the other horses a bit, or are you already leaving?” She asked, walking around him so that they were face to face.
“I suppose we both need a rest, so… I’m leaving in a couple of hours.” Jake replied. “I suppose if I let him run loose, worst case scenario he won’t want to leave with me.”
“I don’t think you should worry much, he’s obviously fond of you.” She said with a little nod, beginning to walk Jake away from the camp to where the other horses were.
“It’s really not that obvious to me.” Jake chuckled. “So… Sean?”
“What?” Indrani asked, her eyes narrowing a bit.
“That is what you and Dastan have been fighting about, yes? You said you made him angry, and I don’t see any other reason why he would be angry at you.”
She sighed. “Well, yes.”
“I warned you about him, didn’t I?” Jake said shaking his head. “What happened?”
“The night the Wolves attacked, I wasn’t here because Sean needed help. He says he didn’t order the attack, and… I don’t know if I believe him or not. He was with me while it happened, but… He could have given the order at any time before leaving the camp. Dastan is going to discuss a truce, but I don’t know what he believes is the truth. We don’t about it, we can’t talk about it… He is still so angry at me.”
“Huh… Well, I don’t know what to say. It’s very like Sean to make sure everyone is away before attacking… Especially Crys and Dastan… I don’t put it past him. What did Crys have to say?”
“Just about the same thing you just did. I just… I don’t know… Something doesn’t seem right about the whole thing…” She said with a shrug, helping Jake remove Shadow’s saddle and headgear. “See? He’s a good boy.” She stated, stroking the horse’s neck. “There you go, sweetie.” She smiled at the horse. “Sean is not a bad man, Jake.”
“Yes, he is.” Jake replied, lovingly running his fingers through the Shadow’s mane and patting his bare back as if encouraging him to wander off. “He could be a good man, but he isn’t. See, you shouldn’t see people for what they could be; you have to see them for what they are. So, yes… Sean is a bad man. You need to accept the fact that, despite who he was and could have been, this is who he is now.”
“Really?” Indrani asked, leaning against a boulder casually. “Do you have no faith in people at all?”
“Some people can change, and some are just hopeless, I learned that the hard way.”
“What about you, then? Can you change?”
Jake chuckled softly. “I’m… Trying… At the moment…” He shrugged slightly. “I’d like to say I can change, or that I have changed, but… I honestly can’t know that for sure.” He dug the tip of his boot into the sand and smiled softly. “Bastian Rivers used to say that people act in patterns, and those patterns never truly change; he believed every person is doomed to repeat the same behaviors over and over. When it seems like we’ve changed, in reality that is just a different manifestation of the same behavioral patterns, causing the illusion of change.”
“Sebastian Rivers was a strange, strange, man.” Indrani giggled.
“Have you met him?” Jake asked. “You are right, but have you?”
“Once, while we were stationed in the forest, he came by looking for Crys… Apparently she was in trouble. Was after a party, I think.”
“Ah… I remember that…” Jake snickered. “Too bad I missed that party.”
“So you don’t think people truly change?” Indrani asked, going back to the subject they unconsciously wandered into.
“No, I don’t. If we could truly change, what would make us who we are? If we could change things so deeply rooted within our personalities… How would we ever know ourselves, or one another, in any level? These patterns are what make us recognizable as individuals, and not all of them are bad.”
“Alright, you’ve known me a while… What are my patterns?”
Jake chuckled. “I don’t want to do that…”
“Come on, you think I’ll be offended? Tell me.”
“You have the constant need to prove your worth. Not even to others, but to yourself, because you never believe you are capable, or strong, enough. And you are terrified of failing the people you care about. Since you are constantly trying to prove your worth, you also have problems with asking for help, which leads to acting behind people’s backs, believing that if you show them weakness you’ll let them down. That makes them feel like you don’t trust them, when in reality you just don’t trust yourself enough. You and Sean bonded over this feeling of not being worthy, I assume. That’s a side of him I’ve come to know pretty well in the past.” Jake said all of that in one breath, his eyes fixed on Shadow as he happily trotted alongside Mirage; it was the happiest he’d seen him in a long while and he considered just leaving him there, even for a bit. He sure did deserve to run free with other horses after being left with strangers for a month. After realizing Indrani had gone silent for a bit he snickered, glancing at her with the corner of his eyes. “I’m sorry… Was that too honest?”
“What about you, Jake? What is your pattern?” She asked, ignoring his question.
“I thought that was obvious.” He stated, turning to face her. “I give up on things I care about, because then I don’t risk losing them. I haven’t known this all along, but… Even now that I know it, it doesn’t stop me from constantly doing it. All I need is to find an excuse, and it doesn’t matter that I know this either, because when the situation presents itself… It won’t seem like that’s what I’m doing. It’ll seem like the right thing to do. My brain will trick me into it.” Jake stated with a little shrug. “That’s why we are so doomed to repeating the same mistakes over and over… We don’t realize we’re doing it, it’s just… A part of who we are. As a race, that’s what we have been doing since the beginning of times.”
“So you are saying there’s no way you will ever make things work with Crys. I mean, if that’s the truth… Then you’ll just eventually leave her again, because you can’t help it.”
Jake shook his head, a sigh escaping him. “Probably, but I’m hoping not. That’s the thing with these habits… We don’t notice them, but others do… So we’re doomed to make the same mistakes over and over… Unless there’s someone there to stop us…”
“And, as a race, who is going to stop us? The Gods?”
Jake looked up at the sky for brief moment, a smirk crossing his features as he replied. “As a race… That’s where we are truly doomed. Because humanity, as a race, will never truly change.”

Indrani was going to say something else, but was interrupted when one of the assassins came running towards the two of them; Jake only the man by name, but the man seemed to know who he was well enough. “Jake… We just heard some unsettling news… About your aunt.”
Jake’s frowned slightly as he looked at the man. “Is Lena back?”
“She came back about a month ago, did you not see her?” The assassin asked him.
“I… I’ve been out of circulation this past month… In the dungeons of Blackpond… What about Lena?”
“Jake… Word from our contacts is… The White Rose… She died this past night.”

It was in a lightning fast move that Jake grabbed the man by the front of his shirt with shivering hands as he growled. “That’s not true.”
“The White Shadows say it is.” The man whispered softly, not seeming to mind Jake’s gesture right then; it was visible that he was in pain. “I’m sorry.”
“No… No… No…” Jake mumbled, pushing the assassin back and turning to walk in the direction of the plains without another word. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be true… He had walked good distance by himself when he felt something very strong push into his back and he stumbled forward before turning around in anger to see that Shadow had followed him. The horse had been properly saddled, and pinned to the saddle was a little note from Indrani that read: ’You’re doing it again.’

Jake snorted out in annoyance staring at the horse; his face still showing clear anger for a few moments before he forced a deep breath and his eyes softened only slightly. “You stubborn beast…” He stated, playfully patting the horse’s neck as he mounted. “I would have come back for you.”

Setting

5 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Annie Turner
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[Crimson Shadows’ Camp]

“Are you done with the groping already?” Sean muttered out in annoyance. “Any more and I’ll insist you buy my dinner.”

The two mercenaries that had spent quite a few minutes of their time finding and confiscating all of Sean’s weapons didn’t seem any less annoyed than him, but their annoyance was mostly due to the fact they wanted him dead and were ordered not to harm him until further notice. Under Dastan’s watchful gaze they couldn’t do any more than frown and follow orders.

“That’ll be enough.” Dastan stated, addressing his men. “You can leave us alone now.”

Sean watched the two mercenaries leave with the corner of his eyes. “You could have just asked me to surrender my weapons, I’m an honorable man. In the very least you could have had some pretty ladies search me. That would have been less unpleasant.”
“You are neither honorable nor a man, Alpha, and I’m afraid I have way too much respect for the women of this clan to actually order any of them to touch you.”
“I know at least one of them wouldn’t mind.” Sean replied with a little smirk. “How is my dear friend, by the way?”
Dastan chuckled, even those it was very clear he was not amused. “You don’t want to test my patience, Sean... Because it’s been running out for weeks now.”
“You talk too much for a man who needs to disarm a single assassin, while surrounded by allies, in order to feel safe.” Sean said, with a slight shrug. “But fine... I’m not here for a pissing contest, I hope, but you called me... So, what do you want from me Dastan?”
“Honestly, what I want is to kill your sorry ass, but that wouldn’t be a smart thing to do as a leader. So... What does it take for you to get your puppies to leave my clan alone?”
“You know what I want, Shaykh.” Sean stated.
“Crys already left Sean, and she won’t be coming back. So that is out of my hands.”
“How convenient.” Sean chuckled. “No matter, I have my own plans for Crystal... I never expected this to be easy. Well, there are other things concerning me, since I’ve heard from rather reliable sources that you have been keeping in touch with a Knight from Nehaven, that you’ve been getting help from them... Now that’s a problem for me. Because when the cities do favors they tend to collect.”
“And what do you fear they’ll ask of me?” Dastan asked, raising an eyebrow. “I am not the kind of man who lets himself be manipulated, by anyone... And I’ll make that as clear as day to Newhaven and anyone else necessary.”

Sean chuckled, pacing his way around the training area of the Crimson’s camp. With corner of his eyes he could catch several of the mercenaries, especially the youngest amongst their ranks, struggling to catch a glimpse of their meeting, but always respectfully distant. “Strong proud warriors, the race of Effort... Isn’t it so? Brilliant negotiators, the people of Brightvale... She told me some of your history, it’s quite interesting. I think the history of one’s people tells a lot about the individual. It is my understanding that when you deal with another individual, friend or foe, it’s important to know their history. Because if you don’t... You’re at a loss.” He stated. “For instance, if someone wanders into my encampment demanding to see the Alpha, that’s very disrespectful, but you... You sent someone all the way to Newhaven to send me a proper message, and I appreciate that. See, you are a smart leader, Dastan, and what you want is to protect your people. Yes? So put your little infatuation, or whatever it is, for Crys and the fact that you always hated me aside just for the purpose of this and tell me: what do you need to end this?” He asked, beginning to pace around the arena.

“Some answers first of all.” Dastan stated simply, following Sean with his eyes.

“Such as?”

“What else has Indrani told you about us, besides history?”

Sean laughed. “She never passed me any information, if that is what you’re asking.” He replied. “I would love to tell you I completely stole her loyalties from you, but that wouldn’t be true.”

“And how much did you tell her? About your plans?”

“You mean... If she knew I was planning on stabbing my clan leaders in the back? I never got into any details about that, no. Did she know I wanted Crys dead? Absolutely. Did she ever help me? Not once, and I never asked.”

“I see...”

“Do you, now? The fact that you are asking me these questions tells me that either you didn’t ask her, or you didn’t trust her answers. Is your clan’s leadership structure not what it used to be, friend? What a shame!”

“That’s funny considering the fact that this whole thing started because you left some random woman in command... For what I hear you can’t even find her now, is that true? I mean certainly it’s not that hard for a man with a whole clan of highly trained assassins under his command to find one single woman in a land as small as Valcrest?” Dastan laughed, now starting to pace around as well, eyes still locked on Sean wherever he went within the circled area of the training field. “How long have you planned to take the Alpha’s place, Sean? How pathetic is it that you never seemed to think of what to do once you got it? You have people moving without your orders, attacking innocent civilians; something the Wolfpack prouds itself in not doing for decades... ”

“We don’t attack civilians.” Sean retorted.

“One of your men attacked our temple, where the civilians were being guarded, he aimed his arrows at them.” Dastan stated, his eyes narrowing as he stared into Sean’s trying to catch his reaction. “The arrows exploded upon contact.”

“Exploding arrows?” Sean asked, honestly intrigued. “We don’t have any enlightened with that kind of ability.”

“Ali seemed to know who he was...”

“Then ask her who he was. He was certainly not one of my people though. And we do not attack civilians. That’s all I can say about this.”

“You don’t know what your people do, Sean. You don’t know who they are... I don’t think you even know who you are anymore Alpha...” Dastan’s voice was only slightly above a low growl, the rage and contempt clear in his voice. “You think you are a man, but you are nothing more than a scared little boy with way too much power in his hands.”

“Think what you will... I may be a boy, but right now... I’m a boy with enough power in his hands to end your life. You know it, I know it, let’s not pretend the situation is any different.”

Dastan looked up at the sky for a moment, squinting at the sunlight. It was just a little past noon, and the sun was high and bright in the sky. “You’re in my territory, Alpha.” He stated simply, smiling at the daylight. His dark eyes seemed to shine, almost in delight, at whatever thoughts were running through his mind right then. “Are you sure you want to be so arrogant?” He chuckled. “Are you even aware of how unwise that is? Didn’t your men tell you what they saw the night they attacked us? Maybe it was useless to let them leave with their lives after all...”

Sean’s body tensed at the man’s words, he clenched his fists for a brief moment as he felt the air between him and the mercenary leader growing thicker... This encounter was taking a slow turn towards hostile, and that was the opposite of what Sean intended. He wasn’t afraid of Dastan, not in one bit, but he didn’t want whatever happened between the two of them to make things worse between their clans. Finally he sighed. “Do you want to hurt me? Will that do it for you? Because, really, I’ve spent the past three years exchanging threats and insults with the world, and after a while it gets tiring. So, really... Give it you best shot.”

Dastan chuckled, shaking his head as his laughter grew into a tiny fit. “Oh, please... I don’t beat up children.” He mocked. “I see that we should get this over with, however, so I’ll make this simple: You’ll stay out of my territory and away from my people, I will stay out of your territory and away from your people. That’s the deal. As long those boundaries are kept, what you do and who you do it to is none of my concern, and my business is my business.”

Sean sighed, tilting his head back to watch the blue sky above as he thought about the terms of their ‘deal’. He had little to gain from attacking the Crimson any further, actually he had much to lose, but he also didn’t want to just bend to Dastan’s will that way.

“Well...?” The man insisted.

Sean took a deep breath, and made a huge effort to swallow his pride. “Sounds reasonable enough for me.” He stated finally. “Are we through?”

“I certainly am.” Dastan stated. “You may take your weapons and leave, Alpha.”

Sean occupied himself with picking up his daggers from the small pile the mercenaries had made in the sand, as he heard Dastan begin to leave. He snickered softly under his breath.”One more thing...”

Dastan halted as he walked away from Sean, without a word, to simply let him say what he needed and end this meeting. Get it over with.

“Make sure to communicate this agreement to you commander... She did swear to kill me after all.”

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

[White Shadows Camp]

“You are an idiot, boy.” Lena stated with amusement in her tone. “You should have just told Dani what Sean did.”
“I didn’t stop him and I could have... That makes me just as guilty and pointing a finger at him wouldn’t make anything better.” Jake replied. “Can we please not discuss this anymore?”
“Do you see how hypocritical that is though? You want the people who murdered your sister to be punished, Sean wants the man who killed his mother punished, but neither of you are willing to allow the person who disfigured that woman to be punished. Sean won’t take responsibility for what he did, and you won’t cast blame on him either. That’s fine, but that woman’s face was scarred for life and her children will surely be scarred as well; for life. No one should know this better than you.”
“It was my fault... I shouldn’t have taken Sean with me, and I should have turned back when I noticed his behavior was... Growing angrier, more erratic, I should have known he would snap like that. It was my fault, and that’s why I didn’t want to cast any blame on him.” Jake muttered. “I noticed Sean was losing it, but I didn’t want to stop. Now, can we please drop this subject already?”

Lena heaved a sigh, followed by a soft chuckle. “Fine. You’re stubborn like your father, you know? It’s your ego talking, when you assume you alone are responsible for all the bad things that happen around you. His was rather loud in its claims as well.”
“I’m not my father.”
“You are your father, Jacob. You are your father, your mother, your sister, your friends... You are everyone who ever mattered in your life. Whether you like it or not, whether you see it or not, they all make you who you are.” She stated. “Your father was a good man, and you shouldn’t try so hard set yourself apart from him.”
“He hated you though, didn’t he?”
“I judge people based on my opinion of them, and not their opinion of me, Jacob.” She stated simply. “He hated me, for his own reasons, but he was a good man. His worse flaw was that he tried to do too much. Be responsible for everything at once. He meant well, like you, but in the end how was he remembered?”
“As a hero.” Jake stated. “My father was a hero.”
“Your father died a hero when he could have lived as a simple man; that was a choice he made. It’s a choice you might have to make one day too: Do you want to be a hero, or do you want to make a difference?”
“Heroes make a difference, don’t they?”
“No. They don’t. Have you ever met a living hero, Jake? Men fight battles, and if they fight them well enough to be remembered, they die and become heroes. They don’t win the battles, they just die a heroic death. They die for what they believe in, for what they think is right, to save lives... It doesn’t really make a difference though. In the end, dead heroes won’t save this land.”
“And who do you suppose will?” Jake asked, slightly skeptical in his questioning.
“Just... People who are stubborn enough to actually make a change, and not simply die trying.”


Jake had stood beside Annie the whole time while the White Shadows paid their respects to their former leader. Some of them spoke a few kind words that he really didn’t pay attention to. He hated funerals and burials and the only reason he was still there was that Annie just seemed unable to let go of his arm. The girl was standing firmly, however, her eyes were sad, but no hint of tears was seen within; people seemed wary of this, as if expecting her to suddenly crack, but Jake knew that Annie wasn’t the type to act proud or hide her feelings. Of course that didn’t mean he wasn’t worried about her all the same.

People said their words, shed their tears, and the body was laid to rest, a white stone marking its resting place. The name “Helena Turner” skilfully carved into the smooth surface of the gravestone; only the name and nothing more.

Slowly the healers all returned to their duties, one by one, until no one was left standing before the grave except Jake, Annie, and Alistair. After minutes of silence, Annie released Jake’s arm and whispered. “Give me a moment, please. Alone.”
“Sure.” He replied, grasping the girl’s shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze before walking away, giving Alistair a nod to follow him and leave her alone in the burial grounds.

The man walked their way out of the encampment and through the village ruins for a good period of time before the first word was spoken between them. “She was born here.” Alistair stated. “I remember when it burned. Ten years ago it was. The last remaining village... Rosefeld.”
“Ten years ago? That’s... Ali’s village?” Jake asked, stopping in his tracks and turning to face Alistair with an intrigued look in his eyes.
“That’s the one.” The man confirmed. “Lena was born here, her mother was found and killed by the Wolfpack three years later, that’s how she ended up there. The Alpha adopted her after killing her real mother...” He tilted his head to the side. “She never told you?”
“I never asked.” Jake stated, running a hand over his eyes.
“How long has it been since you last slept? And I mean a full night sleep, without the aid of any medicine?”
“Two years or so... I think.” Jake answered with a small shrug. “Does it show?” He chuckled.
“That’s very dangerous, Jake. You need to sleep.”
“I know, Al... Thanks.” Jake muttered. “It’s not like it’s my choice to have insomnia.”
“Do you know why you have insomnia?” Alistair asked, walking a bit further into the wrecked village. “Stress does awful things to the mind, friend.
Jake snorted a laugh. “I know that.” He ran his hand over his eyes one more time and then through his hair. “But thanks anyway, for the concern.”
Alistair shook his head, an amused look in his eyes. “Knowing it doesn’t seem to make a difference, now does it? Are you going to do something about it?”
“I’m doing something about it.” Jake stated with a half smile. “Say, Al... You’ve been with the Shadows for, what, fifteen years?”
“Fourteen. Why?” Alistair replied, sitting on a stone that seemed to once be part of a wall.
“What do you believe Peace truly is? And do you believe we’ll ever see it?”
“No. You can’t see Peace. You can feel it.”
“Have you?”
“No... When I was boy, I thought I had, but that wasn’t peace... That was... Apathy...” He sighed softly. “One day, maybe... Lena said she felt it once in her lifetime. Only once and that was rare, because peace never lasts too long.”
“Did she say when?” Jake asked, moving to sit next to the former healer, his eyes scanning the bare earth beneath his feet with interest.
“No. I didn’t ask.” Alistair replied. “I asked if she could describe it, but she couldn’t... Why are you asking this?”
“Some people just don’t believe in Peace anymore... The White Shadows seem to preach it, but not one of them seem to be able to define it. So what exactly do they believe in?”
“You sound confused, Jacob.” Alistair stated simply.
“That’s not the answer to my question Al.”
“The White Shadows think of Peace as a feeling of acceptance of fate as well as the understanding that accepting fate does not mean taking no responsibility for choices. It’s hard to explain, but mainly... The White Shadows have taught me to do what I can for others as well as myself and accept the fact that sometimes there is nothing to be done. Death is the where the road ends, our final destination, Life is a path, and you choose which path to take and which to turn away from, but you need to accept that you have no control of the obstacles in your way, or other travelers you may encounter... That is fate.”
“It sounds like...”
“Nonsense. It always sounds like nonsense. The truth is, Jake... You can’t control how a story ends, but you can control your part in it. You can’t control the full consequences of your actions, but you can control the intentions behind them, and not being able to see the subtle lines that separate what is and isn’t in our control is what makes living so hard. So, in theory, peace is the feeling you get when you finally understand the difference. I say in theory because it’s debatable whether that is even possible. Some believe you can only experience it moments before Death takes you.” Alistair shook his head slowly before letting his eyes wander around the devastated village. “Did Ali ever tell you about this place?”
“No... She didn’t like to talk about it, and I respect that. I don’t like thinking about the past either...”
“Neither do I, I understand...” Alistair mumbled. “I just... Think you should ask her now.”
“Do you know something, Al?” Jake asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I can’t really say. Just... Ask her when you see her.” He smirked. “You are going to go see them this time, right?”
“What do you mean with that, Al?”
“I mean... You have doubts about seeing them... Her... Again... Don’t you? Fear. It’s understandable that you feel this way.”
Jake grunted in annoyance. “I forget you’re one too.”
“One what?” Alistair chuckled.
“Nothing.” He muttered.
“Oh, I see...” The man laughed. “I sse!”
“Shut up.” Jake mumbled, pushing Alistair away and onto the floor.
“What? I didn’t say anything!” He laughed out, getting on his feet, taking another look around the area and heaving a sigh. “I remember this place.”
“Did you see it burn?”
“Not really... Was in the middle of the night... When we got here, there wasn’t much left. No survivors, or so we thought.... Just bodies everywhere... Wasn’t pretty at all.” Alistair answered, a slight frown crossing his features. “I remember Allison’s brother, we found him almost on the edge of the forest... Alone... Stabbed in the back.” He added, pointing towards the trees where the forest began. “We buried him there, underneath a tree. Lena took Ali there in the time she stayed with us... And she marked the tree...” He chuckled, shaking his head and placing his foot on the piece of wall he had been seated on. “If these rocks could talk, huh?”
“If Valcrest had a voice, it’d be screaming I think.” Jake stated, standing up with a heavy sigh. “We should go back, I think. I need t go rejoin the Blacks in the morning, unless Annie needs me to stay.”
“She won’t ask you to stay, and there’s no need for you to worry... I’ll take care of her.” Alistair stated turning and beginning to walk back in the direction of the camp.

---------------------------------------
[White Shadows Camp]

Luckas entered the White Shadows encampment and immediately felt the burn of angry glares watching his every move. He ignored the healers the best he could, eyes scanning his surroundings for where their leader would be. His head was throbbing and he was sure he needed sleep soon, but for that he needed a safe place; and this was certainly not it. He was more and more tired by the second, to a point where his mind just started to drift off. It was in that stated a someone firmly, yet gently, gripped his shoulder. Luckas immediately turned his head as if he’d seen a ghost, only to find Annie’s dark brown eyes looking back at him.
“Almost fooled me.” He mumbled. “For a second.”
“She’s really gone now, Luckas.” Annie replied simply. “Walk with me.” she stated, steering Luckas by the shoulder to a more secluded area, away from the glares of the angered healers and towards a small flower garden. “What happened to your arm?” She asked as they paced, the patches of frozen grass making a crackling sounds beneath their feet.
“Captain… Didn’t have time to be gentle with me… As I’m sure you already guessed.” He replied.
“Uh-huh.” Annie mumbled, turning to face him and placing both hands over the broken arm before he could protest and healing the fracture. “So… Tell me what happened.” She asked, turning away to walk further away from the encampment.
Luckas stood with a confused expression on his face before following after Annie, removing the protection of his, now healed, arm. “You… You’re not tired.” He stated. “I mean… Something like this would have knocked you out a couple of years ago.”
“I have been working on developing my gift, Luckas… It takes more to knock me down nowadays, but that’s not something I like to brag about.” She shrugged. “Given the chance, people will always take the easier way out. Instant cure is not all people believe it is and, even for me, it’s not very easy to make them understand that.”
“So, you hide.” He nodded. “I see…”
“We all hide things, one way or another… Don’t we?” She retorted, crouching down to stare at some of the flowers. “Answer my question, Luke.”
“I don’t know if I have an answer to give… I’m not so sure what happened exactly.” He stated crouching down next to her. “What are we doing?”
“Tell me what you do know then.” She stated calmly. “It’s alright Luckas. I know it’s not your fault. I just want to know what you remember.” She insisted, reaching out and gently grazing the petals of one of the white flowers. “And… I’m picking flowers.” She nudged him slightly. “What do you think she’d like?”
“She hated white, but I think these…” He said pointing at some light blue flowers that resembled roses in shape, letting himself drop onto a sitting position on the frozen grass.
“These are pretty.” Annie agreed, with a half smile, proceeding to pick the blue flowers amongst the other few that had managed to bloom even in the cold weather, holding them together in one hand. “I healed your arm.”
“Yes.” Luckas answered. “So?”
“So now everything you tell me is confidential. I can’t tell anyone anything, unless you give me permission.” She explained, staring deep into his black eyes with a gaze that was blood-chillingly similar to her mother’s. “Tell me everything, Luckas. What did mother ask of you and why did she have to die to get it?”

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

It took Luckas a good while to tell Annie absolutely everything Lena had told him, and what she had asked him to do; he didn’t want to tell anyone, but somehow he felt like he needed someone to know the reason behind everything in case it slipped his mind somehow. Once she had all the answers she needed, Annie pushed the flowers she’d been holding onto his hands and told him to go pay his respects. So now there he was... Standing before a gravestone, with flowers awkwardly dropped at his feet, pretending the whole thing actually meant something. It didn’t. It was a rock, what was he suppose to say to it? The flashes of memories never stopped spinning in the back of his head, but they were clearer now… It was manageable. He understood that Lena had planned for all of that to happen; that she knew that it was truly the only way she could ever keep her promise to him. What he still didn’t understand was why that would matter so much to her anyway... Why now of all times? Heaving a sigh in his exhaustion the memory of the last time they spoke before she left came to his mind.

“Well, like I said… You won’t live forever.”
“Does that thought frighten you?” She asked. “One day I won’t be here to hold your leash, and when that day comes, you will be alone.”
“We are always alone when it really matters.” Luckas said, absently. “I’m not frightened by that.”
“Are you sure?” Lena asked with a smile. “Why are you here then?”
“Humph. I wanted to be alone, that’s why. But you just can’t stay away can you?” He asked.
“I’m heading for the desert, and I will be leaving within a year. I only came here to say that our arrangement doesn’t change just because I’m absent. I will know if you violate our terms.” She smiled. “And don’t get too comfortable… I plan on coming back one day.”
“Wait, what?” the boy turned towards the woman, unable to hide the shock in his eyes. “Where are you going?” He asked.
“That doesn’t concern you.” She replied.
“I could find out.” He said.
“No. You could try, but we both know how that would end.” She chuckled. “Besides, these are sentimental things you would have no interest in.”


He nodded, going silent for a long while. Then he cracked open a smile. “Sentimental things are always interesting; they are weaknesses in more ways than one.”
Lena nodded, laughing lightly. “Only if you allow them to be; if you fear your own feelings, they will make you weak. If you embrace them, they can give you strength when you need it.”
“Do you need it now?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
“We’ll all need it soon enough.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed at the stone for a moment before then widened and sparkled. “You knew it... You knew all along!” He whispered... Letting the realization sink in before exploding in giggles. “You lying, misleading, bitch!” He exclaimed, hysterical laughter echoing through the Shadows’ burial grounds as Luckas fell to his knees unable to stop himself. “You played me! You knew all along! You... Deceptive... Two-faced... Manipulative... Used me... You used me... Hahaha.” Luckas laughed himself to a point where he could barely breathe, even less form any more words to express himself. All he could bring himself to do was laugh louder and louder, clapping his hands in amusement as if congratulating Lena’s ghost with a round of applause. It had just hit him how the woman knew all along this was the only way to make him remember, and every excuse she had ever given him as to why it couldn’t be done just yet began to cross his mind. Luckas had to admit that Lena had been smarter than him all along. He couldn’t deny he had been made a fool of. And the sheer hilarity of the whole situations was just overwhelming. How stupid was he if he didn’t see it from the start? How can anyone be THAT stupid? It was just too ridiculous not to laugh.

“What are you doing here?”

Luckas stood up straight, but didn’t turn to the sound of Jake’s voice, giggles still escaping him here and there as he tried to take deep breaths. “What does it look like, Jakey?” He asked, letting out a snicker as he calmed his voice the best he could. “I’m saying my goodbyes. Just like everyone else has.”
“Don’t call me that, you piece of shit.” Jake muttered out, rage seeping through his every word. He couldn’t bear the sight of Luckas laughing in front of Lena’s grave; it made him sick in more ways than he could ever describe. “Didn’t you have time to say your goodbyes when you killed her?” He asked, his voice rising. “I don’t care what Annie says… I know what you did.”
Luckas’ whole body tensed and his fists clenched at the words, slowly he turned to face Jake, a red glow in his eyes as he muttered. “You know nothing... Jakey... You never did.”
“I know what you are, Luckas. What your brother was...” He muttered out. “Was just a matter of time...”
Luckas raised an eyebrow at Jake for a few seconds before slipping back into uncontrollable laughter, clapping his hands again, but this time in pure mockery. “Well… Congratulations, Jakey! You discovered the whole truth! It surely doesn’t go any further than that. It was all about me absently killing a healer. Well done!” Luckas’ expression suddenly turned more serious as he glared at Jake. The look in his eyes would have been enough to send anyone with the slightest bit of brains running away as fast as they could, but not Jake. “You know nothing about me, you know nothing about my motives... And I hate breaking this to you, my dear friend, but you know so little about your aunt I actually pity you.”
Jake shook his head, a bitter laugh escaping him as he glared at Luckas."And you knew her so well... Right? Tell me then, did you even hesitate to kill the only person who ever believed in you? Despite everything you’ve done, everything you are... She treated you like a son… Did you even hesitate?”
Luckas laughed again. “Treated me like a son? No… No, no, no, no… Jakey; she treated me like a student. She treated YOU like a son. And all you did was act like a spoiled little brat, blaming her for everything and accusing her of not being there for you.” Luckas smiled. “I saw her memories, Jakey, every single one. I know everything she knew; everything she kept from you." His smile turning into a grin as he added. "The only piece left of Lena... Is mine." He laughed rather evilly and whispered. "And I don't like to share."

Jake's face was red and he was shivering from head to toe, hands balled up into tightly clenched fists at his sides. The thought of Luckas knowing every intimate detail of Lena's life, her memories... That in itself nearly pushed him over the edge, but the way he spoke, as if he owned a piece of her soul... As if he'd stolen from her... That sick twisted laugh... It sent a wave of shock through his whole body, and without much thought into the matter, he pulled a throwing knife and sent it flying grazing Luke's face. It didn't hit, but it was only meant to distract Luckas from the fact that he'd gone invisible.

Luckas flinched as a knife passed his face, and when he stopped to look around, Jake had vanished. If he was smart enough he had probably covered his ears so Luke's enlightenment wouldn’t affect him. Usually Luke would shrug and walk away, but this time he had more than enough of this crap. “Jakey… Jakey, boy… Can you hear me? Read my lips, maybe? I’ll talk slow, because I have one little thing I’d be willing to share…Consider it proof of my undying affection for you...” He snickered, his eyes moving from side to side searching for some sign or movement that gave away Jake’s whereabouts, but he knew that if he could anger him just enough he’d make a mistake. “I know how your mommy died… Lena didn’t tell you about that, did she? Neither did your sister, right? No one ever mentioned it to you, and haven’t you ever wondered why? Why no one talked about it?” He chuckled. “Now that I think of it... Jess looked a lot like her, didn’t she? Do you think they screamed alike too?” Luckas giggled. “Do you think mommy begged for your life too, Jakey?”

That did it, and Luckas suddenly felt the painful result of all his provocation as Jake collided with him, knocking him down and holding a firm grip on his throat, making himself visible and staring right into his eyes as he pinned him to the ground, anger making him completely careless to the fact that Luckas could just destroy with a slight touch of hand. “What are you talking about, you piece of shit?” Jake muttered.
Luckas grinned. “Did I say something? I don’t remember…”
Jake responded to that by tightening his hold on Luke’s throat. “Talk.”
“Can’t…” Luke replied, pretending to be out of breath. He then giggled. “Come on, kill me. I dare you. Do it! What’s holding you back, pretty boy? I’m a monster, I’m a killer, and you’d be doing the world a favor! DO IT! Come on, you pathetic little shit! Be a man for once! KILL ME! DO IT!”

Jake was shivering in his rage, and he tightened his hold on Luke’s neck more and more, actually causing him to choke this time, staring into his black eyes, honestly eager to watch life slip away from them forever.

[Flashback – Healer’s Camp, approximately 4 years ago]

“What is the problem Jacob?” Lena asked, her tone half amused and half annoyed as she pulled him by the shoulder to walk with her.
“The problem? That kid is a psycho, that is the problem! Do you honestly trust him running loose in this camp?” Jake asked looking at her with a severe frown as if she was the irresponsible teenager out of the two of them.
Lena laughed at Jake’s tone. “Do I trust him? Of course I don’t.” She replied. “Trust is something that must be earned, and Luckas is yet to earn mine, but his presence here doesn’t disturb me in the slightest if that’s what you mean.” She sighed softly. “Jacob, you are yet to understand certain subtleties of Life; you and most people, to be honest. Luckas is not a hopeless case, and until he becomes one I won’t see him as such. You’ve heard of his brother, yes?”
“Yes.” Jake answered with a shrug.
“Dark Mirror was a psychotic menace and my suggestion to Newhaven authorities when they asked us to try and find a solution for his victims was to put the kid to death before he managed to break loose again.” She told him. “I saw the kid with my own eyes and I can say for a fact that there was not a single shred of humanity left in him. That is not the case with Luckas. He’s a bright kid actually.”
“Yes, doesn’t that make him all the more dangerous? He’s smart enough to plan, clean up after himself and he is a freaking sadist! He was never caught, Lena, no one knew he even existed, how much do you suppose he got away with so far?”
“He killed considerably little when compared to his brother and, overall… He’s killed less people than you.” Lena stated. “So no, he’s not more dangerous than his brother. Yes, he can be, but he isn’t. So you’re saying I should have this kid locked up in a cell for the rest of his life because he can, maybe, be that dangerous one day?” She chuckled. “Jacob, that’s just not how it works. If there’s something there to work with still, I plan to work with it.” Jake opened his mouth to argue, but Lena stopped him with a gesture. “If it ever comes a day when he becomes a menace, then I will personally take care of it. Until then, don’t question me anymore on this. I understand your concern, but if you trust my judgment so little as to believe I would deliberately endanger my clan, and my daughter, simply because I took pity on a kid… Then we have nothing else to discuss. Understand?”


Jake flinched. Luckas still choking under his grasp and showing signs of losing consciousness, finally he snapped out of it and released him. Standing up straight and looking down at Luckas as he rolled over to his hands and knees, coughing and trying desperately to catch a breath. Jake would have let it end there, wasn’t for the fact that Luckas used the breath he caught to piss him off further.
“You… Coward…” He laughed. “Weak... That’s what you are...”
Jake felt the rage burn in his veins again, and he kicked Luckas on his chest, knocking him over to his side “Don’t you ever know when to shut up?” He muttered, kicking him a couple of more times before finally turning to walk away.

Big mistake.

“Hey, Jakey, boy… Stop.” Luckas called as he lay on his back on the floor. The sky was clear in an astonishing blue color and still, it was nice and cool. Luke was dizzy, and his body ached, but he smiled up at the sky as if it was the greatest day of his life. Slowly, he began to stand up. A slight groan escaping him as he stood upright… Walking over to a paralyzed Jake with a delighted grin plastered on his face. “You stupid bastard…” He laughed. “I gave you a chance to end it and you didn’t take it. Did you honestly think I was going to take all that quietly, now?” He shook his head, absently searching Jake’s pockets and ridding him of his needles and blades. The last one he took was a small golden dagger that was sheathed at his ankle, hidden underneath his boot. “Huh… This is an interesting one. Kinda small though for a big man like you, isn’t it?” Luke said, unsheathing the dagger and waving it in front of Jake’s eyes with a snicker. “You always said everything you wanted about me, Jakey... Calling me a freak, a maggot, saying that I’m a monster, an animal, and that I don’t deserve to live… It was cute at first, but now your hypocrisy is really starting to get annoying. So, you know what? I’m going to tell you what I think you are and why you don’t deserve to live.” Luke said, pressing the tip of the blade between Jake’s eyes and tracing a line with it playfully down the bridge of his nose. “You don’t deserve to live, because you are the worst type of coward there is. You like to play the hero but you’re nothing but a selfish prick that walks out on anyone who happens to give a shit about your sorry ass! Some big freaking hero! Huh? If only daddy could see you now!”

Luckas looked into Jake’s eyes absolutely delighted with how enraged he was. If he wasn’t paralyzed Luckas would be dead for sure. “Like I said, Jakey; we’re not so far apart, but the difference is that I don’t pretend I’m some kind of hero, I don’t make people think I give a shit and then walk out on them when things are just too stressful and I know what my role is.” Luke growled. “And yours... I’m the monster, and you’re the knight in shiny armor… That’s how the world will always see us, but we know better, don’t we? You’re nothing better than me.” Luke dragged the knife to Jake’s throat pressing the blade harder against his skin, his eyes glowing red as he stared into Jake’s. “Do you think they’ll bury you like a hero, pretty boy? Do you think they’ll cry for you even though you don’t deserve a single tear out of them? I bet you wish you could beg forgiveness now, huh? Wish you could go back in time and say all those things you were too much of a selfish bitch to actually admit to?” Luke pressed the blade harder against Jake’s throat, drawing a little bit of blood in the process. “You’re no hero. You’re a pathetic excuse of a man.” With that said he pulled the dagger away and began walking around Jake, stopping behind him and kicking him hard in the back of the knees forcing them to bend. Jake fell to his knees and then onto the floor, since he couldn’t move a finger to help regain his balance. Luckas crouched, placing one knee on Jake’s back and pressing the tip of the dagger on the back of Jake’s neck, leaning forward until he was whispering right in his ear. “How does it feel, huh? I want you to cherish this moment now, Mr. Hero, and remember it every time you decide to voice your pitiful and near-sighted opinions to me, because in this moment I own your life and I can own it again at any moment in the future if I want to. To be honest, I’d love nothing more than to rid the world of your sad pathetic excuse for a life right now.” He said, in a low growl. “I’m just afraid if I did she might not forgive me.” He added, whispering the last sentence as if he was speaking to himself, and not Jake. He then sunk the dagger into the soft dirt, near Jake’s face. “Now you probably know what you’d like to say and do before you die, but the most pathetic part is that you won’t do anything about it, because you’ll never be more than what you are: A selfish and coward little prick.”

Jake remained on the floor, feeling Luke’s hold on him fade as he walked away. Once able to move Jake lifted his head to the sight of the little golden dagger, his blue eyes sparkling slightly as he stared at it, Luckas’ words still ringing in his ears. He reached for the weapon as he sat up. “Coward little prick…” He muttered to himself, angrily.

Slowly Jake pushed himself off the ground and began picking his weapon Luckas had scattered around him; his hands shivering in anger still as he shook the words out of his mind and began to walk back into the healers’ camp, not giving another glance to Lena’s grave as he passed. Maybe it was all true, and maybe Jake needed to admit to some things, but he sure as hell wasn’t going take it from Luckas.

“What did I ask of you, Jake?” Annie’s voice sounded in his ears. It was clear to him that she was upset with him.
“I said I would try.” Jake retorted, not looking at her. “Little bastard’s lucky I let him live.”]
Annie heaved a sigh, walking after Jake until they were in the middle of the camp. “That’s not what it looked like from where I was standing Jake. Not that it matters anyway...” She grabbed him by the shoulder, to make him stop walking. “Hey... You’re angry, I understand, but isn’t the right way to handle it.”
Jake stopped walking and heaved a very long sigh before turning to face his cousin and unsheathing his sword, holding it out as if offering it to her. “Do you know where this comes from?” He asked, indicating the blade in his hands. “This sword belonged to Bastian’s brother, Kyle. There are only two swords in Valcrest quite like this one. There are better blades, maybe, but not one of them is quite like this. Bastian told me that his father really, desperately, wanted a son and after his wife had a girl and miscarried twice the man decided to pray and ask the Twins to give them a boy. He promised the Gods that if they gave him a son he would be the most honorable and just warrior in the land. When his wife got pregnant again he traveled out of the land to have the two swords made, and after she gave birth to twins he assigned a sword to each of the boys . See the symbol?” He pointed to a visibly foreign symbol engraved on the blade near the handle. “It means ‘justice’. The sword Crys now has, Bastian’s sword, holds the symbol for ‘honor’. When I graduated from training and decided to go after the men who killed my sister, Bastian gave me this sword and told me that after he betrayed the Wolf Hunters his brother gave him the sword back as a reminder of what he’d turned his back to.”
“Justice? So he was encouraging you to kill those men?” Annie asked, tracing her fingers along the marking on the blade.
“Not exactly.” Jake said, a little hint of a smile breaking through his expression. “Rather he was just reminding me that sometimes it’s best to walk away.” He sheathed his blade and looked Annie in the eyes. “I walked away... This time... Out of respect for Lena... For you. The next moment he gives me a reason though, and he will give me a reason, I won’t hesitate.”

[The Manor]

Amber’s blue eyes narrowed slightly in confusion at this strange woman’s words. “For you?” She asked, letting out a giggle, her form slowly shifting to imitate that of Lamya, every trace of her, with exception of the eyes, when she spoke next it was in the other woman’s exact voice. “It may appear so, but then... appearances can surely be deceiving... This house already has a Master, you’re certainly not it, in fact... The cats are smart to know you’re certainly not one of us... One of ‘them’, for sure... They feel the stench a mile away. Buuuut... You’re funny... So why the hell not let you see? Can always just kill you later...” She stated, giving a shrug of shoulders and beginning to walk her way back towards the main entrance of the house. “Seth, Pandora!” She called out over her shoulder. The white cat, gave one last hiss in Lamya’s direction, looking up at her with mismatched eyes, one green and one blue; his right, blue eye, glowing in red before he finally turned away to follow after Amber, the female cat following him without giving the visitor any attention.

Setting

4 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Dastan Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Lamya
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The Sun had just come up and Jackson was waiting. He was waiting for Dastan to show his face around camp, something he noticed had been happening less and less. The mercenary was unsure if this change on the man’s behavior had to do with his fights with Indrani, of ir something else was actively wrong with him, but it was noticeable that he was not being himself lately. After a while he decided to wait by the Fire Temple entrance for the man to come out, eyes wandering towards Indrani’s tent in the distance; its entrance was sealed tightly and it suddenly looked like it had been empty for years.

“Jacks, Jacks...” One of the younger mercenaries called as he ran up to him. “Is it true? Tell me it’s not true...”
“It is.” The man confirmed heaving a sigh. “She left a letter; it says she’ll come back, if he’ll take her, but that she needs to settle her score with Sean.”
“I don’t understand why she had to leave...”
“Because...” Dastan’s voice sounded suddenly as he walked in their direction. “We just agreed on a truce with the Wolves, and if she wants to kill the Alpha she can’t be associated with the clan, or she will be violating that truce.” He explained in a casual tone, his eyes following Jackson’s towards the tent.
“She left Mirage.” Jackson pointed out, handing Dastan a sealed letter. “I’m not so sure she really plans on coming back.”
“We’ll see. Until then, you know what to do.”
“Yes Shaykh.” Jackson replied, with a simple nod of agreement as he watched his leader walk away from the camp, letter in hand.

Dastan walked away from Jackson and headed towards the area where Indrani’s home was set up, walking past the sealed tent it didn’t take him long to find a pale grey mare, smiling a bit sadly as the animal turned it head towards his footsteps somewhat eagerly and stared with what he could swear was a questioning look. “You miss her already, huh?” He asked, approaching the animal and soothingly stroking its neck. Finding a nearby rock to sit on, Dastan opened the letter the girl had left him and started to read.

My dear brother...

I write this letter in the hopes that you will find it in your heart to understand, and not hate me for what I have decided to do. I know that I was weak and selfish in my past actions, even if I thought they were the right ones. For that, I will never be able to truly forgive myself; therefore I cannot ever ask you to forgive me as well. Nothing hurts me more than to realize I let my faith in you falter after everything we lived together, after everything you taught me, after all the times we supported one another. You were, in my lifetime, a constant, supporting, and loving figure, and the one who always believed in my strength even when I was unable to believe it myself. What I did to the trust we shared as leaders and to the loving bond we shared as siblings was a despicable, unforgivable, thing. I disgraced myself that night. I disgraced my family name; and I betrayed you.

You have not made me an outcast, for which I am grateful. I’d like to believe you did so out of the kindness of your heart, although I am aware it might have also been an emotionless act of mercy, or worse; pity. Whatever the reason, I respect that decision, and please believe that I am not questioning you, or your motives, as I leave. Yes, as you probably already know, it has to do with the truce you have just decided on. No, I don’t believe you should have acted any different... I believe this truce is extremely beneficial to the clan and to this, already torn, land as a whole and that is precisely why I am disengaging myself from the clan as of this moment. I don’t want my personal feelings or foolish actions to harm the Crimson Shadows any longer and yet... This is something I feel I must do for myself. For my own peace of mind.

I wish, with all my heart, that I return safely once it’s over, but if I don’t; please remember two things:

First: This was something I decided for myself, and you need to think of the clan above it all. If I die trying, accept my failure as an honorable Death. A warrior’s Death. A consequence of War, and nothing more than that. Do not seek to ease whatever pain it causes you by retaliation. Don’t make this painful gesture of mine a meaningless one. Honor my memory that way and be the leader you and I know you can be; with or without me. I have faith in you.

Second and last, but certainly not least. I always have, still do, and always will love you above anyone and anything else. Forever and always. I know you will be well in my absence, however long it lasts, because even if I die tomorrow I will always take care of you. You will never be alone. That’s a promise.

Until we meet again, in this life or afterwards...

Your little sister...

Indrani.


Dastan read the words repeatedly and intently; his eyes darkening from their usual brown to a jet black here and there, only to soften again moments later, the shadows around him moving constantly and somewhat eagerly in response to his conflicting emotions regarding Indrani and his anger towards the situation as a whole. His own shadow had changed from a replica of his own sitting figure to a whirling pool of darkness beneath his feet, as if at any minute he could sink into the shadows and drown in them. Disappear in the darkness... It would be so easy if that’s what he wanted, but... Was it fair for him to even wish for such a thing when he had so many people depending on him? Was it fair that he be the one responsible for so many live in the first place? Did fairness even matter anyway?

Sighing wearily and closing his eyes, Dastan turned his face towards the light of the Sun, allowing its warmth to drown out his bitter feelings and give him some, probably foolish, notion of comfort. He needed to pull himself together and not break further apart. He needed to pull himself together somehow and be the leader he was expected to be.

[Flashback - White Shadow’s Camp, 8 years ago]

“I haven’t told anyone. I’m afraid to, even though... I question my sanity, and I question it constantly. What if something like that happens again? I don’t even recall what I have done, but the... Blood... I’ll never forget waking up covered in all that blood... I’m not... A violent guy. Not like that... I...” Dastan hid his face in his hands and let out a choked whimper. “And now these nightmares... I don’t want to die like my father. I know you tried to help him, tell me what I can do, if there’s even something...”

Lena sighed slightly as she watched the mercenary leader and caught the fear and doubt in his expression. “Hm... I see... Well... You’re not going insane, per se. What you are experiencing; the whispering, the nightmares, the blackouts... Your gift causes these side effects. Remember when I explained to you that your shadow becomes alive as a severed part of your personality? That personality doesn’t disappear when you dispel the shadow-golem, it continues to exist inside your mind. It doesn’t always happen with shadow manipulators, the golem is usually only an imprint of the caster’s personality, responding in a similar manner than he, or she, would. In some rare cases, such as your father’s and now yours, the golem’s personality splits from the caster’s, which is not necessarily a problem if the caster is aware and careful in how and when to cast his shadow. Nighttime is when your ability is more powerful, but it is also when you suffer the greatest risk of losing control.” She sighed. “Dastan, there is no... There is no guarantee that this will not take control of you one day. There are things you can do to manage this, and nothing says you will lose control, but... Your father was as careful as one could be, in the end, he just wasn’t strong enough. If you don’t want to hurt anyone, I suggest you confide in someone. As your father did his Commander. If he hadn’t, then you wouldn’t be alive today.”

Dastan shook his head. “Maybe it would have been better, no? I wouldn’t have to worry about waking up to find I’ve killed people I care about. And I don’t understand... I thought my enlightenment didn’t work in complete darkness.”
“‘Shadows’, as defined by the myths, is an element that fills the spaces where light cannot get through... Darkness is made of shadows... Your enlightenment won’t work because light is what gives shadows dimensions your mind is capable of measuring. See, just as with any other element; the more of it there is, the harder it is to manipulate it. In time, if you work for it, you will be able to use your ability in the full darkness, but I’d suggest you to never cast your own shadow in such a scenario. That would be terribly dangerous.”

Dastan nodded, running one hand through his hair and giving the woman the most confident look he could manage. “Alright... Tell me what I should do.”


[Reality - Desert, present time]

“Shaykh! Can you hear me? Are you alright?”

The voices grew louder and louder and Dastan mentally begged them to let him sleep some more, someone was shaking him forcefully as if in a panic and finally, as he senses began to kick in he realized he’d been lying in the warm sand. A grunt escaped the mercenary and whoever it was trying to wake him became less frantic at his response. Slowly he lifted his head and opened his eyes to find himself in the middle of the training arena, a quick look around showed why the mercenary trying to wake him seemed so frightened... The training dummies were wrecked, and several training swords were parted in half, scattered across the ground. Sitting up, Dastan noticed his whole body ached, but otherwise, he didn’t even remember walking the small distance from where he had been sitting to the arena.

“What happened?” He mumbled.

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[The Manor]

“Luckas... Shut up and tell me who did this to you!” Ezekiel scolded, glaring at the laughing man laying in the infirmary bed; sword still pierced through him. He had been laughing like an idiot when Adam found him lying in front of the gates.
Luckas forced himself to stop, looked up at Ezekiel, took a long deep breath... And exploded in another fit of giggles.
“SHUT UP!” Ezekiel shouted, losing his patience completely.
“Do not shout in here.” A woman in blue scolded as she entered the room, walked past Ezekiel, yanked the sword out and placed both hands over the wound until it was fully healed. Afterwards she simply exited without another word, not really paying the ‘patient’ and his ridiculous fit of laughter.
“Luckas...” Ezekiel growled at him.
“Hah... Hahahah... How... Heh... How... Do you expect me to shut up and then tell you anything? It’s not... Heh... Possible!” He played, rolling over and nearly falling off the bed in his amusement. Laughing twice as hard when Ezekiel grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, nearly choking him in the process. Eventually he stopped again, this time actually taking a serious tone as he replied. “I’m a big boy, Zeke... I don’t need anyone hunting down my attackers, I can do that myself, if I wish to. Now...” He firmly planted his feet on the ground and worked his way out of the man’s grip. “If you excuse me... I believe I was on my way to the city.”
“You don’t leave without Amber... Mistress’ orders.” Zeke replied.
Luckas sighed, but didn’t reply as he walked past the man out of the sick ward, Amber meeting with him just down the hall... Today looking like an eighteen year old, redhead... boy. Luckas was undeniably bothered by this, but decided that it was best not to say so. “New look, huh? Not my type.”
“Right back at you.” The ‘boy’ replied, tugging on his bloody, and punctured, coat.
“I like it, personally... All black sometimes can become a bit bothersome.”
Amber let out a ridiculously girlish giggle considering her appearance and nodded in agreement to his comment, somewhat bouncing as 'he' made his way towards the main entrance a bit ahead of him.

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[White Shadows’ Camp]

Annie had decided to sleep shortly after meeting with Crys, but as she entered her tent she found the book Sean had left her and ended up reading it for great part of the night, and writing in it on the remaining part. During that period she was constantly updated on the state of Isaac, Alistair, Pondus and others, as well as informed of Crys’ departure, only a little bit later than she said she would be leaving. Annie hoped that her trip was a safe and uneventful one.

Because of those things and more, she was resting when someone came to tell her someone was looking for. The man didn’t say more than that and seemed slightly shocked. Annie followed the man to where a redheaded woman was waiting. Annie looked a bit surprised at the woman’s state, but not as shocked as the other healers. She had noted that the woman had punctured an artery and was bleeding quite a bit. Raising an eyebrow at the seemingly oblivious bleeder, who she had never seen in her life but was asking for her for whatever reason, she walked towards the woman and casually made use of her enlightenment to handle her wound. After which she opened a curious smile and spoke. “I hear you have been looking for me? I’m Annie, and you are...?”

Setting

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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#, as written by Essence
Darren had spent the majority of his time positioning eucalyptus herbs in different corners of the temple and lighting them like incense, hoping it would help calm the injured and flustered as he recently discovered it did for him. The scent was heavy and intoxicating, but after breathing it in for a few moments, one could even taste it along the roof of their mouth, a slight menthol numbing effect tingling the tip of the tongue. Darren stood over the unconscious Indrani, tracing words with the smoke over her form as a matter of timing how long to let the scent linger before laying it upon the table beside the rest of the herbs and medical instruments. Once he had next finished preparing the fever tea, he made his rounds, administering it to the patients as he checked on them.

Kneeling down beside Andrew, making sure he was still conscious, he carefully brought the tea to the boy’s lips to sip. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sora dash past, back towards the entrance, a chorus of pants and yips as he quickly deduced a furry sibling had arrived. The two sisters dances around one another in greeting and then together they investigated the injured, almost as if Sora was showing Kaya her new ‘friends’. Kaya was not as subtle and a few patients startled and began to whimper.

“It’s ok, we are all family, the furry ones, I swear.” Darren smiled, whistling to get the wolves attention and then was almost knocked over by the two as they sniffed, licked and tried to steal some bread Kenya was in route of bringing over. “No. Kaya….” Darren clapped slipped off his gloves and clapped, the noise only settling the wolves for a second, but enough to distract them back towards the entrance once again. “Don’t yell or scream...it will only excite them…”

Andrew reached out a hand as Kaya passed, letting his fingertips graze the tips of her fur and smiled. “Should we be expecting anymore to show up and startle the camp? Why do you even have...HOW...I ...are they like pets?”

Darren cursed as he caught Kaya momentarily dropping her plushie companion when Kenya tossed a piece of bread away from herself as if to lead the wolf away. Kaya looked over in the direction the food was thrown and then she simply circled behind Kenya and snatched a larger piece of bread and bounded back to her stuffed dragon. “Lazy wolf...go get a mole or something..” Kenya simply laughed, and held the rest of the bread on a platter above her head, out of reach but Sora took that as an invited to play; a challenge and began jumping to reach the platter.

“Sora! Come here girl..” He smirked as the wolf trotted back to Darren’s side and laid down with her head on Andrew’s lap. “No...they are not pets...they come and go as they please...see my Mother had puppies..”

“Wait..your MOTHER had PUPPIES?” Andrew started to laugh, groaning in between chuckles.

“No...hey, no, no..She found a wolf as a cub and took care of it and it stayed with her for years. The wolf recently gave birth to a litter of wolf cubs and they all...found someone to latch onto.”
Andrew smiled, his eyes growing heavy as he stifled a yawn. Darren nudged at the boy. “Hey now...stay awake..stay with me..or else..” He snickered, waggling his eyebrows. “Sora likes giving kisses...don’t you Sora?”

The wolf perked up and started slowly inching towards Darren, her tongue lapping at the air playfully, her tail thumping in approval. Darren motioned towards the boy and Sora lept up and began to drown the boy’s face in wolf kisses.

“Ugh..no...wait...that’s so not fair!” Andrew laughed, unable to fight the wolf’s advances.

“It does the job quite well though..” Darren signaled Sora to stay, as he stood once again, his attention drawn towards an approaching figure he recognized instantly. “Jakey..so you’re the one letting Kaya run a muck, mhmm? Always letting children walk all over you, yea?” Absently, Darren slipped his gloves back on and glanced around the room. “Indrani is still unconscious...and there are survivors. Looks like the funeral is proceeding..” Darren whispered the last words, staring off into the night, fixated upon distant torchlight.. Sudden distant cries and pleas, pierced through the eerie silence, his heart sinking fast at the sorrow he could only imagine the families were feeling. It was hard to make out the words and at first, he only thought it was the grief, until he swore he caught the words, ‘ Not Dead.” He took a few steps forward to leave the temple to investigate when Sora started to whimper and bark, dragging Darren’s attention back to Andrew who was no longer sitting there with his eyes open smiling, now closed and slouched, the wolf frantically licking the boy’s face with no response. Again came the screams, even louder this time, the sound sending shivers down Darren’s spine.

“Andrew? Hey...kid...hey…” He poked the boy in the side, shook him some and began trying to force open his eyelids to see his eyes, but they were rolled up in his head. He couldn’t see the boy’s chest move and had to lean in close to catch a few shaky breaths, but it was almost impossible to detect.

“Jake...can you..go. see...would you?” Darren didn’t even look towards his Uncle before running off to fetch Annie, all the while yelling her name. “The kid’s out...can’t wake him...barely breathing...and something is going on outside…” He called up the tower, feeling momentarily torn and useless where he stood, his face going slightly pale.

Jake had barely stepped into view and he heard Darren call for him, a smile crossed his features as the guy mentioned Kaya’s antics. “Hey, Crys handles the discipline and I just spoil her with toys and treats, that’s the deal.” He smirked, calling the wolf to him with a gesture; Kaya obediently sitting beside him and nudging his hand as though deciding she deserved praise. “There, see? She’s a good girl.” Jake’s smile shut as he thought about the dead bodies outside, deciding that he would actually go check on Shadow and then help put the pyre together, the man silently petting Kaya as his thoughts seemed to wander away for a moment only brought back by the commotion coming from outside. He scratched behind Kaya’s ears in a more playful manner before agreeing to Darren’s request with a simple nod and leaving the temple towards the screaming; the wolf following him closely.

The screams that could be heard faintly from the temple became clearer and clearer until Jake finally spotted the woman clinging to her deceased husband; a knife waving in the direction of the two men trying to calm her down.

“Whoa, Raina, come on, that’s not necessary.” One of them tried to reason. “Someone’s going to get hurt if you don’t put that down.”

“No! You’re not listening to me! I saw it! He moved!”

“Raina, that’s not poss-...”

“YOU’RE NOT TAKING HIM.”

Jacob silently commanded Kaya to stay put and the wolf laid down a few steps behind him remaining perfectly still as he continued to move forward towards the commotion. He walked close enough to the woman that, had he chose to, he could have disarmed her by force. He didn’t think that was the best way to handle this, and it didn’t seem to him like it was actually necessary. “Excuse me.” He called, as softly as possible. “I don’t want to bother you, ma’am, but the screaming is upsetting the patients in the temple. Is there something I can do to help, maybe?”

The woman turned momentarily to look at Jake, but kept her attention on her fellow Crimson. “Are you a healer?”

“No, ma’am, but I’ve worked with them, maybe I can do something for you.” Jake offered. “Raina, isn’t it? Is this your husband?”

“I saw him move. He moved. He’s not dead. I won’t let them burn him.”

“Raina, he’s been dead for hours... There’s no way to save him, why would we lie to you?”

Jake sighed. “Alright, alright. May I suggest something? Raina, how about I tell these guys to go away and in turn you give that knife to me? Then we can talk about your husband’s... Condition. Can we do that?”

Raina agreed with a slow nod of her head and her two companions shook their heads in defeat as they turned to walk away. Only after there were a good distance away from her, the woman offered the knife to Jake, like they had agreed. Jake smiled kindly as he took the knife from the distressed woman. “There. That’s better. Now, what’s your husband’s name?”
“John.” The woman replied, eyes glancing towards the deceased man she had been guarding.
“John. Seems like John was a very good man.”
“He is a good man.” The woman corrected, stubbornly.
“Raina, John isn’t alive. What you saw was probably a spasm, dead bodies do that sometimes.”
“I’m not tossing my husband in a fire over a ‘probably’.” The woman declared, stroking the deceased man’s hair lovingly. “He’s alive. I know it. He’ll come back to me.” She whispered, almost as if she understood how crazy the words actually sounded.

Jacob sighed softly; he found no joy in this, but he understood it needed to be done. “Raina, listen, I want you to do something, just for a minute... Close your eyes and think about your husband, think about the last time you saw him, the last words he spoke to you. Remember him then.” He waited for the woman to close her eyes and gave her a few moments, he knew she had done what his asked when tears began to roll down her cheeks. “Now open your eyes and look at him. Can you honestly believe that the good man you knew and loved, is still here? Can you see anything of him still left?”

The woman hesitated, seemingly unwilling to open her eyes and face reality, but eventually she did open them to stare at her husband’s dead body. She looked straight into the man’s unblinking eyes, tears streaming down more intensely, but she didn’t answer Jake’s questions.

“I know this is difficult, Raina. Trust me, I understand that right now you don’t want to think this is real. You just rather believe he will wake up somehow, that you will wake up and discover all of this was just a nightmare, or that something, anything, will happen to change things back to what they were before; to what they should be, but deep down I know you know that this is your reality now. Look at him, he’s not here anymore. He can’t get hurt anymore, but you can. This denial is a knife through your heart.”

“What is your name?” She asked him suddenly. “I think I remember seeing you around here before, but I don’t think I know who you are.”
“Jacob.” He answered her. “I don’t think I’ve been here many times in the past few years. I don’t think we’ve met before.”

“Jacob.” The woman snorted in a mix between a laugh and a sob. “Are you married?”
“Not yet, no.” Jake mumbled, a bit startled by the question.
“You do have someone though, don’t you?”
Jake simply nodded his response, not sure how or why the subject had shifted to his personal life, but indulging the woman.
“Don’t do to her what my John did to me, do you understand? He was a good man; too good sometimes. Good men like him, like you, don’t know when to stop fighting.”
“I can’t promise that.” Jake smiled. “I promised her that I wouldn’t make any more promises.”
“Sensible girl.” Raina nodded her approval, suddenly patting Jake’s cheek playfully as though he was a misbehaved child. “You hold on to that one.”
“I take it it’s okay to give you this now.” Was Jake’s only response, returning the knife to Raina.
The woman nodded, returning it to her husband’s belt. “Would you be a dear and tell those two to come back now? I’m ready.”

Annie was already on her way out of Dastan’s room when she heard Darren calling for her. She quickened her step and practically jumped down to ground level, making her way to her medicine bag and finding a vial that seemed to be containing some sort of white smoke, staring at it in a brief moment of hesitation before kneeling beside Andrew, making sure the boy was laying comfortably on his back, checking his pulse and breath; that were considerably weak. “It’ll be alright.” She smiled at the unconscious boy for a moment before handing the vial to Darren. “This is in case I pass out; just hold it under my nose and open, should wake me right up. I haven’t done this in a while now, not sure what will happen exactly, but should be okay unless I go unconscious. It’s very important that I wake up right away. Otherwise I might... Not...” She mumbled the last few words in a softer tone and covering them with a little forced cough. It would be a lie if Annie told herself she wasn’t dreading this, even a little bit; that she wasn’t worried. Last time had been unpleasant and Alistair had wanted her to promise not to heal anyone until this whole illness thing was solved. She obviously couldn’t agree to that. If such a promise had been made, this is where she would have broken it; because there was no other means to save this boy’s life. It was not something Annie felt she could turn away from, even if it meant taking a risk.

Annie inhaled deeply, placing one hand over Andrew’s chest and the other over his abdomen, golden flecks of light could be seen spreading across her dark brown eyes for a just a moment before they closed, a slightly pained grimace marking the girl’s features as she concentrated. It took more effort now than it did a few months ago and Andrew’s internal injuries were severe so what would normally take no more than a minute stretched on for several.

The act of healing was always exhausting; that was not new, but it had only briefly been painful during Annie’s early years and never quite like this. She could feel her work was done when the after effects began to set in, her head was pounding, stomach turning, before she even managed to open her eyes she felt around and grabbed a small bucket that at one point contained water; it was empty now, but not for long. Annie threw up into the bucket, spitting out the taste of rusted iron, her stomach hurt and now she became very aware that she had not opened her eyes. “Ugh, fucking hell...” She muttered out, making an effort to stay awake, to open her eyes... Open her eyes... She needed to open her eyes now. Light stung, but gradually that feeling faded and she was able to see again, looking down she noted the red droplets staining her white robes and only then she realized the warm substance trailing down from her left nostril, raising her hand towards the bleed and leaning forward where she now sat on the stony ground. “Won’t be doing this again anytime soon, I hope.” She mumbled, her voice a bit weak. “Darren... Let’s not tell Alistair about this, okay?”

“Wait..is this ...really wise?” Darren was able to mutter between his instructions as a small vial was handed to him. He followed Annie close, and stood giving her enough space but close enough to catch her if she collapsed. His brows furrowed in a worried grimace, not liking the risk that was becoming unfortunately clear before him. “I don’t like this…but..whatever you need...” He whispered as Annie placed her hands on Andrew, twitching and reaching out towards her in a childish helplessness as he observed the transition of pain. He knew not to touch her though but all he wished to do in that moment was hold her in his arms, feeling slightly sick at the idea of her not waking up. His light, blue eyes flickered, the color appearing to swirl within his irises yet unmoving as the tension unnerved him.

Andrew’s breathing became more steady, noticeably, which was what hinted to Darren that whatever Annie had done, seemed to have worked. The minor wounds on his face and chest had faded almost completely away, disappearing before his eyes. Her balance seemed off and as she reached out for the bucket to expel a reddish liquid, he figured as a result of whatever pain he could only imagine she was feeling. Where she moved, he moved, holding the vial ready incase she passed out. As she lowered herself to the stone floor, Darren knelt behind her, gently rubbing her back in circular motions with his gloved fingertips. “..Is it odd, that I find it attractive when you curse?” He whispered half in amusement and half complimentary. “Don’t believe I’ve ever heard you curse at all during the few months I’ve known you.”

Once Darren saw Annie open her eyes, he set the vial aside, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbing at the blood trail from her nose. He paused to lift her head, so he could see into her eyes, inspecting them carefully. Darren quirked a brow, shaking his head slowly, handing Annie the handkerchief to hold to her nostril. “I don’t wish to get on Alistair’s bad side...but...if you take it easy and let me take care of you and help more...then I could be persuaded to keep my mouth shut.” Darren’s smile was devilishly handsome, as if he were up to no good and trying to play innocent, while his eyes were gentle, sparkling wildly like firecrackers as he continued to stare at Annie. “White...is not a very convenient color for Healers..” He sighed, glancing down at the woman’s dress and the drops of blood staining the white cloth. “You..did a very..brave thing..you know.” He whispered, leaning into Annie a bit, encouraging the woman to use him as support, sneaking a flask of water onto her lap.

Annie couldn’t help but feel a bit of amusement at Darren’s worry. It made her want to shake her head and laugh as if he was just being foolish. However, actually doing it would make her headache worse and probably cause the room to spin faster. She knew he wasn’t worrying over nothing; this was really cause for concern, but she couldn’t help but be amused all the same. “Heey, are you trying to blackmail me, mister?” She questioned, holding the handkerchief to her bloody nose for a little while, but pulling it away when she felt the bleeding was starting to subside. “Because don’t think I won’t tell your mother about this when I see her.” She threatened, giving Darren a pretty convincing angry glare for a few moments before letting her expression melt into a warm smile. “Don’t worry, there’s little work left to do here, a good night’s sleep and I’ll recover. I’ve had worse. Well, maybe not worse, but I’ve had pretty bad before.” She shrugged calmly, letting her gaze fall to the blood stains on her robes and sighing at a thought. “I have a feeling that now is a bad time to start parading around dressed in red, so I’m afraid white will have to do. Besides, we’d have to change our name and Crimson Shadows is already taken, even if there’s only a dozen of them left... I see a lot of confusion, don’t you think? The whole land might fall into absolute chaos!” She exclaimed, faking shock at the thought. Sarcasm wasn’t something that showed very often in Annie’s personality and it was a part of her self that very few would expect to see; much like her occasional cursing. “I think the last person to hear me curse was Luckas, but then he’s more inclined than you to come find me in a bad day and bring me extra worries.” She noticed the flask of water sitting idly on her lap and drank from it slowly, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths in between sips until it felt like everything was a bit more steady. “Dastan should come down eventually if I managed to get through to him.” Annie opened her eyes and was glad that the walls seemed completely motionless now. “Better.” She mumbled under her breath. “The man is in a very bad place right now. I don’t blame him.”

“Blackmail? Not at all. I like to think of it as a mutual agreement between friends...but I would keep any secret you asked of me, so long as it does not endanger you. You seem like you’ll live...so no you don’t need to go tattle on me to Ess..er my Mother.” Darren smiled, rolling his eyes in fake exasperation. “Besides..she might just say I’m a resourceful man around stubborn women.”

Darren casually stood, extending his hand down to help Annie to her feet, just as Sora appeared from the other side of Annie to lick at her cheek in greeting. “Sleep? When was the last time any of us had a ‘good night sleep?’ Hmm? When was the last time you slept in general?” It was Darren’s turn to try to give a convincing scowl of concern but instead he looked more like a puckered fish, holding his breath. He chuckled at Annie, taking a moment to look over Andrew is quiet amazement. Darren thought he saw the boy begin to stir, but he waited for the kid to come to on his own and after a few moments the boy opened his eyes.

“Welcome back, Andrew. How you feeling?”

“Ugh...tired...and like I have to take the biggest piss ever..” Andrew mumbled, as he slowly got to his feet, leaning against a small table and chair. “The pain..it’s gone?”

“.That’s...probably a bit more information than I needed, but ok, just..take it slow..” Darren snorted, wondering to himself if that were a side effect from the rapid healing, but didn’t say anything. “Yep. Those cuts and bruises look to be gone too. You sir, are good to go.”

When Andrew had wandered off far enough, seemingly a bit disorientated still, Darren turned back to Annie. “So...did you figure out if Dastan is not to blame then? How should this be handled? Do we send word on what has happened or do we wait for Dastan?”

“Trust me, after this I’ll sleep whether I like it or not. I just have to hang in there and stay awake for an hour or so to make sure it’s safe.” Annie smiled, petting Sora cheerfully before accepting Darren’s offered hand to pull herself up on her feet. Her brown eyes followed Andrew as he wandered off; a bit groggy but otherwise fully recovered. It didn’t even look as though the kid was moments away from Death. “I don’t usually keep secrets from Alistair, none of my own at least, but there’s no need for him to worry over this when there’s nothing he can do about it. He knows that I’m sick, he knows that in situations like this I won’t turn my back regardless of risks; that’s just who I am, he doesn’t need to hear that this happened. Besides, if he worries about me any more he’ll push me right over the edge of sanity, and no one wants that.” Annie silenced for a few moments. She had theories upon theories concerning what had happened to Dastan, but there was very little that she could actually say at this point. “Dastan is not responsible. He presented symptoms of having suffered mental paralysis or manipulation. If my mom was still around she’d be able to know for sure how and what happened, but as it stands... The only telepath I know who might be able to do this... Well, I don’t want to say I don’t trust him, but basically: I don’t. And I’m not sure whether the eclipse was natural or caused by shadow manipulation; I can’t really speculate, could be either. What I can say is that Dastan was not responsible for what happened here. It doesn’t mean he won’t feel responsible, or that it won’t be difficult for him to face all of this. So maybe we should let Jackson, and Indrani when she’s better, handle him from here. Still, I want to talk to Crys and Jake about what happened here.”