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Shadows of The Forgotten

The Ruins (Healer's camp)

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a part of Shadows of The Forgotten, by Blackbird26.

The Ruins of Blackhurst, home of the White Shadows

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The Ruins (Healer's camp)

The Ruins of Blackhurst, home of the White Shadows

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The Ruins (Healer's camp) is a part of Valcrest.

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Rita [0]
Alina "Suferința" Mare [0] "What is there to be said? Nothing? Begone."

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#, as written by Sibrand
The rays of morning light struck the ruins as the sun slowly began to fill the golden desert with life and light. The Moon went back to sleep while the Sun brought the day as the god awoke from his slumber. The desert was a place dreaded by many and few; The place was pretty much life-less and there was not much else but sand, stone and even more sand. Water and any kind of growth were no where to be found or seen in this vast wasteland.

However, in the middle of the desert there was a large ruin that had once belonged to the citizens of Brightvale. It had once been a bustling city filled with life and happiness as well as despair and pain, just like any other city in the world. Although the war had taken its toll on the city of Brightvale and its citizens, many still clinged to the past as they tried to resist the drums of war and the beating sound of death and revenge. All they wanted was to repair their homes and start anew in a new chapter for themselves. They wanted to teach their younglings the lessons they’ve learned through life and find ways to hopefully avert war amongst their people and against others.

Four figures had left the ruins upon first light and they were now traveling through the desert upon their horses in their usual diamond formation; Theron Lockwood, the master assassin and leader of the group, rode first; Akida, Theron’s apprentice, rode just behind her leader to his left; Barca, a large green barbarian being called an Orc amongst the people who knew what he was, rode last in the formation; Ace, the elvish archer and monster hunter, rode next to Akida and just behind Theron. They were quite the odd company of skilled warriors, hunters and assassins.

They were riding fast and it wouldn’t be too long before they would see the plains in sight. When they reached the point where the plains and the desert almost split the land in two with their borders, Theron stopped Merlin, his white horse, and looked around. The rest of the company continued onwards without him. He had suddenly been struck by a strong headache and his hands shook violentely as he felt an immense power throughout his body. The assassin wondered where this source of power came from, but at the end he decided it was best to leave it be for the moment as he commanded his horse to sprint onwards. He was soon reunited with his company and they continued towards the White Shadows camp in the ruins of Blackhurst.

Upon reaching the camp itself, Theron and his friends were meet by some healers who stopped them in their tracks. They demanded, as usual, that the stranger should all disarm if they wanted to enter the encampment; Theron approved of this and ordered everyone to relieve themselves of their weapons, but he kept his two hidden blades on. Before moving on, Ace turned his head towards the forest behind them and saw some shady figures amongst the trees, but he tried to ignore them as they finally entered the healers camp.

”I’d like to speak with Annie, if I may.” Theron asked a nearby healer as he jumped off his horse and lead it along with the others to a nearby place where he could tie them to a pole. The healer walked off, in no hurry at all. That was okay though, Theron knew he had to have patience when dealing with the healers. As he remained where he was standing by his horse, Ace, Akida and Barca started looking around.

-------

The elf moved through the encampment with little to no problem and people seemed to stare at him more here than in Brightvale. He didn’t know why, but he guessed these people had at least been educated about other races outside Valcrest. It was that or maybe they’ve heard more stories about the elf’s fearless demeanors and ruthless ways in war than anyone else in this wretched land. Whatever the reason was, Ace were in no hurry to find it out nor was he interested in it either.

After walking through the camp a bit, scanning both the people in it and the various exists as well as every single tactical point where one could kill countless people before facing death or victory if a battle would erupt. The healers seemed to take notice that he was scanning the area and it didn’t take long before one of them approached him;

”Are you looking for something specific?" The woman who had approached him asked, but Ace ignored her as he moved past her. However, she seemed to be of the stubborn sort as she chased him down and began to walk beside him. ”You’re an Elf, right? I didn’t know people like you even existed. My mom always used to--”

”I couldn’t care less about you and your mother, alright?” Ace cut her off as he waved his hand at her. It was obvious that she grew mad, but somehow she kept her stance and remained calm. She continued to follow him through the camp.

”Then what do you care about, Elf? Why are you and those other mysterious people here, wandering around?” She asked bluntly with the same tone that Ace had given her when blowing her off. Ace stopped in his tracks and faced the girl.

”We’re not looking for something. ”Looking” implies that we wouldn’t know where it is. No, we’re seeking something that you have.” Ace explained shortly to finally get rid of her, but he failed to understand that this gave the young girl more questions than answers.

"What is it? Maybe I can help you find it?"

”In time, young one. In time, you will find the answers to your questions.” Ace responded both mysteriously and wisely. The girl sighed heavily as if she had heard that a million times before. And with that, the conversation was over. However, the girl continued to follow Ace around.

-------

Barca found his way over to one of the healers tent, figuring that the healers must be keeping their strong alcohol to treat wounds somewhere around here. However, as he entered the tent he was faced with a view he had seen so many times before; A woman sat on her knees beside an object which was covered by a long blanket that was clearly a dead body and she was crying her eyes out. Her attention raced over to the armored giant that had just entered the tent. She sobbed fiercely as she began to wipe away the tears tracks from her face.

”What are you doing in here!?” She tried to shout, but her voice failed her as she began to cry again. Barca stared at her for a moment. He had seen the exact same scenario so many times before and all of those times it had been one of his friends wives sitting next to his friends body. They had too cried their eyes out and every single one of them had asked the exact same question. ”What are you doing here?” She repeated her question as she finally caught Barca’s attention.

The Orc shrugged the horrible Déjà vu feeling off as well as his old memories as he moved over to the other side of the bed. He kneeled down beside the bed and lowered his head before slowly removing his helmet. The woman stared at the Orc before her and he stared back at her. Barca was the first to break the eye contact between them.
”What happened?” He asked slowly as scanned the blanket that was covering the body. The woman had not stopped to stare at him. ”Why do you care? You didn’t even know him.” She stated and tears began to roll down her cheek again. The orc sighed slowly for himself.

”I never knew him. I’d like to have known who he was and how he was, but that’s not possible now, Ma’am.” Barca began and lowered his head once more. ”I’ve seen so much death in my days, Ma’am, and it’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something you can be proud of.”

”Why are you telling me this?”

”Because I want you to understand that even if I never knew the man you cling to, I do care. I care for every living soul for they all have a purpose in life. You have a purpose just as much as I have a purpose. All we can do is to realize what our purposes in life are and fullfill them. I’m ready to do my part with the life that the gods have given me. Are you?”

There was a long silent moment between them as the woman continued to cry. However, eventually she stopped to cry and their eyes meet each other again across the bed. She stared into his beast-like eyes and he stared into the same sort of eyes he used to hate a long time ago; Human eyes.

”Then... Then what would you have me do? KIll myself?” She asked absently as she looked back at the body of her dead husband. Barca had a hard time pulling his gaze away from her, but once he did he pulled out a large knife, almost big enough to be a sword for a human being. He offered it to the woman across the bed and she was obviously hesitating about all of this. Although she eventually accepted the knife/sword, she wasn’t smiling when she did so.

”An eye for an eye; A tooth for a tooth; Blood demands blood.” Barca quoted his people’s motto as they both rose. The Orc handed her a purse of coins and she repeated the same words he had just spoken before nodding towards him and stormed out of the tent. Barca slowly followed her out and stood there and watched how she pushed three healers out of the way before leaving the camp. She was heading north-east, towards Blackpond.

-------

Akida had seated herself close to where Theron stood and awaited this woman named ”Annie” who might or might not be the White Shadows leader. From here she could just barely see Ace walk around the encampment alone, but he was soon joined by a woman, one of the healers from the looks of it. Akida snickered as she imagined how a conversation with Ace would be for the healer.

She continued to look around and couldn’t see Barca anywhere, but after a couple of minutes she saw a woman storm out from one of the many tents with what looked like a sword in her hands and a small leather bag in her other hand. After her came Barca out from the tent with a large smile shining so brightly.

”What have you done now, you stupid Orc?”, She muttered for herself as she glanced over at Theron who had obviously seen the same scene that she just had. This meant trouble for Barca, that’s for sure. Big trouble.

6 Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”

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

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

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[Desert – Crimson Shadows Camp]

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

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

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

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

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

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[Assassin’s Camp]

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

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

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

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

[Healer’s Camp]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[/b][Newhaven][/b]

(dialogue written in collaboration with The_Sickness)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Newhaven: Castle]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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#, as written by Sibrand
He let out a heavy sigh as he watched the scene before him unfold; A woman had stormed out from a nearby tent and begun to run for the exit with a blade in her hands, knocking down two to three healers in the process. Out from the tent followed Barca with a wide smile over his face. As if he had done something good. It would be a waste of time to punish the green bastard while he had an appointment with Annie, so Lockwood saved his rage for later.

“Theron Lockwood. I have been expecting you.”

The masked man nodded slightly at the young woman as she acknowledged him and he brought his attention onto her. He wasn’t used to hear his entire name from someone else, but it wasn’t a feeling that threw him off his balanced state of mind. However, before the leader of the White Shadows, Annie, were able to continue, a roar erupted in the middle of the encampment. It was one of the healers who had, in his fury, screamed and was charging at a large green orc Theron knew by the name of Barca. Lockwood figured it was best to stay out of the fighting and let this healer take his lesson. As long as nobody died that is.

Although Annie rushed to stop one of her men and succeeded at doing so, Theron still felt it had served as an example to Barca; Healers could fend for themselves and could pose a great threat if they got the upper hand in a fight. Hopefully Barca would soon learn that he wasn’t invincible, no matter how skilled he was in battle.

Once Annie was done sorting out the man who had attempted to assault Barca, she soon found Theron where he had been standing all along, watching the scene from afar. The conversation between them went faster than Theron could both have thought and hoped for. He didn’t even have a chance to say anything until she had returned to her tent once more. However, she had left an envelope to him and as he carefully opened it with one of his knives, his eyes darted over the text upon the letters.

As he read the first letter from Lena, Annie’s mother and the former leader of the White Shadows, he got mixed feelings and felt lost for a moment; In it she told him that she knew that he would sooner or later return again and that she had the book he was looking for. Confusion and frustration struck Theron, but he waved the frustrated feelings away into the void of his mind. Somehow she had known that he would return and look for this certain book. However, could she truly possess the actual book he was looking for? It seemed impossible, but then again, these healers had already proven that they didn’t know any limits when it came to mystics. They knew many other things surrounding subjects close to magic and the art of healing, so it wasn’t much of surprise to Theron after all. The problem now was, what would he do now when his plan was pretty much ruined? Everything he needed to know about both Newhaven and Blackpond was in that book and the few ways to stop the incoming invasion as well. The importance of that book was greater than his own life, and he could say that without being overzealous. Maybe he would go after Lena after all or he might just follow her advice and wait for her, but with the incoming invasion and all, that seemed like a very very bad idea.

Before Lockwood could decided what to do next in this horrible mess, the other letter came into his view. The letter from Daniela. Slowly, Theron read the letter and he could feel the intense pain as tears began to roll down his damaged face. She was dead, for real, and she had known that she would die. ‘The last teachings’ is what the elves used to call that - To know and accept your own death. A strong a wise thing, but then again, Dani had almost always been a strong and wise woman. Even though Theron had all the reasons to cry in sorrow, his tears were that of joy; He would not fail her and Sebastian and knowing that they were both together in the afterlife made everything seem so much brighter and better for some reason.

The last words of the letter:

”Until we meet again… I leave you my best wishes.

Dani Rivers”


Theron stared at that sentence for a couple of moment. ”I’ll see you in the afterlife... My friends.”. After placing both letters inside his coat, Theron looked and realized that Akida was standing right next him and Barca was standing just in front of him. He let out yet another sigh as he waved Barca out of his way, but added ”I’ll deal with you once we're out of this camp.”, before leaving for Annies tent.

Once he reached it, Lockwood walked straight in and stared at Annie where she sat for a moment. ”Crystal has already updated me about the situation and the things that are going about in Valcrest, but I found her words not neutral enough to make a solid stand on.” Theron explained very forward in his tone, yet, still friendly enough. Seeing as the book was out of his reach for the moment, he might as well try to make some use of both himself and his companions and maybe help the healers out or anyone else until he could find a lead on Lena or wait until she comes back. She stated in her letter that she had traveled back to the mountains, but it would take weeks, if not more, to find her up in those hazardous icy peaks.

”Could you tell me what’s going on and if you need me and my company to do something for you while I’m still here. We will be moving on shortly though.”

---
[The Plains]

Ace and the healer had been walking together (More like she was following him around) for a short while now and the healer had started to go on about her life with the White Shadows and asked questions from time to time about him, but Ace did his best to ignore her and the sufferable ranting. However, as they reached the outskirts of the encampment itself Ace started to hear distant voices with the help of his abilities as an elf. It didn’t take long for him to position himself just right to seem like he was listening to the girl in front of him, but at the same time hear everything this unknown woman said to another little girl.

Ace quickly recognized the woman’s voice to be that of Allison and the little one was unknown to him, but she was called ’Kate‘ by Allison. Although their conversation wasn’t so interesting, Ace focused on them instead of the bothering girl in front of him. Suddenly, however, a man joined in on the conversation soon enough. He was called Sean by Allison and it was clear they were in some sort of lock-down with each other - Nemesis facing Nemesis, if you may. Violence had yet to occur, but this was something Ace just couldn’t miss.

”You’ll have to excuse me, I think I heard something in the plains.” The elf said and pushed the girl away. She had apparently had enough of this fool and walked away once and for all. Ace sighed and turned his full attention back on Allison and this ‘Sean‘ guy with both his ears and eyes from afar. The conversation just turned very serious and utterly interesting as Allison slashed at Seans chest with a knife, missing by an inch. Ace was sure it had been on purpose; A way of intimidating the young man. Just before Allison turned her back to the man and walked away, Ace stood there, half covered by a boulder and watched as she walked away. The question was now, should he approach Sean or maybe follow Allison or should he just go back to Theron? So many choices and so little time. In the end, he choose to return back to the rest of them at camp. He wasn’t as curious about these kinds of things as Barca, and especially not as Akida.

---
[Outside Newhaven]

Tick, Tack, Tick, Tack

The clicking sound in the beasts head repeated itself like a turning wheel every second he continued to stare at the scene in front of him. Mageria, the person he was after, held her so-called dying 'Brother' in her arms. The scene brought great joy to this demon, because he was connected to Mageria and could feel her massive sorrow and hatred growing ever slightly bigger for each passing moment. It was like an orgasm in his very soul, repeating itself over and over again.

When the woman had finally left on her horse with another person, The beast followed her through the shadows he found here and there. It wasn’t easy, but he kept following her for as long as possible before she and her companion reached the city where he and she had fought against each other before, only three years ago. The beast lay still in the shadows as he watched her ride past the main gates and fade into the crowd of people inside the city. The gates closed shut after her.

"Tick, Tack, Tick, Tack. Time has come for Thee to die by mine hands, claws, jaws and fangs. Thy soul and body will be mine in the morrow of the Seventh day." He whispered in her mind as a grim smile crossed his demonic features before fading into the shadows completely. He loved to play with his prey's mind before feasting upon its body and soul.

5 Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Desert – Crimson Shadows Camp]

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

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

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

-Two hours later-

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 12 years ago]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


. . . . . . . . . . .

[Flashback – Wolfpack camp, approximately 4 years ago]

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

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


[Reality - Wolfpack Camp, early evening]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Newhaven]

The pyre was about to be lit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#, as written by Sibrand
Theron remained silent and still as the young healer explained the situation to him. It wasn’t actually the kind of information he had been hoping for that she provided, but during his years away from the land he had learned to deal with such losses. His old, renegaded self would probably have killed Annie outright by now. Annie eventually took her leave as she seemed to have been summoned by someone else outside the tent.

Lockwood was on his way out when he noticed something laying on the nearby bed; The note Annie had been going through when he had entered her tent. He was not a much of a curios person nor did he want to have anything to do with Annie’s personal life. However, if it had any kind of information vital to him, he would be a fool to give up on this golden opportunity. No one was around to see him, so sneaking was pointless. Lockwood moved up to the bed and picked up the note from the bed and let his eyes fall upon it.

The note simple described a certain patience wounds and although this was nothing important in Lockwood’s books, he noticed that these were some very strange wounds; No animals in all of Valcrest had such large claws, if this note even described the wounds right that is. The assassin started to ponder on the possibility if one of Adrians large track-predators had been sent on its way into Valcrest with a band of scouts. If this was true, it was bad news for all of them indeed. That would mean Adrian was scouring Valcrest, locating its weaknesses and its strengths and plan accordingly to them.

After a short while of thinking, Lockwood felt he was wasting time and decided that he would look into this matter after visiting both Blackpond and Newhaven; he had to know how things looked for the the cities and mark out possible enemies that would stand in the way of his plans. Theron walked out of Annies tent and was just out in time to catch her walking into another tent across camp. The rest of his company were swift to gather around him.

”Report.” Lockwood ordered and looked upon his trusted companions.

”The Leader of these healers, Annie, is currently meeting the leader over the Assassins in this land; A man named Sean. He wants to start a war with the mercenaries out in the desert.” Ace reported as he looked off in the distance towards the actual plains, ”Allison and Sean were at each others throats earlier and I’m certain that this hostility between them can be used to--”

”Leave Allison out of this.” Lockwood commanded swiftly with his usual calm and respectful tone, ”She has nothing to do with this... Yet.” He continued. Ace tried to protest, but his words was silenced by Theron’s hand as his gaze moved over to Akida and Barca. The Orc simple shock his head, stating that he had nothing new to report to his leader. However, Akida seemed more jumpy than usually.

”Master, look what I just discovered!” She almost shouted in pure ecstasy as she all of the sudden disappeared in front of their eyes, leaving leafs from the ground soaring where she had once been standing. Ace took a step backwards in shock while Barca remained still, all white in his face. Theron didn’t move a single muscle at what had just happened. It didn’t take long at all for Akida to finally return in a sweeping move, out of nowhere. However, she had clearly left a trail behind her after traveling through the plains in that kind of speed.

”I can run fast!” She shouted, but quickly lowered her voice when she saw how Ace was looking at her. He gave her the usual ‘people can hear you, you know‘ look. All of the sudden she couldn’t feel her arms anymore. It was as if all the bones in them had turned to liquid and all that was left was her uncontrolled muscles and nerves.

”That’s a side-effect to your new found enlightenment. I knew that there was a slight possibility that one or more of you would receive this, but I wasn’t certain. Until now.”

”What do I do now?! I can’t feel my arms!” She sobbed with teary eyes. Theron grabbed her by her shoulders and began to lead her towards the exit of the camp. He nodded at Ace and Barca before leaving, signaling for them to get the horses. He walked with her for a bit and started to explain to her how alignments worked, how side-effects work and how he could help her improve this new found ability. In the end, she was no longer on the border of crying. More like happier than ever.

”So I can use this whenever I want to?” She asked as Ace and Barca approached them in the distance with their horses.

”Yes and no; You can use it to all your hearts content, but if you use it too much the side-effects will become stronger and more severe. Who knows what will happen to you then?” Theron explained before taking a grip of his horses saddle and mounted it. Akida stopped to ask questions and jumped onto her horse. Her left arm was still not functioning, but her right arm had come back.

”Where are we heading now? Shouldn’t we look for the book?” Barca asked as they began to move out from the healers camp on top of their horses.

”No, it will come to us when the time is right. For now, we ride to Blackpond.” And with that, they rode off in full speed north. Theron could feel that terrible headache returning to him in the back of his head and the words from Lena’s letter came back to him:

”I believe you have been away long enough to be feeling the changes in the energy flow for yourself right now. If not, believe my words, you will feel them shortly. If you feel them, then others will feel it as well, keep your eyes open for those signs, they should become more apparent to you than to others, since you have been out of the Land for so long.”

----------------
[Wolfpack Camp]

Avius had taken a longer nap than usual because of some horrible nightmares before awakening, realizing that it had all been just that; Dreams. After walking down to the lake and taken care of his dirty suit, Avius had made his way across the camp to get something to eat. The food wasn’t good, but at least he wasn’t starving and had enough energy now to deal with all the problems the world would throw at him before this day was over.

Seeing as Sean took charge of most things around camp and only summoned Avius if a decision had to be made for the entire clan or if he needed his second in-commands counsel on some dire matters, Avius had lots of time for himself. He had yet to find a recruit suitable for him, and he guessed he would never do so either since he could be very picky about such things.

After having spent a well earned day in the training grounds, training with his quarterstaff and some new moves he had been working on with his powers, an active disturbed him while he meditated. Even though Sean was away and had moved all responsibility over to Avius, he thought the clan would at least be able to handle itself for one freaking day without turning to him for aid. He had been wrong.

”Avius, Sir!” The active shouted as he rushed into the training grounds. Avius felt calm after such a relaxing session of meditation and so, he remained calm throughout the conversation. ”Relax, Wolf,” He began and waved his hand at the man before him, ”Take a deep breath and then tell me, slowly if you may, what’s going on.”

The active took a few deep breaths and also gave Avius a few weird looks at the same time; What had Avius been smoking or drinking to get him, the infamous punisher as actives and recruits had started to call him, into such a calm state? ”It’s Crystal! Crystal Rivers! The traitor is in the graveyard.” The active explained before being dismissed by Avius.

It didn’t take long for him to reach the graveyard and when he did, he saw Crystal sitting on a grave with her own name on it, playing flute. Avius had always been weak to music, but this wasn’t the time for him to get all emotional and dream about a better world to a couple of beautiful tones from some flute. When Crystal noticed him, the beautiful music ended and it was like Avius had been pulled out from some sort of trance. His attention shifted towards Crystal who sat in front of him and before anything could be done or said between them, Avius casually pulled out his quarterstaff and placed it a bit away from him, yet still close enough for him to reach.

”Crystal Rivers. What brings a woman of your caliber to the Wolfpack’s cemetery, hmm?” He asked with a respectful tone, least he wanted to start trouble for no good reason. He was sure that this would turn into violence if she didn’t have a good explanation for her being there, but Avius wasn’t about to force a confrontation upon her. He didn’t want to be the bad guy here. Not yet anyway. Dusk glittered in the distance as the sun started to say one of its first good byes to the world.

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Evin entered the tent and sat down on a small pillow that was used as a seat. Annie cut strait to the chase which made Evin extra happy. He didn’t want to be spending too much time doing anything of less importance.
“Well miss Petite Rose,” He said as a little joke of his. Lena, Annie’s mother was known to the people as the White Rose. Even though it wasn’t all that funny, he always managed to crack a smile at it for some reason. “I’ve come to you only really to know about the whereabouts of Theron. I’m wondering if he has left the camp yet and if so, where to. The sooner I get to him the better. As a matter of fact, I’d like to get to him before Sean even knows he has returned. Time is everything.”
He leaned back, resting his hands behind him to prevent him from falling. On a small table to the side, there was a whole kettle of tea that seemed to have been prepared when Annie had woken up or at least that’s what he believed. Evin helped himself to a cup, taking a sip before he spoke again. “You could just call it chance, but since I’ve found myself in this camp after the unfortunate event of Kate’s poisoning, I was wondering if I could visit her?”
He tried to make light of the situation he had put Kate in, but it really didn’t help. He felt terrible for doing that to her. She was not meant to be an instrument of war. She had meaning and purpose in this world besides petty and deadly arguing between two pathetic individuals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Assassins' Camp - Few hours later]

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

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

[Flashback - Newhaven, approximately 3 years ago]

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

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

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

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

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

[Noon]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Reality - Wolfpack Camp, present time]

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

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

I thought we had an understanding.

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

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

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

[Blackpond]

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

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

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

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

[Newhaven]

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

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

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

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#, as written by Caelus
The wind heavily attacked Veronica's face, her hair protected inside the helmet, her body into the shadows of her armor. Her hands moved against the wind, the swords gently handled by them, the day was about to end and she waited for the retreat order. She witnessed the death of many friends, and made the murders met the same destiny. The wind met Veronica's face again, with more violence than before, making her focus on the present. Another foe focused on her and started to run, sword and shield ready. He blocked the first attack, a swing with the right hand, but the second one crushed his throat. Jon was nowhere to be found, and Veronica was starting to get anxious because of that, many images of his death crossed her mind. Another soldier rushed against her, how many minutes has passed since she started to think about those scenes? Focus. The man tried swung his sword too widely, two movements and he was in the ground barely breathing. Jon couldn't be there, he probably retreated, but the Captains didn't issued the retreat order yet. 'Damn Jon, where are you?' She moved to left, it was hard to walk over the mud with the armor, but she managed to do it. Where were the others? Where were the Captains? What was happening? She moved her head, Newhaven was there, she started to walk again, a thunder fell. No enemy soldiers, no allied soldiers, no one anywhere. The feeling that something was wrong didn't left her mind, neither did the images that showed Jon's head being separated from the body. She spun on her feet to meet the scene. Jon just swung his sword, the steel cutting the foe's chest as if it was paper. When the man fell to the mud Jon looked at Veronica. He smiled and everything stopped for a moment. The smile faded to a muted scream as the blade from a sword grew in his chest. His longsword fell to the ground, the mud quickly emerging it. A thunder fell in the horizon bringing Luke's voice, the cold, almost psychopathic tone greatly amplified. “I dare you not to scream.”

“NOO!” Veronica jumped from the bed, the right arm doing the motion of a swing, as if it tried to hit the air with an imaginary sword. The scarlet haired woman breathed fast, sweat falling from her temples to the chin. Seconds passed while she kept the position, trying to understand what just happened. Veronica relaxed the muscles and slowed the breathing, it's been a day since she last saw Luke. 'Or has it been two days? Ah, doesn't matter.' She walked to the window, it was still dark but the Sun would soon rise from the horizon. The woman laughed, having a room was a benefit she only won with the promotion and that was perfect at the moment. “Or right now every single one would be awake.” She didn't mind speaking her thoughts loudly when she was alone, an habit she kept since she was a child. Veronica took a towel and removed the sweat from her face and hair, she picked a black dress made of expensive cloth, the gift her father gave to her when the promotion was announced. It fitted well, but the lack of something more... protective was not helping her. The clothing that seemed as a waistcoat was made of leather, the inside of the cloth was much more comfortable than the outside showed. She wore the two belts that held her swords, both crossed, and a third that held the longsword. She put the first pair of boots she saw and walked to the dinning hall. The boots barely made any sound when they met the ground, which was a good thing, since no one needed to know that she had a nightmare that night. She looked at the window facing East, the Sun was about to burst in the horizon. Minutes passed until she reached the dinning hall, completely empty and the worst happened. 'Nothing to eat.' Veronica was about to walk without destiny in the castle when a man walked through the door that lead to the kitchen, a sandwich in his hand and a letter in the other. It took a few seconds until he saw the woman and recognized her. He smiled and waved with the hand that held the letter. He walked to Veronica, finishing his sandwich a few seconds before he started to talk with the woman.

“Sorry ma'am, didn't recognized you with the dress. I just arrived, and the leader from the Crimson Shadows replied,” Veronica's stomach roared “I'd say he's pretty anxious to meet you, ma'am. Now, pardon me.” He gave Veronica the letter, and exited the room, without an expression in his face. The woman sat on a chair close to a window and read the letter.

Dear Miss.

While I appreciate the interest, and concern, I will not be open to discussing matters that are private to my clan over letters, especially with a stranger, even one as friendly as you.

If you wish to speak to me regarding my clan, I will be in the White Shadows encampment as you receive this. Meet me there.

Sincerely,

Dastan Shaykh


It took a few seconds to Veronica read the letter, and a few more to she understand that the man named Dastan was already waiting for her. She walked to the kitchen, and asked for two sandwiches, She ate them in the way to her own room, where she took a traveling cloak. Less than twenty minutes later she arrived at the stables. The movement awoke the horses that were sleeping. Time passed, and Veronica exited the stables with her dark horse. The city's streets were quite, the sounds consisted of nothing but the horse's steps, almost no one to be seen. Veronica didn't cover her head with the hood, she wouldn't do it until she exited the city. The gates opened and the cold breeze met her head, her hair dancing with it as she saw the landscape. She wore the hood and shortly after that the horse started to gallop.



[White Shadows encampment, 2 hours before twilight]

The travel to the Blackhurst's ruins didn't bring many things. Veronica stopped twice to give water to the horse, and met no one in the way, except for a few birds. The encampment exhibited ruined walls and gates, and Veronica little knew what she would need to do to cross them. As she and the horse stood close to them a voice could be heard from inside, interrogating her name and what brought her to the encampment. The woman took a deep breath, she wanted them to hear. “My name's Veronica, I seek the man named Dastan, he invited me to come here.”

Dastan was talking with Alistair to pass the time, getting all the details he could out of the man, concerning his time away from the White Shadows, and everything that had been happening lately. Through him, Dastan discovered that Lena Turner had recently returned to Valcrest, which was very interesting. However when Dastan asked how the woman was doing and where she had gone, Alistair suddenly became nervous as if he wanted to answer, but wasn't allowed to. Before he had the chance to say anything, however, someone came calling for him, at the same time as one of the Crimson came calling for Dastan.

Waving over his shoulder at the former healer, Dastan followed his mercenary to a spot where he had full view of the gates, the man nodded towards the woman who was there. "She says you invited her here, Shaykh. Do you know her?"
"She called me by name?" Dastan asked, still watching the woman.
"Yes, sir." The man replied.

Dastan waved the man off and walked a straight line to the gates, stopping right in front of the visitor and looking her over before flashing a smile. "Well Miss, you look prettier in person than you do in writing, that's for sure." He stated, stepping out of the W. Shadows territory and retrieving all of his blades from a weapon rack near the gates. "I'm assuming you wouldn't feel comfortable giving up those pretty swords you're carrying, so why don't you walk with me a bit?"

The woman nodded and started to walk, she could eventually hear the man's steps in the snow. The landscape could have been beautiful once, but Veronica didn't know if it still was or the monotonous white gave her that impression. “My name's Veronica, but I'd prefer if you called me Zein.” The woman kneeled close to a tree and moved the snow close to it. She could feel that the sword at her hips just touched the ground. The dress poorly helped at warming her legs, and the boots were not suited for walking there. “You know, it's been a while since I've been away from Newhaven... I kinda miss these small moments.” She stood up, almost instantly cleaning her dress and hands. She could see that the horse moved to the encampment and the healers took him somewhere. Veronica turned around to face the man named Dastan. “But we aren't here to speak about me. Maybe you should begin?” She smiled, inviting him to follow her. Without waiting for any reaction she turned around and restarted to walk, her right hand starting to ache due to the snow.

"Zein, eh?" Dastan asked curiously. "Very well, Miss Zein... The respectful way to address a leader in my clan is by surname, therefore most of my kinsmen call me Shaykh. However, I always ask my friends to call me Dastan. So you may call me either one, depending on whether you prefer to be friendly or respectful." He said, watching her with only the corner of his eyes as he walked after her. "And I'm afraid we are here to talk about you, Miss. You contacted me, so it's only natural that I want to know who you are. I'm not about to go on about my clans affairs with you, a complete stranger, before I know why do you feel that it concerns a Lady from Newhaven such as yourself."

The woman still walked when she hear the last words, and yet she answered without moving her hear. “Ah... as rational as a leader should be. As you can see, the news about the recent... conflict between your clan and the Wolfpack recently reached Newhaven, or more precisely... the castle. And I've also heard that things are about to worsen and too much blood already fell in this earth. I'm here because I may be able to help you and your clan due to my position there” Veronica stopped walking and faced the man “I'm not officialy representing the castle, I'm here because I feel that something bad will happen soon or later and I also believe I can help due to my position as a...” The woman was facing Dastan “As a White Knight.”

Dastan's brown eyes narrowed and darkened as the woman mentioned she was a White Knight. His posture also changed to a far more tense one as he stared at her. "Miss Zein, as pure as your intention may be, or at least appear to be... Do you honestly believe that involving your city or its army into this will avoid any bloodshed? Your noble parents didn't teach you our beloved Land's history while you were growing up? Or perhaps the story is told differently in Newhaven..." He said in a slightly bitter tone. "I'll enlighten you: Your army's interference is the reason my city of origin is in ruins today. Newhaven and Blackpond turned Brightvale and Effort against each other, and now the Crimson are all that's left." He snorted angrily taking a step closer to the woman. "My clan is free. We live free, and we'll die free if it comes to that. So, unless you have one reason as to why I should believe this case to be any different from all the other times anyone from your city or its rival has offered me their assistance... Our conversation is done. The Crimson Shadows can fight their own battles, thank you very much. Newhaven and Blackpond have done enough for Valcrest as it is."

“My father tried to teach me that it was only safe where his money was, and since I'm actually here,” Veronica emphasized the last word, “it's pretty clear that he failed at that. The man that taught me everything I know died four meters away from me three years ago when we were fighting for the lives of thousands.” Veronica unsheated the longsword, quickly stabbing the soil. “His name was Jon, this sword belonged to him and I'm only alive because he died. When he was alive he taught me many things, three of them incredibly important. First, there are no coincidences. Second, Polarity rules the world. As you can see Shaykh, there's fire and water, darkness and light, active and passive, the wind and the earth, the Sun and the Moon and in a war there's always two sides. When the soldiers can't fight anymore or the leaders are dead the war ends, but there's always another war somewhere to peace exist somewhere. Things moved on at Blackpond and Newhaven, but according to the reports I've been reading in the last three days, and in my opinion Dastan, the bloodlust just moved from my city and Blackpond to the Wolfpack and your clan. It's just a matter of time to the active act and the passive react.” She saw the man opening his mouth to speak, but spoke faster than him “And third. Jon taught me that there's no better way to demonstrate that your intentions are pure than fighting for it. And here we are Dastan, I don't care if you use your Enlightenment, but if I win you're the one that will pay me a drink someday.” Veronica smiled, but that faded away as she unsheated the swords on her hips, holding them in a reverse grip. She cut the dress with the right sword while her left foot moved forward. Veronica spun both swords on her hands while the cloak fell to the ground. When the movement ended her breathing accelerated. “I'll give you ten seconds to start, and you know you can't say no to a duel, Dastan Shaykh.” She saw that the colors of his eyes changed, and that only motivated her to fight even more.

"Very well, Miss Zein..." Dastan muttered. He had turned his back already when the woman went on talking and challenged him to a duel, but he was never one to back away from a fight, it didn't matter how much he wanted to walk away, so he stayed put. "If that's how you want to play it." As he said that he turned to face her again, and got rid of the crimson red cape he had been wearing over his shoulders, revealing bare arms and thin clothing underneath. Even so, the cold didn't seem to bother him in the least. He unsheathed both his swords at once, holding them in a reverse grip, the tips of the curved blades nearly touching his elbows as he did so. "I'll tell you what I was taught: I was taught to be the best fighter I could be, and then push myself further. However, I fought more than enough to learn for myself that fighting proves nothing; not even who the best fighter is." He smirked slightly. "Have it your way though."

As he spoke his eyes darkened further and further and staring into them was similar to looking down at a bottomless pit; there was nothing there but sheer darkness. Beneath their feet, both their shadows moved on their own; threatening to rise at any moment if summoned. While the dark eyes and shadows gave Dastan an extremely frightening look, the man opened a smile as he corrected the grip on this right sword, lunging forward and aiming a slash at the woman's chest with it, keeping his left sword free to defend with.

While the man runned towards Veronica she laughed, “Anything for a nice drink, eh?” she moved the left sword, her arm and the sword making a V. When the man was close enough she spun on her right foot, if she timed correctly she would have corrected Dastan's sword motion. Dastan's sword was met by Veronica's, however, he didn't really expect anything different. He kept pushing the blade of the sword against hers, smiling at something over her shoulder. He summoned the woman's shadow behind her back, and an exact replica of her blade was now making its way towards the back of her neck. Veronica felt something moving close to her neck, she was blocking his sword with the left hand. “Oh, you...” she removed her left arm from the block while she dashed to the right. Her right arm and the sword making an arc from right to left. She could feel a small flow of blood falling from the back of her neck.

Veronica wondered if Dastan was a Shadow Manipulator when something cut her neck, the occasion confirmed it. She quickly jumped to the left as she saw her own shadow moving. "So that's your game?" Veronica laughed, still doing her dance with Dastan. "Not that impressive, well let's heat this up, shall we?" The woman run towards Dastan, raising her right arm to make a down-cut. She was aiming at Dastan, but the motion wasn't supposed to hit him. Dastan tilted his head curiously as Veronica ran towards him raising her sword. Calmly he sheathed his left sword and raised his left arm, placing his bare forearm in the path of the blade, a black shield appearing to protect it from the blow. However, feeling something move behind him, he'd forgotten one small detail; it was Veronica's shadow he had conjured, leaving it unattended would cause it to mirror the woman's movements... From the opposite side... "Bloody hell." He muttered as he turned on his heels to block the shadow with his sword. Walking backwards and removing both the sword and shield from the block, he quickly moved behind the shadow, making it stand between himself and the woman, before dispelling it.

"Let's make this impressive then, shall we?" He spoke, both his eyes darkening to pitch black, as the red cape he had discarded earlier rose from the ground, seemingly by itself, and flew towards Veronica's face. Dastan's exact shadow-replica launching itself at the woman with both swords.

"Your orders Shaykh?"

"Mercy." Dastan whispered.

"As you wish." Jon replied.

Having given orders not to aim for a killing blow, Jon slashed with both swords simultaneously, the right sword slashing at Veronica's abdominal area from right to left and the left sword slashing at her chest, from left to right. “Impressiv-” the woman had to cut her phrase to avoid the vicious motion. She dashed backwards, fast enough to avoid the shadow sword to meet her abdomen but slow enough to allow it to cut the dress. Watching that the shadow would be unable to make a move for a second she decided to try her luck. Veronica spun the left sword on her hand while her right elbow met where the chest of the shadow would be, the blade shortly following. Her back throwing both to the ground, the blade locking the cloak to the ground. Despite falling to the floor, Jon seemed unfazed by the hit to his chest or the blade pinning the cape to the ground, with one single rip, the shadow freed the red fabric from the blade and wrapped it tightly around the woman binding her arms with it. The shadow-swords now gone, Jon's hands now gripped the edges of the fabric, pulling on them slowly and gradually tightening its hold.

“Oh come on...” Veronica cut the fabric that held her left arm, almost breaking it within the act. She used her weight and strength on the right arm to pull the shadow and the fabric over her, throwing the remaining sword at Dastan, although she blindly aimed, it seemed that the sword would make the way to one the man's knees. Jon immediately turned his 'face' towards Dastan and vanished into thin air. Dastan had noticed the incoming sword a little too late and while he mostly managed to get out of the way, it nicked the side of his leg. Jon reappeared in front of the man, arms crossed over his chest in a protective posture.

"Mercy, still?"
"Yes. And did you have to ruin the cape, idiot?"
"I will take the Master's clothing into more consideration in the future." Jon replied, with a slight bow of his head, before conjuring a dark bow and arrow and aiming it at Veronica.
"Mercy." Dastan repeated, and the arrow was aimed at woman's left shoulder instead of her chest.
"How much longer are we playing this game, Shaykh? The Sun will be down eventually. The Moon is not our friend."
Dastan chuckled. "No need to take that long, now."
A soft snicker echoed in the back of Dastan's mind as the shadow released the arrow and advanced, now holding a double-scythe instead of the bow and following the arrow with a slash of blade to Veronica's legs. "As you wish Master."

When the shadow disappeared the woman rolled to catch the sword that should have held the shadow to the ground, she sheathed it and faced and tried to reach her longsword while Dastan and the shadow apparently had a dialogue. Veronica removed the longsword from the ground as the tip of an arrow cut a small portion of her flesh. She jumped backwards to avoid a hit from the strange weapon the shadow wielded. While jumping she hit the double-scythe with the tip of the sword, allowing her to enter the “Vom Dach” position, the sword made her movement, an arc from right to left that should have decapitated any living creature. She took a few steps to the right, adapting the position so the tip of the sword would face the head of the shadow. The woman smiled. “Well... he can't die, now I'm certain. But your leg shows me something else mister Dastan.”

Dastan raised an eyebrow as Veronica sword slashed across Jon' neck, however she shadow remained intact, as if the sword had cut through water. "If you weren't distracted staring at my legs this would be over by now, Lady." He joked. "Here's a few definitions of what a shadow is, Miss Zein: The rough image cast by an object blocking rays of illumination; An imperfect imitation or copy; A ghost, or phantom; A constant companion; a dominating presence or influence... I could go on." He said with a smile. "A shadow can be all of that and more, but it cannot be killed, because it cannot actually live."

As Dastan spoke Jon moved towards Veronica without order, hooking one of the blades of the scythe on the sword and pushing it downwards, spinning so that tip of the upper blade moved in the direction of Veronica's face, but stopped before it touched her, still bound by his orders.

Veronica's arms trembled, and she laughed, “Well, it was worth the try, but it looks like your friend cares a bit for you,” her left forearm and elbow met the blade and slowly started to pull it up. “Which is quite understandable, since without you he wouldn't...” she allowed the shadow's strength to pull the sword, guiding it so the blade wouldn't harm her head, “exist.” She spun and dragged the shadow with the sword, the scythe still attached to it. Veronica stabbed the ground with the sword, she spun again on her feet, unsheathing and throwing the short-sword, this time aiming to his shoulder. She looked behind, the shadow disappeared, the woman removed the sword from the ground and started to run towards Dastan, still laughing. “Count it as a courtesy, since I've the feel that you avoided my death twice so far, but I'm still not willing to pay you all the alcohol in the world.” When the man got in range Veronica made the arc, moving from her bottom left to her upper-right.

Dastan chuckled slightly as the woman managed to avoid Jon's attacks and throw a sword at him yet again. Jon disappeared like last time and reappeared next to Dastan just in time to block the sword. Dastan dispelled the shadow, however, while Veronica ran toward him, he unsheathed his short swords and holding the blade of his right sword pressed to his forearm he caught the blow of the sword, amusement all over his face as he took a couple of steps back. "All the alcohol in the world? Wow, my reputation is better than I though!" He exclaimed. Then he sheathed his right, sword, but kept his left one at hand, just in case the woman had too much of a competitive streak on her. "Tell you what: My camp is a lot closer than any Inn, and we have a good supply at hand, not the best quality, but plenty to go around. That'll save us both some coin and I much rather be drinking right now." He smirked and added. "I can always finish you off at another time."

The woman smiled as she grabbed the swords that were lying on the snow, sheathing them after a few seconds, making the same with the longsword. Veronica took a few steps back to get her cloak, wearing it as soon as she could. She turned to Dastan, the man surely walked fast. “Hey! Care to wait?! I'm not that fast!”

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“Please, you shouldn't walk with that injury,” the healer tried her best to speak politely with the man named Vane, but he surely was the most stubborn patient she ever had. “I said no, damn, it's been a week that I'm here! I'll go out for a walk and I promise” he tried his best to emphasize that word “that I'll be back in one piece, is that enough?” He barely waited the woman's answer to stand up and exit the tent. Vane was a tall man, with long black hair and a scar that moved from the end of his left eyebrow to the very end of his chin, seven days ago, in the woods, he managed to do the impossible. Be found by a wolf, while he was sleeping. Worrying that he might have acquired an infection, he walked to the White Shadows encampment as fast as he could. He laughed as he remembered the scene, waking up with a gray wolf biting his right leg. If Zein was there she would have punched him to death for being so stupid. The man walked with his black boots and pants, a white shirt and a heavy black jacket, these colors always remembering him his origins. Vane walked to close to the gates as he saw a horse that he had not seen in years, surely the animal knew him since he took a few steps toward the man, he petted the animal on the head, many questions about how he got there crossed his head when he heard a voice that he couldn't forget on his whole life.



Veronica followed Dastan to the gates, wondering how many hours the travel to his camp would take. She left her swords with the crimsons that protected the gate and vaguely spoke to Dastan that she would only pick up her horse and then they would travel to the camp. She checked the wound on her shoulder twice, it stopped bleeding, but would probably leave a scar. She saw her horse and walked to him, a man petted him on the head, he surely wasn't a crimson soldier, he quite remembered her of someone, a man that she thought was dead a long time ago. She started to scream and run “You bloody! gods damned! disgusting idiot!” Veronica was ready to punch him on the face, but as she saw the scar on his face the punch ended in a hug that threw both to the ground. Tears moved across her face, Vane was alive and well. “You idiot.”



The managed to laugh as he hugged Zein on the ground “Come on! The snow is cold! Now get up, it's been a few years last time I saw you.” The scarlet haired woman stood up and Vane shortly followed, the horse took a few steps away from the two, leaving a small trail behind him. “You didn't grew a single inch!” The woman giggled before answering him, “And you are still as fast as a rock!” Veronica wondered if she was in a dream for a few seconds, but then she remembered Dastan, his shadow, and why she was there, her smile faded. Vane noticed that, but before he was able to speak a thing Zein told him. “Look, it's a long history and I really need to travel right now. And I hope you aren't thinking that I'll let you here.” She walked to the horse, picking the riband, smiling.

“Right now?” Vane smiled, he couldn't withstand another moment in the encampment. “As if I'd ever allow you to go without me. But I hope there will be a battle in that place, just to show to you that I'm still the best archer in the world.” He walked at Zein's left side, the horse walking on her right. Dastan was still close to the gates, probably ordered a crimson to get his horse ready. “Dastan! We are ready to go, and this idiot here” she moved her head, making a motion to the man at her left, “is Vane. Probably the best archer that you will ever meet.” She laughed softly, keeping an eye on Dastan.

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The White Shadows seemed like a completely different clan after Lena passed through their encampment, even if she didn’t stay. Annie didn’t quite understand how her mother managed to make those people feel so safe simply by showing that she was alive and… Not well, definitely not well, but alive nonetheless. Her mother had left, saying that she had people she wanted to see, but giving her word that she would be back. The exact words she used, however, were not comforting to Annie in the slightest: “My life was here, only fair that I die here as well.” She had said. That sentence had disturbed Annie a little, she couldn’t deny.

“I heard Shaykh came here to see you.” Alistair’s voice sounded in her ears and broke her out of her thoughts.
“Dastan came to see me, yes. What we discussed, however, was confidential.” Annie replied. “Why do you ask?”
“He’s deeply disturbed. I’m concerned.” He stated simply.
“He is under a lot of pressure, can you blame him?”
“Oh, so it has nothing to do with…?”
“Confidential.” Annie stated simply, cutting off Alistair’s question. “You’re not a healer anymore, but I’m sure you still know the meaning of the word.”
“I’m sorry, of course.” He said, ending the subject. “What did you make of Lena though? She didn’t look so good.”
“Long trip.” Annie mumbled, not wanting to think about it much.
Alistair was going to insist, but a messenger interrupted. He gave Annie a letter and pointed towards a man, who was already leaving. He wore black uniforms from Newhaven. Annie gave an intrigued frown as she opened it, he eyes widening at words.

Anne Turner.

I don’t know how much you know about the events of four years ago, but due to current events I’m afraid I must be vague. This concerns a man known by many names but I believe you knew him as Perry. He had an item in his possession that made him very dangerous, especially those who might be sheltered in your camp; one that your mother asked me to be on the look out for. This item has recently been seen in the Blackpond Castle.
Things here have recently become complicated, but I promise I will do what I can.

Mageria Talsheir


“Al…” She mumbled. “This isn’t good.”
Alistair took the letter from Annie’s hands and read it over, his expression mimicking hers as he realized what it meant. “Goddess, have mercy… Not again!” The man ran his hand through his hair, pure fear in his eyes. “We need to get that bloody weapon out of the Castle.”
“We don’t know if the current owner knows how to use it, Al. We can’t overreact. If this person doesn’t know what it is, we can’t just draw attention to it.”

Annie’s attention was drawn by a loud and sharp whistle and by the Crimson Shadows responding to it by grabbing their weapons and beginning to run at full speed in the direction of the desert. One of them stopped and bowed before Annie, an apologetic look in his eyes. “I apologize in the behalf of the Crimson Shadows, Lady Turner, but we have been summoned back to our encampment.”
Annie hesitated, but grabbed the man’s arm before he walked away and took the note from Alistair’s hands and passed it onto his. “Give this to you leader. Tell him it needs to reach Allison or Evin as soon as possible. And it’s urgent.”
“Aye, Lady, I’ll make sure he gets the message.” The mercenary responded, running off after the others.
“Alistair…” Annie started after the mercenary left.
“You want me to go with them.” He chuckled.
“I can’t dispose of any healers, but then you’re not a healer, are you?” She smiled.
“That I am not.” The man stated. “I am taking your medicine kit, however.”
“Take whatever you need.” She told him.

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

[Desert , meanwhile]

Three Days Grace – Get Out Alive

Ali had a split second to make a decision, she could take a shot and risk having the tower crumble beneath her feet, or try to run down before another exploding projectile hit the stone below her.

Time seemed to have stopped and for a split second Ali remembered Evin’s words to her in their last day in the Wolfpack.

"It was said that Time could dodge lighting, the fastest thing known to man, but if you asked him to dodge the raindrops as well he just couldn't do it. They say he came close at times, but it was just impossible for him to be perfect. Sounds like a great way to train don't you think?" He smiled, looking directly in her eyes.

"Is that why you are out here in this weather? Because if Time himself couldn't do it, I'd say the odds are against you." She said, cracking open a little smile.

"Time was an interesting guy. He could literally stop or go back in time, yet he could never find the time to get everything done. No matter how hard he tried. Given time, he would have been able to do it. Don't count me out just yet."


Making a decision she aimed between the man’s yellow eyes and released the arrow at the same time as he released his, not waiting to see if she had hit him, but trying to make her way down the tower as fast a she could as yet another explosion hit it. There was just not enough time and Ali felt the ground crumble beneath her feet.

Everything went dark for a while. Pain invaded her body, but she found that, luckily, the blast had tossed her away from the crumbling rocks and face down on the sand. Her bow still firmly held in her left hand as she struggled to move through the pain. Faintly, the sounds of battle came to her ears and she enhanced her hearing, trying to tell footsteps and voices apart. A whistling sound cut through the air and she just knew it was coming at her. Forgetting the pain she rolled to the side and crawled away as fast as she could as the warm impact of another explosion pushed her forward one more time. Sand rained down on her and the arrow exploded on the ground, where her head had been just a moment ago. “Son of a bitch!” She muttered under her breath, not enjoying the fact that she was allowing herself to be hunted this way. “I’m not a wounded animal.” She muttered, her eyes lighting up in blue. “Don’t count me out just yet.”

A grin spreading across her features, a half-delighted, half-angered expression, she stood up straight and nocked an arrow, drawing her bow and holding it drawn; closing her eyes and waiting for that sound of the arrow being released; that all too familiar sound. “Come on, you bastard. Come on! Come on!” She muttered between clenched teeth, waiting for the sound. “Show me where you are… COME ON!” And then suddenly, she heard it. The ‘twang’ of the string being released, shortly followed by the whiz of the arrow cutting through the air, hissing as if the wood burned in mid air, definitely him. Ali released her own arrow, pinpointing the archer’s location by the sound, before trying to outrun the exploding arrow once again… This time the blast was a lot closer and it knocked her down, her ears ringing painfully as she tried to push herself up again. This time her arms gave out from under her and she slipped out of consciousness.

“I won’t die here.” That was all Ali could think of at the moment. She would have laughed if she had the strength. Five short years ago, she wouldn’t have cared to fight so hard; she would have welcomed Death with open arms and a smile… She would have welcomed the thought of seeing her family again. Her family was another now, they were very much alive and she would fight like hell to see them again. She wouldn’t die there. “Crys…” She whispered to herself, remembering that she was supposed to send out a warning if there was trouble. It was her one instruction… Crys needed to know.

. . . .

“Don’t bother.”

"I don't Ali. At this point I barely even care. I am warning you of one thing: This is it. If you refuse to anything he throws at you, or break the rules, I won't lift a finger to help you. You better believe me. If anything, I'll put you out of your misery myself. That's what you always wanted, wasn't it? So when you meet your brother on the other side you can go ahead and tell him he died for nothing, because you're too much of a coward to take a little pain."

Crys knew very well that was enough to set her off. No matter how fast Ali would come at her, she could block her easily. Ali was terrible in hand to hand, Crys was not. Even so, Crys took the first punch to the face before blocking Ali and pinning her face-down on the ground. When she spoke again it was in her most calm, and dangerous tone. "I've done all I could for you, Allison. When I brought you before my mother for the first time she said you were a wounded animal, the best to do was to put you out of your misery because you would never become anything. And I protected you because I knew she was wrong, but this is it. I can't hold your hand anymore. This is something you have to do for yourself. You have to decide if you want to live through the pain or die a coward."

. . . .

Ali chuckled. “I save your life and you’re a little bit proud?”
“I’ll be completely proud when you stop caring about what I think. I’m not your instructor anymore, neither are you ten.” Crys replied, snatching a bottle from a passing Crimson as they walked. The man didn’t seem to be bothered or insulted by the gesture at all, he simply laughed it off. “Love it how you can do almost anything to these guys and they just laugh.” Crys stated. “Try to snatch anything off an assassin and you’ll just lose your fingers.”
“Not entirely true. I did steal from you once.” Ali stated. “Remember?”
“Are we reminiscing, now?” Crys asked, laughing. “I caught up with you and if you weren’t just a little kid you would have lost more than just your fingers, believe me.” She stopped walking and turned to face Ali. “What’s on your mind?”
“Too many things at once, I’d say.” Ali replied. “Mostly, I’ve been thinking about how things changed so much in such a small time frame. When I’m not thinking that, I’m wondering what the hell we’re going to do now.” She smiled. “But I know you don’t want to hear someone else ask you that.”
“Why should I have to tell you that? The Pack is dismembered Ali, I’m not your leader anymore, there are no rules… You can do whatever you want now.”
“I don’t know what I want to do. I do know what I don’t want.” Ali said, seriously. “I don’t want to be alone again.”
Crys sighed. “We’re all alone when it matters. You know that. We’ll all die alone.”
“I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, Crys.”

. . .

“Advise your mercenary friends to reconsider their allegiance, Allison. Unless you want to witness yet another massacre…” He whispered. “How many more families can you bear to lose?”
She sighed softly. “Sean, you’d be surprised with what I can still bear. Just remember: the less I have to lose, the worse it will be for you in the end.”


. . . .

Another ‘twang’ followed by the whizzing/hissing of the fiery arrows alerted Ali that her opponent was very much alive despite her efforts to hit him. The sounds of blasts were followed by those of screaming women and children. He was attacking the temple where the civilians were. How was it possible that no one had stopped him?

Ali’s right hand filled with sand as she clenched her fist in anger. Before her eyes snapped open she heard his voice, muttering like she had. “Come on, wake up. Wake up. You’re better than this, Bright Eyes.”
Ali felt her heart stop for a painful moment. Only one person had ever called her Bright Eyes in her entire life… This couldn’t be happening. They were dead, every last one, she checked and re-checked… It couldn’t be true. Shaking her head and convincing herself that it was just a coincidence, Ali forced herself to stand and armed her bow again, aiming for the man she could now see, his fiery yellow eyes glowing as he relentlessly attacked the only safe place those people knew, releasing the arrow. He dodged her shot, quite easily, and turned to face her, walking in her direction, walking through the shadows of fighting men and women as if he believed they couldn’t touch him and indeed they hadn’t touched him… As he walked closer she saw in the light of those yellow menacing eyes a face that she thought she’d never see again. Older, changed, but unmistakably his. “AJ?” She mumbled, taking a couple of steps backwards in her shock. She wasn’t the only survivor after all, but what had happened to her friend? Why was he trying to kill her? She flinched again, and again she stepped back as she saw him strap the bow to his back and pull out a sword. He wanted to kill her.

[Flashback – Blackhurst ruins, a little over ten years ago]

“There you are!” A cheerful voice echoed through the ruins of Blackhurst as Ali found the person she was looking for in the temple. “AJ, why are you hiding here? Your parents are worried about you!” She scolded the older boy.
“They’re not my parents.” The boy replied with anger in his tone. “I have no parents, I’m an outsider!” He shouted, standing from where he had been sitting on the stone. “That’s all I’ll always be!”
“You’re not…” She mumbled. “AJ…” She slowly paced towards her friend. “Why are you so angry? What happened?” She asked. “Did someone mistreat you?”
“I’m not… I didn’t… I’m not Enlightened, Ali; Just one more reminder that I don’t belong.” He mumbled, obviously fighting to hold back tears. “They’ll never accept me now. I’ll never belong… I… I should just leave.”
“Everyone is looking for you, Andy.”
“Don’t call me that! It’s not my name!” He shouted out.
“It could be. You could belong if you let them in. You’re just scared, that they’ll abandon you.” She reached and touched his arm. “I like Andy, it suits you.”
“I’ll always be AJ.” He muttered. “I’ll never have a real name. Never, until I know the right one; that I promise.” His eyes were facing the stony ground of the former temple as he spoke, his fists clenched at his sides.
“AJ, please, let’s go back to the village… It’s dark…” She pleaded, the gentle touch on his arm turning into a slight grip.
AJ grabbed her hand to release his arm and pushed her away. “Stop pretending you’re scared, I’m not going back with you!”
Ali had fallen back with the push he gave her and now she sat glaring at him in anger. “Yes, you are, because I’m not going back without you!”
The boy glared back at her for a few moments, but soon his eyes softened slightly and he laughed in amusement. “Bright Eyes, you’re way too stubborn for your own good.” He sighed, offering a hand to help her up; she didn’t take it. He patiently waited for her to stand before starting to walk back to the village.


[Reality - Desert, present time]

That boy… That orphaned boy her neighbors had taken in… That non-Enlightened boy… How was it possible? Ali’s shock ended abruptly as she felt herself raise her bow to block the violent blow of a sword, a pained expression crossing her features as she heard the wood crack under the man’s force. He was pushing the sword with both hands against the bow and Ali could feel her feet slide back a few inches with force. She planted both her feet firmly on the ground and glared into the man’s yellow gaze. There was nothing there that she still recognized, it was a dead gaze. Abruptly she pulled back, letting the man’s own force bring him down to his knees; it gave her enough time to drop her bow and pull her daggers out of their sheets, lowering them to block his blade as he rose to his feet slashing upwards with the sword, towards her face. Again and again he advanced and she blocked him, in her mind she asked every single one of the Twins to bless Indrani a thousand times for all the training she had given her the past three years, hoping it would be enough.

Somehow he managed to push her more and more against the wall of one of the ruined building, she held both daggers between his sword and her face, his eyes pierced into hers and he spoke in a whisper. “You’re way too stubborn for your own good.”
Ali felt a sudden wave of rage wash through her at the words; son of a bitch… She had mourned his death as if he was family… Backstabbing piece of shit! She spat on him and as he flinched and pulled back she kicked him hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out him for a moment, and again he pulled back. Now Ali was the one attacking, numb to any pain, and to any reason; she wanted to hurt him, she wanted him dead.

AJ didn’t seem prepared for that kind of fury, he flinched a little bit more at every hit and eventually the sword was pushed aside by one of the daggers as the hilt of the other was smashed quickly and forcefully into his nose; once, twice, and then again until he lost his balance and fell on his back; the sword dropping from his hand. Ali quickly straddled his chest and pressed both her blades against his throat. “You’re not a Wolf. Who are you?”

The man laughed, giggled even, and seemed unable to stop for quite some time, his blood-stained face showed the most pure amusement, it almost made him look like the kid she once knew. “What tipped you off, Bright Eyes? I’m not one of those puppies, no! You really don’t understand, do you?”
“I thought you weren’t Enlightened.”
AJ spat at her words as if the word ‘Enlightened’ was the worse of insults. “I’m not.” He muttered. “That’s not what I am.”
“What are you, then?” She muttered in response. She wanted answers… She deserved them after everything.
“I… Am… A man-made beast… Not a Godsend freak.” He smirked. “You should have watched my hands, Bright eyes.” He told her, winking playfully.

Ali once again heard that hissing sound, coming from one of her pockets this time. “Son of bitch…” She managed to stand up and get rid of her coat, tossing it aside to explode in mid-air, but she had dropped her knives and her guard was way down. AJ took his shot, and tackled her down; his weight pinning her to the ground, he pressed his forearm against her throat, reaching for a dagger on his belt. “It’s time to go home at last.” He whispered.

Ali didn’t feel the blade as it sunk into her abdomen, but she realized what had happened when her voice came out in gasps. “Not… Going… Without you…” She grinned, pulling an arrow from the quiver at his waist and stabbing the man in the throat with it.

AJ gasped at the pain of the stab, choking and trying to catch a breath. Ali pushed him off of her; big mistake. AJ still had a firm grip on the knife he’d stabbed her with, and it was removed from her wound, intensifying the bleeding in her stomach. She ignored it, unable to feel the pain and the warm blood pouring from the wound. She reached to pull the arrow and end him, but he grabbed her wrist and let out a few hoarse words. “The… Order…” He said. Pulling on his shirt he exposed a mark branded onto his chest; a symbol of what appeared to be an eye with a sword stabbing through it. “For…Give…” He never managed the next breath and Ali never managed to pull out the arrow… They both slipped into absolute darkness.

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

Dastan had momentarily lost track of Veronica as he asked one of the men to retrieve the horse he had rode from the desert. His camp was only about an hour and a half away in a relaxed pace so he wasn’t in such a hurry. Night was falling and he had been away all day, but he was sure Indrani could handle the camp without him just fine. His eyes caught a message that was brought in for Annie at the gates, just as Veronica came by, bringing along a man who he assumed was a friend. Dastan examined this man for a brief second before grinning at her statement. “Oh, I don’t know about that Miss Zein… I happen to know an archer who would certainly disagree with that. Me? I believe my eyes much better than your word, no offense.”

As he said that the Crimson he’d asked to gather his ride arrived, holding a light grey mare by its reign. Mirage wasn’t, in any way, the most beautiful of Indrani’s horses, but perhaps for that particular reason she was the most loved by a far and Dastan would often refer to the mare as the most spoiled creature in the planet. She was also, by a far, the fastest; reason why he asked to take her. The mare snorted softly in protest as he mounted and he chuckled. “Aye, must you always call me fat, you spoiled little beast?” He said playfully, gently patting the horse’s neck. He was still laughing slightly when one of his men ran into the encampment, ran a straight line to him ignoring his company. The man seemed to be in a panic and as Dastan leaned over to hear his whispered words, he fell into a panic himself… Even if all that showed on his face was pure rage. Placing two fingers in his mouth the Crimson leader let out a sharp and loud whistle that echoed through the plains; calling his men for battle. He glanced at Veronica and there was no hint of his usual playfulness as he spoke. “Apparently the active side has acted.” He looked at Mirage absently stroking the animal’s neck as he added. “I’m afraid they won’t like my reaction.” That said he kicked at the animal’s sides urging her to run at full speed in the direction of the desert, leaving behind a group of startled mercenaries gathering weapons to follow him on foot.

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

[Desert, about 45 minutes later]

Dastan reached the ruins of Brightvale to find a full blown battle at its peak. His eyes quickly scanned the ruins and he noticed that the tower of the fire temple had crumbled and several other half-destroyed building had now been destroyed completely. The Crimson flags that marked the mercenaries’ territory were in flames and everywhere his people were dying.

His eyes caught Jackson and he rode straight to the man. “Where is Indrani?!” He asked, dismounting and allowing the startled horse to run its way towards the mountains; knowing that she’d come back later when it was quiet.
“She left with a couple of horses, said she needed to visit a friend in Newhaven… I didn’t quite believe it, but didn’t question.” Jackson informed, causally pulling Dastan out of the way as an arrow flew by and returning the shot with an arrow of his own. “Crystal and Evin are also away at the moment, Allison was the one ordering the assassins around, but I lost track of her a while ago.”

Dastan simply nodded at the man, unsheathing his weapons and running into battle; cursing himself for making so much use of his enlightenment with Veronica… He’d need to wait a while before using it again.

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Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Annie Turner
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[1 Month Later - Middle of the night]

"Hello Luckas." Lena's voice sounded soft as she heard the footsteps enter her tent. “I was expecting you.”
"You know why I'm here." He stated simply.
"I do. I see you have fulfilled your part of our agreement... To a certain point at least."
"So I have." Luckas answered. "I did everything you asked of me, and then some, so I'd say it's about time you repay me for the trouble."
"Can you assure me you will finish it though? I'm not sure I trust you to keep your word once you get what you want."
"I always keep my word." He muttered.
"I'm not so sure... Maybe you're more useful to me if I keep you ignorant, huh?" She said, a little snicker escaping her.
"What are you saying?" Luckas asked, not seeming amused in one bit. "If you go back on your word, I swear..."
"What? What do you think you can possibly threaten me with?" She laughed. "You can't intimidate me, Luke. If I want I can hold this over your head indefinitely. What can you really do to stop, or punish, me?"
Luckas' eyes narrowed and sparkled red dangerously. He didn't really understand what was happening here, but he wasn't amused by it at all. "Is that a challenge, Witch? Because I may not be able to affect you with my ability but I can use it on, say, your daughter."
"You won't. You don't have it in you... You never had, Luckas. See that's the big truth in this whole story... It doesn't matter how hard you try, you'll always be a scared little boy, sitting in a corner begging for his mommy. In the end, you'll always be someone's pet, because you're too weak to function without someone on the other end of your leash. You're too scared to do that."

Luckas was shivering from head to toe now; this was too far, way too far... "You're crossing the line, Healer." He muttered out.
"Good. Maybe it'll be easier for you to pretend you're not just following yet another command." She replied. "Go on Luckas, obey your Master if you're man enough to do it, or must I hold your hand through this as well?"

It all happened in a split a second, and a blur. Luckas felt something inside him snap.

[Flashback - Wolfpack Camp, approximately 32 years in the past]

“What are you up to now Helena?” A voice called from behind the black haired girl as she had her eyes caught up in a book.
“Why would you assume I’m up to something Eldric? I’m reading.” She said, not looking up at the older boy.
“Sure… You have been reading the same page for over 30 minutes though.” He stated, sitting next to her near the camp fire, letting the bow he was carrying rest beside him.
Lena didn’t say anything; she simply nodded discretely to where her mother was arguing with two guards. “Wolf Hunters.” She muttered.
“Hum…” Eldric, mumbled. “Where is Dani?”
“She ran off somewhere. You know what she is like… Always hiding around and avoiding the drama.” Lena answered with amusement. “She better do that while she still can.”
“By drama, you mean responsibility, right? You are way too soft on your sister, Lena.”
Lena looked up from the book and frowned at him. “Are you, by any chance, saying I have been giving Dani special treatment on her training?” She asked. “Because if you are, I’ll have to take that little twig you call a weapon and toss it into the fire.”
“I’ll just make myself a better one if you do.” He laughed. “For what it’s worth, that wasn’t what I meant. I meant that pain is what really teaches you… And she hadn’t had enough of it quite yet.”
Lena chuckled. “Wait for it. Just wait.” She stated. “So, this whole thing about the two of you getting married, what is the story behind that?”
Eldric sighed. “Well, I told my father that it’s just crazy. Dani is still a kid, they can’t be serious. He said it would be an honor, and all that same talk. They can’t really force me into this now, can they?”

Lena shook her head and sighed. “Naivety is such a dangerous thing. Surely, Dani is now too young to get married, but they’re really just giving you the chance to get used to the idea. Neither of you has much of a choice here.”
“She is six years younger than me.” He frowned.
“Won’t matter so much when she is eighteen, now, will it?” Lena muttered going back to her book, now actually flipping the page.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll still see her as a little kid when we’re fifty.” Eldric said, with a little snicker. “An annoying little kid.” He added.
Lena snorted a laugh. “Sure.” She mumbled, not paying him much more attention.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” He asked.
“My beliefs are unimportant here.” She answered, being careful to turn the page of the book, but clearly not reading.
“Hum.” Eldric mumbled. “If I didn’t know you any better I would think you are jealous.” He whispered, leaning towards her to try and take a peek at the book.
“Piss off.” Lena muttered, aiming a punch at him.

Eldric saw the blow coming and managed to block it, grabbing her wrist and twisting her arm, in a way that would immobilize her, but not hurt. “Fast, but not fast enough.” He said, with a small chuckle.
“Not yet, you mean.” She laughed. “If I really wanted to hurt you, believe me, you would be on the ground.”
“Care to test that theory, little girl?” He taunted, taking the book from her. “Myths of Medicine?” He read.
“I’d be delighted to prove that theory.” She said, taking his moment of distraction to break free from his grip and elbow him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him and causing him to fall to his knees, trying to catch a breath. Lena knelt down in front of him and smiled. “I don’t make empty threats, little man. Only idiots do that.” She took the book out of his hands. “Deep breaths.” She told him, smiling.
Eldric took his time to catch a breath before getting back on his feet. “You never seemed to me like the type of person who likes to study.”
Lena chuckled. “I’m the type of person that does anything to improve. You should know that by now.”
“How does a medical book help you improve?” He asked.
“If you know the right places to hit, you can kill twice as fast.” She stated simply. “Or cause twice as much pain.” She added, with a little smirk.
“That is a rather evil use of medical knowledge, isn’t it?” Eldric asked, picking his bow off the ground where it had fallen over.
“There is no correct way to use knowledge. Once you obtain it, it is yours to use, Eldric.” She stated. “You should try studying a little yourself. You don’t want people to think of you as just a pretty face. Now, do you?” She said with a little grin.

Eldric was going to answer, but then he winced at his father’s voice. “ELDRIC!” The boy sighed. “He sounds angry.”
“He always sounds angry when you talk to me. Haven’t you noticed?” Lena asked, raising a brow at him.
Soon her mother’s voice followed Eldric’s father, although not as loud. “Helena!” She sighed as well. “Suppose that is the end of my free time.” She frowned. “She only calls me by my full name when there’s an assignment waiting.”
Eldric nodded, noticing his father was walking towards them. “Will I see you when you get back?”
Lena nodded. “Probably. Here…” She handed him the book. “Maybe you’ll stop getting beaten by little girls.” She whispered, while passing him towards the leaders’ cabin.
“I always let you win.” He stated.
“Liar!” She laughed turning and walking backwards towards the cabin.

Lena's eyes caught Eldric’s father grabbing him by the shoulder and dragging him home. She frowned and turned back towards the cabin when feeling herself getting close to the door. “Judgmental prick.” She mumbled, opening the door and walking in.
“Did you say something Lena?” Her mother asked.
“Nothing. Just thinking aloud.” She said, putting on a fake smile. “What do you need me for?”
The red haired woman before her smiled kindly, before putting a file on the table. “This is your target.” She stated. “You have three days to kill this man before he delivers privileged information on Newhaven to the Blackpond army. Obviously… Newhaven authorities do not wish to get involved. They called for us.”
“Why not let the Black Knights handle it then. It’s their job to do Newhaven’s dirty work, not ours.” Lena stated with a frown.
“They are not very discrete, however, and the consequences of a Knight being caught assassinating a citizen would be catastrophic.” Her mother explained.
“At the same time, if I was to get caught, then the same Newhaven authorities that hired me would simply kill me where I stand and be considered heroes. Correct?” Lena asked. “How beautiful society is!” She exclaimed, holding down laughter and taking the file from the table. “I’ll be back before morning.” She announced, turning around and heading for the door.
“Helena.” Her mother called, causing her to stop at the doorway. “You need to make peace with the fact that some decisions are simply out of your hands.”
Lena sighed, lowering her head for a second then responding. “I’m beginning to realize that more and more these days.”

[Flashback – Wolfpack Camp, approximately 31 years in the past]

Lena was walking around camp, aimlessly. She had been giving Dani a little bit of a lecture on the lies she had told and was still telling. It was noticeable that this would eventually blow up in her face and she was slowly beginning to regret her compliance to not tell their mother the truth of the matter. Suddenly she stopped when she spotted the boy named Bastian sitting at the edge of the nearby lake. She walked up to him and simply stood next to where he was sitting.
“You really don’t like me, huh?” He asked casually, not turning to face her.
“I don’t care enough to dislike you, which is why you should consider yourself lucky.” She told him simply. “I don’t trust you though, which is why I will be keeping both eyes on you, especially around my sister.”
“Dani is really your sister? You don’t look alike in one bit. She and Sarah look alike, but they don’t look like you.” He stated absently, still watching the water.
“Why are you here?” Lena asked, ignoring the question. “And don’t lie to me, or I swear I’ll make you pay.”
“That would be highly entertaining.” He stated, standing up and turning to face her. “Believe me; I’m not as easy to take out as I look.” He smiled. “Even for someone like you. So, make me pay if you think I owe you something, we all have debts we must pay one way or another, but think very carefully on whether I do in fact owe you something, or if maybe you’re the one in debt. I don’t intend to lie, and the truth is: I see no reason why I should give you any answers.”
Lena glared at him. “Excuse me?”
“You’re excused... For this, at least.” Bastian said, smiling. After a moment or two of silence he chuckled. “You know, sometimes it’s easier to get what you want by playing nice. I don’t hold this attitude of yours against you though, I’m sure it usually works. Doesn’t work with me though, I’m not easily impressed, or intimidated. So, would you like to maybe rephrase your questions a little? No? Then I guess I’ll go make myself useful somewhere…”
Lena frowned, half amused, half annoyed by that attitude. As Bastian started to walk past her, she grabbed him by the arm. “Do you play chess, kid?”
“Never played, no.” Bastian answered.
Lena let go of his arm and turned. “Would you like to learn?”
“Why would you teach me anything?” He asked her, raising an eyebrow.
"Do you want to learn?" She repeated.
Bastian seemed to flinch for a split second, it was the first time Lena had ever seen that in him, and it was intriguing. Finally, he nodded gently. "I'm always willing to learn."
Lena sighed, walking past him. “Just follow me then, and let’s leave the ‘whys’ out of this for now.”

[6 months later]

It was the middle of the night. Lena was asleep, soundly for the first time in months, exhausted from training recruits all day. That was when something seemed to change in the sounds of the camp. A silence that was just unusually cold. Something was just not right, and before Lena could open her eyes, she knew what it was. A familiar voice screamed in the distance, and was silenced almost immediately. In the time it took Lena to get on her feet and reach her weapons, mere seconds, more screams had broken out through camp. The ones coming from the recruits’ dormitories were particularly terrifying. She stormed out of her cabin and followed the sounds of fighting. The Instructors’ dormitory was up in flames, as well as the armory and several other important installations. The fires seemed to have been set strategically on those specific points; this was a planned attack.
As the shock began to settle, she unsheathed her sword as spotted one of the attackers leaving the leaders’ cabin. She stopped herself before going after the man, the need to see if there were survivors surpassed the urge to make him pay. So she turned her back to the fleeing Wolf Hunter and ran into the house, feeling as if her blood was freezing in her veins as she came across the scene.
Dani and Bastian were both sitting on the ground, Dani’s arm was bleeding, but she didn’t seem to even notice her own bleeding wound, she was holding Sarah in her arms, and the girl was… Clearly dead. There was a pool of blood on the ground, where Lena imagined the body had fallen. Bastian was sitting next to her, with one hand grasping her shoulder as if he had been trying to get her to move. He looked Lena in the eyes and nodded apologetically as she walked all the way into the room and closed the door behind her. She knelt down beside Sarah and closed the little girl's eyes. “Daniela.” She whispered. “She’s gone. You need to let go now.”
Dani simply nodded in response, laying Sarah’s body down on the ground slowly. Lena took the time to observe Dani more carefully. Her face was pale and she was shivering uncontrollably. “Bastian, find Eldric and tell him to gather any wounded and put them in my cabin.” Bastian nodded and stood up to leave. As he walked past Lena she added. “After you do that, we are going to have a serious talk.”

As she heard the door close, Lena moved closer to Dani and started to examine the wound on her arm. “This isn’t so serious.” She mumbled to herself about the wound. “You need to tell me what happened.” She told Dani as she stood up to find a medicine kit their mother kept in the office.
“I woke up when Sarah screamed and… When I got up she was…“
Dani’s voice faded before she could reach the word ‘dead’. Lena froze halfway through reaching for bandages, when it finally hit her. “Dead.” She completed the sentence as she walked back next to Dani to find her standing up and moving towards the door. Lena moved to block the door. “Hey, wait, let me at least bandage that wound.”
“I’m fine.” Dani mumbled in response trying to get past her.
“You’re not fine.” Lena stated, grabbing both her shoulders and pushing her away from the door. “And you don’t want to see what is out there right now.”
As she said that the door opened behind them and Eldric’s voice sounded in her ears. “Twins have mercy… Sarah.”
“Close the door Eldric.” Lena muttered, still trying to hold Dani back. She moved her hands to the sides of the girl’s face and forced her to look her in the eyes. “Dani, look at me. Look. At. Me. You have to stop and take a breath, do you understand me? You have to stop now.”
Dani stopped trying to leave shaking her head out of Lena's hold, her eyes lowered to the ground, tears finally starting to run down her face. “She was just a kid, she never hurt anyone.”
Lena nodded pulling her sister into a hug as she finally started to break down. “I know… I know.” Lena sighed softly, unable to find any more words. Her eyes locked on the small figure laid on the bloody floor. Sarah’s innocent face was cold and pale and her once bright blue eyes were now closed and empty. Her short life had ended over absolutely nothing: A pointless and unnecessary death. “Animals.” she muttered. “All of them.”
Dani nodded in agreement, still crying on her shoulder. “I’ll kill them for this. Every last one of them, I swear. Even if it’s the last thing I do, they’ll pay for her death.”

[The following morning]

Light was starting to break through the branches of the forest trees as the Sun arose in Valcrest once more; a beautiful morning like no other, but not for the assassins. The Wolfpack never slept, tears, blood and screams filled the night. The sight of the dead recruits had been enough to break the spirits of the strongest amongst those so called ‘cold blooded killers’. Only two instructors remained: Lena and Eldric. Her luck was that she didn’t share a dormitory with the others, and Eldric seemed to have been wandering around camp when the attack occurred, unable to sleep. The recruits weren’t so lucky; their dead bodies were all accounted for. Their leaders had been taken out, leaving a rather traumatized 17 year old in command. Dani didn’t even seem to realize the amount of weight suddenly dropped on her shoulders.

Lena had left Dani under Bastian’s watch. Funny enough, he seemed to be the only other person who was able to stop her from storming out and attempting to go on the killing spree she seemed to have promised herself. It was a bad idea, they all knew it, but it seemed like it would eventually happen nonetheless. Lena would have stayed with Dani herself, wasn’t for the fact that someone needed to take control, and the instructors were the highest ranked assassins aside from the leaders, so… There was quite a bit of work cut out for her.

Most of the night was spent carrying bodies of recruits for burial, speaking to the parents of those born in the clan, those were things no one else seemed willing to do, but someone had to get it done. Grieving parents and dead children aside, there was cleaning of the burning facilities, rebuilding to be planned and executed, and yelling to be heard from terrified actives who didn’t seem to understand how they were so easily infiltrated. By the end of it all, there was only one thing Lena wanted for herself; and that was to be alone. The lake had always proven to be a good retreat, so that is where she went first. As she sat down near the water, with her back against a tree, she finally felt the exhaustion take over her body and mind. It felt painful and, at the same time, it was a release. A much needed rest as a well as the dreaded moment when she finally had to think of what had happened, what was happening, worse of all: What was about to happen.

The pain getting the best of her, finally, the tears escaped her blue eyes as she hid her face in her hands and let out a scream that was sure to be heard throughout the camp, her eyes glowed a bright blue light as the memories of the night before resurfaced one by one in her mind. One by one, the painful moments were relived, over and over, and over in what seemed to be a never-ending nightmare... Until she finally felt a firm grip on her shoulder. A vaguely familiar voice sounded in her ears, calm and warm. “Child, control yourself.”
Lena opened her eyes to find the leader of the White Shadows looking at her with a rather terrified expression that didn’t quite match the calm tone of his voice. For a second she wondered what the man had seen, but most of all… She wondered how he managed to free himself from the vision. After a second or two of silence, the man spoke again. “When was the last time you had something to eat?” He asked her.
“I-I don’t know.” She told him, trying not to look up to the other people who had now ran into the clearing and were shooting her terrified glances. She kept her gaze locked on the man before her, until he stood straight and offered his hand to help her up.
“Come, you need to regain some of your strength.” He told her, not waiting for her to accept his aid and grabbing her wrist to get her to stand, walking her across camp past a few small crowds of terrified people and to the cafeteria. As Lena got on her feet, she realized she felt awfully lightheaded and weak, but she managed to stumble her way past the actives, that immediately backed away when she walked near them. She simply nodded at them, she knew they had no idea what that hell had just happened, but knew she had done it.

She followed the healer into the dining area, she didn’t usually go there, but she didn’t argue with that or the bowl of soup that was already waiting for her, she simply sat across the table from the man, honestly wishing he would just stop looking at her.
“When was the last time you had an episode like this?” He asked, that same calm tone of voice.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lena muttered in response.
The man nodded. “Still playing dumb Helena? You just gave everyone in this camp a very realistic vision of their worst nightmare. Now, I refuse to believe this is the first time you lose control like this.”
“Eight years ago. That was the last time.” She mumbled, starting to pick on the food.
“What triggered it?” He asked.
“None of your concern.” She said, starting to eat so she wouldn’t have to talk any more than necessary.
“I’m not concerned.” He explained. “But you must know that this will keep happening if you don’t learn to manage your ability.”
“Humph.” She mumbled.
The healer let out a small chuckle. “Well, I guess that means you feel better.” He said, starting to stand up. “Listen kid, this can be dangerous one day. I believe you are smart enough to understand that.” The healer took a small bow as he walked past her. “May the goddess protect you, child.”
“A little too late for that, don't you think?” Lena muttered to herself, pushing the bowl of soup aside and laying her head down on the table.
"It's never too late, Lena Turner... Not until you give up." The man's voice sounded, as if whispering in the back of her mind. Lena lifted her head and looked around the cafeteria to see that he had in fact left.

[Two days later – Middle of the night]

Lena was making her way out of camp, for the last time, when she eventually heard footsteps following her. “Unless you want to follow me all the way to Newhaven, Eldric, I suggest you go back now.” She said, stopping and turning to face the man that had stepped out of his hiding place.
“Please tell me you at least said goodbye to your sister.” He said with a frown.
“Dani knows I’m leaving, we already… Discussed it.” She told him. "I did not say goodbye, however. Goodbye is something you say when you leave a person, and I'm never leaving Dani, she knows that, even though right now it may not matter as much."
“Why are you doing this? Whatever happened to that kid who wanted to be the best? This was your life.” He argued.
“She’s dead, Eldric: Dead and buried. That life is over.” She nodded. “I’m sorry, but I can’t take part in this crusade Dani is insisting on. I can’t. It’s too much even for us and she will regret it one day. I told her so.” She stated with a disappointed look in her eyes. “See, I’ve learned something about the Wolf Hunters, funny enough, Bastian taught me this: We all pay for the decisions we make and the only way to stay sane is to draw a line. They crossed it, one way or another they’ll pay for this, why must we become like them and pay for it as well?” She took a step towards the man and laid a hand gently on his shoulder. “This is where I draw my line, El. I’m done. The Pack has been good to me, but this is where we part our ways.”
He nodded. “What about me?”
She smiled at him and pulled him closer. “…You? You are going home now. That’s all.”
“I mean... Are you leaving me?” He stated.
Lena seemed to freeze at the question, freeze at the fact that it was being asked this way... Why would she be forced to decide this now, like this? Finally she heaved a shaky sigh. “We both know that, no matter what, you love the Pack more than anything.” She answered. “Some things are just… Out of our hands. This was always one of them, no matter how badly we wished it wasn't.” She told him, placing both hands on the sides of his face. Pulling him a little bit closer, she pressed her forehead against his, and whispered. “I’ll miss you. You know that.”
Eldric sighed. “I already missed you, it seems.” He whispered back, leaning into her as if she was the only thing keeping him from falling.
Lena chuckled softly, glad that it was too dark to tell if there were any tears being contained behind his eyes. "Goodbye, love." She stated. "We'll always have the knowledge that I can kick your ass."
Eldric couldn't help a shaky laugh as he pulled away from her. "If I didn't know you any better, I'd offer you anything just to make you stay with me."
She smirked. "If I didn't know you any better, I'd say it would be easier if you just came along, but we both know where those paths would lead us, and it's best if we not go there." Turning back towards the path to Newhaven, she waved over her shoulder. "Keep an eye on those kids for me."

[Flashback - White Shadows Encampment, 29 years in the past]

“Concentrate.” The healer’s voice sounded in the young woman’s ears. Lena was trying to shield her own memories from a far more experienced telepath, with little success. Suddenly the image of the Wolfpack encampment flashed through her mind: A conversation by the lake; her graduation day… The knife… That whole conversation was uncomfortable… She didn’t want to be there anymore… She couldn’t get out…

Panic…

Can’t breathe…

Darkness…

“Wake up.” Lena heard her master speak in a calm and gentle tone, yet she could still feel the disappointment masked behind it.
“W-what happened?” She mumbled, now realizing she was flat on her back, the memory of what had just happened slowly coming back to her… She panicked, her heart began to pound against her chest, and she couldn't breathe right… Finally, she fainted. “That didn’t go very well, did it?” She asked, beginning to sit up, groaning as she felt the ache in her head.
“What happened?” The man asked her suddenly.
“I don’t know, I think I might have… lost focus.” She muttered, rubbing her temples.
“No… I mean, what happened that day, by the lake, with your mother. What did she say to you that was so terrifying?” He clarified.
“I wasn’t terrified.” Lena protested, looking up to the man seating on the grass in front of her.

The healer laughed in response. “You can’t fool me with your words, child. I saw it in your eyes: You panicked. All you wanted to do was get out of that memory. Yet, your mind keeps dragging you back to that moment in your life. You may not know it, but your mind knows it: That moment was very meaningful.”
“Bullshit.” Lena muttered under her breath, trying to control the shivers down her spine.
“What did we agree on?” He asked her, severely.
Lena sighed at the question. She hated being treated like a five year old. “That I wouldn’t run away from anything anymore.” She mumbled, looking at the ground for a moment before closing her eyes. “I don’t want to go back there.”
“Why not?” He asked. “It’s in the past, it shouldn’t be able to hurt you, and if it still does, then it’s not truly in the past.” He paused for a second, waiting for her to calm a little more, before asking: "What was so important about that conversation?"

"That's when she told me." Lena murmured in a barely audible tone. "What happened to my birth mother."
"I see... And were you angry?" The man asked.
"I was furious." Lena said, looking up at him. "She had no right to do that to me."
"Kill your mother, you mean?"
"No. Tell me the truth." Lena replied. "I mean... I knew the truth, but I deserved the right to at least pretend. She took that from me that day."
"She loved you Lena. She thought you deserved to hear the truth from her." He stated.
"She felt guilty!" Lena exclaimed. "She didn't care how that would affect me, she did it to ease whatever bit of conscience she had left!"
"You don't think that was difficult for her? Telling the truth and not knowing what your reaction would be, whether you would hate her for it or not?" He asked, his eyes locked on her. "Can you imagine what it might be like to confess to something like this to someone you love and face the possibility of losing that person forever?" He asked, giving Lena a moment or two of thought before adding a less rhetorical question. "Tell me: How does her death make you feel?"

At those words, Lena simply stood up and began to walk away. That was just about as much as she could take in that moment.

"You have to stop running, Helena." She heard her Master's voice call after her.

[1 year later]

“Why her? A former assassin, of all people, why?”
“Helena is no longer an assassin, she is a healer. I’ve made my decision based on what skills I believe are important in a leader.”
“And this… Child, fits the criteria, Jonathan? Seriously?”
“Not yet, but she will.”
“Better than any other of our clan?”
“Better than anyone else I have known; including myself.”

. . .

Lena was seated, remembering the conversation that had taken place in front of the entire camp, only a few weeks ago, when the man named Jonathan Witter had announced her as his successor in the command of the clan. The day she arrived, the man had said that he could help her, but it would cost her… If only she knew this was what he meant.

Since then she had studied night and day, worked on developing her ability, survived initiation, made friends and enemies alike, and above all else… She had lives in her hands; so many of them she couldn’t possibly keep track, so many faces that it was impossible to completely remember a single one. So many stories cut short by the cold hands of Death…

“One day you’ll understand that Death is not the enemy, child.” Her Master had told her. “Until then there will be pain.”

The White Shadows preached that the only type of Peace that was actually real was inner peace. To be in peace with oneself was never an easy task, it was something only few people had managed to achieve; even amongst the Shadows. True inner Peace to them meant complete and total acceptance of the fact that some things are simply impossible to control and therefore cannot be helped. It sounds easy, but it wasn’t. Lena was almost sure she would never understand that concept in her lifetime.

“You’re still a child now, but don’t worry; you’ll see it eventually.” A faint voice spoke in the dark room, forcing the young woman to raise her head and face her mentor as he lay ill.
“Stupid old fart!” Lena muttered. “Get out of my mind.”
The man attempted to laugh, but it was interrupted by coughing and he was forced to stop, taking what seemed to be a very painful breath. “Stop thinking so loud.” He replied, in a weak voice.
“You can’t just leave me here.” She mumbled. “I can’t lead these people. I don’t know how…”
“You will know how. You will know everything in time. Just remember what we agreed on.” The man told her. “Finish what you start, keep as many promises as you can, do everything in your power, and accept the fact that some things are simply beyond it.” He coughed a little more and added. “Do that and trust your instincts. You’ll be fine.”
“How… I can’t even…” Lena sighed; irritated at the fact she couldn’t even find the words to voice her concerns. She wanted to accept the fact that her leader was going to die, that she had done all she could, she wanted to accept, like she had been taught, but it was just too difficult when she was so frightened and angry.

“You will always be angry, child. The beauty of Heart's gift is that it was never something for us to control. One day, maybe soon, maybe later, you will have seen enough of Life to comprehend the fact that Death is not and will never be the villain of this story. Then you will be able to accept, but there will always be anger, even if only for a moment. No one wants to see the end, even if it is inevitable.”

[5 months later]

"Hello. I hear you're the leader of the clan now and... Excuse me?" Lena flinched slightly as a hand was waved in front of her eyes. She turned to see a smiling blonde woman, who seemed to be no older than her early twenties, staring at her a little confused, and her light blue eyes showing clear amusement. "Are you alright, Miss...?"

"Turner." Lena replied. "Helena Turner, you can call me Lena." She stated opening up an amused smile of her own. "I'm sorry, I'm perfectly alright. I was just a little bit distracted, it's been a long morning. What can I help you with?"
"Amanda Blake." The blonde woman introduced herself. "That is my husband, Michael, over there." She pointed at a tall man with dark brown hair carrying a longbow at his back. Michael was casually chatting with a couple of healers in what seemed to Lena like a very friendly tone, laughs could be heard from the small group from time to time, and they all seemed to be a reaction to something the man had to say. Amanda waited for Lena to look back to her before she continued to speak. "John Witters had an arrangement with the villages, are you aware of said arrangement?"
"I am aware of all my responsibilities, Amanda. Master's death was not as sudden as rumors seem to tell." Lena replied with a slightly saddened smile. "He had more than enough time to prepare me."
Amanda nodded, noting the slightly defensive tone in the other woman's voice. "He was leader of this clan for over thirty years, Lena. It won't be easy to take his place, I understand that. They will resist you at first, but don't let it get to you... People just tend to dislike change."
Lena chuckled. "Thank you for the support... Uh... Person I just met."
Amanda giggled softly. "Well, it's noticeable that you are under quite a bit of stress." She stated casually. "Were you born around here?"
"I was born in a village called Rosefeld. I have no memory of the place, however. I only lived there the first two years of my life."
"Ah... That's my village!" Amanda seemed to beam with excitement. "You should come visit us some time! It's truly a beautiful place." She gave a little playful wink. "Besides, what kind of a Leader do you expect to be if you don't know your neighbors, Mistress Lena?"
Lena had to laugh at being called that. "Oh, please don't ever say that again. It sounds way too strange." She chuckled a bit more. "Just Lena is fine, alright?" She asked. "And I will be sure to take your advice. I wouldn't want to be a terrible leader, now would I?"
Amanda chuckled. "Alright, if you prefer it. My friends call me Andy, actually, for shorts." She informed, opening a playful grin. "And I will hold you to that Miss Lena."
Lena raised an eyebrow in amusement. "I see, so... Am I your friend, or should I just keep calling you Amanda?" She asked.
Amanda chuckled softly. "Whichever you decide, Lena." She answered, smiling kindly at the other woman. "On my end... I'll always welcome another friend."

[Flashback - Blackpond, 22 years and 5 months in the past]

"I got it mommy!" A little girl's voice called, followed by the sound of running footsteps on the other side of the wooden door.

"Jessica, wait, don't open the door to strangers!" A woman’s voice called after the child.

The door cracked open and a little eight year old girl with bright green eyes and light brown hair peeked through it. Lena smiled and waved in greeting, causing the girl to chuckle and wave back before calling out. "Mommy, stranger!"

"I told you to never open the door, Jess!" Linda scolded on her way to the door, but her frown disappeared the moment she looked at the person who was standing on her doorstep; a wide smile crossing her features, as she pretty much pounced on the healer and trapped her in a tight hug. "I can't believe you're here!"

Lena chuckled softly, returning the hug and at the same time pushing her friend back into the house. "A little less noise, please. I'm not supposed to be here, remember?"
"Sorry..." The woman laughed, breaking the hug to close the door of the house. "I just didn't think you would show up."
"Me neither." Lena replied with a little chuckle. "But then, I couldn't miss the opportunity to meet my niece and nephew."
"Jakey is sleeping." Jesse informed, now peeking at Lena from behind her mother.
"Is that so?" Lena asked her. "Well, then I guess we should be very quiet, huh?" She crouched down to meet the girl's eye level, and smiled. "Say, you are Jessica, right?"
"Maybe." She answered, glancing up at her mother and then back to Lena. "Depends on who's asking."
Lena chuckled. "Oh, I see. Well... Can you keep a secret?"
"Uh-huh." Jesse answered, nodding.
"Well, see, your daddy is my brother." Lena told her.
"Really? If that's true then how come I don't know you?" The girl asked, in a suspicious tone.
"Jessica..." Linda sighed.
Lena laughed. "No, no... That's a fair question." She stated. "Well, your father and I had a fight, a long time ago, and he's still mad at me. I think, he'll probably be mad at me forever."
"Forever is a long time to be mad." Jesse stated.
"True. So, are you Jessica, or not?" Lena repeated the question.
"Yes, I am." The girl answered. "And what is your name?"
"Helena. You can call me Lena, it's shorter." She smiled. "So, seeing as you are Jessica, then I have something for you."
"Like a gift?" Jesse asked, a hopeful tone in her voice.
"Yes, exactly like a gift." Lena answered, pulling a small leather pouch from inside her bag and offering it to the girl.
Jesse took the little pouch and opened it, her eyes lighting up in excitement as she pulled a thin golden chain and a gold locket from it. "It's so pretty!" She exclaimed. "Can I really keep it, really?"
"Sure you can. It's a gift." Lena replied.
Jesse was simply bouncing with excitement. "Look mommy!" She said, immediately putting the chain around her neck.
"I see, love. It's very beautiful. And what do you say?" Linda asked, pushing her daughter out of her hiding spot behind the skirt of her dress.
Jesse cleared her throat as if she was preparing to make a speech and said. "Thank you Lena, I love it. I'm never taking this off, ever!"
"Good. Because you know, this locket is really special. I was told that it's blessed and if you wear it all the time, then the Twins will watch over you."
"And you believe everything you're told?" Jesse asked curiously.
Lena chuckled, standing up straight and giving a light shrug.. "If it's good, why not?"
Jesse laughed. "Even if it's silly?"
"Faith can be a silly thing sometimes, but it makes people feel safe. Do you understand?"
Jesse nodded in agreement. "I think so." She answered, although her expression made clear she didn't. "You're a healer." She pointed out, tugging on the sleeve of her robes. "Are you the healer that saved mommy's life?"
Lena raised an eyebrow at her friend, slightly amused. "Oh, goody. You still tell people that story."
"People? I told my daughter that story, yes. It's a good one." Linda chuckled. "Yes, Jess, this is the lady who saved my life."
"Cool!" She exclaimed. "Can I be a healer too when I grow up?"
Lena laughed. "You know what? If your father says it's alright then you can." She replied, giving a little playful wink before changing the subject. "So, tell me, do you like having a little a brother?" Lena asked.
"It's okay. He doesn't do much yet, but he giggles and it's cute." She said casually. "I still want a little sister though." She added, frowning slightly.
Lena chuckled. "Jess, give your mother some time. She can't take care of so many kids at once."
"Why not? I'll help!" She smiled.
Linda laughed, running her fingers through her daughter's hair gently. "I know you will, love. Maybe when Jakey is a little older, Okay?
Jess let out an impatient sigh. "Okay." She agreed, running into the kitchen. "I want cinnamon cookies, then!"
Linda chuckled. "Children settle for so little, huh?"

[Flashback - Blackpond, approximately 20 years in the past]

Lena was surprised to get a letter from her brother, even more sense the letter simply instructed her to meet David underneath the oak tree in Blackpond. She didn't understand why her brother had the sudden urge to see her all of a sudden, but something was telling her that it wasn't good.

"Have you seen Linda?" David's voice sounded behind her in a low whisper.
"What?" Lena turned to face the man prepared to scold him for having her go all the way there for this, but the moment she laid eyes on him she realized it wasn't an accusation, he was sincerely hoping she would say 'yes'. "What happened David?"
"I don't know. I got home last night and Jess was alone with Jake. She said Linda had gone to the market and hadn't come home. I have people looking for her, but I hoped..."
"I haven't seen her in a couple of years. She hasn't sent me any letters lately either. Where are your kids?" She asked.
"They're fine, Nate's wife is watching them. You're a telepath, can't you find her?"
"My enlightenment doesn't work that way, I'm sorry."
"I don't know what else to do, I..." David stopped what he was about to say next, looking over Lena's shoulder. She didn't look to see who it was, and she was sure that, whoever it was, wasn't bringer of good news. The man walked straight past Lena and reached David, placing one hand on his shoulder and leaning in to whisper something to him.

Lena didn't have to hear a word, it was clear in David's eyes that something had just been taken from him, shattered painfully. The look in his eyes said it all, and she knew her friend was gone forever. "What happened?"
The man turned to face Lena, but didn't say anything until David said it was okay, then he explained that Linda had been found in the woods not far from the city walls, stabbed, her coin purse missing. "Looks like she was robbed, but... It seems excessive force for a coin purse."
"People do more for less." Lena mumbled, her eyes still locked on David; he had sat by the oak, face hidden in his hands. "Can I see her Nate? I want to see her." He mumbled. "No wait, I have to go see my kids... What am I going to say to them?"
Lena sighed heavily, rubbing her temples as she spoke. "Look, why don't you go see her and I'll talk to them? Seeing you like this won't help them."
"I can't ask you to tell my children their mother is... That she's..."
"Dead." Lena finished. "You didn't ask me anything, and I give people news like this every day, it's a great part of what I do, unfortunately."
David hesitated, but he simply didn't have it in him to argue with that. "Alright."

Lena was slow on the way to her brother's house, not only was she in no hurry to do this, she also needed to let her emotions out of the way before she got there. Usually she would want to see the body, the only reason why she had asked to do this instead was because she knew David would have a meltdown, and she thought it'd be better if he didn't have it in front of his kids. By the time she reached the doorstep it had started to rain, a thin cold rain, the type that would eventually freeze when winter came for good. As she knocked on the door of the house a familiar voice sounded. "I'll get it!"
"Jessica, wait!" A female voice called after the girl, but whoever it was didn't stop Jesse from reaching the door. "Lena?" She asked. "What are you doing here?"
"Still opening the door to strangers, I see... You know that's dangerous don't you?"
"I thought it was Nate..." She mumbled apologetically. "What are you doing here?" She repeated the question.
"I'll tell you, but first, can I come in?" Lena asked.
"Sure." The girl answered, stepping aside so that Lena could enter the house, and closing the door after her. "You're here because of mom, right?"
"Right." Lena answered, following Jesse into the house.
Jesse glanced to the living room where a blonde woman was playing with her little brother, attempting to act as if nothing was wrong and shook her head. "My room." She stated, leading Lena down a small hallway and through the door of her bedroom. She then immediately cleared a small mess from a chair and motioned for Lena to take a seat.

The moment Lena sat down and faced Jesse, seated on the bed across the room, it was perfectly clear that the girl already knew what she was going to say. A fact that was confirmed when Jesse broke the silence.

"She's not coming back, is she?" The girl asked; a very serious tone in her voice.
"No, she's not coming back." Lena confirmed. "I'm sorry, kid."
"Where's my dad?" She continued.
"Your father has some arrangements he needs to make. He'll be home soon though."
"You mean... Funeral arrangements, right? I knew... I knew something was wrong like that. I... I knew mom wouldn't just leave us alone. She always said where she was going so I would know she would be back soon... I should have called Nate when she didn't come back right away... I shouldn't have waited for dad..." Jesse shook her head, tears forming in her eyes as her voice faded for a moment. "What happened?"
"They say it was robbery." Lena stated.
"They say? You don't think it was?" She asked.
Lena frowned slightly. She'd forgotten how damn smart that kid was. "I don't know, I don't see why it wouldn't be. I just don't know for sure, that's all."
Jesse seemed to settle for that, and she nodded her agreement. "What do I tell Jake? He can't really understand what happened."
"Your brother is too little to understand, you're right. Just tell him something along the lines of 'mommy is in Heaven now' and explain that she won't come back. He'll miss her at first, but he'll adapt. When he gets old enough to ask question you can tell him the truth."
Jesse nodded again. "Do you think he'll forget her?"
Lena sighed softly. "I think... He won't forget as long as you're here to remind him."
"Will you... Will you have to leave when dad gets home?" Jesse asked a slight hopeful tone in her voice.
"I will. I'm sorry, but I'm sure your father will still want me gone the moment he comes to his senses again."
Jesse nodded, although disappointment filled her eyes as she started to fiddle with the golden chain around her neck and mumbled. "He's barely ever here anyway."
"Jessica, listen to me... You know where to find me, and how to reach me, yes?" Lena asked.
"Yes." She answered.
"Then you're not alone." She smiled. "Have you decided it yet?"
"What?" The girl asked, looking at her in confusion.
"Have you decided if the locket protects you or not?" She asked.
"Oh, of course it does." She stated, a little smile breaking through. "Why else would I wear it all the time?"

[Flashback - Blackpond, approximately 16 years in the past]

It was raining and the rain was just so familiar that it ached. Lena was silently watching as a group of men and women dressed in Guard uniform paid their respects to their fallen Captain. It wasn't for the death of her brother that Lena had come, as much as it hurt to know that she had never managed to get him to forgive her, and that he was gone, she didn't walk all the way to Blackpond simply to say her goodbyes. Rather, she was there to see that his children were taken care of. Within a few minutes her eyes caught a small boy standing in a daze, nodding slightly as several people passed him giving kind words and patting him on the shoulders. Not far from him was his fifteen year old sister. Lena was distracted watching the children, and didn't watch her surroundings the way she should, a voice brought her back to reality in a growl.

"Get out."
"Nathaniel... Nice to see you." Lena replied.
"Get out, now. You're not welcome here." Nate insisted.
"I'm not going anywhere, I stayed away to respect my brother's decision to not have me in his life. He had that right Nate, but his life is over now. So I kept my promise."
"As long as he, or anyone who owes him loyalty still breathes. As you can see, Healer, I breathe." The man muttered.
"Still." Lena stated with a little smirk. "Life is fragile my friend."
That did it for Nate, as soon enough he was shouting at Lena to leave in the middle of the funeral, drawing everyone's attention to the two of them. Lena simply stood watching the man yell with a raised eyebrow until Jessica came and stood between the two of them.

"Nate, that's enough." She stated, glaring at the man. "You're making a scene and this is a cemetery." Nate glared at Lena with pure rage in his eyes, but didn't say anything more, and simply walked away. Jesse waited until the man was far enough to smile at Lena . "What did you say to him?"
"Whatever do you mean, kiddo?" Lena asked faking an innocent look. "He's upset, it’s good for him to yell at someone." She stated simply. "So... How are you holding up?"
"I don't know yet." Jesse replied with a small shrug. "I think I should be more upset, like when mom died, but I... I'm just tired."
"That's the toll Death takes kiddo. The more it takes the less you feel."
"The less you feel the more it takes." Jess added. "I know that saying too, Lena. The White Shadows are full of them, mom used to say."
"I'm sure she did." Lena replied with a slight smirk. "Listen, kid, you know that if things get too rough over here you can always come live with me."
"In the Plains?" Jesse chuckled. "Oh, I don't know... It's so peaceful. I might not get used to it." She then sighed and shook her head. "I appreciate it, I really do, but I can't really imagine leaving Blackpond despite everything. It's... Home."
Lena nodded in agreement. "I understand that, but keep it in mind, huh? Yes?"
Jesse nodded. "I will, I promise." She stated. "Right now though, I need to think about taking Jake home and feeding him some dinner. Do I dare ask you to stay and eat with us?"
"No, I can't... I've been away for too long already. I only stopped by to check on you, now I have to go." Lena smiled. "Home, you know?"
"I do." Jesse nodded. "I certainly do."
"Alright then, kiddo..." Lena said, pulling the girl into a tight hug. "You'll take care of yourself, right? I don't need to worry about you?"
"You don't, but you will." Jess snickered. "I'll be fine, Lena. I can take care of myself."

[Flashback - Village of Rosefeld, a little over 10 years ago

“You don’t believe me either, do you?” Amanda sighed heavily as she watched Lena’s expression. "I know what I sound like, but I’m not paranoid. I know what I saw, Lena.”
“You know what you saw, but do you know what it means?” Lena asked. “I mean, you’re interpreting things a certain way, but… Are you sure that what you saw isn’t just a coincidence?”
“It might be, but I don’t believe it. There are too many signs, too many similarities. We are being watched by them. They prey on our weakest links, they turn us against each other, and they break us from the inside. And… And if they reach this village, then my family will be the first to die.”
“You are saying that…?” Lena asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I never say that. Nor will I ever say it.” Amanda replied. “When my father died, he made sure I got away. He told me everything I needed to know. Even though his mind was no longer reliable enough, he sometimes recognized me, and even when he thought I was my mother, or someone from his childhood… He’d tell me things. I believed in those things. I looked for signs of it being truth, and I found them.” She chuckled softly, looking at Lena with amusement. “I know what you’re thinking: Did I find them because they were actually there, or were they only there because I wanted to find them?” She shrugged. “I don’t know, and I can’t know. I’d rather believe this than risk my family out of fear of being called a fool.” She smiled. “That’s the reason why I’ve called you here. You’re the person I trust the most, not the mention the smartest friend I have. I know that even if you don’t entirely believe me, you will do this for me…” With that said she stood from her seat by the kitchen table and walked out of the room, leaving Lena to stare at the doorway with an intrigued look on her face. As she returned, he had a book with her; a plain leather journal. She placed the book on the table before Lena. “The seer has told me that… She told me that when they do come for us, one of my children will get away… If so, then I would like that child to have this.”
Lena took the journal and put it in her bag without arguing, but sighed. “Why don’t you leave the village then?”
Amanda ignored the questions, shaking her head slightly and leaning back in her seat. “Just promise you will keep the book safe.”

[Flashback – Wolfpack Camp, approximately 4 years in the past]

“How are you holding up?” Lena felt the stupid question coming out of her mouth the moment she crossed the door to Dani’s house, unwillingly, like an extremely nasty habit she thought she had managed to get rid of years ago.
Dani snorted slightly in annoyance, a trace of a smile crossed her lips, but very well concealed. Leaning against the wooden table in the office, Dani stared at Lena for a very long moment before breaking her silence. “Been a while.” She stated simply, ignoring the question.
“It has.” Lena agreed, taking a seat in a nearby chair. There was almost no light in the cabin, and Dani didn’t look like she had slept in a while.
“Here.” Dani pulled a piece of paper from the table. “Myths of Medicine… That’s the book you gave Bastian, isn’t it? What is on this page?”
Lena’s eyes widened and she muttered a curse under her breath, crushing the paper in her hand.
“What? What does it mean?” Dani pushed. “Lena… What does it mean!?”
Lena didn’t answer, she had let the paper fallen to the ground and hidden her face in her hands, leaning forward as if something ached deeply. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry…” She let out a low growl before uncovering her eyes to face Dani. “I had him… I had him all this time! He was right under my nose, but I didn’t… How didn’t I see?” She stood up rubbing her temples, reviewing years of memories of one single individual and finding all the signs she missed. It was so clear!
“You’re saying this man is from your clan?” Dani asked, her expression closing into a severe one as she glared at her older sister. “Who is he?”
“Not as important as who he used to be…” Lena sighed. “He was one of yours Dani. A long time ago he was brought to my camp severely wounded, I recognized that he was Wolf, but I also recognized the knife lodged in his back as the weapon of a Wolf… I decided not to send for you. I allowed him to stay… Become one of us… I gave him access to our files, our knowledge…”
“Perry?” Dani muttered, her glare turning more intense. “I searched for him! You never told me anything! Why…” She stopped herself and took a deep breath. “Confidentiality, fine. How did he get past your enlightenment with all the lies he surely told?”
“I don’t know.” Lena stated. “I honestly don’t know, but there are ways to get through any enlightenment and we study these things… It’s part of our training to know enlightenments and how to manage them.”
“No one ever got past you before… And Alistair… He’s an empath! How did he safely hid in your camp while killing all those people? How is it possible!?”

"I don't know how he did it Dani. What do you want from me?" Lena was shouting, she knew better than anyone just how badly mistaken she had been; for years. She couldn't understand how it happened.
"I want you to explain to me, how a man infiltrated your clan with the intent to murder and neither you nor Alistair caught on to him!" Dani exclaimed. "I'm not accusing you of anything, that would be pointless, but I need to understand."
"I don't understand!" Lena shouted again. She had never been fooled, by anyone, in her entire life. She wasn't a bleeding heart, she didn't fall for sob stories. She only valued people that had been able to prove their worth. This man had, and still... He was nothing he had made himself out to be. "I don't...Understand." She sighed, hiding her face in her hands. Dani was the only person to ever see her in this state, she had only been in such a state two times before. Dani's hand grabbed her shoulder and Lena heard her sigh before breaking the silence. "You can't blame yourself for this." She stated.
"I saved his life, trained him, and gave him every information he needed to hunt those people and kill them. Don't patronize me, every life he took is on my hands. Your husband's life included!"

A loud thud caused Lena to raise her head. Dani had slammed her fist on the wooden table. "Don't ever repeat that. Never. Do you understand? We have walked this path before, you know where it leads!" She sighed. "Don't ever repeat that." She asked in a softer tone.
Lena nodded. "Well... He better pray you find him before I do. I swear, I don't even know what I would be capable of if I ever lay my eyes on him again."
“Well, now we know who he is” Dani stated. “That’s something… We can go to Newhaven and offer his head for their bounty to be lifted.”
“So I assume you’re going to tell them? You have a group going after this man, so you should tell them who he is, right?”
Dani kept silent for a while then she replied. “No.”
“No!?” Lena exclaimed. “Aren’t they supposed to know what they’re dealing with?”
“No… Evin shouldn’t know about this yet. Not until he sees…” She sighed heavily. “If I tell Crys, she will tell him… No. I’ll only tell Theron, he will look after the others. It’s better this way.”

Lena spent most of the day with Dani and they talked of several things, unpleasant things of the past and of the future. She manage to talk Dani into food and exhaust her into sleep, but she herself was wide awake. Slowly she made her way out of the cabin and to the memorial, she could remember the day the first grave had been placed in that clearing… When Bastian had silently helped her bury Sarah’s body and decided he would mark her grave. Now she stood before his, holding a very simple offering in her hands. “My friend… I owe you so very much…” She whispered. “I’m sorry you had to meet you end this way, you deserved better, but I’m sure you were only thinking of letting someone know what you saw. Now we know, so thank you for that final effort.” She smiled a faint small looking down at the flower in her hands. “Please, brother, ask the Twins to forgive me one more time. I pray it’ll be the last.” As those words escaped her lips Lena clenched her fist around the rose she held; thorns sinking into flesh of her palm, blood staining the white petals before they were released over the resting place of Bastian Rivers. Lena snickered; knowing that he would have appreciated the gesture. “For your amusement…” She whispered. “Until we meet again, my friend… Goodbye.”


. . . .

Luckas' hold on Lena's wrist never weakened for a second, and even though they might have stood there for only a couple of them, that's true, it felt like hours to him. His eyes began to slowly fade back to black, still wide in shock as he stared into hers; the blue light slowly fading... Fading fast... He quickly stepped forward to catch the woman as her legs gave out on her, eventually kneeling down with her, finding he was too weak himself to bear her weight. "What did you make me do?" He whispered, unable to understand what had just happened.
Lena chuckled; her voice was weak, too weak. "You... Foolish boy. Have you forgotten what happened last time?"
Luckas winced, he did remember the last time he tried to trap Lena in an illusion... It was the first time he ever remembered something: The voice asking if he was alright. This, however, had felt much different.
"Our deal is concluded, boy." Lena whispered, a small chuckle escaping her. "I hope it was worth the effort." She heaved a little sigh as her eyes closed in exhaustion. “Try to remember…Promise…”

Luckas finally let Lena fall. He tried to reach for her again, but he ended up holding onto to his head with both hands, feeling his sight blurring and pain invading him as if someone was repeatedly driving nails into his eyes and temples. The pain eventually drove him to his hands and knees, his sight finally turned completely black. His own blood chilling scream was the last thing Luke heard before the visions began to flood his mind and take away any grasp of reality he might have left in him; although, that scream was surely just the first of many yet to come.

[A couple of hours later]

"NO! GET AWAY!" A shout echoed through the plains followed by the sounds of fleeing healers running in every possible direction away from the entrance of the tent. It had been that way for hours. No attempt of dialogue has managed to get through and attempting to enter the tent was too dangerous to even consider right now.
The healers had been woken up by the young man's screams. The first person to attempt entering the tent had been grabbed by throat and driven into madness within seconds, he was still being restrained. Two other healers were injured as result of being commanded to swallow a lit torch. One of them would definitely not make it.

"No, no, no... Annie, you can't go in there! No!" Alistair tried to argue with the girl, but immediately flinched when she stopped in her tracks and turned to glare at him.
"I'm not sending anyone else in there, and Luckas... He won't hurt me, not willingly."
"Unwillingly is more than enough to get you killed." The man argued.
"He's not seeing what's going on around him, he's trapped inside his head. We can't expect him to listen unless we know just how to get through. And I don't expect anyone else here to try and do that, because it would be a disaster."
"We can remove him by force. Your mother is still in there, we don't know if she's..." Alistair stopped himself before the sentence was finished, but the damage was done.
"IF she's dead, then we'll have to figure out IF he killed her, but one step at a time." She told him. "You stay here." She added, placing both hands on Alistair's chest to stop him from following after her.

As she approached the tent she took a deep breath to try and keep her tone calm. Truth be told, Annie was never afraid of Luckas, unlike the other healers. She even thought he was funny in a way. He'd never done anything to make her see him as a threat... Until now. She wanted to go back to that place where she wasn't afraid and he wasn't a threat. She wanted to find out what was happening without anyone else getting hurt, including him.

Carefully, Annie stood by the entrance and called. "Luke, are you alright?"
No answer. At least it was better then 'get away', that was progress.
"Luckas... Can I come in?" She asked. "I want to see my mother. Is she alright?"
That seemed to get a reaction out of Luckas, although it was the last thing Annie wanted to hear. "I didn't kill her! I didn't! I didn't... I couldn't have... Or could I? Did I? I can't, I don't remember... I can't remember..."
Annie didn't say anything more, she simply walked inside the tent to catch the sight of Luckas curled up on one corner, mumbling to himself, his eyes were the usual black color, but she could see them moving from side to side without rest as if searching for something. It was visible he had no idea where he was or what was happening anymore... He acted exactly as one of his victims would within a few hours of being attacked. Managing to keep a distance between herself and Luckas Annie walked to where her mother lay, a blanket had been placed over her in such a way that it made it almost unnecessary for Annie to check her pulse, but she forced herself to do so either way, hoping Luckas was too out of his mind to tell if she was actually dead or simply passed out. There was no pulse, however, and Annie felt the pain of realization finally hit her; Luckas' ramblings of whether he had or not killed her turning into blank noise in the back of her mind as tears filled her eyes.

"I didn't kill her! I didn't! I'm not a liar! I'm not a liar! I'm not!" Luckas was still mumbling to no one in particular. "I closed her eyes, and I gave her my blanket and then they took her away! They took her away! I don't want to be alone in here! I can't be alone in here!"

Annie honestly didn't want to listen anymore, but it became clear that Luckas wasn't talking about her mother, although it did explain the blanket. "Who?"

"I don't know who! I can't see them! Why can't I ever see them?"

Annie sat down on the ground, turning so that she was facing him. Luckas was curled up into a ball practically, his forehead touching his knees and both hands gripping the sides of his head. "Who did they take from you?" She asked.

"Sammy.... She wasn't supposed to go down there... Never, ever, go down there... She'd always come though... Everyday. She'd always come..." He let out a shaky sigh. "One day they caught her... And they took her away... They said I killed her! I didn't kill her! I should have made them stop... Why didn't I make them stop? Why didn't I say something? I could have just said ‘stop’, why didn’t I say stop?"

"Luckas... Do you know where you are?

“Stop, stop, stop…” The mumbles were turning unintelligible again.

There was no answer. Luckas had gone back to not listening, and now he was mumbling incoherently again, the only thing Annie could understand of it all was the he said he needed to get out. Which was confirmed when he stood up and started to walk out, still holding the sides of his head and rambling. She didn't try to stop him, doing that would be suicidal even for her. Outside she could hear Alistair shouting at the healers to let him go and not touch him. Soon enough the man's footsteps came closer and closer until they were right behind her. A shaky sigh being his only reaction to the dead body of the woman who raised him. "Is he responsible for this?"
"I don't know. He most definitely did not kill a girl named Sam, though." Annie replied with a small shrug.
"What does that mean?" Alistair insisted.
"It means he's completely out of his mind and running loose, that's what it means. Which way did he go?"
"Towards Newhaven."

Forcing herself to leave her mother's side, Annie stood up to search the tent for pen and paper. She then scribbled down a letter and handed it to him. "Mageria Talsheir."
"Why her?" Alistair asked, raising an eyebrow.
"She's the only one who can stop Luckas without killing him." Annie explained. "And I want him alive and lucid. I want to know what exactly happened here."
"I'll send our fastest enlightened to her, then. She should get the message by morning" He said, leaving the tent without another word.

Annie heaved a shaky sigh and sat back on the ground next to her mother. She knew she would have to move some time, soon, but right now she just couldn't do anything more than sit there.

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Luckas Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Annie Turner
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When Jake arrived in the White Shadows camp, Alistair was already there to greet him; one look into the empath’s eyes and he knew it had actually happened. It was real, even if he didn’t want to believe. He let Shadow ride past the man, before pulling on the reigns to stop the horse, his head hanging low as an overwhelming feeling of defeat washed over him; his hand clutched the golden locket through the fabric of his shirt. Pain and rage washing through him in waves that made him shudder where he sat in the saddle. He never thought Lena’s death could hit him this hard… Hell, foolish as it may be, he never considered he would see that woman dead. It always felt like she would always be there, but that was stupid… No one could be there forever… Everyone dies eventually. He heard Alistair’s steps coming closer and heaved an unexpectedly shaky sigh as he addressed the man. “What happened?” Jake asked, slowly dismounting and turning to face the former healer.
Alistair shook his head slightly. “We’re not sure… It was in the middle of the night… And she was alone with Luckas… She might have been trying to recover his memories, or he attacked her, but we might never know for sure.”
“Luckas?!” Jake growled. “Luckas has something to do with this?”
“We don’t know what happened, Jake.”
“I’m going to kill that little maniac the moment I lay my eyes on him, I swear!”
“You don’t want to swear to something like that, Jake.” Alistair scolded. “It’s NOT what Lena would have wanted! She believed in him, and she believed in you. Destroying both of those beliefs at once is a poor way to honor her memory.” The man sighed and placed his hands over Jake’s shoulders. “Mourn her. Don’t think of anything else until you have. It will only make the pain worse.” He warned.
Jake shook his head trying his best to shrug Alistair’s words away in his anger. “Where is she?”
“Still in her tent. Isaac is keeping watch, because Annie…” He sighed. “I don’t think it has begun to sink into her… What happened…”
“Can I see her, Al? Please?” Jake mumbled, rubbing his eyes wearily, trying to stop the tears from forming in his eyes.
“Sure, I don’t see why not.” Alistair answered with a little nod, leading Jake towards the encampment by the shoulder. “So, where have you been? Annie says she hasn’t seen you in over a month.”
Jake shrugged. “I’ve been a little bit tied up in Blackpond, nothing too important.” He answered. “What about you? When did you come back?”
“A little before Lena did…” He sighed. “I didn’t want to really, but… She came looking for me one day, said that it would be nice if Annie had someone to help her out right now and… Well, you know how convincing she can be.”
Jake nodded quietly as they approached the tent, Alistair let go of his shoulder and went inside ahead of him. A few seconds later Isaac stepped out, patting Jake’s shoulder as he passed him, and Jake made his way inside.

Lena was lying in a sleeping mat, a white sheet covered her body up to her neck; her eyes were closed and she actually looked as if she was asleep, as if she would wake up at any moment, and perhaps that impression only made things worse; he had to remind himself over and over that she was not coming back. Alistair was standing in a corner of the tent in silence, head hanging low as if he could barely stand to be there, still he stood because it was tradition that another healer stayed with the body at all times; and it didn’t matter to him, or to anyone, that neither Lena or himself were currently part of the White Shadows, he would stand there until Isaac, or another healer returned.

Jake didn’t bother to ask Alistair to leave, shooting one small glance at the man where he stood, and immediately noticing that he was trying his best to keep his emotions in check; he was silent aside a quiet prayer escaping his lips and reaching Jake as only soft and incessant whispers, but no clear words. Words held little meaning in a moment like this anyway, they brought little comfort.

Jake heaved a long weary sigh as he watched the woman’s face, after a moment he kneeled next to the body whispered softly. “You were right.” He choked on a bit of laughter as the words came out as if they caught him off guard. “I promised myself that as long as we both lived I would never admit it, but now I can: You were right... About everything. And I wish I could take back some of things I said, but you know I didn’t mean it, so it doesn’t matter, I suppose... I guess... I’m just trying to say that I get it now... Time won’t stop for me and I have to stop putting all the things that matter on hold for later, because later just might be too late. I hated that logic because it made so much sense... I hated you because you wouldn’t let me have an excuse to be dumb and irresponsible like I wanted... I hated you for being right, and I hated you for never telling me the whole truth about anything... I hated you for leaving... I... Hated... You...” Jake muttered out, his voice breaking as tears began falling from his eyes.

Some time had passed and Jake hadn’t moved from Lena’s side when he suddenly felt someone’s hands on his shoulders. “Jake, come with me.” Annie spoke behind him in a soft whisper. “She needs to be prepared for burial, you can’t stay here.”
Jake nodded, taking a deep breath. “Goodbye, Lena. Give Jess a hug for me.” He whispered, before getting back on his feet and walking out of the tent with Annie.
“Where have you been?” She asked.
“I was a little tied up in Blackpond. I didn’t even know she had come back.” He shook his head. “I’m really sorry I was away for so long.”
Annie snorted a laugh. “Jake... I was never expecting you to come back. When I sent you to Mageria, I knew very well what was going to happen... I was worried because you didn’t write and no one had heard from you since you last crossed the forest. Remember you poisoned one of the Wolves? They brought him to me.”
He sighed wrapping one arm around her shoulders. “That was forever ago, it seems.” He said, shaking his head. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m not sure yet.” She answered, leaning into him and taking a long deep breath. “I’ll let you know..”
Jake nodded in agreement. “Anne... Luckas?” He asked.
“Don’t Jake. Just... Don’t.” She sighed. “Can we just say goodbye today and not hate anyone? Please?” She asked, wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug,
Jake sighed, hugging her back. “I can try.” He answered. “I won’t promise though.”
“Fair enough... So...” She looked up at him forcing a smile. “Tell me: What had you tied up for a whole month?”

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

[Raven’s Nest]

Luckas’ head rose as he recognized the voice of the person greeting him. One eye on Mageria to make sure there were enough people asking questions to make her distracted from him, he gave Morrigan a slight snicker as he began moving away from the encampment. “As much as I would love to slip into something more comfortable and dance for your amusement, dear... I happen to have somewhere I need to be right about now. ” He replied, fastening his pace, eager to get out of the camp.

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jake Turner Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Annie Turner
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Sean arrived in the White Shadows camp in the late afternoon, the Crimson guard that were posted there the last time he had visited were gone, so it wasn’t very difficult for him to argue with the two men trying to hold him back. He didn’t force his way in, it wasn’t how he wanted this approach to begin, but he did make clear that he wanted to speak with Annie, and he wasn’t leaving. After a bit of a discussion they sent someone to alert Annie of his presence, but still insisting that he should come back the next day. The urgency in their tone told him that this wasn’t simply a case of wanting him gone; something had happened.

Sean was quiet as stood at the border of the healers’ camp, waiting for permission to enter, observing the men and women who passed by and noticing that the expressions on their faces were of sadness and defeat. He didn’t ask the two healers before him what was going on, he’d wait and talk to Annie, that if she decided to let him in.

“Let him through. It’s alright.” The girl’s voice sounded behind the two tall men that were blocking Sean’s path. Once they had stepped aside and Sean took a good look at her, she seemed tired, and sad, but no more than the others. Which is why he was shocked by her answer when he asked her what was wrong. It was only after she had led him a few steps into the encampment that he finally managed a reaction.

“Lena is... She died? Just like that?” He mumbled.

Annie couldn’t help a small laugh at his shock. “What do you mean ‘just like that’? What were you expecting?”
“I guess... I just wasn’t.” Sean replied, running a hand through his hair and shaking his head slowly. “It’s hard to believe.”
“That is true.” She said, giving a half-smile. “That is not why you’ve come here though. So what is it?”
Sean chuckled. “You seem awfully fine considering... The situation.”
“It’s comforting that someone finally has the courage to say that, instead of just giving me odd looks.” Annie stated, seeming rather amused. “Funny it’d be you of all people.”
“Me of all people, huh?” Sean asked, tilting his head to one side in fake annoyance.
“Well, guess it does make sense that you bring it up. You’re not exactly known for responding well to the death of a loved one, are you?” She snickered. “The answer you are looking for, to the question you didn’t actually ask, is: Yes, I am devastated. I am angry, I am sad. No I am not in denial in any way. I am simply handling it the one way I know how.”
“Well, you are freakishly calm, Annie, considering you lost someone close to you less than a day ago.” Sean pointed out, hesitating slightly when she pointed him towards the inside of her tent, but stepping inside soon after.

“I didn’t lose my mother, Sean.” Annie stated calmly, starting to make some tea. “Have a seat.”
Sean sat down, eyeing Annie curiously. “Okay, I’ll take the bait: How come?”
Annie heaved a small sigh and sat in front of him. “First you tell me why you’ve come. I believe I asked first.”
Sean was silent for a moment or so, a curious look in his eyes as he watched the girl; he was somewhat unsure of what to say, or if this was the time to say it. Finally, he simply reached into his pocket and pulled from it an old and worn silver ring. “Officially I’ve come for a truce, but what i really came for is an honest answer: Why?”
“Why what, exactly, Sean?” She asked calmly.
“Why give me this?”
“You wanted it.” She smiled. “Took you long enough though, don’t you ever check your pockets?”
“I was stabbed at the Inn, and Sheila found it while she treated my wounds. So, it was about a month ago, but I’ve been otherwise engaged.” Sean explained. “I don’t want it. I don’t think I want to exactly know why you have it either... Just keep it, and leave it be.”
Annie took the ring from Sean and examined it carefully as she spoke. “Am I supposed to believe you haven’t already reached the conclusion of why I have it?” She sighed softly. “You know... It’s not as bad as you think, Sean. I think it’s safe to say it’s never as bad as you think...” She reached out for his arm, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Are you sure you don’t want to know the truth?”

“What does it matter now? It’s in the past.”
“If it’s in the past, then it can’t hurt you. If it can, then it’s not really in the past.” She replied, simply. “It’s up to you, I won’t insist anymore.”
“Maybe someday.” He stated simply, a half smile breaking through his features. “I don’t know about how you people do it, but in the Pack we tend to wait a few days after a person’s death before we discuss their indiscretions.”
Annie snorted quietly, as if holding back a chuckle. “Alright, that’s a valid point you have.”
“Now, you answer my question: How come you didn’t lose your mother?”
“Ah...” Annie smirked slightly. “Well, I was born in this clan, unlike, believe it or not, most of the people who presently live here. These grounds, and the ruins just outside our camp, are alone a constant reminder that people die. If that wasn’t enough, a lot of people do in fact die here.” She stated, moving to pour two cups of tea and offering him one. “We have a saying that goes: Love cannot stop Death, in the same way Death cannot stop love. It sounds silly, I know, but I believe that. And I believe that as long a you still love a person, then that person can never be lost to you.”
“Hum...” Sean mumbled, taking the tea cup from her, but not drinking. “I suppose, that’s one way to look at it.”
“You seem... Weary... Sean. Being Alpha is not as easy as you imagined, I assume.” Annie mentioned, taking a small sip of tea.
“I don’t think I quite imagined anything until it was actually happening.” Sean answered with a small shrug. “People like to think I thought this through, but really they give me too much credit.”
“You are not a bad leader.”
Sean snorted a small laugh, nearly choking on hot tea. “I’m not, eh?”
“You are not a bad man either... Terribly, terribly, stupid, but not a bad man overall.” She added.
“I’m afraid, most people would strongly disagree with that statement.” Sean answered, sipping from his tea and grimacing slightly at the bitterness.
Annie smiled gently. “Well, I tend to not form opinions based on what most people believe, gladly.” She answered, pointing at his tea cup absently. “Is that too strong for you?”
“No, it’s fine.” Sean sighed, setting the cup down and rummaging through his bag. “I have something else I want you to have...” He pulled a book from the bag and sat it down next to Annie. “Ella Page gave this to me. I considered letting Shaykh have it, but... Honestly, I just didn’t feel like doing him any more favors. I’d much rather give it to you.”
“What am I meant to do with this, Sean?”
Sean shrugged. “Well... Read it, and then think about it.” He said, taking the tea cup and going back to drinking from it. “I’d like to say it’s a fascinating read, but it’s really not, I think... That’s what I’d rather you have it; I think that the future generations deserve to benefit from greater minds.”
“And you want them to read from a healer?” Annie snickered. “We’re so awfully dull, haven’t you heard?”
Sean chuckled. “Of course.” He then emptied his tea cup, and quietly set it aside. “You know, I should get going... I don’t like being away too long. Can I just assume we’re in fairly decent terms now? Or should I continue to keep my people from turning to you guys for help?”
Annie sighed. “Make it clear to them that they should be respectful, and we will be fine.”
“Don’t worry about it, getting a little taste of War seems to have calmed the clan’s spirits; they are more than willing to behave.”
“That’s nice to hear.” She said, smiling softly. “After all, I don’t think it’s good for anyone if we don’t get along, right?”

Sean was going to respond but something caused him to stop himself before he could get a word out... The silence of the camp was suddenly disturbed by the sounds of shouting and he was sure he could smell smoke. Annie must have caught the smell as well, or some of the words being shouted by the healers, because she jumped to her feet mumbling “Isaac” as she left the tent in a hurry. Sean knew well none of this was his business, but he couldn’t help but follow after her. It wasn’t difficult to find the commotion, there were at least three tents burning in high flames as a group of healers attempted to control a large man with bright orange-red eyes; calling out to him and trying to get his attention. It was to no use, however, the flames simply kept burning brighter and spreading further by the second. In the commotion Sean could spot healers trying to get patients out of the way, some of them children, and it was without a second thought that he ran over to help them with it.

Annie had never before seen Isaac lose it this way. Even when he lost control of his temper, the fire in itself was somewhat controlled, directed at the focus of his rage, but this was not. The flames were randomly spreading and expanding in such a way that it wouldn’t take too long before they consumed the entire camp. Not only she didn’t understand the cause of this, she also didn’t have an idea of how to stop it, her eyes searching the camp for Alistair, since he usually managed to calm the man, as soon as she spotted the man walking over towards the fire, she ran her way to him, grabbing him by the arm to rush him over. “ Al... What the hell is happening with him?” She asked.
“I don’t know, Annie... It’s not like the other times. I don’t think calming him will do the trick. It may not even be a possibility right now.” He answered, all the while walking faster straight in the firestarter’s direction.
“So what are you going to do exactly?” Annie asked, pulling the back of Alistair’s shirt, worried of what he might try. “Al?”
Alistair stopped for one second to push Annie’s hand away from him. “Don’t be afraid.” He stated simply, opening a half smile. “And stand back, alright?”
Annie didn’t like the look in Alistair’s eyes, she knew that look very well, she usually saw it when people were about to do stupid and heroic things and she honestly hated that look.

Jake had been with Alistair, talking, when the commotion started. Out of nowhere things started to catch fire and even though Jake had seen Isaac lose control of his ability before, it had never been anything like this. Alistair seemed to have thought the same because the man hadn’t given a thought to trying to calm isaac down, since his episodes were usually caused by anger. He simply gave Jake the most potent sedative he could find and said he’d distract the man so Jake could get close enough to him with the needle. It was sound plan, wasn’t for the fact that Isaac was so out of it that the slightest miscalculation would get one of them killed.

At the moment Jake was quietly waiting for Alistair to catch Isaac’s attention so he could get close enough to get shoot the throwing needle accurately. Only, the moment Alistair stepped close enough that Isaac could see him and hear his calls, the man simply gestured with his hand in the empath’s direction, shouting something that Jake couldn’t quite make out, and the gesture alone caused a wall of flames to arise before Alistair, too tall for Jake to see beyond it; the painful cries that came from the other side confirming that the flames had reached Alistair . The new commotion seemed to have done its clumsy job to distract Isaac at least, and Jake ran into the man at full speed, tackling him down and jabbing the needle into the flesh of his neck. The sedative worked quickly, and as Isaac went out of consciousness, slowly so did the flames. Jake didn’t stop to check on Isaac’s condition, two healers had immediately rushed to him the moment Jake stepped away, but he made his way to check on Alistair instead.
Alistair had fallen to the floor, on his back, and had the right side of his chest, his right shoulder and part of his arm, burnt. It seemed the fire had mostly caught his shirt, considering it had been tossed aside and was completely burnt; his flesh didn’t seem like it had be so bad although it didn’t change the fact that the man was visibly in a world of pain. Annie had already rushed to him and she was now fighting him, trying to heal his wounds while he protested, finally he caught a firm grip on her wrist. “I said no! Save your strength... I can take it... It’s not so bad.”
“Al, you were hit by a damn wave of flames!” Annie protested, glaring at him and attempting to free her arm from his grip unsuccessfully.
“You’re not listening to me...” Alistair muttered, his eyes piercing into hers. “Don’t waste you enlightenment on me.” He said, emphasizing every word as if each meant something else entirely.
“What did he say to you?” Annie asked.
Alistair breathed in a painful breath and breathed out shakily. “He said: ‘Stay away... I can’t stop it’. He was... Afraid... Genuinely afraid of what was happening.”He answered, trying to sit up, but growling in pain and falling back again.
“Stop that.” Annie scolded, giving him a severe look. “Just be quiet there a moment.”
“Yeah... I think it’s probably best if I do...” Alistair chuckled. “H-how... How did I do?” He asked, giving Jake a grin.
“Incredibly heroic and astonishingly foolish... I could have been more stupid, but it wasn’t bad.” Jake nodded.
Alistair laughed, groaning at the pain. “Ow... Thanks...”
“That’s not funny you idiots!” Annie exclaimed, standing up from her kneel and slapping Jake in the back of his head. “Don’t you encourage him!”
“It was all his idea, I swear!”
“Heey... I’m hurt... Take the blame for me!” Alistair whined.
“No way... I’d rather face a giant dragon than the wrath of this little girl... You’re on your own.” Jake chuckled softly.

A discreet cough broke through the sound of chuckling as a healer approached them. “Miss Annie, I see that the situation here is under control and well... We have a poison victim. The man is not in a good shape and perhaps he’ll require a blessing by morning.”
Annie heaved a small sigh as she turned to the older man. “Was he just brought in?”
“Yes, Miss... Just a few minutes ago. Also... That Fletcher boy, asked me to relay his apologies for not staying, but that he was in a hurry to rejoin his clan. He also asked to transmit his wished that you... Enjoy the read.”
Annie gave a slight chuckle at the words. “Alright, thank you. Now... Let us see this dying man...” She said, taking the care to look out for nearby healers she gestured them to approach and carry Alistair somewhere more protected before walking away. “Jake, come with me?” She gave a half smile. “You were always far more creative than me with antidotes.”

Jake simply nodded and followed after Annie to one of the tents that had been left unscathed. There upon a sleeping mat lay the figure of an unconscious man, a very familiar figure indeed and Jake slightly twitched at the sight.
“Something wrong?” Annie asked, frowning at the look on his face. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“That’s... Pondus... How...?” Jake mumbled, at first not paying attention to Annie’s questions, but then turning his face to look at her. “He’s dead.”
“That’s Grim Pondus?” Annie asked, recalling the name. “And no, he’s not. At least not yet.” Annie stated. “He’s breathing, with some difficulty, I’d say, but still breathing...”
“No... I mean he died over a month ago... The Blacks burned him and everything...” Jake explained. “Does... Do they know about this?” He muttered. “Does Mageria know about this?” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Why won’t anyone just... Stay dead?” He groaned.
“If you have to warn someone he’s here, I suggest you go now so you can get there by morning.”
“Where was he found?” Jake asked the healer who had led them in the tent.
“In the woods. The merchants who brought him also recovered the body of a young woman. They also found other corpses nearby; they appeared to have been Wolves and the Alpha left in a hurry the moment he spotted him.” He informed. “He has scrapes on him only... Nothing more.”
“He was poisoned by blade or needle most likely... Wolves don’t use anything too out of ordinary; even the ones who are more versed in poisons among them just stick to the basic things. Shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, I hope.” He told Annie, giving her shoulder a light squeeze. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, alright? Try not to let that guy die again... And don’t forget about his gift, he’s weak, but it may be best to numb him before you poke him with sharp objects.”
Annie simply nodded to Jake’s comments. “May the Goddess light your path, cousin.” She whispered as Jake left her to tend to the fallen warrior alone; rushed footsteps soon disappearing in the distance. A weary sigh escaped the young girl’s lips, the night was barely arriving, but she could tell it would be a long one indeed.

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Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War'
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#, as written by Seerow
Whispers of golden curls etched themselves into the soft blues. Drifting whites that crept quietly by. Purples and just the hint of red that made the air a beautiful tapestry of life. To sit beneath its radiance a blessing a delight found strangely only when one took the time to do so. To stop, behold the very wonder of the worlds a simple mesh of cloud and sky. Yet it was more serene, more wonderful in its humble appearance then a thousand crafts made of man. The art of the world, masters in form and color, man could not hope to capture its true joy, its purest essence. Though they imitate, though they mock, what man could hope to witnesses and despair.

The lights of the setting sun danced beneath the emerald mirrors, happy to be held in the green of his eyes. The weak measured breath eased from a desperate wheeze to a comforted draw. Pulling with less difficulty and calming the hardened features of his face. Though Grim remained exhausted he at last could feel some semblance of rest.
Which was well for exhaustion had taken everything. He could have moved but his mind wouldn’t allow it. Though he fought with this, he knew it to be far too troublesome to waken. Alive, but far from alert, a mind adrift a half-conscious state. All desire to move pushed away at once his head falling back to rest. Careless to move even when he was visited.

The weight was the first thing he realized pressure upon his body. All the will he could muster could have been brought fourth and still he would not have lifted his head. Keeping a vague idea of what was happening but gone too far to care. Enemy or friend, be it whatever, the tiredness created only apathy. Do what they would, Grim could not move and even fear was unreachable in his fatigue. Far easier to watch the wonderful sky, than worry his troubled heart any more. Resigned but at peace he laid there upon some alien shore watching some far off dream.

“Won’t you stay?”

The gloomy orbs lifted to some newfound life, opening wide with a flicker of many passing sensations. The visitor’s lips were sweet with words of honey. Promises made unspoken, wishes fulfilled and above all a sense of peace. He could hear them so clearly so far from where he thought to be. Washed upon a shore that he never knew existed. Answering someone with words that barely escaped.

“… No.”

There was no upset, the voice revealed no hurt from his answer. Instead the kindness was rooted with a hint of sadness. Perhaps a loneliness, or even vague hints of envy, he couldn’t be sure. He could feel a gentle touch fall to his face. It was a strange euphoria, a kindness he hadn’t remembered in some time. What it meant, something so simple. Strange and distant but he couldn’t refuse even if desired.

“Are you not scared? Afraid of the mistakes you can make. Of the risk you take by continuing on your way?”

“….. The strong are not perfections. It’s our blemishes that ready us for the battles to come.”
“You’re twisting your words to make yourself sound the warrior. You know to continue is to suffer and you think only of yourself in your answer. You cannot make a sanctuary of bravery, it has not served you. It does not have to be this way if you would just see.”

“Then show me… “


[The Ruins-Among the White Shadows]
Grim stirred at last, his fists balling up and pushing against his sides. Redness began to flush out over his face, and a fever started to set in. Good news in its own strange way, as his body was now actively fighting the poison. He was still far from recovery, but there were some steps in the right direction at least.

4 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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[Raven’s Nest - Earlier in the day]

After Evin left, Crys had decided that it was time to go visit the healers, pay her respects and try to get some answers. Even if Ali was being a little paranoid with the journal thing, she did have a valid point; it was odd that Lena was now dead not long after Ali had been attacked. That not to mention that they still didn’t know how exactly she had died.

She walked back from the center of the camp and towards her tent where she slowly started packing a few items into a bag, a little absent to the fact Ali was following her movements.

“I’m going with you.”

Crys snickered. “If you didn’t already know I was going to ask you to stay, you wouldn’t really feel the need to announce that you’re going. So you know what my answer is, don’t you?”
“I want to pay my respects.” Ali argued. “I want to say goodbye.”
Crys sighed softly. “I hate that you make me point this out, but... She will still be dead tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that... Today, I need you to stay here.”
“What for?”
“Well, first of all, if Lena’s death did have something to do with protecting this information that she supposedly gave you, there’s no better place for you than a camp full of former Black Guard.” She smirked. “Besides, you did say you’d help make some furniture, so I suggest you get on it.”
“Humph.” Ali heaved a sigh. “I suppose I did say that.”
“Just let me find out what happened, alright? I’ll be back in a day or so, meanwhile you can find ways to make yourself useful for a change, huh? Maybe make some friends... Just don’t bite anyone.” She said in a playful tone.
“I’m not amused.” Ali muttered.
“Heh, yes you are.” Crys retorted, turning to face Ali with a smile. “It’ll be fine, and you’ll get to say your goodbyes, I promise.”
Ali sigh, giving a slight nod for a response, not caring that Crys couldn’t see. “Do you think Jake knows?”
Crys’ smile faded for a moment and she clenched her fists momentarily. “That I know of, he’s still in Blackpond.” She responded, turning away and starting to walk away. “Do not get in trouble.” She told Ali over her shoulder.

“I’m going to check out this side of camp, meet up with later Irv...” Darren spoke before parting ways, intrigued to find the perfect spot to build the ideal treehouse. Of course there were plenty of spots, technically, all above the camp, but Darren wanted the highest most strategic point. He also knew of a few names mentioned earlier in casual conversation, whom he should go to see if he wanted to be put to work. Still, he thought best to get a better idea of his new surroundings. “Know all your exits...hesitation gets you killed...” He whispered to himself as he nodded to an attractive blond as he passed, only to pause in mid step when he first noticed the redhead. He stood, watching her walk away, only to cross his arms and smile as the familiarity of the form flashed across his mind. ‘Another one of yours, Jake?’ He pondered to himself before jogging forward to catch up with her just as she crossed the treeline past the bridge.

“Excuse me, Miss? Which direction are you heading in? It’s just, I’m not from around here and not sure where to find a decent enough blacksmith. Any recommendations?” Darren hopped around Crys so he was standing in front of her, a charming smile accompanied the deep, gentle tone of his voice.

Crys slowed down her pace only slightly when she heard rushed footsteps behind her, but didn’t stop until she heard someone address her asking for directions. Crys didn’t know this man, but she had an odd feeling that he’d seen her before... Like when she ran into Luckas at the inn. It was an odd feeling, yes, but there was really nothing about this person that made her uncomfortable, so she opened a smile as she replied. “I’m heading out towards the plains at the moment. Not many blacksmiths to be found around those parts, I’m afraid.” She informed, tilting her head slightly as she thought. “I’m not sure if you will find one in camp, I haven’t been here that long to know everyone, but I do know of a good one in Newhaven, answers by the name Blackwell, used to craft weapons for the Wolves about ten years ago. He’s known to be a creative guy, if you catch my drift. The Crimson have a good guy too, but he won’t just craft for outsiders you’d have to travel there only to try and convince their leader to give his consent... Too much of a hassle.” She went silent for a moment, smiling pleasantly at this new acquaintance before asking. “So, where are you from, if not from around these parts? If you don’t know where to find a smith, I take it you didn’t come here with the Blacks.”

Darren shifted his position, absently cracking a few knuckles before tugging at his goatee as if he was rolling over a few ideas in his head. He noted the way the woman’s pale green eyes seemed to pass right through him, causing him to lean side to side with a smile as she appeared to instinctually follow. “Blackwell, hmm? I’ll keep that in mind, thanks much, especially since NewHaven appears to be the closest bet for me. East of here, right? Have business that way anyhow...” Darren cleared his throat, blue eyes flashing a subtle violet hue as his smile broadened. “My apologies...” He began, bowing his head slightly. “How rude of me,...Darren....Darren Hearst. And I was born, raised, trained, and employed in Blackpond, until my most recent liberation from that dreaded place. In a way, I came here with the Blacks....woman named Sham, and I believe...maybe a friend of yours? You seem to weigh heavily upon his mind, leaving a very strong impression.” Darren’s smile dimmed, only a slight smirk present as he continued. “He didn’t say where he was going though. Would of thought he’d come with, but he seemed distracted.”

Crys held back a small chuckle. “East of here, yes. I think... It’s... Uh... That way.” She said, absently pointing in the direction of the city. “A few minutes of walking and you should be able to spot the city walls, or so I’ve heard.” She bowed her head slightly to his introduction. “Nice to meet you Darren. My name is Crystal Rivers, but please do call me Crys, I prefer it. And Blackpond, huh? Trained and employed in what? If you don’t mind me asking. You carry yourself pretty well, but you still sound like a kid to me, late teens, yes? It’s a long way from Blackpond.” She said, her green eyes lighting up a little as she stared at him, her smile shutting slowly into an intrigued expression at his mention of this possible friend of hers. “Hum... You don’t say?” She asked, in a soft tone closer to a whisper. “You seem pretty sure of what you’re saying, that’s unusual for someone speaking of what goes through another’s mind. That’s rather interesting...” Her voice trailed off as she was quiet for a moment before opening a smile again, giving a light shrug. “I take it he’ll be coming here eventually... Suppose I’ll meet him then, but if you see him first ask him if he’s heard news from the White Shadows... Although I have a feeling he’ll pass through there, it’s important that he knows.”

“My my Crys, a lovely name to match a lovely smile. “ Darren commented with a quiet grace, still politely keeping his gaze locked with hers. “Yes, it is a long way from Blackpond, especially with no weapons....kind of makes a young man like myself feel a bit...eh naked I suppose. I lost the weapons after my last job, right before I was tossed into prison. Didn’t even get paid for that either. Makes me want to rethink this whole mercenary thing.” After another short chuckle he nodded to himself. “No one can ever be truly sure, but I come to my conclusions by other factors....as I assume you deduced I have some sort of telepathic ability, although I am still unsure of how, I cross check reactions with facts. I saw certain images in his mind that had a greater effect or impression which can only be absorbed through powerful energies which come from ‘important’ interactions. Guess that is how I can explain it.” Darren naturally winked, followed by a snicker. “I suppose you could be an enemy, but I do not see that kind of focus upon you. Those who are despised...they carry a different....aura...so to speak. Also, there’s the amount of times in those few seconds your face flashed before my eyes with only a simple handshake.” Darren gave a tired sigh, scratching along his chin, adding, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, Crys, but his memories don’t do you justice...And If I see him before you, I will pass along the message.”

Crys chuckled softly. “Well, if I was to make such a long trip naked, there’s no one I’d trust more to accompany me than one of Mageria’s people... Except maybe my own, although they’d probably never let me forget having to travel naked, but I digress...” She chuckled a bit more before heaving a small sigh and speaking more seriously. “Your assumptions don’t seem so different from mine. I can’t know if you are telling me the truth, but I can know that you believe what you say. I can’t possibly know that you aren’t a threat, except by the fact that you don’t see me as one, I assume based on the fact that Jake doesn’t. Which, if true, I have to say is just adorable considering you can’t possibly know him for very long; I know he hasn’t been in Blackpond longer than a month.” She smiled. “Regardless, I’m definitely not a threat to you... To him, I’m not so sure yet. He should know better than to piss me off.” The tone she used was playful, but she wasn’t joking entirely, at which point she thought it best to change the subject. “Mercenary work is tricky, mostly because people love to get others to do their work for them and then just screw them over. Unless you make a pretty nasty reputation for yourself or have a group to watch your back... It’s bound to happen.”

“Beauty and brains....” Darren quickly glanced Crys in a once over and nodded. “Probably could kick my ass too...something about redheads and tempers...” He shrugged, taking a step back to give her more space. “I’ve learned through my short years that ‘time’ isn’t the only important factor in life; learning the truth about others or one’s self. I find first impressions explain a lot.” Darren sighed, holding a wide smile. “Good to know I don’t have to necessarily keep looking over my shoulder when you’re around...guess I should say a little prayer for Jake, no?” Again the young man chuckled, his cheeks flushing a soft rosy before a serious expression stealing his amusement. “..Maybe mercenary work isn’t for me....I’m not sure if I’m cut out for the work involved with ‘carving’ myself the necessary reputation for that...perhaps my calling is elsewhere....as yours seems to be as well. I won’t keep you much longer, Crys...although I’d love to talk your ear of some more.” Darren was always a laid back kind of guy, even when he was angry. Sometimes he was known for talking too much and was told he could be overly friendly, but the people in this camp just seemed “familiar” and he felt more trusting than normal. That, and he was never one for bullshit or lies. He forced the glow of his eyes away, weighing if he should extend his hand for manners sake, but decided against it when it suddenly dawned on him, a detail he hadn’t picked up from Crys before. He felt almost embarrassed as he kept his thoughts to himself, again taking another step back.

Crys shook her head slightly, a trace of a giggle escaping under her breath, but contained as she spoke. “I always found that term highly amusing... Calling... To be called, implies someone is there to call for you, no? Not sure how that applies to some scenarios, although I believe that if you are lucky someone, at some point, will call for you.” She chuckled. “And yet I’m still not sure how that applies. One can say that a calling is the call of fate, or the Gods, but that implies you believe in fate, or the Gods for that matter... Too many conditions for my liking.” She heaved a small sigh as she thought about it, but still smiling. “I do have to be somewhere else, but... Very nice meeting you, Darren. I don’t know why, but you remind me of someone. I’m sure there’ll be better opportunities for you to talk my ears off.” She chuckled. “And If you do go see Blackwell, send him my regards. I haven’t seen the old man in quite a while, not sure he’s aware that I’m alive.”

Darren shrugged, “Calling...well good points actually...but I wasn’t being metaphorical. More hoping that I’ll find what I’m good at in life...sometimes I don’t feel I’m cut out for the drama, but slowly finding a purpose is always nice to see upon the horizon.” Darren quirked a brow, angling his head in a slanted manner. “The pleasure is mine, Crys...funny how life leads us down those ironies, eh?” Crossing one arm behind his back, one along his waist, Darren bowed low, keeping his focus upon the woman. “I plan on visiting this Blackwell sooner than later, so I will be sure to mention how I was recommended. Safe journey.” Darren turned on his heels, slipping back towards the bridge in his continued search for the ‘perfect vantage point.’

[White Shadows Camp - Present Time]

Crys had made a slow walk to the plains, not in a hurry to deal with any level of grief aside her own and greatly enjoying the opportunity to be alone with her thoughts in the forest. As the afternoon moved on towards its end, and the night fell upon the land, she could feel the air gradually grow colder, but not as cold as it would be about a week before; it was sign that springtime was nearing and soon the remaining ice would melt.
It was after the sun had been down for about an hour or so that Crys reached the White Shadows’ camp. The healers immediately recognized her as she entered the camp and allowed her to visit Lena’s grave alone until Annie was free to talk. So she was left standing alone before the grave, where she remained in absolute silence until Annie came to meet her. She should maybe say a prayer, or say goodbye, or something, anything that would make this real to her, but she didn’t have the words to say or the will to speak. It wasn’t the time for that yet it seemed, she wasn’t ready.

“Do you need another minute?” Annie’s voice sounded a few steps away.
“No.” Crys replied, turning to face the girl. “I don’t think this is the time to pay my respects anyway.”
Annie sighed. “I understand. Come, I was just about to get some dinner... Have you eaten today?”
“I have, but that was hours ago, I wouldn’t refuse a warm meal.”
“Great, we can talk over a bowl of soup.” The girl retorted, beginning to walk towards the encampment, leading Crys to sit by a small campfire, where she could catch the pleasant and comforting scent of something being cooked. She smiled softly as Annie quietly reached for hand and led it to the bow she had been holding out. “Careful now, it’s hot.” She warned, releasing the bowl of soup onto Crys’ hands and taking a seat next to her.
“I will. Thank you.” Crys replied.
“Don’t thank me yet... It’s not as tasty as it smells.” She snickered. “It serves its purpose though, I suppose. I like it better when Alistair cooks, but he’s a little bit indisposed tonight.”
“Alistair cooks, huh? Wouldn’t have guessed.” Crys mentioned. “Is he feeling sick?”
“No... It’s stupid really... Isaac had a bit of a meltdown and Al got hurt trying to stop him. He’s going to be alright, just needs to treat some burns.” Annie replied.
“And how’s Isaac?” Crys asked, stirring the soup idly for a few moments before starting to eat.
“Still sedated, last I heard.” Annie replied.
“Hm.” Crys mumbled. “And what else is troubling you?”
“What do you... What do you mean?”
“You are concerned for Alistair’s health, and mourning your mother’s death, you are also stressed, which is not at all surprising considering what you told me just happened, but... I can tell there’s something else that is deeply concerning you.”
Annie heaved a long sigh and mumbled under her breath. “Damn empaths...”
Crys stifled a laugh. “And I wasn’t even trying. What is it?”
“I can’t talk about it, sorry.” Annie replied simply, digging into her bowl of soup and taking her time with chewing on the soggy vegetables.
“Confidentiality, huh?” Crys asked. “Does it have to do with your mother?”
“Can’t say.” Annie stated.
“Can you tell me how she died at least?” Crys asked, raising a brow as she scraped the bottom of the clay bowl with her spoon.
“My mother’s death was, as far as I can tell, a result of overusing her ability.” Annie said.
“Out of nowhere? Just like that?”
“Look... Talk to Jacob...” Annie mumbled. “And no, not just like that. I think... I think... She wasn’t in her perfect health, and she pushed herself too far, aware of that... So...”
“Alright, I understand.” Crys said, not wanting to upset the girl any more. “Can you tell me, when I last ran into Lena she was in Newhaven Castle. And she seemed, well... Very, very, worried and in a hurry. Unfortunately so was I, and I didn’t get to speak with her since. Do you know... Why she was there and what she has been doing?”
“Not much of it. I mean, I know she spoke with the Captain of the Whites and she planned on meeting with King Rick, but something made her change her mind about it. Other than that, she had been going through the archives repeatedly.” Annie heaved a long sigh. “I tried to get her to tell me, but you know...”
“I know.” Crys went silent, working on the last bits of vegetables in the otherwise tasteless soup.
“She left notes, but... They’re the most encrypted mess of gibberish I’ve ever seen. If it can even be decoded, it’s going to take me months. I’d like to ask for help with it, but aside from Alistair I don’t think I trust anyone else with it until I know what’s on it. Maybe it’s personal... I’m not sure.”
“Lena was a private person, I understand that.” Crys nodded, setting her vegetable-free bowl of soup aside. “Why... Do you say I should talk to Jake?”
“Aside from the fact that it’s about time... He knows some things I’m not at liberty to discuss with you. In fact, he was here just a couple of hours ago, I’m surprised you didn’t meet him on the way.”
“Oh, I passed him.” Crys stated simply.
Annie snorted a small laugh, but didn’t make any further comments on the subject.
“So your mother spoke to the Captain of the White Knights, huh? Maybe I’ll go see him then and ask about it.”
“So... I heard Ella Page made you heir to the throne... That...” Annie chuckled. “Quite the honor.”
“That girl... I don’t know if she’s incredibly stupid, incredibly smart, or just completely insane.” Crys sighed. “But then... She is Evin’s recruit and sometimes I’m not sure about him either.”
Annie snickered. “Of course. And speaking of Evin... When you see him again let him know that my mother left something for him... Whenever he has the time, he can come and get it... Water.”
“Huh?” Crys asked at Annie’s final word, only understanding what the girl meant when she felt something cool gently touch her hand. She took the metal cup Annie had been holding out and took a drink from it, snickering under her breath as she remembered Evin’s comment that the water tasted funny.
“Are you going to be staying the night?” Annie asked.
“Not the full night. I think I’m going to take a one or two hour rest and then move to Newhaven. See if I can get there by noon tomorrow.”
“You should rest properly now.” Annie scolded. “You’re going to make yourself sick you know, like J-...” Annie stopped talking and forced a cough to justify the sudden halt in her scolding, instead finishing with: “Just take care, alright?”
“I always do... Unlike J-... er... Some people.” Crys, smirked into her cup, taking another drink of water. “I’ve gone by on less sleep than this and once in Newhaven I can rest, or take a short trip back to Mageria’s camp and rest there.”
Annie chuckled. “Alright, alright...” She agreed, standing up to leave. "I have to check on some patients and then see if I can get some sleep myself, but make yourself at home Crys."

[Wolfpack’s Camp]

Sean reached the camp to the news that someone was there demanding to see the Alpha, annoyance taking over his expression as he listened to the Wolves who found the woman tell him how she saw the ring on one of them and starting ranting about how she had been cheated and demanded compensation. Sean, even though already displeased with this person, understood why his men didn’t immediately kill the woman; if she spoke the truth then it was his responsibility to compensate in order to maintain the clan’s honor intact. It wasn’t just any contract that was accepted by Wolfpack, as some would believe, but those that were accepted were to be fulfilled as the contractor demand them to be, no questions asked, and any Wolf knew that to sabotage a contract was a serious act of treason not to mention it damaged the clan’s reputation. Sean would have none of that. With a weary sigh he ordered the men to have the woman taken to the Leader’s Cabin after a couple of minutes had passed, and that Franklin accompanied her. Whatever she said, Sean wanted his confirmation that it wasn’t a lie, because if it was... He would gladly kill her where she stood.

Sean only had the time to go into his room to rid himself of his cloak and travel bag and grab a piece of bread before there was movement of people entering the office. He stepped out of his bedroom, locking the door behind him and nodding at Franklin in greeting, ignoring the old skinny mess of a woman he had brought with him; dirt on her clothes and a very freshly bandaged eye immediately drawing his attention, quietly biting into his ‘meal’ as he moved to sit by the desk. He didn’t managed to take more than one step in silence before the woman spoke up, apparently unable to grasp how insignificant anyone was in that forest when compared to the leader of the Wolfpack. “This boy is your leader!?”

Sean would have ignored that, he wanted to even, but he caught the woman’s one eyed gaze examining him from head to toe as if trying to decide whether he was worth her time, or maybe, very possibly, if she could take advantage of him in some way. He knew that look well and it irked him to no end. So before the conversation even took place, he decided to make clear to this woman where she was and who she was dealing with; slowly, he placed the bread he was holding on top of the table and in one swift motion he pulled a throwing knife and launched it in the moment direction, letting fly just past her head. “You better wipe away that condescending smile lest I carve it permanently on that ugly face of yours, old lady.” He muttered. “And you will address and refer to me as Alpha, call me boy one more time and you will be making your complaints in Hell.” With that said he sat by the table and retrieved his bread, taking a generous bite of it and idly nodding at the chair across from his as he chewed on it, motioning for his ‘visitor’ to take a seat.

The woman let out a startled yelp as the blade flew by her face, lodging itself in the wooden wall behind her, a deeply insulted and angered look immediately forming itself on her face as she glared at the Alpha, not sitting as he so rudely suggested, which caused Franklin to give her a very indelicate nudge towards the chair, after which she complied and sat, muttering curses and insults under her breath, out of which Sean only caught the words ‘brute’ and ‘filthy mutt’, after which the woman cleared her throat and remained silent watching him, still in that offended look.

Sean swallowed his bite of bread and groaned, trying to contain his annoyance at the woman’s attitude and the whispered insults towards his Second, simply taking a deep breath and leaning back in his chair. “State your business.” He asked, taking another bite off his piece of bread.
“You know, Alpha, it is considered extremely impolite to eat in front of guests. I expected the Alpha of the Wolfpack to have manners as a leader.” She spoke, her tone annoyed as if she expected, and truly believed she was worthy of, better treatment.
Sean raised an eyebrow at the woman, exchanging a slightly amused look with Franklin at her words. “This isn’t a tea party, and you are not my guest. The gravity of your accusations alone is what keeps me from permanently shutting that foul and petulant mouth of yours, so... And Twins help me for making such request... Speak.”
“Well, lad.. The situation is not a complicated one. I paid your clan to perform a service, not only was that service not provided, but the inconsequent fool who was assigned to perform said service attempted to take my life...”
“He shall be severely punished for his failure...” Sean muttered out, unable to control himself, causing Franklin to audibly chuckle behind the woman’s back.
“As is...” The woman continued. “I demand that the contract is fulfilled, since it was paid for. I also feel I deserve some form of reparation for the attempt on my own life. I will accept the life of the assassin who tried to kill me or another target of choosing as compensation for that.”

Sean didn’t respond to the woman, he looked to Franklin instead, almost hoping he exposed the bitch as a liar, but no; Franklin nodded as to confirm her story was true. With a slightly disappointed sigh Sean pushed pen and paper towards the woman. “Write down the target’s name and physical description as well as the Alias of the assassin assigned to your contract. We will execute the target, as it was established, and the assassin will be punished according to our laws; I see no reason for further compensation.” He told her, patiently waiting for the required information. When the paper was pushed across the table towards him, Sean’s eye caught the name of the assassin responsible for the woman’s contract and his eyes narrowed slightly. “This man is no longer under our authority.” Sean stated simply. “He is, however, a wanted man... He will be taken care of.” Looking further he caught the name of the target of the hit, ‘Jennifer Lessar’ was the woman’s name, followed by a short physical description. Below it, another name. “Essence Talon.” Sean looked from the name to the woman before him with a annoyed look in his eyes. “I said no further compensation.”

“I’m willing to pay, handsomely, for this one... More so if you bring her to me alive.”
“Alive? You don’t seem to understand what assassins are for, now do you?” He asked, contempt clear in his tone as well as his eyes as he continued, not giving the woman the time to respond. “Besides, I don’t believe any contract has ever been refused for such reasons before in the history of this clan, but you are the most unpleasant, arrogant, and disrespectful bitch I have ever met. You displease me to such a point that if someone came here wanting you dead, I would probably pay them just as handsomely for the pleasure of doing it myself.” He tore the extra name out of the paper and crushed it into a ball in his hand before tossing it at her face. “I will pay my debt, in that you have my word. You also have my word that if you do not leave this camp within two exact minutes I will take your remaining eye and shove it down your despicable throat.” As the woman opened her mouth as if to protest Sean cut her off again. “That’s exactly one hundred and twenty seconds... one hundred and nineteen... one hundred and eighteen...”
“One hundred and seventeen...” Franklin continued opening the door and chuckling as the woman jumped to her feet and rushed her way through it; the Second gladly following, keeping the count as he chased after her all the way to the exit.

1 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Grim Pondus 'War'
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#, as written by Seerow
[The Ruins]

It was a haze of inexplicable realities. That withering curvaceous dreaming shifting, whirling, changing but ever deep within one knew, twas but a passing. A myriad of belief and promises taking the form of desires and colors. Altering spectrum where logic makes little gain, and only the will stays between the door that keeps baying chaos just so. The state of torpor was more a landscape of mixing focal points and hues. Friends and foes and family all alike taking just barely visible forms, talking just enough to be recognized. Yet there were others, shapes and people masked by anonymity faces with no features and it was all to identify them as human. Even when it seems as though you are right next to them. They are murky, perhaps memories past, perhaps nothing at all save the placeholder for what a real person would constitute. When they are noticed at all within the scope of feelings and virtual augmentation. The fantastic twilight of the senses blended into a surreal euphoria, the land of dreams...
There was talking, of that he could be sure. Words exchanged but their sound was too distant. They were but pieces of noise that formed nothing. Slipping from mouth to mouth, pitch and tone dancing in such distinct pattern. Even from his lips he felt the shapes slip past, echoes of what was. Talking but realizing that he knew nothing of what he was saying. Pulling from a far off place and slipping haphazardly into the world he knew.

He forced an arm upward into a dazing light, its brevity a displeasing knock on an addled mind. Hands that held, his body uprooting forced back to the earth. Grim wasn't easily deterred though and even if the logic was absent, the warrior never left. He fought back, throwing his shoulders into reaching the profound luminescence. For a time it was a futile exercise, the physical strength was waning and Grim was easily forced back into a laying position, or so they thought.
It what had to be a surprising amount of force for a nearly dead man, the Black Knight had flipped himself from the cot he was fixed upon. Taking with him the hands that refused to release his shoulders. Throwing the bonds that would tie him faster then they could seemingly recover. There in his eyes, the world began to trickle into his view. So many empty expressions, faces blurred by weary eyes. Movements that seemed to glide across the floor, shadows that danced like some wicked thing conjured of a ghost story. Someone tried to touch his arm, to find themselves hurled to the floor in a manner not necessarily unlike the Black Knights. Confused though he was, he wasn't about to allow anyone the advantage over him. Poison or not.

"... W-... Where."

A response was made, but the words were so much garble to his ears. No sure answer, no recourse, only one action, the training stayed in him. Take his position, hold, don't let them touch you. Don't let them take you! A flash, a memory, anger, hate it all pulled in his veins like a living force. Pain and agony, old friends miserable and unrelenting they visited again. The Wolves!
He toppled the first thing he could reach with a flung arm. The other's predictably filing in to help whatever he threw. Two more were tossed aside before all attempts to contain Grim were given up on. Instead the forms encircled, surrounded, waiting patiently never taking action but never leaving to Grim's disappointment. He could hardly hear his own screaming at them. Cursing and showing off the animal just beneath the Blade's flesh. Giving them a taste of the hell that awaited if they antagonized him further. Things that touched his fingertips were broken over his knees or simply dashed to the floor. Pushed aside if he couldn't lift it, which lead to a few shocked gasp and some unfortunate sleeping folk being hurled from bed.

"Shh... where. Where is she? Where is Morrigan!"

Again he heard an answer, but it meant nothing. It was too far away for him to translate. So the dazed man lumbered about in his tiny space that he held. Letting no one near him till he could sort something out. It was well over ten minutes time before he could begin to decipher language. It took time to ease the Blade from his clouded thoughts and properly set every in alignment. Once that was settled, and a few things picked up and put back, Grim wound up sitting quietly beside his little cot. Sorting everything that had transpired bit by bit.

3 Characters Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Manor]

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

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

[Raven’s Nest - About 4 months ago]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

- A few minutes later -

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

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

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

Raven’s Camp - About 2 months ago

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

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

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


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

- about an hour or so later -

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

4 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Crystal Rivers Character Portrait: Sean Fletcher Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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-Annie-

Take a moment for you. Remember to rest your eyes...even if you don’t sleep. Search carefully and see something beautiful within the darkness. Is it strange you are what I see when I close my eyes? See you soon.

-D-

Darren had left the Nest before the sun had even threatened the horizon. He knew his letter would have been received by now, and Annie would be expecting him later that day but he wanted to reach the White Shadows as soon as possible. Aiden had loaned him a horse so the journey would be much easier than if he were to go on foot again. Darren had gotten into the habit of writing to Annie two to three times a week between visits and he didn’t get to visit as much as he really wanted. He was lucky he’d seen her maybe half a dozen times since they met, which was still a clear sign he was going out of his way to make it possible but he was starting to think of the White Shadows’ camp as a second home too. Darren enjoyed Annie’s company, yes, and he was learning he had a new found joy in helping people in the way the healers would, but it went deeper than that. Darren felt like a piece of himself was missing when he was away and could only be returned once he beheld her dark brown gaze. She didn’t smile much now a days, it was true, but he made it a point each time he visited to get at least one smile from her, no matter how small or brief; even if he could only notice it within her eyes. Everything could be seen within those eyes, so that it was beautifully heartbreaking. Annie’s compassion, strength, knowledge and resourcefulness, integrity, and unconditional honor. It was never a question why the poor girl wasn’t sleeping much in times like these. How could anyone with a decent heart?

It was habit for Darren to wear gloves when he was in camp, especially when he was around Annie. His enlightenment couldn’t be completely trusted for him to keep in total control at all times of interaction and it was exhausting to spend much of his energy and concentration on that instead of what was really important. Then, there was the fact that he didn’t want to make Annie uncomfortable at all or to worry herself about compromising her oath and honor of keeping secrets that were told in pure confidence to her. Not that Darren would search things out, but bits and pieces could accidentally bleed into him, even if they didn’t make much sense and didn’t have to do with whatever secrets the women held. It just made things easier if the subject didn’t need to be broached at all.

When Darren had finally arrived just outside of the White Shadows’ camp, he spent some time gathering a large assortment of flowers from the fields. He literally filled two medium satchels. One he stored white Daisies, Sunflowers, Cosmos, Poppies, Larkspur, and some other blue petaled flower that sort of reminded him of his own eyes. They had six to eight petals, light blue and were pointed upwards, the seeds in the center were purplish like subtle flecks that detailed his own orbs. The next satchel he gathered the petals only, enough so that he could pick up handfuls of the scented colors. Once he was satisfied, he bundled up small bouquets and bound them with some twine with some excess at the ends so that they could be hung from wherever instead of put in some sort of traditional vase, which he wasn’t even sure he’d find enough for what he was planning. One by one, Darren made his rounds to the patients of the camp. To the old and the new, he would tie the tiny bouquets from one of the supports of the many tents he visited so that they would hang just where the patient could see and smell them. This way too, once they dried out, they would be preserved almost like freezing a moment in time. At least that is what he would say to those who asked. There was one tent, sadly, that Darren came upon, where the family of a patient had gathered to mourn the passing of their Mother. It was someone he hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting but none the less, Darren quietly stepped inside the tent to pay his respects and whispering consoling words to the children who were at least in their early teens. Instead of hanging one of the bouquets, Darren reached into the satchel of petals and gently sprinkled a handful across the woman’s body, leaving larger piles over her heart and stomach. Darren smiled and leaned in towards the youngest daughter to whisper. He wasn’t sure what their beliefs were or how they would mourn the passing of their loved one, but he found no matter the belief, a simple gesture was enough to help someone along in their pain and grief. “..When you are ready to say goodbye..” He pointed towards the petals. “..Release them into the wind..I like to think...we instinctively cling to pretty things...and I believe the soul does the same..so when we pass on, what greater beauty is there to return to than the earth? Then, you can find her everywhere you look and hear her voice in the wind. That is how you know you love someone, when you see the world in their eyes and their eyes everywhere in the world.”

Darren didn’t wait for any response, but quietly showed himself out as he moved to search for Annie. His friendly greeting was only met with silence when he checked for her at her tent
causing him to pointedly risk his neck, literally, and stick his head inside the tent to see if the girl was around. Darren’s eyes were squeezed shut at first, and when there was no response still, he opened one eye to discover indeed she was not inside. “Works..for me…” He snickered, stepping inside, and setting the satchel of remaining flowers down at his feet and began to work.

“You could have gone to the party.” Alistair questioned. “I can take care of things.”
“It’s not about that. I didn’t want to go. I’m more useful here anyway.” She shrugged. “I’d probably just end up giving Jakey one more thing to worry obsessively about, and we both know that’s not what he needs.”
“It’s not about being useful or not. It’s about you going somewhere other than the Wolves’ cemetery and having conversations with actual live humans, instead of...”
“I’m not going back there anymore, Al, don’t worry. The dead need their rest as much as the living. It must be tiring for them to hear our whining, don’t you think?” Annie’s tone attempted playfulness, but failed miserably; her voice failing halfway through a forced chuckle.
“It’s alright to grieve for them... You father especially, you have nothing of him to remember....” The man pointed out to her, his eyes scanning hers severely as they walked from the archive to the center of the camp.
“Don’t tell me how to grieve, Alistair. That’s our number one rule, we don’t tell people how to mourn their losses.” She scolded.
“I’m not a healer, I’m your friend... I worry. You are sinking and you won’t let anyone...”
“I’m stressed, Al. I’m stressed and I’m tired, just like everyone else. I’ve dealt with losses these past months, like everyone else... I’m not sinking. I’m not in denial. I am grieving in my own way, but going to the Wolves camp and visiting her grave is not helping me. It won’t help Sean or Donovan either to see me there... I need to keep my distance. It’s better this way. It’s important they heal, the Wolfpack can’t fall into anarchy.”
“What does it matter now? Crys is probably on her way to Sean, we know how this will end.” Alistair argued. “Sean can’t beat Crys in a fair fight.”
“Who said this is a fair fight?” Annie questioned, halting and turning to face Alistair with a slightly defiant look in her eyes, both now standing a few steps from the center of the encampment. “It’s not a fair fight.” She concluded.
Alistair opened his mouth to answer, but was distracted by the sight of a few of the apprentice girls peeking into Annie’s tent and whispering excitedly amongst themselves. “What’s going on over there?”
Annie looked at Alistair with an intrigued expression, looking over her shoulder for a moment then fully turning to watch the movement, curiosity crossing her expression. “What are they plotting, I wonder.” She mumbled, amused, as she slowly approached the girls. Emily was the first to notice her, elbowing the other girls to warn them and the three of them turned to face Annie, visibly trying to contain giggle fits. “What’s going on with you girls?” Annie questioned. “Did you put something in my tent?”
“No, we didn’t put anything there.” Emily replied immediately, the other girls laughing in the background.

Annie chuckled, shaking her head at the girls; they were clearly waiting for her to go inside and see whatever it was that got them in such a giddy mood, so she obliged, making her way past them and into the tent, its interior was filled with the pleasant scent of the flowers and herbs that had been used to decorate the place. Annie took a moment to examine her surroundings, the soft laughter that escaped her lips was nearly drowned out by the silly giggles still erupting from the other girls at random moments, but it was more than anyone had heard from her in the past few days. “Seems as though I have a visitor.” She spoke, casually picking a single flower from the floor and turning to face the three girls who had entered the tent right after her. “Didn’t I give you all errands to run? If you are done with them, there’s plenty more you can occupy yourselves with around camp. None of which involves giggling around me like idiots.” She half-scolded, pushing the girls out of the tent and following them.
“He’s adorable.” Emily blurted out, snickering as Annie continued to shoo her and the others away into the camp, responding by shaking her head in utter amusement. “Yeah, yeah... Move along, now.... Damn kids...” She muttered playfully.

Once she was sure the girls had really gone Annie returned to Alistair, who had been watching the whole scene with a confused expression on his face. “Your mood seems to have improved.” He noted.
“Does it?” She asked, calmly examining the little blue flower she had picked up. It was not the same type, but it was a similar flower to the ones she usually placed on her mother’s grave. “I know we were having a conversation, Al, but we’ll continue it later, okay? I think I’ll go see my mom.” She told him, patting her friend in the arm as she passed him in the direction of the burial grounds.

Darren was pleased to have finished his surprise of petals and herbs for Annie before she had found him, specifically shaping the letter D as if to sign for his gift. Afterwards he slipped off quietly towards the burial grounds with the rest of field flowers. He knew by some of the looks he caught in passing, that some thought it was strange of him to visit the resting place of the dead where any of the departed buried there the boy had never even known. It still didn’t matter to him because since he started visiting the White Shadows, he made it a point to spend a few quiet moments there, the only place he could seem to gather his thoughts. He absently scattered the rest of the flowers as he passed by several graves and knelt beside a large, stone grave, casually leaning against it. Smiling down upon the site, he dusted off the stone, tending to it while meticulously placing several white petals in a basic design that mirrored a rose. “..Hello again Helena...it’s Darren...I went with the flowers idea for Annie that we discussed the last time I was here..hopefully that gets a smile or two.” Darren cleared his throat, scratching the back of his head a bit awkwardly. “I hear you liked to be called Lena..so I guess maybe I should address you as such.” Darren snorted. “..Even though I heard also you were known as the White Rose? Sounds...dangerous.”

Leaning his head back, Darren removed his hat and placed it in his lap, closing his eyes with a deep sigh. “I’ve heard lots of things about you..yet...at the same time...not many can say much...I mean..in that...I hear you were a private person so there’s only so much to tell. That’s understandable. I honestly wouldn’t want all of Valcrest knowing my business; not to mention the fact if that were the case I’m sure that would have made your old assassin days not so effective, right? I do hate the idea of having to ask others about you in order to ’Know’ an inkling of who you were when it would have been my preference to have met you.” Darren grunted in slight annoyance. “Mom..said she only met you briefly..and even though she wasn’t happy that you knew about her connection to Uncle Jake and that he was alive when she believed he was dead..she seems to understand...and she seems to hold a certain kind of respect for you. You should know she had a blast impersonating you just for the sheer torment...eh well she says it was for training purposes with Luckas, but anything that was probably Jakey’s idea was rooted on the sole purpose of torment I bet. Jake said it was rather..entertaining. Mom says Luckas is getting better..even stronger..and so is she..with whatever it is they do involving that link of theirs. I still don’t quite understand it all.” He paused to chuckle his smile fading some as he sat in silent thought for a few moments before continuing his one sided conversation.

“...Finding out with who my father is..and what he’s involved in..I am wondering if I should just take on my mother’s name. Do you think a name makes the man or the man makes the name? Just...think it’s such a dangerous name to possess now..Hearst..” Opening one eye he turned slightly towards the stone as if he were listening to the woman responding to his question and he nodded. “Eh..you’re probably right…” He half whispered to himself.

Opening his other eye he glanced up towards the sky, taking in what a clear, refreshing day it had become. Inhaling deeply through his nostrils he held in the scent of spring around him, savoring it before releasing the stale remnants back into the air. “....Beautiful calm...before the storm…” Darren smiled, shaking his head half amused with himself. “Of course..if one can actually call the past few months ‘Calm’, but Ess...er...Mom...that was something she said to me when she told me about the night her Dad died...the night the town burned. I think...that’s what this is...the time last night..given to celebrate her and Jake’s birthday...a moment of peace. Everyone deserves that kind of moment once in a while to at least clear the head, no? Just...that peace doesn’t last forever…and I heard something about how some of you guys here feel peace is a hard word to define or if it can even exist? But...that’s why I am here...well one of the reasons…” Darren opened a warm smile, his blue eyes flickering a darker indigo, a violet tone outlining his pupils as they slowly closed. “..I find some peace being around her...and...Dragons…was wondering what you guys had to read up on folklore and such on the subject...The journal my father had...he mentions his business partner..describes him as if he were a dragon...make me wonder if it means something more...and not just for secrecy’s sake.”

Annie walked towards the cemetery in a steady pace, somewhat glad to be walking away from Alistair and his concerns. She knew that he meant well, but having him constantly checking up on her at every opportunity wasn’t exactly helping matters much. It just added to her stress and made her want to be on her own and the cemetery was the best place there was for that in camp. Not many went there anymore, and it was without a doubt the quietest place to be.

As it turned out, she hadn’t been the only one to have that idea and as she spotted Darren by her mother’s grave she slowed her pace a bit as if to sneak up on him, but at the same time making absolutely no effort to be silent. She caught a good deal of what Darren was saying, and found the whole situation quite amusing. “You know, your visits are proving to be quite the distraction for some of the apprentices.” She spoke up, holding back a chuckle. “All their swooning might actually get someone killed one of these days and then I’ll get into some serious trouble.” Annie teased, stopping by the grave and resting one hand against the stone, briefly whispering something under her breath before sitting on the grass beside it. “And I’d be careful if I were you, my mom was never the best at giving advice even when was still alive, but... for what it’s worth, I like your name.” She stated, nodding at her own words. “It suits you.”

Darren’s eyes crinkled when he squeezed them tight at the sound of footsteps, his cheeks flushing momentarily with a subtle, reddish hue. He waited a moment before opening his eyes, a slight look of embarrassment crossing his expression for being walked in upon talking to himself which quickly dissipated, no worse for wear since it didn’t appear Annie was annoyed at his presence beside her mother’s grave. Casually he stood, fiddling with his hat, picking at non existent fuzzies or blades of grass and smiled. “Well, I was hoping to be more of a distraction for you...but if my mere presence puts a smile on someone’s face, then I must be doing something right, no?” When Darren was satisfied with the upkeep of his hat, he leaned over towards Annie and brushed aside a few strands of her hair with a gloved hand before lightly dropping the hat on a slight angle upon her head. Taking a few exaggerated steps back he squinted in the sunlight, tilting his head awkwardly as if he were deciding if he liked how it looked upon the woman. “Not bad at all...may be a tad big, no? Big enough gust of wind could take that right off.” He snickered. “My Mother...seems to be quite good at giving advice..but never at taking some..or listening to her own words...speaking of which...she was very happy with the gift..and sends her thanks. I think she plans on coming to meet you soon and was sad you didn’t come by.” Darren cleared his throat, the whites of his teeth peeking out as his smile widened, his tone softening to almost a whisper. “We...all...missed you. For the most part though..the party was...drama free...mostly..”

Annie chuckled softly, Darren’s hat was really a bit big for her head, after a moment she picked the hat off her head and examined it carefully in her hands. “It’s a lovely hat, I’d like it better with a little flower on it, or a feather maybe.” She played, putting it back on and letting it fall slightly over her eyes. “Lots of those lying around the Ravens’ camp for what I hear. So... Drama free mostly? Sounds like I missed some excitement. Was it Luckas? I’m pretty sure no one told him there was going to be a party... Crowds can make him pissy sometimes.” Annie sighed softly and slowly got on her feet. “I originally planned on going, to be honest, but... My headaches have been getting worse these past couple of days, and I thought that the noisy environment wouldn’t do me a lot of good. I didn’t want Jake to spend his birthday worried about me either... It’s been quite a while since he’s even acknowledged the date, I shouldn’t be giving him excuses not to have fun.” She opened up a smile, fiddling with the flower she was still holding. “I look forward to meeting your mother... I sure heard a lot about her.” A somewhat amused snort escaped the girl at her own words, but she didn’t elaborate. “Where’s Sora, she didn’t come with you?” She questioned, casually reaching out and passing the stem of the flower behind Darren’s ear. Taking a few steps back, she lifted the hat from her eyes to give him an inspecting glance. “See, that’s a good look for you, the blue brings out your eyes.” She chuckled.

“Pfft...a feather?” Darren playfully rolled his eyes, bending down slightly so he could see beneath the brim of his hat to look into Annie’s eyes. “The first thing I did was stomp to pieces that feather that once embellished that hat..thank you. But...I bet some flowers would be ok...for you…” He smiled, standing with his hands on his hips in a ridiculously, silly pose. His eyes were squinted from the sun’s blinding flare and yet his chin was lifted towards the sky in a fake, snobbish arrogance. “Wish Irvin could see me now. He said I was pretty...the flowers really don’t help my case.” He didn’t try to remove the blue flower behind his ear, instead he picked up a small handful of the same flowers he had scattered along Lena’s grave. “And..that’s a beautiful look for you...that smile suits you. Even more so like music to my ears when you laugh.” Darren’s smile faded as he looked over Annie with certain amount of seriousness and genuine admiration. When he realized he was staring he winked, breaking out of his own lapse of thought.

“The kids keep themselves occupied with gathering up the Raven’s feathers for the Guard. When you see Jake, you’ll see what I mean. And Luckas? He was actually ‘behaving’, if one can dare use that term to describe that guy. Jake got annoyed with him, as always and tried to hurt him...I think. He was pretty drunk. No one was hurt or anything. Course..you seriously should be kicking yourself in the ass for missing Dastan’s impressive display of fireworks..when they decided to work, that is.” Darren chuckled, turning his attention away from Annie as if distracted and threw a handful of small, blue flowers so that they showered around her. For a moment they seemed to float in a vortex of wind that swirled the petals around her before clinging to her hair and borrowed hat. Darren smiled innocently, a devilish twinkle glistening in his left eye as he watched Annie. “Oh, I’m sure Sora’s off hunting or..bugging some of my ‘swooning’ fans, no? Keep them on their toes.” He went quiet, still watching Annie in some sort of half trance so that he didn’t even notice when his wolf companion appeared behind Annie with something furry and red in her mouth.

“I’ll have a lot more reasons to smile when this is over, but I try.” Annie spoke, a serious expression crossing her eyes momentarily, but slowly fading. The girl snickered, playfully trying to dodge the flower petals as they rained down on her head, but not avoiding a single one. “And Irvin said you were pretty?” She asked, holding back a bit of laughter. “I have to say, I’m not sure whether or not that worries me....”Calmly she took off the hat, now sprinkled in blue petals, and placed it back on Darren’s head. “There you go... Here’s what you should wear to the next party, it’s a very festive look, don’t you think? And not too girly because it’s blue.” She added with a little smirk. “Eh, Jake and Luckas... They have their issues. Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen much of Jake since my mom died. I think he’s a bit mad at me for not being mad at Luckas... Or something like that. I love him, he’s my favorite cousin, but he knows how to be an ass when he wants to be.” Annie shrugged, glancing at the gravestone beside her. That was when she noticed Sora. The wolf was carrying something small fluffy and red, which she recognized as a baby fox. “Look... I think Sora caught something.” She pointed out, smiling at the wolf. “And trust me... I’ve seen the fireworks... I almost had to go to the desert and personally smack Dastan on the head during the ‘testing phase’.”

Darren smirked, readjusting his hat so that his eyes could be seen beneath the brim, not brushing off the flowers that still lingered. After listening a few moments, his attention was gradually pulled towards Sora while absently he rested a reassuring hand upon Annie’s arm. In his mind, his thoughts were lingering on the woman’s words on how she would smile more when ‘this’ was all over, referring to the sickness and other plaguing dilemmas to date and wondered if it would really ever be over. The terrible things his own father had been involved with had gone further back and involved more people than just Asher and if something like that had survived for this long, was it something that could truly be rooted out and destroyed? “..That’s right..when this is over...we can’t give up right? To every beginning there will be an end...but in the meantime, I’ll stick around if it’s ok with you and help remind you that there are still plenty of reasons to smile.”

He pulled away and slowly knelt in front of Sora who had gently dropped the kit fox and was cleaning the top of it’s head with curious amount of affection and care. It was still alive and apparently unharmed. Darren slowly reached out towards the kit and Sora thumped her tail happily while voicing a concerning, low growl as if to give Darren a simple warning. “Shh..Sora..what do we have here? Is this your baby?” Darren’s eyes softened in a bewildered understanding that this creature had not become the wolf’s next meal. Sora, was not like her brothers and was kindly reminded of a time a few months ago when he accompanied Essence, Aiden, and the much younger pups on a hunting trip. Ward had alerted the pack to a burrow occupied by a family of rabbits and his brothers and sisters wasted no time in claiming their kills, leaving nothing alive. Well, almost nothing. Ess had found two baby bunnies cowering in a bush and as Beo moved to snatch them right out of her hand, she scolded her furry companion and smacked him lightly on the snout. It was the only time Darren had seen his mother get so upset with the wolves and he remembered how ashamed and confused Beo had appeared. After all, he was just following instinct and he wasn’t killing needlessly but for a purpose of his own survival. Still, all the wolves had watched the scene with a surprising amount of intelligent understanding and as Ess ignored Aiden’s explanation and rationalization on the situation, she had brought the rabbits back to camp and gave them to the kids to raise until they were old enough to take their chances in the wild on their own.

“A predator, knowing...when life is to be spared. That’s...kind of poetic.” Darren sighed, glancing up at Annie as he pulled off one of his gloves and revealed a few fresh cuts and bruised knuckles just so he could pet the pup fox. “Annie...do you think..it takes more courage to spare a life..than to take one?” He asked quietly, his voice strained some as if it were failing him, a mix of guilt and defiance hidden beneath his tone as he thought of his argument with his mother.

Annie watched with a soft smile as Sora cared for the little baby fox, Darren’s words reaching her with a bit of delay, causing her to turn her attention back to him. “I think that the act of taking or sparing a life in itself has little to do with courage. It think it has to do with what is right for someone in the moment. Has to do either with what is moral or instinctive to a person. The part that takes courage, as with most choices, is dealing with the consequences. Even doing the right thing for the best of reasons can be much more painful than we expect it to be.” She sighed softly, calmly crouching down to observe the baby fox. “It’s fascinating how animals don’t need to rationalize these things. Sora can save a baby fox, and still hunt for food when she needs to. One thing doesn’t influence the other. Nothing will ever be this simple for us. What we do one day stays with us forever.” She silenced for a few seconds before letting out a small chuckle. “I’m pretty sure that’s not a helpful answer, but to be fair; that was an unfairly complex question you asked. Does it have to do with whoever it is you’ve been punching lately?” She asked, indicating the state of his knuckles.

Darren was mulling over Annie’s words for some time, his bare hand still caressing the fox’s fur so the that simple distraction almost blocked out the woman’s observation on his knuckles. Darren opened a curious smile that didn’t touch his eyes and he shrugged. “Just..a bit of friendly competition that may or not have gotten a bit out of hand.” Darren cleared his throat, his voice taking on a slightly awkward tone as he continued in more of a mumble. “Still, I think Aiden and I are better pals for it now..this…” He motioned to his knuckles, flexing his hand to show he wasn’t in any pain, at least worth mentioning. “..No..that doesn’t have to do with my question.” Darren’s smile faded and he just stared at Sora as he attempted to collect his thoughts and instead of answering Annie’s question directly, he asked another question. “How important is it to honor and obey our elders? I mean, I’ve always been one to give respect..but Ess...er..Mom..she is trying to forbid me to go after Asher..and we kind of got into a bit of an argument last night. I feel bad...I said some things, however true, I could see were painful for her to hear. She believes she can take care of it and part of me says I should let her..but that other part of me..says I need to take care of her.” Darren paused, letting out a long sigh, before shifting his stare back over towards Annie with what could only be described as a wounded look in his eye. “I wonder..if she thinks..it takes a monster..to rip the world of one..and I think she’s afraid I will go down a dark path like she did. She knows...she knows Annie, I’ve never taken a life intentionally before..I just..feel I have to do this...and whatever consequences I am faced with, I believe more greater outcomes will prevail from his death and it will be worth it.”

“Aiden... Aiden... Beast Boy, right? I see.” Annie smirked slightly remembering a few of Luckas endless rants regarding the man, but the amusement didn’t last too long. Annie sighed at Darren’s questioning, frowning slightly as she thought it over, sitting down where she had kneeled beside Sora as though she predicted it would take longer than usual to reach a coherent answer; so might as well get comfortable. “What would your mom say if she heard you refer to her as an elder, I wonder.” She questioned, a bit of amusement crossing her expression briefly and fading as she went silent once again, idly petting Sora as she considered what Darren had said. “Well... I obviously can’t tell you what to do, Darren, but I will give my most honest opinion on this whole situation. First of all: respect, honor and obedience are separate things in my book. You do owe your mother respect and you should honor her always, sure. For everyone comes a time in life though when they begin to disagree with their parents and once you reach that point it’s much more important to follow your own convictions, trust me; I’ve reached that phase a bit early for my sake. You found your mother just recently, but it’s clearly a bit too late in your life for her to be able to forbid you of anything. Even if in a moment of desperation she tries to act as such, she knows this. That said, I think that in all the ways you’re rationalizing this and in all the questions you seem to be asking yourself you’re trying to avoid the real issue and it’s important, no matter what you decide, that you understand that you are talking about murdering your father. That’s what you need to tell yourself. Forget the monster he is, forget the lives he has and may yet ruin, it doesn’t matter if he deserves to die or if the world would be a better place. What you’re really talking about is murdering your father.”

Annie paused for a moment, her eyes fixed on the animals for a few long moments before she looked at Darren again. “You want to think that all of the good reasons why this needs to be done will make this easier, but chances are they won’t. He’ll be dead and, because you’re not like him, you’ll be left standing asking yourself what this makes of you. You may ask yourself that for a very long time, if not for the rest of your life. Even if you never hurt another living thing, a part of you will always question. Like I said; I can’t tell you what to do, but personally I wouldn’t want that. No one who cares about you would. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but there’s a lot of people after your father aside from your mother and you; is this really a sacrifice that you need to make?”

Darren snorted at the reference of Aiden as Beast Boy and shook his head, not commenting on the subject much further. He thought more on the idea of what his mother would say if she did hear him refer to her as an elder and chuckled. “You know...she just seems like someone who would laugh that off..not take it seriously. Probably curse the Twins for making her feel suddenly so old.” Darren sighed, slipping off the second glove and lifting his hat to smooth back his hair. “...Some would say..it’s carrying out justice...an execution of sorts...but all in all, you’re right; it’s murder. Does it really make a difference who carries it out? Aiden thinks it doesn’t...just that Asher is stopped. Why should I put that kind of responsibility on someone else? Mom felt it was hers to put down her own brother, Ian. Her and I crack jokes about it, to ease the tension...but she did some horrible things to him and she didn’t...lie about it to me. She said she wanted me to know who she is and she explained her feelings on the matter as she didn’t want me to travel the same path she did. I..” Darren cleared his throat, his voice failing him a moment as he turned his gaze away from Annie. “I don’t think I would be like her..drag it out...enjoy the suffering..I don’t see myself as someone who could like murder. I know it’s not an easy thing and if it were I guess I wouldn’t have even brought it up to you. I’m not sure how else..to look at it. It’s not something I want to do, but I need to protect her. Ebony tried coming for her again..what if Asher does the same thing? Sooner or later..sacrifices will be made for those we love..”

“You are talking about murdering your father” Annie repeated calmly, putting extra emphasis on her words this time so that they wouldn’t be brushed aside again. “You can call the man ‘Asher’ and you can renounce his name, but trust me; if and when you kill him it will be very, very, clear to you what you’ve done.” She went silent for a few moments, quietly looking around the burial grounds. “I don’t usually do this, but I’m have no practical knowledge in killing so I’m going to try and say this the way my mom would, okay? Alistair says I do pretty good impersonation, so let’s see...” Annie took a deep breath, forcing a small cough to clear her throat, speaking in a almost perfect imitation of her mother’s severe tone. “Don’t make this about responsibility, boy. Don’t make it about justice, don’t tell yourself that you need to do it; you don’t need to do this. If you go through with it, it should be a choice that you make and should be yours to live with. Only cowards blame their actions on their circumstances.” Annie finished her scolding and fell into a small laughing fit, shaking her head at herself. “I’m sorry... Heh... I don’t think she would be too pleased with me for doing this. ”

Annie stopped her laughter and sighed, reaching for Darren’s arm giving it a gentle squeeze. “That’s what she told Jake, in similar circumstances, but maybe it doesn’t apply exactly as she was trying to talk him out of something. I’m not going to say you shouldn’t go after your father, because you do have all the reasons to go after him, just as much as everyone else, and because this is personal to you it’s not an option to not get involved... So, who knows, maybe you should do just that. I just think that if this is what you’re going to do, then you should look at it for what it is. Because the truth is, if you’re brutally honest, Darren, you don’t need to kill. You don’t need to be the one to protect your mother. It’s a parent’s job to protect their child and not the opposite. Your father’s actions are not on you. If you go into this telling yourself you’re doing it for her safety not only are you lying to yourself, but you’ll be putting the weight of your actions on her shoulders. If you go into it trying to right his wrongs you’ll be putting the weight of your actions on him, which is exactly the same thing he’s been doing his whole life to his victims. You’ll be murdering your father, and you’ll be doing it because you, alone, decided it was the right thing to do. It will be on your shoulders, all of it. It’s important that you understand this now instead of letting it hit you out of nowhere later. It might not hurt less, but you’ll be able to tell your mother that it wasn’t all about her, and you’ll be able to tell yourself that this was a decision you chose to live with.”

If Darren was about to say something it was probably forgotten at the realization that the sky was starting to darken. Annie’s eyes instinctively raising to the sky in search of the Sun. “Have you heard that kings of Newhaven originally believed the Sun and Moon in the sky were the light through which the Gods gaze upon the world of men?” She asked Darren, seeming perfectly calm as if this was a sudden change in weather. “The one and only eclipse known to Valcrest history occurred when Sun returned to the Afterlife... If someone had any doubts this is the end of days, surely they are gone by now.” She sighed, gripping Darren’s arm. “Come, I could surely use some of that charming personality of yours to help soothe the patients."

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

[Wolfpack’s Camp - About 5 months ago]

“Sean... Come on... You can’t go on like this. Open the door.”
Donovan’s pleas went unanswered and the boy simply shook his head, walking away from his brother’s door. Sean had been that way for a couple of weeks now; isolated, non-responsive, uncaring. It had been a considerably slow decline for the man, and Donovan could tell that he had really tried his best to hold on, but it was clear the he was reaching a breaking point. Doni didn’t know what if anything he could do to help his brother, if he couldn’t even get Sean to open his door and let him in.
“Franklin would know what to do.” Ryan mumbled at him, following Donovan towards the dining hall.
“Franklin would break the door down and kick his ass. Want to try that? Be my guest.” Donovan retorted, an angered snort escaping him as he endured the stares of the assassins who froze halfway through their meals as if expecting him to announce something had changed in the Alpha’s condition. He ignored them the best he could and took a seat, keeping his head low and gazing at the wooden table before him as if trying to stare a hole right through it. “He’s sitting there, waiting for her, waiting to die... I don’t know what else to say to reach him. I’ve tried everything. Indrani was here the other day, but he wouldn’t open the door for her either. He talked to Annie, but of course she wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“He can’t keep doing this, isolating himself... The clan is starting to grow impatient.”
“I think she’s doing it on purpose; stalling just to mess with his head... Torturing him... It’s what it looks like.” Donovan muttered, nodding in acknowledgement as one of the cooks brought him and Ryan bowls of stew and a large loaf of bread, which Ryan promptly snatched and parted in half. Donovan stared at his meal with a momentary look of disgust upon his features. “She is, you know, torturing him... And he’s letting her.”
“The Actives are starting to talk, Doni, they’re going to break down that door and throw him into the lake or some other drastic thing like that. If that doesn’t fix the problem, they’ll overthrow him.”
“I doubt he actually cares at this point.” Donovan muttered. “I want to help him, I do, but I don’t know how. Maybe... Should just admit defeat and let it all run its course.”
“When she gets here, finally, if he goes on like this; in this mindset... He’ll not stand a chance.” Ryan argued. “You’re his only family now, Doni... Try harder. If you don’t fight for him now, then who will?”
“It all means shit if he doesn’t want to fight himself. I can’t do it for him.” Donovan concluded, standing from his seat and leaving his food on the table untouched.

[3 years ago]

“Seeaan... Are you awake? Sean!”
Sean snorted slightly as he startled out of sleep, blinking continuously until the image of his little sister became clear in the moonlit room, standing by the side of his bed. “Katelyn? What’s the matter?”
“I can’t sleep. It’s too quiet.” She mumbled. “Can I stay here with you for a bit?”
“Sure, Katie.” Sean mumbled sleepily, sitting up and making room for the girl to sit on the bed beside him, as it was the norm whenever she had trouble falling asleep. “What is that thing you’re fiddling with there?”
“It’s a charm bracelet. Ali gave it to me, look.” Katie smiled handing to Sean a small bracelet made of string from which hung a couple of tiny wooden tokens of different shapes he couldn’t quite make out in the dark. “She told me that whenever something significant and good happens that I want to remember forever I should make a little token and add it to the bracelet, so then I can look at it and remember it always.”
“That’s really, really, thoughtful of her.” Sean stated simply, examining each of the little tokens with his fingertips trying to make out the shapes in the dark. “So, what do these stand for?”
“Well... There’s a flower shaped one for when we planted that cherry tree for mom on her birthday last year; it’s not that much of a happy memory, but it’s how I remember her and I obviously always want to remember her. Hmm... There’s a little hammer for that time Blackwell let me help him in the forge; that was a disaster, but it was fun... Hmm... There’s a little arrowhead for the first archery lesson you gave me, and the little wolfie shaped one is for mine and Doni’s birthday last year when you and Lionel convinced the ladies in the kitchen to make that giant wolf shaped gingerbread. And Doni ate most of it... And got sick...”
“I probably should not have let him do that... Dad was so mad.” Sean snickered, placing the bracelet back on his sister’s hands. “That’s pretty nice, Kate. I’m sure you’ll have a ton more of these pretty soon.”
“Hopefully.” The girl replied, stifling a yawn and leaning into Sean. “I miss dad, Sean.”
“Is that why you can’t sleep?” He questioned, wrapping his arms around her and giving her a light squeeze.
“Maybe.” The girl mumbled. “I don’t know. I’m worried about Lionel, I mean... He’s just so angry.”
“I know what that’s like.” Sean sighed. “Listen, Katie... It’ll get better, I promise. We’re going to be fine. Just trust me, okay?”
“Okay, Sean, I trust you.”
“Do you want to plant a tree for dad tomorrow? We could do that.”
“Can we? I’d like that.”
“Yeah? What kind of three do you want?”
“I’m not sure....” She sighed, stifling a yawn. “We’ll think about it in the morning.

[5 months ago]

“You know, I remember so very clearly... When you had just arrived... And you used to say that the good memories were the worse and talk about how sickening it felt to just hope to forget everything; to wish to erase yourself just to stop the pain. I understand that now.” Sean muttered. His eyes, previously fixated on his sister’s name; etched upon a pale grey stone, rising towards the shadows of the trees surrounding the cemetery grounds.
“You brought this on yourself. Don’t think I’m going to feel sorry for you. She would still be alive if you hadn’t... I mean... WHY, Sean? I’ll never truly understand why... All those things you did and what they were even for.”
“Why are you here? What do you want with me, Ali? After everything I wouldn’t doubt it, but I have a feeling you haven’t come this far just to watch me suffer.”
“You never liked me much. I never understood that really, but then I never cared to. I heard stories upon stories about your reaction when Evin mentioned he picked me for second command before you... You killed my recruit... Nearly succeeded to inutilize my drawing arm... I don’t know why you hate me, Sean; not even after all this time, but now it doesn’t really matter, because you managed to make me hate you in ways I’ve never truly hated anyone before and I have to say... That’s not an easy thing to do. Your sister, however... I’m pretty sure there’s a special place set aside for her in Heaven, because for some reason she never stopped believing in you, she would never leave your side, she fought like hell for whatever was still left of your soul. Now... She gave me something for safekeeping the last we spoke: ‘if you manage to give this back to me when all of this is over... that will truly be a moment to remember’, she said; laughing because she probably knew it wouldn’t happen...” As Allison spoke she dropped something upon the earth in front of Katelyn’s grave. “You don’t deserve it, but I know that she would want you to have it nonetheless, and if knowing that hurts you, if it burns, if it sickens you... Then I want you to have it too. Because after all those times you vowed to take everything from me, Sean...” Ali silenced, leaving the sentence unfinished as she began to walk away into the heart of the forest. “She deserved a better end to her story than this.” She muttered at him, before disappearing into the shadows completely.

[Wolfpack Camp - A Couple of Weeks Ago]

It was late night, Sean assumed. The sun had set some time ago; he wasn’t sure exactly how long, all he knew was that the golden rays of light slipping in through the walls and ceiling had darkened and then faded, replaced by the dim silver glow of moonlight. That was usually how he knew his days were passing, although he completely lost time of how many exactly had passed. It had been quite a few since Donovan had given up trying to open his door. His brother would still stop by, twice a day, to leave him a meal. He’d knock on the door, leave the food and walk away. Sometimes Sean would open and take the food, other days he would be just too numb to even move from his bed. After a while Doni had started leaving notes in his food tray, Sean had read them, but hadn’t answered. He wanted to, he really did, but whenever he tried he found that he had no words in him. So the silence that had suddenly taken over his days and night lingered on, seemingly endlessly, for weeks, months.

Ali’s visit had been what pushed Sean into this state of... He wasn’t even sure what his state of mind was anymore. He wouldn’t admit it, not even now, but if the intention was to make sure he was properly miserable, it had certainly worked. The charm bracelet that Katelyn held so dear had been picked up from the fresh patch of dirt before her grave, and Sean had not let go of it since. He had promised Katie that they would be alright, he knew it was an empty promise even then, how could he think he could protect her? That was such a ridiculous assumption to make after everything that happened. He should have known better. He should have known...

Sean was startled out of his thoughts by a sound. It wasn’t loud, but in the silence it echoed as though it was something infinitely heavier than it actually was. A quick glance around the room and then down at his feet and Sean realized he had dropped Katie’s bracelet on the floor. It had just slipped out of his hand. Slipped right through his fingers. When had that happened? His first thought was to pick it up, but half way through the act he found himself grabbing a chair and throwing it with all his force against the cabin wall, screaming at the top of his lungs. Shouting and breaking things didn’t stop the pain, it hardly made a difference, but Sean seemed unable to stop himself now. Despite the fact he knew everyone in camp could hear him, despite the physical pain that eventually struck him from the effort, he went on to shatter everything he owned. His voice giving out from the strain, the man finally gave in to exhaustion, reduced to a sobbing mess, lying on the floor, once again clinging to his sister’s bracelet. A pathetic, defeated, broken man.

. . . . .

It was late night again. Sean wasn’t sure if he was wrong before or if it he had been lying on his cabin floor for a full day, but it was the middle of the night now. The camp was silent and there was a cool breeze brushing past the tree branches, the fresh air felt pleasant and the Alpha slowly breathed, a bit shaky at first, but eventually steadying. He had avoided the lake ever since his conversation with Evin. The waters were still as always and even though the weather had warmed they gave the impression of being very cold.
“Hey... You’re outside.” Donovan’s voice called from a few steps behind him.
“I needed air.” Sean mumbled.
“It speaks!” Donovan exclaimed playfully, letting out an awkward cough when Sean didn’t react much to his teasing. “It doesn’t laugh though, it seems.”
“It will, maybe, someday.” Sean replied simply.
“Are you feeling any better? I mean...” Doni sighed, falling silent, seeming to not know what to say.
“No.” Sean shrugged, sitting be the edge of the lake and removing his boots. “You don’t have to ask me about my feelings, Doni. It’s alright.”
“It’s not alright.” Donovan protested. “It’s not alright. Do you know how I feel? Have you considered? Katie was my twin... She was there for me the moment we were born... I never knew a world where she didn’t exist... She was my favorite person, my best friend...”
“And it’s my fault she died.” Sean stated dryly. “So you don’t have to ask me about my feelings. It’s alright.”
“It’s not your fault. You spent weeks securing this camp, Sean. You did everything right.”
“Bana infiltrated us... Those mercenaries got in... I didn’t do enough. I didn’t protect her and I couldn’t save her. This is on me. Just like it would be if anyone else had died instead of her. I’m the Alpha, Donovan; it’s on me. It’s always on me.”
“Look, sure you’re responsible, I’m not arguing that you’re not, but... You know, it’s easy for everyone to pin this on you. If you think about it though, does anything you’ve done excuse Bana for trying to poison her that one time, or for infiltrating our camp and murdering Franklin? If he wasn’t here, he could have gotten to her in time to help her. If Indrani had believed you like friends are supposed to then you wouldn’t be so far from camp when it happened. Does anything you’ve done excuse them? Why should her death be entirely on you?”
“Donovan...” Sean shook his head and sighed heavily. “Sit.” He mumbled, waiting patiently for his brother to take a seat beside him before turning to face the boy. “Look, Doni, you’re a good kid. I understand that you want what’s fair, but the world isn’t fair and... Sometimes... Sometimes, there’s no justice. Not everyone pays, at least... Not as much as they should.”
“You can’t possibly think that’s okay. It’s not okay. It’s not fair...”
“Don. I know. I know its not okay. I know it’s not fair, but it doesn’t matter. You need to learn now that it doesn’t matter. You need to accept that. I was a good kid too, just like you. I know I was. I just couldn’t accept. And this... This you’re doing now; casting blame... This is how it starts. One day you’ll wake up decided to take matters into your own hands... thinking that it’s okay to do the wrong thing for a good cause... two, three, years later you realize that when you do enough wrong things eventually the cause no longer matters. Those things you do become who you are. Everyone pays one way or another, but it’s never fair. Accept that. If you want to do anything for me, you’ll be a better man ten years from now than I am today. Do you understand me?”

[Forest - 5 months ago]

Sean was pacing slowly, small clouds of dust forming under his boots as he walked. There was this philosophy, he’d heard, that stated that a person’s journey in life runs in a circle and that eventually everything ends exactly where it began. That place, that clearing, was the place where it all began. Only fitting that it all ended there as well. The clearing was empty, silent, lifeless; only fitting.

“So, you’ve come. I was sure I would have to hunt you down.” Indrani’s voice shattered the silence as she stepped out of hiding.
“I’m not that much of a coward Princess.” Sean muttered out, turning to face the woman. “Not that I’m even afraid of you.”
“Well, you were never the smartest puppy of the litter, were you?” Indrani snickered.
“Yes, well... People can say what they like, I’m still standing so I must be doing something right, Commander.”
Indrani nodded simply as she let the cloak she wore over her clothes fall to the ground, proceeding to remove the sheaths that held her daggers, keeping a close eye on Sean as he did the same thing on the opposite side of the clearing. “We’ll see for how much longer you’ll still stand, Alpha.” She muttered.

All other weapons to the ground, Indrani found her scythe leaned against a tree behind her, Sean already held an axe in each hand. For a very long while they stood there in silence, eyes locked on each other, the sounds of breaths and heartbeats becoming nearly unbearably loud in the secluded patch of forest. They both stood motionless, as if trying to make the best out of the last few moments when turning back was still an option, knowing that the silence would build up to a point where one of them would have to make a move, or walk away. Sean was waiting for that moment; for that move. He knew Indrani well enough to know she would never simply walk away, but he wasn’t going to make this easier on her either. Why should he? If whatever bond they had shared could be severed without pain, without struggle, then it truly had meant nothing. If this didn’t hurt, then it was just all for nothing. Sean lifted his weapons and took a defensive stance, stating clearly that he expected Indrani to initiate combat. The woman hesitated for a moment, her eyes examining the man standing before her and observing the change from the boy she had met in that same clearing so long ago. Her golden eyes sparkled for a moment as her gaze softened for only a split second at the familiar image of her friend. All warmth leaving her expression as she advanced, slashing at his midsection with one of the blades of her weapon, spinning in a semicircle and halting as the weapon collided with the metal of Sean’s axe. That was it; the beginning of the end.

[Wolfpack Camp - Early that morning]

“Who won? You never told me.”
Donovan’s question sounded in the clearing, disrupting the silence that Sean had been enjoying quite a bit up until then. “Won what?” He replied, not turning to face his brother.
“You were with Indrani when Katie was attacked, you said that was why you couldn’t get to her; you two were fighting. So, who won?”
“Katelyn died, nobody won.” Sean muttered simply, making very clear in his tone that he didn’t like where the conversation was going.
“What if she hadn’t, who would have won?” Doni insisted.
“I had disarmed her when I heard Franklin’s call. It distracted me, I lost my advantage, and she knocked me off my feet. Of course by then I was more concerned with getting to Katelyn so I tried to make Indrani understand what was happening, but she only did when Katie sounded the alarm. We ran back but it was too late by then.”
“If you had won, would you have killed her?”
Sean turned around to face his brother with a confused expression and shook his head. “Why are you asking me this Donovan?”
“I’m curious.” Donovan shrugged. “I mean, she wanted to kill you, but then... After Katie died she didn’t seem so concerned with that. I think, she wouldn’t have done it.”
“Maybe, or maybe she just felt sorry for me.” Sean sighed, turning back towards the lake and watching the still waters. “It doesn’t matter.”
“How does it not matter? She’s your friend.” Donovan argued. “I don’t understand why you won’t talk to her now.”
“There’s nothing to say, Doni. Things haven’t changed as far as I know. If she’s trying to reach out to me now, because Katie died, then that’s pity... I don’t want anyone’s pity, even less hers.”
“Aren’t you being a little too hard on her, Sean? I mean...”
“No. No I’m not. Listen, I may not be the best person in the world, Donovan, and most people wouldn’t believe me when I say this, but I value loyalty. I don’t betray my friends, my family, never.”
“What about Lionel?” Donovan asked, watching Sean’s reaction as if expecting him to end the conversation there.
“That was not a betrayal, Doni, it was... A mistake.” Sean answered, shaking his head. “Listen, you are too much of a kid still to understand some things, but... I wanted to have Lionel speak up in front of everyone and put pressure on Crys... I wanted her to fall apart like everyone expected she would. I never considered he would just... And even when he did, I didn’t think she would kill him. Lionel resented Crys plenty, but deep down he... liked her, you know?”
“Oh? Really? Huh.” Doni mumbled. “Well, guess that makes sense. I mean, even you have admit Crys is pretty.”
“Little brother... Valcrest is filled with pretty girls. And great part of them are not worth getting yourself killed.” Sean stated knowingly. “Hopefully you’ll learn that before following some random woman around instead of doing what you’re supposed to.” He scolded.
“Yeah, I know, I know... That was dumb.” Donovan muttered. “I know.”
“If it wasn’t for Ryan they would have killed you at the Ball Doni, so I reserve myself the right to doubt you.”
“Fair enough.” Donovan agreed.”
“Now, if you don’t mind... I’d like some time to myself before I go on to meet Crys.”
“About that, Sean...” Donovan started, hesitating for a moment, not wanting to push the issue too much. “... Have you at least chosen a second? What if you... don’t come back?”
“If I don’t come back, you’ll find all you need in my room, but you better be damn sure I’m gone before you go rummaging through my stuff, got it?”


===============================================
[Wolfpack’s Camp - Afternoon]

Crys stopped as soon as Ryan led her into the borders of the Wolves’ camp; something didn’t feel quite right. “Where’s Sean, Ryan?” She asked.
Ryan sighed. “Can’t you tell by now, Crys?” He asked, stopping for a moment before pressing on. “He’s at the lake, just come with me.”
Crys flinched for a moment as she finally understood what Ryan was saying, letting the man walk a considerable distance before continuing to follow after him to the lake. She didn’t have to pay attention to Ryan, she knew exactly how many steps away that clearing was, she still knew every inch of that encampment as if she had never left it. She stopped next to Ryan as she reached him, the ground beneath her feet felt soft as if it had just rained, the smell of damp clothes clinging to the air and giving her chills.
“You wanted to know where he was; he’s right in front of you.” Ryan stated simply, moving away as if to give Crys space. The words didn’t fully break through the shock as Crys slowly crouched down, her fingers trailing the cold wet earth until she felt her fingertip brush past skin and she stopped, jumping to her feet and turning her back. Crys couldn’t honestly be sure of her feeling at that particular moment, but whatever it was she was feeling only made her want to scream until her voice gave out. She didn’t, and if she had tried she would have discovered it to already be gone, when she tried to speak it came out weak and she had to force a cough to manage some sound. “How... Did this happen?”
“We’re not sure exactly. Donovan was the last to see him in the morning, right here. During the eclipse the camp fell into a slightly chaotic situation and Sean was nowhere to be found. After the sun came back Donovan came here to see if Sean had stayed put during the commotion and... found him... He was floating in the lake face down, but other than that... It seems like he just drowned.”
“Just drowned?” Crys repeated in disbelief. “Sean has been swimming in that lake since he was barely old enough to walk... He couldn’t have just drowned in there Ryan.”
“Yes, well... You see, Sean hasn’t quite been himself these past months. He locked himself in the leaders’ cabin for months on end and when he finally came out nearly everything inside the house was smashed to bits... That was... A couple of weeks ago. He’d been locked up in there since the funeral. He seemed a bit better since he came out, but... Maybe...”
“My brother did NOT kill himself.” Donovan interrupted. “Someone did this. Someone has to have done this, do you understand me? Sean wouldn’t just kill himself.”
Crys sighed, not speaking her mind as to what might have happened. It was definitely not an accident and she didn't think Sean would have killed himself, but she didn’t really know that. “You haven't told the others yet, have you? That’s why you wouldn’t talk about it until you got me here.” She asked Ryan, not waiting for his confirmation. “You have to go out there and tell them.”
“Tell them what?” Donovan muttered. “The Alpha is dead, he appointed no one for second command in the past six months, we don’t know who did it or why... So what exactly do we tell the others? Sean wasn’t the best leader, and in the past months he’d been less than useless, but he was there and that was enough. Now...” The boy silenced his voice fading into a weary sigh. “He said I should find all I needed in his room should he... If he didn’t come back... I went into his room and there was only one thing there, right on top of his bed; a book with a note, for you. The note said he’d found it two years ago and read it... It... Uh... It’s your father’s. His journal. It’s still there.”
“My father’s journal... Why would Sean even keep that?” Crys shook her head, a bit confused with the information, but brushing it aside for the moment.
“Look, Crys... You know why I brought you down here. You told Avius when he was Second that this clan needed a better leader than Sean... That you planned on seeing to it...” Ryan started firmly. “We need your help.”
“That may be why you brought me Ryan, but have you wondered why I came?” Crys replied coldly.
“You were fighting Sean for it... Pretend you killed him and take it, simple as that.” The man insisted.
Crys responded to Ryan’s words by slapping the man hard across the face. “The Alpha is dead, at your feet, his body is barely cold and listen to what you’re saying!” She scolded. “You’re a Wolf, have some respect for heavens sake! So what if I hadn’t agreed to come with you? You two would have sat here trying to avoid responsibility while he rots in front of you?” Crys removed her cloak and used it to cover the body, anger still in her voice. “Go out there now and let them know the Alpha is dead. See that his body is prepared for burial so that his brothers and sisters can mourn his death and pay their respects. Now. Before I decide to smack you further.”
Ryan groaned at being struck in the face, but he accepted the blow and walked away without another word to do as he was told.
“Ryan is a friend, he didn’t really mean it that way.” Donovan explained. “Still, I appreciate it.”
“Doni... People are going to know what happened and soon you won’t have a moment of peace, so... Let’s take a walk before that starts. I want to discuss some things with you.”
“With me? Alone?” Donovan asked, a bit suspicious, but following after Crys all the same. “Is it true Lionel had a crush on you?”
“What?” Crys snickered. “Who the hell told you that?”
“It’s not true?”
“Oh, no, it’s true... It was very uncomfortable sometimes, I won’t lie. Lionel was a good guy though... Forgetting that he tried to kill me and all that.”
Donovan snickered. “Well, I guess we all tried to kill you at one point or another... Sean was just better at it, I think.”
“Well, that’s debatable, he did hire other people to do it after all.” Crys pointed out. “Pretty sure that constitutes cheating.”
Donovan heaved a sigh and stopped walking. “This is far enough from camp, I think. That’s what you wanted, right?”
“Yes, this is far enough.” Crys agreed, leaning against a tree as she fiddled with something in her pocket.
“You’re not coming back, are you?” Donovan asked simply.
“No, I’m not, Doni.” Crys confirmed. “It was never an option.”
“Why not? They would accept you more easily than anyone else, Crys. You’re still the Alpha to them.”
“That’s not true. Sean was the clan leader, despite what my friends and allies would argue. He became Alpha when the clan accepted him. I may still be the Alpha, but this is not my pack; those people who followed me into exile, who accepted my leadership in Blackpond, in Newhaven, I owe my loyalty to them now.”
“You can bring them back too.” Donovan argued. “That’d be nice.”
Crys chuckled. “Would it?” She sighed. “Donovan, those people followed me into exile and they have stuck by me for the past three years no matter what. They’ve been my family whether I wanted it or not. How do you suggest I go back and tell them that those three years didn’t matter? How do I go back and say ‘oh it’s fine you can all just go back to fighting beside those guys who have outcasted you, called you traitors and hunted you down mercilessly for the past three years. All is forgotten!’? That would be like rewarding their trust, their loyalty, their sacrifice; because there has been a great deal of losses, with a slap in the face. They deserve better, and my job now is to see to it that they have it. Peace between us, cooperation maybe, I can see that in a near future, but what Sean and I have shattered will never be made whole again. Do you understand?”
“I suppose.” Donovan mumbled. “So what happens now?”
“I’ve been carrying around something that your brother really, really, wanted. Do you know what it is?”
“No, not really.” Donovan shrugged.
Crys sighed, pulling a ring from her pocket and offering it to the boy.
“Uh... Look, you’re nice and all, but I’m not going to marry you.” Donovan answered, his tone only half playful as if not entirely sure that wasn’t in fact the situation.
“Don’t be stupid, boy.” Crys scolded. “It’s my mother’s ring, see the little ‘alpha’ symbol on it?” She explained, pushing the ring into Doni’s hand. “Take it.”
“Wh-.... No... No, I can’t... The clan needs to vote!” Donovan protested.
“They don’t want to vote and if you step up they won’t have to.” Crys smiled, closing the boy’s fist around the silver ring. “You can do this, Doni.”
“No, no... I’m just a kid, Crys... That’s insane. They won’t follow me!”
“My mother was just a kid, so was I, and your brother. We all had to earn respect and so will you, but I believe you’ll do a good job. Who has been running things while Sean was being ‘less than useless’? Don’t say Ryan, because I know it wasn’t Ryan, not really. Sean’s absence puts the burden on your shoulders, but other than that, it’s just the same. Plus I’ll help you out.”
“But you said...”
“Cooperation, is what I said. That’s what this will be; nothing more than that, but that offer extends to you and only you. Just think about it, but don’t take too long to decide or else this camp will be the next place in Valcrest to lose itself to chaos.” Crys gave Donovan’s shoulder a gentle squeeze before starting to walk away. “I’ll be in the desert for a couple of days should you need to talk, about this or anything else. I’m really sorry it ended this way.”

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Character Portrait: Annie Turner Character Portrait: Darren Hearst
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[Otium 16, mid-afternoon]

Annie had been silent on the walk from the Wolves’ camp to the plains. Usually she couldn’t stand to be in the company of another person and not speak to them, but she had not spoken a word to Darren the entire walk home, her mind occupied with things she was, at the moment, unable to speak of. He seemed understanding of her silence however, and she was thankful for that.

If she were to ask herself how Sean’s burial, or the lengthy conversation she had with Donovan afterwards, had made her feel she wouldn’t know what to make of it. Truth be told she wasn’t sure if she was there to bury her brother or if she was just a healer seeing off a lost soul like any other. Donovan wanted answers she couldn’t give, to questions that had been persistent since she received the news of Sean’s death. Could he have killed himself? Would he? She had been asked these things as though she was supposed to know Sean better and maybe as of late that was true. If it was, then she had to ask herself if there was something more she could have done for him. If maybe she could have prevented this. It was foolish thinking, she knew, but still there it was.

Depressing affairs aside, it was a beautiful sunny day and the sun was still shining bright when they entered the plains. Annie had purposely taken a longer route to enter the Shadows Camp in order to enter through the gardens. She wanted to smell the flowers, feel the sun, for a brief moment at least before responsibilities started to weigh on her shoulders again. She crossed the gardens picking off a flower here and there and entered the cemetery, placing the flowers on her mother’s grave before sitting on the grass beside it. It was a silent understanding that she was not to be bothered with anything while sitting there, so even though her presence was noted, no one approached them just yet. Annie smiled at Emily as the girl passed them and waved, seeming to blush furiously and quicken her step as she caught Darren’s gaze. Sora followed after the girl in the direction of the children’s ward, probably to check on her ‘baby’.

Annie’s gaze followed them until they were at a considerable distance, a soft chuckle escaping under her breath at Emily’s behavior. She heaved a long sigh, tension seeming to leave her for the first time since they left the desert, her brown eyes fixed on the silver ring Donovan had insisted she keep. She didn’t want it, truth be told, but it was her father’s ring and she hadn’t in her to refuse or dispose of it. Even though she kept it in hand during their walk, considering actually throwing it away in the woods somewhere. “I never did tell you about my father, did I?” She asked Darren, placing the ring on top of the blue flowers by the white gravestone. “I hear he was a good man, I think I might have liked him.” Annie lay back in the grass, closing her eyes as she felt exhaustion setting in. “Unfortunately he died before I discovered who he was. Before my mother left... to wherever it is she went last year... I asked her why she refused to tell me. She said that she planned to, but changed her mind when he died. ‘Can you really miss what you never had?’, she said. That’s a pretty good question. I didn’t know him, but I still feel like his death should mean something more to me now that I know, but it doesn’t. However, Sean... I’d known him for years, I didn’t particularly dislike him, but he was always, in general, a bit of an asshole, but things changed between us when he found out. He wasn’t less of an asshole, I don’t think I actually got to know him any better... Logically there’s no reason his death should mean more than my father’s. It’s a strange thing.”

Darren had taken the silent walk back to the White Shadows as the perfect time to mull over pieces of conversations he had been allowed to hear, putting together a puzzle of who Sean was beyond just the ‘Wolfpack’s latest Alpha’. He hadn’t asked any questions minus the ones that pertained to Annie eating or drinking. As much as he knew he should encourage her to rest, knowing she was running on smoke alone, he didn’t even bring that up. Darren simply kept by her side or even a few steps behind as if to give her space but remain close enough if she needed to lean on him. All the man wished to do was rest his head along hers, taking deep breaths of her hair that was permeating of herbs and menthol from the relentless salves they had applied to the numerous wounded at the Crimson camp. He just wanted to hold her and run his fingers through her hair. It was all he could think of until she finally spoke.

“You mentioned him once in passing..”

Darren followed Annie up to her mother’s grave and left a few flowers next to hers before sitting beside where she lay. He lay on his side facing her, propped up on his elbow, barely noticing Emily as she walked by. An automatic smile crossed his face but it never touched his eyes and faded to a contemplative expression as he listened to Annie. He slipped off his gloves, brushing a few strands of the woman’s hair from her face. The man’s strength was in place, the blue of his eyes hinting to his control and when he determined it was ok to do so, he reached for Annie’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

“I didn’t know I could miss something I never had, but it is possible if it existed in some manner at one point or another. You exist and therefore you had a father, so it is reasonable to believe he can be missed even if you didn’t know him. Or perhaps ‘missing them’ isn’t the correct phrase. Perhaps one yearns for what could have been and what was misplaced from their life; a soul, a presence. Sometimes we see in the world what is missing from ourselves and deep down wonder what we’ve been deprived of. To say it is a needless feeling or act I guess would depend on the person affected and the reason behind it.” Darren paused, picking at a few weedling flowers that were scattered beside Annie and himself, casually decorating the girl’s hair in yellow and golds as he seemed to ponder.

“If someone never knew what it was like to feel loved, wouldn’t they still deep down miss it? Wouldn’t there always be that void they can’t explain as if a piece of them were always missing? Maybe they would try it fill it in other ways, but would it really be possible to fill that hole?” Darren leaned in a bit closer, strategically placing more tiny flowers on the other side of Annie’s hair.

“Do you feel Sean’s passing more deeply than the passing of the father you never got to know? That’s really not that strange, Annie because you did know your brother for a time and some sort of connection was there, even if he was an asshole as you say. It wasn’t just a story told to you so that it may have felt unreal because he was there right in front of you.” Darren casted his gaze downwards so that his hat covered his face. “I didn’t know I had or have siblings out there somewhere and perhaps before they existed, before they were real, I didn’t ‘miss them’ but now that they do exist and I know, part of me does. Just like I swore to never stop searching for my mother, I will keep the same promise to those faceless sisters out there somewhere. ‘If one wants something they ‘never had’ then perhaps one should follow the path normally not seen.’” He snorted, an unusual hardening to his voice coating his words which he quickly chased away with an ironic laugh. “Now I understand what that means and even though it makes me uneasy to quote my father, he did have a point. Maybe he stole it from someone much more intelligent.”

Annie chuckled under her breath, running her fingers through her hair and grasping a few petals between her fingertips. “What is strange is not so much that Sean’s death affects me more than my father’s... It’s more the fact that just because we shared blood he gained such importance in my life...” She shook her head. “It’s ironic. He was always accusing me of being unaffected by death. He thought that I should be angrier, that I should suffer more. I don’t know why people think I’m never angry. I should scream and break things more often... Jake says it’s therapeutic, but then... Jake would say that.” She smirked, sitting up and shaking some more flowers off her hair. “One of these days, I’m gonna get chased by bees, I just know it.” She snickered. “You know, when Crys’ mother died, my mom was heartbroken. It was hard to tell with her, but I knew she was. When I brought it up with her she told me that as healers we have to tell ourselves that no life matters above all others, but sooner or later; at some point, we’ll be lying to ourselves. I think that’s just... A frightening thought to someone like me; that sometimes what we know and what we believe in counts for nothing. Sean wasn’t a good man, not anymore at least. In many ways the world is better off with him gone... In some ways, he’s better off too. I know that, and yet I still wish I could have helped him...”

Annie went silent for a few moments, watching the movement of the camp in the distance, a discreet smile crossing her features. Stressful as things might be there lately, it was still nice to be home. “Depressing couple of days, huh?” She smiled, tapping the brim of Darren’s hat so that it lowered further into his eyes. “Least the company’s been pleasant.”

Darren smiled, playfully trying to look out from beneath the tilted brim of his hat, one eye squinted as he looked at her. At first his eyes lingered within hers, noting the sadness behind her smile, his gaze distracted temporarily at the falling petals from her hair. He reached out to brush a few more from her strands, his baby blues shining with an intensity that burned with a life of their own. Violet flecks of color remained subdued as a pinkish hue touched his cheeks, his eyes falling down to Annie’s mouth tias she spoke. He leaned in a bit and whispered, “I think Sean was just bewildered by your strength...that he maybe lacked himself..”

Darren let out a shaky sigh, letting his hand trail from Annie’s dark locks of hair as it cascaded along her shoulder, his fingers caressing her arm. Using the top of her head, Darren pushed the brim of his hat upwards so he could see her easier, and as his gaze found its way back to hers, he bit down on his bottom lip. “How...do you do it?” He whispered, his question not specific in what answer he was actually searching for as he stared at the woman with a look of amazement and awe.

Annie held Darren’s gaze with a look of curiosity and amusement in her brown eyes. “I don’t think Sean was that perceptive.” She mumbled, giving a slight shrug as to indicate that she was done talking about the man, done thinking about death, for the moment at least. It was still a lovely afternoon, the sun was still warm in the sky; even if a bit lower than before, and allowing sadness into her heart on such a beautiful day would have been inconceivable to her not long ago. After a few moments of silence she reached out and covered his eyes with her hand, parting her fingers so that he could peek through them. “Uh, oh... Did I accidentally use my super secret power of hypnosis on you?” She teased.

“..You’re always hypnotizing me..”

Darren slid his hand down Annie’s arm, along her wrist and up to her fingers that playfully covered his eyes. For a second, his touch lingered, the tips of his fingers gently massaging the base of Annie’s knuckles before pulling her hand to his lips and releasing, just to stare at her again.

“How..do you do it? How do you keep your light from fading into darkness? How do you live each day..with so much..passion?” Darren’s voice failed him, the man swallowing hard as he appeared to be struggling with a decision. His cerulean eyes fluttered between Annie and his own hands, Darren closing his eyes as he breathed through his nerves, cleansing his will and when they opened he reached out for Annie. One hand found the middle of her back and held her close, his other tracing across her jawline, the man’s fingers cradling her chin so that his lips were almost touching her skin. “Your faith in humanity and sanctity of life is humbling..do you even know how beautiful that is; how beautiful you are?”

Darren knocked off his hat, uncaring how it rolled along the ground, a breeze pushing it along like a wheel through the grass before lodging itself along a tombstone. He seemed as if he was going to pull away, again biting down on his lip, but his brows narrowed in a determined expression and as if he were indeed hypnotized, his will yielded. His skin tingled when his lips found hers, cradling them for a few seconds before he withdrew to plant another kiss along her forehead. “Passion is contagious..moving men beyond themselves..beyond our shortcomings...beyond our failures. You...are contagious and maybe..” He turned away from Annie letting his gaze fall onto Lena’s headstone. “Maybe..I can learn to look at the world as you do.”

Annie was a bit taken aback by Darren’s words. She’d never thought of herself, of her way of seeing the world, as anything that worthy of note. To be honest, she had rarely ever thought about it before and whatever thoughts she might have had then were lost on her the moment he had pulled her close. She just stared at Darren in a stunned silence, observant of every little change in his expression. Annie could see, clear as day, the decision forming in his mind merely a moment before his lips met hers. She let her eyes close feeling warmth coursing through her veins, pushing to the surface, spreading across her skin, and she knew she was blushing furiously. If there was one coherent thought left in her mind still, she would have tried and failed to remember the last time that had actually happened. For someone who almost prided herself in not being easily rattled, Annie had to admit Darren made it difficult not to swoon.

Her eyes opened once he turned away, her gaze trailing away from him to the spot where his hat had ended up. The fog now lifting, Annie’s mind retrieved the words last spoken, a frown marking the girl’s features as she considered them. “I was seven years old when I first watched someone die. Wasn’t a pretty death either; some thief that exploded himself trying to bust open a safe. Half the man’s face was black and burned, he had missing fingers; worst of all he wouldn’t stop screaming. I remember standing there and trying not to cry while I helped my mother tend to his burns. I just wanted him to shut up, but when he did...” Annie shook her head, her smile turning slightly bitter. “We’ve done all we could, but it wouldn’t have mattered either way. Afterwards, mom brought me to the gardens; blood still on our clothes, my stomach still turning from the smell of burning flesh... She told me to look around me and I did, it was the middle of winter; the grass was grey and brittle, the flowers were all but gone... Then she reminded me how in a few weeks that dead grey soil would be full of life, of color... Of warmth. She told me to always remind myself that regardless of what we do, everything eventually dies, and beauty never truly fades from the world. Sometimes you have to tell yourself it’s still there, that you just can’t see it, and believe it’s never actually gone. Right now, I see the world as a very long winter. I just... Can’t allow myself to believe it won’t eventually end.” Annie shook her head as she went silent, a warm smile slowly spreading across her features and lighting up her eyes as she turned to face Darren again, reaching out and running her fingers through his dark curls. “I think... Your hat tried to make a daring escape... Maybe reunite with its long-lost feather... So tragically ripped away all those months ago.” She teased.

“A very long winter…” Darren stared for some time at his hat that was leaning against the gravestone, an unexpected smile cradling his square chin. “Don’t get me wrong...I love the spring. I love the smell of fresh blossoms hidden beneath the brush and the first rain falling along the leaves, but winter… The silence is so peaceful and it’s almost deafening in our steps crunching when one walks along the season’s first snow. The chill is soothing even when I crave for Summer’s warmth… It’s human nature to find beauty in the desolate silence and yet still yearn for the elegant hum of chaos. The cold numbs the soul to sleep and the warmth wills us to fight for our dreams, even if they remain far from our grasp. Even if the scenery is void of color, void of substance, perhaps what one is searching for lies budding beneath the surface. Hmm, that’s what Mom always says.” Darren sighed, turning to nudge Annie with a wink, “She loves the warmth but she loves the cold more because of the silence. I think I just favor the snowball fights.”

Darren let his fingers trail up to meet Annie’s that clasped his dark curls and snorted, “That feather was far too large and gaudy for my liking. I’m not one for flare.I prefer the simple touches. Maybe if it wasn’t so bright and fluffy, I wouldn’t mind.”

“Well, you don’t mind Sora... She’s bright and fluffy.” Annie teased with a playful smile. “But I see... I seee...” She let her words fade, still amused. “Your mother and mine would have had some interesting things to say to one another. In more ways than one, I believe. A pity their meetings turned out to be so brief.” Annie leaned into Darren, resting her head on his shoulder, not entirely oblivious to the fact Alistair had been watching from afar, looking as though he had something to say. It didn’t seem like it’d be pleasant news either. “I don’t mind the cold much, but... There’s something melancholic around here in the winter it’s just so... Grey all the time... As for the silence, after a while it can become a bit too heavy in my opinion. It’s almost a reminder of all the life, all the noise, that should exist here and is no more. Mom used to say she could still hear them in the wind; as if they were still there, but in a separate plain of existence we couldn’t possibly see or touch... Echos, she’d say. I remember I’d try to stay awake, when it was quiet, and I’d try to listen, but... I never heard anything. It’s very likely she made the whole thing up just to scare the apprentices, I wouldn’t put it past her, but sometimes I’m not sure. I think she saw a lot more in these fields than she was willing to tell me.”

After a little while Annie sighed and raised her voice enough that it could be heard from a distance. “What do you want, Al?”

Alistair took his time walking into the cemetery, simply nodding a greeting to Darren, as he stopped by the grave. “I didn’t want to interrupt, but... I was wondering if one of you would go talk to that kid, Irvin.”

“Why? Did he grope someone again?” Annie asked, holding back a laugh.

“No, he... Wait, again?” Alistair repeated, arching an eyebrow. “But no, he and Jake got into some sort of fight it seems and he just left the kid here... I’m not sure what happened, but the left side of his face is bruised and I had to bandage his wrist. Not to mention he’s spent the last couple of hours pacing and muttering things to himself. Normally I might have insisted he talk to me, but really... someone had to keep this place running while you were away.”

“You poor thing, you work so hard.” Annie playfully mocked. “I wasn’t exactly taking a vacation, Al.”

Alistair rolled his eyes at her, feigning annoyance. “Yes, I know. I’m just saying that between the dying folk and the teenager having a meltdown, I have my priorities. Tell me though, how are things in the desert?”

“Not good, but I suppose it might actually have been worse. From this, I think, they’ll recover.”

“And the burial?”

“It was a burial, Al... There’s only one way those can go, you know.” Annie answered with a shrug.

Alistair nodded along to Annie’s words, knowing well that she wasn’t being entirely honest, but not pressing the issue. “Fair enough, kid. Oh, and uh... Some of the children have been harassing Emily for the past hour demanding your presence. Something about you owing them a story? I’d think taking care of that fox would be entertainment enough, but nooo.” He chuckled. “By the way, are you sure keeping that thing around the patients is a good idea, don’t they carry diseases or something?”

“Don’t be stupid Alistair.” Annie scolded the man. “Unless the children were to touch its blood, or poop, no; it couldn’t make them ill. Give me a bit more credit, will you.”

“Alright, alright. But if it poops anywhere in this camp, you’re sure as hell going to clean it yourself, because I’m not going to.”

“Yes, mom.” Annie muttered. “Anything else?”

“No, no... That was all.” Alistair smirked. The man started to walk away, but stopped a few steps away to speak over his shoulder. “Although, you kids might want to... you know... get a room... The graveyard is hardly the most appropriate place for smooching. And I doubt you’d be doing that in front of you mother if she was still alive.”

“You... Just... Keep walking, Alistair.” Annie muttered, frowning at the man’s outburst of laughter as he continued on his way.

Darren kissed the top of Annie’s head and sat straighter, slowly putting his gloves back on, his eyes flickering a hint of violet. He leaned forward against one knee and quirked a brow back over at his hat, still thinking about said ‘fluffy’ feather. Shaking his head he playfully bumped Annie’s shoulder with his own.

“Sora...wears a kick ass mask and likes to ‘sing’ with Kaya. She may be cuddly but not sooo fluffy.” Darren chuckled. “Her baby fox however…,” he cleared his throat, standing with a small burst of energy and crossed his arms as if suddenly offended, “Doesn’t Al know I am the one who has to clean up after the fox? Pfft.”

Darren bent down to pick up his hat, shaking the dirt off the edges that could have been there but wasn’t visible. He ran his fingers along the brim several times as if to adjust it but never really changing a thing, and tilted his head back to place it back on his head. “So, I can go round up Irv and maybe drag him back with me to story time, hmm? Gotta know what that was all about with ‘Uncle’ Jake.” Darren politely tipped his hat to Lena’s gravestone, muttering playful apologies before steering off towards where he thought Irv would be.