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Adisa Useni

"This curious world we live in is more wonderful than convenient." - history wip

0 · 617 views · located in Grishaverse

a character in “The Grisha Chronicles”, as played by rubytuesday

Description




they cannot scare me ▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀

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n a m e ;XXXAdisa Useni

n i c k n a m e s & a l i a s e s ;XXXDisa

a g e ;XXXtwenty four

r o l e ;XXXSin's tag-along, 'personal tailor', teacher and translator

b i r t h p l a c e ;XXXLanikh, Novyi Zem

a l l e g i a n c e ;XXXhis morals and values, Sin

r a c e ;XXXZemeni

s e x u a l o r i e n t a t i o n ;XXXdemisexual, panromantic

h e x e s ;XXXdialogue: #9caaaa , thought: #5d6666

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g r i s h a p o w e r s ;
XXXAdisa is a tailor, a grisha with the ability to manipulate the physical appearances of himself and others through the use of tools. These tools include things such as ink, with which he adjusts eye colours and skin tones, and mallets, which help him to adjust bone structures and frames. Tailoring tends to be more time-consuming than the abilities of other grisha, and requires a level of artistry that tends to come naturally to those of tailor status.

XXXalthough Adisa is quite talented, he has spent little time honing his ability to the extent that many other tailors do, and so his abilities are somewhat limited. His artistic soul means that he can make quite believable and smooth changes to the appearances of those he 'tailors', but after a while, be it a week or a month, the bones he shifted tend to begin shifting back to their original positions, and the tattoos he hid beneath paint-turned-skin return to the surface.

a p p e a r a n c e ;
XXXhe has the slender frame of a man not used to grueling work, with smooth fingers unmarred by callouses and soft soles on his feet- seldom unclad and exposed to the harsh ground beneath them. Upon first appearance, he could be mistaken for a member of the upper class, for all the delicate framework, and all the silken touches to his features. His eyes are rare for a Zemeni- wide and wanting, the deep cerulean of the open ocean, pooled into his irises. His skin, on the other hand, clearly reflects his Zemeni ethnicity- warm and dark, the colour of sand dampened by the swelling tide, set aglow by sun. But unlike sand, there is no roughness to him. His hair stands near upright, in short, wild curls of the darkest brown, and his face is pretty, to the disagreement of none.


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s t r e n g t h s ;
XXXthe power of the mind can never be doubted, and Adisa's most powerful asset is not his grisha abilities, but his intelligence. He is extremely eloquent, and his time spent as a slave involved not physical labour, but tasks such as translating and teaching. He is multilingual, fluent in all of the primary languages spoken throughout the grishaverse and semi-fluent in others besides, and can also translate beyond the spoken word, able to read and decipher languages in their written forms as well. Mathematics is another one of his strengths, he being one of those rare few whose minds' interpret literacy and numeracy with equal ease and tact. His patience is enviable, as is his ability to remain calm in even the more dire of situations. Despite his quiet nature, he is perpetually honest, which often means that he builds bonds and relationships quite easily.


w e a k n e s s e s ;
XXXRegardless of his previous slave status, Disa was never expected to participate in physically demanding tasks or grueling work. That, combined with his sometimes debilitating asthma, ensure that physically, he is rather weak. He is somewhat vain and tends to be overly critical regardless of his own personal setbacks. Also, he can be rather lazy when it comes to physical exercise and work, and somehow always manages to find ways to avoid doing anything that requires any hard labour. He also gets very seasick.


l i k e s ;
stargazing and astronomy // Shu architecture // silk // reading and writing // teaching // 'pretty' faces // scars and tattoos // sweet fruit // summer // flowers // incense and scented candles // hot baths // jewelry (except necklaces, which he hates wearing due to the way they remind him of his old collar) // affection // honesty


d i s l i k e s ;
bugs and insects (especially moths) // his asthma // physical work // going barefoot // wet weather // violence // heights // sleepless nights // feeling unclean // unanswered questions // slavery // people without manners // failure // feeling inadequate // blood

on stars where no human race is ▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀

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p e r s o n a l i t y ;
XXXAdisa is an odd sort, a contradictory creature of small stature and monumental curiousness.

Quiet and introverted, Adisa prefers to examine people rather than actually interact with them. Such is usually the reaction others have towards him. His forthrightness coupled with his monotonous tones, and his tendency to ignore the unspoken rules of personal space mean that he often gives off a vibe that clearly reads: 'weirdo'. Whereas the rest of his face seldom shifts much from his typical deadpan expression, his eyes are glorious in their expressions. When fascination overcomes him, as it is prone to when he is facing something new, his eyes turn into galaxies- sparkling and beautiful and iridescent. His hands reach out to touch and feel and admire, and under his breath, he murmurs comments and musings, making mental notes that he will certainly remember regardless of time.

Adisa, for all his apparent wisdom and brilliance, is very fastidious, oft to the point of being nitpicky. His brutal honesty tends to come forth in moments of flaw-noting, and although he does possess a certain level of tact for the most part, there are certainly times when this slips. He is delicate in everything he does, a finicky perfectionist who is exceptionally indolent when it comes to physical labour, yet frustratingly critical when it comes to the observing of others' efforts. For all his apparent kindness and gentility, he can actual be very cynical and acerbic, with a cool temperament that clashes heavily with his typical air of warm benevolence.

Honesty comes easily to Adisa. He does not lie or trick or manipulate. He has no qualms with telling the truth, and does so with sometimes brutal execution. That being said, this is only when asked. He is not one to speak freely, to chatter and gossip- the 'honesty' facet of his personality is notably contradictory, in that he is both reticent and candid. His penchant for sincerity makes him rather incongruous with the company he is currently keeping, but somehow the lifestyle of crime and adventure fits him like a glove.

Perhaps it is the change that he loves so dearly. The way the world seems so vast and beautiful and strange beyond the bars of what was truthfully a gilded cage. He loves beauty, and sees it in everything. The stars. The seas. The land. The people. He morphs into the personification of childlike wonder when seeing things he hasn't seen before. He meets a stranger, and reaches out to touch their scars, admiration in his eyes rather than disgust. He wants to know their stories, their purpose for existence.

His love for truth leaks its way into all his personality traits, particularly the parts of him that connect to his intellect and thoughtfulness. His curiosity and his thirst for knowledge are nigh unquenchable, and there is nothing he loves more than learning. It doesn't matter what, be it how to tie a specific type of knot or the name of a constellation, Adisa absorbs it all. Then he teaches it. Such is his way. Learning and teaching. Learning and teaching. Learning and teaching. It is a pattern that he finds soothing, calming. Even the most difficult of pupils are a delight to him, because even when they are driving him to immense frustration, he is witnessing and thinking and understanding. So long as his mind is at work, he is content. He is a creature who survives on thought, a man that could easily spend days, weeks, even months pondering over a riddle. When something has caught onto his thoughts, until he has truly grasped it, he can't possibly ignore it completely. It will be like a fly buzzing around his head, resistant to any swatting or shooing.


i have it in me ▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀

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h i s t o r y ;
XXXAdisa's life changed because of his father. Simba was a jurda farmer working for a powerful landowner when he was caught essentially embezzling the jurda to sate with his own addiction. He was sent to prison, and the family he left behind was thrown into poverty. Adisa was seven at the time, bright and thoughtful, the eldest of four siblings. He was the only one old enough to be sold, and with little choice, that is what Adisa's family ultimately ended up doing.

XXXAdisa's pretty looks had him deftly purchased as a dancer in a bar, where he was seen by wealthy Ravkan merchant Parnel Vladin. The merchant was quite taken with the boy, and bought him for a wealthy sum, proceeding to have the boy as his personal assistant and butler. Suddenly, Adisa's life was one of luxury. He fed on delicious food, slept under silk sheets and was clothed in the finest cottons money could buy. When his intellect became clear, Parnel had him tutored and Adisa soon become Parnel's personal translator and scribe. It was a luxurious life, but one without freedom. Adisa was a bird in a cage, and there was nothing the boy desired more than to spread his wings.

XXXHe was eighteen when he met her. She with her red ribbon smile and gossamer fingers. She sung songs into the merchants ear and he hummed along regardless of the lies in the lyrics. She played him for a fool, and as she wandered through his house in the dead of night, unbeknownst to the man, she came across Adisa, who froze. He, who had been discovering things about himself in the candlelight, testing the strange abilities by trying to smooth the whip scars on his back down with a brush. She drank in his bare back, laced with slashes from prior punishments, and she sighed.

XXX"Tailor?" "... I believe so." "Any good?" "Not especially. Not yet." "You've got it pretty good, as far as slaves go." "..." "Want out?"

XXXA long pause.

XXX"Yes."

XXXHis life changed with Sin, and he did become a better tailor. He doesn't always have fine clothes now. His sheets aren't always silk and the food he eats are seldom culinary masterpieces. But he doesn't get whipped anymore, and now, he has something more valuable than all those things combined.

XXXHe has freedom.


so much nearer home ▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀


to scare myself with my own desert places ▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀▀

So begins...

Adisa Useni's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Anya Ivanov Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adrian Naumov Character Portrait: Mikkel Zivkovic Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Frigg
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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#, as written by Layla
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xxxxxxThe sky emptied its pocket of stars and their brilliance freckled the abyss in molten gold. Night descended upon Ravka in rivers of coal, the burning suns dying embers in its chest and the moon a rounded stone. A gentle wind coursed through the city's thicket of wood and limestone, gliding over dappled rooftops and spiralling into the vaulted ceilings of the Grand Palace.
xxxxxxThe path to the royal grounds was born of Inferni fire, which flickered hotter and longer than ordinary flame. The stretch of torches had been lit to guide those unfamiliar to Os Alta, where all had been invited to celebrate ten years of peace between kingdoms after centuries of war.
xxxxxxTonight the moon devoured the sun, and all would feast on its bones. The Festival of Litha or resurrection was more a distraction than a celebration, the riot of colour and rows of suckling pig a desperate attempt at compensating for lifetimes of fear and death. They had renamed the Darkening following the obliteration of the Shadow Fold, when the Darkling had revealed himself to be the harbinger of ruin. Now they celebrated the ebbing of the moon and the return of the sun - the dark age that had come to pass.
xxxxxxMerchants hung the bones of saints from their stalls, or so it was they claimed. Superstition led many Ravkans to believe the bodies of saints held remnants of their souls and bestowed upon their bearers protection. On a day when darkness might triumph over light, the bones of the Sun Summoner were especially popular. Yet had all the fragments of fingertip and knuckle been hers, she would have been as much a saint as a cousin of the octopi.
xxxxxxCavalcades rumbled to a halt beyond the palace gates, their vehicles a sure determinant of the delegation they carried. The Ravkans rode in on great stallions and horse-drawn carriages crafted by the sturdy hands of Fabrikators, their amber, brown and ebony procession a stark contrast to the white wolves that walked alongside the procession of Fjerdan governors. They arrived as companions, their freedom evidence of the respect they had amongst the northerners.
xxxxxxMeanwhile, the Zemeni rode atop colourfully spun yarn and wooden coffers fashioned onto elephants, whose tusks were given points of brass and iron. The Kerch merchants arrived in their shining chariots wearing thick petticoats and fine suits that seemed understated compared to the sedan chairs that carried Shu royals in elaborate robes. They were inlaid with gold and jade and braced upon the soldiers of bent servants.
xxxxxxRavkan sentries could be seen at every turn, their spines pillars of steel that did not waver under scrutiny. No Grisha had been placed at the entrance so as to ease the transition of the various delegates into the palace. Never had the union of the five territories been attempted and some continued to harbour great hostility towards the Grisha.
xxxxxxKing Nikolai Lantsov and Queen Nazyalensky sat atop their velvet chairs, which had been elevated onto a stage. They were a paradox of hues. The king was dressed in a cape of embroidered gold and fur lining that mimicked his sun brown hair and warm hazel eyes. A smile played on his lips, the glint in his gaze rivalling the shine of his crown, they harboured a great many secrets and no small amount of wit. The queen was his mirror of silver and white, the translucent gauze of her dress shifting like liquid moonlight around her. It juxtaposed the obsidian of her dark hair and the brilliant azure of her eyes.
xxxxxxThe highest-ranking delegates from each kingdom sat on either side of the Ravkan monarchs, the legs of their chairs ever so slightly shorter, the difference so minimal they might have been attributed to architectural faults. A performance space stretched before them under the cover of stars, surrounded by lesser nobles and poorer merchants.
xxxxxxApplause erupted from the audience as the Kerch jesters retreated from the stage following their elaborate play involving twenty carrots and a single dart. The crowd dispersed momentarily in the transition between performances and servants dressed in white took the opportunity to weave between guests, offering trays of smoked duck and flutes of champagne. Music spilled from the towering branches of the Royal Eastern Gardens, where flutists and violinists were perched on trees. Cloths of gold and silver tumbled from the forest green trees, the colours of the the Lantsov family.

xxxxxxThe Lieutenant Commander of the Ravkan Army stood a ways behind her king and queen, eyes unblinking as if she might bore holes into the skull of the soldier dozing at his post. He jerked awake, searching frantically for any witnesses until he saw the Executioner and froze. Katya Volkov memorised the planes of his face and the gargantuan mole atop his left cheek, which she could see with perfect clarity hundreds of feet away. She swore to rain all the saints' wrath upon him.
xxxxxxAdmittedly, she might have slept as well if not for her place atop the dias. She was certainly unimpressed enough to. Each performance drained some of her life force and every courtier her faith in humanity. Lord Belov, the bane of her existence - and she was quite certain of Lady belov's as well - had somehow weaselled his way to the space by the dais and was at present licking his lips whilst attempting to maintain prolonged eye contact. Katya's deadpan gaze slid off of him with the enthusiasm of one at their deathbed.
xxxxxxShe felt naked without her light armour, and not in the way she found pleasant or liberating. Katya wore only a jarringly extravagant set of tunic and pants beneath the heavy weight of her kefta. Kir had insisted on "formalities," and had for a time insisted she wear a dress. You don't need to run to stop a heart, he'd reasoned. And you don't need two kidneys, she'd retorted.
xxxxxxKatya had put an end to his madness, but he had stuffed her in a thousand laces of death instead. They wove along the front of her blouse, the edge of of her belt and the front of her knee-high boots. She could not fathom what purpose they possibly served.
xxxxxxThe kefta she wore was not her usual. This was thicker and heavier, the hood trimmed with fur and the maroon patterns threaded with genuine rubies. She felt like a Yule tree and was not entirely certain she did not look like one either.
xxxxxxKir stood beside her now, his chestnut hair which never failed to curl at his nape and ears made sleek by tailors. Katya stopped herself from turning to admire the fitted jacket he wore, or to observe the way the firelight played in his dark eyes. She was glad he wore no heavy kefta, being non-Grisha. It made him easier to admire.
xxxxxxShe cursed the day he experienced puberty and promised death to herself if she were to become one of his many glossy-eyed admirers. She had better, more important things to look at. An attack could happen at any moment and she had to remain vigilant.
xxxxxx"Commander Volkov," someone whispered. Her hand leapt to the dagger at her side. "No- Please. There has been a-" The soldier's tone was hesitant as his gaze darted to the nobles seated on the platform.
xxxxxx"Is it important?" she asked. Sergeant Iosif glanced nervously at the hand she kept on the hilt of her jewelled dagger - another absurd prop for tonight's reverie.
xxxxxx"Ah, well, you see-"
xxxxxx"Is it important?" Katya asked slowly and deliberately.
xxxxxx"Yes."
xxxxxxShe bowed low to the king and queen, though their backs were turned to her. Kir did not spare her a glance as Katya leapt off the dais. She followed the soldier through the palace.
xxxxxx"Brief," she said.
xxxxxx"There's been a breach," Iosif replied as they walked quickly so as not to alarm the guests. "An unidentified carriage somehow slipped through our sentries at gate. When we stopped them, the riders ran. One was shot and killed by our archers and the other is being held for interrogation."
xxxxxx"You need me, why?"
xxxxxx"We're having trouble," Iosif's voice wavered. "Breaking him."
xxxxxx"What was he transporting?"
xxxxxx"We don't know. We searched the carriage but the cargo inside is completely sealed. We think a Durast must have tampered with it. The Fabrikators are celebrating with the other off-duty officers tonight and we haven't been able to get a hold of them." He shrugged.
xxxxxxThey walked to the Western end of the palace. The festivities had ebbed further from the gardens until none of the partygoers were left. A few soldiers stood around a lonely carriage, none of them Grisha. A man sat bound and gagged by the wheels, his eyes wide and frightened. Katya felt his heart stammering like a hummingbird in his chest. She ripped the cloth from his mouth.
xxxxxx"Please, you have to help me. These people, they're trying to kill me-" the man cried.
xxxxxx"What's in the carriage?" asked Katya.
xxxxxx"I don't know I don't know. Please, you have to-"
xxxxxx"What's in the carriage?" she repeated. The man offered the same unintelligible response. It was always difficult to decipher the truth from an anxious body. Panic made people sweat, their minds muddy and their hearts hammer so quickly it was impossible to tell if they were lying or simply afraid. It was why she never tortured them first if she could coerce the truth instead. It was too late now.
xxxxxxKatya turned to the carriage, her fingers feeling for the latch and handle. She swung the door open. Her eyes widened, then narrowed.
xxxxxx"There's nothing-“
xxxxxxThe last thing Katya felt was the shattering impact of something hard against her temple before she descended, enveloped in cold oblivion.

xxxxxxSalt permeated the night air, though the privateer had grown so accustomed to it he scarcely noticed its scent at all. Tonight the docks were illuminated by torches and oil lamps that seemed to float like sentient beings with those who held them. They bobbed like the ends of fishing lines cast across the sea, drifting down the pier to coalesce with the myriad of colours burning brightly in the festival. The flame called to him. He responded with silence.
xxxxxxHis crew was already immersed in the night's festivities, having docked not an hour before. He had chosen a nondescript location to steer their ship, which, as far as anyone was concerned was only a wealthy Kerch merchant's side hobby. Unlike the majority of pirate captains, Fang preferred they remain unidentifiable. The Crimson Tide had no distinguishing masts or billowing flags, or it did, but both were equally likely to be found on simple merchant ships. It was better to catch the others unawares when he drained them for all they were worth.
xxxxxxFang tilted his head against the mast of the Crimson Tide, lifting a bejewelled hand above his head. He squinted through one eye at the thumb he held over the moon, shifting until the sphere was hidden behind it. He imagined yielding the sky from its perch and turning it over in his fist. Perhaps he'd discover the great expanse of night was not unlike a hot lump of coal, burning brightly for a moment before turning cold.
xxxxxxAn arrow whistled past him and skewered the pillar by his ear.
xxxxxxFang barely winced. These things had happened before and seemed only to be increasing in frequency. He had not the faintest idea who it was who sent him on these little errands - or he did but preferred not to say - only that they always yielded great reward. Some of the errands seemed utterly mundane and unworthy of such significant pay, though he was not likely to complain. Whether it be gold, a rare collectible or information regarding a competitor, his payment appeared in the same way as his missions - suddenly.
xxxxxxHe only wished whoever was leaving him these little messages would leave his ship out of it. Fang rubbed the splintered wood.
xxxxxx"Ever heard of a carrier pigeon?” he called out into the dark. A seagull squawked in response.
xxxxxxFang wiggled the arrow head free from where it was lodged in his ship, taking care to be as gentle as he could. This was blatant vandalism. A crime against humanity. Still he tugged the envelope free from the feathered end of the spear where it had been tied.
xxxxxxThe seal was familiar to him now, though the symbol was merely a nonsense thing that bore some vague resemblance to a sun, or perhaps a kidney bean. It was always hard to tell. Fang slipped his fingers under the seal and flipped it open. The letter inside was small and harboured only a single sentence.
xxxxxxFlames danced from a nearby torch to lick the edge of the letter. Fang burned it to ash.
xxxxxxFang took a slip of paper from his pocket and a self-inking pen he stole from a merchant's desk. He scribbled his own message onto the surface and folded it into a perfect square, running his finger gently along the edge so the trickle of Inferni heat sealed it shut.
xxxxxx”Hey, old man!” Fang turned, searching the docks for the source of the shrill voice. “Down here!"
xxxxxxFang looked down. A scrawny boy peered at him with his hands on his hips, looking for all the world as if he owned it despite the dirt and grime that coated him like a second skin.
xxxxxx”’Old man?’” Fang echoed.”I’ll have you know I’m in my prime."
xxxxxx”Yeah, whatever. You got any work?"
xxxxxx”It’s Litha,” Fang said slowly.
xxxxxx”I’m poor, not stupid. I know what day it is."
xxxxxx”Clearly. Lucky for you, I do.” Fang held out the folded piece of paper. “I’ll give you a silver piece to deliver this-“ Fang snatched the paper away before the boy’s quick fingers could tear it from him. “Unopened to a Mister Mikhail Pavus at the Dragonfly Inn. He’ll give you another coin if you hand it directly to him and if the letter remains unmolested."
xxxxxx”Should you be using that word in front of a kid?"
xxxxxx”Do you see any around?” asked Fang. “Because I certainly wouldn’t trust a kid with this very important letter."
xxxxxx”Fine. Deal. Just give me the letter. You want it delivered as soon as possible, don’t you?"
xxxxxx”Un-"
xxxxxx”-molested. I got it. Geez, old people are so chatty,” the boy grumbled.
xxxxxx”To Mikhail…” Fang prompted.
xxxxxx”Pancreas?"
xxxxxx”Pavus.”
xxxxxx”Panus."
xxxxxx”Pah. Vus.”
xxxxxx”Pavus. Yeah, yeah, that’s what I said.” The boy pocketed Fang’s silver coin and snatched the letter from his hands. He wasted no time, disappearing into a narrow alleyway Fang hadn’t noticed existed. He sighed, wondering if perhaps old age was coming upon him if his eyesight had grown so poor. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and started on his journey.
xxxxxxThe sentries stationed at the gates of the palace waved him through as they returned his merchant's papers to him. He smiled. They glowered. Even now, the Shu were not awfully popular in most places. He didn't blame them, though it had been long since he last considered himself a citizen of Shu Han. He preferred to think he was a child of the sea, forged of great and wondrous adventures, and a collector of pieces from every kingdom.
xxxxxxThe Eastern Gardens was a cacophony of music and noise. Laughter floated like the top notes of a sonnet and banter like the undercurrents of bass. The clinking of glasses was a punctuation and the shuffling feet a smooth legato. He saw a few of his crew lingering in the crowd, no doubt taking advantage of the myriad of pretty men and women. They knew better than to look his way, but they kept him in their periphery, always the loyal sailors protecting their captain, or as loyal as pirates could be.
xxxxxx"Ladies, gentlemen, a few words, if you will," called a woman from the dais. She spoke Kerch, the language of trade and the common tongue. Her skin was a dark contrast to the silver-rimmed chalice she held in her hand. The braids that spilled down her back swayed with her movements as she turned to address the audience. "A toast to the King and Queen of Ravka, and their unborn heir." She bent to give the Ravkan Queen a conspirator's smile, which the latter returned as she placed a hand over her swollen belly.
xxxxxx"After centuries of conflict, we have gathered here for the first time to celebrate peace," the woman continued. "The Zemeni delegation wishes to offer a special performance by our most famed troop of dancers as a token of our gratitude."
xxxxxxThe woman bowed and returned to her seat. The lights dimmed and eerie music trickled into the garden, seemingly from nowhere. Zemeni dancers crawled onto the stage like wraiths, their movements across the floor like the creeping vines of ivy. They wore the masks of animals - the Ravkan stag, Fjerdan wolf, Zemeni lion, Shu dragon and Kerch raven. They spun, their silk dresses floating around them like ripples on water. The audience was mesmerised.
xxxxxxSuddenly, a shock of drum echoed through the gardens, followed by another and another. The drumming rose in rapid succession as the beasts leapt as one, their backs arching as they danced barefoot across the stage. Flames erupted from the pillars rising from each corner and Fang found himself leaning forward, aching to submerge himself in the lure of heat.
xxxxxxAs abruptly as they came, the fire twisted away from him, feeling strange and foreign. Fang was thrown backwards as the flame arched towards the audience. They screamed, running before they were obliterated by the pillars of red. Some were not so lucky. Fang did not think - he reached out and pulled, yanking the path of fire away from the audience, but could not fight against whatever Inferni was manipulating the element for long. He had to find the source instead.
xxxxxxAn impossible gust of wind threw the tables and chairs arranged about the garden. Fang looked up and saw - it was impossible - but he saw a man levitating above the stage. Yet squallers could not fly. Onikh.
xxxxxx"The King!" screamed a voice in the audience. A dagger whistled through the air. The General moved quickly, shoving the king aside as the blade embedded itself in the centre of his seat. He unsheathed his sword and held it before him.
xxxxxxThe Stag stood before the dais, the dancer's mask illuminated by the flickering light of flame. Brown sun-streaked hair fell in thick curls down her back as she clutched a jewelled dagger in her hand. The audience shrieked, retreating frantically from the stage, only to be tossed back by the squaller's wind. Ravkan soldiers rushed forward to protect their king and seize the attackers. An arrow whistled from overhead where the archers were stationed.
xxxxxxThe stag's mask cracked with the impact of the arrowhead and fell to the ground.
xxxxxx"Katya?" the General whispered. The girl did not wait to explain. She leapt into a run as the arrows that came for her were scattered by a deafening howl of wind. Another squaller descended from the skies, their eyes bloodshot and lips moving to an invisible song.
xxxxxx"What is the meaning of this?" cried a man dressed in scarlet robes. The Shu royal turned to the king and queen, except the latter was nowhere to be found.
xxxxxx"Zoya-" Nikolai began. "The Queen. Where is the Queen?"
xxxxxx"My King, we must take you from here for your own safety," said the General.
xxxxxx"You would attack us with your sorcerers on a night of peace?" the Shu raged. "How dare you!" Suddenly the man dropped to his knees, clutching his throat as his eyes bulged. He jerked, seizing on the floor.
xxxxxx"Get the healers! Where are our Grisha?" the King barked.
xxxxxx"M-My lord." The soldier pointed at the squallers floating in the sky and the inferni raging havoc on the ground. "Those are our Grisha."

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Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri
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The stores laddered the edges of the path like books on a shelf, tightly packed and all wielding different contents. Their owners called out to Adisa from either side, pushing him to buy their wares both out of desire for profit and a sense of spite induced by the competitiveness of the environment. It was the biggest sale day, not just of the year, but of the decade.

It was for this reason that their overwhelming persistence to sell neither shocked nor frightened Disa, and he walked through the cut in the fray with his typical unreadable expression.

"Curse your enemies and charm your friends! Ogre fingers and fae teeth!" Disa paused at the stall, looking over the rows of bone and tooth. The 'fae teeth' looked more like tiny chips of pearl. Disa picked up an ogre finger.

"This is a chicken leg."

The pedlar looked horrified by the statement, his face flushing as he shook his head.

"You are quite mistaken, sir! This is not a chicken leg, but the finger bone of a member of the legendary ogre race that once roamed the wintry mountains of Fjerd-"

His words faded mid-sentence as he met the young man's chilly, unimpressed gaze. The seller grimaced, before learning forward and whispering circumspectly, "Look, man. I'm trying to make a living here. Move along, would 'ya?"

A moment of silence passed between the pair, and the pedlar seemed to loosen in relief as Adisa finally gave a perfunctory shrug, and turned on his way. The pedlar sighed, straightening the bone in its row, before looking up to glower at the Zemeni's back.

"Asshole."




As he watched the performances with reserved enjoyment, Adisa found himself constantly looking around, searching the crowd for a specific face. He knew Sin would be done with the job soon enough. The man she was conning was as foolish as they come, and he severely doubted any extra effort would be necessary on her part.

Unless her disguise wore off. Which was possible. Adisa had been rather distracted when he'd begun to carve her features into the form of a Fjerdan, turning her dark locks blonde and her golden eyes blue. He had spent the previous night reading a new novel, and it had ended on a cliffhanger. Of course he wasn't going to be able to work to the best of his ability when he didn't even know if Lord Snow was dead or not!

No. He didn't see her. Neither in her Fjerdan nor her Shu form. He wondered if he should go looking for her, then decided better. Any attempt to scour the city and he'd likely wind up lost himself. Not to mention that Sin was always better at finding him than he was at finding her anyway. She'd come, sooner or later.

Supposing she didn't get killed.

The thought came when the fire did. It swirled through the air like liquid light, beautiful in its rage. The music had turned to screaming, and the once jubilant crowd was now fleeing in every direction. It was all Adisa could do not to fall and he trampled as he fought against the tumultuous sea of cloth and flesh.

Finally, a break. In a brief moment of air, Disa looked about him for the culprits, responsible for the chaos. He saw the figure, and his heart skipped a beat.

And for all the wrong reasons.

"Amazing..." His voice was barely a whisper, his tone one of fascination rather than horror. The chaos terrified him, true enough, but the figure that flew was something he had never seen before. He was as enraptured as he was frightened, and for several beats, he stood there staring, wonder and logic clawing at each other in his mind.

What are you doing? Logic said, Why aren't you running?

Back to reality. A frown curved his brows, and he breathed in his ground-level environment, looking for Sin, an exit, somewhere to hide.

"Help."

A red-haired girl stood at the center of the madness, hands bloody and expression broken.

Sin would run, his logic pressed. Adisa glanced to the nearest exist, ringed in fire and burning fast. He looked back at the girl, and resolve overtook him.

Sin's not here.

He ran towards the girl, smoke burning at his lungs and making each breath hurt. Already he could feel his asthma acting up, and he struggled to breathe in the blackening air.

He would have tried a 'cool', heroic line as offered the girl a hand and gestured towards the exit, but he was too busy coughing.

"This... way."


Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri
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• xxxC A S T L Exxxxxx • xxxH E Xxxx# B 8 A 8 7 6xxxxxx •xxxD A R KxxxJ A C K E T

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xxxxxxChaos raged. Where an intricate stage had once spread across the palace gardens, a scorched circle was left. Bodies littered the ground, their limbs warped in unnatural angles where an Onikh had tossed them aside with impossible gusts of wind. The victims of the Onikh Inferni were the hardest to stomach, their faces scorched beyond recognition and their missing parts grotesque.
xxxxxxSmoke devoured the evening air, rendering the scenery an unintelligible mess. Fang saw the raised arms of black and scarlet-cloaked heartrenders, their brows furrowed in concentration or more likely, confusion. The smoke had blinded their gifts, and now they were grasping wildly. Beside them were the archers that lay unmoving on the ground, their bodies broken from being tossed from the rooftops.
xxxxxx"Sir," an urgent voice began. "The Onikh wear our kefta. Our soldiers don't know who to target."
xxxxxxIndeed they wouldn't. Apart from the wraithlike squallers hovering midair, the Onikh had little to differentiate them from ordinary Grisha. Only their peeling lips and sunken eyes were any indication, but they were impossible to gauge from a distance.
xxxxxx"They're soldiers from Utkin's division," said another. "I recognise the insignia on their kefta."
xxxxxx"Attack anyone from Division Three," barked an imposing man who wore a Commander's regalia. He wore an Inferni's kefta and his armour beneath it looked to weigh a tonne. "If they surrender willingly, take them in for questioning. If not, kill them. And find Utkin. I want him alive." The man drew his broadsword, a weapon so large it was half his height. No easy feat considering his gargantuan stature. "Have we found Volkov?"
xxxxxx"We-" the soldier hesitated. "We lost her, Commander Valentinovich. Last we saw, she was on the rooftops of the Western Wing. She's fast, Sir."
xxxxxx"I'll find her myself," the man hissed. "You know what to do, Sergeant. Get your men into formation."
xxxxxx"Yes, Commander." The sergeant turned, pulling a capsule from the hilt of his staff that he broke in half. A burst of light erupted from it, shooting into the skies to scatter in a myriad of silver and blue hues.
xxxxxxAround him, Ravkan soldiers stilled and began moving as one. Six squallers circled an Onikh Inferni weaving chaos by the flaming pillars. Together, they lifted their hands. For a long moment, nothing seemed to happen. Then suddenly, the fire writhed as if caught in a vacuum, rushing towards the squallers with unnerving speed.
xxxxxx"Now!" their leader called.
xxxxxxThe wind summoners closed their fists and the flames vanished. The Onikh at its centre fell to her knees, her hands clawing wildly at her throat as she choked. The veins in her neck strained and her face turned blue. Her eyes bulged, and she collapsed. She did not move again.
xxxxxxA burst of voilet erupted in the skies. Fang turned towards it to find an Onikh squaller doing the same. He was too late. Durasts stood beneath him amassing a great many rocks they'd yanked from the gardens. The Onikh pushed air down as the Durasts pushed earth up, but the former was outnumbered. The rocks latched onto the skin of the Onikh and squeezed. Fire trickled from the slithers between stones as the Onikh boiled himself alive. The durasts stepped back and allowed the cluster of earth to fall to the ground, sending a tremble into the dirt.
xxxxxxAll around him the Onikh were brought to their knees. He saw two non-Grisha soldiers use the momentum of one Onikh squaller's wind to rush their spears into the belly of another. He saw tidemakers and inferni working together to create a thick mist that hid the whistling arrow of an archer.
xxxxxxThough their triumph raced forward, it was not without consequence. Stones pelted the ground and pinned the bodies of those not fast enough to escape. Stray embers set layered dresses on fire, which Fang did his best to tame by pulling the aforementioned dresses off. He wasn't one to trust his Grisha, though he became so ensconced in saving noble ladies' garments - and their bodies from total incineration - that he almost failed to notice the huddled figure on the ground, and the frail-looking boy beside her. They coughed violently, the smoke that permeated the air seeming to have slipped the Ravkan squallers' minds as a force that could kill just as well as the Onikh.
xxxxxx"Mister Useni?" Fang implored, pulling a handkerchief from his inner pocket to press it into Adisa's hands. Hopefully it would help somewhat to shield his mouth from the smoke. "I never saw you for a smoker," he teased, gesturing vaguely at the smog that surrounded them. He smiled, though in hindsight he thought the attempt at humour might have been inappropriate for the situation.
xxxxxxFang followed Adisa's gaze to the mahogany-haired girl bent protectively over a body. Fang knelt, and though habit told him to place two fingers on the boy's neck to check for a pulse, sympathy told him it might not be the best course of action. Not when the boy looked so dire he was either long dead or barely alive.
xxxxxxAsh fell gently from the skies like snow, coating the unmoving bodies. There would be countless burials in the morning, but for now the battle was quieting. The roar of wind and the wail of blades had been replaced by the moans of the injured, and the screams of people who had lost those they'd cared for.
xxxxxx"The healers are near," he told the girl gently, and indeed they were. He turned to seize Adisa's blue-grey eyes, though he spoke to them both. "Come with me if you want to live."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri
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As the colour drained from Bea's face, so did the work she had done. Red slipped out of her naturally raven-coloured hair, falling to the floor in rotund droplets. Mixing on the ground with blood one could only assume was that of Bea's brother Alois. Tears stained green with the dye in her eyes dripped down Bea's face, wetting her cheeks as she frantically tried to pull herself together.

"This... way."

A voice. Light and comforting amid the chaos.

Snapping out of her misery, Bea realised she was still in the midst of a war zone. Rubbing at her eyes to get rid of any traces of weakness, Bea turned to where the softly spoken words had come from, coming face to face with a young man. He seemed to also be from Zemeni descent, slightly shorter than Bea and certainly no fighter. And yet, she couldn't have been happier to see him. To be fair, she would have been happy to see any friendly face at that moment. Grabbing his outstretched hand with what seemed to be her last ounce of strength, Bea gripped the stranger's hand tightly, noting how soft and delicate his hand felt against her own rough palms, now sticky with the blood of those fallen.

Said stickiness provoked a half-grimace from Adisa, the viscid texture of the blood between their palms clearly providing unpleasant sensation. However, regardless of his discomfort, his grip on her hand did not slacken, and he soundlessly hoisted Bea to her feet. Catching sight of Bea's changing appearance, a flicker of surprise caught in the boy's eyes, and he opened his mouth only to close it again, deciding on second thought to save any queries he had for a more suitable time.

"Mister Useni? I never saw you for a smoker."

Adisa only stared as the man pushed a handkerchief into his free palm. He looked down at it, then up again to meet the stranger’s amber gaze. There was a moment of blankness, then a sudden flush of recognition.

"Fang."

He said it flatly, his mind already in its clockwork routine, examining all the odds, the most remote of chances, that of the people to save him, it would be the man he had met for the very first time only recently.

Fang looked down at Bea, his gaze piercing, although a fleck of sympathy washed over his features when he saw the loss in Bea's eyes.

"The healers are near," He told her, a small comfort for Bea to hear. Perhaps her brother could survive this after all, although she wasn't entirely hopeful.

The mahogany had entirely drained from Bea's hair now and it was back to its natural boisterous nature and onyx in colour. Green stained her cheeks as the tears that had been shed dried onto her deep mocha skin, covered in ash and yet unmarred from any of the awful happenings that had gone on here.

An eerie kind of calm slowly settled over the former battleground, and yet Bea found little comfort in the silence. It didn't take long until wails of those injured could be heard, the flames having stopped their crackling which overpowered the hurts dying moans. Eyes still searching for her brother, Bea found nothing but countless other bodies, some of whom resembled Alois - Bea simply prayed they were not him and he had managed to escape the inferno, unscathed.

"Come with me if you want to live."

An offer neither of the pair could refuse, still gripping the other males hand tightly, Bea felt comfort in knowing that he was to help them. Knowing that she could never find her brother if she, herself, were dead, Bea steadied her shaky limbs and nodded determinedly at the man who would perhaps be their saviour. She would get out of this alive, and then find her brother - or whomever was responsible for his murder, and kill them. Bea wasn't typically a fighter but once someone had wronged the only person she held dear, the girl wouldn't stop at anything to find the revenge she so needed.

Disa, on the other hand, was far less revenge-driven. He simply wanted out. Even as he pressed the handkerchief to his lips to filter the ash in the air, the taste of smoke was heavy on his tongue, and his lungs felt as hot and burning as the flames that swarmed around them. There had been a touch of perplexity in his tone as he spoke Fang's name aloud, and he could easily imagine what his friend Sin would have said were she in his place.

Namely, "What the fuck are you doing here?"

But like Adisa had already acknowledged, Sin was absent, and so instead he simply dropped his shoulders in a gesture of nonplussed acceptance.

"Lead the way."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri
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• xxxC A S T L Exxxxxx • xxxH E Xxxx# 3 0 7 D 7 Exxxxxx •xxxD A R KxxxJ A C K E T

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xxxxxx"Lead the way," said Adisa. Fang glided into motion, parting the scenes of battle and recovery with his wide shoulders and great height. The Onikh had fallen, and it would not be long till the palace soldiers would gather the survivors for questioning.
xxxxxxPerhaps it was a mistake for him to bring the two oddities he'd encountered, but his curiosity demanded an explanation. That final letter and tonight's events had been torches in the abyss. Those strange messages carrying even stranger missions which peppered his ship's exterior had been puzzle pieces cast in the dark, and it was only now that he saw them in the light.
xxxxxxFang did not believe his meeting of the Shu mercenary’s shadow was at all a coincidence when the letters had directed him to them once before. Before it had been a mission of having Sin Nari lure an established Kerch merchant into the room of an inn. At the time he had not understood why his benefactor had demanded the use her services when Ketterdam had thieves and spies aplenty, now he recognised her as a strand in an elaborate tapestry he demanded to see in whole.
xxxxxxFang's golden eyes swept the bodies around him and he was relieved to find none of his men were among the dead or the living. Their documents were as valid as any, but he had no desire for the Ravkan authorities' to sweep his "merchant ship" for clues. They would not be kind to criminals and pirates would not be kind to them.
xxxxxxBlood was so very difficult to extract from wood.
xxxxxx"Keep your heads down," murmured Fang.
xxxxxx"Wait," a voice called. Fang stilled. The soldier approached. "Where are you going? All the uninjured have been told to remain on palace grounds until further notice. It's for your own safety."
xxxxxx"Kenbo Jun, Fifth Division Inferni," replied Fang in fluent Ravkan. A spark leapt between his fingers in support of his declaration. "I was off duty when the Onikh attacked. Just bringing these two to the infirmary." He nudged his head towards Bea and Adisa. "They want to be with their ma." In her last hours, he communicated silently.
xxxxxxThe soldier gave the two a sympathetic nod and turned to Fang. His eyes roved over the Inferni. "Don't see many of you in the army."
xxxxxx"Family crossed the Shu border centuries ago before the war began," said Fang. He shrugged, as if he explained his appearance in the Ravkan army regularly.
xxxxxx"Saints' grace they did. Grisha like you wouldn't have lasted a day past boyhood in that cursed land," the soldier huffed. "Barbarians, they are. Can't believe they had the gals to show their faces."
xxxxxx"Yeah, thank the stars." Fang clasped the man's elbow and felt a hand wrapping around his in return. It was the common Ravkan greeting and farewell. "Better get going."
xxxxxx"Of course." The soldier hollered as they moved away. "We should train together some time!"
xxxxxx"I'll hold you to that!" Fang called, turning briefly to flash a lopsided smile.
xxxxxxThe conversation had cost them time, but at least they hadn't been arrested. Fang sped his walk, glancing only briefly away from their destination to see Vida toss a soldier aside with a strong gust of wind. He allowed himself the faintest smile. That's my Vida.
xxxxxxThe gate loomed behind them, the arch a silver and golden beacon forged of intricate swirls. Two stags reared onto their hind legs, the statues framing the exit. Though bars were set into the gates, soldiers stood with overlapping spears on either side of it. They didn't bother him, because the gates would not be their escape.
xxxxxxHealers and frightened servants bustled inside the palace, though the crowd dispersed the deeper into the maze they went. They arrived in the throne room. Fang stepped onto the raised dais, stepping around the two beautifully carved thrones. He scuffed the floor with the toe of his boot, feeling about until he felt a slight indentation in the even floor. He might have dismissed it if not for his ventures here before.
xxxxxxNot a year ago, Fang had been granted a map woven into the body an arrow that depicted the net of tunnels rippling beneath the Grand Palace of Os Alta. He had been travelling on business in the nearby Balakirev, and had thought it harmless to test the truth of the map when the arrows had not misled him before. He had discovered the map was in fact a replica of the royal scroll held in the private collections of the Lantsov family, a fact which piqued his interest even more. He had confided in Dima and Vida in an attempt to uncover the mystery, or perhaps to appease some of the loneliness that sometimes assuaged him.
xxxxxxThe trap door hissed open at the pressure of his fingers on two adjacent points of the perfect square.
xxxxxx"I hope neither of you are afraid of the dark," said Fang. He stepped down first, feeling for the edge of the upright stairs and climbing deeper beneath the earth until he released his grip. He dropped swiftly to his feet and reached up to help the others.
xxxxxxThe minutes bled into one another as they navigated the dimness of the maze beneath the palace. Fang shed his Inferni flame upon the previously unlit torches that rested against the walls, creating a path whilst ensuring no one tripped and died of a broken neck. He could feel his strength waning. It was rare for him to use so much of his power in such a short time and he found he was glad for the stone walls that were damp with age and mildew. They were safe from the instability of his flame, at least. The two behind him - not so much.
xxxxxxFinally, he stopped. His callused hands felt along the walls and he pushed, his arms straining against his sleeves as he cast all his might upon the walls. It shifted, grinding inwards and sliding across until the sliver of light grew into a doorway. Fang coughed as dust rained from the archway.
xxxxxxBeyond the door was a large room draped with aged finery. Though the space was free of cobwebs, it had clearly drifted far from the peak of its glory. Scratches marred the wooden floor where furniture had been removed by brute hands and cloths fell across a large bed set in the corner. A door led to the hallway, where two more rooms could be found in a similar condition.
xxxxxxThe abandoned inn was not one of Fang's more luxurious safehouses, but all others were too small and conspicuous to hide what could be nearly a dozen people if all went as planned. Though the old inn was scarcely his as it was the architect of the Grand Palace's, whose space Fang had found during his exploration of the underground tunnels. Meanwhile his pirates were likely relieving themselves of their latest treasures at one of the city's taverns or pleasure houses.
xxxxxx"You must be elated to be staying in such fine accomodations," said Fang drily. "My sincerest apologies for the state of this room. The Reverent Inn was extravagant, once." He gestured towards the only bed in the space. "I can't imagine how exhausted you must be. Please, rest. There's a basin for water and rations on the shelves. I have to say I wasn't expecting a stay in this decrepit hole any time soon. Preferably ever."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri
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xxxxA tug on his hand kept the healer vertical when his feet attempted to slide out from under him as the group of four pelted around a sharp corner. With his heart in his throat and his lungs fit to burst, Taras was sure that the only thing keeping him running was the firm grasp of the squaller’s hand around his wrist. If his mind hadn't been firmly focused on staying upright and running, Taras might have had room to consider that being left behind and freed from his 'capture' by the intimidating second-in-command would have been preferable. But, whenever such a thought did find it's way into his head, the image of Katya Volkov quickly dealing with several trained soldiers surfaced, and Taras' fear kept his feet from stalling.

xxxxSo, it was with aching muscles that Taras continued to run from the chaos that had engulfed the once jubilant festival. As they passed through streets and alleys, the shouts and screams of those who had been caught up in the mayhem faded. The flickering fires of the onihk inferni were extinguished by teams of tidemakers, and the howling winds of the flying demons came to an end. A temporary peace might have started to filter through the palace and city, if not for the cries of pursuing soldiers attempting to catch up to the escaping group.

xxxx"Go left! I know somewhere safe we can go." the squaller called as the group came to an intersection, her grip tightening on Taras' wrist as she pulled him along. Part of Taras wondered who this Grisha was and why she had attached herself to the two army Grisha, but he couldn't work up the nerve to ask her for her name, let alone where she had come from and why. Thankfully for the shy healer, Katya Volkov wasn't quite as reserved.

xxxx With an agility Taras was no longer surprised by, the commander stopped and shot an arm at the squaller, catching the Kerch girl by her shoulder. Vida - and Taras by extension - came to a sudden halt. The fingers locked around Taras' wrist unclasped as the squaller's hand flew up in a futile attempt to pry Katya's hand from her body. With a muttered curse, the civilian turned her gaze to the intimidating commander, and though the two women were nearly the same height, the commander appeared to stare down at the other girl as she spoke.

xxxx "Wait," implored the Ravkan soldier. "Who are you to command me? How are we to know you don't work in service of our enemies? You could be leading us to our execution." The grip on Vida's shoulder tightened as the commander's pale eyes narrowed. "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you now."

xxxx "I'm trying to help you. If I wanted you dead, I would have left you at the palace." Came the squaller's tart reply, her gaze flicking from Katya's face to the iron fingers digging into her muscle and back, as if weighing up whether helping the Ravkan soldiers was worth it. She gave a small scrunch of her nose as she apparently came to a decision, before continuing, "There's a safe house we can go to, you'll be safe there from whomever you've pissed off."

xxxxA muscle twitched at the commander’s temple. She did not take well to baseless accusations, though in truth Katya had accumulated countless enemies in her two and a half decades of life. She didn’t quite make it her priority to maintain civil interactions. It might have made for a narrower pool of suspects if the squaller had asked whom she hadn’t pissed off, but Katya was not about to share that bit of information with the sharp-tongued girl.

xxxx“You can be rest assured,” Katya began cryptically. “That death does not come at any time except one convenient for me.” She swept an accessing gaze over the honey-eyed girl, her stance unimpressed.

xxxx It was apparent to Taras, watching without a word beside the two women, that Katya Volkov was not convinced. He wasn't sure how much time they had before soldiers caught up with them, and while Taras wasn't opposed to being rescued by palace fighters, he would definitely prefer to avoid being caught in more fighting. The squaller too seemed to be aware that they didn't have time to hesitate, and so with an exasperated sigh and a quick gaze over her shoulder, she leaned in closer to Volkov and Utkin. "Sturmhond sent me."

xxxxThe name meant nothing to Taras, but it seemed to have an effect on the soldiers. Katya’s eyes widened only briefly, but such an expression on the heartrender’s otherwise apathetic appearance seemed outrageous. It had been many years since she’d last heard that name. Aleks, slackjawed, exhaled a breath softly, mouth moving in some unheard sentiment. Perhaps just a whispered, Saints. Katya released her grip on Vida immediately.

xxxx”Then what in saint’s name are you waiting for?” Katya barked. “Take me to him immediately.”

xxxxThe squaller looked as if she was attempting to fight back an eye roll, and only just managing to do so. Then, with a nod and a wave of her hand indicating that the three Ravkans should follow her, the girl turned on her heel and dove down the left alley. The commander didn't hesitate to follow the squaller, though at the last moment her hand flew out to tightly grip Taras’ wrist, yanking the healer after her.

xxxxThe brief reprieve from running had been enough to ease Taras' heaving lungs, and the maze of back streets and alleys which they now made their weaving way through didn't seem as outright stressful as the straight run from the palace grounds. Even so, the pace was more than Taras was used to, and Katya Volkov's firm grip never slackened. He was also lost within a small number of turns, his sense of direction failing him as any landmarks vanished behind overhanging buildings and tall fences, and the darkness of night.

xxxxOnly moonlight lit the path they sped down now, and Taras turned his gaze to his feet. He wasn't sure what would happen if he stumbled and fell. Would the group go on without him? Or would the commander simply sling him over her shoulder and continue on her way? Taras wasn't entirely sure that Katya couldn't achieve such a feat. However, before anything of that nature could be proven, the squaller pulled up short in front of what might once have been a thriving inn.

xxxxThe entrance had been bordered up long ago, as had the windows. Cobwebs, dust, and graffiti now decorated the derelict entrance, while what might once have been bright paint had faded and peeled almost entirely off the building's facade. The squaller ushered the group forward, her hands searching across a plank-covered window as her eyes attempted to pierce the darkness. Finally, her fingers seemed to brush over whatever she was looking for, and she pulled. The boards covering the window swung out as if on a hinge, offering an opening for someone to duck through.

xxxxTaras would have been hesitant to enter a dark room without someone he had just met, but the healer didn't have much of an option as Katya's grip on his wrist pulled him forward. He ducked just in time to avoid banging his head on the wood, and had to wait a moment for his eyes to adjust to the deeper darkness. When they did, Taras found himself in a dusty room that might once have served as an inn bedroom. It was hard to make out in the dark, but he was sure the looming shape on the left was a dresser, and the bulging object to the right was perhaps a bed.

xxxx"Where are we?" Taras asked quietly, his voice almost a whisper.

"The Reverent Inn." Came the squaller's reply as she shut the window behind the group, "Come on, this way."

Vida led the three into another room. It was free of cobwebs, lacked the layer of dust one might expect from an abandoned place like this, and, more importantly, appeared to already be occupied by a trio of people. Taras didn't recognise any of them, yet it was very apparent that the squaller did, for a grin spread across her face as soon as she stepped into the lit room. With a spring in her step, the girl walked towards the tall Shu Han man.

"Fang! You're going to be so pleased with me. I give you Katya Volkov, Aleksey Utkin, and... uh, actually, i don't know who you are."

"T-taras Nikolaev." Taras supplied quietly, slightly surprised to be addressed. Then, in a barely audible voice, "But, I ah-... I don't think I'm meant to... to be here-..."

"Nice to meet you Taras, I'm Marina Pavus." The squaller - Marina, also known as Alvida to those who knew her outside of her professional job - replied, not having heard Taras' final statement. The girl's gaze returned to Fang as she took a few steps towards him, "Dima hasn't arrived yet?"

Taras didn't know who 'Dima' was, nor why he found himself in a run-down inn with a bunch of strangers, but he had the sinking feeling that whatever mess he had been dragged into, he wouldn't be getting out of it any time soon.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri
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Red and black. Raging flames, choking smoke. Red and black. Life blood, hot and slick, obsidian sky. Red and black. Flickering silk, dappled in rhinestones, inky locks writhing in grisha-made gales.

Sin Nari had been born into a world of red and black, and the she'd always been told that they were the two colours that looked best on her. That said, these reds and blacks did little to appeal to her vanity. Instead, the only incited fear and discomfort. The hues were sadistic instead of flattering, and they clawed at her from all sides, burning her lungs and tearing at her face.

The hem of the dress she wore was now ragged and black, burned away at by the hot tongues of flame that had seemed to chase her as she made her escape from the courtyard.

Stepping into an alley, Sin collected her thoughts as she caught her breath. The con went perfectly, the festival was fun, the dancers were beautiful, the fire was hot... My dress is ruined, but I didn't get burned. So, no problem.

The Onikh were the army's problem. The Kersh people's problem. The royal family's problem.

She heard a cluster of heavy footsteps, metal against the cobblestones, and a group of soldiers ran past her alleyway, barking orders at one another.

The Onikh are their problem.


Sidling out of her alley, Sin slipped the thin, knotted rope from around her wrist, and used it to tie her dark locks up out of her face. Passing the same window she had passed earlier that evening, she caught her reflection once more, and paused.

Her reflection's eyes widened, realization flooding her face in an single, sharp instant.

"Disa."

Where the hell is Disa?!

She looked about her, suddenly frantic. "Disa?" No reply, and she hadn't expected one, but her heart sank nonetheless.

"Disa?!" Louder this time, but still no reply. Quickly and desperately, Sin weaved through the abandoned stalls that clustered the street's edges. A small and dark body, seemingly trampled in the chaos. She turned it over to see its face, but the figure was a stranger. She left it where she found it, pressed into the cobblestones.

"Disa!"

A small frail thing, he was. It would be easy for him to get swept away with the crowd. Maybe I'll find him like the other one, wedged into the gaps in the stones...

"Disa! When I find you I'm going to fucking-" Her words caught in her throat, her nails biting into her palms, drawing blood.

More red. I think that's enough red for today, don't you, Disa? So don't you dare let me find you red, okay?

"Out of the way!"

Another set of soldiers thundered past, barely sparing Sin a glance as they ran towards the palace. Sin watched them go, remembering the dancers. Disa is an awful dancer, but he does enjoy them, sometimes.

She was only just walking through the palace gates when she saw a trio running towards the dais. From the distance, she could not see their faces, only their shadowed frames. One was fiercely tall, and the second light and curly-haired, and the third...

...Disa?

Without a second thought, Sin followed.

Stepping to where she had last seen them, Sin looked about her, frowning. How did they-? Was I too slow? Maybe they-

The tremor made her stop mid-thought. The hum of the wood and the metal and the stone. The hum only a durast could hear.

Kneeling down, her fingers gently grazed across the ground. Then, with a harsh flick of her wrist, she tore the door from its hiding place. Peering down into the tunnel, a smile tugged at her lips, and she continued to follow the three figures into the darkness.




Adisa looked about him with a slight moue, the dirt and dust of the so-called 'safe house' bitterly unappreciated.

"There's a basin for water and rations on the shelves. I have to say I wasn't expecting a stay in this decrepit hole any time soon. Preferably ever."

"That makes two of us." Adisa's tone was curt, and, in somewhat of a change of character, he noted his rudeness almost immediately. His next comment was awkward, Adisa unused to speaking such things, let alone sincerely. "But thank you."

The new arrivals had him taking a step back in spite of himself, and he gritted his teeth before eyeing the strangers in a combination of curiosity and confusion, noting what he could about them from a distance.

Fang... Katya Volkov... as in, Second Commander Katya Volkov?... Aleksey Utkin... Taras Nikolaev... Marina Pavus... And someone called Dima is on the way... and then there's the girl I came here with and-

The door of the tunnel burst open, and a familiar figure emerged from the darkness.

"Sin."

As Sin's eyes met his own, a strange expression seemed to wash over the Shu woman's face. However, just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone, and Disa had no time to analyse it. Her second look, however, he did have chance to reply to. It was a questioning one, and he shrugged unhelpfully. Prompting a slight flex of the jaw- a clear sign of annoyance on the Shu's part.

Disa watched her as she looked over the Inn's other occupants, expression almost condemnatory. Then she noticed the other Shu in the room, and her brow rose in a look of sheer perplexity. Her lip curved sideways into a bewildered half smile as she addressed Fang. "The fuck are you doing here?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri
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• xxxH E Xxxx# B 8 A 8 7 6xxxxxx• xxxS W E A T P A N T Sxxxxxx • xxxH E Xxxx# 3 0 7 D 7 E

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xxxxxxKatya Volkov would recognise those eyes anywhere.
xxxxxxSwirling like honey, she had once believed them impossibly beautiful. She recalled their evolution into burnished gold, when the sun set and only candlelight flickered in their mirrored surface. For a transient breath, she regressed to the same lovestruck girl she'd been in her early youth. The moment passed as quickly as it came, leaving only the utter loathing of the present in its wake.
xxxxxxFang met her silver gaze with all the apathy he could muster. In another life, they had lain together beneath a blue expanse of sky, and she had confessed to him her frustration with the unreadable. Funny that he was utilising her honesty against her, just as she'd raged that he would when their romance gave away to a horror he'd rather not revisit.
xxxxxxThe privateer had nearly forgotten how beautiful the Ravkan Commander was - though she had not been an individual of such standing when they'd met. Her skin was the same bronzed cacao it had been when the noon sun had turned its gaze to her that day, but her eyes were colder than he remembered. They met his own like pools of shattered glass, their lids lined with kohl and thick curtains of lashes. He had not been gazed upon with such scorching hatred since he'd reduced his home to ash.
xxxxxxFang buried the memory and smiled.
xxxxxx"You?" hissed Katya. Her fingers were clenched so tightly around the hilt of her daggers, they seemed to be turning a distressing shade of blue.
xxxxxx"Contrary to popular misconception," Fang began. "Yu is not a common family name in Shu Han and I am frankly quite offended you would assume so."
xxxxxx"It's also a popular misconception that innards are to remain inside your body." She flashed him a grin that was more a baring of teeth. The blades strapped to her sides shone wickedly. "Why don't we break convention?"
xxxxxx"Maybe tomorrow," he said drily. "I'm busy at the moment."
xxxxxxKatya was no longer listening. She had darted towards Vida, her dagger rising in a blur of motion to press against the squaller's throat.
xxxxxxVida’s hands became fists, her teeth gritted as the cold steel pressed against the skin of her throat. It was not the first time she had been in such a position, and she doubted it would be the last given her occupation.
xxxxxxFang moved quickly, a pistol slipping from its sheath and into his palm. He brought the barrel of the firearm to the back of Katya's head.
xxxxxx"A coward's weapon," she growled.
xxxxxx"Unhand her," he warned in a low voice. Katya ignored him.
xxxxxx"Where is Sturmhond?" she demanded of Vida. "What have you done with him?"
xxxxxx"She doesn't know."
xxxxxxKatya spun away from the girl and slammed an open palm into Fang's wrist, twisting the gun away from him. He let her, baring his hands in submission. Katya clenched her fist around the collar of his shirt and tossed aside the loaded gun as if it were nothing but a harmless scrap of metal. Fang was taller and a decent fighter by any standards, but Katya was a born fighter and a weapon in her own right. She pressed the dagger that she'd held to Vida's throat moments before to his ribs.
xxxxxx"I swear on the names of every saint that if you've harmed a hair on his head-"
xxxxxx"His head is fine," said Fang. "Probably."
xxxxxxShe slammed him against a wall, though her effort was shockingly subpar. Fang had had the honour of being graced with the full extent of the heartrender's wrath and this seemed a poor effort. It was then that he noticed the tunic that hung in tatters at her side, where blood had blossomed into a dark stain on its surface.
xxxxxx"You're hurt," he said.
xxxxxx"I'm fine,” she responded through gritted teeth. "Where is Sturmhond?"
xxxxxx"I don't know. It was only a way of making you follow my associate without question."
xxxxxx"I do not traipse with criminals."
xxxxxx"That's somewhat ironic, don't you think?"
xxxxxx"What?" she snapped. Fang raised a single brow.
xxxxxx"Certainly you must be Ravka's most wanted after tonight's events."
xxxxxx"It's a mistake," she said through gritted teeth.
xxxxxx"As was your birth, I'm sure. Yet here you stand." She seemed ready to sever his head from his shoulders. Fang lifted his arms placatingly. "My apologies," he said, not quite meaning it. "Might I suggest we continue this delightful conversation after your injuries have been seen to? Perhaps we will deem each other worthy of basic civility."
xxxxxx"We will argue until I win or one of us dies," said Katya.
xxxxxxVida had never seen Fang act like this. Though curiosity was eating Vida alive, she did not hesitate to dart forward and wrap her fingers around Fang’s wrist. With a tug, she pulled him away from the volatile soldier, stepping forward in the same motion to stand between the tall privateer and the icy-eyed woman.
xxxxxx“When we have time, you are explaining exactly what went on with you two.” Vida whispered back at Fang, even as her other hand sought out his free wrist so that she could hold him safely behind her.
xxxxxxFang did not tear his gaze from Katya as he said, loud enough for the all parties to hear, "It isn't worth mentioning." It was petty and entirely unlike the ordinarily calm and infallible captain, yet the echo of the turbulent boy he'd been triumphed over his hard-wrought reason.
xxxxxxFor a moment too quick to catch, a flicker of pain passed the Commander's eyes like a midnight tide.
xxxxxxKatya felt a firm but gentle grip on her shoulder. She turned to find Aleksey staring back, the slight shake of his head a caution against bringing ruin in her rage. He was perhaps one of a handful that would dare touch her without her explicit consent. Her eyes hardened, dissolving all remnants of weakness.
xxxxxx"There are medical supplies in the chest by the foot of the bed," Fang said finally. "I assume your compatriot-" He cast a glance at the other Ravkan soldier, "-can tend to your wounds."
xxxxxx"No need. Healer," she snapped. Katya beckoned the pretty blonde to come closer, though her eyes did not waver from her colonel. She did not need sight to hear the boy's heart shivering like a caged bird in his chest.
xxxxxx"If you flee now, the King and his generals will find you and assume you're in league with me," she said softly when the healer stumbled forward. "You're aware of what happens to traitors, don't you? They're brought to the inquisitor and tortured for days, sometimes weeks. Then they're burnt alive, or drawn and quartered. At best, they are beheaded. I suggest you remain where you are."
xxxxxxTaras cast his eyes around as if hoping that someone would come to his rescue. When none did - potentially because few were even aware of the role Katya had played in dragging him here - he merely bit his lip and nodded.
xxxxxxIn that moment, a newcomer arrived from the shadows of the hidden alcove.
xxxxxx"Sin," said the dark-skinned boy when the light illuminated the stunning Shu girl. She was slim and tall, her stance betraying a deadly grace and stealth.
xxxxxx"The fuck are you doing here?" she asked Fang. Katya liked her already.
xxxxxx"What did I do to deserve such reverence from my guests? Please, there's no need for such pleasantries," Fang mused. "I only guided you to safety and gave you shelter from sure death." He had suspected Sin Nari might follow, though in truth he had not heard any sign of her approach. She was gifted. He supposed it was why his employer had demanded her for the job.
xxxxxx"Ah, how rude. I neglected to introduce myself," he said as he turned to address the occupants of the room. "I'm Captain Fang of the Crimson Tide. No doubt you have some pressing questions, but for now, you need only know that I seek to ensure your safe escape from enemy territory. Our remaining associate should arrive soon with our final passenger."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri
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#, as written by la.lune
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The streets all seemed to blur into one long road as Bea was swept away under the tall Shu's wing, that her saviour had called 'Fang'. Ash still fell around them, coating the ground in a white powdery substance that made Bea think for a moment of snow, and her home back in Fjerda, before that thought is replaced by the one of her brother, perhaps injured somewhere or worse, dead. Biting down, hard, on her bottom lip Bea tries her best to instead think about the path they are taking, hoping to memorise it if this ominous Fang tried anything. What Bea lacks in muscle, she more than makes up for it with her mind and agility. Able to memorise sometimes entire maps, Bea has always relied heavily on her ability to always find an escape route, no matter the circumstance.

Soon the little group of three appear to reach their destination as Fang ushers them into a derelict looking building. Clutching at her now tattered dress for some kind, any kind of comfort. Bea's attention is quickly drawn from the two men beside her when others quickly begin to filter in. Not knowing any of the faces that stood in front of her, Bea felt more than a little out of place. However, there was one striking woman that Bea realised she did know after a moment of racking her brains.

Why is the executioner here? She thinks to herself, just about stopping her lips from verbalising those thoughts. If the Commander was here, Bea knew that she definitely should not be. Today was not a day that Bea had thought she'd come face to face with the Commander of the Ravkan army. Just about able to pull her gaze from the stunningly beautiful, yet immensely intimidating woman, Bea takes in the rest of their new company.

Having not yet spoken to anyone but the Zemeni boy she still stood next to, Bea finds a little comfort in the fact that he is there. Perhaps it was strange, but he certainly made her feel safer, despite her quite possibly being the stronger out of the pair - and most certainly the taller companion.

Blunt words fly from the gentleman Bea had come to know as Fang to the Commander, and back again. Listening intently to the conversations going on around her, Bea makes a note to memorise all of the names that have already been mentioned; she wanted to know these people that currently surrounded her.

It doesn't take long until the little shimmer of light that formed in the doorway was blocked by yet another person. A tall Shu woman stood there, looking in at the group with her enchanting eyes. Again finding herself unable to draw away her gaze, Bea almost smiles at the woman's words. "The fuck are you doing here?" She says, pointedly looking toward the only other Shu in the small room. Her words are so steely that Bea almost misses the boy net to her whisper something, "Sin." Was that her name? It surely seemed fitting for the woman, albeit unusual.

Pulling her gaze from Sin, Bea watches the Commander demand a young man, who looks as nervous as Bea feels, over to help her. A healer? There were so many questions bubbling away in Bea's mind that she can't help but burst with the need to ask the most obvious question.

"What is this?" She pipes up, her voice ringing in her ears after having not spoken for so long. An uneasy smile falls across her face, as Bea attempts to keep her composure. Everyone seemed to pulled together that Bea almost felt inferior for her feelings being all over the place as they were. She had just potentially lost her brother however, so Bea decided that, fuck it, she deserved to feel however the hell she wanted to. Although the dried tears that marred her cheeks did nothing for Bea to help her look tough, Bea leaves them as they are as she stares into the group, her face unwavering as she waits for someone to answer her question.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adrian Naumov Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Frigg
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Adrian's eyes flickered up to the girl at the side of the man whose arm he embarassingly clutched as she responded to his desperate request with a snide retort that he didn't know whether to resent or enjoy. Given the situation, he simply ignored it and released the man's arm who uttered his name as the alkemi swung out of the way of a blast of fire. Adrian froze and eyed the dark-haired man apprehensively, not knowing quite what to make of him.
"How... do you know my name? I'm not exactly popular around here," Adrian growled warily, but the thought flew out of his head only a moment after the question had escaped his lips. The man grabbed his sandy brown hair in his fists, looking around at the scene that enveloped the trio.
"You know what?" he decided weakly, "I don't even care, just get me the hell out of here."
Adrian ignored the tiny facts that were eating away at his mind and tried to focus on staying alive. He ignored little streams of thought like 'Why did they know his name?' or 'How did they know about his "mad scientist" work in his lab?' or 'Why in the world had he antagonized a stupid little Onikh in exchange for the sorriest little saliva sample you ever saw in your whole life?'. Instead, Adrian went against his better judgement for maybe the third time ever and convinced himself that the answers to those questions didn't matter if it meant he got out of this bloodbath alive.
Adrian followed the man across the courtyard of the party, taking care not to make any dire mistakes that would sure spread him across the stone ground like butter across toast. As the two other counterparts of their tiny rag-tag group briefly bickered, Adrian's mind whirred away like it was sprinting. The man was smart enough to swallow all his questions, or at least lock them in the cage in his throat for later. He ran his thumb absentmindedly over the outside of the glass vial, trying to calm the nerves that stretched him into a crazy person. Or a "mad scientist". Whatever you prefer, he figured at this point, he had to be a little bit of both.
“Come with me, we’ll keep you alive.” the man said to him, breaking Adrian from his thoughts. The boy let out a bitter chuckle, flashing the man a grim smile.
"Mister, with a promise like that, I'd follow you to the end of the world."

Relieved that, for now, Adrian Naumov was not asking questions, Dmitri nodded and replied to the grisha, “Hopefully we won’t have to go that far to get to safety.". A small smile flickered across the smuggler’s face before he turned his focus to navigating through the mayhem seeping out of the festival. It almost seemed too easy, and Dmitri could only hope that Alvida was having as much luck with her search. Of course, the challenge now was bringing Adrian and Frigg to Fang’s safe house without being followed, maimed, or killed. Dmitri wasn’t sure how far the onihk’s attack had spread, and he could only hope that it was focused behind them.

“Stay close.” Dmitri added as he turned towards a side street.

Adrian followed Dmitri down the streets, silent if not a little brooding. What would happen after the battle stopped- if it stopped? What would come next? The man could almost feel his research work load double like the weight of the skies on his shoulders. People would be in demand for information as they always did when they didn't understand something that terrified them. The problem was that the information he already had wouldn't really satiate them enough to let him work in peace. No doubt his team would be so far up his ass to figure out the stupid drug. There wasn't a whole lot he could work with anyways and he didn't think any quick break through would be emminent unless they allowed him to have an Onikh in the lab.
That conversation would definitely go off without a hitch.
Still, if the display put on tonight didn't intrigue him, he'd be lying.
It was crazy to think every Grisha could have that level of power, that it could be in them the whole time, it just needed a dangerous nudge.
A shiver ran down Adrian's spine at the thought and he tried to focus on following the man in front of him thorugh the dim streets, his core shaking as adrenaline continued to flow through him.

Dmitri led the Grisha and Frigg further away from the fighting, glancing over his shoulder occasionally to check that no one was following them and that the two following him were at hand. His eyes swept over the Ravkan Grisha during one such glance, and Dima found himself wondering why this man was to be saved from the fray. Years of friendship had built up a solid trust between Dima and Fang, enough that each knew the other's real name, and enough that Dmitri would feel confident having Fang guard his back in any fight. Yet, that did not dampen the curiosity that Dmitri felt regarding this whole situation. As soon as he had time, he would have Fang explain everything to him. But, for now, his main priority was to bring Adrian to the safe house, preferably unmaimed.

Dima's eyes shifted from the alkemi to the tracker behind him, and some of the weight that had settled on Dima's shoulders eased. Like his relationship with Fang, Dima and Frigg had built up a solid amount of trust over the years they had known each other. He was glad to have her support now.

“The safe house shouldn't be much further." Dima murmured softly, so that only the two with him would hear. He had only been to the run-down inn once before, when Fang had first shown the smuggling siblings the place, yet he remembered the place well, and the path there was illuminated in his mind.

A safe house? The thought was reassuring to Adrian. It certainly was a lot better than hiding in an alley and hoping that they didn't get blindsided. Adrian straightened up a little bit, peering over Dmitri's shoulder to look ahead. In the distance, he saw an inn nestled among the buildings. A heavy wooden sign hung over the door, boasting the name: The Reverent Inn. Adrian had never heard of it and after briefly looking around, he didn't think he recognized any of his surroundings. That wasn't really saying much for him, though. Adrian hardly ever left the palace, let alone went outside.
"Is this it?" Adrian demanded, a hint incredulity to his tone. The place looked ordinary in the clearest sense of the word. Sure, it was a safe house and Adrian couldn't pretend he was really experienced with safe houses, but still. Maybe he should stop expecting for thing to be more poetic than they actually were. It was warping his view.
The crew stopped at the entrance of the inn and Adrian ran his eyes over it again, taking it all in with slow deliberation. A long sigh escaped his lips and he glanced over at Dmitri.
"Shall we go in?"

The inn looked just as desolate as Dima remembered. Hiding a smile at Adrian’s tone, Dima nodded and began running calloused fingers over the wooden boards covering one of the inn’s windows. He found the hinge and pulled, revealing a secret opening. With a wave of his hand he ushered Frigg and Adrian through, uttering a quiet, “Come inside, please.” before following them both through the window.

Dmitri closed the window after them, and moved through the dark bedroom to the single door that led into the main room. There, already gathered, was a small party of people. Though, ‘party’ was far from the right word to use given the evident tension in the air. Dmitri’s eyes flicked from his sister standing protectively in front of Fang, to the two soldiers opposite. There were others in the room, and Dmitri’s eyes swept over them in a calculating fashion before returning to his sister and friend. Satisfied that neither were hurt, Dima merely raised a questioning brow before turning to the others gathered in the safe house.

“Mikhail Pavus, the remaining associate.” Dima introduced himself, having caught the end of Fang's address. “Happy to see you haven't retired for the easy life yet, Fang."

Adrian watched the man who had saved him introduce himself as Mikhail and took a moment to note the uncomfortable air that was strung through the room. He desperately wanted to turn on his heel and crawl back through the boarded window. This was not what he had expected: a room full of people who all looked like they wanted to kill each other or be dead before it could come to that. What stopped him was the girl. The girl in the red kefta who had been up on the dais mere hours ago. Before the rest of the world had gone up in smoke. And she was still gorgeous, but definitely looked like she wanted to rip out the throat of the tall, dark, and handsome Shu man who all but commanded the attention of the people around him with some sort of unspoken charisma that was kind of terrifying to be in the prescence of. Still, these were the people who wanted to be safe like him. The alkemi resolved to stand next to the boarded window in case an escape needed to be made and carefully scanned the room with a slow gaze.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Frigg
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      Every part of Aleks’ subconscious mind was screaming. Nothing in particular, really, just a loud and urgent wailing, like his own body’s form of an alarm system. Something is wrong, something is wrong, it said, on repeat. Yes, thank you, he replied internally. I got the memo.

      He had gotten the memo some time ago. Perhaps when the first Onikh descended and nearly fried him to a crisp? No, not then. It might have been when his own soldier pointed a sword at his throat. No, no; probably it was when Katya and her purported treason forced him to near drown a high ranking officer. Though the news of Sturmhond certainly sent him for a loop. By then, though, he had already been overwhelmed, had hardly even reacted when some strange squaller girl dropped from the sky and helped them escape. He’d followed wordlessly, all the way to their rickety and downtrodden “safe house.” (Not that it looked particularly safe.)

      In fact, it wasn’t until they were already well situated in the inn that Aleks even noticed the presence of their other companion. The blonde healer looked vaguely frightened— Katya, probably, so he didn’t blame him— but also somewhat familiar. Aleks thought for a moment, but the adrenaline of the recent battle was clouding his memory. He gave the healer a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, the only comfort he could provide at the moment, and turned his attention back to Katya. Before he could even open his mouth to speak, the very air surrounding her turned hostile, and the hair on the back of Aleks’ neck rose slightly. Saints, ten years and somehow she still had the ability to make him shake in his boots. (Not often, mind you, only when she caught him unawares, and only for an instant.)

      There was just a second before Katya darted forward, grabbing the squaller and—oh, that wasn’t good. Wasn’t good at all. Was Katya incapable of thinking before she acted? He glanced quickly towards the object of her frustrations: a ridiculously tall Shu man with an, admittedly, ruggedly handsome demeanor. Yes, he could make a presumption or two about what was going on.

      Again, Katya moved before he could act. He winced, slightly, at the sight of her slamming the man against the wall. He spared a glance towards the squaller girl. The healer wouldn’t be any help in combat, but if Katya was intent on provoking the strangers, he could handle her. The problem was, of course, that capable as Katya was, she was also gravely injured, and there would be no way for Aleks to take out the squaller and grab her if the Shu—Fang, the squaller had called him— managed to overtake her. And it wasn’t as though there was a decent supply of water anywhere nearby. A number of battle plans ran through his mind; he contemplated the outcomes of each and nearly missed when the squaller rushed forward to insert herself in between Fang and Katya. He drew a breath in then released it in quiet relief. So they wouldn’t be picking any fights with them then. That was good news. Aleks stepped forward, dropping his hand on Katya’s shoulder. Someone had to act as a retainer.

      There was no such thing as telepathy, of course, but in the several seconds Aleks held Katya’s gaze, he knew he was getting a message across. Those ten years meant something after all, it would seem.

      The mousy healer stumbled forward, and while this wasn’t the time to say anything about Katya’s very cruel words, Aleks felt a strong twang of sympathy deep in soul. He understood. Yes, he understood well.

      Subconsciously, Aleks kept his hand on Katya’s shoulder as he watched, first, the healer begin his work, and later, the residents of the room. He had barely taken stock of the four other people when a fifth burst in, obscenities fresh on her lips. Christ, did this Shu captain have a bone to pick with everyone? There was a breath after he responded, and then a girl, quiet until then, piped up with a very simple question. One Aleks did not, unfortunately, have an answer to.

      Turning his attention back to Katya, Aleks leaned down slightly to speak into her ear. “Katya,” he said, lowly, but with a subtle urgency. “We need to speak about—” He paused, wet his lips, unsure of how to describe the matter at hand. He settled, eventually, on waving his hand to encompass the surrounding…scenery. “This.”

      Katya might have responded to him with the venom that rolled from her tongue seemingly on instinct if not for the smallest issue of her inattention. Aleks could have been cursing their king and country for all the concern she granted him. The new arrivals had seized her focus, most especially the Alkemi nestled between two with which she could not imagine he had anything in common. She recognised him, though she doubted he could differentiate the Second Commander of his country’s military from a common kitchen maid. He had a reputation for being wholly enshrined in his work, a trait, she supposed, the leading investigator of jurda parem should possess.

      Keen silver eyes swept the length of the Alkemi’s body and slid over each member of their entourage. They were certainly not all Ravkan, and if the damp cheeks of one girl were any indication, at least some were civilians. She could not fathom what purpose any of them might have here or even, why she was here. There was only one other person she trusted besides Kir Egorov.

      ”We need to talk,” she told Aleks. “The room next door is unoccupied.”

      Aleks could only sigh. He wasn’t surprised, not by any stretch of the imagination. Katya rarely listened to him anyway; he was rather used to it by now. “Great idea,” he replied, pleasantly, through the grate of his gritted teeth shown in an unnatural smile. He pulled his hand away from Katya’s shoulder and moved across the floor to the doorway of the unoccupied room. His eyes scanned the new additions quickly. He recognized the Alkemi, of course, but the other two were strangers, and the uneasy feeling settling in the pit of his stomach deepened. Mentally, he urged Katya to cross to him quicker, his foot tapping against the floor in impatience.

      Katya moved away from the healer without warning and slipped out of the room with Aleks following closely behind. She shut the door behind them.

      ”Every Onikh tonight was a soldier of your division,” she said.

      Aleks’ brow furrowed instantly, his head tilting slightly forward in confusion. “What are you trying to say, Katya?” he asked, levelly, despite the heavy pounding of his heart, the blood rushing, loud, in his ears. Every soldier he’d run into that night had accused her of attempted assassination, but he had still followed her to this dismal building, hadn’t he?

      ”I’m saying you had no alibi,” she replied. “There was not the slightest possibility they would have freed you from the dungeons for any reason but to see your head removed from your shoulders, and yet you offered yourself to them as if nothing would please you more.” Anger laced her words as she stepped closer to him. He was taller and by all means, stronger and broader than she would ever be, but she stared at him as if he were a bird that could not differentiate sky from mirrored glass. “You should have run, and I should have left you to your fate.”

      To be entirely honest, Aleks hardly even registered the last of her words. She’d hadn’t quite finished her second sentence before he exhaled a shaky breath, lifting his hands to rub at his face before pulling them through his hair. “I thought—” he muttered, fingers still laced together at the back of his neck. “For a moment, I thought—” Overcome, he suddenly threw his arms around Katya’s body, trembling hands gripping at the delicate silk laid over her back. “I thought you might have doubted me too,” came his muffled words, mumbled into the thick mane of her hair. Then, just as suddenly, as though he’d been struck by lightning, Aleks recoiled, the rest of his limbs following his legs as he snapped back into the place he had been standing moments before.

      “Oh,” he said, eyes widening in surprise, as though he had been the one sprung upon and not the other way around. “I’m sorry.” A tinge of confusion colored his statement, as though he still wasn’t entirely sure what had just occurred. He blinked several times in succession. That was unexpected.

      For a moment, Katya was shocked into silence. She felt the echo of his warmth where Aleks had wrapped himself around her. It had been years since she’d felt the touch of another not as pleasure or pain, but comfort. For a breath, she returned to the Shadow Fold, or rather, what remained of it after Sankta Alina brought it to ruin. Aleks had held her then too, but their skin had been sticky with blood, and his armour had dug painfully into her side. She had ignored it, burying her face against his shoulder and clutching his back though her fingers ached and burned. They had clung onto each other like drowning souls, even as her heart shuttered and became the wastelands that was all that remained of the Unsea.

      ”I doubt your ability to craft a plan as elaborate as the events of tonight,” she said finally.

      “Hm,” hummed Aleks, bringing a hand up to scratch at his jaw. “Yes,” he said, a moment later. “You have a point.” Then, laughing, he added, “I suppose if I had planned the events of tonight, my scapegoats never would have escaped.”

      Katya gave him a wry smile. “I suppose you weren’t made colonel for your good looks alone.” She thought of the privateer and the strange coalition of people in the other room. “And for all we know, we’ve fallen into the trap of a less palatable, if not as formidable enemy.”

      “Ah!” said Aleks, slamming the bottom of his fist into an open palm, as though he’d just remembered he’d forgotten to buy something important at the market. “Yes, that’s just what I wanted to speak to you about.” His mind too turned to the people awaiting them on the other side of the door. It shot back to the time just minutes ago where he and Katya had been fighting for the lives. And the squaller girl, so eager to assist. No, not to help them, was it? She wanted them here, under the watchful gaze of the Shu captain and company. What was it she’d said? Fang is going to be so proud of me. Like she’d gone hunting and caught a big prize. And there was, of course, the rather troubling matter of her knowing the name Sturmhond. None of this seemed to be adding up to good fortune.

      “I think we need to need to get out of here as soon as possible.” He shot a glance towards the door and lowered his voice, just in case. “I don’t know why they were looking specifically for us, but this timing can’t be a coincidence. I’d rather take my chances fleeing the Ravkan forces.”

      ”And go where?” demanded Katya. ”By dusk tomorrow, our likeness will be plastered throughout every street in Ravka. Word will travel to every kingdom through the delegates who survived tonight and the bounty on our heads will have us hunted for the rest of our lives.” She gazed towards the boarded up windows that lined one wall, at the sliver of light that illuminated her dark hair falling loose from its braid. ”More importantly, we cannot abandon our King and Queen to the enemies that orchestrated the attack.”

      “I didn’t mean that,” replied Aleks, a small frown twisted his lips. “Of course I plan to set this right.” Of all people, he thought Katya would understand him. “But they were looking for us. For all we know, we could be walking directly to our deaths. We could go somewhere else. Somewhere safe. Regroup. Then counter this.”

      “What better way to sever the head of the snake than within the viper’s nest?” she countered. “We allow them to believe we’ve become complacent and we strike when they’re least expecting it.”

      Katya unlocked the door and stepped out, leaving silence in her wake.

      “Katya!” Aleks attempted to call after her, but there was no helping it. She had already gone. He sighed once more. But what if, he hadn’t gotten to tell her, these are two very different viper’s nests? Well, he supposed there was little to be done. He couldn’t very well leave without her (though he knew she’d hardly have the same qualms about leaving him to his own devices), so he could only follow after her. Resignedly, he took her lead, sliding back into the occupied room.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Anya Ivanov Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adrian Naumov Character Portrait: Mikkel Zivkovic Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Frigg
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#, as written by Verix
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    Sighing wearily, Mikkel followed where Anya led. The palace, a looming building, was difficult to miss, so he wasn’t worried she didn’t know where she was going. But the problem would come when they got themselves to the palace. Mikkel still had no formulated plan on how to get inside the palace, let alone how to find the researcher in such a large building if they did manage to enter.

    “Slow down,” he called after Anya. Walking so briskly with a fractured leg. Sometimes Anya seemed to him more mechanical than human. Her hobbling, uneven gait reminded him she was not.

    “And give Naumov more time to run away?” Anya rolled her eyes, “Mikkel, I thought you were smarter than that.” In an act of defiance she then picked up her pace, and ignored the throbbing in her head. They had a job to do, and it would be over her dead body that it would remain undone.

    Mikkel groaned, unnecessarily loudly, and jogged to catch up to her. His legs were perfectly fine, but he was still battered and bruised, and he cursed Anya’s petulance for making him move any faster than was needed. “We need a plan, Anya,” he hissed. “Surely you don’t plan to waltz into the palace and face no resistance at all.”

    “We don’t need a plan, Mikkel,” she stopped walking suddenly, and before even she knew what her body was doing her hands were gripping his forearms in a bruising grip. She leveled his gaze with hers, and for the first time since docking at the shipyard Anya could feel the familiar fire in her veins. "We’ll do whatever is necessary.”

    Mikkel, stunned into silence, said nothing. She stared at him for a second too long to be considered polite, before releasing her grip on him and turning away to resume her trek. The dawning realization of how much she had to lose, how much they had to lose, finally making a home in her thoughts. They needed to complete their mission. Needed it like they needed air to breath, or the way she needed him to survive. It was their ticket to climbing the ranks, and Anya would be damned if some stupid Alkemi got in the way of their happiness.

    Mikkel followed quietly. He knew that look, that blaze which had settled in her gaze. It would not be wise to make any comment. At this point, it was looking like they’d have to make something up on the spot—a lamentable fact, especially considering how poorly Mikkel handled dealing with unplanned circumstances. Not that Anya was any better, really.

    To spare themselves any future difficulties, Mikkel set himself to discovering some semblance of a plan before they arrived at the palace doors. Fjerdan dignitaries seeking shelter? He glanced down, then at Anya’s bloodied clothing. No, not likely. Perhaps—

    A sharp and sudden explosion seen just out the left field of his vision stopped his train of thought right in its tracks. Reaching out instinctively, Mikkel grabbed ahold of Anya’s wrist. “Look,” he said quietly, pointing discreetly in the direction of a lanky male throwing blast powders at an Onikh. How idiotic. Nobody could possibly be that foolish. Unless…
    Mikkel and Anya watched on in morbid fascination as the man threw another explosion in a bag, then actually caught the Squaller in a tapestry. A tapestry of all things. Kind of incredible in its own way. “I think that might be him. Anya, I’m fairly certain we just found Adrian Naumov.”

    “And he’s going to die if we don’t save him,” she replied hastily but before she could even move more than a foot the Grisha was running into a pair of bystanders. Anya hissed not only pain in her legs but from the fact their prey was slipping away. She slipped her wrist from under his hand and with quick motions indicated that they should go capture the Alkemi.

    She had barely taken a step in the direction of their target when Mikkel roughly grasped Anya’s wrist once more. “What do you think you’re doing?” he hissed. “Do you have eyes? Those people he’s with now— they’re armed. I’m not under the impression they’d react kindly to us attempting to take the boy right from under their noses.”

    “Your point being? We’ll just kill them.”

    “Not that I’d normally disagree, but have you perhaps taken a look at yourself lately?” With an amused arch of his brow, Mikkel raised his own burnt arm then gestured to her bum leg. “We’re not even in any shape to be fighting a child.”

    “Are you ever in any shape to be fighting a child,” she snapped before pausing, “but I see your point.”

    “So what’s our plan of attack? We still have to get to him somehow.”

    “Let’s follow them then, or have you forgotten who I am?” she smirked.

    Mikkel couldn’t help but give a short laugh. “Of course, Vofa, how could I forget?” He paused, his fingers absentmindedly picking at his bottom lip as he worked the plan over in his mind. “Yes, that could work then. Wait until he’s alone and pick him off. He looks as though he’s never even seen the sun, how hard could it be?"

    Anya didn’t respond. Instead she seamlessly slipped into her role as Vofa and without a sound began to almost glide across the courtyard. She breathed in deeply and made sure to keep her movements light. It was almost as if she were floating above it all, a startling contrast to the heavy limp she was sporting earlier. Although not an advocate for miracles, she considered her ability to disassociate from pain to be one of the many small ones granted to her.

    Mikkel followed closely behind. He wasn’t nearly as skilled as Anya at practically disappearing, but even he was capable of this much. Together, the two tailed the trio as they traversed the dangerous path out of the gardens, then through the winding turns of the city’s backallys. They tailed them until they arrived at a small rundown building. Some kind of inn, or at least it appeared so from the rooftop of the building opposite the one their target was entering.

    After a moment’s breath, Mikkel muttered, only half angrily, “Well, what now?”

    “We have to follow them,” she replied, “Did you see how they opened the window? There was a hidden latch they knew was there. The Inn could be a coverup for a series of tunnels. If we wait we’ll lose the damned lab rat.”

    “You have a point,” said Mikkel, not too happily. If they attempted to enter, they risked being discovered, and subsequently, killed. If they waited, they risked losing their target, failing the mission, and facing, subsequently, something potentially far worse than death. “Well. Here goes nothing.” Anya said nothing but removed the bow and arrows from her person before throwing them to the ground below without a thought. She never really cared for long-ranged weapons.

    Carefully, Mikkel lowered his body down the face of the building, ignoring the sharp and unending pain that stabbed at his right shoulder. His left arm was really only marginally better, but he relied mainly on it as he scaled down. With his feet firmly on the ground, he glanced up at Anya, struggling with the descent, with a smug smile and could not resist calling, “Care to jump? I’ll catch you.”

    Anya silently groaned and looked over her shoulder to stare at Mikkel down below. He looked so full of himself, and more than anything she wanted to wipe the stupid grin off his face. “Let’s put that to the test then.” Even as she said that though Anya knew undoubtedly he would keep his end of the bargain. She had complete trust in him.
    She released her grip on the wall and let her body fall backwards.

    Mikkel’s eyes widened exponentially. “Anya, wait, no—” he cried, lifting his arms and grimacing in anticipation even as he called his warning. It was already too late. He knew that. He screwed his eyes shut as her body crashed into his and toppled him to the ground. Normally, he would have held steady, but then again, that was normally, and this was anything but normal. His right shoulder throbbed even more than it had moments before. And the chafing of his burnt skin against her clothes nearly brought him to the brink of tears. “I was kidding,” he croaked weakly.

    “Don’t make offers you don’t intend to keep,” she smiled sardonically. “Let’s go.” Picking herself off the ground she then brushed dirt off her clothing, and gathered her bow and arrows from where they dropped. Her eyes flickered to Mikkel on the ground, and with a sigh she offered her hand to him. She congratulated herself for only thinking about retracting her hand, not actually doing it.

    Mikkel grasped her arm with a low groan and pulled himself up. “Thanks,” he said, caustically. “Very helpful.”

    Going ahead, he fumbled around the area he had seen the taller man pull the mystery switch. After a moment or two random grasping, he caught something in the old wood. “Found it,” he whispered back, with a crooked grin. And with no hesitation, he pulled it.

    The opening they’d seen earlier revealed itself, and Mikkel, with a mocking smile, bowed gallantly. “After you.”

    Anya ignored him, and carefully pulled herself through the window making sure to land silently. Mikkel followed shortly after, grumbling lowly, but landing with similar feline grace.

    The musty air of the dark bedroom invaded her lungs, and she choked momentarily. She heard Mikkel coughing behind her.

    “Can you hear anything?” she asked.

    Mikkel ceased his coughing for a moment to listen more intently. “No,” he said, after a moment. Then, “Wait. Yes. Barely. Whoever’s speaking is down there.” He gestured towards the sliver of light leaking from some crevice. A door, probably. Carefully, he picked his way across the room, then crossed the threshold into some short, narrow hallway. Anya trailed behind him, running her hands across the peeling wallpaper trying to keep herself steady.

    Mikkel reached the light source—a door, as he’d expected—and crouched down to try and get a look through the gap. Anya moved slowly behind him and hovered her head above his, eager to see what was going on as well. Perhaps had she been in a better state of mind and physical condition she would have stayed put and decreased their chances of getting seen, but as it was she was tired and just wanted to kidnap the Alkemi.
    The field of view was limited, and Mikkel could barely make anything out, but some sounds trickled through, and he heard the odd snippet of vague conversation. He remained still and watchful for some time, but with every passing moment, Anya’s presence above him grew increasingly overbearing. “Can you move?” he hissed, as quietly as he possibly could.

    “Can you stop breathing?” To prove a point she placed her head on top of his. “The answer is no.”

    Frustrated, perhaps, by the muggy air and limited space and, therefore, overheating, he jerked his head up, knocking into her chin. “Anya, move. I can’t see well with you hovering over me!”

    “And that’s my problem because?”

    “It’s both our problems. I need to check if Naumov is still there, obviously.” His patience was wearing thin very quickly. He leaned forward, extending his left arm with the intention of pushing her back, but at the same time she pressed down on his shoulders to keep her vantage point. But his movement had left him with an unsteady foundation, and her none too gentle shove rocked him off it, and in a terribly graceless movement, he toppled forward, Anya atop him.

    They had, of course, very naturally, crashed straight through the door, and fallen in a heap in front of all the occupants of the room. “Fuck,” said Mikkel, very quietly. He slowly scanned the various people, meeting the gaze of each one. Well. Death it was then.

    Anya stood up quickly, glancing around the room in despair. She mentally calculated their chance of bute forcing their way out, and grimaced at the number. Her body was tense and she kept eyeing the exit with anxiety, but she stopped when her gaze landed on Alkemi they were looking for. She let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding in before doing the best she could.

    “Hello, do not be alarmed.” She managed to keep her voice level despite the ever increasing fear and pain. “This is my brother… Jorges, and I’m—”

    “—Helga,” cut in Mikkel, quickly, as he struggled to his feet. Jorges? They may have been on their death beds at this point, but dammit if he wasn’t going to retaliate if she came at him with something like that. It was his turn to pull his weight. Swallowing dryly, he said, “I am Jorges, and she is Helga. We are… traveling missionaries. We wanted to escape the fighting and happened to see the… kind looking men over there.” An uneasy and forced smile tugged his lips in an unnatural way.

    Anya was at a loss for words. Of all the job professions they had to masquerade under missionaries seemed to be the most unbelieveable. She looked down at her attire and grimaced, blood soaked and tattered, she was the epitome of friendliness. Mikkel had regretted the words the instant they left his mouth. Missionaries. Djel, between the two of them they must have had at least twelve shattered bones.

    The arrival of the two missionaries— or so they claimed to be— had stunned the inn’s present occupants, to say the least. Fang had not expected any more passengers en route to his ship, but it appeared he would have more. He certainly could not abandon the two strangers to their own devices when they’d seen the location of his safehouse, and they’d all seen enough death tonight that any more would be excessive.

    Despite not knowing who they were, Fang was certain they were not missionaries of any sort. If anything, he might have believed them to be congregants of hell. They were two facets of the abyss, one dark and the other light in the way blank pages were devoid of content. He had only known one other to possess a stare that could glare through space and time, and she likely wouldn’t spit on him if he was on fire.

    Fang smiled. He would humour them. “Welcome, messengers of the almighty. It is, of course, our honour and blessing to offer sanctuary to individuals of such pure intent.”

    In that instant, the Ravkan soldiers who had retired to the unoccupied bedroom next door returned from their riveting discussion.

    While Aleks was stopped dead in his tracks, Katya stared impassively at the cluster of limbs currently obscuring her view. “Is this dinner?” she asked drily.

    Mikkel stretched his arm out instinctively, knowing Anya well enough to catch her before she made any attempt to attack the rude woman. Missionaries, he seemed to tell her silently with a sharp glance. She retaliated by harshly shoving his broken arm away from her.

    “She’s harmless,” Fang assured the intruders.

    “As are we, of course,” Mikkel interjected quickly.

    “You only need one kidney,” said Katya.

    “Hey,” Aleks finally cut in, alarmed. “Enough!”

    “These two missionaries stumbled into our space seemingly by chance,” explained Fang.

    “If you believe these two Fjerdan spies to be harmless, you deserve whatever ruin they bring upon you,” snapped Katya. She felt the stutter of their heartbeats, almost indiscernible from the average. They were remarkably calm for the lies they uttered, giving her reason to believe they were even more dangerous than they seemed. The displeasure on her face dissipated into sweetness as her lips unfurled into a cloy smile. “Since you’re devout innocents, surely you won’t mind if we bind you. Merely as a precaution, of course. We will return you to your homelands soon enough.”

    Aleks had a long rope. A very long one. Katya was coming to the end of it. He stepped in front of her, using his stature to block her view of the latest intruders. “I know you have a habit of hearing no one but yourself, but there are times you need to open your ears,” he whispered lowly, enough for her to hear, but not to potentially humiliate her in front of any of the others.

    A lance of pain struck through Katya at his words. She recognised the truth in his claims, but it wasn’t very often that he or anyone criticised her so pointedly, if at all. Just as it always did, the hurt warped into rage. “Fine,” she said. “I hope they bury their blades in your chest.”

    Aleks sighed before turning back to the situation at hand. He was used to Katya’s occasionally petulant outbursts, and her words had lost their sting long ago. What was important were the Fjerdan spies, as Katya had so clearly pointed out, standing in their doorframe. Missionaries. Who were they fooling? One glance at their attire and general demeanor would let anybody in a five mile radius know that only lies spilled from their lips.

    “I’m sure our generous host has already said, but men and women of the cloth are always welcome wherever we may be,” he said to them, a genuinely kind look lighting his gaze. He shot a sidelong glance at the pleasantly smiling Shu captain. His opinion of the man was shifting to a more positive light.

    “You seem injured,” Aleks added, gently, with a slight frown. “Please, let us tend to your wounds. I’m afraid we’ve only bandages and herbal medicines, but it’d be a better alternatives to letting them fester.” He glanced once more towards Fang, a man he knew was thinking just as he was, in expectation of some assistance.

    Sensing the room’s attention once more, Anya released the tension in her body and acted the poor missionary she was supposed to be. Slumping her shoulders in faux defeat she then gave a wary smile to both the Shu man and the other. “I hardly even noticed my wounds,” which was partially true but even acting she couldn’t quite help but let venom seep into her voice. “However it would be much appreciated." Mikkel nearly scoffed at her act, but somehow managed to contain himself. Anya? Frail and meek? Never. He mentally shelved this experience to make fun of her for later on down the line.

    “We do apologise for our friend here,” said Fang.

    “We’re not friends,” Katya interjected.

    “She can be somewhat aggressive towards strangers,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken.

    “Not at all,” said Katya. “We’re not strangers and I still hate you.”

    Mikkel coughed, loudly. At this point, he was beginning to think death was the preferable alternative. “Ahem. Yes, thank you.” As he spoke, he gently nudged Anya’s side, encouraging her to follow his gaze, which had settled directly on the blonde haired male at the back of the room. More specifically, his kefta. That of a healer. He caught Anya’s eye out of his peripheral vision. She nodded almost imperceptibly. With that small reassurance, Mikkel knew they were on the same page.

    They’d had their setbacks, granted, but they were far from fools. They knew when they were being played. Regardless, if they weren’t going to be killed, that was enough for them at the moment. Mikkel began working on a plan to get that healer to patch them up somehow almost instantly.

    Anya smiled through gritted teeth and pulled Mikkel close to her side with a tug at his shoulder, “Come on, Jorges.”

    Mikkel, sporting more grimace than grin, stepped over the final threshold of the door and, perhaps for the first time in his short life, knowingly and willingly entered straight into the heart of the lion’s den.


Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Anya Ivanov Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adrian Naumov Character Portrait: Mikkel Zivkovic Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Frigg
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#, as written by Cloud
Image

Vida’s hands clung tightly to Fang’s wrists, her body poised in front of him as if she might somehow protect the tall Shu man from any sudden attack by the Heartrender. His tone and attitude shocked her, for in the years she had known the privateer, rarely had Vida seen him so aggressive. Nevertheless, she would side with him regardless, and only later, when the tension had dissipated somewhat, would Vida grill him with questions about the quarrel she had just witnessed, among other things. For now, she would merely watch and wait.

The blonde healer stumbled forward, his nervousness on obvious display as he neared the volatile soldier. Katya’s words were soft, yet Vida heard them nonetheless. Her brow furrowed at the implication behind them, and suddenly Vida felt a wave of guilt creep over her. She had merely assumed that the blonde, Taras, was with the other two. A friend or comrade. Had she thought him anything other than that, she wouldn’t have pulled him halfway to the safe house.

Though tension still laced the air, Vida sensed that the worst of it was over. For now. Reluctantly, her hands slowly loosened their hold on the privateer, though she remained close. Her gaze flicked towards the newest addition to the group, to find another individual of Shu descent; another wonderfully tall Shu. “Damn, those Shu genes are good.” She thought absently to herself, as the dark-skinned boy already in the room offered up the newcomer’s name – Sin.

Words were traded between those gathered, and Vida listened with one ear, while the majority of her attention was pulled instead to the entrance of three individuals. One was a bearded man of tall stature, an easy grace to his walk and a pair of knives at his hip indicating that he was, at the least, a decent fighter. It was, of course, her brother.

“Took him long enough. Vida thought with a cheeky wink at the elder Giese.

Beside him stood Frigg, and between them was a grisha she had never seen before. Vida could only assume that this was the alkemi Dima had been searching for. Fighting the urge to greet Dima and Frigg with a hug – her usual greeting, which seemed rather inappropriate in the current circumstances – Vida instead turned her gaze on the shaking healer as his patient abruptly left. Leaving Fang’s side, Alvida approached the blonde the way one might move towards an easily startled animal. Baby animal.

“Taras, right? Are you okay?” She asked softly, a hand coming up to idly brush a strand of his golden locks behind his shoulder. The squaller’s fingers itched to play more with the silky strands, yet she held herself in check. She didn’t need to scare the healer any more than he clearly was.

He was apprehensive, his eyes downcast and unwilling to meet Vida’s gaze. His eyes would have remained on his feet had Taras’ glasses not slid down his nose. Raising his head to keep them from slipping clean off and pushing them back up his nose, he found himself eye to eye with 'Marina'. Only then did the healer see the concern in the smuggler’s eyes. He managed a weak smile and shrugged, unsure how to explain the stress he was currently under. Being pulled through the city by an alleged traitor and told that any attempt to return to the palace might result in the death of his family… it was more than he could process in one moment.

"I'm fine. I-..." Taras began, not all that convincingly, before he was distracted. A small frown pulled at his mouth. "You're hurt."

Vida followed the blonde's gaze to find a shallow cut on her arm. She hadn't even noticed the wound, too concerned with the drama that had consumed her attention. Her fingers came up to prod at the graze, only to have them brushed aside by the healer's hands.

"Let me." He offered, his voice sounding slightly steadier now that he was doing something he was comfortable with. Taras' hands hovered over the wound, pale blue eyes concentrated on Vida's skin as he pulled his power forth. The skin beneath his palms began to itch, the skin creeping back into place, the wound sealing. It took less than a minute. The wound had been light, and despite seeing to some of Katya's injuries, Taras was still far from tired. When his hands fell back to his sides, Vida found her skin scarless, though still in need of a quick clean.

"Thank you, Taras!" Vida exclaimed quietly, a smile breaking across her face as her eyes flitted from her arm to the blonde healer. Without a thought she slung an arm around his shoulders in a one-armed hug, gave him a a squeeze, and then pulled back. The only reason she didn't notice his faint blush was because Vida had already turned to eye Aleks and Katya as they returned from a side room. If needed she was more than willing to stand between the second-commander and the privateer again.

And then-... "Jorges and Helga? She thought skeptically, eyeing up the pair of 'missionaries' who had fallen through the threshold. They were as likely to be missionaries as she was to be the emperor of Shu Han. Vida bit her tongue and watched as Fang humoured them, her initial confusion at his approach quickly turning to understanding as she realised his play. The squaller attempted to visibly relax her body, though her eyes remained calculating. Across the room Vida caught Dima's eye. He merely raised an amused eyebrow, and suddenly she was biting back a smile.

"You would think this was fun." Vida attempted to telepathically communicate to her brother. He must have recognised something in her expression for he responded by raising both eyebrows in a clear question. Vida's smile spread and she rolled her eyes, she was having fun, despite it all.

Beside her, Taras' momentary confidence quickly faded. He felt the weight of the 'missionaries'' eyes on him, and as he shifted nervously from foot to foot, he wished that he was in plain clothes rather than his palace healer kefta. Almost subconsciously he moved closer to Vida, his gaze falling from the new arrivals to flicker across the ground and land on his feet.

Before an awkward silence could engulf the group, or any more uncomfortable questions be fired across the room, Fang stepped forward. Vida's gaze naturally turned towards him, waiting expectantly for her friend to speak.

“We journey west tomorrow,” Fang said levelly. “You are welcome aboard our ship, if only to escape the chaos in Ravka. The same goes for all of you.” He turned to address the others in the room. “I can assure you there is a reason for our meeting tonight, but I’m afraid any explanations will have to wait for when we’re no longer on Ravkan soil. Some of you do not know me and some will not be comforted for having known me before today.” He offered Adisa and Sin a wry smile. “Frankly, you have no reason to trust me. However, I am in possession of information pertinent to all of you and I would ask only that you reserve your judgment until after you have heard what I have to say. What must be said. "

“You are pieces of a very important puzzle that will determine the fates of every Grisha and non-Grisha alike. If after you have shared in my revelations you do not wish to play any part in this war, I will gladly take you to wherever it is you wish to go. Until then, get some rest. We leave at first light.”


Alvida and Dmitri both trusted Fang with their lives, and there was no doubt in either of their minds that they would help their friend. An ideal situation would see them paid as well, but for now, Vida was willing to give Fang the time needed to explain himself. Besides, she hadn't had this much fun in weeks. With an easy step forward, the squaller slapped a hand on Fang's shoulder, a grin on her face as she gazed up at the man,

"Sure thing, captain." She teased, "You sounded very heroic, Fang. I think I might swoon."