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Aleksey Utkin

A humming beauty in the silence. The having been. Having had.

0 · 732 views · located in Grishaverse

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

Description

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ALEKSEYUTKIN
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EVERYONE DESERVES A CHANCE TO WALK WITH EVERYONE ELSE

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xxNAME
...Aleksey Utkin
x
x...ALIAS
x.x.....Aleks
x
xx..AGE
x.xx.....26
x
OCCUPATION
......Commander
x
x....EYES
x.........Blue
x
x..HEIGHT
x..........6'2"
xxALLEGIANCE
...............Ravkan
x
x......GENDER
...............Male
x
.....SEXUALITY
.........Heterosexual
x
.........POWER
............Tidemaker
x
x.........HAIR
..........Light Brown
x
x.......WEIGHT
...............193 lbs




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                  ( QUIRKS *! )

                  Scratches at his jaw when he's thinking about a
                  problem, but ever since he grew out his beard, it
                  just looks silly since it looks like he's stroking his
                  beard like a some stereotypical villain. ◘ He's
                  that jackass who just instinctively uses the pers-
                  on next to him as an arm rest if they're shorter
                  than him. And they usually are. ◘ When people
                  are yelling, he touches their shoulder as an ind-
                  ication that he wants them to use softer voices.
                  ◘ Takes him 8 trillion years to wake up in the m-
                  orning. Looks like a bear coming out of hibernation.
                  __( LIKES *! )

                  He loves the sea, probably would even if he wer-
                  en't a tidemaker. There's something about the
                  choppy waves and the briny air. ◘ He also adores
                  storms, especially when he's out on the waves w-
                  hen they're taking place. His powers protect him
                  from drowning. ◘ Waltzes and dancing, especially
                  at events where the musicians are good. ◘ Things
                  that smell sweet. He's not thebiggest fan of suga-
                  ry things, actually, but he loves the way sweets
                  smell. ◘ Good food. This seems like a given, but
                  he really loves a warm, hearty meal on a cold day.
                  __( DISLIKES *! )

                  Flowers. He's allergic to some, so he just avoids
                  all of them if possible. ◘ The winter months and
                  being cold. He's a spring and summer kind of
                  guy,and he shivers violently in any sort of chilly
                  weather. ◘ Being landlocked. Has nothing to do
                  with his Grisha abilities, actually. It makes him
                  feel trapped; he likes being able to see the hor-
                  izon over the blue ocean. ◘ Caffeine or related
                  products. It makes him too jittery for his liking.
                  ◘ Conflict, if that weren't already obvious. He pa-
                  rticularly dislikes feeling helpless to help it. ◘


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PERSONALITY


Aleks accepts the saying "water under the bridge" as words to live by. And if he has to, he will force the water under the bridge. He learned, some time ago, that sometimes people die before you ever get the chance to reconcile with them, to call them brother again. His fellow soldiers have learned to forgive if he seems forceful at times, aggressive in his attempt at peace. He has always been a man of contradiction. A pacifist masquerading as a warrior. Or perhaps it's the opposite. Certainly, it feels that way at times. As though all the attempts he makes at keeping the peace when he can is a feeble attempt to hide the war that runs like spitfire through his veins. For all his posturing, he has never hesitated to take a life. Waves are gentle, fluid in their constant undulating motion, and he loses himself in that steady calming rhythm when he does his work, when he drowns a ship deep beneath those very waves. And he does not think again about it, not at dinner, his soldier's fists thumping riotously on the table, not at night, not in his dreams, not ever. He wouldn't be a very effective leader if he did. And that is, of course, the most important thing. Not just because it's his responsibility or because it's his job, his duty, but because if he ever faltered or wavered, it was his men who would pay the price. He'd put his life down for them, he would, but that's not what makes him an effective leader (he doesn't know when to make the sacrifice, to abandon his "one for all, all for one" mentality in favor of the popular "for the greater good" one), though he'd like to be believe it certainly doesn't make him a bad one. At any rate, his men think he's great (most of the time) and that's good enough for him. That's all he wants, really, for everyone to feel comfortable, at home. But don't mistake him; he ought to have some decent qualities after all, else he never would have climbed the ranks. Aside from his natural inclination to sheer force as a gifted tidemaker, he's also well-known to have an eye for strategy, and his casual confidence, faith in his abilities, makes him well-suited to be a leader. He doesn't shy away from the position either, despite the fact that his personality doesn't seem particularly suited to being in command at all; in those instances where he must, he is quick to shed his affable demeanor to take on the mantle of authority. His rather impressive physical stature certainly helps make his case. He may be smiling more often than not, but it is well within his abilities to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. Not that that's his preferred past time. His affable demeanor is the skin he's most comfortable in, and acting like a true and genuine platoon commander never fails to leave him feeling vaguely uncomfortable. He never escapes the friendly ridicule of his troops after.

He is often likened to water, funnily enough. A soothing presence, calm and steady but present in multitudes. He likes the description. Aleksey is not an angry man, can't even remember the last time he's felt pure unadulterated rage within himself. It's strange, the way the wrath of war seeped the anger straight from him. He is too drained from the physical to partake in wars of the emotional kind. He is known, within his ranks, as the person soldiers can go to vent to, to scream at, to cry to if they need. They've seen him take curses, proclamations of hatred, shouts, all the built up rage with just a sad smile painted on his lips. They've called it admirable; he just wishes he could do more. But then again, that's nothing new. He's not quite the leader he wants to be. He's not quite the leader he ought to be. Sometimes, what he is is not enough.


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    Image
                    ( STRENGTHS *! )

                    Criticism ; Aleks is far from defensive, does not take offense to be called
                    out on his flaws. Instead, he dedicates himself to correcting whatever he's
                    been doing wrong. Strategy ; He has an excellent mind for strategy, pro-
                    vided he has the time to think it through. He's well known to be a very good
                    chess player. Power ; There may be others more powerful than he, but
                    Aleks is a very talented grisha, with a formidable supply of raw power. Auth-
                    oritative
                    ; When he needs to, Aleks can have a very commanding presence.
                    His physical stature is, of course, useful in these cases, but his assertiveness
                    extends beyond just that. In dire times, he can appear downright frightening.
                    Kindness and Empathy ; He's very human in the sense that he makes a
                    concerted effort to understand the people he comes across, down to the very
                    essence of who they are. He's a genuinely kind person, does what he can to
                    keep the world bright, keep it happy, without expecting anything in return.
                    __( FLAWS *! )

                    Time ; Aleksey may be talented when it comes to strategy, but that's really
                    only if he has plenty of time to plan. When it comes to quick-thinking, Aleks
                    doesn't have the capability of coming up with a good plan on the spot. Self
                    Doubt
                    ; Part of the reason he takes so long to strategize is because he oft-
                    en questions himself and his decisions too much. He's not confident in his
                    ability to make the best decision possible and spends too long thinking ab-
                    out all the what ifs. Impairment ; Although Aleks considers his empathy a
                    generally good trait, he can also grow easily attached to people he comes
                    to consider comrades. If betrayal should ever come from these people, it'd
                    certainly leave him blindsided, having difficulty just functioning. Nosy ; He
                    sometimes doesn't know when to let people handle their own matters in his
                    attempts to diffuse hostile situations. Weapons ; He doesn't like them. This
                    makes him a liability in long-distance combat when there's no nearby water.

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BIOGRAPHY


He hadn't wanted to join the war effort. He loved his country, of course he did, had his problems with it, but knew, ultimately, there were worse places to live. But he was only sixteen, still a child, still learning how to stand on his own two feet, struggling already under just the weight of his looming responsibilities. Then they stuck him in garments, varying shades of blue, and suddenly everything felt even heavier, like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. This weight was only alleviated in the slightest by the companionship of his childhood friend, a squaller and the only person Aleksey was sure he'd trust with his life. They were going off to die, Aleks knew that, and so did Ilya. But they would die together, and somehow, it seemed that was the best option.

They had a fight, the night before the breach. Something stupid, a girl. The thing of frightened sixteen year olds. Aleks can't even remember her name, doesn't even know if she perished that day in that terrible darkness. If he's being honest, he'd rather not know. What he does know is this: when he escaped the darkness, he felt as though he was seeing light for the first time in all his sixteen years. He reached out to share the indescribable sensation with the person he loved most and instead grasped at empty air. He doesn't know how Ilya died. He doesn't care. He should have been right there with him, and that's all that matters now.

He remained in the Ravkan military. He wasn't sure, after what he'd seen (what he'd lost), if he could go back. The once unnatural weight of the kefta felt like the most natural thing he'd ever experienced. He felt at home under the backbreaking pressure of the commendations, the promotions. Success came quickly for him. After all, most of the military had been wiped clean from the earth, no evidence left of their existence. And when the First and Second Army united, grisha were sought out to be promoted, a show of good faith, of true integration. Aleks was too young then to hold a particularly high position, but he was strong and smart, and it wasn't long before they asked him to take the position of commander. It's not a punishment, not at all, but it doesn't feel like a reward either. He's not entirely certain if Ilya is the ghost tugging at the hems of his kefta, or if he never truly grew out of his childish fear of war. The weight keeps him grounded anyway, so he supposes it could be worse.

He doesn't believe it strange that he often feels unfit for the position. After all, he's only twenty six, too young under any normal circumstances to hold the position he has. But then, the highest commands are also young, he reminds himself, and forces himself to shed his discomfort. He does love his country, perhaps more now than he did before, and when he thinks of that, of his men, his countryfolk, then he thinks, perhaps things are not so bad.


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    Image
                  ( OOC *! )

                  FACE CLAIM: Niels Horvath
                  HEX CODE: #9dafbf
                  PORTRAYED BY: Epimetheus
                  CS CREATED BY: Epimetheus
                  TIME ZONE: EST

                  this is GARBAGE writing im
                  sorry. im rusty, forgive
                  _______( ASSOCIATED *! )
                  ..words and phrases

                  This picture of Aleks trying to be cool. ◘ Aleks reacting to a
                  personal attack. ◘ This basic summary of the relationship
                  between Katya and Aleks. #Friendship ◘ Comfortable thick
                  knit sweaters. ◘ Jumping overboard into shark-infested wa-
                  ters to avoid dealing with unquellable conflict.◘ Laughing at
                  hisown jokes. ◘ This real image of Aleks. ◘ This too. ◘ "Yo-
                  u're just saying that because you don't care about me lol."

                  "You're right, I don't." "You don't? OMG." ◘ Golden Retri-
                  evers. ◘ A quiet melancholy that approaches out of no-
                  where when you're watching the waves break against the
                  rocks during early hours of dawn. How small you feel then.
                  _( MISC *! )

                  His beard is very carefully kept, and he's very consistent
                  with his upkeep for it. This contrasts hugely with his ty-
                  pical view on appearance, which mainly consists of not
                  caring how he looks unless it's for a political or diplomat-
                  ic event. ◘ He actually has a blast at all the parties they
                  make him attend because of his position, but he always
                  has to pretend it sucked because his men would probs
                  tear into him otherwise. ◘ He can actually play the violin,
                  something he picked up before he joined the military. He
                  enjoys it, so he still practices when he can. Mind you, he's
                  not great, but he can play something to dance to in a pinch.

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So begins...

Aleksey Utkin's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Anya Ivanov Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Mikkel Zivkovic Character Portrait: Adrian Naumov 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: Aleksey Utkin
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                      It wasn't very often that Aleks was called down to the Os Alta for an event of some kind. It wasn't infrequently either, but it was just rare enough that he had learned to appreciate every moment he spent breathing the air somewhere other than his post. He looked dazedly up at the stars, so stunningly bright that they may very well have been on par with the skies in the countryside. But it was the foreground of the Ravkan architecture—the high vaulting domes and gilded patterns— that made the scene truly stand out.

                      The bustling bodies jostled him left and right, and he could not keep the grin from spreading on his face. Where others felt trapped in crowds of this magnitude, Aleks felt invigorated. Alive. Patiently, he waited for the festivities to start while he thanked the saints that they hadn't asked him to stand in some ceremonial position. Only the first and second commander had the 'honor' of standing near the King and Queen, but he felt no ill will towards them. Just ten minutes ago he'd bought himself a few trinkets at a merchant stall, thinking that maybe he'd gift something to Kir and Katya for their excellent service before thinking better of it. Katya would call it and him useless, probably, and Kir... Well, Kir would at least have decency to wait until Aleks was out of sight before throwing it out. He'd scoffed, half laughing, as he made the purchase. Why bother for a couple of ingrates? Some of his comrades back at his post would be delighted to receive the the 38th knuckle bone of Sankta Alina herself.

                      They had, unfortunately, made him don the heavy weight of the traditional kefta, and he could feel the sweat beading on his forehead as numerous bodies pressed against his own, like sardines in a tin. Even the crisp, cold air of the night did little to alleviate this. But the Kerch jesters, weaving their way through a comedic farce, distracted him from the heat burning at his core, and he laughed, riotously, along with the rest of the crowd, losing himself in the enjoyment of the moment. It was over all too quickly, and Aleks grabbed a flute of champagne from a passing servant to sip at while he watched the performance space intently, waiting for the next bout of entertainment to enter.

                      He passed some time so, waiting, drinking, laughing, waiting, drinking, laughing, and the atmosphere began to bleed colors of effervescence, the sky pleasantly smudged, like someone had rubbed their fingers through the still-drying paint that made up the scene and blended all the shades together. He was not drunk (goodness, no, not off only three flutes of champagne—how sad would that be?), but he'd had just enough to make everything feel new, to make the air feel cooler, sharper around the edges, to make the fabric of kefta feel more pronounced, the soft cotton pleasantly brushing against his skin. He did quite love these festivals.

                      A woman on the dais, beautiful and adorned in lovely finery, stood to give a short speech, but Aleks focused little on her words. Instead he watched the wings, waiting for the people he knew were soon to take the stage and perform. He was not disappointed. The Zemeni dancers slunk out from the shadows, their movements fluid like water, and Aleksey found himself just as entranced with their movements as the rest of the crowd around him. His focus was drawn away from their movements and towards the intricate masks settled on their faces, representations of all the kingdoms. Briefly, he wondered about the work that went into them.

                      The flames danced with the performers, as though it were another player in the act, and Aleks was torn on where to settle his gaze. The dancers moved as a unit, the whole picture something to be admired, but he wanted to see the intricacy in the details. The heat of the fire seared at his side. Hot. So hot. Too hot?

                      ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━

                      Chaos blossomed around him. Time slowed, moved in rivulets, and Aleks felt as though he could see the ripple of each motion around him. He stood still. He couldn't move. No, that wasn't true. He could, but even if he were to do just that, he was entirely unsure of what action his movement would take on, and that was no good at all. Something had to be decided upon before his limbs could will themselves back into action, his muscles coaxed from the stone, but, like with the dancers, there was too much taking place for him to focus on any one detail. The crowd jostled him, but it was no longer a pleasant feeling. The air was rife with terror, and fleeing people filled the night sky with the shouts and screams.

                      Above his head, squallers flew, and his mind yelled at his body to move, but it would not listen, rebelling against his will like a stubborn child. Then he heard the shouts from the stage, saw Kir and the king and... a stag? A familiar looking one, but Aleks had no time to dwell on it, his body jumping back into motion like someone had run an electric current through it. Water. He needed water.

                      He fought the crowd, pushing his way through writhing masses until the fountain in the town square was visible. Reaching out, he felt the sway of liquid deep in his bones, and he moved with it, carrying the water the way it willed and he willed, in unison, until he pushed it out as a weapon, pushing back against the haywire flames. The fire caught his water, and it turned to steam before his eyes. Aleks hissed out a curse, hastily moving from the path of the flame that had killed his attack. He thought back to the squallers, high in the air, an impossible feat. Onikh. But what the hell were they doing here? Now? And most, importantly, on whose command?

                      He needed to get to the king, he knew this. Any assistance he could lend to get the Nikolai to safety, even at the expense of his own life, would be helpful, and while Kir was certainly capable, Aleks did not think he was capable enough to fight off the swarm of Onikh that had descended on them like locusts alone. Katya, Aleks noticed, glancing up at the commotion on the stage, was nowhere to be found. What inopportune timing.

                      "Kir! Aleks shouted when he had the chance, but his cry went unnoticed by the first commander, clearly occupied with the king. Damn. He was having a harder time fighting his way back up towards the stage than he'd have liked, the Onikh Inferni not making themselves easy targets to hit. Coupled with the pillars of flame that seemed intent on burning him to a crisp, he had his hands full on the ground floor. At this point, there was little he could do but trust Kir and the other soldiers to get the king to safety before returning to help with the disaster at hand. Where were the reinforcements anyway? With each passing moment it seemed less likely that any more were coming, but Aleks couldn't fathom why. Then he caught the eye of a very familiar looking Squaller. Realization dawned on him. He felt like retching.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin
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xxxxxxShe waded through darkness, the tendrils of smoke and ruin like fingers burrowing into her skin. They sprouted in the abyss, bending towards the shadows and shying from the light. She felt as if she'd been buried underwater, the sounds around her trickling through a thick, suffocating fog she could not peel aside.
xxxxxxShe heard her name. She heard all her names - Katya, Commander, Lieutenant, Volkov. They reverberated in her mind, their syllables tripping over one another until until they became streams of meaningless noise. She shoved against the dark and tore through the thick molasses of her thoughts until finally, she broke free.
xxxxxxKatya swallowed air. She collapsed onto her knees and buried her fingers in the cool dirt. Her skin felt foreign, as if at any moment her soul might crawl out. She was boiling. She was shivering.
xxxxxx"I see her!"
xxxxxxShe lifted her head, her vision obscured by thick ringlets of mahogany hair. It fell around her like a shield. Katya did not recall unravelling it from its braid.
xxxxxxShe stood, feeling strangely light and unsteady. Habit had her reaching for the daggers at her hips and panic had her feeling everywhere else. Her kefta was gone and so were her weapons. Her leather boots had been replaced by sandals that curled around her calves. She spun, her eyes widening as she felt the cascade of ivory silk that wrapped around her.
xxxxxx"All saints-" she cursed.
xxxxxx"Don't. Move," a familiar voice intoned just as the point of a spear dug into her spine. She moved to turn. "Don't," he said and pressed the point harder against her. She knew what he was doing. After all, she'd trained him herself, and one of her first lessons had been how to stand against a heartrender. Our eyes are our weakness, she'd said. We can't control what we can't see. Always blind them first.
xxxxxx"Yulian," she began. "Might I ask what you think you're doing?"
xxxxxx"You know why I'm doing this," he said, as if every word grated against his lips.
xxxxxx"I can assure you I do not."
xxxxxx"Just turn yourself in, Comman- Katya," he continued. She bristled at his rudeness. "If you do they might give you a lenient sentence. Exile. Life. I know you had your reasons."
xxxxxxKatya didn't listen as Yulian tried to reason with her, though why, she couldn't begin to fathom. Perhaps all those early morning drills had finally driven him mad. Instead she listened around his words, reaching out with her Grisha to feel the three heartbeats beating too quickly. She might not be able to steal their breath or seize their heart without their being in her vision, but she had learned to feel the ripples of life that disrupted the stillness around her. She could find where they were.
xxxxxx"I'm sure it was a mistake and if you-"
xxxxxxKatya spun suddenly, taking them by surprise. She stepped aside as Yulian stumbled forward, the sudden loss of her body at the end of his staff tipping his balance. She slammed the heel of her palm into his nose and yanked the spear from his grip while he was distracted by the pain that erupted from his broken nose. She swept the staff against the back of another soldier's knees and slammed the blunt end of the spear into the abdomen of the third.
xxxxxx"I don't want to hurt you," she said. It seemed counterintuitive, considering hurting them seemed to be her favourite pastime, but she'd considered those training exercises. No injury that faded in less than three months could possibly be violent.
xxxxxxThey didn't listen. Instead they renewed their pursuit and charged for her, attacking simultaneously in an attempt to overwhelm as they'd been taught. She spun the spear over her head, slamming the heavy weapon against them. Yulian ducked and swung a short sword towards her. She caught his eye.
xxxxxxHis arm shattered, the bones yielding to her Grisha. The cartilage bent to her will as they twisted unnaturally away from one another. Yulian's blade clattered to the ground as he dropped to the ground howling.
xxxxxx"Get up," she said. "Tell me what this is about.” She stepped back, keeping the three of them in the field of her vision. She held out a hand to the two soldiers who were still winded from striking the ground hard. Don’t get up."
xxxxxx"You-" Yulian bit his lip to silence his pain and Katya felt a faint spark of pride. "Tried to kill him. The King."
xxxxxx"What?” She breathed.
xxxxxx"Volkov! Lay down your weapons!"
xxxxxxHer head snapped up to find over a dozen of her soldiers armed on the peak of the hill. They were moving towards her. Confusion warred with her rage and in the end, her instincts won. Run, a voice echoed, the sound reminiscent of the thick molasses she'd been submerged in. She had no time for suspicion. Run.
xxxxxxKatya spun and bolted.
xxxxxxIt was then that she noticed the pillars of flame that shattered the night sky, burning brighter than even the stars. The spear she’d held thumped to the ground.
Katya yanked the sandals off her feet, the straps digging into her legs before snapping. She looked up, searching for a part of the palace she could climb. It was lucky Katya thought she knew the roofs of the Os Alta better than she knew its lands.
xxxxxxThere. She pushed off her feet and caught the edge of a low hanging window sill, hauling herself up and over and scaling the shallow grooves of the walls until she was on the roof. She hit the tiles running, leaping from one roof to another without hesitation.
xxxxxxAt least until she met the domes.
xxxxxxKatya loathed the architectural monstrosities the Crown so favoured. Arched rooftops were almost impossible to climb safely and even harder to travel quickly between. She turned, hoping she might leave the way she'd come, but found some of the army's soldiers had managed to follow her onto the steepled rooftops. Katya would take her chances with the ugly buildings.
xxxxxxHer pursuers were still a ways behind her when Katya managed to pull herself onto the curved roof. She kept her grip on the long point that spiralled from the peak of each dome as she stretched her body to grasp the point of the next roof. Her fingers ached and her shoulders threatened to fail her. It was too far away. Katya allowed herself a deep breath and little room for doubt. She kicked off the dome and leapt.
xxxxxxFor a moment she was airborne and in the next, her breath was knocked from her lungs. She slammed into the roof, her nails peeling back from her fingers as she dug them into the iron point.
xxxxxxArrows flew at her, but were brushed aside by a strong gust of wind. She heard the cries of archers in the distance. Katya blinked against the ache of cold air rushing into her eyes and saw a wraith staring back.
xxxxxxThe floating Onikh was horrific.
xxxxxxAnd he had saved her life.
xxxxxxShe looked past the Onikh to where the once elaborate stage had stretched out in the distance, its surface now a scorched ruin. Her gaze went immediately to the dais where her monarchs had been seated, but found they and all the delegates had been evacuated. No bodies stained the velvet chairs. She was relieved.
xxxxxxA sudden cascade of water had the Onikh turning and drifting towards the festival. His movements were unnerving. And the white of blue and silver kefta drifting around him made him appear ghostly. Her mind felt cluttered. As if it had been filled with water she could not push out. None of this made any sense.
xxxxxx”There!”
xxxxxxKatya climbed until she laid across the wide encompassing roof tucked in the corner of the palace, her fingers bone white against the narrow point of its centre. She judged the distance between the edge of the dome and the ground. Katya let go.
xxxxxxThe arch burned against her thighs where the white dress had ridden above her knees. She felt her skin peeling back but focused only on the slight upward curve of the dome’s rim. Her toes struck them hard and she knew with her Grisha that a bone had fractured.
xxxxxxKatya did not stop falling, the edge only slowing her descent. She twisted in the last possible moment, throwing her arms out to dangle from the rooftops by her fingertips. She gritted her teeth and released her grip.
xxxxxxKatya tucked her head into her chest and rolled to spread her fall, but pain still ricocheted along her body. A golden-haired woman was running from the palace doors, her white and gold servants’ garb billowing sheet behind her. A heart was embroidered at her chest.
xxxxxxThe lieutenant commander raced towards her, catching the healer around the throat and pressing her against her body. Katya held the loose arrow she’d snuck into the folds of her dress to the healer’s jugular, she flinched. The soldiers that had been coming for the king’s treacherous attacker halted a short distance away.
xxxxxx”Do you know how rare healers are?” she called out. “You would think not very. After all, we take them for granted.”
xxxxxx”Let him go,” a soldier called out. Katya pressed down the arm she had wrapped around the healer’s chest. He warmed against her. Huh. He was a man after all.
xxxxxx”We know how this will end.” A broad soldier stepped forward. Katya was extremely familiar with him. After all, the Commander of the fifth division, Boris Valentinovich, reported directly to her. He looked as his name sounded - like a giant who’d had too much to eat and too little to do. But he was a remarkably skilled Inferni and she tolerated him, though she realised now that she should have given him more work.
xxxxxx”Have you ever counted the number of healers we have in the palace and army combined?” she continued as if they hadn’t spoken. Thirty-three. Can you imagine? Five-hundred Grisha and not even a tenth of them healers? How many do you think we’ll have left after today?” She pressed the arrow harder for emphasis and the man she held gasped.
xxxxxx”Stand down. You’ll never get out of this palace alive,” said Boris.
xxxxxx”Don’t you have better things to do? Like going after our real enemies?” Katya nodded towards the Onikh that terrorised the Eastern Gardens. Every fibre of her being ached with the need to fight and protect her Ravkans. “Or capturing the people who framed your Second Commander?”
xxxxxx”No one framed you,” said Boris. “There were witnesses who saw you attack King Nikolai.”
xxxxxx”It wasn’t me,” she said. “I was checking a shipment- Sergeant Iosif. He’ll tell you I didn’t do this.”
xxxxxx”Sergeant Iosif is dead.”
xxxxxx”What?”
xxxxxx”He was killed by one of your friends.” Boris gestured to a Squaller weaving chaos above the festival.
xxxxxx”I don’t-“
xxxxxx”They’re your soldiers. Every one of them belongs to Aleksey Utkin’s division, and we both know how close the both of you are.”
xxxxxx”He wouldn’t do this.” Katya gritted her teeth, her hands tightening instinctively. “Aleks is the last person who would do this.”
xxxxxx”So did you frame him?”
xxxxxx”No!” she said, flabbergasted. “I love my kingdom and serve only my king. Someone was tailored to look like me.”
xxxxxx”You’re wearing the dress.”
xxxxxx”What dress?”
xxxxxx”The dress of the Zemeni dancers.”
xxxxxx”What Zemeni dancers?” she questioned, her voice rising with her frustration.
xxxxxx”Enough of this. We’re here to take you in.”
xxxxxxKatya knew then that she could not possibly reason with them. Instead she released the healer to yank his arm instead. She ran towards the thick of the festival, keeping him behind her to dissuade any unforeseen attacks.
xxxxxx”You’re going to help me,” she told him. “We will find who did this."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni
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xxxC A S T L ExxxxxxxxxH E Xxxx# B 8 A 8 7 6xxxxxxxxxD 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

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin
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        “Savva?” The name left his lips in a whisper as his arms dropped limply to his side.

        The Squaller above him did not speak, but he did not need to. Even through the ugly distortion of all that was once pleasing about its face, Aleks recognized the man. How could he not? A whirlwind of thoughts and emotions churned in his chest, leaving him breathless, powerless. He could not tear his gaze away from the hollow void of the onikh’s eyes, the eyes of a soldier who once reported to him.

        Almost too late, Aleks realized that he had dropped his guard for almost a full minute. And he was not dead. Savva—no, the...thing that used to be Savva— stared him dead in the eye, but did not raise his arms to tear him apart.

        Strange. A lasting attachment? No, that didn’t make any sense. Onikh weren’t capable of thinking such thoughts. What was going on? Aleks did not stay to question it, not that he expected it would answer. Taking the chance he’d been given, he darted away from the battle, towards the dais where Kir and the King had been moments earlier. They had since escaped, but Aleks took off in the direction of the path they’d taken. He needed answers, for one, and while he didn’t know if Kir was any more enlightened than he was, he needed to discuss their options. Someone was behind this, that Aleks was sure of, and it was imperative they learn who.

        There was nothing he could do in the gardens. High ranking as he was, he was still just one Tidemaker waging war against a dozen Onikh, and that couldn’t end well. Besides… the image of Savva’s ghastly face drifted, unbidden, across his mind, and Aleks shivered. Even in this situation, Aleks wasn’t sure he could bear the thought of having to take down his own men, the soldiers he’d once shared meals with, laughed with. No, he’d leave that labor to someone else.

        He’d be more useful in defense of the King anyway. Last he’d seen, Katya wasn’t with them, and it’d be beneficial to have at least one powerful Grisha within the troupe. Not that he was tooting his own horn, or anything, but he wasn’t a colonel for no reason.

        He did not manage to get very far before a soldier stopped him, sword drawn, brows creased in concentration and— a touch of confusion? Aleks stopped too, still panting slightly from the sprint he’d embarked on.

        “Excellent timing,” said Aleks, still blissfully oblivious to the situation. “Have you any news of the king?” There was an urgency in his voice, and yet the soldier remained stock still. Aleks’ eyes narrowed. “What in saints’ names is go—”

        “Petyr!” called the soldier, turning to look over his shoulder, but keeping Aleks in his sights through his peripherals. “I found Utkin! Bring the others!”

        Aleks’ mouth fell open slightly, head tilting, but no sound escaped his throat. He didn’t understand. A moment or two of stunned silence reverberated in the air, and Aleks finally came to. He walked a step in the direction of the soldier before him and was greeted by a jabbing of the sword held shakily in his hand.

        “Don’t move,” hissed the soldier through clenched teeth. The knuckles of his hand gripping the hilt were bone white, the muscles in his shoulders bunched, from adrenaline or from fear, Aleks could not yet tell.

        Aleks raised his hands slowly, and the soldier jumped. He quelled the anxious boy with a quick wave of his hands, showing he meant to do no harm. He would never. He recognized the boy, besides, from his visits here and there to the palace, had exchanged a hello or a joke with him on more than one occasion.

        “Viktor,” said Aleks, coolly, placatingly. “What is the meaning of this?”

        Viktor swallowed, his grip on the blade loosening visibly. He looked confused by Aleks’ good-natured handling of the situation. Doubt seeped into the corners of his mind. “You— You’ve committed treason, sir.” It was meant as a statement, but the uptick in his voice at the tail end made it seem more like a question. There was a pleading look in his eyes of you didn’t, you wouldn’t. Right?

        “You know as well as I do that’s nonsense.” His voice had taken on a hard edge, a resentment against the accusation, but also an anger at the officers that were wasting their time hunting down the wrong person. He lowered his arms as Viktor did the same, still trembling slightly. “I need to know exactly what’s going on. I only want to help, Viktor. You know that. You know me.”

        The soldier nodded his head slightly, still looking vaguely out of it. Aleks understood; the boy was waging a war inside himself, torn between what his immediate superiors had told him earlier and what the commander before him was telling him then. But Viktor did know Aleks, knew him well enough at least, and despite what had seemed like clear evidence, he was sure there must be some explanation for all of this.

        “Katya Volkov,” Viktor started, stumbling over his words. “She— she attempted to assassinate the king.”

        The revelation was not so utterly world shattering as it was baffling. Aleks knew Katya, knew her well.Well enough to know she would never do such a thing. Briefly, he recalled the fierce ardour in her eyes whenever she spoke of Ravka, her country, her king. She would die for Nikolai, as would he. What a stupid mistake, one he imagined she couldn’t be taking well. He winced involuntarily, feeling a flash of pity for Viktor’s equivalent, whichever unlucky soul had been forced to confront her about this foolishness.

        Aleks frowned, lifting his hand to scratch at his jaw. “Ridiculous,” he stated, simply. Paused, then said, “But go on.”

        Hastily, Victor continued, “W-well, the Onikh, sir. They’re—”

        “My men, yes.” Aleks could see the pieces begin to fall together. It made sense, he supposed, that he might be implicated in this mess. He and Katya were close, after all, and if the Onikh in the gardens were—

        “Viktor!” The arrival of a bellowing voice was quickly followed by a similarly imposing presence. A troupe of soldiers was not far behind.

        Aleks’ nose scrunched in displeasure. He had never particularly liked Daniil Markov, a high ranking officer stationed at the palace, due in large part to his lack of humor. Once, Aleks had jokingly rested his elbow on the man’s shoulder, and he had shot Aleks a look that made him momentarily fear for his life. Markov was non-Grisha, and Aleks always had a feeling that was part of the reason Markov constantly looked at him like he wanted to snap his arm in half.

        “That’s enough out of you,” said Markov, leveling his sword at Aleks’ abdomen. “Unless you want to be accused of consorting with a traitor.”

        Viktor began to sputter, but Aleks lifted his hand, silencing him. “I’m no traitor, Markov. Now, I don’t know what’s going—”

        “Quiet!” shouted Markov, pushing the tip of his sword into the thick kefta around Aleks’ torso. Aleks growled, lowly, the muscles at his jaw twitching, but did not move. “You dare try to deny the truth when those are your men out there, tearing apart our—”

        “Exactly!” Aleks could not contain the grief, the rage, that bubbled up inside him, his nails digging half circles into the flesh of his palm. “Those are my men!” he yelled, taking a step forward even as he felt the swordpoint pierce the fabric and begin to push into his flesh. Markov was momentarily taken aback, stumbling a half step back before his wide eyes hardened again and he steadied himself. Aleks did not relent. “My men are out there right now, turned into monsters, and I was supposed to—” His voice cracked, rage wavering into something a little more heartwrenching. Markov stared at him with hateful eyes. Aleks glanced around him, a circle of rigid soldiers, cold and hard as the steel they were all pointing at him.

        Aleks closed his eyes, breathing, for just a moment. When he opened them, the tension in his muscles had relaxed, loosened, even as emotion still left his hands shaking. When he spoke again, his voice was as calm and soothing as he’d made it when he spoke to Viktor, but he knew nothing could take back the outburst he’d just had. Shameful.

        “Look, they were my responsibility. They still are. You’re wasting your time here.” There was a pleading note in Aleks’ tone, but it was forceful, no weakness to harp on. “Neither Katya nor I play a part in any of this,” he insisted, but saw no change in the determination in Markov’s eyes. “You must listen to me, Daniil. I know we’ve had our differences, but this isn’t the time to settle old scores. You know I wouldn’t do this. Of all things, not this.”

        But Markov did not say a word to him. Instead, he glanced over his shoulder, without moving his blade, and said, “Petyr. Run ahead, tell the palace guards to prepare a holding cell. Tell them we’re bringing Utkin in.”

        Aleks exhaled a huff of air. Saints. If this was how they were going to do things, he’d play along. What else was there to do? He couldn’t very well fight back against the soldiers. Then he really would be a traitor. With a resigned sigh, he ran a hand through his hair and mentally submitted himself to his fate. This was only time wasted; he wasn’t concerned about proving his innocence. The truth would come out, as it had a tendency of doing. He just wished he could be helping his country instead of being falsely accused of treason.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin
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xxxH E Xxxx# B 8 A 8 7 6xxxxxxxxxS O U RxxxC H E R R YxxxxxxxxxH E Xxxx# 8 F 9 4 9 8

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xxxxxxFingers wrapped around his wrist, their grip as firm as iron. The cold touch of steel to his throat had Taras gasping, his mind racing as the voice of the Ravkan army’s second commander held a multitude of soldiers at bay. The healer felt his heartrate increase, his eyes darting from soldier to soldier as if imploring them to somehow free him from the grasp of their superior. Instead, Taras found himself being spun around and pulled after the female heartrender, his feet almost tripping over themselves as they sped away from her pursuers.
xxxxxxSecond Commander Volkov was intimidating enough from a distance, but to be dragged along by her now, amidst all the drama and fighting, was almost overwhelming. Her words were almost lost in the haze of his worry, but he didn’t miss that she said ‘we’, rather than ‘I’, Taras merely bit his lips, hoping that this encounter with the apparent traitor wouldn’t see himself branded as treacherous.
xxxxxxKatya pulled the unsuspecting healer along as she raced across the palace grounds towards the festival. They had taken a detour, travelling in circles until she was certain the boar of an Inferni commander hadn't followed them. She saw the rivers of colour that exploded from their Alkemi’s capsules and rained from the skies. They had been forged to allow messages to be delivered from great distances, regardless of whatever smoke and dust reigned in the chaos of battle. Each soldier was given a handful of white capsules that emitted a piercing beam of light that would lure others when they were in need. Meanwhile, the sergeants and commanders had been granted unique tablets that would initiate specific protocols for attack and defence.
xxxxxxThe fighting seemed to be dwindling as Grisha and non-Grisha soldiers alike banded together to overwhelm the Onikh attackers. More of Ravka’s defenders streamed in from the gates and out from the palace, where they had been drawn by the commotion and the great bursts of light. There were shouts for healers and some small part of her felt uneasy about hauling the blonde healer from her- His post. He would be better served helping uncover the root of the attack. The battle might be won, but the war was not over yet.
xxxxxx“Tell me if you see Commander Aleksey Utkin,” she said as they ran. “He looks like a male version of you.”
xxxxxx “I am a male.” Taras puffed quietly, pushing up the wire frames of his glasses as they slid down his nose. His feet stumbled slightly on a loose stone, but Katya’s firm grip on his wrist kept the healer from falling. He wasn’t fit enough to keep up with the runaway commander, and already his chest was straining.
xxxxxxNot far from the pair Taras could hear cries for healers, his guilt building as he was forced to run past those in need of his services. Summoning his courage the blonde called out to his captor, “Please, they need help. I need to help them.”
xxxxxx“You can help them by finding who did this,” Katya retorted without looking back. She could hear the healer’s laboured breath but did not slow her step. “What’s the use in saving a few today when more will die tomorrow?”
xxxxxxShe almost didn't see him amidst the crowd of soldiers that bordered him, their bodies tense as if they were waiting to drowned by a tsunami tide. Katya knew better. Aleks would sooner die than harm his own soldiers and if even she'd attempted to reason with the Ravkan army - albeit for a minute or less - he certainly would. Katya could see why one might frame him. His faith in humanity was unyielding despite all the horrors he had witnessed. Aleks would remain to help and explain, he would say, this must all be a misunderstanding. He would get himself killed.
xxxxxxWhoever had done this had thorough knowledge of what Aleks was like. They knew he wouldn't attempt to run. That he would be easy enough to kill. Yet surely if they knew him, they must have known her. What made them believe she would be a sensible target? Katya Volkov would not yield so easily, she would not yield at all.
xxxxxx"Stay here," she told the healer, releasing him so suddenly he might have fallen if not for the hand she extended to grip his shoulder none too gently. "Don't go anywhere. If you cry for help, you're dead. If you run, you're dead. If you so much as twitch without my call, you're dead. Do you understand?"
xxxxxxThe healer gulped, his feet stumbling to a stop and his lungs struggling to collect enough air to voice his response. Yet, words eluded Taras. How was he to answer such an order? Especially one given with such violent sincerity.
xxxxxx “I-... yes.” Came Taras’ eventual reply, one hand moving to pushes his glasses back up the ridge of his nose, while the other nervously gripped the strap of his healer’s kit.
xxxxxxKatya wasted no more time as her eyes flitted across the scene unfolding before her. She took in the position of the remaining archers, the sides at which the soldiers gripped their weapons indicating their handedness and threats from every squadron. Her eyes jumped to an old tree draped nearby, but decided it would be too great a risk to whisk Aleks away from such high a perch. A broken neck could kill quicker than an order of execution.
xxxxxx"Not a word," she told the healer, as if he needed any more warning after the threat to his life. She liked to think she didn't kill senselessly, but her reputation as the Executioner had its perks.
xxxxxxKatya ducked behind the dais the delegates and monarchs had vacated, slinking behind it until she stood on the other side. A soldier hovered on the side of the platform, his hands too jittery to be of use anyway. Katya imagined the attention the sudden clawing of his throat would draw and decided against it. Instead she waited for him to take a step back into the shadows before darting behind him. She wrapped her hand over his nose and mouth, dragging him deeper into the dark. He flailed as she tightened her grip, crossing her arm around his neck and suffocating the air from his lungs. He dropped like a stone in water.
xxxxxxKatya glanced towards where Aleks was, her jaw tensing as they began to usher him away. She had no time. She felt the length of the soldier's body, yanking the daggers tucked in his boots and waist and strapping them to the belt she tore from his body. Katya cursed. The soldier had lost his sword somewhere in the foray. The slim blades would have to do.
xxxxxxKatya raced back to where she'd stationed the healer as a directional marker. Her fist wrapped around the swaths of white silk in her fist, now grey after her perusal of the palace rooftops, and her other hand severed a bulk of the material. She shut her eyes, listening to the steady drumming of the soldiers' heartbeats.
xxxxxxThe Second Commander of the Ravkan Army stepped into the light.
xxxxxxKatya wound her arm back and flicked her wrist, sending a dagger flying into the shoulder of a soldier standing before Aleks who'd had the misfortune of being closest to her. She marched forward as others turned towards her. Her eyes found two soldiers and her arms shot forward. She clenched her fingers. They dropped to their hands and knees, grasping their shirt fronts.
xxxxxx"Surrender," she said, slipping the dagger strapped to her belt into her palm.
xxxxxx"Lieutenant Commander, you are wanted for treason-" his voice choked off as Katya slammed her elbow into the hollow of the his throat, spinning as she caught the back of another soldier's ankle with the top of her foot. He slammed into the ground.
xxxxxxA sword darted towards her. Katya stepped aside, catching the soldier's wrist as a burst of pain erupted at her ribs. A flesh wound, she told herself. She locked the soldier's arm and twisted. He released the hilt of his sword when she snatched it from his loosening grip, turning to face the soldier who had cut her. He held his claymore ready before him.
xxxxxxWhen the dagger flew forward, time slowed until Aleks could see its path, its slow steady progression into the shoulder of Daniil Markov. The man stumbled backwards from the shock and pain just as Aleks turned his head to seek out the attacker. And time all but stopped.
xxxxxxHe’d recognize that face anywhere, of course, had even seen it in the odd nightmare here and there, but although there was no mistaking it, Aleks blinked, squeezing his eyes shut, as if he were expecting Katya to be nothing more than a hallucination. No such luck. In the instant Aleks had taken to absorb the situation, she’d already injured and disarmed two more men. Definitely her, then. Even as his mind was screaming No! on repeat, he stood mute and unmoving as the statues in the gardens.
xxxxxx"Utkin," Katya said, not shifting her gaze away from her opponent or his blade. "Fight."
xxxxxxFight, she told him, and he jerked back to life, still unsure of what to do. Before him, Markov was groaning and struggling to his feet, and Aleks saw the scene unfold— Markov rising, lifting his blade, swinging down in a brutal downward slash, and Aleks, blocking the wickedly sharp blade with what, his arms? Dammit, Katya.
He shot a quick darting glance to his left, locking onto the not too far off fountain, then he reached out and pulled, catching the water as it swayed outwards. It jettisoned across the field until Aleks caught its motion, just in time to sidestep out of the way of Markov’s downswing. The bull charged at him, and Aleks stepped in and turned, his back to Markov’s chest, and pushed back, throwing Markov off balance. In the same fluid motion, Aleks brought his elbow up, then down, catching his victim hard on the temple.
Markov crumpled, and Aleks brought the water in his grasp together to form a small sphere. “This isn’t what it looks like,” he said, even he wrapped the water around Markov’s face and watched him struggle for air. Aleks winced. “I’m very sorry about this, I am,” he despaired. Markov clawed at the skin at his throat, leaving bright red tendrils that spun out like yarn in the water.“We’re innocent, you’ve just left us no choice!” Markov’s eyes drifted shut, arms going limp, his entire body slumping forward.
xxxxxxMeanwhile, Katya lunged forward. Her sword wailed as metal struck metal. Her arms shook, weary after gripping rooftops and cushioning her falls. Katya stared into the soldier's hazel eyes, reason cautioning against what she was about to do. In the end the tremor in her muscles and the inching of the blade closer to her face triumphed. She felt her Grisha reaching into his arms and bending around his bones. She felt them fracture beneath her power.
xxxxxxYet the concentration her gifts demanded detracted from the staff swinging towards her. It slammed into her back and she stumbled forward. Katya twisted, her bones screeching as she lifted her blade to parry the next strike. Sweat dampened the back of her neck, from agony or fatigue she was uncertain.
xxxxxxThe staff was forged of iron and Fabrikator steel, and it did not yield to her blade. She was forced to block its blows, again and again, bending backwards despite the protest of her wounds to dodge the dagger of another soldier whistling overhead. It nipped the surface of her skin, cutting a red line through her left brow. She yanked the knife from where it had embedded itself into a tree behind her and sent it flying back. Katya lifted her sword quickly, her bones reverberating as the staff struck its serrated edge. She glared at the soldier with a mixture of irritation and respect for his unrelenting maneuvers.
xxxxxx”You need a promotion,” she said, and snatched her blade away in the same moment she pivoted, hammering the hilt of her sword into the soldier’s temple.

xxxxxxWith his feet stuck to the ground, held in place by a fear for the violent heartrender than any physical reason, Taras witnessed Katya Volkov decimate the small number of soldiers gathered around Utkin. She took hits, but gave more back, and meanwhile Taras could do nothing by mentally shout at his feet to move, to run away while she was distracted. His feet didn’t listen.
xxxxxxMore shouts echoed from the gardens, the names ‘Volkov’ and ‘Utkin’ drawing more soldiers, and, apparently, a single civilian who couldn’t quite believe her luck.
xxxxxx “Is that Aleksey Utkin?” Vida breathed, pausing on the edge of the fighting beside a pretty blonde boy who almost jumped out of his skin at her sudden appearance. “And that’s definitely the second commander. Dima’s going to be so proud.” Rather than wait for an answer from the healer, Vida jumped into the fray, her hands flowing in a smooth motion before pushing out in front of her body. Air followed the movements of her arms and shot forward, racing against the natural wind currents to clash with an oncoming soldier. The man went down, stumbling back against the strong gust and pulling two other soldiers to their knees too.
xxxxxxAleks stepped back and pulled his water with him. He was just about to turn back to Katya when a sudden gust of air had him bracing his arms over his face, water splashing on the dirt. A young girl, a squaller, dropped to ground shortly after, and Aleks wasn’t entirely certain if she was their savior or their final undoing.
xxxxxx “Katya Volkov? Aleksey Utkin?” Vida exclaimed, attempting to catch their attention a moment later as her feet slid to a stop beside the pair, ”Just a suggestion, but it might be best to run. Looks like there are more soldiers on their way.”
xxxxxxKatya had a soldier in a choke hold when the sudden cascade of wind had the others fumbling for their balance. She glanced at the girl who spoke, tightening her grip and dropping the man to the ground. She hadn’t the faintest clue who the squaller was, but her suggestion seemed as good as any. Katya ran, and assumed Aleks’ had the sense of self-preservation to follow. He did, but with one last glance behind him at the all the soldiers clutching at their wounds.
xxxxxx”Blondie, move,” Katya called as they neared the healer she’d borrowed. Archers rained arrows behind them as soldiers poured in.
xxxxxxWhile that almost seemed too easy, Vida nevertheless turned and kept pace with the second commander, biting back a laugh at the way the blonde healer jumped forward at the order. An arrow struck the ground beside her foot, ricocheting off the stones with a loud twang. More arrows homed in on the group. Turning to face the onslaught of projectiles, Vida twirled her wrists, collecting another burst of wind before sending it arching towards the arrows. Some were caught in the new current, spinning out and falling uselessly to the ground, while others were merely slowed. Vida didn’t stick around to watch her handy work or to send up a second burst of air, instead her hand wrapped around the slow healer and pulled him after the two army Grisha.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni
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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: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni
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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: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni
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#, as written by Layla
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xxxH E Xxxx# B 8 A 8 7 6xxxxxxxxxS W E A T P A N T SxxxxxxxxxH 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: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni
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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: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Adrian Naumov 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: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Adisa Useni 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: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Anya Ivanov Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Mikkel Zivkovic Character Portrait: Adrian Naumov Character Portrait: Frigg
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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: Katya Volkov Character Portrait: Faylan "Fang" Jae-Won Character Portrait: Taras Nikolaev Character Portrait: Dmitri Giese Character Portrait: Alvida Giese Character Portrait: Sin Nari Character Portrait: Bea Zaveri Character Portrait: Aleksey Utkin Character Portrait: Anya Ivanov Character Portrait: Adisa Useni Character Portrait: Mikkel Zivkovic Character Portrait: Adrian Naumov 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."