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Maiden Janelle

"My whole life has lead to this point...what a joke."

0 · 242 views · located in Zargathric

a character in “The Road of Immolation”, as played by raspberryberet

Description

Image
Name: Maiden Janelle

Gender: Female

Archetype: The Bitter Maiden

Role: Sacrificial Maiden/Aide to Emma

Class: Assassin

Physical Appearance: Tall, 5'9, 18 years old. She has long, black hair she usually keeps secured under a hood. Combined with her olive complexion and dark eyes, she's a silent shadow.

Personality Traits: Janelle stays very quiet, she tries to remain unnoticed. Unfortunately for her, she was assigned to be Emma's aide in this journey, due to Emma's disability. If asked about herself, she will lie to keep the truths about herself unknown. Not for reasons of her own, but because she has been told to keep her history a secret.

Attire: She prefers to wear darker colors, to blend into the shadows. Dark colors also hide her own bloodstains. For this journey, however, she has resigned herself to wearing the traditional white garb of a sacrificial maiden. One one arm, she has a bracelet made of large, curious-looking beads. She tries not to let anyone look too closely at it. She also always wears long sleeves, sometimes to her own detriment. Beneath her skirts, she wears sturdy boots, suitable for traveling across the land.

Weapons:Beneath her long sleeves, Janelle conceals two sharp, thin daggers. She uses those to dip into the poisons stored in the containers in her bracelet and stab her opponent, poisoning them instantly.

Abilities: Her technique and training relies and speed and stealth. She's silent when she moves and quick when she runs. For this journey, she's relying on not looking like a threat, taking potential enemies by surprise.

Personal Possessions: Janelle didn't see the use in keeping childhood relics or toys, she was only destined to die, after all. Instead, she developed a love of herbology and poison-making. She learned what she needed to know, and picked up much more of it as a hobby and a passion, something to do during the long days in the Church. She's particularly possessive of her poisons notes with her pressed plants in it, and her mortar and pestle she snuck into the supplies.

Personal History: Within the Church of the Holy Sword lies a secret order of officials who have worked within the shadows to permanently rid the land of the dreaded Black Dragon. A few fertile girls became the pinnacle point of what was dubbed the Martyr Project. Those girls had naturally high immunities to certain poisons, and were bred to have children with even higher immunities. Combined with magic and selective breeding and lots of trial and error, the current batch of potential Martyrs have poison even in their own blood, particularly deadly to wyrms and dragons.

Janelle is the most recent surviving Martyr. She and a few other girls have been groomed and trained since birth to make themselves as toxic as possible to the dragon that will eventually eat them. Their deaths will save the land.

What a load of hogwash.

Others:
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Notes: She would totally be wearing white, but I couldn't find a picture of someone like her wearing an appropriate white dress that wasn't a wedding dress. Instead, this picture someone did of Vin from Mistborn will have to do, instead.

So begins...

Maiden Janelle's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma
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ACT I





Zargathric,

The Fourth Age.

The withered, brass bell of the Gordine Chapel rung throughout the old town. A flock of malnourished, raggedy crows scattered across the grey brown skies, cawing with hoarse, shrill sounds. A modest, nameless town. One of many, across the ruined land of Zargathric, under the protection of the Church of the Holy Sword, whose banner, consisting of a silver sword on a dark, moon blue cloth hung on the aged walls.

The smell of ash could be picked up for miles. Smoke rose from the desolate towns and obliterated cities in the distance, everything torn asunder by fire. Dragonfire, hellfire. The tall, silent watchers of the church, in their white cloaks, wide-brimmed hats, and silver masks stood guard by the walls, hands gripping tight on the pommel of their sheathed longswords.

By the steps of the old chapel's east entrance, sitting on the yellowed stones, is the Old Knight Volt. Hunched forward, tattered cloak over tarnished black iron, he stared at the ground through the visor of his cracked helmet. Seems like those minister fools finally made up their mind, the Old Knight thought. Once, In their naivety, the Church thought that their strength and faith would be enough to repel the Black Dragon and his legion of fiends. Volt scoffed at the thought. Nothing, no man, woman, or weapon could ever slay a dragon. None.

A great rumbling noise emanated from the north entrance, which Volt turned his attention towards. Two church watchers stepped out, their steps in synchrony, their black gloved hands holding the scabbard of their longswords, their movements so monotonous, so soulless. And behind them, Volt sees her.

Or rather, "Them".

Two girls, both in the white garb of church-sanctioned sacrificial maidens. Simple, but new and clean, a luxury afforded to few in this ruined world. The last remnant of dignity provided before they become the plaything of the Black Dragon, Volt supposes. one holding onto the other for support. One short and meek, the other tall and firm. One pale as a snow, with a modest amount of messy white hair tied up on a short ponytail, the other darker of skin with long, ebon hair partially hidden by a hood.

Two maidens? In one team?" Volt couldn't believe his eyes. But as he observed the pale girl being escorted out, he quickly took notice. Her feet were bare, and every step she took was careful. Yet she walked with no limp, just plenty of hesitation. And those foggy eyes of hers.....


Perfect. They assigned me to the broken ones.





Emma leaned on to Janelle, her head down, her fingers firm. She could feel her heart beating in sync with her every step. The warm, damp soil under her feet.... The ash and soot from miles and miles away.....

The boots of the watchers ahead clacked and clattered with an oppressive rhythm. A myriad unpleasant questions filled the young maiden's head. What will the Dragon do with us? Why me? What if we die before we reach our destination? She found herself trembling as more and more of the questions, each less pleasant than the last, crept up her mind.

Glancing to Janelle's general direction, Emma hesitated for a bit. But out of a desire for levity or distraction, she whispered, with her soft, bell-like voice, "A-at least they didn't send us on a rainy day...," a sad, distant smile gracing her lips. "It would ruin these new clothes....," she continued, quieter than before. Oh God, I hope that was not too inappropriate...

The watchers soon escorted the two maidens towards the center of the town, in front of a collapsed structure of wooden spikes and crumbling stone, once the house of a rich merchant. Gathering around them are the dour-faced townsfolk, looking as withered and tired as the town itself, several church deacons holding dimly-lit candlesticks, and the watchers guarding them. Thoug most significantl, to the two maidens are several unique and colorful faces who had been recruited - willingly or not - to accompany them on their journey.

The church deacons, in their white and blue robes, began the ceremony of departure.

"A-hem. God has blessed us today, with not one, but TWO brave women, who have been chosen to undertake this arduous journey...."

The portly archdeacon's slurred, nasally voice droned on and on. Emma barely listened to him, her mind wandering off to the thought of death, fire, and death by fire. Dragonfire. They say it is not a pleasant way to go. The charred and warped corpses the Black Dragon left behind in his rampage had expressions of true agony carved into their mutilated, blackened faces. At least that's what the stories say.

"....For the good of Zargathric, its people, and its future. We pray for you."

"Vereor Draco," the Archdeacons, and some of the townsfolk, muttered.

A long silence. A hollow breeze passed by them.

The archdeacon's assistant, a skinnier and taller fellow, stepped up next to him, and pulled up a scroll from which he read out loud,

"Accompanying the maidens of this town on their journey are five virtuous souls! Chosen from the best and brightest, by the hands of the Church!"

A high pitched, bombastic voice, the voice of a man trying...no, pleading, to convince the people of the town. An advertisement, a persuasion.

Expecting those he call to step out, the Archdeacon's assistant cleared his throat, then continued,

"Sir Gibbon Blackwater!"

"Leth Kazloun, of Nouhik!"

"Juno Argent, of the Northern Libraries!"

"Avalon the Van-...er, Ahem! Avalon!"

"and Sir Volt, of the Ivory Valley!"

Emma anxiously waited. She wished she could see the faces of the gallant souls who would accompany them. Each of their names sounded so exotic! The maiden put up a polite smile as she waited for their approach.





Volt walked forward when his name was called, each step heavy, accompanied by the rustling of his tattered cloak and the clinking of his tarnished iron. He looked silently, between the two maidens, growing less and less unsure of their survival by the second. Two maidens. One maiden is a big enough risk, a target for lecherous bandits, insane cultists, vile demons.....but two? Two is suicide. Two is hopeless. They will be dead before they even leave the forest.

"So. Looks like we'll be working together," Volt's gravelly, deep voice greeted them, his gaze wandering to the rest of the team.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Maiden Emma Character Portrait: Old Knight Volt Character Portrait:
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Observing the procession taking place before him, Gibbon couldn't help but fidget nervously from foot to foot. The morning of, he'd made sure not a speck of dirt remained on his worn tunic and the metal fastenings of his plate armor gleamed albeit dully in the cloudy grey-brown day. Looking down, he couldn't help a frustrated huff, noticing that his boots were caked in ash. There was nothing to be done about it. The presence of a dragon remains long after the beast itself has fled.

"A-hem. God has blessed us today, with not one, but TWO brave women--" What? At that, Gibbon's head snapped up to finally notice the two young women being led to stand in front of the charred manor. The new girl was tall, of a darker complexion than the one next to her. Gibbon swallowed nervously. Could he do this? The girl was clearly resolute, in her gaze and stance, but she was just a maiden. Gibbon's responsibility. An overwhelming sense of dread washed over the young knight. Doubt left his hands clammy, froze him where he stood. But, as his gaze moved from the tall girl to the other, the fear lessened. Just a little. The small girl, with white hair and foggy eyes. He remembered why he had volunteered for this quest in the first place. Why he had lied to the Church, claiming years of experience in combat when he had truly only owned a sword for several months. The same rush of warmth he felt when seeing the young maiden for the first time returned. A sudden desire to protect her, at all costs. That's what he was here to do. And if that meant defend two young women from whatever lay past the charred walls of this husk of a town, he'll damn well do it.

"Sir Gibbon Blackwater!" A high pitched voice sounded through the quiet square. Stepping forward, chin up, gaze steady, Gibbon clenched the hilt of his sword. This was the beginning of something great, he could feel it in his blood.

He turned to observe his new group. When the Old Knight Volt spoke up, the young man immediately lowered his eyes. He had heard legends of the Royal Knights of old... every young boy had. And Volt had been there, through it all. Gibbon couldn't bring himself to look his hero in the eyes. Then a woman piped up. Eyeing her, Gibbon couldn't help but feel uneasy. Her eyes were kind, but her sneering grin told a different story. When she finished her joke, Gibbon bristled instantly. The warmth was back. He turned to glare at her.

"We're not abandoning anyone. And whoever you think you are, you're not making decisions here. This quest was given to us by the Church, and you'll be damn well sure that if you lay so much as a finger on that girl I'll-- I'll..."

What would he do? Gibbon would never dream of hurting a woman, even if it is to defend the maiden. He could feel his ears turn red with warmth as he struggled to finish his sentence.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma Character Portrait: Old Knight Volt
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Standing in the town square, Juno was staring at some of the half-ruined buildings nearby. Her gaze momentarily shifted to the dismal skies, over to one end of the square, and then to the other end. The coast was still clear of demons. Satisfied with this, she continued her observation of the crumbling architecture. Some of it appeared to have been damaged by hellfire, but it was nothing new to her. What she needed was active study in the field, and hopefully this group she was to be part of would be capable of diverting any unwanted attention away from herself as she conducted her research.

Her attention was drawn to the procession showing up at last as the heavy doors opened. The Church of the Holy Light really liked dragging out these ceremonies of theirs, didn't they? Right in the middle of this procession were two maidens clad in white...

Two maidens? Now this was unusual. She had been told that they would be escorting one, not two. One of the maidens seemed to be relying on the other for guidance. Now why would the Church, wanting its sacrifices to be pure and perfect, use a blind girl as one of them? The sorceress pondered upon this for a moment before she heard her name called out by the Archdeacon's assistant, and approached the group of misfits who could be begrudgingly called a team.

Juno kept quiet at first, observing the actions of her so-called companions. Her face showed little expression, save for her eyes as they tried to take in every detail. One member of the group, a young woman, offered the rather counter-productive suggestion of simply leaving one of the maidens behind. Well, it was either that or an attempt at humour. Juno wasn't quite sure which. The knight she recognised as Sir Gibbon was quick to defend the maidens, and curiously just as quick to hesitate on delivering an ultimatum to Avalon. The sorceress decided that it was probably best to intervene, clearing her throat. Her voice no longer sounded like the crows lingering in the bones of the town, but she was still getting used to speaking again.

"If I may offer a... suggestion," Juno said, carefully picking her way through the sentence as one would navigate an uncharted swamp. "This group is not a large one. It should be possible to survive if we keep a low profile. However, we will have to do something about their clothes. Perhaps we can ask for something more... practical?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma
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Emma's smile faded, and her head sank upon Avalon's snide jape. She opened her mouth to apologize, but no words came out. A sorry grimace graced her face. "I-I do not wish to become a burden-...," a meek, sorry yelp was all she could muster in reply, her thumbs twiddling nervously.

Volt's gaze turned to the scoundrel, to the cheeky grin she showed off. "Fantastic. A clown. And here I was worried things would get boring," Volt's deep, deadpan voice replied. It was rather difficult to tell whether he was being serious or sarcastic, that face concealing helmet not helping his ambiguous tone. Either way, the old knight took a moment to observe the vigorous, youthful archer. Tall, blonde, with deceptively warm eyes. The Old Knight would lie if he said such beauty did not caught his attention. And that red wood longbow she carries... at least they would have somebody to cover their retreats.

Emma's eyes widened and her head shot back up as she heard a bold, handsome voice. 'Handsome'.... a word typically associated with faces. physical appearances. Things she could not judge. Yet for some reason, that word felt just..right for the voice she just heard. Compared to Avalon's insincere voice and Volt's grumbling, the young Sir Gibbon's voice was like music to her ears.

As her mind wandered, she did not even realize that her pale face had gone pink as a strawberry. The young maiden pulled her white gloved hands from Janelle and used them to cover her warm, blushing ace.

"Aah, Si-Sir Knight..I....uhm..," Emma's coy voice slightly muffled by her hands over her face. Her mind scrambling to search for the appropriate words, she turned towards where she believe the young knight was, and whispered, "....Thank you...," a grateful, but slightly sad smile was visible on her face, as she slowly pulled her hands away.

Volt had been listening to the young knight's gallant speech, and then the young maiden's shy thanks. Well, it started out gallant, at any rate. Still, he couldn't help but smile....well, smirk...at the young knight standing out to the dainty maiden. How chivalrous, like a story book. Still, he couldn't help but find something.....off...about this Blackwater. He certainly looked the part of a knight, yet his face was young and fresh. By Zargathric standards, anyway. Or maybe he was just being cynical. Looks can be deceiving, after all. In any case, by the looks of his arms and armor, if nothing else, he seemed decently prepared. Perhaps he would last longer than the Old Knight expect. Perhaps not.

The unkempt pyromancer, who had been quiet and observant, suddenly spoke up and attracted both Emma and Volt's attention. Emma became calm and grateful as she realized at least one other person was supportive of her. That voice...calm, unemotional, not unlike Sir Volt, yet it felt...less negative. Friendlier, even. Still, "Oh, you need not trouble yourself, Miss Juno..," Emma spoke out, looking at her with a wide, grateful smile.

Volt, still with his arms crossed, shot down Juno's suggestion almost immediately, "That is inadvisable. Not in front of the Church." Volt's helmet glanced left and right, to the Watchers and Deacons departing the location of ceremony.
"Folks here take their traditions very seriously. Let's not incite a riot before we even leave for the forest."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent
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Janelle walked with Emma out of the Chapel. Dressed in the traditional white garbs of the sacrificial maidens, she thought they resembled ghosts withering away. Emma certainly looked pale and stricken enough to be a ghost. Surely the decision couldn't have come as a surprise to her. Well, Janelle would try to lift her spirits a bit.

"Careful, dove, here are the steps. The crier is about to announce us."

"TWO brave maidens..." The two of them stepped up to their presumptive team of escorts. Janelle looked them over critically. Yup, there were all the startled looks. And all of them immediately centering on Emma. She would have to stop them from looking down on her. She thought for a bit, as the individual escorts were announced and came up to introduce themselves.
The old one looked outraged and incredulous, the younger armored one was leering, obviously, but Janelle didn't know what to make of the two women. Avalon she remembered seeing around, but the other one...she looked pretty uninterested in the whole affair, actually. Janelle committed facial features and clothing and notes about their stances in her mind to describe to Emma later.

Janelle fidgeted with the white hood keeping her hair from catching ash. She heard the comment about ditching a maiden and the overly-gallant blustering of the younger Knight. "Sorry for causing the trouble, Emma is here to help me. I would never survive without her." There. How would they take that, she wondered?

They started arguing about the clothing. Of course. Impractical at best. "I managed to get suitable travel clothes hidden in our supplies, if you acquiesce to waiting temporarily to disrobe us." Janelle kept her features deadpan as she eyed the young Knight. What was his name? Sir Gibbon.

In a quieter voice, she said to Emma,"Don't worry, dove, I will not let them bully you or leave you somewhere." Then she saw her curiously flushed features and Emma's feeble attempts at hiding it. Oho, so that's how it is. This would be fun.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma Character Portrait: Old Knight Volt
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'Sensitive,' Avalon mused silently as she eyed each member in turn. The only one who seemed to take her quip for what it was, was Volt; an amusing development to be sure. Perhaps the old man wasn't the serious type she had first pinned him as. She smiled knowingly at him for a brief moment before turning to Juno who responded with a sound mind, referring to her first comment about the white clothes. They appeared to bicker for a time about the outerwear, reminding Avalon of the silliness of the church. Traditions, rules and regulations were all just a front for the holy demons that lurked within - a front which the commoners bought with open arms. Avalon had learned over the years that none were holy, none were more special. The only reason she was fighting on this side and not the actual demons were because this side paid her.

Turning to see Janelle who defended the blind maiden, she recognized her instantly. With a warmer smile she welcomed her, "Ah, that's a face I haven't seen in a while. I hope your feet have grown softer with age, your features certainly have." It was meant as a compliment although coming from her lips, sometimes it was hard to tell. Avalon remembered a small, unsightly child but before her stood a full fledge woman worthy of praise; however, the rogue had a better toy for the moment.

After the young man spoke, Avalon, very meticulously, looked back at the young knight with a cruel smile. “And pretty boy, you should calm down for next time.” She cooed as she tilted her head, “If you can't handle some ill-humour, I'd hate to see what becomes of your sanity after this little trip.” She welcomed his glare with open arms. He had shown his weakness and, by god, she would break him for it. Her smile held tightly onto her features before she peered to the rest of the group. She couldn't wait to watch him see the demon's territory like she had. Of any of them, she was most likely the only one who had survived in their territory alone for weeks at a time, watching their movements. Her sanity had a tight grip on the ground, even as she watched her advisories drag back human feasts and play things. The memories were burned into her mind but she brushed them away for now. More horrors awaited them and she was all too ready to face them.

"Well?" She asked openly, "The sooner we leave, the sooner we can start the real difficulties, like letting these ladies change and not having pretty boy here blush himself to death." The woman didn't care to look back at the young knight. Instead her eyes watched Volt, feeling that he would most likely be their party leader. He was calm, experienced and old - all the best leaders were.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma
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#, as written by Dae Mec
Leth knew that they'd be guarding two girls. He'd demanded that the Church pay him extra for it, after all. But Leth did not expect one of the girls to be blind. If he'd known, Leth would have raised the price even more. Well, that's probably why they didn't tell him. But they'd be... hearing from him after the job. Leth was a professional. He liked knowing things, because not knowing things usually led to bad situations.

Leth didn't like bad situations.

He leaned back, staff in hand. The first girl, pale and blind, seemed delicate and... Leth closed his eyes, briefly. Something. There was something faintly familiar about her. The second maiden, darker skinned and dark haired, was steadier. Her movements were deliberate and practiced as she moved away from the chapel. Some skills, likely. Perhaps not as pampered and dainty as he’d been led to believe.

When the priest/preacher—whatever they called it here—announced his fellow guards, Leth matched each name to each faces. Slowly, he approached the group, though keeping his distance as the crowd dispersed.

The archer, a woman named Avalon, broke the silence with a wry comment. Leth had worked with her type before. Poke, prod, make people angry, see how they react, keep people off guard... he knew the drill. Leth debated whether he should respond or be silent. If he stayed quiet, then Avalon might take him as a challenge. But on the other hand, staying silent let him observe the others.

Silence it was. The first one to respond was Gibbon Blackwater, a young knight. An inexperienced, completely unseasoned, young knight. (Oh dear.) An inexperienced, completely unseasoned, young knight who was infatuated with one of the maidens. Even better. Didn't the kid know the first rule of these jobs? Don't get attached.

The older knight, Volt, seemed more competent. Grizzled, with a face and bearing that spoke of experience, Volt hadn't responded to Avalon, either. At least there was one other person who knew their face from their feet. He didn’t seem very happy with the job, though. Perhaps the Church had kept him in the dark, as well.

Juno, his fellow mage, spoke up next. Thankfully, Leth wouldn’t be the only one with magical abilities. (Mage, sorceress, pyromancer, this country had too many names for magic-wielders.) And, if the Church had briefed him correctly, she had an affinity for fire also. When she spoke, it was cautious and a little rough. Even more, Juno acted like she was in a patently unfamiliar situation. Interesting. Her suggestion, though a practical one, was shot down by Volt. Zagarthic’s religion was rather strange. Back in Nouhik, people asked the spirits for advice or help, and that was it. Religion was something private—nothing like this, with men in fancy robes and a penchant for young maidens.

And thus spoke the second maiden, Janelle, possessing a little bit of bite. She also offered a solution to their clothing problem. More interesting was the fact that Avalon seemed to know her. Her façade even softened—though that was quickly negated, as the archer immediately went on to tease the young knight.

Avalon’s question seemed to be his cue to step forward. No longer was he the disinterested observer, just far enough to be one of the crowd.

“Yes. Moving fast is good. I have plotted…” he paused, trying to remember the word for routes, “plans for leaving place.” Leth’s Zargathic was a little rusty, as he’d spent the past few months in the coastal countries. His low, sharp accent was more prominent than it’d usually be. Well, he’d regain fluency quickly. He’d have to.

“I have scouted ahead, and beginning road is safe. Afterwards, uncertain. We go move now, yes?” True, that was rather paranoid, but being paranoid had kept him alive. “Unless, Church tell you something it do not tell me.” He stopped again. “Did not tell me,” he corrected. Which was highly likely. For a religious organization, it kept a whole lot of secrets.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma
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Emma whipper her head towards Janelle, the swift motion a display of both gratitude and surprise. Emma was lucky to have a partner as loyal and patient as her. Someone braver, stronger, actually useful, more beautiful... Well-prepared, too! Emma did not even think to hide travel clothes amidst other supplies. Perhaps Janelle's less than ideal experience had prepared her for pragmatic solutions that wouldn't even flash in Emma's mind. Bowing her head again, Emma whispered back to Janelle gratefully, "I...appreciate that, Janelle. I know I could always count on you..." If only Janelle could say the same to her fellow maiden...

Volt was surprised into silence by Janelle's claim. 'Never would survive without her'? She seemed like an able bodied young woman. But looks could be deceiving. In any case, he nodded towards Janelle upon her mention of her clothes smuggling. "Good, good," Pleasantly surprised by the initiative. Of course, by the looks of her, Janelle was anything but the fragile flower Emma was. He then did a double take when he thought he heard Gibbon calling the Old Knight...." 'Sir'? " A brief, awkward pause. One which Volt broke with a chuckle. An odd noise, coming from the grumpy knight, but not an insincere one. "I have not been called a 'sir' since...........forever, it seems. Fine then.. 'Sir Blackwater'," Volt said as he approached Gibbon, then patted him on his shoulder. A firm, awkward gesture. "Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" His contemporaries would have called someone like Gibbon a 'kid'. Volt never liked that term, even when he actually was a 'kid', by Royal Knight standards. Knights deserve respect, not patronizing. Or maybe he just dislikes children as much as he dislikes dolphins.

Emma's jaw hung open as she heard Avalon claiming a familiarity with Janelle. The rogue sounded....younger to Emma's ears. Still, she also sounded...affectionate? Though Emma was unsure. She could only hang her head as the rogue lectured the handsome knight.

Volt, standing next to Gibbon, peeked through the corner of his eye at Avalon watching him. Those striking eyes constantly distracted him as Leth, the other mage in their team, finally spoke up about his scouting. He sounded like a foreigner. A competent one, which was all that mattered to him. "Yes. Let us move." Briefly, Volt took one last look to Gibbon. Somehow, Volt sensed great potential within the boy.... an Old Knight's instinct, perhaps.But for now, he was the apprentice, and Volt, the senior. And so, he stepped forward, to lead the way.

The team departed the town without much fanfare. No cheers, no songs, no dances....only the somber and tired stares of the townsfolk and Church deacons. The clinking of their Knights' armor, the scraping of leather boots across damp soil, the strong breeze around them.... Juno and Leth would particularly notice the townsfolk eyeing them. Cautiously. Fearfully. Magic is seen as a...terrifying, unnatural thing in Zargathric. Could the townsfolk trust two mages - a foreigner and a witch, at that - to escort their only salvation?





Leth was correct. The road leading to the Forest was safe. Surrounded by rubble and ash, like everything else, but safe. Graves of planted swords line the edges of their path. Each a warrior of Zargathric, each having met a grisly, untimely death. Swords of various shapes and sizes, left behind on the beginning of the Road of Immolation, as a remembrance to those who have given their lives on this journey....

Emma's fingers curled into a prayer. she could not see the swords, but she could feel the spirits of those who have passed...faintly. Vòlt, meanwhile, marched straight ahead. The dead are dead. They are no longer of this world. They no longer matter.

Eventually, the team enters the tangled woods of the Forest of Light. Or the Forest of Shadows now, at any rate. Once, the great Elderwood trees would grow tall into the heavens itself, and the skies would always be covered in radiant green leaves. A remnant of the legendary elves of ancient times, and a playground for sprightly village children of the past. But the branches have shriveled and blackened, and the leaves turned to ash from hellfire. No sunlight could ever penetrate the ashen of the trees above, and thus only darkness remain today, even at sunset.

A few steps into the forest, Volt slowed to a stop, and leaned his back against one of the large Elderwood trunks. Reaching into a small satchel, he pulled out a modest hand lantern, and hooked it onto his belt. The old, rusted iron tool crinkled as he prepared to light it. "Let's stop here for a bit. The maidens can change behind one of these trees. I hope the rest of you brought something to light the way," Volt said, as he looked from Gibbon, to Avalon, Leth, Juno, and finally Janelle and Emma.

Emma took a moment to take a deep breath, before looking towards Janelle, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Are you alright, Janelle?" Her companion had hinted to the others of her...special condition....the specifics of which would only be shared amongst friends. And if nothing else, Emma wished to be a good friend.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma
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If Juno was insulted or offended by Volt promptly shooting her idea down, she gave no indication save for a furrowed brow. While the scruffy sorceress didn't particularly care for the Church's beliefs or superstitions, they were still providing her with the resources necessary to further her research and so it be unwise to antagonise them. The hooded maiden had at least had the foresight to bring some travelling clothes with them, which was met with a nod of approval from Juno. At least some people from the Church had some common sense. Avalon seemed to recognise this young woman. Intriguing, but nothing that warranted verbal commentary. Perhaps this familiarity meant that Avalon would be more inclined to protect her from the demons.

Out of the corner of her eye, Juno noticed another person who would apparently be joining them. A magic user, like herself, and obviously not from around here to boot. Of course he was going to be scrutinised and surveyed just like the others. No sense in leaving anyone out. He didn't speak much, similar to herself, and when he did it was with a notable accent and some difficulty with the local language. Perhaps he could make a useful assistant. The language barrier may cause a few inconveniences, but Juno was confident that they would be overcome. He had even taken the liberty of planning a safe route out of town for them, which bolstered the sorceress' confidence in this man. With everyone assembled, and the maidens in tow, there was nothing else but to set off.

Their departure from the town had a distinct lack of ceremony compared to when the maidens were presented and the group had been called up by name. Juno preferred it this way; had the Church stayed around, they might not have left town for another two hours or so. From various doorways and windows, the townsfolk had their eyes on the group. On herself and Leth, in particular. Juno didn't bother to return their gaze. With the long march ahead of her, their stares were irrelevant.

As they came up to the forest - the road so far safe as Leth had said it would be - Juno took note of the graves that marked the beginning of the Road of Immolation. So many attempts to end the Black Dragon's reign. Knights with magic weapons and wizards with powerful sorcery. They had consistently failed. A different approach had to be devised, and she aimed to be the one to provide it.

Once they were in the forest itself and the maidens went to change out of their ceremonial garb, Volt pulled out a lantern and advised the others to bring a light themselves. Holding out her left hand, palm facing up, Juno conjured up a simple luminous flame that gave off only a little warmth. She then poked the end of her staff into the flame and hoisted it aloft, some sort of dual-purpose walking stick and torch. While everyone else readied themselves for the darkness ahead, the pyromancer elected to march alongside Gibbon when they set off. His apparent eagerness to defend young women would make him an excellent meatshield should Juno herself get blindsided in this forest.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma
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Finally, they were on the move. All moving away from that wretched safe house of the Church and its hallowed blue banners strung everywhere. Janelle could hardly wait to be gone. And yet....the draining of blood from her head and a slight tremor in her vision reminded her of her precarious position. None of the maidens had eaten that morning. Her blood pressure was low. Very low. Once away from the church, if she were left unaided, she would not survive for very long.

She stood straight, and lead Emma away from the church towards the Forest of Shadows. Janelle took in the sight of the graves lining the road. Senseless deaths, all of them. If only they had stuck to tradition, all of them may have been spared. To fight talon and dragonfire with sword and flame was a death sentence. Hadn't there been enough songs and tales about that to teach them?Perhaps they were headstrong like Sir Gibbon, or suspicious of statements like Sir Volt. Janelle couldn't tell, as much as she had been taught, she had little to no field experience.

Avalon had recognized her, though, that was interesting. It must have been 5 years ago or so that she had met her. Janelle hoped the pretty Avalon would stay....discrete about the nature of their relationship. So much could go wrong if too many people knew.

Janelle didn't know what to make of the two mages. She had been taught in the Church, of course, that magic was dangerous, and magic users should not be trusted. But, Dear Emma was a mage, and mages had fought against the Dragon when....well, When. They seemed a serious bunch, though. Maybe the magic part of their skulls pushed out all the humor. Janelle smiled slightly, to herself. Silly thought.

As the party trudged into the forest, Janelle could easily see where it got its name. For all her cleverness and sneakiness smuggling usable clothes into the supplies, she hadn't thought to check for utilities such as...torches. She wanted to smack herself for her naivety. As she and Emma hid behind some trees, sweet Emma asked if she was alright.

"Yes-well, no." Janelle sighed. "I'm afraid I didn't think to hide any sort of breakfast in our clothes. I'm suffering for it, now." Indeed, she was. Janelle leaned against a tree, and felt weak, unable to lift a single muscle. Out in front of everyone, she should try to show she could travel. With Emma, she could reveal how severe her anemia really was. If she didn't maintain her diet or overexerted herself, she could collapse and be unable to lift herself. Her chest ached, slightly, as she allowed herself this moment of respite.

"We can take care of that later. For now, though, I packed us a change of clothing. I knew ahead of time we would be together, you see." Janelle raised herself off the tree, and shook out the garments. She had brought proper Church clothes for Emma, she knew Emma would like that. For herself, sensible boots, a dark shawl to fashion into a hood, and some boy's clothes she had stolen from a clothesline a year ago. "Here, dove, try these on. They'll fit you well, I think. And let me describe our guards to you as we change, particularly Sir Gibbon, just for you," Janelle teased Emma. She thought back to Emma's first comments when they emerged from the Church. And Emma had the right frame of mind, a little humor could ease a lot of tension, even in these dark times.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma
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Emma holds up a curled hand near her lips as she frowned in worry. "Oh, dear! That is not good...," she said as she knelt down to help Janelle sit. Looking around, she wondered out loud, "There may be some berries we can forage around here...." Unlikely, considering the state of this forest, but one woman's ignorance is another woman's optimism.

Nodding at Janelle, Emma proceeded to caress the garments her dear friend brought. An off white tunic, worn with age but still comfortable. A cyan shoulder cape, with a most pleasant texture on its surface. Thin white healer gloves, old leather boots, and, rather importantly - an oak cane to help her walk on her own. Emma's smile widened at the thoughtfulness of her friend, and her fingers lingered as she enjoyed the sensation of the cane.

The mention of Sir Gibbon turned Emma's face red once more, and she stumbled forwards as she was tying the straps on her leather boots. "O-oh! I-I-I...uh..." A brief pause. Her heart was beating so loud in her ears, it was like a personal war drum. Keeping both her head and voice down, Emma replied to Janelle's teasing, "It was such a strange feeling, nothing like I've ever felt. When I first heard his voice.... it was like..... a pleasant song." The young maiden, confused and intoxicated by the strange emotions invoked by said song, swayed left and right, sinking into a daydream. Glancing towards her friend's general direction, she couldn't help but wonder,"Have you ever felt something like that, Dear Janelle?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma Character Portrait: Old Knight Volt
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#, as written by Dae Mec
The first part of the journey was quick and silent, though Leth didn't like the formation they were walking in. Ideally, the two maidens would be in the center, the knights would be in front of them, mages flanking, with the long-ranged archer in the back. Perhaps he'd bring it up as a suggestion, once he remembered the right vocabulary...

Finally, Volt suggested that the group stop before they entered the Forest of Shadows/Forest of Light, whichever one it was. Leth had no objection. He did frown, though, when he heard that the maidens had no torches. If needed, he could make light for them. But Leth had to make light for himself, first. The runes on his staff flashed briefly, dimly, and then a thin band of symbols at the tip began to glow with a steady light. Runes took time to create, but they greatly saved energy.

With interest, he watched as the other mage conjured a bright light, transferring it to the top of her staff. Her staff, at first glance, seemed to be just that. Odd that she didn't use runes, but Leth had noticed that mages in Zargathric rarely used runes. (Then again, Zargathric also had odd ideas about magic and mages in general.) They did seem to have a better grasp on alchemy, though.

"No runes on your staff?" asked Leth, voice pitched low.

The pyromancer shook her head. "I use this for focusing magic," she said, digging out a golden talisman out from her robes. Along with it came what appeared to be a small pouch on a separate leather cord round her neck.

Leth tilted his head. "Does talisman have other properties?" Instead of his usual, neutral voice, there was a genuine note of interest. "Pouch focuses magic too?" Most mages in Zargathric were treated with suspicion, so it was rare that he met one with enough skill to have a discussion with. He noted as much, adding, "Unusual to meet another good mage here."

Juno was genuinely surprised at the foreigner's tone. Instead of answering immediately, she eyed him warily at first, trying to gauge his intentions. In Zagarthic, mages were barely even tolerated. But what of other places, she wondered. Taking a breath, Juno prepared herself for what she considered to be the longest conversation in her life.

"It also helps to ward off magic, especially from demons. The pouch is filled with salt, to keep evil away. For a journey this long we would probably need more to..." Her voice trailed off as it sunk in that the foreigner had referred to her as a good mage. A faint blush spread across her cheeks as she endeavoured to press on to another topic of conversation.

"Wh-what about you?" she asked, fidgeting a little. "Are mages more common where you come from?"

"Ah, makes sense," said Leth. "Will," he paused, "We will need magic like so. In home country, they also use salt for warding bad spirits." Leth noticed Juno's slight blush, though he wasn't really sure what had brought it on. Perhaps she wasn't feeling well? It was probably best to ignore it.

"Different countries, different, ah, how you say... attitudes. In Nouthik, mage is like normal job. Not very common job, but normal job." He shrugged. "In coastal countries, mage is very honored." Leth frowned. "I do not understand why Zargathic treat like this, but they pay well." He gave her a glance, uncertain if he should pursue this line of topic. Zargathic was rather touchy about foreign, well, anything. "I heard that you are pyromancer?" he added.

An emphatic nod confirmed this. "I have been studying the effects of hellfire and dragonfire for years, but I still need more, ah... information. It may aid us in our fight against the demons." Juno idly considered the possibility of moving to Nouthik. Assuming she survived the long march to the dragon, of course. It sounded like a nice place. Better than here, at least.

"Ah, hellfire." Leth held out his staff, pointing out a particular cluster of runes. "Few years ago, I ran into cluster of nasty demons. Their fire burned last staff, so I make this one more resistant." He gave a grim chuckle. "No runes for dragonfire, though." The latter stuff was much more potent, too potent for simple runework. "If you find way to stop dragonfire, then you be very wealthy. Very powerful."

Leth stopped, thinking about how to phrase his next sentence. "I am very interested in such research," he said slowly. "I am willing to assist or partner in work like that." Leth wasn't entirely sure what the difference between the two words was, but he was pretty confident that the basic gist had gotten across.

It seemed almost too good to be true for Juno. A fellow mage - and a pyromancer, at that - from a foreign land where magic users were tolerated, offering to assist with her studies. For the first time in ages, Juno's normally impassive face broke out into a smile.

"Deal."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Gibbon Blackwater Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma
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Volt rested his back against the trees as he waited, for the others to prepare, for the maidens to change. His eyes hovered towards his allies, the ones he could see. The two mages having a, presumably, scholarly discussion. It seemed like they have a good rapport already. Particularly curious was the blush on the pyromancer's face. Two possible lovestruck girls in their team? How quaint, Volt thought. And then there was Avalon, with her feline smirk, keeping to herself and watching their surroundings, befitting of a scout.

Emma listened to Janelle well, nodding and smiling. It was nice for Emma to have such a worldly companion. Once again, she stiffled a giggle by raising a hand to her lips, as Janelle reminded her of Old Priest Arthur. "That is one way to put it," Emma smiled vacantly as her mind trailed off to the orderlies and their arthritis-ravaged spines.

Emma heard Avalon's words well. Losing her smile, she nodded in acknowledgement to Janelle, and finished dressing up for the journey. "Alright, but don't force yourself! I'd like to see this journey's end with you by my side, if possible....". A brief pause. Emma glanced to the side, whispering in amusement. "Fufu... 'see' ...". An old, overused joke for people like her. But still, there was amusement in it.

As the group gathered once more, Volt did not miss the lack of a light source on the two maidens. After a brief sigh, he handed Janelle a rusted, old, iron lantern. "Here. I had a spare. And stay in the middle of the group. Sir Blackwater there can watch your backsides." Emma, intimidated by Volt's unfriendly tone, firmly gripped her cane's head with both hands. She needn't ask what Volt gave her friend, as she could feel the heat of the lantern radiating close by.

And so, the group journeyed onwards. Traversing the Forest of Shadows, with Avalon scouting ahead, Volt at the front, the maidens in the middle, the two mages at the side, and Blackwater bringing up their rear. Twisted roots and gnarled branches, everywhere they saw. The night was as dark as it was lifeless, hours passed without a single noise, aside from the cold, eerie blowing of the wind and the dirty creaking of their lanterns and flames.

The further into the forest, the messier the scenery. One could swear, etched on the deformed trunks of the trees, were faces in agony, the hollows forming long, narrow, screaming faces. The folds of the barks forming weeping eyes....

As the night grew darker, Avalon, scouting ahead, would see the faint glow of torches. The mages could feel dark magic in the air, a rancid aura..... Across fallen trees and malformed branches, the archer saw them:

Ragged clothes, stretched limbs. Skin caked in dried blood, obscuring their original color. A multitude of dark crimson thorns sprouted from their bodies. Their eyes have sunk into their sockets, leaving behind only beady yellow dots. Ragged, common clothes barely clung to their bodies. Some carry pitchforks. Many of them carry torches. Possessed Peasants, their souls devoured, their bodies defiled.... about twenty of them, roaming a clearing in the woods. A pile of bodies form a small hill in the middle. Bodies of leather-clad bandits and iron-clad soldiers. Spears, axes, and swords stuck from the mound of corpses. A collapsed wagon laid nearby, blood splatters and disemboweled organs leaking from it. They have not noticed the group yet. They have numbers, but the team has the element of surprise.....

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Leth Kazloun Character Portrait: Avalon the Vandal Character Portrait: Maiden Janelle Character Portrait: Juno Argent Character Portrait: Maiden Emma Character Portrait: Old Knight Volt
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She knew, now. She knew what it was that was putting her on edge. She was nervous. No, not just nervous. Janelle was scared. For the first time in her life, Janelle was scared almost witless. A decade of preparation had not helped at all for this. Nothing could have prepared her. She felt the handles of her daggers, sheathed at her wrists beneath the sleeves of her overshirt. What use would they be? The beads on her bracelet clinked together, and she wondered, did she correctly remember what was in each bead? Did she really?

Each line of trees beyond her vision was a new threat, something looming in the distance that was destructive and threatening. She tried her best not to be jumpy, but almost leaped out of her skin when Leth stepped on a stick near her and it made a deafening *snap*. Ooh, she hoped no one had seen that.

Avalon, leading the group, seemed so sure of herself. She had changed over the years, she was more cheerful. But, was it a facade? She had been cheerful before, but did she actually hate everyone? And the others, what about them? Sir Volt would probably leave them if it meant he would live. And everyone knew mages were lawless murderers. With each passing second, Janelle became more and more convinced that she and Emma were either being led into a trap designed by their presumptive guards or into the jaws of a powerful monster in the middle of the forest, to die in agony.

Avalon stopped their trek, placing her spyglass in her eye. Here it was, she was looking for the monster that would eat them all, Janelle was sure. Avalon turned to them, and Janelle prepared for news of their imminent demise. What was she saying? Lights down, something like that.

Janelle mutely opened the clasp on her borrowed torch and turned the knob which dulled the flame down to a mere flicker. She glanced up, seeing the shadows dancing eerily on everyone's faces, as if they had become specters with designs on eating her and Emma. She closed her eyes tightly and shook her head a little. That was ridiculous. It must just be these woods getting to her. They weren't evil, of course not. Right? Were they? How did she know? What did she really know about these people who held not one, but two lives in their hands?

She closed the lid on the lantern with a loud click, to shut out those thoughts before they succeeded in driving her insane. No. No. She was scared. And being scared, like any emotion, could be suppressed. She had to think about protecting Emma. What was it the Vandal had said? Ghouls. Choke hold.

Those thoughts brought up very...interesting images into Janelle's mind. No! No. Lead them into the trees, that was it. Funnel them through one place to ease the upcoming fight. Janelle's mind finally cleared of shadows. She looked around at the trees surrounding their small clearing. Some may go around a funnel to attack from the sides. The mages would be tied up with attacking the front, leaving her and Emma exposed. But Janelle knew she was skilled enough with her daggers to cut through any limbs that tried to grab them.

She placed the lantern on the ground in front of her and Emma, grasped the handles of her daggers, and nodded at Avalon. She was ready to fight.