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Worldend Rinascita

Worldend Rinascita

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The Monarchs are gone. The empire has crumbled. Humanity is all that's left of Sol's light on Gaia, and it is dying. Ye who yet remain, seek Despair, for it is in Despair that you will find the Light and Darkness of the Human Heart. 1x1, private.

662 readers have visited Worldend Rinascita since Feyblue created it.

Introduction

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"...For it is in Despair that you will find the Light and Darkness of the Human Heart." Speaking these words to all of Mankind, the great King Soleil and his esteemed paramour Selene disappeared from the world, leaving nary a trace of the power they had once possessed. Once close to achieving the power to surpass Gaia itself and become one with the world upon which they lived, Humans are now sliding steadily down the slope of decline. Although there yet remain various cities, towns, and even states and individual countries amidst what was once the Unified Kingdom of the Sun, the remaining aristocracy seems more concerned with clinging to their power and squabbling amongst each other to determine the new Monarch than it is with dealing the various monsters slowly encroaching on Human territory, or with the growing threat of the abominations that have cast off their Humanity and now prey upon their former brethren. Although nobody wants to admit it, it has become clear that, if current events run their course, Humanity will die out completely, their souls slipping away into Gaia's core, never to live again, while their bodies run rampant, fueled only by hatred and desire, until they and all their hands have built is naught but dust and ruins, a shell of the Kingdom's former glory.

In short, the world of man is ending, and soon naught will be left but ashes blowing in the wind. Even so, there are yet some willing to fight, putting their lives on the line to ensure that the light given them by the Sun that birthed them does not die out. And, even in the face of Mankind's hopeless situation, there might yet be a way to save those who yet remain...



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The world of Gaia is rather steampunk-ish in nature, but functions based almost entirely on Magic rather than on more mundane forms of technology. This is made possible by the fact that the same essence that is primarily responsible for life itself is also the cosmic force that binds the world together, enforcing the fundamental laws of reality. This force is known as Elthr, and exists within... pretty much everything, really - at least, to some extent. Magic doesn't come naturally to people, but rather, is built up through the accumulation of Elthr in their bodies. Those with little Elthr will be less proficient at magic than those with a plentiful supply of it, or perhaps may even be wholly incapable of any true Magic. Elthr also effects a person's physical traits, such as strength, speed, and endurance. The body mimics the form of the soul, and thus those with powerful Elthr will be correspondingly powerful beings. Elthr, while not the only factor that creates "life," is the factor that is primarily associated with intelligence and higher reasoning. Thus, beings with a large amount of Elthr are more likely to be logical, rational, and intellectual, whereas those with little or no Elthr are little better than mindless zombies.

A person's Elthr is by no means constant. When a person is born, some of the power of each of his/her parents is bequeathed to him/her, and that power grows over time. Since Elthr permeates the entire planet, every time you eat or drink something, its energy becomes subsumed into yours. Naturally, the amount of Elthr gained from an inanimate object is minute by comparison to that of a living being - for if it were not, would not the very water itself be alive? However, if you were to kill something, you'd also obtain the large part of its power. Certain powerful experiences, as well, can influence the nature of your soul by tapping into the collective power of Humanity, which, due to all Humans stemming from the same origin, is in fact a single soul, known as the Primordial Soul of Humanity, a fragment of which is possessed by each and every living person. So, basically, the more well known you are, the more power that recognition grants you. By performing deeds that people would recognize in the context of a story, you can in turn gain some small part of the power of that story. So, for example, if you lost your parents, swore revenge, and trained to slay your family's killer, by mimicking the hero's journey in a story, you receive recognition by proxy, and thus you would draw on the collective Elthr of all mankind, gaining power from it. But this pales in comparison to the power bequeathed by BECOMING a story. So, in this case, being a legendary hero would give you the powers your legends described you as having, as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Somebody renowned as immortal would become functionally immortal, somebody famed as having a sword that can cut anything would be able to cut anything with that sword. Interestingly, this would only work if he was the one using it, due to its association with him - at least, so long as he was alive.

The greatest forces that act upon Elthr are, however, not Humans, or even monsters. Rather, they are the so-called "Great Three." The weakest of these is Luna, the spirit of the moon, which represents the cast off flaws and faults of the Sun, which ascended to perfection. Although it hungers for power, and leeches off of the energy in the core of Gaia - the second of the three and Sol's cast-off physical form, the lingering energy of which is still incomprehensibly vast - the most powerful of the three is, naturally, Sol - the Sun, which contains near-infinite power, but is so distant that its influence on the other two is very faint, serving only to maintain the balance of different types of Elthr on Gaia, and to suppress the power of Luna. Interestingly, Luna entirely lacks Elthr, instead being made up entirely of Elthr's fundamental opposite: Nether. Although not very well understood, what is known of Nether is that it acts outside of and against the laws and forces created by Elthr flow. Although the two forces cannot share the same space, where Nether is, reality as defined by Elthr isn't. Much as Elthr causes intelligence and rationality, Nether in lifeforms instead draws upon self-centered bestial instincts, driving creatures affected by it to seek self-preservation, procreation, and betterment of themselves without regard for concepts such as morality, or even logic. It has been referred to by the Church of Sol as "Sin itself," and, in a way, this description is rather accurate. This does not, however, mean that Nether-born beings are mindless, per say - rather, it simply means they operate on an entirely alien set of principles incomprehensible to Elthr-born. To give a brief summary of the Great Three, essentially, Sol governs absolute laws of reality, like the properties of heat, matter, and energy, and keeps Gaia's energy from veering too sharply towards one extreme form of Elthr, or towards Nether, and keeps Luna, which desires to steal Gaia's Elthr as well as its Nether, at bay. In turn, the leftover Elthr from Sol that came to form Gaia governs how the laws of physics created by Sol shape the landscape, such as causing the wind to blow, water to freeze at low temperatures, etc. Were it not for the existence of Nether within Gaia's imperfect body, this Elthr would also would govern spiritual concepts, such as life and death, by drawing in the souls of those who died and using the Elthr contained within them to in turn fashion new beings. However, since Nether also induces some level of "life" - albeit in a twisted form - in bodies possessing it, this creates a rather wonky situation in which life and death is less of a "yes/no" question and more of a... continuum, really.

Elthr is attracted to other masses of Elthr, which is why killing or consuming something gives you its powers, since your soul subsumes and assimilates what's left of that being's soul, excepting the case in which your own soul is too weak to overcome the pulls of Gaia, Luna - which, although lacking Elthr, still possesses other forces it can use to attempt to draw Elthr to itself - and Sol, which, although distant, are, like gravitational forces, phenomenally strong. However, as Sol proved by inadvertently creating Gaia and Luna, even without the soul, a being's Body - the physical matter which is in turn acted upon by Elthr and Nether - and its Nether still remain even after its Elthr, or soul, has left it. Thus, in beings that possess both Elthr and Nether - more on that later - providing the being's base instincts outweigh whatever Elthr still exists in its Body after death, this malignancy can either possess the Body, becoming a being that is neither living or dead, known as a Graveless. Or, if the Body is too damaged to be used, the Nether can break free from it, becoming a Wraith that seeks the Elthr within other souls to make up for the power that it has lost. The Graveless usually behave like zombies - shambling, decaying corpses that try to kill anything with enough Elthr to be sentient - but their level of intelligence varies based on how powerful the Nether animating them is. Given enough Nether, even Graveless might be called "sentient," but even so, their self-centered thought processes could not be called in any way Human. Incorporeal Wraiths, meanwhile, serve more like ghosts, latching onto beings whose Elthr is too weak to resist them. By merging with the Nether of these people, they in turn magnify already existing faults, driving men mad with desire, rage, envy, or any number of other similar temptations. By breaking them thus, they become the body's new master, and then these Embodied behave similarly to powerful Graveless - with intelligence, but untempered by Humanity, seeking only to consume souls to grow in power. A Wraith can also latch onto a more powerful being, weakening it, but being subsumed by that being's will in the process. These Wraiths, if weak, generally do not influence those they try and fail to possess. However, if particularly resilient or numerous, even if they fail to fully possess a host, they can become a sort of second mind within his or her consciousness, perpetually seeking to avenge themselves upon the living, and to become stronger, whenever the host's control wanes - in sleep, or in the heat of a particularly powerful emotion, such as fear or anger. These "Whisperers" can be either benign - like a coping or defensive mechanism that works with the host's knowledge and acceptance - or malignant - a second mind hell bent of overpowering the original host's will and eventually consuming them. However, even if "benign," their morals would nonetheless be completely alien, centered solely on the perpetuation of their own existence, and that of their host, assuming the host continues to fulfill their expectations and work for their mutual benefit. Thus, only Wraiths capable of incredibly high-level thought processes - exclusively the most powerful ones, or a collective of less-powerful minds - could ever become a "benevolent" Whisperer, and thus, they pose a correspondingly greater threat if their will is ever defied.

Elthr comes in many varieties, varying based on who is in possession of it. It is defined primarily based on Elements, and secondarily based on Forms, which will be discussed later. There are seven elements - known as Gaia's Seven Elements or the Seven Fundamental Elements - with Fire, Earth, Air, and Water being the most common, and with Ice being a specific subdivision of Water, Metal - in the Chinese sense, meaning it also includes Lightning - falling under Earth and Air's domain, and Light - both in energy form and in the symbolic, healing/banishment of evil sense - coming from Fire. Each of these elements occurs most commonly in people roughly based on - or at the very least related to - their cardinal sins and virtues. Fire is based in Wrath/Forgiveness, Earth in Sloth/Diligence, Air in Lust/Chastity, Water in Gluttony/Temperance, Ice in Envy/Kindness, Metal in Greed/Charity, and Light in Pride/Humility. So, for example, a Fire-wielder might draw his strength from his desire for destruction/vengeance/what have you, or from his ability to control his emotions, Jedi-style. In short, the cause of the elemental alignment doesn't have to be a direct connection to a specific sin or virtue, but there is usually an important connection between the two factors.

However, there are also two "unnatural" elements that only truly occur in either individuals who have, for good or for ill, become something other than Human. These instead have the origin of their powers in the Sun and Moon. Children of Sol are messiahs, pure and simple, possessing the power to influence the spirit and existence itself. The powers bequeathed by the Sun essentially give the user absolute control over the way reality is defined. However, to obtain such a power, one would require a phenomenally strong soul with a perfect balance of ALL elements, thus becoming a being in synergy with the universe itself, or else would have to be someone who had somehow, through other means, transcended all Human flaws and faults - their inner Nether - and had cast aside their body and become like Sol. Since both are likely impossible, a true user of the Sun's power would be pretty much impossible to find, and, indeed, only one person has ever nearly attained that status. The Moon, however, offers a simpler path. By casting off one's Human nature in an inversion of the process Sol underwent, Luna offers the ability to create a bubble of Nether around oneself, severing one's connection to reality as defined by Sol to make an area which is not subject to the laws laid down by Sol and its constructs, much like how Luna itself exists and acts in violation of all the order Sol has created. Making the incorporeal into a physical form, reversing causality, altering the flow of time, bridging two completely unrelated points in space, or even ripping the Elthr out of other people regardless of forces of spiritual attraction... anything is possible within this actualized darkness, so long as one either gives up their Elthr - through which they are tied to "reality" - in its entirety, or surrenders enough of it to weaken Sol's influence on them, and then uses the sheer force of their Nether to do the rest. While the former method is easier, it also usually causes the user to lose their sanity, since the predominant part of Human intelligence comes from Elthr. But, although retaining one's sanity and using Nether instead of emptiness has its own difficulties. In most cases, going blatantly against the might of Sol takes an incredible amount of power, meaning only those with incredible levels of Nether - in short, someone who would be called a natural sociopath at best, and a monster at worst - can utilize Luna's power to its full extent without going mad. Either that, or one would have to become a twisted reflection of a Graveless, stealing both the souls and the Nether of others and using the Elthr within to remain sane whilst using the Nether to force back the canvas of reality and repaint it in one's own image. By doing this, however, one soon becomes little different from a collective of Embodied Whispering Wraiths, losing one's identity as an individual and eventually suffering the complete breakdown of one's Humanity. Beings who exist thus in defiance of the natural order of the world are known by many names - Children of the Night, Lunarians, Noxi, or Vampires. So long as they have the strength, they can create a nonphysical space around themselves in which they have the absolute ability to define how reality works, rejecting Sol's laws and substituting their own. However, some "laws" are easier to make than others, in most part determined by one's natural affinity for their execution.

This affinity is, in fact, a universal principle of all Magic. Although a person's Element is determined by their temperament, as mentioned above - a person whose soul is of the element of fire could be impulsive, angry, or destructive, or he could be calm, placid, and self-controlled, for example - the area in which they live - someone who lived in the north pole would have a natural connection to the ice element due to the abundance of Ice Elthr in the area around them - and by other objects and beings possessing souls of their own, which they've come into contact with and which have rubbed off on them - their parents, the things they've eaten, things they've killed, etc. - their Elthr's Form is determined by their heritage, and by defining moments from their and their ancestors' life experience. For example, supposing a child was fathered by a man who had slain a Dragon, and obtained its soul. This child's soul would take on a form similar to that of the Dragonslayer, whose soul would in turn have been reshaped by the Dragon. Thus, feats such as flying by manipulating Wind Elthr, or breathing fire using Fire Elthr, would come much more easily to this person whose soul was like that of a Dragon than it would to someone else. This especially affects users of Nether, whose ability to violate physics largely depends on their origins. For example, a legendary member of an equally legendary clan of assassins might be renowned as being "like a shadow" or "one with the shadows," and thereby his Nether would allow him to perform such feats as shadow-walking or shadow-manipulation, even though shadows are really just created by a physical body blocking the transmission of Light Elthr, and thus have no real existence to quantify or manipulate.

This is where things get complicated. People's Forms are not defined by how they perceive themselves, but rather by how they are perceived by other fragments of the Primordial Soul of Humanity. In short, if you become legendary, you will actually change to become more and more like your legends. So, taking our assassin example from above, he and his family might have originally just been common assassins, but as they killed more and more people, their souls became more saturated in Elthr, and their Forms became cemented as killers. In addition to this, though, people would eventually come to see them as something other than Human due to their unnatural prowess at killing. Those legends would grow until they and their Nether were functionally the same thing, thereby making them become Noxi without them ever actually voluntarily drawing on Luna as a source point, simply because Humanity had redefined them over generations as being less and less "Human," and thereby less and less restricted by Sol and Gaia's physical laws because of the justification, "If the assassin is a member of this particular clan, then no matter what it is or what it takes to do it, he can kill it." So, effectively, myths fool Humanity into fooling reality into fooling itself into believing that a person is something he really isn't thereby making it so he IS. However, in our above example, this doesn't change the fact that he never actually gave up his Humanity, so even though his connection to Sol has been severed, Sol is actually the one who severed it, meaning he still has his Humanity and thus his sanity, but can basically do whatever he wants so long as he doesn't break reality so much as to make reality realize it's being duped, and so long as it fits with his general theme and MO - namely Shadows. In short, the power of the Primordial Soul of Humanity is such that it can bend Sol's laws through legends, in effect achieving the same thing as utilizing Sol itself, or utilizing the powers of Luna to bypass Sol.

Anyway, because of this, although there isn't any specific set number of things that can technically be done with Magic, each person only has a certain number of "spells," since people only achieve Magic by invoking aspects of their Form in order to convince Gaia to perform a certain action, thereby giving everybody a limited power set with a completely different system of invocation. A priest of Sol who had vowed to become a healer after seeing his hometown ravaged by plague might invoke the powers of Light - which is venerated by the Church due to being the second-purest form of Sol's powers - by praying to Sol. Since he believes that his prayers will be answered with a miracle, they will be, and that miracle will be shaped to suit his desires - for example, healing the sick. This limitation also affects those who use Nether. In the assassin's case, everything he does invokes his origins as a killer in order to do whatever is nessecary to slay his target, and since he believes that he is one with the shadows, he becomes the shadows.

However, although magic's basis is in Elthr's Form, one must also have enough Elemental Elthr to fuel a given spell. This energy isn't a cost that's paid, but more like a pathway that's used in order to accomplish a specific function, like a bucket being nessecary to scoop water, but not being used up in the process. The more Elthr one has of a given Element, the more complex actions can be performed. So, using our bucket metaphor, having a lot of Elemental Elthr would mean having an advanced water pump, whereas somebody whose soul contained only a little Elthr of a particular Element would have the equivalent of a soup ladle. Once again, this same restriction applies to the case of Nether. For our assassin, normally this would mean being an excessively "inhuman" individual, whose soul would be laden with Nether that could be readily used to violate physics as he wished, but who would, in exchange, necessarily be a psychotic, murderous, and generally unsympathetic wretch. However, Nether can also come from sources outside one's self, such as Wraiths and Whisperers, making the distinction between Embodied and Noxi somewhat nebulous.

Now that I've pretty much explained the physics of the setting, I'll conclude by discussing the general state of affairs in the world as far as I've planned them out. Basically, Humanity is a fairly new addition to an old world. By no means the first species to populate Gaia, they nevertheless bear the distinction of being made from the lingering remains of Sol's Pure Elthr - which serves as the fundamental basis for a person's "Humanity" - and Luna's Nether - or "Sin" - in addition to Gaia's Seven Elements, giving them a uniquely dual and anomalous nature that is lacking in all of Gaia's constructs, which are made solely from a mishmash of the Seven Fundamental Elements, and then influenced towards intelligence or towards a more feral nature by their relative concentrations of Elthr versus Nether. For example, Dragons would be "Earth + Whatever Element they breathe," or a Phoenix would be "Light + Fire." The more pure their origins - the fewer the Elements they are based in, or the more closely related those Elements are - the more powerful they are, the strongest non-Human creatures of all being those which are pure manifestations of their respective Elements - Undines for Water, Sylphs for Air, etc. Some of these creatures are benevolent. Some... aren't. Really, it just depends on if their basis is in Sol or in Luna, and in how they use the gifts they've been given. Those based in Sol are intelligent and rational, but their general temperament reflects their Element more than it does their basis, meaning some can be just as volatile, self-centered, and dangerous as those born from Nether, even if they act in a manner with a basis in linear reasoning instead of Eldritch amorality. Those based in Luna, meanwhile, are self-centered and incomprehensible, with thought patterns that cannot be grasped by Humans - but sometimes, these creatures may find Humans relevant to their interests, and offer useful help. In short, it's kind of hard to tell which are monsters and which aren't until they try to eat your face.

Humans, though, are different. Born from the mingling Humanity and Sin from the light of both Sol and Luna, they came into being at the very heart of Gaia, and took with them to its surface a truly vast part of Gaia's power, which became the Primordial Soul of Humanity, or the Akashic Record, which in turn affected the laws of Gaia itself. This explains the power of Human myths and legends, which define existence in terms of a recognizable set of "stories," and alter Gaia's specific instances of Sol's reality to fit that mold, creating trees of "shortcuts" - namely, Forms - through which one defining event is assumed to lead to a specific conclusion, as explained above. Because of these shortcuts, people can use Magic that's relevant to who they are, since their identities provide them a unique connection to the specific part of Akasha that controls the "story" of their lives.

Anyway, this Primordial Soul in turn fragmented an innumerable amount of times over as people were born and died, its power changing hands throughout countless generations. The Firstborn descendants of the original Humans were proportionately more powerful than other Humans of their generation - having claimed the largest gift of Elthr from their parents - and their Firstborn were the same. But with each passing generation, Humanity as a whole expanded, and the average person's Elthr waned ever so slightly. Soon, people began to die, and the power of their souls was claimed either by other creatures, or by Gaia's Elthr, becoming other, more basic beings. Furthermore, the influence of Nether upon them became plain when those who died did not perish, but instead became something inhuman. It became clear that, whether ending in a dark mockery of its original form, or in utter oblivion, Humanity was coming to an end. And so, the Firstborn who ruled over the Humans began fighting amongst themselves, trying to recreate the Primordial Soul and use its energy to take back Gaia's power for themselves. With their followers and descendants as their pawns, they waged a bloody war amongst themselves, killing and being killed in turn until eventually, all of the Firstborn, and their Firstborn in turn, down through all generations of all houses of Humanity - or at least, those who had not already succumbed to Darkness - perished, save two individuals: the Great King Soleil, and his bride, Selene. Having laid claim to almost all of the Primordial Soul save for those parts dwelling within their loyal subjects, the two of them were close to overpowering Gaia and claiming all of its energy for those who remained of Humanity, so as to balance themselves and all their descendants with the Seven Fundamental Elements and ascend as one into a new age of prosperity where they might hopefully one day cast off the taint of the Nether and become one with Sol's Pure Elthr. However, on the eve of this great ascension, something happened, and both Selene and Soleil disappeared from the world, the Primordial Soul vanishing along with them. In the power vacuum left by their disappearance, countless different forces - the Church of Sol, individual powerful people recognized as noblemen, and, of course, the heretical children of Darkness, be they Wraiths or Lunarians, whose hunger for life is never sated - thus began struggling to find the remains of the Primordial Soul and claim it for their own. Their only clue is a voice heard by all of mankind, speaking forth a commandment in the voice of their late king.

"Seek Despair - for it is in Despair that lies the light and darkness of the Human Heart."

At the same time, from all corners of the land, several beings have appeared bearing phenomenally powerful souls. Searching for the remains of the Primordial Soul, many different factions have begun hunting them. And, when death no longer presents a permanent end to the soul, an assassin might actually be more useful for apprehending such targets than a kidnapper. Especially so, when said assassin is as legendary as the man we used as an example in our little treatise earlier. But what would happen if this assassin were to decide to double-cross his employers and work with his target to discover the truth behind the Primordial Soul, the strange decay beginning to set in in Gaia's landscape, and the disappearance of the King and Queen...?

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The caravan hadn't had a chance to anticipate the attack, it seemed. Wagons were scattered across the roadway in various states of destruction, some overturned, others missing wheels, others blasted wide open as though by powerful magic. Small fires still burned in the wreckage, searing the corpses littering the roadway beyond any hope of recognition. A murder of crows circled in the gray sky overhead, cawing with delight at the feast that lay before them as they waited for the fires to die out so that they might gorge themselves on the dead. The assailants had long since finished their pillaging and left. The victims hadn't even had a chance to circle their wagons and defend themselves, it seemed, as aside from a shattered and bloodstained full helmet lying to the side of the caravan, evidently torn from its wearer's head by some great shock, there were no signs of the attackers amongst the dead. By the look of the bodies, they'd been merchants of some sort, while the helmet pointed to an assault by professional soldiers. It was only natural that, given their advantage of surprise and encirclement, none of their targets had escaped alive.

Amidst this scene of carnage, everything was still, save for the rising and falling of the fires and the motion of a single shape, clad in black, as it glided silently through this pitiful scene of desolation, red eyes gazing sadly out from underneath a dark hood upon this panorama of slaughter. The lone girl knelt over a pair of bodies, gently rolling aside the corpse of a man whose arms remained, even in death, firmly wrapped around a young girl whom he'd fallen on top of, evidently trying to protect her, even unto the bitter end. The gaping hole through his torso and the matching wound in the girl's forehead stood as testament to his noble failure. Their blood pooled as one, sinking into the reddened dirt below. The hooded girl gaze a soft sigh of dismay, closing their eyes and then quickly turning away. Idly, the Traveler wondered who they'd been. Was she his daughter, joining him in an exodus to a far off land? Or maybe she had been his apprentice, learning his trade in hopes of one day earning her own fame and fortune, and making her way in the world torn by warfare and violence. It didn't matter either way. Now they were just two corpses. Why had they been killed, she wondered? She didn't know. She couldn't remember anything about how or why the world could be so cruel. All that was left of them was their bodies and the lingering desires that screamed within the blood staining the earth. The girl tried to ignore the screaming voices that only she could hear, moving purposefully away from the destroyed caravan.

"Live... I want to live!"

"I want to see my wife one more time...!"

"It's dark... I'm scared... papa, where did you go? Papa!"


The hopes of those who had passed on. The desires of those who had perished. The agony of the slain and the will of the dead to live would mingle within their broken bodies to create abominations. They had already died. There was nothing she could do for them now. Even so...

"Sad," Murmured the girl, mounting the hill overlooking the war-torn ravine. She turned, raising her right hand before her as an ethereal crimson light spread outward from the ruby adorning her wrist, forming the shape of a bow. Reaching up with her free hand, she drew back the string as the flames burning amidst the valley rose upward, coalescing into a single arrow of whirling, crackling heat. "I'm sorry," Said the girl. "I can't save you. But at least, this way, you can rest."

She released the bowstring. With a flash of light and flurry of flames, the arrow descended upon the ravine, erupting in a storm of radiant crimson that engulfed the voices screaming in the dirt. The crows in the sky scattered to the heavens, their calls of shock and dismay echoing for miles as a dull rumble resounded like distant lightning. When the light had cleared, all was silent, save for the crackling of the flames.

"Please don't despair... I heard your wishes, everyone," Said the girl, giving a wry smile. "Now, come to me. I can bear it all."

"...I can bear all the darkness in your hearts."





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The great city basked in twilight as Sol's light began to dip beneath the horizon, the pale glow of Luna shining eerily through the clouds as the carriage descended from the mountain roads surrounding the impregnable metropolis of Meridioch. Thanks to the city's advantageous placement at a divergence point of the Meridian River, it commanded the shipping lanes that followed this vast flow from its beginning to its terminus, bisecting and spreading throughout the continent of Pangaea that formed almost all of Gaia's land. As river-based transportation was usually much safer than traveling by land - especially in the dark times that had befallen Pangaea following the king's disappearance - this made it a hub of trade between the fragmented city states that had once comprised the Unified Kingdom of the Sun. Due to its unassailable position, with the river on one side and the mountains forming a natural barrier on all others, it had brought security and prosperity to the otherwise insignificant Dukedom of Cerlitz, allowing it to rise as one of the foremost powers in the After-Kingdom era, becoming renowned as a Principality separate from all other powers. While the rest of the land was torn by civil war and monster attacks, here, at least, the people could be at peace.

The carriage bumped over the rocky roads, its driver giving a slight tug on the joystick that controlled the mechanized vehicle and altering the flow of Elthr through it to redirect it onto one of the Twin Bridges spanning the Meridian River. One bridge led to the commercial and industrial districts, where the lower classes worked to churn out the wares that made Meridioch prosperous, and the middle classes plied their trades in selling them. The other, however, led straight to the Golden Quarter where the wealthy lived at the foot of Mount Cerlitz, the lone mountain around which the city had been founded, and the insides of which had been hollowed out to create a castle in which resided the esteemed Duke Arist of Cerlitz, the man who had made the Principality into what it was today. It was onto this second bridge that the carriage turned, the bumping of the wheels quieting into a dull, repetitive clack as it rolled across the smooth cobblestones. Slowly squeaking to a stop before the city's grand gate, the driver glanced back through the window into the carriage's main compartment, where sat a small form shrouded entirely in a dark cloak. He looked nervously upon his mysterious passenger for a moment before giving a respectful bow. "It'll be just a moment, sir," He said quickly, before shutting the small window and dismounting as the sentries came forth from their posts to inspect the new arrival. "Who goes there?" Asked one of the guards. The driver gave another obsequious bow, withdrawing a letter from the pocket of his waistcoat.

"Alphonse of Venn, sirs," He said respectfully. "I'm in the employ of the Duke, carrying an important passenger to meet with His Excellency."

"With His Excellency, you say? Let me see that letter," Said the stern-faced sentinel, snatching the letter and gazing at the seal upon the envelope. The familiar crest of a raven and a dove adorning it could not be mistaken, for there was an identical insignia adorning his own armor. Stepping aside immediately, he called for his comrades to open the gate without delay, for none of them wished to have to explain to their master why they'd kept him waiting. The portcullis rose, and the giant marble doors behind it yawned open, allowing the carriage passage into the inner city.

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The streets here were busy, but broad, allowing the vehicle quick passage between the towering rows of buildings. Upscale shops, restaurants, and living complexes passed by in an instant as the mechanical transport rolled quickly down smooth streets lit by Elthr lamps along which walked the well-to-do men and women of the Principality's highest echelons of society. With the lavishness of the metropolis all around it, it would have been easy for the carriage's driver and passenger alike to forget that the world beyond the walls surrounding them was falling into ruin. Here, everything was new and bright - but like the world outside, less savory matters lurked beneath the surface. Ascending the slopes of Mount Cerlitz, the carriage entered the grounds of the Duke's palace, circling around an ostentatious fountain surrounded by greenery and statuary and parking within a darkened marble courtyard looking out over the city far below. Dismounting once more, Alphonse of Venn swiftly pulled down the ramp leading out of the carriage, and opened the door for his passenger, bowing respectfully to the shadowy figure within. "Milord, we've arrived. I pray that the ride was not uncomfortable," He said, stepping aside and motioning to the heavy oaken doors of the manor behind him, which were already being quickly pulled open by two servants to allow their visitor in. "Please, enter. The Duke is waiting for you in the foyer," He said.

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Character Portrait: The Fair Traveler Character Portrait: Kurai Niji
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Location: Kurai Village
Date: Three days prior to present day
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Niji sat in the middle of a bright room, his head turned downwards, eyes closed. He was, for that moment, at peace. Nothing bothered him, no sound whispered at his ears, no figuregreeted his eyes. Only the voices within him caused disturbances in the deathly calm, hissing their needs incessantly as they had when Niji had first discovered them inside him like small maggots eating away at his sanity. Niji knew that he was on a run to find a cure to the voices that sapped away at his energy, keeping him under a headlock as he waded his way through the intricate politics of the Noxi world. “He’s coming.” A nasal voice cawed from beside Niji’s ear, Yoru’s beak buried itself into Niji’s hair as the crow ruffled its feathers. “Kill him. Kill. He’s dangerous; you’re helpless- kill hi-.” Niji’s hand whipped up to grab the crow by the neck, strangling Yoru until the bird had faded into the air that surrounded them in the small room. Kill. Niji opened his eyes to the brightly lit room where he had been placed in for days uncountable, his eyes burning with anger and a brewing hatred. Niji made no attempt to pull at the chains that were linked to his wrists as he had once done; he made no motion to change into a different posture, his hands lay firmly on his lap in a position of peace and tranquility. But the pain and disconcert on his face showed otherwise as the light weakened him with each passing second. It took all his might to not somehow force himself out of the heavily guarded room, to claw his hands on those whom had dared place him in the room.
Yet there he sat as the heavy chained doors slowly creaked open, casting the brightness that filled the room into the hallway beyond that was filled with darkness. It called to Niji, filled him with yearning; but he did not allow his expression to change as he glared at the men whom stood in front of him. “Kurai Niji,” the eldest man muttered, glaring down at the boy whom sat on the ground, “You dare to not greet your elders?” A dry laugh left Niji as he peered at the men in front of him through his disheveled hair, his eyes surveying them all before he closed his eyelids once more. “I do not need to greet the men whom fear me so much as to lock me in this chamber. Rather, I should ask just as so many sages have asked the men whom have stumbled upon them: why are you here?” His voice was hoarse from dehydration, from the lack of speech for so long. But Niji still retained the sharp tongue that had gotten him into so much trouble with the elders, had constantly made sure that he was not one with the rest of the Noxi race. Even now, he could feel the hate-filled glances of his own grandfather and father burn into his scalp as he sat there in feigned meditation. “We have received a request,” His grandfather continued, “that has specified that the customer will take no one but that of the elite rank.” Niji scoffed, opening one eye to stare at his father, “then why don’t you go?” His gaze was returned with one as cold, as distasteful. But before the man could open his mouth, Niji’s grandfather had held out a hand to refuse his own son to refute the jab. “I do know that you will not risk the success of this excursion- for you know the capabilities of our clan. We will hunt down those whom dare desert our family.” Niji watched as the men slowly made their way out of the room, as the his grandfather finally told him what Niji had been waiting to hear since many months. “You shall be free to leave in two days.”


Location: The Principality of Cerlitz, Meridioch
Time: Present


Had been carefully transferred from the room to the carriage, with seals placed on his skin to make sure he would not make a grand escape. The sigils had been burnt into his flesh, marking Niji as a dangerous Noxi (even in the terms of his own race) before he had been placed in the extravagant chariot. Nothing could have stopped Niji from escaping besides the excruciating pain that radiated up his arms and to the tips of his toes- his grandfather had been smart to take extra-precautions besides what he had done to Niji before. He would not run just yet- he needed more power. If I can get the kill this time instead of allowing the Duke to receive the Wraiths…
Niji had pondered while picking at the scabs that had started to form on his burn wounds, the pain keeping him awake as he could feel the seals that closed off his ability to shadow walk slowly fading away. If I can have them then I could leave that wretched place forever. Make sure that that old ass can never control me ever again. His nails dug deeper into his burnt flesh, droplets of blood sliding slowly down the side of his arm though Niji barely took notice. He had long lost the ability to feel in his limbs- it had been beaten out of him as a child. Niji did not even take notice as the carriage had stopped, and their arrival at the city had been but a passing notice to the young Noxi. Only when the carriage had finally come to its last stop did Niji extract his nails out of his own wound, his eyes glossy and cold as he had ignored the words of Alphonse of Venn. Only one glare was given- one of acknowledgment- before Niji made his way over to the large oak doors that slowly opened for his entrance.
It was not unlike all the abodes of the nobility that Niji had come across, especially within the recent years. The corrupt, the “just” all resided in the most elaborate, extravagant castles normal people could barely imagine or dare to think of. Yet here Niji stood, glaring at the gem coated interior of the large oak doors, the marble floors, the pieces of artwork that littered the walls of the halls. It was all so beautiful, aesthetic, yet so rotten on the inside. But Niji formed no opinion in his mind as he took but a second to take it all in before following behind the servant that had teetered slowly into his sight carefully and fearfully, watching Niji as if the young Noxi were an animal ready to pounce. The young Noxi could barely blame the young concierge, for he knew that he looked downright horrid. His clothes hung off of his now thin frame, his hair matted and messy; dried blood caked the tips of his fingers and down his arms where he had gouged flesh out of, tearing at the burn wounds that reminded him of his place. He looked every part of the deranged assassin some tales made him out to be- a feral dog, constantly ready to pounce and attack. Yet though most were terrified of Niji’s existence, his skills were in high demand. It is as if they never learn. Niji thought as he took a turn and followed the concierge off of the main corridor and into smaller ones, up stairs, down stairs, through small corridors and into larger ones until, finally, the two came upon a smaller door.
”My liege? I have brought him.” The concierge muttered after knocking on the door twice. And there Niji was left to wait, his cape dead-still in the motionless air, his expression expressionless as he waited for his summons. But none came. ”Wait here, I am sure that the duke is busy.” With that, the concierge scampered off without another word, his fear permeating into each corridor of the large castle Niji now stood in. Mouse. Kuro whispered from Niji’s arm, his beak tapping onto the burn marks. “Mouse. Scaredy mouse.” The bird nipped at Niji’s burnt flesh, picking off piece after piece and gulping them down, feasting on Niji’s dead meat as the Noxi’s blood splattered onto the floor. “Curse.” The bird squawked, his tail feathers spreading as Niji felt Kuro rip off another piece of his restraints, cancelling yet another part of the curse that bound Niji to the Kurai clan. “Blood. Need more.” Spiraling up from Niji’s arm, Kuro burst into a puff of smoke as Niji placed his hand against the large oak door and pushed it open, disregarding the fact of if he was welcome or not. He would force himself to be welcome if he wasn’t. “I have arrived upon your request, human. Speak before I decide to desert you on this forsaken quest.”

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Opening with a resounding, booming thud that reverberated throughout the vast study, the doors parted, allowing the bloodied man in the black cloak entry into the chamber buried deep within the heart of the towering mountain. The twin lights of Sol and Luna shone faintly down through a great window in the vaulted ceiling high above, painting the marble room below in clashing hues of pale silver and burning gold. As the assassin stepped into this archive, a cloud passed over the top of the mountain, casting black shadows which seemed to dance and flit around him, licking his heels like a loyal dog welcoming its master home, eager to ride with him on his next hunt.

Stepping out from the matching blackness concealing the balcony on the other side of the room came a man whose raven-hued hair shone in the moonlight glimmering down from above, his amber eyes gleaming with an air of calm assurance as he strode confidently down the stairs towards his guest. Every aspect of his being exuded composure and a collection of presence that belied his astonishingly youthful appearance. His smile was that of a consummate politician, a regal aristocrat, and a genteel host. Yet at the same time, his attire was ever-so-slightly disheveled, as though perhaps he'd been spending a great deal of time in this room even before his guest had arrived. Dusting the wrinkles out of his pristine white vest, he spread his arms in a gesture of welcome. "Good evening to you, as well, my mysterious friend," He said jovially, seeming unfazed by the assassin's piercing words. "I see that you are impatient. I must apologize for bringing you here on such short notice, and without ample time to prepare a more comfortable means of transportation. Nevertheless, I hope you won't fault me for doing so, as I assure you, I have had very good reason for contacting a man of your... unique... reputation." The Duke stopped by a small trolley parked in the corner of the foyer, withdrawing from a cylinder packed with Ice Elthr a chilled bottle of vintage wine. Popping the cork with a twist of a silver screw, he motioned to two seats across a rather large table to one side of the room, a masterfully crafted chalice of crystalline glass placed beside each. "Please, be seated, and join me in having the first taste of this fine Levant wine. It just came in from the capitol of the Old Kingdom yesterday. Evidently, it was recovered from the cellar of old King Soleil himself!" The duke gave a hearty laugh, dextrously pouring an equal portion in both their cups. Seating himself, he swirled his glass for a moment before taking a slight sip, not hesitating so as to prove to his doubtless untrustworthy guest that he was not trying to poison him. "Ah, but of course, you, my friend, will no doubt be much more interested by the matter of why you're here. Down to business, then." Setting the chalice aside, he reached into a small bin beside his seat, withdrawing a small folder from within it and placing it on the table.

"As you may know, I am Arist of Cerlitz, the Duke to whom this Principality was left by the late King," He began. "As such, it is my duty, first and foremost, to ensure that peace, order, and prosperity are maintained here in this province. Although in the days immediately following the disappearance of the Monarchs - nasty times, those - that was simple, to an extent, due to Meridioch's opportune placement, recently, the situation has... changed, shall we say?" Opening the folder, he withdrew a thin sheet of reflective metal, almost like a mirror in appearance. Yet, when the assassin might look into it, it would not be his own image he would see, but rather, the visage of a small, fragile-looking girl with pale skin and glistening, unnatural eyes the color of the wine the Duke had poured for him. Aside from these things, not much else could be seen, as she wore a heavy black cloak and hood that concealed most of her distinctive features from view.

"Recently, this girl has been seen in states all across the continent. One day in Venn, the next in Reinvale, another in Calster. Most recently, she was seen just a few miles outside of Meridioch," The Duke said seriously. "Not much is known about who she is, but what is known is that she possesses power on par with a Firstborn. It's for that reason that pretty much everyone in any position of power is trying to get their hands on her. Apparently, the common suspicion is that she has some connection to the Monarchs. Some say she's Soleil's long lost daughter. Others think she's an emissary of Sol descended from the heavens to bring light to the world. I think both of those theories are hogwash, but what I do know for sure is that the power of a Firstborn would be more than enough to level the mountains surrounding Meridioch, boil the Meridian River, and bring an end to all that I've struggled to accomplish here since the Kingdom fell. That's why, before anyone else can get their hands on her, I want you to hunt her down, and bring her to me. With her strength, I could ensure that Cerlitz becomes the foremost power in the world. I might even be able to reunite the Old Kingdom and bring an end to this unsightly era of wars and power struggles." Smiling, the Duke withdrew something else from the bin beside his chair: a large wooden box from inside which a metallic clatter resounded. Placing it on the table, he opened it, revealing the glittering of several large stacks of gold coins inside. "Of course, every man has his price, and I'm more than willing to pay yours. Half of this will be given to you for accepting the job, with the rest being awarded when you successfully return with the girl. Naturally, in order to ensure that none of her strength will be wasted, I'll be wanting her alive. So, what do you think? Can you do it?"

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Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: The Fair Traveler Character Portrait: Kurai Niji
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Location: Meridioch, Gold Quarter
Time: Present
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Niji did not move at all as the young man stepped out from the darkness, much younger and fairer than the young Noxi had expected. From his dealings with humans, Niji had expected someone much more old to be in the position that the man in front of him now had. But the thought was pushed aside as Niji’s sudden spike of interest faded away as quickly as it had come. The Noxi watched as the man introduced himself, the human’s arms opened wide as if to welcome Niji into his abode. It was too…relaxing for the Noxi, too familiar for strangers to act like that. Regarding the Duke with suspicion, Niji stood where he was, not moving an inch even as the Duke offered him a beverage to drink. I do not need to drink. Niji thought out, acting as if the Duke would be able to hear what he thought in his mind. But he knew that the sentiment would not travel over and Niji did not open his mouth to speak. He let the Duke talk on, listening as the man detailed exactly what he expected out of the mission- the target that Niji would be after. “Apparently, the common suspicion is that she has some connection to the Monarchs. Some say she's Soleil's long lost daughter. Others think she's an emissary of Sol descended from the heavens to bring light to the world.” Niji’s eyes widened slightly, surprise filling his mind as he considered the probabilities of the rumors actually being true. Improbable. He knew- much of Sol’s light had long since passed away from the land as soon as the monarch’s had vanished. Niji and the other Noxi could feel as Luna pressed her power ever more on the land, catching men, women, child, in her web of corruption. But could it be?

His hands unconsciously dug at the wounds on his arms once more, scratching away at the incantations that subdued him and forced him to serve. The marks that covered his arms in ever-lasting pain like fire burning into his flesh repeatedly. “I want you to hunt her down, and bring her to me. With her strength, I could ensure that Cerlitz becomes the foremost power in the world. I might even be able to reunite the Old Kingdom and bring an end to this unsightly era of wars and power struggles." Niji could hear Yoru and Kuro snort from within, their beaks opening up in mirth to jeer and yell at the man whom Niji now faced. Reunite the Old Kingdom! Kuro sneered, flapping his wings as he circled within. He wishes to use her power for himself! Yoru joined in, hissing angrily as he tugged at Niji’s flesh, drawing blood and meat off of the Noxi’s shoulder. Selfish. Human’s are selfish- He closed his eyes. Caws filled with pain echoed through Niji’s ears- painful cries only he could hear- as Yoru and Kuro fell back within, their claws tugging uselessly to Niji’s mind. You know we speak truth, fool! Their banter gone, Niji opened his eyes once more as he ignored the blood that dripped from his finger tips, the rest of his body unscathed besides his wounded arms.

“So, what do you think? Can you do it?" The man asked Niji, causing the Noxi to reopen his eyes and stare once again at his client. His gaze flickered down to the meaningless gold coins the man flashed in his direction before once again focusing on the Duke’s face. “I will…be able to finish your request.” Niji said, his voice snaking through the whole room though his mind was elsewhere. “But…what other information do you have of this girl? On what do you have of her location? Her powers? Her looks?” An incantation quickly spread through Niji’s mind, causing waves of pain to course through his body once again. Nice try, grandfather. A sneer appeared on Niji’s face as he ripped the spell that forced Niji into feigned obedience, causing a large snap to reverberate throughout the whole room. Niji threw his head back, a slight sigh exiting his body as he could feel the voices wound themselves once again comfortably around his own, mixing in their murmured calls for death and agony with his own. “Nevermind…” His voice said as Niji composed himself once more, wiping off whatever emotion had appeared on his face, “If she is as powerful as you claim…then I will be able to follow the tales and find her on my own.” Waving Yoru forward, Niji allowed the Wraith to materialize and fly over to the table. The Wraith perched in front of the gold coins, cawing at the man as he glared at him with his multiple eyes before picking up the pouch and taking off again to land on Niji’s shoulder.

“It is done.” Without a second word, Niji stepped into the shadow, the room and the man vanishing from sight as he dragged himself into the other world. The one that he had been closed off from for so long. The blood that coursed down from his arm and fingers weakened Niji but at the same time invigorated him with an anger, a need that caused him to hasten his stride through the darkness. He would have to find the woman. Niji could not care for the human world and the discord that had blown into reality with the disappearances of the monarchs. Niji cold not care less if the woman would allow this all to die away and allow another era of peace. He cared only for himself; he would need her powers if he were to think about taking revenge.

He would need her dead, her vengeful spirit as a wraith within his control. A hollow laugh left Niji as he stepped out and into a small alley, his face drained of all color, cold sweat rolling down his forehead. How wrong was the Duke for telling Niji about the existence of the young girl, to show him the way and build on the legends that followed behind her path. If she is to blame anyone, Niji thought, stepping into another shadow, his cape disappearing from sight, it would only be those like him whom allow her powers to grow. She cannot blame those like me whom are like hounds drawn to the scent of flesh and meat.

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Chuckling to himself, the young Duke kicked back in his seat, swirling his wine in its glass as his guest gave his assent, and then hastily departed. All things considered, convincing the famed assassin to pursue his target had been easier than he'd thought. Of course, he didn't delude himself for a moment into thinking that money was the only reason that the Noxi had taken the job. He hadn't gotten where he was by being blind to the intentions of others, and was more than aware that, above all else, the legendary clan of black assassins sought power. Without a doubt, the man he'd just hired through talk of naive idealism and of worldly things such as money would not uphold his end of the bargain, and would try to claim his prey for himself. But that was fine, Arist mused, sipping his wine. He was the ruler of all Cerlitz, and the commander in chief of its armies. Once the Black Assassin found the Firstborn, Arist would send his full forces to capture her. Even assuming that her vast powers allowed her to escape capture, he had one other ace up his sleeve which he was certain would be more than enough to subdue his prey, and the hunter he'd allowed to catch her scent, all in one fell swoop.

Two red eyes flashed in the darkness, and the Duke rose, placing a hand over his heart as he gave a deep bow to the small shape clad in a black cloak that emerged seemingly from thin air, the presence of a vast soul abruptly making itself known when moments prior, there had been absolutely no signs of her existence, let alone her presence. "How was I, milady?" The Duke asked with a smirk. "Did I bait the trap to your satisfaction?"

"You played your part well, my dear Duke," Replied the voice of a young woman as the cloaked figure paced around the table, glancing towards the box, portrait, and wineglass still sitting where the assassin had only just been. She gave a faint giggle, a dress of cream colored silk appearing for a moment as she parted her cloak, raising the wineglass that their guest had refused to her lips and taking a sip. "Still, he's as good as they say. I certainly expected that he'd at least take the gold I prepared with him. I suppose tracking him will be a bit more difficult without my tracers to rely on." She abruptly spat something upon the marble floor, revealing a fine metallic powder that glimmered in the light, separated from the wine in which it had been artfully concealed.

"Can you do it?" Asked the Duke.

"Can I? You silly fool," laughed the young woman. "My powers may have failed me as of late, but darkness and I are no strangers to one another. A taint as vast as that poor boy's will be a simple matter to follow." Turning, she faced him, casting her cloak aside as the last rays of the setting sun bathed her lithe form in silhouette. "The plan will proceed unaltered. Send for your armies, Duke. We have much work to do."


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The village of Arlinn was a far cry from Meridioch, being a rather small farming town on the very border of Cerlitz. This tiny community saw many strange and unusual visitors, and so very few people batted an eye at the young woman who wandered the streets aimlessly, peering at the various unusual sights all around her. There were farmers at market, loudly proclaiming their wares and their prices to any passerby who would listen. Livestock of all sorts bleated, grunted, chuffed and squawked all around, while various travelers like the girl herself walked to and fro, marveling at the various types of food, tools, and miscellaneous nicknacks being sold.

"Hey! Miss! Interested in a snack for the road?" Called a man nearby. The Traveler turned, pointing a pale hand to her face as she cocked her head to the side in confusion. "Huh? Me?" she asked quizzically, her soft voice barely audible over the noise of the rural marketplace. The shopkeeper nodded, and so, timidly, the girl approached, her eyes wandering slowly over the merchant's wares. "What's this?" She asked, a hint of curiosity in her voice underneath its monotone cadence. She pointed to a small, maple-leaf shaped pastry, the likes of which she'd never seen before.

"It's a local treat for the harvest festival - a sweet bun with sugar filling inside," Explained the man. The Traveler nodded innocently, a slight smile appearing on her lips as she gazed at the pastry she obviously wanted, looking for all the world like a child in a candy shop.

"Oh," She murmured, and in a moment of realization, her expression of innocent appetite disappeared in a flash. "But I don't have anything I can pay you with..." She said sadly. The man shook his head and smiled. "Don't worry about it," He said with a laugh. "I have more of these than anybody's gonna buy at this rate, and besides, I can hardly refuse a cute face like yours, now can I?" He grinned, extending the treat. "This one's on the house."

The Traveler reached out her hand to take it, her eagerness returning, but once again hesitated. "Taking things without paying for them... is bad, I thought..." She murmured, seeming unsure of whether or not it was really alright. "I'll just go. I'll be fine. Probably." Giving this unconvincing reply, she tried to back off, only for her stomach to give a rather loud rumble. She placed a hand over the traitorous region, seeming perplexed. True, she hadn't eaten in a few days, but that was nothing new. It was no reason for somebody to go out of his way to feed her... But the shopkeeper merely smiled, placing the treat in her half-raised hand. "Your stomach says otherwise," He chuckled. "Just take it and enjoy. That's more than enough payment for me."

"Oh... Thank you very much," said the Traveler, and, giving a clumsy, almost comically exaggerated bow, she wandered off into the marketplace, her new gift in hand, taking a bite of the sweet pastry as she went. She smiled. It really was delicious. The shopkeeper, meanwhile, merely smiled and returned to his work, giving a slight sigh of sadness. "Poor girl," He muttered.

The Traveler continued her aimless wandering. She was looking for something - or was it someone? She couldn't remember. But no matter where she went, nothing seemed to fit. She couldn't find whatever it was, and that irked her. Sighing glumly to herself, she slumped against a nearby wall, staring blankly at what was left of the maple bun. To her surprise, however, she wasn't alone, for something fuzzy brushed up against her arm. Looking down, she heard a slight whimper as a small, scruffy, one-eyed dog pressed its cold nose against the back of her hand, snuffling excitedly at the food she was carrying. The Traveler glanced down at the bun in her hand, and then, without a second thought, lowered it, extending it to the dog.

"Are you hungry, too?" She asked, the slightest of smiles appearing on her lips. "Here. Take it and enjoy," She said, parroting the words of the shopkeeper as she allowed the dog to devour what was left of her treat. Gently reaching out her hand, she placed two fingers on the pup's head, one behind each ear, giving it a few gentle scratches as it slurped up the bun with gleeful abandon. The hound's tail wagged with delight, and it gave a hearty bark, slurping her on the cheek. The Traveler merely brushed the slobbers aside, patting her unexpected fellow on the head before the mutt swiftly retreated back into a nearby alley, leaving her once again alone.

"Not... here. Not what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for... What was it? Can't remember..." She murmured, her voice barely audible. Groaning, she stood once again, her tired legs carrying her away from the marketplace. If it wasn't here, she'd keep searching until she found it - even if she didn't know what she was looking for herself. As the village faded over the hills behind her, the gray skies overhead flashed with lightning. It seemed a storm was coming.

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Character Portrait: The Fair Traveler Character Portrait: Kurai Niji
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It had been hasty of Niji to leave so quickly from the Duke’s office. Even days after his abrupt exit, Niji had constantly been berating himself for his hasty move. It was uncharacteristic of him to act like that, he thought, and it was definitely not due to his many months of imprisonment. But Niji was sure that something had been off about the Duke of Cerlitz- something that had sent a warning blazing through his mind. The Wraiths that had resided in Niji’s body had suddenly awoken with a frenzy the moment the doors had opened, their mouths opening wide as if it were a time to feast on power, human souls, death. Someone else had been there, Niji felt- it had definitely been true, for his tales had made his senses oh so extra-sensitive. But he had not been able to pinpoint exactly whom it was…or where the person was at. No matter how hard he had strained his ears, nose, eyes- no matter how hard Yoru and Kuro had tried to find the source of the tension in the air- nothing had come up. Not liking the feeling that he had been out-played, out-smarted, Niji had immediately retreated from the room, and had left the pouch of money he had taken from the Duke on one of the streets leading away from Cerlitz. He knew by now that the payment would have been spread between many of the beggars dotting the streets of the city, and, well, Niji believed it was the only indirect way their Duke had benefited them at all.

For a few days, Niji had spent his time at Anivia, the next town over from Meridioch closer to the border of the district of Cerlitz. There, he had resided in the shadows, constantly watching and spying as he tried to gather information on his target. “She is definitely the daughter of the Monarchs!” He heard from a street merchant gossip to his group of friends, their smoke clogging his lungs as they had heartily laughed under the warmth of the Sun. “I have heard she is very fair, pretty, and can perform incantations unlike anything you have ever seen!” One of the merchant’s friends chiming in, his hands waving around as he spoke. Niji’s brow furrowed as he had retreated back into the shadows, sighing slightly as he found himself once again in the attic of the abandoned house he had managed to find. Dust clung to every surface in the large room, mixing in the air that Niji disturbed with every small movement. He coughed as the mixture of dust and smoke clung to the inside walls of his throat, but his coughing only increased the amount of dust in the air. For now, however, Niji knew that he would have to live with his circumstances for a while longer- none of the tales directly led him to the “Traveler” whom everyone talked about. The wounds on his arms stung repeatedly as Niji had repeatedly tried to search through the town for more news before he finally gave up and had continued on his way towards the border. With each passing day he knew that the spells on his soul were once again coalescing into form, his endeavors to rip them open fading into shadow.

His days were limited- they were trying to poison him.

Following nothing but his senses, Niji had followed behind Kuro and Yoru whom he had sent out as scouts. They led the way, their multiple eyes seeing far and wide to all that followed and surrounded Niji. He, by now, knew that there was a group of men following him on his trip. From Meridioch to Anivia and now on the boundless road he walked on- Niji had decided to let them follow along, not sure if he was acting overly paranoid or not. But his senses told him that they were not a friendly company; he ignored them, trudging along through the shadows to the next city. This one was even more decrepit, poor than the last, as was the general trend throughout the District of Cerlitz as one traveled further and further away from the “golden center” of Meridioch. Once again, Niji had immediately set off to search for more hints on the Traveler- but he knew that he was closer than before. It was as if a force was dragging on him from the inside, pulling him ever towards the vast amount of energy many claimed she had. But still, the tales were as useless as the ones he had gathered in Anivia, and with each muttered consent on the girl’s ambiguity, the less Niji was sure if he was on the right track or not. Yet, soon enough, Yoru had come flying back, his beak immediately cawing out the name of a city Niji had never planned on visiting: Arlinn.

Without a second word, Niji had immediately set off once again, passing as fast as he could through the shadows as he was drawn towards her. He knew, indubitably, that he was gaining ground to the one called the Traveler, and he knew that she knew not of his coming. How powerful would she be? Niji had thought as he had run from shadow to shadow, dashing until his legs were tired from over-exertion. Would he be able to take her soul for his own? He knew not the answer. But Niji was pushed to hasty action as the curse developed an iron grasp around his neck, slowly choking his life out of his physical body. His wraiths grew impatient for his demise with every passing day, eager to move on to find a more powerful host. Niji fell into an never before felt panic as he had raced through the rural countryside of Cerlitz, all thoughts of the pursuing party long since forgotten as he had dashed into the village of Arlinn. Gasping for breath, Niji looked left and right at the small alleyway he was in before fixing his cape, making sure that it covered his face in shadow. It was midday; he was weak.

But he had to find her. Walking out into the bright sunlight of Sol, Niji winced slightly as he turned and made his way towards the marketplace. He knew that she was there, somehow- it was as if he were a fly flying towards honey. Niji was mindlessly drawn towards the ever-shifting mass of power that was the Traveler. Pushing aside the normal humans he walked past, Niji fumbled out of Arlinn, the trail of ever so sweet and enticing energy drawing him along. A storm brewed in the skies as Niji stumbled into the hilly borders of Cerlitz. Her. He could see a form in the foreground, a young girl no older, no taller, as lonesome as he was. The Traveler.

Niji felt his breath leave him as he stood there in shock, his eyes wide as he saw men riding towards her from the side, swords and shields raised. Each branded with the crest of the royal house of Cerlitz. The Duke. Cursing, Niji dashed forward, no word leaving his mouth as he had immediately grabbed the girl’s hand and dashed immediately into the shadows, pulling her along with him with an urgency to protect her. For she was his way out of the bloody mess he had created. He would need her alive.

But he was weak.

Crashing out of the shadows, Niji stumbled and fell in a sweating heap into the forest that dotted the southern border of Cerlitz. He knew they were going to follow with guns and arrows, but, for now, only the sounds of fauna greeted his ears. “Are you okay?” He asked the Traveler, his lungs gasping for air as pain spread through his chest.

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His prey hadn't been easy to track. Even with the help of the lady to whom he'd pledged his support, the assassin had noticed quickly that something was afoot. The heart of the Principality of Cerlitz was at peace thanks to his cunning negotiations with neighboring provinces, and its borders, although occasionally subject to small-scale incursions, were generally well defended enough as to keep things in order. He supposed any signs of military mobilizing in the capitol, then, would be more than enough to tip off the man he'd hoped to soundly dupe as to his true intentions. He was no fool, after all, and could not risk the fate of his prize by leaving her in the hands of some self-important, unscrupulous assassin. He was going to save this kingdom, and to do that, he would need her alive - at least, for a while.

The men riding behind him were growing uneasy. They'd been trying to follow the directions of the cloaked woman at the head of the party, but her orders could be generously labeled "schizophrenic." It was perfectly understandable, given that she was tailing a professional killer who was doubtless deliberately trying to lose them, whilst at the same time keeping her senses on the lookout for signs of their target, whose vast soul would doubtless resound with her own. Yet, so far, nothing had-

"There you are," Whispered the hooded rider beside him. The Duke's eyes went wide as the young woman beside him turned, a grin playing upon a pale face that was completely shrouded in shadows. "Rejoice, Duke. We've finally found what we're looking for." Raising a finger from underneath her cloak, she tapped a finger on a sheet of reflective metal he held. In an instant, its surface shifted and warped, forming a map with a single blob of liquified metal moving slowly across it in one direction, and a second rushing towards it, while a third moved at a steady pace towards the both of them. Realizing in an instant that he was about to be beaten to his target, the Duke wasted no time in making his move.

"Form up and follow me! Don't hesitate for an instant! Our prize is finally in our hands!" Snapping the reins of his own black stallion, Arist rushed out ahead of his followers, who hastily picked up speed to follow him. In an instant, they had split around a single white pony at the center of the column, atop which sat the cloaked woman, who watched them as they left. It would be best not to jeopardize her plans by appearing in person so soon, after all. Not until she could see what this "Fair Traveler" could do. Only then could she make her move to lay claim to the power that was rightfully hers.




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The first raindrops were already beginning to fall on the leaves of the trees above her, but whether or not the girl noticed, she didn't show. She merely continued walking, her eyes set straight ahead, towards the sun setting beyond the dying canopy of green above her. What she was searching for wasn't here - of that she was certain. But what was it, then? What was she looking for if she hadn't found it yet? Surely, it must have been rare. Was it a gem? An artifact? A person? She didn't know. All she knew was that she had to find it. That was her purpose.

A rustling amidst the bushes drew her scarlet gaze away from the path. Several dark forms were rising from amidst the underbrush, their bodies black and crumbling as their dead eyes stared blankly in her direction. Some were clad in rags, others in the tattered fragments of armor. Men and women alike, they had all died and been cast out for fear of what they had become. The Traveler looked upon them sadly. "How sad," She said quietly, stepping backward as her spectral bow took form on her wrist. From the dirt below, an arrow of small stones and pebbles took form. "You have nothing left anymore, do you?" Drawing back the string, she took aim at the first Graveless as it rushed her, brandishing an old sword. The arrow snapped forward, flowing through its target almost completely unopposed, shattering the creature's chest into dust.

I want my family to be safe... Moaned the specter of the fallen knight as its crumbling body returned to the earth. Reaching down, the Traveler gently laid hold of the creature's sword, her bow's prongs snapping forward and merging with the rusted metal to form a pristine, jet-black blade. "Gaia, at least, is at peace, and so are they," She said quietly. "So too should you be."

A second Graveless closed in - a woman brandishing the branch of a fallen tree. She could hear its screams in a voice indecipherable by Human ears. Why was my child taken from me?! It howled, bringing down its makeshift club as the wanderer in black stepped to the side, gently, mercifully plunging her glistening blade into the dead woman's side, removing it as the pitiful creature fell to the ground, a corpse at last. "That which was taken... cannot be returned. But at the very least, I can bear your sadness for you." A third Graveless gave a feral howl, leaping towards her from behind, its hands extended to tear out the young girl's throat. She turned, placing her free hand on her wrist to stabilize it as she gave a quick chop that split the dead man apart at the waist. "I'm like you," She said, giving a sad smile as she turned to face the last of her deceased attackers, a man in rusted knight's armor who stood back, his decaying face concealed beneath long, ragged white hair.

"Not like us," Whispered the creature, its voice cracking with the strain of countless years of disuse. "You are bright, like a bonfire in the spring festival. We are as a flame that is fading. We, who have nothing left but to live."

"'Bright...?'" Asked the girl, lowering her sword. She shook her head slowly. "You're wrong. I'm empty inside. That's why I can hold your sadness."

"You're... empty?" Asked the Graveless, taken aback. "We understand," He said, lowering his head as he stepped forward, like a prisoner towards the executioner's block. To any who might have seen this scene unfolding, it would appear the most unnatural of occurrences. A Graveless, a being defined by its will to live, accepting its fate in graceful surrender. The sad girl nodded in understanding, and stepped forward, raising her blade to do what had to be done. "Such twisted beings you are. You, whose souls are neither black or white, but gray. You, whose hearts are locked in eternal conflict. You, who have nothing left but-"

The blade severed the Graveless' head cleanly, sending its grey mane rolling amidst the dirt. When it came to a halt, it sat atop the stump of its neck, its rotted lips pursed in a smile.

...regret...

"And because of that, I can carry yours, too," She whispered to the head, gently closing its eyes as its voice, too, sank into the silence of the forest. The blade on her hand disappeared, and she turned, giving a sad sigh as she returned to the road, and to the distant yearning of a quest she could not remember.

She didn't know how long she had walked for when she finally cleared the forest. But when she did, she found once again that she was not alone. As the road turned to go along the side of a large cliff surrounding a rocky gash torn into the earth, there were several men on horseback waiting on the very top of this ravine, overlooking the road. Their leader, a man in white, his black hair flowing in the breeze, dismounted and stepped forward, his amber eyes peering as the girl's confused face as her hood fell back against the wind, revealing her disheveled dark hair and her gleaming red orbs as they stared curiously back at him.

"So this is the Traveler. I must admit, you certainly look the part," Said the young man, kneeling on the ledge above her. "I must apologize for my rudeness, but we have little time. You must come with me." She shook her head.

"I... can't do that. I have to keep looking. There's something I have to find," She said quietly, averting her eyes. The man's gaze was piercing, calculating, and cold. She didn't like it.

"Something you have to find...?" He murmured, an expression of dawning realization forming on his countenance. "I see. So you're looking for it too?" He asked. But just then, he seemed to notice something on a sheet of metal in his hand, and realization turned to shock and dismay. "There's no time!" He exclaimed, turning to the riders behind him, who had already begun dismounting and clambering down onto the road below. "Take her, and retreat!" The Traveler drew back. She didn't know what this man wanted, but he knew what she was looking for. Should she have gone with him? Her every instinct screamed against it, for she recognized the sheet of metal in his hands, instinctively if not consciously. That was the tool of her enemy. Enemy? Who was her enemy? She didn't know, but this man was a threat. He was trying to stop her search. She had to run!

Run... where could she run? She was cut off, surrounded on all sides by armed men. She didn't want to hurt them, couldn't have hurt them if she tried. She wanted to move, but her body wouldn't respond. There was no escape, but there had to be an escape. Her journey couldn't end here. She had to see her mission through to the end. Her entire being, her reason for being alive, depended on finding that which she sought. She couldn't fail here. She backed up to the edge of the cliff, gazing nervously over her shoulder at the chasm far, far below. She couldn't survive if she fell that far. Then... was there no way out?

But just then, a cry of alarm came up from two of the soldiers between her and the forest as something - or rather, someone - forced them aside, darted forward, and grasped her by the hand, yanking her over the edge of the cliff. She made nary a sound as she fell save a small sigh of regret. So she had failed, then. Her eyes gazed upward, watching as the man in white shouted something incomprehensible. Was it a name? She didn't know. The sun was setting behind him, falling underneath the cliff atop which he stood. Everything was dark, bathed in shadow.

...Then, suddenly, she found herself staring up at the familiar leaves of the forest. A dream? She was sure she hadn't been sleeping. She looked around her, only to find that she wasn't alone. A strange figure, clad in a black cloak, was lying on the ground beside her, forcing himself onto all fours as he gasped frantically for breath. Had he saved her, then? She sat up, cocking her head to the side in confusion. Moving from a cliff to the forest wasn't possible. Yet he'd done it. How strange. He seemed tired. Had he hurt himself in the fall? She opened her mouth to ask, only to find her question echoed by the young man in exactly the same moment as she asked it.

""Are you okay?""

There was a brief silence for a moment as both of them stared at the other. The Traveler at last nodded, seeming confused. She hadn't hit anything on the way down, and the men around her hadn't attacked her before the young man showed up. He, on the other hand, looked much the worse for wear, considering the faint stains of lingering blood on his attire and the exhausted, pained look on his face. Why was he worried about her when he himself was in such a state? It didn't make sense.

More silence. He seemed to be staring at her quite intently. She wondered if she'd forgotten to say something she should have. Oh, right. After somebody did you a favor, there was a thing you were supposed to say. If only she could remember it... she placed a finger to her lips, trying to recall the phrase. Ah, right. That was it. She stood up, lifting the sides of her black skirt in a rather clumsy attempt at a curtsey. "Thank you," She said, bowing rather stiffly in a manner which completely ruined her attempt at elegance. Standing back up, she looked down at him in confusion, silhouetted by the setting sun glistening through the trees behind her, shining through her matted black hair in a manner that almost evoked the image of an angel. Yet, the paleness of her skin, darkness of her hair, and the blood red color of her eyes told a somewhat different story. Angel or devil, who was this girl? Not even she herself could have guessed the answer to that question.

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Character Portrait: The Fair Traveler
Character Portrait: Kurai Niji

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Character Portrait: Kurai Niji
Kurai Niji

"I will never forgive nor will I forget. Just like how I never forget the faces of my victims neither shall I forget the faces of those whom wrong me."

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Character Portrait: Kurai Niji
Kurai Niji

"I will never forgive nor will I forget. Just like how I never forget the faces of my victims neither shall I forget the faces of those whom wrong me."

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Character Portrait: Kurai Niji
Kurai Niji

"I will never forgive nor will I forget. Just like how I never forget the faces of my victims neither shall I forget the faces of those whom wrong me."


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