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  1. - Top - End - #931
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Archpaladin Zousha's Avatar

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    Default Re: Flight From Ironheart IC

    Hondshioh

    This trickster's murder of Odlak only increases Hondshioh's anger, pushing it past charging at the creature in a fury.

    He turns to Katashiko.

    "Take Rickster and flee. Leave the assassin to me. Valkyrie willing, I will meet you topside."

    He then raises Justice to a defensive position and advances slowly, focusing his rage on controlling everything within him so he did not make a single mistake. A single mistake had killed Odlak, and he was not going to let it happen to his other charges.

    He eyes the Harlequin, a silent challenge of his own in his gaze.

    Your move.

    He focuses on parrying and reflecting the creature's attacks, figuring he needed it to tire itself out on attacking him. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
    Last edited by Archpaladin Zousha; 2011-05-28 at 05:15 PM.
    "Reach down into your heart and you'll find many reasons to fight. Survival. Honor. Glory. But what about those who feel it's their duty to protect the innocent? There you'll find a warrior savage enough to match any dragon, and in the end, they'll retain what the others won't. Their humanity."

  2. - Top - End - #932
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Lonna's Avatar

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    MD, DC area
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    Default Re: Flight From Ironheart IC

    Pyrene

    In her many years of hardship, Pyrene had seen what true despair looked like dozens of times. She had seen it in the faces of women who had given up trying to please their husbands, because a beating was always coming but it was better than starvation. She had seen it bow the backs of men who worked too long and too hard and still could not feed their families. She had seen it in the stillness of children who didn't understand why their parents fought until the only way to vent the anger was on the child's body.

    Until now, she had thought such despair chose to prey only on the poor.

    Countess Amelia Ashargrin, only heir to Ashargrin County, a noble privileged from birth, and (most importantly) the closest thing Pyrene had to a friend, was now in the grip of that terrible emotion...

    And Pyrene could do nothing.

    Or perhaps... a bit more than nothing. Gently, Pyrene reached over and gripped her friend's hand. At the same time, casually, as if scratching an itch, she reached up and flicked open the catch on her mage collar, opening the golden blockade just enough to remove the anti-magic runes from her skin and let the power flow. As she lowered her hand, she raised her eyes to meet Amelia's own. "Please accept my wedding present," she whispered, and dove into the Countess' mind.

    Wild images spun past her in the darkness of their shared mental space, and Pyrene recognized them as Amelia's racing thoughts, full of confusion and anxiety. "Gently, gently," Pyrene soothed, knowing that Amelia would hear the words only in her mind. "I am giving you a sanctuary. All you will need to do is think of that word and wish to be beyond your body, and your mind will retreat. You will not see, hear, feel, taste or smell anything that your body is experiencing, only the sanctuary. I can only give you a few hours at a time, but I will anchor it in your mind as firmly as I can, so that you can retreat as many times as you need. I think I can make it so that the only way for them to take it from you will be to destroy your mind, which of course would be another kind of freedom."

    As Amelia began to understand what was happening, the flow of images slowed and calmed, and Pyrene set to work. She had experimented with manipulating and triggering thoughts and images (among other things) during those long lonely hours in her room, so she was prepared for this. She took her favorite of the not-dreams from her own memory, and began searching for the Core Image that Amelia held of herself, towing the not-dream behind her. It was not difficult to find the Core Image - it was close to the surface because Amelia was afraid that Cheran would change her through his cruelty, afraid that she would lose herself in his demented pleasure. Gently, Pyrene began to stitch the not-dream around the Core Image, anchoring it to the image itself with a single word written over and over in cold flame: SANCTUARY.

    It was her favorite not-dream because it was one of the first pleasant ones she had dreamed - it took place on a beach, surrounded by friends, laughter, and happiness. Then as the sun set over the water, the friends drifted away, until it was only her and her beloved, who held her gently until she fell asleep, warm and safe.

    Emerging from her light trance, Pyrene re-fastened her mage collar, feeling only a little drained. Based on the "attendent's" expression, the whole operation had taken only a minute, as she had hoped.
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  3. - Top - End - #933
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Gorgondantess's Avatar

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    Default Re: Flight From Ironheart IC

    Quote Originally Posted by Inspectre View Post
    “Yes.” Was Maurice’s one word reply, as she momentarily shifted into angel form to extend her wings, before resuming her human guise.
    At this point, she takes note as to just how much her wings have regenerated.

    “Hrm. Very interesting. Perhaps then the gods are on your side of the conflict, and not ours. That would certainly be unexpected!”
    She almost smiles- almost- and makes a reply. "I... highly doubt that."

    “The knives I gave to your subordinate did come from rock dug up in my homeland, and so I would appreciate it if you gave them back at some point. If you are still concerned about them being employed against us, simply keep them from me for another twenty-four hours – the runes are designed to erase themselves if I don’t chant over them daily. We don’t want anyone stealing our work.”
    She waves a hand. "Fair enough. At this juncture, I don't believe you'll be using them against me anyways. At least, not any time soon."

    “I do know that the magic of the runes targets the soul and not the body – thus, whatever armors or other defenses you can erect will be largely useless.”
    If she were human, she would've made a double take about now. She makes a mental note to test out the daggers she had from him on various materials at some other time- before the runes faded, of course.

    “And now to your more difficult questions. The group you encountered was a mere watching party, a handful of men among handfuls that are scattered across the continent to watch and wait. Being the closest to your original position, they were sent to investigate the disturbance the Oracles felt. It was hoped but not expected that they would be able to deal with you before you could reach full strength, if indeed you were an actual Archdemon. What a nonsense idea, don’t you think? But such is the way of life for a Dusk Warden, and they went to fight you as they were duty bound to do. My entire society is like that – bound in a rigid net of ritual and discipline, no place or time for anything but vigilance and duty.”
    "...And yet you earlier said that your organization was content to watch and wait. Then why did these men attack me? Are you so disorganized? Splintered? Unfocused? Do some work against each other? Or are you simply doing what you humans have a tendency to do- believing two contradictory things at the same time?"

    She mentally sighs at the ensuing rant- and leaning forward- but makes no outward action, simply chalking it up to more human nonsense.

    “What I am about to suggest is worse than treason, it is blasphemy, a violation of everything I have been taught. But the way I see it, my people are all already dead. Whether you kill us all – something which I find doubtful, given that my society exists for the sole reason of hunting you down and killing you – or whether we kill you is irrelevant. Even if you are destroyed, my society will go on, once again confident that the sacrifices it has made are worth it to keep the world safe from the likes of you. But the sacrifices are *not* worth it. Someday, there truly will be no more Archdemons, and my society’s vigilance will be in vain. And then my society will stagnate, it will decay, and then it will die. I don’t want that to happen - I am sick of this profitless cycle of death. And while I have no reason to ask this of you, I have only one more question for you. Will you join me in trying to save my people from themselves?”

    The man extends one hand out to you beseechingly.
    She ignores his hand, reaching over to break off a chunk of a pew and absorb it slowly, more efficiently, lazily chewing on it, as it were. Food for thought. Or, matter. Same thing.
    "I see no reason why I should do as you say."
    She pauses for a moment to let that sink in, and to gather her thoughts.
    "I have not utterly dismissed it, of course, but you've hardly won me over to your case. First of all, you're a human, and I can't say I'm particularly fond of that. My days here have been far less enjoyable due to the meddling of humans. And you've hardly shown to be above the emotions and illogical whims that you humans seem to be such slaves to. And... save your organization? Unless your idea of saving is particularly perverted, I must wonder why you would come to me, of all entities, to enlist my aid. The last thing I want to do is save your organization. Granted, your method of saving would involve nullifying them as a threat... but it would be far more efficient in general to simply dismantle them, and again my skills are far more suited to that! Again, granted, I couldn't simply begin to slaughter them all in open combat- they have, as you have said, devoted all of their beings to the sole purpose of killing me.
    The fish rots at the head, you see, so my thinking is why not cut off the head.
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    Oh snap, 2x running gag combo!

    I could simply destroy these Dusk Wardens from the top down. And while I am hardly well disposed towards subterfuge, it would be by far the most efficient means of doing this.
    Considering all this, with the information thus far presented to me, I will not save your organization. However, I do believe we still may be able to reach some sort of compromise in this matter."
    She stands up, finished with her assimilation.
    "Until I decide exactly what to do with you, you will stay here as my guest. For now, I need to analyze all this further. One of my humans will attend to you in a moment." She gets up and strides out, gesturing for Maurice to follow. Outside, she approaches either her High Priest or the leader of the village.
    "Set up our guest- the man in the church- with lodgings. As fine as possible. Grant him anything he wishes within the village, and make it known to him that you will do so. Make sure there's someone watching him at all times. If he attempts to leave, detain him in whatever means possible and notify me immediately. And do note that he is a trained killer.
    That done, fetch me those stone knives he left."
    Those in hand, she gestures to Maurice again. "Come. Let's go for a stroll."

    Outside of the village proper, she begins to gently probe. "So... what did you think of that fellow, and all his talk?"
    --This conversation will continue... once a reply is given.--
    Once done speaking to Maurice, she waves a hand. "Go back to the village and occupy yourself however you desire. Maybe help the humans for their vapidity. I have things I must do."
    Once Maurice is gone, she unwraps one of the stone knives. She steels herself, for this was going to hurt. A lot.
    She plunges the knife into her palm, closing hard her eyes to shut out the pain. Once she can think clearly- knife in her hand notwithstanding- she begins to test the waters, trying to alter various portions of her body, assimilate objects, move in an effective fashion, all while impaled and impaired.
    Results suitably analyzed from that, she pulls it from her hand with a sigh of relief and reforms. The hard part was over. Next, she tries the edge against various substances- a tree, a rock, her calcified hand, the armor she forms, her sword, and sees how it cuts through each, to test the extent of just what defenses might be useless against the blade.
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  4. - Top - End - #934
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    WhiteKnight777's Avatar

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    Umber

    Umber gave the Baron a polite inclination of his head when they arrived, but no more. It was a telling move - when dealing with someone like the Baron, every action had weight behind it. It was how the game was played. In his greeting, Umber conveyed to the Baron his estimation - wary respect, but absolutely no hint of subservience. Umber was not going to put on a submissive face for this man - He hadn't bowed to anyone since time out of mind, and he wasn't about to start now.

    That said, his lips split in genuine amusement. The Baron was an echo of himself - and if Umber's suspicions were correct, a great deal more than that. Like the baron, Umber wore a fine suit - close cut, showing off his trim, toned form. Of course, the clothing mattered little in Umber's case - he, and Fianna as well, were predators, as was the Baron. It showed in every graceful step, in the way his eyes slid over the crowd. Even in his initial reaction to the Baron - one did not show weakness to a predator. Of course, the Baron would undoubtedly sense the heavy weave of defensive magics layered over Umber and Fianna both - and Umber subtly extended his arcane senses, a quiet, brief examination as he struck up conversation with the man who had imprisoned them both.

    When he spoke, Umber's voice was mellow, pleasant, cultured, and faintly amused. His usual affectation, in other words. "Your Grace. So nice to see you again - and under considerably more genial circumstances as well. I so rarely get invited to nice parties anymore." He paused, briefly, searching his memory. "The last wedding I attended must have been six or seven centuries ago." He said, as if he were talking of years rather than their hundreds. He waved the hand that wasn't hooked through Fianna's elbow dismissively.

    "But in any case, I must thank you for your hospitality. such a lovely occasion. And, one notes, an extremely advantageous bit of positioning on your part." He gave the Baron a direct look, still thinking quietly. "But you're not the kind of man to be satisfied with merely temporal power. If you were, you wouldn't need me, and I wouldn't be interested in working with you." He said, letting the implications of that sink in before continuing. "But business can wait. If I can spend fifty years in a jar, I'm fairly sure I can spend an evening socializing with the nobility." He laughed "You know, in the old days, we had duels during the wedding feast. It was a time for the settling of grievances, and it was vastly entertaining."

    He nuzzled Fianna affectionately and sighed a little. "Ah, and the dancers - all in sand-silk and gossamer, lithe youths and maidens, in the peak of health..." He traced his tongue over his teeth and shuddered a little, in memory of indulgences past and thirsts now gone to dust. "But I am rambling. We shall discuss business after you've attended to your duties as host - I would prefer to have your undivided attention." His mouth set into a firm line, and he paused before continuing. "And I must speak with you regarding my erstwhile colleague. The huntress seems a restless creature, and I owe her old debts of friendship. If she is in bondage, I would see her released." He flashed a hungry grin. "She never had a taste for such things."

    He waved his hand again, and began to lead Fianna off to mingle. "But all that can wait. I shall speak with you at your earliest convenience, your Grace. Many congratulations on your son's joyous day."

  5. - Top - End - #935
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Flight From Ironheart IC

    Incom Morgan

    ”No no no no NOO!!!!!”

    Biting back the rest of his screams Incom gathers Sara up in his arms. Looking around quickly he sees nothing that could be of help to one of flesh and blood. Yes his previous life he was a soldier, knowledgeable in basic first-aid but her wound was something that would require either a healer of magic or needle, neither of which was he.

    Looking up he fires off his regenerated jet’s flying up towards the sky. It was risky, not knowing what was nearby but every minute he spent not doing something was another minute where infection could set in, more of her blood was lost, anything else could happen.

    Using the bulk of his body to shield her from branches and leaves he bursts through the forest canopy. Spinning around in place he looks around, comparing his location to his memory, of the mental maps of the known world that were part of every GHAST. Besides that he scanned for signs of civilization, buildings, fires, movement, anything.

    Desperately searching he prepared himself to fly towards the most likely candidate of a place that would have a healer as soon as he was able to identify it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Inspectre
    I'm good at making you fear the unknown. Pwenet is good at making you fear the known, which had been the unknown five minutes before he pushed you off screaming into the abyss.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kalirren View Post
    I'm feeling this real hard now.
    Curse you, Pwenet. Curse you.... You had my hopes up there...

  6. - Top - End - #936
    Orc in the Playground
     
    Iethloc's Avatar

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    Sohssal

    ”Ah, yes. I should take care of your body now, before I get caught up in my next plan. This shouldn't take too long, just follow me,” he said.

    Sohssal already knew many spells and rituals to preserve demon flesh. It would not be that much harder to extend it to human flesh with the right materials. A few hours of searching would hopefully turn up at least a scrap of preserved demon flesh, which should allow him to force the spell upon human flesh (most likely temporarily, but better than nothing). Then he went out and retrieved Roger's body, and took a few minutes to touch it up with his enchanted letter opener and some healing magic. He quickly sewed the demonhide onto the corpse's side and used it to catalyze the preservation spell.

    ”Your body should be immune to decomposition, at least for a while. There shouldn't be any side effects except for being a preserved and possessed corpse, so try not to get too banged up. I could try adding some improvements after I acquire more materials,” he explained. The spells would take more energy than he was eager to give up, but an ally would be a more valuable resource now since his lab can provide at least the occasional opportunity to recharge.


    As for the spires, Sohssal already had some ideas. If this demon plague did work out well, he could use his magic to make a victim more pliable, then teach them the rituals to maintain the spires. Or, more immediately, he could collect up what shards were left from the crystal that once contained Crimson Jake. He suspected they were a more efficient way to store bound creatures. After making sure Roger fit in his old body again, Sohssal set off to collect the remains of the crystal to finally study them.
    Last edited by Iethloc; 2011-06-04 at 04:43 AM.
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  7. - Top - End - #937
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    The_Snark's Avatar

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    Mar

    "She..." Mar hesitated. She didn't want to repeat what the seer had said about her, didn't want to have to expose it again. (Had William not heard the first time? She had imagined William and Julian listening to every word, but she hadn't actually looked.) But the words used to describe the sinister Spy echoed in her head: You refuse to let anyone know the truth regarding you, preferring to let them make their own assumptions...

    It was more true than she wanted to admit, which was why it hurt. If it had been a lie she could have ignored it.

    "She scared me," Mar admitted, falling back on something that was undeniably true. "The things she said... it wasn't just that, but... remember what she said to you when she was fixing your leg, William? About how it hurt, but you shouldn't complain because it was good for you? Things like that, and the way she smiled..." Oh yes, that smile: all patience and veiled contempt when she had good news, like a lady putting on a show of graciousness for tiresome inferiors, and all too genuine when she had bad news to deliver. It was a pity she couldn't quite make herself say all that, sure that she'd trip over her tongue if she tried.

    Mar shrugged, uncomfortable. "I don't know. I guess I just wanted to get away." Now that she thought about it, she wasn't sure why the seer had frightened her so badly, only that she had.
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  8. - Top - End - #938
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Inspectre's Avatar

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    Cathedral City

    Baerdog7 – Special Autopilot DM

    Archpaladin Zousha

    At your order, Katashiko folds her arms across her chest and squares her feet.

    “I don’t think so holy man. I don’t run away from a good fight!”

    As you cautiously approach the assassin, Rickster pries the dagger out of his shoulder and tosses it aside. He immediately slides around the assassin and then you, dashing back to grab Katashiko’s right hand and attempt – unsuccessfully – to pull her away.

    “Sounds good to me! Come on, somebody has to get out of here alive!”

    Katashiko shoots a contemptuous glance back at Rickster who has managed only to pull her arm out straight, and frees her arm with a single motion that nearly lifts the man, armor and all, off the floor. She then focuses her attention back on you, frowning . . . but then she nods.

    “Alright then. But you better come back, because without you around my sisters are going back on the hunt. And that means I’m going to have to go on a whirlwind rampage of death and destruction to amuse myself before they catch me! Do it for all those “innocent” people I might kill!”

    And then Katashiko turns and runs, grabbing Rickster in passing and nearly pulling his arm out of the socket as she charges off into the darkness. Leaving you alone with the assassin. He duels with you for a few minutes more, delivering half-hearted thrusts that you are easily able to parry. You are certain this is some kind of trick, that his sudden disinterest in trying to kill you was merely a setup for some deadly assault. Even so, you defend yourself vigorously, as even with him holding back a single missed thrust could be fatal. Finally, confident that your allies are long out of earshot, the assassin sheaths his newest set of daggers and holds up a hand.

    Wait.

    Certain that this is the trick you have been awaiting, you hold your ground, at the ready to defend yourself. Yet the assassin makes no hostile moves, instead beginning to trace words in the air with one finger. A soft glow suffuses the finger as the Reaper writes, leaving glowing blood red letters hanging in the air.

    I would speak with you, paladin. There is much we must discuss regarding our Church. I regret the loss of Grandmaster Odlak’s life – his death is another link in the chains binding my soul. It was necessary, however, as I doubt Morganna would believe all of you escaped me. She might be willing to buy that Odlak held me off while the rest of you escaped at the cost of his life, as you were willing to do for the other two.

    The assassin turns to look at Odlak and sighs. Casually, he reaches his other hand up to his bald scalp, creating a new black link in the network of chains tattooed there with a twirl of his finger. Then he resumes writing in the air as the words from his last statement fade.

    I do not know if you are up to the task, but Ander seemed to have faith in you. Unfortunately for us both, he is lost now, though Morganna will not kill him. As with everything else, she is motivated by her guilt. As you heard – thanks to me – she holds herself responsible for the loss of Ander’s family and his recruitment into the Church. Until she is convinced that Ander will never join her, she will not harm him. I doubt she will be able to kill him even then – that duty will likely fall to me or another instead.

    The assassin flashes you an unpleasant grin.

    I will make it quick in that event – Ander has earned that at least. But we are still speaking of possibilities. Perhaps it will not come to that. Assuming, of course, that you are willing to deal with a creature of darkness such as myself. If you are, might I inquire as to your plan of action after escaping these tunnels? It would be wise to coordinate our efforts.

    Stonefall

    The_Snark

    At your words, William blinked in confusion. Through his eyes you could see him struggling to remember, and then there is just the faintest flash of light within them, so quick you nearly miss it.

    “No Marion . . . you said those things. Seer Maya was trying to comfort me as she worked, and you came up and said to quit being a baby. I was really hurt when you said those things, and I couldn’t understand why. But on the way back Julian explained to me about your father, and I guess it makes sense why you’d feel that way.”

    Now it’s your turn to be hurt and confused . . . at least until you remember the smirk on Seer Maya’s face as she turned over the last card.

    The Pyre . . . oh my. That doesn’t look good, does it?

    You had fled at those words . . . leaving Julian and William alone in the tent with her. Who knows what had happened after you left and before the two of them started on the way back here? You didn’t really want to think about it, but with William’s conflicting memories there was no escape from the rising paranoia. And if Seer Maya could heal broken bones and alter memories, what else was she capable of!? Seer Maya certainly wasn’t a good person, as you initially sensed.

    “Well.” Says Jacob, breaking up the sudden tension settling over the gathering.

    “That still doesn’t excuse you running off without my permission. Either of you, although certainly you’re welcome to come and go as you please Marion. I am disappointed that you didn’t stop my son from running off, although I am glad you went with him to keep an eye on him. Particularly given that this seer frightened you – I don’t want to think about what might have happened had William went alone.”

    “But father, my leg is all healed, good as new!”

    “And she didn’t accept any normal payment for it, either. Nothing in life is free son. Although I’m relieved she didn’t prove to be a charlatan as I feared, healing a leg is powerful magic. There’s a cost for magic like that. I just hope it doesn’t prove to be very steep.”

    And with a final long drawn out sigh, Jacob seems to mentally shake himself.

    “And now young man, we’re going to discuss the cost for you running off without my permission. You can enjoy your healed leg with me in the kitchen peeling potatoes instead of running around playing with your sister.”

    “Aw, dad!” William cried, but nonetheless the youth started walking up the path to join his father in entering the house. Leaving you alone with a lingering dread regarding the final cost for this visit to Seer Maya. As his son walks reluctantly back into the house, Jacob examines you with visible concern.

    “Mar, what happened to you? Your cloak, it’s ripped!”

    (From here we can have Mar go into town to visit Julian, or fast forward to the night and Mar’s final dream sequence. Or even wander down into town and bump into Pwenet and Sara! Unless you have a better idea, of course. )

    The Island of Dr(?) Sohssal

    Iethloc

    Working quickly in your repaired lab, you manage to find a scrap of demon hide and sew it onto Roger’s body. The preservation magics imbued into the demon flesh are easily spread into the surrounding human flesh, and after a bit of touch-up work Roger’s body is good as new. His ghost is quick to swoop down and possess the corpse, and after a minute’s pause the body begins to move.

    “Well, not quite perfect.” Roger says as he sits up, pausing to stretch and scratch at the scrap of demon flesh still sewn onto his body.

    “When I said I wanted my body back, I meant you making me a living, breathing human again, instead of some ghost possessing my old body. But, I’ll admit beggars can’t be choosers, and this is certainly better than some rotting corpse!”

    Roger springs off the workbench, and launches into a series of martial arts stances, smoothly flowing from one to the next. After a few minutes of rapidly shifting around the room, he stops and bows to you.

    “Good, just as I remember it for the most part. As you said a work in progress, but more than I had reason to hope for. Thank you.”

    “So, what’s next on the agenda? Conquering the world?”

    Roger asks with a slight grin. He turns to go, practically bouncing over to the doorway where he pauses to turn back.

    “Let me know when you’re done moldering in your lab and are ready to do something. I’ll be off pranking Shanks again – it’s going to be great!”

    And with that, you are left alone with your work again. Finally, relatively perfect peace, something that has been in drastically short supply since your capture and incarceration.

    Looking into ways to more efficiently store your summoned batteries of arcane energy, you remember the fragments of crystal you still had from Ironheart. Those had been used to imprison demons, presumably for extended periods of time, and so seemed a natural addition to your own techniques. Of course, those crystals were merely to contain the soul kept within, not drain it, so some modification was in order. It would probably help if you had more of the crystal to work with instead of a few broken slivers. Perhaps, being technically the owner of Ironheart, the Baron of Gast had access to the research notes, or at least the base materials supplied to those arcanists. Then again, that would require owing that man another favor.

    Retrieving the crystal fragments, you study them intently. Faintly, you can still sense the spirit of Crimson Jake still trapped within, but now shattered as thoroughly as the crystal. Actually, that might be an effective means of permanently dealing with your enemies, especially if you could dispose of the crystal fragments afterwards. That would still require you to have fully formed crystals in your hands, however, and it would still be an inefficient – but effective - means to kill someone.

    Analyzing the crystal fragments with all of your available senses, you are able to determine their origin is magical in nature. Some sort of ritual is performed over the base materials, likely in liquid form, causing a rapid crystallization to occur. This base liquid might even be poured into a mold beforehand, to ensure that the crystal takes the proper shape rather than being an ungainly mass of irregular shapes. The crystal fragments you have are impressively free of impurities, confirming a magical origin. Unless, of course, they have some way of melting down all the impure crystals that form, allowing them to take only the best crystals that form by sheer chance.

    As for the base materials that are used in the crystal’s manufacture, it’s difficult to separate them all out, as in its current state the crystal’s material is its own unique mélange. Still, after some focused tests you are able to determine that there’s philosopher dust as the bonding agent for the magic, a few other more esoteric materials commonly available only in a magician’s lair, and blood. Specifically in this case demon blood, which is quite interesting. You know the crystals were used to house demons, so does that mean demon blood is required to make crystals for demons, and that storing human souls would require human blood? Or was demon blood used simply because it’s an effective magical catalyst? Without getting your hands on the ritual used in the crystal’s manufacture, you would likely never know.

    However . . . this does give you an idea. While you do lack the means to create the crystals whole from scratch, you do have the smashed remains of one in front of you. And with the proper encouragement, crystals, even shattered fragments like those sitting in front of you, could grow. If you could whip up another batch of whatever the mix of base materials was, or at least close enough, you might be able to magically induce the fragments to grow into sizable crystals in their own right. They probably won’t be as pure and thus reliable as the base crystal, but it would be a starting point. You had most of the materials you had identified already here at hand, minus the demon blood and Philospher’s dust – unfortunately the sea water flooding had destroyed your supply.

    Collecting the dust wouldn’t be hard, but the easiest way of doing it would be going back to civilization and just buying a bunch from some magical curiosities shop. Seymour might even be willing to part with some for free, depending on how Amaranth was recovering from its recent undead invasion. That would require conversing with Seymour and letting him know by your mere presence that you had successfully reclaimed your manor. It would also give you the opportunity to – discretely – obtain a few human test subjects for your demonic plague. Although poaching people from Seymour’s backyard was probably not wise – aw hell. You could just teleport to some back water village and grab the whole town if you had to!

    Although assuming you wanted more than a handful of test subjects, you’d have to devise some means of corralling them back at your manor first. Magically restraining a handful of people was certainly possible, but it would be a drain on your resources. Fair easier just to magically erect a physical barrier and rely on that to keep them all in line. Not that there was anywhere for any of them to really run to after getting free – you were on an island – but freed prisoners had a tendency of causing trouble of some kind or another. It would only take one brave idiot thinking he was a hero to get into your laboratory, for example, and smash sensitive equipment that you had labored on for a considerable period of time to build!

    You would have to approach this matter calmly and with a great deal of forethought. Replicating magic crystals from nothing but a few examined fragments and designing a terrible demonic plague were efforts not undertaken lightly, after all. But you likely weren’t going to have as much time as you’d like to have for these projects either. The ill-fated confrontation you had seen between the Baron and Miriam had to be fast approaching. And then there would be no more time to prepare, only act. You had to be ready. Which meant getting at least one of these two projects off the ground and operational by then. And both of them required leaving your manor to gather reagents, at least for a short time.

    A Mountainous Forest

    Pwenet

    Gathering the wounded Sara up into your arms, you rocket into the sky. Your body was still recovering from its nearly fatal disassembly, but you were a GHAST now. Recovering from grievous injuries was practically a daily occurrence, and the material you had absorbed from Arguile and the others would increase your strength dramatically once repairs were finished. For now, however, only thoughts of Sara’s survival were in your mind.

    Bursting up through the forest canopy, you rapidly scan in all directions. Somehow, your perverse sort of luck held, as you detected a number of chimney smoke plumes in the distance. Analysis of the surrounding area allowed you to identify the source of those plumes as a small hamlet known as Stonefall. It was such a small town it was barely even worth mentioning in your write-up of the Barony of Gast’s geography, making it unlikely that the Baron had a sizable force there. However, it was still a town, and that meant it had to have a healer of some sort living there.

    Aware that every minute was precious now, you fly there with all possible speed. Foregoing stealth entirely, you decide to land right smack into the middle of town. Unfortunately, none of the squat, drab buildings were labeled with any signs, let alone a one saying “Healer” in big letters. On the flip side, with it still being afternoon, there were plenty of people to accost for answers. On the flip flip side, a massive metal angel crashing down into the center of town and demanding answers tended to cause a panic more than enlightened conversation. You eventually manage to corral one man after threatening to cut off his legs with your wing beams – just the threat proved sufficient, however.

    “W-w-what d-d-do you w-w-w-w-ant!!?” The man shrieks. It doesn’t take you long to explain what you were looking for. It does take the man longer to answer than for you to explain though. Finally, he manages to get the thoughts lined up, followed by the words strung together correctly.

    “A-alright! Alright! We have a local healer, name’s Randal but everyone calls him Stitches! He lives over there, in that uh house! But, uh, I-I heard he was going out to check on the Rogus’s boy today, so I dunno if he’s in right now! Oh crap – uh, um . . . there’s the local priest too! He might be able to, I dunno, call upon the gods to heal her or something! I’ve heard holy men can do that, anyway! T-t-that’s all I know, I swear!”

    At that point, you hear another voice, considerably calmer, call out to you.

    “Sir. There is a third option.”

    Turning, you see a young man standing nearby, regarding you with considerable aplomb. Despite his youth, he seems the sort that is not easily shaken, or at least has been trained not to let it show.

    “There is a wandering seer in town by the name of Maya Weyborn. She’s set up camp just outside town. It’s a bit of a walk, but I have not heard her turn anyone away, and I saw her heal a boy’s broken leg with my own eyes. I can show you the way, if you wish.”

    The Wedding of Amelia Ashargrin and Cheran Gast

    Lonna

    As you emerge from your joint trance, Amelia takes your hand in both of hers, eyes shining now with gratitude rather than despair.

    “Thank you.”

    “Time’s up!” The “attendant” commanded, getting up from his chair. The man was clearly suspicious of what you had been doing, but likewise was unable to determine what exactly you had been doing. For a moment, Amelia’s eyes fill with tears again, but remembering the man’s threat she held them back and waved them away by letting go of your hand to flutter both of hers in front of her face. After a moment, she straightened up and walked over to meet the man before the man could get to you.

    “Alright, let’s get this over with.”

    The rest of the attendants came back in then, and swiftly finished the Countess’s makeup. Apparently finished with the majority of their work then, one of the attendants handed the Countess a small bouquet of white roses. As she took it into her gloved hands, however, two other attendants pounced, swiftly binding her wrists together with white cord and lashing the bouquet as well to ensure it remained in her hands.

    “What is the meaning of this!?” The Countess cried, but any further protests were cut off as another attendant swiftly gagged her with a white cloth. The remaining attendants then dropped the veil down over her face, which obscured much of that fact that the bride was no longer able to speak her own vows.

    “Your presence might be required at the ceremony, but your participation is not.” The attendant explained. “Think of it as insurance by the Baron to ensure you don’t do anything stupid to embarrass him, and require his attention towards your discipline instead of Cheran.”

    At this point the attendant turns his attention to you.

    “As for you – you want to be the Countess’s bridemaid? Then I’ve got a job for you.”

    The man goes over to a nearby table and picks up a basket, which he then comes over to thrust into your hands. Peering inside, you can see a great quantity of rose pedals.

    “You’re going to lead the procession into the main worship area at the start of the ceremony. You’ll sprinkle these in front of yourself as you go, all the way up to the altar. Then you’ll turn and sit down in the front row of pews directly across the aisle from the Baron.”

    The attendant frowns and looks directly into your eyes as he continues.

    “There are assassins waiting up in the rafters, prepared to deal with any threat that emerges to the Baron or his family. However, they also won’t hesitate to deal with you if you attempt to make any sort of a scene or interfere with the ceremony in any way. Are we clear?”

    The attendant doesn’t even bother waiting for an answer, but shoves you towards the door.

    “Good. Now get out of here. The guard who led you here will lead you to the back of the worship area. The ceremony will be starting shortly.”

    Exiting the room, you find yourself standing in the hallway – alone. Of the two guards standing right outside the door, and of your own escort, there is no sign. You are just starting to ponder the reason for this when you sense something approaching from the hallway behind you. And then pretty much your questions are simultaneously answered and rendered irrelevant due to more important concerns.

    “You!” A familiar voice growls, and then you are being picked up and literally flown face-first into the nearby wall. You had just enough time to react to drop the basket of flower petals and use your hand to slow your approach against the wall – otherwise your nose or some other important facial bone might have broken from the impact. As it was, the impact was painful, and then some as-yet seen assailant was pressing you against the wall with inescapable strength, one hand on the back of your neck to continue grinding your face into the unyielding stone, and one hand wrenching your right arm behind your back. Even without seeing who it was, you already knew whose turn it was to work you over. Cheran.

    “It’s Cheran, whore. When I heard you were attending, I was thrilled. I was hoping I would run into you before I was a married man. Did you miss me?”

    And then he ratcheted your arm up your back another few inches, and your whole world was momentarily pain. Your shoulder screamed against its socket, teetering on the edge of dislocation, and you felt the urge to scream, needed to scream. But you clamped your jaw tight, and forced it back down your throat – you would never give this bastard the satisfaction. Cheran simply laughed and then relented, allowing your arm to drift back down to a more comfortable position while making it clear he could dislocate the limb whenever he wished.

    “Nothing to say? Well, that’s disappointing.” He hissed, his breath hot on your ear. From the corner of your eye, you could see him. Cheran was dressed in a silver tuxedo with black trim, the color of it almost blending perfectly with his slate-grey wings. Curiously, his eye that had been wounded by Katrina was still covered in a black eyepatch, even though it should have regenerated by now. From the back of your neck, Cheran’s hand began to creep around the side of your face, walking along on his fingers like some sort of four-legged spider.

    “You know, you still owe me those pretty little eyes of yours.” He continued in the same hushed whisper he had used just before he was going to blind you aboard the Gastly Truth. His hand stopped its crawl at the corner of your eye, and Cheran began to rub his index finger in concentric circles there, hard enough to cause you to see spots.

    “Are you afraid, my little whore witch?” Cheran asked in that same deceptively gentle tone. “I know you’re trying to spite me by being all brave and defiant. But it’s okay – I know somewhere deep down, you’re absolutely terrified of all the things I’m going to do to you. And you should be afraid, you really should. See, after Seraphan, I’m sort of the black sheep of the family. The one everyone thinks of as a useless, brutish lout. And maybe it’s even true. I’m not devoted like Celestan, nor as charismatic as Angelo. I don’t have Seraphan’s skill with blades, and much as I hate to admit it, I’m not as strong as Nephilium, worthless loser that he is. But do you know that there is one area in which I undeniably excel? Do you think you can guess what it is?”

    Cheran wrenches your arm back up to a painful height – not as far as the world-receding into pain level as the first time, but enough that your shoulder starts to violently protest the treatment.

    “Cruelty.” He answers for you.

    “I’m endlessly inventive at it – an artist of agony, you might say. Only unlike my father, I have no interest in wasting time with stupid mind games. I’m interested in only three things – to see your face distorted by agony, to see the fear in your eyes at the thought of what I’ll do next, and then the despair as you realize that nothing is going to make the pain stop until I’m satisfied. And I don’t need any infinitely complex plan to accomplish that – I just need to hurt you, over and over and over again! So I really do hope you manage to keep up the brave front for a while longer, my little slave girl. Because that means I’ll have enough time to really enjoy the process of breaking you after my father hands you over to me.”

    Finally stopping his attempt to bore down through your skull with his finger, Cheran bounces his index finger off the tip of your nose.

    “Y’know, I was really stumped as to what I was going to do to my wife for our little honeymoon. I have so many ideas, but I was concerned if I went too fast she’d shatter before we could get to the really good stuff. Now with you around, I can relax and get ready to really cut loose. Everything I was planning to do to her, I’ll just do to you first, and make her watch! And then if you’ve been a really good girl, I’ll let whatever’s left of you watch while I do her! So I really hope you enjoy the wedding tonight, because it’s the last night where you’ll be . . . whole.”

    As abruptly as the assault began, Cheran released you and stepped back. He brushed himself off and cleared his throat, evidently the summons for the three guards as they abruptly walked into sight around the corner.

    “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a wedding to attend.”

    As he turned to go, he “accidentally” kicked the flower basket with his foot, spilling the remaining flower petals across the floor.

    “Ooops, hope those weren’t important. If I were you, I’d pick those up before someone notices, and thinks you’re doing a poor job as my wife-to-be’s bridesmaid.”

    And with that, the Baron’s son was gone, leaving you with the three guards, none of which looked pleased. Your escort motions at the flower pedals scattered across the floor.

    “Hurry up and pick those up. The ceremony is about to start!”

    WhiteKnight777

    At your expressed disdain for temporal power, the Baron inclines his head slightly, a nod of agreement.

    “Quite true. But power does have its place – it is simply the means rather than the ends. So many people forget that. More the fool are they.” The Baron said with a bemused smile.

    “I think you will find the purpose to my request for aid *very* intriguing. But that is for later – now, we will celebrate the union of my son with his chosen bride.”

    At your mention of the duels, the Baron quirked an eyebrow.

    “Indeed? I suspect the majority of the nobles would delight in such an opportunity – but only if they could guarantee the safety of their own hides. Thus the endless plots and plans towards petty ends that allow them absolute safety by risking nothing.”

    The disdain in the Baron’s voice is palpable, he practically spits the last words. Much the same way a wolf would probably do if forced into playing dress-up in a room full of sheep. In any event, by this point you’ve managed to lightly touch the Baron with your magical senses, seeking what sort of protections he had woven about himself.

    Surprisingly, you found only a few basic ones in place – magic to harden his clothes into armor, sharpen his senses – concentrated about his ears, the better to hear everyone’s plans, the sly devil – that sort of thing. Either the Baron was not expecting any trouble tonight that his guards couldn’t handle, he was arrogant enough to think that he didn’t need protective magics – or he simply didn’t need them. You do sense an odd sort of magic infusing his entire body. It was vaguely similar to how the other Lords of Blood magically felt to you after your joint apotheosis, although with a very different . . . “flavor”. You weren’t sure what to make of it beyond that, but it clearly meant that the Baron was no longer fully human.

    At your mention of Shiakti, the Baron openly smirks.

    “In bondage, you say? No no, you have misread our relationship. It is much the opposite. I think I will allow her to explain it, however – I owe her that much. I will send for her, and you may speak with her privately. Now, allow me to introduce you to a few nobles before I return to my duties as host.”

    The Baron leads you and Fianna over to a small group of nobles, introducing each in turn.

    “Good evening again, ladies and gentlemen. This is Umber, Lord of Blood, and his lady Fianna. Umber and Fianna, this is Baron Fisk of Underbary and his lady Chamise, Countess Alexandra of Triston, and her escort for the evening, Count Lucas of Nalise.”

    Smirking slightly, the Baron bowed out of the conversation once introductions were out of the way. It didn’t take long to realize that you had been saddled with some of the most vapid individuals of the sheep present. No wonder the Baron had been smirking as he left!

    “So where is this Blood in relation to the rest of the kingdom? I’ve certainly never heard of it until now.” Lady Chamise asked, speaking up first.

    “You know how it is with the backwater territories, my dear. A new one springs up every night.” Baron Fisk Underbary sniffed, looking you up and down with open disdain.

    “Must be far away if they think that’s how one dresses for a wedding.” Count Lucas Nalise muttered, but loud enough for you to clearly hear even over the soft music. You weren’t sure if the man was being serious or simply felt threatened – his own chest was festooned in medals, and he wore such a glaring mishmash of colors you were tempted to laugh in his face. As it was, the young woman he was escorting pulled away from him.

    “Lucas! You know the Baron would only invite the highest of society to the wedding of his son. I’m sure wherever he is from, Lord Umber is quite important.” Countess Alexandra admonishes, and then discretely licks her lips as she glances at you. It was immediately clear that this girl – relatively pretty, and undoubtedly experienced – was quite interested in learning more about you, particularly in a private setting between just the two of you. In the so-called “good old days”, that desire would probably have gotten her killed.

    Fianna tolerated your appreciation for feminine beauty in others, and occasionally would join in said appreciation, but she only allowed it to go one way. If another woman sought you out of her own accord, Fianna’s jealousy could flare up suddenly. It tended to end quite poorly for the other woman, as the same passion Fianna brought to everything she did would be funneled into a delightfully inventive vindictiveness. You imagined, however, that Fianna causing a scene by commanding Countess Alexandra to pluck out and eat her own eyeballs would go over poorly with the Baron.

    Depending on how you look at it, fortunately or unfortunately, but undoubtedly fortunately for the Countess, Fianna did not react in the slightest to her interest in you. Jealousy was, after all, just an emotional response and Fianna still lacked that crucial piece of herself.

    “That doesn’t explain how you got in then.” Fianna suddenly spoke up, looking directly at Countess Alexandra. The woman reeled back as if just slapped (or perhaps commanded to eat her own eyeballs), and started to turn a fascinating shade of pink, from her forehead all the way down as far as you could see (and that was impressively far). Fianna simply looked at you and shrugged.

    “For old time’s sake.” She explained.

    Before the situation could escalate to a whole new entertaining level, a shadow fell across the group. The assembled nobles shrinked back instinctively as Shiakti appeared at your side. Apparently your old friend was working, as she was still dressed in the same drab uniform as before, and looking even more restless than before – like a cat on the hunt for prey.

    “Umbra. Fianna. Come.”

    And with that, Shiakti the Huntress turned and began stalking off across the room. Groups of nobles scattered before her, eager to get out of the way – and more than a few made warding signs with their fingers after she passed. If Shiakti was in charge of the Baron’s security, as she presumably was, she had already done a good job at cowing his invited guests. But then, it was rarely the guests that you invited that you had to worry about anyway.

    Following after your old friend, you soon find yourself standing on a balcony overlooking the main worship area of the cathedral. The cavernous room below had been heavily decorated, and you noted with some amusement that they had been arranged in such a way as to cover up any religious icons present. After looking around as if to confirm that you were alone, Shiakti turned back to you, arms crossed and fingers incessantly rapping against them.

    “Now, what’s dis I hear about you wanting tah Baron ta let me go?”

    Fishtown, The Fishiest Place on Earth that Never Fished

    Gorgondantess

    When Maurice is in her angel form, you note that her injured wing has almost completely regenerated. The pruning you did to her other wing has likewise been repaired, somehow, and she will likely be able to fly again within a day. Perhaps a little less.

    At your confusion over the wants of his organization, Omnicron waves his hand.

    “We normally attack Archdemons on sight, in the hopes of destroying them before the havoc they cause can spread. The team you met failed, but before a second strike could be scrambled we noticed your . . . shall we say, unusual, behavior. And that was when some of the more conservative members urged caution, rather than rushing headlong into the fight. That being said, the Dusk Wardens are still coming – the main fleet has probably already set sail, bringing with it a considerable portion of our forces.”

    At your argument against an alliance, the man drops his hand and frowns.

    “I did not say save my organization. I said save my people! I would be the first to agree that right now they are one and the same, but the belief system of my people has become a cancer. Our war against your kind has consumed our soul, and now that war is all we exist for. I want your help to change that, and I think you will find that goal to your benefit as well.”

    The man shakes his head.

    “Destroying our leadership will briefly disorganize us, but it will accomplish nothing else beyond making them martyrs. Wars against past Archdemons have been largely bloody affairs, and my people believe any price is worth the cost so long as it buys your death. Unless you are prepared to stop at the top and work your way through every man, woman, and child, this war will never end. And while I’m sure you would not hesitate to do just that, remember that every man, woman, and child, has been molded since birth into a weapon to kill you. And assuming the stories are even vaguely accurate, we are very good at killing your kind.”

    At your offer of hospitality, the man nods.

    “Of course. I have nowhere else to go. Although I should be able to return to my people if I don’t tarry here much longer, I have no intention of rejoining the fight against you. My people are already dead, if not by your hand then by the inevitable weight of history. I cannot save them from the course of their fate without your help. I hope that, in time, I can convince you of the . . . efficiency? . . . of my plan.”

    And with your meeting over for now, you depart the chapel, Maurice in tow. You instruct your priests to see to the man’s needs, and make sure he doesn’t attempt to leave just yet. You were sure to have more questions for him. At your request, the high priest hands over the bandolier of knives, and scurries off to take care of your guest.

    ********


    Departing a short distance from the town, you inquire as to Maurice’s opinion.

    “Well, he believes what he is saying. He has killed before, mostly in self-defense but a few times as murder against a target posing little immediate threat to him. It is difficult to say where exactly his soul will end up upon his death – his actions do not seem actively malicious however. Interestingly enough, this betrayal of everything he once believed in may serve as the tipping point for the fall of his soul into the Hells . . . the Valkyrie does not tolerate betrayal.”

    This last bit was said in a whisper, and Maurice rubbed her arms as if cold. She favors you with a grim smile.

    “Perhaps now, however, you will believe my claim that Athelion the Lightbringer and this Athelion the Lifebringer are two separate entities. The beliefs of his organization are clearly wrapped up heavily in mysticism and ancient lore. Most human organizations succumb to this problem sooner or later – humans find it difficult to believe in something beyond their own personal experiences. These people have managed to keep the core of their beliefs intact for a very long time from the sound of it, but it may have strayed from its original purpose. Men tell stories to remember the past, but they forget, they embellish, and sometimes even deliberate alter to suit present needs.”

    Maurice’s smile changes into a self-conscious smirk as she gestures at herself.

    “Coming from this immortal being, however, I can honestly say I have never encountered one of your kind before. I have slain many demons in my time, but never anything like you. In all likelihood, what these Dusk Wardens call “Archdemons” were not demons at all, but some other creature. Which is very odd, given that I have never in all these long millennia ever encountered another of your kind. And here I thought I was well-traveled across this mortal plane!”

    Maurice shakes her head.

    “In any event, returning to our guest. He seems earnest in his desire to work with you, but is deeply troubled by the prospect. He doesn’t trust you yet, especially as everything he has ever been taught has been to kill you on sight, apparently. You haven’t exactly given him a reason to trust you yet, either. He cares deeply for his sister, and that may even be the genesis for his desire to stop the cycle of violence for his people. I’m sure you’re already aware that it will not be simple to fulfill his desires even if you were so inclined. And if you want my opinion about that, well . . . I am still an angel, and they are still humans. I will always support whichever option causes the least harm to the least amount of humans, provided it does not require breaking my vows.”

    **********

    At your dismissal, Maurice quirks an eyebrow in amusement.

    “That’s it? Run along now? The bird is to be let out of her cage, to run free within the homestead? Aren’t you concerned I will attempt to convert the populace back to Miriam, or otherwise undermine your authority? Or that someone will steal your pretty little pet and escape out the window while your back is turned?”

    Once the angel leaves, you unwrap the stone knives and examine them. As Omnicron claimed, the blades are etched with intricate runes. Selecting one of them at random, you steel yourself for the pain to come, and then reluctantly shove it through your hand. As before, the pain is intense, and you can feel a slow but constant ebb of your strength out through the wound and into the blade. Removing the blade enables your strength to return, although the recovery takes a little while. Thankfully the drain with only one blade in your body is not particularly threatening, but you can still remember the nigh-helplessness you experienced with half a dozen of these abominations in you.

    Beyond the slow drain of your strength, the blade thankfully does little else to hinder your efforts. For about six inches in all directions around where the blade meets your flesh, it is impossible to morph. However, your ability to influence the rest of your surroundings remains unaffected, beyond the slow ebb of your overall strength. This is, of course, only when the knife is embedded in your body. Slices with the edge of the blade rend your flesh as effectively as a razor, but without the presence of the blade you are able to reseal the injury immediately after the blow. Contact with the blades – or perhaps rather the runes carved into the blades – is still painful and causes a slight ebb in your strength. Even pressing the flat edge against your skin causes this effect. Indeed, you notice even holding one of these damn things is causing you some discomfort, although not nearly as much as when the business end of the weapon is in contact with your body.

    As your Dusk Warden . . . guest? . . . promised, your summoned armor did little to protect you. Yes, it did seem to fare somewhat better than your bare skin, perhaps owing to the fact of its origin from the other gods. However, the armor was still functioning effectively as your skin, and whenever the runes came into contact with your body pain followed. You wondered if armor fashioned by hands other than yours would be effective protection, or if the bulky, unalterable by you junk would have the same problem. Material that you had not changed seemed largely immune to the knives. Against a normal tree, or a rock, the stone knives were just stone knives, and largely useless because the stone didn’t have especially sharp edges – enough to do the job perhaps, but not the unstoppable cutting power they displayed when used on you.

    On a lark, you deliberately altered the formation of a large boulder. You were horrified to discover that once changed by you, the stone knives slashed through it as if the stone was not even there. So . . . against you, or anything made by you, the stone knives could not be stopped. On the plus side, materials that you had not altered or created seemed as resistant as one would expect. You are also pleased to discover that nothing happens when you touch one of the knives with Maurice’s sword. Forged by the hands of a rival god, the sword seems immune to the blades’ power – you even accidentally chop one of the knives in half when you swing them together, edge on edge. So – if you can parry the blows, you can avoid being injured, and even destroy their weapons if you strike hard enough.

    Of course, the memory of the brutal assault fills your mind, your assailants attacking you all at once from all directions. And that memory in turn conjures a different image – dozens of the humans swarming around you, like ants overwhelming a beast thousands of times their size. Darting in, darting in, hacking and slashing and stabbing at you mercilessly, heedless of the losses you are inflicting on them, pressed on by their own bloodlust and the sight of you beginning to weaken. Stabbing, stabbing, stabbing their abominations deeper and deeper into your body, leaving you weaker and weaker. Until at last you collapse, too weak to even move, in agonizing pain and completely at their nonexistent mercy.

    No! Enough of these nonsense thoughts. You would not be caught off-guard by them this time. You were aware of their presence now, and day by day you learned new things, both about your mysterious enemies and how the world worked in general. You would survive this. And one way or the other, they would not.
    Last edited by Inspectre; 2011-06-06 at 01:33 AM.
    I didn't actually intend to kill EVERYONE. It just sort of happened.

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  9. - Top - End - #939
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Archpaladin Zousha's Avatar

    Join Date
    Apr 2007
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    Hastings, MN
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    Default Re: Flight From Ironheart IC

    Hondshioh

    Hondshioh glares at the creature.

    "It may be that I will have no choice in the matter. I already accepted the aid of the Dark General, who allowed me into the deepest reaches of this place, though I wish to the gods on high I hadn't. But this may not be the same. I have no idea who you are, or what your connection with Ander is. You seem to know the Grandmasters, but you have come against us with a blade instead of a branch. Who are you, and what do you want?"
    Last edited by Archpaladin Zousha; 2011-06-06 at 01:48 AM.
    "Reach down into your heart and you'll find many reasons to fight. Survival. Honor. Glory. But what about those who feel it's their duty to protect the innocent? There you'll find a warrior savage enough to match any dragon, and in the end, they'll retain what the others won't. Their humanity."

  10. - Top - End - #940
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    WhiteKnight777's Avatar

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    Umber

    The conversation with the Baron passed pleseantly enough - but then again, that was as expected. If hostilities were to develop, they'd come along later.

    Unless the Baron was planning something dirty for the wedding itself, Umber mused. It was an unusual tactic, but one he'd used himself a time or two, and he'd seen it employed by others now and again. The rights and responsibilities of guest and host were generally held sacrosanct in most cultures - doubly so at weddings and select other events where the gods or spirits might very well be watching. Even where one did not fear supernatural wrath, betrayals and unsanctioned bloodshed at such events set a very bad precedent.

    But if the payoff was big enough, any rule might be broken. What was the significance of this wedding, beyond the obvious gains of temporal power. Perhaps the Baron planned to employ some sort of magical ritual? Umber could think of half a dozen that might fit. Everything from using the wedding guests as living sacrifices to primal nature rights invoking the power of union between man and woman, between ruler and land.

    It was difficult to tell - Umber didn't risk reading the Baron's mind, not now. He would just have to do as he usually did - wait for the appropriate moment and hope that the countermeasures and protections he had put hastily in place would be enough. He had spells of escape and evasion woven tight 'round himself and Fianna, and a potent enchantment to punch through measures designed to defeat such things. Half-a-dozen words of destruction waited on his lips. Wards thicker than armor shielded their skin. And he had a few other, less standard tricks up his sleeve. Still, Umber continued to plot. Perhaps the most troubling question was what to do about the Baron. Umber refused to bend the knee to the man - but it was possible a legitimate partnership could be forged, depending on what happened here, and depending on the Baron's goals. The man had a great deal of resourcefulness, and he might be able to help with Fianna's condition...

    All the while Umber was thinking, he continued to converse with the Baron, until he found himself foisted off onto a group of tedious wretches that passed for nobility. Umber wondered once again if the purpose of this event wasn't to butcher the guests, and if these were indicative of their usual quality, he wouldn't blame the Baron in the least.

    To Underbay's disdain, he merely smiled in a disconcertingly predatory fashion. When young Lucas spoke, he turned that smile on him and responded.

    "Oh, I certainly wouldn't want to compete with you in terms of fashion sense, young man. I'd be curious to know on what fields you earned those medals, though. I was a military man myself, in another age" Umber chuckled, and for a moment he could smell rot, and burning flesh. Screams, the groans of the sick and the wounded. Fields of plague-dead, forests of the crucified. The smell of spilt blood and bowels. He wondered if this little man would shatter if Umber let those images flood into his skull. It would be an interesting experiment.

    And then there was the simpering little creature. He was about to respond with some empty platitude when Fianna spoke, and drove all thoughts of the others from his mind. He turned to her, grinning openly, and planted a slow kiss on her lips, his arms wrapping around her waist and pulling her up on her tip-toes. She'd done that for him, and it brought back memories of happier times. Their love had always been a tempestous thing - full of drama, heartache, blinding passions and headlong plunges. But it had never been less than sweet - nor had it ever been boring.

    Now, Fianna was but a shadow, an echo of herself - but Umber had to hope that she was more than that - that within her there was a seed that might one day become again what she once was, that he might use that small piece of her to rebuild the rest. He had to believe he could - and the fact that she at least tried for his sake fed that spark of hope. He nuzzled her neck affectionately, cupping her chin in one hand. "I do love you, my dear. I don't think I could ever tell you that enough."

    He grinned once more in genuine high spirits. He turned as Shiakti approached, completely ignoring the gathered nobility, and nodded, following her with Fianna still on his arm. As they entered the chapel, he wondered briefly if the obscurement of the religious iconography was a concession to the Lords of Blood, or if it was merely the Baron's own preference. Perhaps it was both - the Baron was a cunning creature, after all.

    He turned to the Huntress and nodded. "Yes. I'll get straight to the point, Shiakti - you seem unwell. I am concerned - you were, and I hope still are, my friend. I want to help you. You're restless as a beast in a cage, and if the Baron has you bound in some way, I won't stand for it."
    Last edited by WhiteKnight777; 2011-06-08 at 05:59 PM.

  11. - Top - End - #941
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Pyrene

    The sudden binding of the Countess caught Pyrene off guard, but she held her tongue and sat quietly, knowing that she had already done all she dared for now. She accepted the basket of rose petals, biting back the retort that she had no desire to jeopardize her bargain with Duke Volesin.

    Cheran's arrival was unpleasant, to put it mildly, but not totally unexpected. She bit back the screams that he wanted so badly, clinging to the knowledge that he couldn't do anything permanent yet. And she would have a chance to set up her own Sanctuary before he could touch her again. His last minor cruelty, kicking the basket of rose petals, was the last spiteful act of his that she would experience, she swore. Picking up the petals as quickly as she could, she followed the attendants out.
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  12. - Top - End - #942
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Korram Alstan

    Korram lurches up as he awakens, alarmed by the fire all around him. It takes only seconds for him to calm down, however, as he discovers his newfound immunity to the heat and smoke. He slowly stands, staring around the burning room in disorientation, only noticing his regrown arm after he has looked at it twice. He flexes it a few times in wonder as Purifier explains his control of his body. Their body.

    Slowly, Korram's lips turn up into a cruel smile. A harsh laugh forces its way from his throat, and becomes lost in the loud blaze. After his fit of euphoria passes, calms down and plots his next move. He considers, briefly, seeking the Baron out immediately and ending his life now, but ultimately decides against it. The existing plan appeals to him, and he has waited many years for his vengeance; a few more hours are a mere trifle.

    Still grinning maniacally, Korram ignites his regrown arm, then wills it into pure flame. At first the control is confusing, but a combination of instincts and instructions from Purifier allow him to grasp the basics quickly. With a thought, he extinguishes the blaze, returning his arm to its former state. He decides to conceal his new powers for the moment.

    That means keeping a low profile, and the massive blaze isn't helping. Korram mentally reaches out to the fires engulfing his surroundings, and weakens them. Not enough to be suspicious, but the blaze would soon be controlled and extinguished. After taking a moment to compose himself, he dashes out of his room, doing his best to seem as if he was fleeing real danger.
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  13. - Top - End - #943
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    ~Tare

    Tare tried to argue with Melcara's correction, first mentally and then out loud, but mercifully she did not allow him to interrupt. Then something she said bypassed all of his guilt and self-blame and pierced straight through to his core. It cut and healed at the same time, blew apart the self-delusion and replaced it with something else. Something that brought back an old hurt, and with more force than he even remembered-- but at the same time caused so many things to shift in his perspective back into what instinctively felt like their proper place, even though it had been so long that he hadn't been aware how crooked they had been; like the re-break that finally allows a bone to set after it has long been crippled.

    "She adores you for who you are... And who you are now is not who you were."

    Tare reached up a shaky hand to his shoulder and laid it on Melcara's, also allowing his cheek to rock to the side and hold her hand in a mini-embrace that held almost as much emotional charge as the winged hug she had given him moments before. He found himself not only speechless but physically unable to speak for a few moments-- but the moisture that touched her hand spoke clearly enough. Thank you.

    Tare regained his composure quickly (externally, at least-- the internal upset was still raging behind his eyes) and smiled a weak, but pure smile at Melcara. "You're right. Say what you will of Wisdom; I have been a fool." He laughed through the tears. "I imagine all the truly wise see themselves as all the greater fools. Thank you for your Wisdom, Melcara," He said, his eyes beginning to clear. "I have been selfish. All my torment has been focused on myself, when I am not where the focus belongs. I have been wrong to keep it from her for so long, as though she did not deserve the choice to think and see for herself." All at once, a peace came over his face as he made the decision that he knew he should have long ago. "Let her be the one to determine my fate."

    ~~~~

    Tare gasped when Karami cannoned into him. It was only partly because of the emotion of the moment-- mostly, Karami just knew how to hit really, really hard. Limier, eat your heart out. Tare returned Karami's vice grip with arms like wet noodles, and reached over to plant a kiss right on top of her head. "Hey, kid. I'm back." Tare was too absorbed to be paying attention to Melcara's introduction, but when he looked up a few seconds later and saw that she had been more or less accepted, he smiled at her and Hanna both. Tare hadn't expected some sort of Spanish Inquisition, of course, and Hanna's cheerful, but deceptively alert question caught him off guard. That was the thing he'd always liked about Hanna and Jonas-- it always felt like there was so much more beneath the surface. He had never doubted that they could teach him a thing or two about his own games, if they had a mind to, which somehow didn't clash at all with the fact that they were the sweetest and most loving people he'd ever known. This didn't change the fact that he was caught quite flat footed by the remark, and was left floundering for an answer. Then, just in time... Bless you, Jonas you old work horse.

    Karami could hardly eat for so many questions, but Tare was hungry enough to eat his own body weight in Hanna's cookin (truly, heaven in a bowl, Tare was convinced). He pointed a single eyebrow at Melcara when he heart Jonas refer to her as 'Mel,' but played along without missing a beat. He did his best to answer Karami's questions, and almost didn't notice when Jonas, with only a word or two, steered the course of question ever so subtly toward why Tare had disappeared and where he had gone. Curse you, Jonas you crafty old weasel. It was then that a familiar face appeared at the window, and a bite of perfectly stewed potato, swimming in lamb broth no lesser than the nectar of the gods themselves, turned to sand in Tare's mouth.

    "Excuse me for a moment," He said, and stood, but was caught unexpectedly by a flying impact that once more put Limier's takedown to shame when Karami cleared the table in half a second flat and latched once more around his ribs with a firmness of grip and a sternness of glare that implied not even a diamond chisel would pry her loose again. Tare laughed, which seemed to soften the bands of steel prized around his lungs somewhat. "I'm coming straight back, Karami, I swear it to you. Five minutes and I'll be right back for another helping of stew! Now sit down and eat-- Hey, listen to me--" He made a strangled sound when Karami stubbornly latched down harder. "Hey, hey, Karami-- Karami, listen to me. Look at me. I'm coming back. Go Eat." He said in a firm voice, one that, while not without humor, stated plainly that they both knew she would do as he asked her to, because it was him that was asking. Still, to her credit, she managed to hesitate for a few long seconds-- but then consented with a final pout and moved back to her seat. Tare smiled again as he saw her dig in to her stew with a fervor that implied she really was hungrier than she wanted to admit, but the smile faded when he turned to the door.

    ~~~~

    "Brock." Was all Tare offered by way of greeting, trying to keep emotion out of his voice. After all, they had a truce. Worse, he supposed, Brock had a debt hanging over his head. It wouldn't be terribly wise to antagonize him (any more than he already had)-- even if Brock's appearance right in the middle of the best moment of Tare's recent life did make him want to shove something sharp and hard in one of Brock's ears and out the other.
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  14. - Top - End - #944
    Orc in the Playground
     
    Iethloc's Avatar

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    Sohssal

    Sohssal understood that the easiest way to get these crystals would be from the Baron...but there was no way he wanted to be more dependent on him than he already was (or would be). So, for the mean time, he would just prepare his normal generator spires. He would teleport out to retrieve the necessary materials for growing new crystals once he had a generous magical reserve.

    For now, Sohssal wanted to focus on starting cultures for a prototype pathogen. Before he even got started on human testing, he'd need to make sure it can survive in living tissue (of which there was no shortage on the island). Ideally, he wanted it to be able to be carried asymptomatically by any living being and only mutate humans. Getting plants or animals would be easy enough on the island, and for humans he could just collect a tissue sample from Shanks (no need to expose a valuable minion to an untested disease).

    Sohssal then took these materials to the deepest parts of his lab that weren't still flooded. After making sure there was at least one functioning spire in that area, he erected a physical barrier on every path down there he could find. When he needed to bring in actual test subjects, he could just install a teleportation circle. Until then, the relatively small amount of supplies could easily be teleported personally.
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  15. - Top - End - #945
    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Quote Originally Posted by Inspectre View Post
    “That being said, the Dusk Wardens are still coming – the main fleet has probably already set sail, bringing with it a considerable portion of our forces.”
    "Hm. And all this time, I'd just assumed that your people were just a strange cult located in a monastery on some mountain somewhere. Just what is the extent of your organization?"

    “Of course. I have nowhere else to go. Although I should be able to return to my people if I don’t tarry here much longer, I have no intention of rejoining the fight against you. My people are already dead, if not by your hand then by the inevitable weight of history. I cannot save them from the course of their fate without your help. I hope that, in time, I can convince you of the . . . efficiency? . . . of my plan.”
    She nods. "I will return to you within a day's time."

    “Perhaps now, however, you will believe my claim that Athelion the Lightbringer and this Athelion the Lifebringer are two separate entities.”
    "...Yes, I believe this may be true. The gods are not to blame- I've stricken Athelion from my list of enemies. Until he shows himself as an adversary, I will simply chalk it all up to a much worser one: Humans. Wherever I've gone, they have only served to get in my way and slow me down, or worse. I can tolerate those who are so obsequious, unpleasant as their displays may be... but these Dusk Wardens? This Baron, and his lackeys? They will be removed, one way or another. Of this you have my word."

    “Coming from this immortal being, however, I can honestly say I have never encountered one of your kind before. I have slain many demons in my time, but never anything like you. In all likelihood, what these Dusk Wardens call “Archdemons” were not demons at all, but some other creature. Which is very odd, given that I have never in all these long millennia ever encountered another of your kind. And here I thought I was well-traveled across this mortal plane!”
    "Well... until now, I had reason to believe I was quite unique. Perhaps I am, and these Dusk Wardens are simply poor diviners.
    You asked me before, what I would do once I conquered or destroyed everything in my path? I don't believe I gave you a particularly straight answer, but now I know: I will look into my species. Or, rather, my kind, whatever I am."
    She almost smiles, looking into the future. It would be nice, really, returning to a simpler, more curious time: exploring for the sake of exploring, though now with a purpose. All this bloodshed, while invigorating and certainly nice once in a while, had only served to entangle her in bitterness.

    “I will always support whichever option causes the least harm to the least amount of humans, provided it does not require breaking my vows.”
    "Hmmm....
    This begs the question, why? What do you owe to these humans? Especially a cult such as this that inflicts so much misery upon both each other and spotlessly innocent creatures such as myself?"

    After all this is dealt with: "Well then, all this considered... I'm of half a mind to go along with this man, assuming he has some sort of plan worked out. What do you think? I'd have your willing aid in this. Having a servant of the gods on my end would likely help provide leverage I would otherwise lack."

    “That’s it? Run along now? The bird is to be let out of her cage, to run free within the homestead? Aren’t you concerned I will attempt to convert the populace back to Miriam, or otherwise undermine your authority? Or that someone will steal your pretty little pet and escape out the window while your back is turned?”
    She laughs at the concept.
    "As I've laid off my assault against Athelion, these people serve as simply a power base... and only so effective of one as humans might produce. Beyond that, their devotion seems to be rather well seated. Go ahead and proselytize all you want- I doubt this next hour or so will do you much good."
    Here she drops her lightheartedness, and takes on a serious tone.
    "And you are not a bird. You are an angel. I doubt anyone will have the inclination to steal you away, and I thoroughly doubt that anyone will have the capability.
    Of course, you seem to be leaving out one other option: that you will scurry away and never return."
    She smiles here, though it's less playful and more smug.
    "...But I don't believe you will do even that. You did say you were something of a scholar amongst your kind, no? Here I am, a possibly unique being you have never before encountered. And incredibly powerful... and you have a direct line to my ears. Such a position is not so lightly thrown away."
    She drops the smugness, taking on a more magnanimous tone.
    "Of course, you couldn't possibly do that tonight. You told me you would teach me the human script, and you are a creature of your word. We'll begin with that once I return. For now, do enjoy your time consorting with the local wildlife."

    On a lark, you deliberately altered the formation of a large boulder. You were horrified to discover that once changed by you, the stone knives slashed through it as if the stone was not even there. So . . . against you, or anything made by you, the stone knives could not be stopped.

    This was a... highly disturbing revelation. She had half a mind to re-summon it and give it back to Maurice, though that would likely entail more trouble than it was worth. Besides, she might not even want it back, having gone through her system multiple times... and now tainted with her soul.
    She shuddered at that thought. There was an imperfection in her. A way in which her being was empirically worse and weaker than that of anything else. If she possessed the means, she might even cry now. It was simply an affront to everything she believed.
    She returns to the village after all this, in quite glum spirits, and tracks down Maurice, interested in what she might be up to now that some facsimile of autonomy was returned to her.
    Last edited by Gorgondantess; 2011-06-10 at 03:25 AM.
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  16. - Top - End - #946
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Incom Morgan

    Looking at the young boy, not shaking with terror and losing controls of ones bladder like the sniveling coward before him, Incom considers his words. The nickname “Stitches” was not a good omen, and while his experience with the gods was… more direct than others he was starting to find them more and more unreliable.

    Of course depending on the nature of the gifts of the seer it could cost something other than money or false prayers to heal Sara. Looking down at her wounded face, a wound that he caused from his own weaknesses, Incom knew he would pay any price needed to see her safe.

    ”Take me to Maya, now!”

    Adjusting Sara in his arms Incom chases after the boy towards the seer.
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    I'm feeling this real hard now.
    Curse you, Pwenet. Curse you.... You had my hopes up there...

  17. - Top - End - #947
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    The_Snark's Avatar

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    Mar

    "I - nothing," Mar said, still reeling at William's accusation. "I ripped it in the forest, that's all." It was a mark of her distress that she didn't even realize this was very close to a lie until after she said it. It should have bothered her, but it was like pouring a bucket of water on someone when it was already pouring rain. Mar only had so much room in her head to worry about things, and right now the seer's machinations filled up all of it.

    She'd reached into William's head! Reached into it and changed what she found there! She must have, because Mar was certain, absolutely certain, that she had not said those things. It was the sort of thing Daddy would have said, and she was doing her level best to forget everything he'd told her. (She flushed a little when she wondered what Julian had told William, but quickly put it aside.) He'd wanted to make her unhappy, and if Maya said those things then she probably wanted the same thing. It frightened Mar that she could play with William's head—and maybe Julian's too—with such ease. What was she supposed to do? She might start an argument if she tried to correct William again, and she didn't know what else the seer might have planted in his mind, and... and if she pretended his memories were right and apologized, it would be like lying to him. But if she said nothing, William would like her less, even though she hadn't done anything wrong

    Mar found herself angry.

    This was not fair.

    "It's fine," she said, realizing that Jacob was still looking at her with concern. "I'll fix it if one of you can show me how. I ought to start learning how to take care of my own things instead of making you do it."
    Last edited by The_Snark; 2012-09-30 at 03:48 AM.
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  18. - Top - End - #948
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Kasanip's Avatar

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    Isera Harvent
    [Outside the Capital]

    Isera had to blink a few times listening to her father- where there tears in her eyes?

    She forced a rueful smile to her face.
    "I'll come back then. If the investigation leads where I think it might, then we will need to be united. It will only be more dangerous if we don't stop this bad influence in the canticles now. If you could arrange for a teleport for Carlain and I in the next few days, then we can move swiftly."

    She nodded.
    "I will see you soon, father." She said, before the conversation ended.

    Alone in the woods at night again, Isera sighed and felt two things. One was stress. It was going to be very stressful soon, and already it was stressful.

    The second was a little relief and hope. Maybe the relationship with her father could be actually fixed.
    But there was still a lot to do, and she was exhausted. Hiding a yawn, Isera walked through the forest silently, and returned to the inn.

    Going back to her room, she would check on Carlain, and then quickly try to sleep herself.
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  19. - Top - End - #949
    Ogre in the Playground
     
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    Cathedral City

    Baerdog7 – Special Autopilot DM

    Archpaladin Zousha

    At this point, the assassin sighs, or at least seems to sigh despite making no sound. For that matter thinking back, you can’t recall him ever making a sound – it was always his illusions or someone else shifting around, getting hit, etc. Weird.

    I have gone by many names over the years. You may call me Zariel, or The Reaper, whichever you prefer. All of my life I have served Morganna – as spy, confidant, and assassin. Of the two women I have loved in my time, she is one of them. But she is different now, perverted by her guilt. She has forsaken her duty to the Valkyrie, and this I cannot allow. I WILL NOT raise a hand against her, and so I have need of another’s hands to do the deed. Morganna must be removed from power, and while I will not harm her directly, I will betray her. Poetic justice, I suppose, for my many other sins.

    Zariel extends a hand to you, and then continues writing.

    Which is why I require your assistance. You will be the catalyst for her downfall. I have let you overhear Morganna’s conversation with Ander so that you know the truth. I can provide you with additional information as needed. For now, you need to return to the other Grandmasters. Ander has entrusted leadership of this rebellion to you, and you need to ensure that it does not falter. The Council is full of Morganna’s people, and so violence will be the only way to remove them from power. I will continue to stay by her side to manipulate the Council into further in-fighting, and provide you with information regarding their plans. It should not be difficult to finish Ander’s work. I have only one demand in return. After you have finished toppling the Council, you will not punish Morganna. You will not imprison her, nor send her soul back to the Valkyrie for judgment. Instead you will hand her over to me, and I will serve as her warden, someplace far away from here. And perhaps one day, she will finally recover from this guilt-driven madness.

    Zariel makes a half-hearted gesture, and a pair of daggers appears in his hands. He continues writing, tracing words in the air with the tip of one blade.

    So do we have a deal, boy? Your life and liberation of the church, in return for allowing me to oversee Morganna’s imprisonment. I will not ask you a second time.

    Stonefall

    (Oh no! Two PCs meeting each other again! One of you is gonna have to go and disappear now! )

    The_Snark

    “Well . . . alright.”

    Jacob said in reply to your offer to fix it yourself.

    “You didn’t hurt yourself when you did it? Of course I suppose you didn’t really hurt yourself when you got involved in that fall that broke William’s leg, either. Must be some sort of angel thing . . .”

    Jacob muttered trailing off. A moment later, he shook himself and stood back, allowing you entry into the cabin.

    “Anyway, while William and I are working, Caroline can show you how to stitch it back up. She’s actually quite a talented seamstress – must be those small hands.”

    True to Jacob’s word, Caroline did indeed prove to be quite adept with a needle and thread. She was not, however, a particularly good teacher, lacking the maturity to clearly and calmly describe a set of directions that could effectively tell you what to do. Eventually she just did the work herself, allowing you to closely watch her. The demonstration was enough that you were relatively confident in your ability to mimic the effort should your cloak be torn again. Spending time with the energetic young girl was also enough to drive the looming darkness of Seer Maya away. Whatever the woman’s game was, dealing with it would have to wait for tomorrow as the day moved on towards evening.

    The family had gathered in the common room again to prepare dinner. The potatoes that William had peeled under Jacob’s close supervision were put to immediate use in some kind of stew, along with some more of the meat bought from the butcher and a few other odds and ends that seem like odd additions but nonetheless help the modest brew smell heavenly. You were just about to sit down with the rest of the family to enjoy it when there is a loud knock at the door. Grumbling at the interruption, Jacob gets up and walks over to the door. Through the crack you can just barely see Julian standing there.

    “Hello Jacob. Could I please speak with you and Mar outside here for a minute? It’s very important.”

    “What’s this all about?” Jacob grumbles, but nonetheless beckoning to you before pushing the door all the way open.

    “It’s late, and – what the!?”

    Jacob takes an involuntary step back in surprise, nearly stepping back through the doorway and into you arrive at the doorway. Peering through you can see Julian . . . and a short distance down the path behind him, some sort of mechanical angel (Pwenet). Immediately the memory of the Hell Knight comes to mind, the metal monstrosity that launched your Escape from Ironheart. This construct looks no less fierce, but its appearance is mollified somewhat by the slender girl carefully cradled in his arms.

    The girl was about your age physically, perhaps a few years older. She was beautiful, but her face was marred by an ugly scar running across her cheek up to her nose. Even so there was . . . something special about her. Something that just made you feel lighter just looking at her, and made you instinctively want to protect her.

    “I am sorry to disturb you. But I was wondering if I could impose on your hospitality further – for her sake.” Julian says, indicated the girl and the metal angel. This prompts Jacob to examine them both critically.

    “What happened to her?” He asks, clearly not yet convinced to offer shelter to any of them.

    Pwenet

    At your words, the young man nods, and takes off down the street. Shifting Sara in your arms, you hold her tightly as you follow on foot, to ensure you don’t lose sight of him. The extra jostling due to being on the ground does nothing good for Sara, however, and she moans in agony, her cries pushing you onward. Your path takes you around and out of the small village completely, heading towards a thick cluster of woods just beyond the outskirts.

    As you are heading out of town, you cut through the local graveyard. Being in a rural town, the graves are simple affairs, little more than carved wooden signs hung from sticks at the head of each grave. The sight of a relatively fresh grave catches your eye, and the words written there nearly cause you to stumble.

    Here lies:
    Incom Morgan
    An Innocent Man


    But you have no time for such distractions, even your own grave. You would have to return later to ponder the meaning of this. Following the young man has he stumbles his way through the woods, you quickly come upon a large pavilion tent.

    “Maya!? Seer Maya!!?” The boy calls as he enters the tent one step ahead of you. Within the tent is a small wooden table, a glass orb sitting atop it. Within the orb is a swirling mist, and through that mist you catch a glimpse of somewhere else. A young girl with brilliant white wings speaking with an old man. You catch only a glimpse however, before the mists swirl back into a dark mass. Seated across the table from the entrance is a young woman, no doubt the aforementioned Seer Maya. She looks up with a very un-ladylike curse, glaring at the boy.

    “Julian! Why are you back here!? I told you –“ She snarls, before she catches sight of you – and Sara.

    “Oh ****.”

    She says simply, sweeping the glass orb and its stand off the table and dumping it onto the ground behind her.

    “Put her on the table, quickly!”

    Maya commands, standing up and rolling up her sleeves. As you move to obey, Maya mutters several nonsense sounding words and gestures. Sara goes completely limp a moment later, hanging lifelessly from your arms. But she is clearly not dead, as she continues to whimper pathetically as you lay her down onto the table.

    “That ought to make sure she doesn’t move when moving is a bad idea.” Maya explains hurriedly, bending over to grab Sara’s chin and tip her head to one side.

    “Now this is going to hurt dear. And what follows, even more so. But just remember it will all be over soon.”

    Raising her hand from Sara’s chin, she gently lies it on the gaping wound stretching across Sara’s face. A greenish glow suffuses Maya’s hand, and from there the entire length of Sara’s wound. Immediately despite her apparent paralysis Sara begins to scream, a loud, bloodcurdling howl of agony. Not bothering to look up, Maya raises her free hand towards you and makes a shooing motion, a single flick of her hand. Immediately an invisible force bodily picks you up and hurls you backwards, out of the tent and into a nearby tree. Just as quickly, you are bounding back up and charging towards the tent, cursing this apparent treachery. Yet when you re-enter the tent, you find the situation has changed yet again.

    Julian, the young man who had led you here, is still standing where he has been the entire time since entering the tent. Sara is lying on the table, no longer screaming, but unconscious and softly moaning. Maya is still standing over Sara, leaning down over her, one hand cradling her face, the other gently running through her hair.

    “Consider this my gift to you, Miriam.” She whispers into the girl’s ear, and then steps back and lifts her hands away. After Maya removes her hand, you can see that Sara’s injury has been completely healed. However, in its place is a long jagged scar, running up across her cheek to the bridge of her nose as an ugly dark line.

    “Apologies for my aggressive but necessary actions. My healing magic can be unpleasant to experience and unsettling to watch, but it is effective. I had to be sure that you would not attempt to interfere before the magic could take hold. Now the girl is out of danger, although she will need rest to make a full recovery. I sense she has a great destiny ahead of her.”

    Maya’s eyes narrow as she peers at you intently.

    “Much as I see in you, although the chains of fate bind you tightly. Usually my price for a healing such as this is the opportunity to tell the person’s fortune. I do not think the girl will awaken from her slumber this eve, however, and that is for the best. Would you mind me telling your fortune instead? The cards are over there on that shelf Julian. Would you kindly get them for me?”

    Blinking, Julian turns and grabs a stack of cards from the indicated shelf, handing them off to Maya. The seeress deftly shuffles them, and then looks down at the table, Sara still peacefully lying atop it.

    “Hrm, usually I place these cards on the table, but that doesn’t seem possible right now. Well, forget it then. I don’t need the cards this time to determine your fate.”

    Maya says, handing the cards back to Julian who mechanically puts them back. Coming around the table, the seeress stands directly in front of you, peering up into your eyes. She reaches up and lays a hand on your shoulder, an electric jolt running through you as she does so.

    “Although only a pawn in a much larger game, when the time comes you will choose your own fate.”

    She intones, and then slowly lets her hand fall away. She looks up at you a moment more, and then turns away, walking back over to the table.

    “Now then, we must see to some lodgings for the girl. This tent is not very big nor conducive to a speedy recovery, so you will have to take her elsewhere. I’m not sure with your appearance you will want to stay at the local inn, either. Therefore –“

    “She could stay with Mar!” Julian blurts out suddenly. Maya looks at him, brow furrowed a moment, but then nods slowly.

    “Yes. There is a family living on the outskirts of town, who came to visit me today. They would be isolated so as to ensure your privacy, and I can’t imagine they would deny you hospitality. If they do, merely say that Maya sent you – and that they owe me.”

    Maya says, her voice suddenly hardening. Walking back around the table, she sits back down and picks the glass orb back up.

    “Now if you will please depart. I have many things to do, to ensure the spirits of this place are kept in proper alignment.”

    Taking the hint that this was your cue to leave, you scoop the unconscious Sara up into your arms. She moans softly in her sleep, but it carries none of the pain she expressed minutes ago. Julian leads you back out, and then through the woods to a secluded cabin. He motions for you to stay back about halfway to the front door, and then goes on to approach alone. He knocks urgently on the door, until it opens a crack.

    “Hello Jacob. Could I please speak with you and Mar outside here for a minute? It’s very important.”

    You hear a gruff voice behind the door call out to someone else, and the door swings open the rest of the way to allow an older man to step outside.

    “What’s this all about?” The old man grumbles. “It’s late, and – what the!?”

    He grunts, catching sight of you and Sara cradling in your arms for the first time. The man seems awfully familiar to you, and then a second figure appears in the doorway. It’s the young girl with wings you had seen in Maya’s orb (The_Snark).

    “I am sorry to disturb you. But I was wondering if I could impose on your hospitality further – for her sake.” Julian says, indicated Sara. The old man – Jacob – examines you and Sara critically.

    “What happened to her?” He asks, pointedly looking at you.

    The Island of Dr(?) Sohssal

    Iethloc

    Once your laboratory was properly set up to contact test subjects, and you had a working spire to provide you with sufficient magical energy, you began your work. It was slow progress at first, but that was to be expected. As far as you knew, no one had ever tried to design a plague to turn humans into fiends, and so such pioneering work was bound to be excruciatingly slow. You made some good progress after looking at the matter from the angle of a curse, however. A number of curses were by nature designed to turn an unwilling recipient into something unpleasant, often after a trigger condition was fulfilled. This requirement for a trigger also would help you in controlling the disease and its spread.

    Day by day you worked, and day by day you grew closer to success. By this point you were now trying to determine what the intended statistics of the disease should be. It should be quite virulent and contagious, of course. But should there be an incubation time to allow the victim to suffer or should the transformation from human to demon be virtually instantaneous upon the victim contracting the disease? Should you take the time to develop a way to ward against the disease for your allies and the Baron’s men, or should this weapon be something best deployed in an area and then immediately abandoned so the ones dispersing it aren’t also infected? Once transformed, should the victims be magically compelled to obey the commands of a chosen master, or should they be mindless beasts, attacking all nearby in an attempt to spread the plague further? How would the plague best be past – through the air, through blood, or some other common vector such as tainted food?

    It was always possible, unfortunately, for the disease to mutate into a form that was either worthless or had otherwise unintended or unwanted effects. That was always the risk when dealing with living creatures. But at least your theory of anchoring a curse into an otherwise harmless germ seemed effective. Upon entering a human body, the curse within the germ would trigger, opening a small portal to the Hells and infusing the human with demonic energy. Mutation and transformation would inevitably follow, the process naturally accelerating as additional cursed germs multiplied within the victim’s body. You just had to fine tune all these little details about how the disease worked, and you should be ready to begin human trials.

    Outside the Capital

    Kasanip

    At your idea, Jean nods – he even manages a smile.

    “Good. I am going to be tied up in meetings tomorrow. Perhaps even for several days – I need to alert the other Canticle heads that we have traitors in our midst. None of them are going to be happy to hear it, and it’s probably going to take a miracle to convince them not to turn this into a literal witch hunt. But they had to be told nonetheless, before it’s too late. I will try to send someone for you, however. Where are you staying?”

    After giving Jean where you would be so he could send someone, he nods.

    “Very well. Take care.”

    He pauses for a long moment, and then adds something unexpected.

    “I love you Isera.”

    And then the connection was broken, and you were once again standing alone in the forest. Walking back to the inn, you make your way up to the bedrooms, stopping in to check on Carlain first. To your surprise, he is awake, although still groggy.

    “Hey Isera.”

    He whispers, weakly trying to push himself up into a sitting position.

    “I just remembered something. I don’t know if it’ll prove important at all or not, but it’s something. I think I already told you I never saw the grand warlock? Well that’s true, but there’s something I just remembered - something he always said at the end of every meeting. “Victoria in omnis res rei.” He said that every time, just before closing the connection. I don’t know what it means, but it seemed to hold a lot of significance to him.”

    Carlain weakly shrugs, then slumps back into bed.

    “That’s . . . that’s all I’ve got. Sorry.”

    Seeing that he is alright for the moment and deeply tired yourself, you head off to bed. Tomorrow was bound to be another difficult day.

    (Barring any additional questions, of course. )

    **********

    You awake early the next morning to a firm knocking at your door. Going cautiously over to it, you open it to find Duncan standing there with a smile. Cradled in his hands is a large steaming basket, from which come the pleasant odors of a hot breakfast.

    “Good morning, kiddo!” He says pleasantly, with a beaming smile that could match the rising sun.

    “Your father asked me to come over and give you a quick teleport back home. I figured it was the least I could do for the heroine of the hour! Well, that plus breakfast of course.”

    He added, holding up the basket of food.

    “But, more seriously, excellent work catching those traitors in our midst. I would certainly never suspect anyone within the Canticles of such a thing, to say nothing of actually indulging in demonic pacts!”

    Duncan shook his head sadly, but his dismay was only momentary before he returned to his usual cheery self.

    “What is this world coming to? Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to crack some more heads. You set them up, I’ll knock them down. Or well, blow them up or turn them into rabbits or something equally spectacular!”

    It occurs to you that at some point, Theresea might well arrive. And while the demon hunter had proven useful, you doubted that she would be allowed anywhere near the grounds of the secretive Canticles. Outsiders were simply not permitted to go bumbling about in Canticle business, particularly in as sensitive a matter as hunting their own. Which was a pity, as Theresea had certainly proven herself capable so far. Despite her stern nature, there was something about her that you just trusted. You doubted it, but perhaps an exception could be made in her case?

    The Capital

    OverWilliam

    “Hey Tare.”

    Brock replies, beckoning you to accompany him as he walks further away from the house. As it turns out he doesn’t go far, just enough to be out of sight of the windows. He turns back to look at the house and sighs.

    “I am sorry for interrupting your evening Tare, really I am. Little Karami needs whatever happiness she can get. And she really missed ya – never stopped talking about you coming back. I checked in on her from time to time for you, made sure she had paints for her little art projects – she calls me “Uncle Brock”, can you believe that? Really sweet girl.”

    Seeing the warning in your eyes, Brock takes an involuntary step back and throws his hands up.

    “But enough about that. I uh, I don’t know how to put this so I’m just going to come out and say it. Something’s come up, and uh, I suddenly have a pressing engagement I need to attend – a wedding, actually.”

    As he began to talk about the event, Brock started acting very nervous. He could be acting shifty because he’s trying to con you, or because – and this was a concerning thought – he was actually scared for once. Brock was rarely scared of anyone or anything – that’s how he got to be guild leader, and it tended to be one of the only ways to become a self-crowned king of thieves.

    “You might remember the Baron of Gast – he, uh, was the guy who owned Ironheart. Maybe you saw a painting of him on one of the walls somewhere? Anyway, he’s been an important patron of the guild lately, so whatever he says, goes basically. And I’ve just been informed that what he wants is for me to attend the wedding of his son to some countess. Which is tonight, um, starting in about an hour actually.”

    Brock wipes at his face, sighs, and then shrugs with a soft laugh.

    “The Baron of Gast may be good for business, but I don’t trust the Baron of Gast. So I need a bodyguard - the biggest, baddest, scariest bodyguard I can find. And after your little stunt today, that’s you old friend.”

    Brock could see that he was losing you, and immediately moved to block your path. As he does so, he steps out into the moonlight, allowing you to get a good look at him at last. He was dressed in a very fine suit – or at least what passed for very fine down in your circles. Quite frankly, he looked a little ridiculous, especially compared to the rough and tumble, down in the dirt Brock you were familiar with.

    “Waitwaitwaitwait Tare! Listen, I can lend you some clothes so you look all spiffy. And uh, if you do this for me . . . if you do this for me, consider us square. In fact, consider us more than square – I’ll owe you! I *really* need you with me on this one Tare. I’ve got one of those feelings, deep down in my bones – you know, like I used to always have about one of the McSkee Brothers’ insane plans? “Something bad is gonna happen”, right? Well, that’s exactly how I’m feeling about this wedding.”

    From behind you, the house’s door opens, shining light out into the darkness. Jonas appears in the doorway a moment later, peering out – and Karami peering out from behind him. They both brighten as they see you and Brock standing a short distance away.

    “Evening, Brock!” Jonas calls, waving.

    “Uncle Brock!” Karami shouts, clearly excited to be visited by someone else important to her. Only Jonas’s bulk in the doorway prevents her from coming out and dragging you both back inside personally. Brock manages a half-wave, and then immediately turns back to you, grim and serious.

    “Listen, if we’re going to make it, we’re going to have to leave now. Got time for goodbyes and all, but, y’know, make it fast. I was also instructed to bring only myself and maybe a plus one, so your prison girlfriend can’t come along. And if you aren’t coming, well, you know how I hate theatrics and all, but well . . . this is Goodbye, then.”

    The Wedding of Amelia Ashargrin and Cheran Gast

    Lonna

    With Cheran leaving you alone – for now – you turn your attention to the current task, which was picking up all the rose petals now scattered across the floor. The trio of guards were . . . less than helpful, despite their oh-so-helpful pointing at individual petals with cries of “pick it up!”, kicking small piles of rose petals back towards you, scattering them further, and just generally “accidentally” getting in your way. This was for Ariella though, it was all for Ariella, just as it had been all your life. That thought was the only thing that prevented you from popping the mage collar open and so righteously frying all three of them, specially trained guards or not.

    Suddenly, you feel the presence of other people nearby, and overhear a vaguely familiar voice whisper “Wait”. Then you see out of the corner of your eye someone in a dress approaching, and hear a much louder “Excuse me.” At that, the three guards step back away from you, allowing the dress to approach. You are just starting to look up when that person kneels down beside you, putting you both at eye-level with each other. It is Rose Gast, formerly Rose Volesin.

    The wife of Seraphan is clad in a teal dress with dark blue trim, complete with a silvery blue cape. Her arms are covered in sleeves of billowing fabric, but you catch a glimpse of the skin beneath, and notice that her arm is no longer bandaged. There is, however, a long jagged scar running down its length, from wrist to halfway to the elbow. More immediately noticeable is the dark blue scarf draped diagonally across her face, covering her right eye completely. Like Cheran, she seems to have lost an eye recently – very recently since she was whole the last time you saw her on your way to the Gastly Truth. She manages a soft smile as she looks you up and down with a slight shake of her head.

    “Pyrene, isn’t it? We met briefly several days ago at the Gast Manor. I introduced myself then as Rose Gast, although before my marriage to Seraph I was Rose Volesin. I now know that you’re the one responsible for my brothers’ deaths.”

    Then she reaches out to you, and for a moment you think she’s going to hit you, but then she simply embraces you instead.

    “I forgive you. I can’t condone what you did, but I don’t doubt my idiot brothers gave you no choice. When I heard you were attending the wedding with my father of all people, I knew I had to see you to tell you that.”

    Rose pulls away and looks down at your dress again and shakes her head.

    “Although I can’t believe he made you dress like that! At his age!? He should be ashamed – would you like my cloak?”

    At this point Seraph steps forward and clears his throat.

    “Rose, we really should be going.”

    “In a minute. We still have time.” She admonished, beginning to bend down and pick up rose petals with you. It was slow going for her, as she obviously had trouble with her lack of depth perception – something Cheran unfortunately was already used to somehow. Still, she tried to help, and she stayed until the last rose petal was back in the basket. The guards didn’t dare to interfere now like they had been – the one time you glimpsed one stepping forward, Seraph immediately stepped forward to clamp a hand down on the back of the guard’s neck, dragging him away. Pushing herself back up, Rose offered you a hand up.

    “I’ve suffered a lot of tragedy lately, but I’ve since decided to let go of my anger – most of it anyway. It was making me into someone I didn’t want to be. My father, however . . . he thrives on rage. He almost never appears angry, but that is only because he rarely allows it to surface. He channels it instead, allowing it to drive him to do . . . well, whatever he believes needs to be done. He is thus a very driven man, a very angry man. I don’t know why you are here with him, but . . . be careful.”

    Rose spares a moment more to look on you with a pitying glance, and then walks over to join Seraph. She drapes one arm around his, and allows him to guide her down the hallway away from you. Once the couple is gone, the two guards resume their posts by the door while the third grabs you roughly by the arm.

    “Come on, let’s go.”

    And with that you are escorted back through the hallways, emerging in the back of the main worship area. You find that the whole Gast clan is there, lined up and waiting. At the front of the assembly is the Baron of Gast, one hand loosely wrapped around the Countess’s left arm. With his free hand he points at a spot on the floor directly in front of him. When you get near he whispers to you, too low for any of the nearby patrons to overhear.

    “You weren’t here for the rehearsal, but your job is simple. With her father dead, it’s up to me to give away the bride. You will precede us up the center aisle when the music starts, spreading those rose petals as you go. Volesin is already sitting in the front row of pews on the left. When you get to the front, you turn left and sit down beside him. The rest of my family will follow us up and sit down as well, and when Cheran at the back reaches us, I hand the bride off to him and the ceremony begins. It shouldn’t take long, and then you can be off with Volesin for whatever he wants you for. Simple enough?”

    A minute after you take your place, the Baron gestures, and heavy organ music begins playing. Your cue to start up the aisle, no doubt.

    Dorizzit

    You order the surrounding blaze to weaken, just enough to allow the people scrambling around outside to finish the job. Otherwise, the idiots might not keep the fire contained and it would spread further, causing even more disruption. Disruption that might somehow result in the wedding being postponed, regardless of even the Baron’s wishes. That would be intolerable.

    Fortunately, concerns that anyone would be in your way proved to be unfounded. The inside of the inn, that which wasn’t already charred to a crisp, was deserted. Outside, people were clustered up in bucket lines, too busy with putting out the fires to notice one man discretely slipping down the back alley.

    After you were clear of the inn, however, you noticed something disturbing. Looking up you saw that this was not the night sky of a night swiftly ending in dawn. Rather, it was the night sky of evening fading into the true dark of night, the uncaring stars shining down in all their pinprick glory.

    Ah, yes. The merger took a bit of time, more than even I anticipated.

    Purifier explained within your mind.

    One day has passed in the interim. This wedding you are planning on interrupting is likely starting any minute now. I apologize but the delay was necessary to do such necessary work as regenerating your arm. Future repairs should not nearly take so long.

    Of course that didn’t help you right now! One corner of your mind wonders why no one came to check on you when you failed to show up this morning. Then again, the only one who likely cared was Katrina, and perhaps she was busy with her own preparations. And then once everyone had gathered and you were still missing, they probably just decided there was no time and they would need to go without you. In any event, you would need to hustle if you wanted to get there!

    Theme Music

    Unfortunately, you couldn’t just jump up into the air and fly there on a stream of molten flame. You were capable of such a feat now, you were sure, but such a display of raw power was bound to attract attention. Far between for the Baron to think you’re still just old weak human Korram, instead of god-on-earth Korram. Until it was too late, of course, and you could boil the skin from his body at your leisure. Which meant running down streets and through crowds in order to get to your destination. That was fine, actually, as you could tell Purifier had already made subtle alterations to your muscles. You could run faster and for far longer than you could before, even years ago when you were in peak physical condition as a hardened revolutionary.

    Taking off down the alleyway at a dead sprint, you cut through the water line of people stretched out across the next street, leapt over the cart obstructing your access to the next alleyway, and continue on your beeline towards the cathedral. You had a wedding to crash!

    A number of minutes later, you are much further into the city and just now starting to have to breathe heavily, despite running at top speed the whole way. Overhead you can see the dark shape of the Gastly Truth cutting through the heavy clouds hanging ominously over the city. Storm clouds, from the look of them, heavy with rain that is aching to burst forth. Good, perhaps the rain will help put out the new fire you’ll start when you use the cathedral as the Baron’s funeral pyre!

    Ahead you can hear loud angry shouting and the sounds of fighting. Rounding a corner you catch sight of the cathedral, and the back of Martin’s distraction as an angry crowd of armed drunks press forward to engage the beleaguered line of guards struggling to hold them back. You had arrived just in time then, and after ducking down a few more side alleys found yourself staring at the side of the cathedral. Sure enough, there were no guards in sight despite the obvious door directly ahead of you.

    As you prepare to sprint across the gap and into the cathedral itself, you are forced to take cover in the alleyway as a squadron of GHASTs come screaming down out of the clouds. None of them seem to have noticed you – indeed, they all seem to be concentrating on the crowd of rioters near the front of the cathedral. When they have passed, you sprint out of cover of the alleyway and up to the door, shouldering it open. As you slam into the doorway, the night lights up as the GHASTs begin firing their beam weapons into the crowd. Angry shouts change to screams of pain and panic in an instant – rather than allow the guards to eventually handle it, the Baron had chosen to suppress it brutally with a bunch of his pet monsters. Your distraction wasn’t going to last much longer.

    Fortunately, it didn’t need to as you were now inside the cathedral. Just inside the door was a small room isolated from the rest of the cathedral. You aren’t sure if it was supposed to be some sort of kitchen or meditation room, but right now it was a charnel house. Four guards lie splattered and scattered across the room – Lunara had not been gentle in her disabling of the guard detail. To your surprise Katrina was also in here, busily spreading the contents of a large cask of oil around across the floor. She jumps as you charge through the doorway, dropping the cask to go for a dagger, and then freezes as she realizes it’s you.

    “Korram! What happened to you!?” She hisses, before inclining her head to the door on the opposite side of the room, hanging half ajar.

    “Lunara is busy in the acolytes chamber, and Argan is already climbing up into the rafters. I’m arranging for another little distraction for us in the form of a fire – ought to be a get people out here trying to put it out instead of looking for us.”

    Then Katrina catches sight of your arm, and her eyebrows shoot up in alarm and confusion.

    “What? Korram, how’d you get your arm back!? Where exactly *have* you been all day!?”

    WhiteKnight777

    At your words, Shiakti throws her head back and laughs. It is a cold, bitter laugh that contains more than a single shrill note of hysteria. As quickly as it starts however, it stops as Shiakti shakes her head emphatically.

    “No, Umbra. Ta Baron has saved meh. Ya not know, do ya?”

    Again Shiakti laughs, this one threatening to morph into a sob before Shiakti clears her throat loudly.

    “We was betrayed, Umbra! Betrayed by one ah our own! Zariel, he tricked us all! He was neva one ah us! He was ah spy, sent by ta damn god botherahs!”

    This accusation seemed insane. Zariel was the one who discovered how to summon an angel. Without his help you would never have become the Lords of Blood. And yet, how *did* he discover such information? Shiakti grins as she seems the realization in your eyes.

    “Yes! He was one ah dem all along! Dat’s how he knew how ta summon ta angel! It was all to get us ta trust him! I should have let you crush his skull when we first met! But I didn’t, I convinced ya ta give him a chance! A chance ta stab us in ta back!”

    Shiakti clenches her fists, and for a moment you think she was going to unleash all her pent-up frustration in some sort of act of mindless destruction. Fianna interrupts before that can happen.

    “How did you figure this out? At the time of our ascension, we all still believed he was one of us. Even at the time of our defeat and separation, we still thought that. So when did you manage to figure this out?”

    “He told me!”

    Shiakti shrieked, sounding much like a wounded panther. The shout carried out into the rest of the worship area, causing a few people down on the ground floor to look up. They shrugged and look away after Shiakti recovered enough to continue in a softer tone that was no less wounded.

    “Afta our escape, ta bastard confessed. He told me everyting, said he was going to surrenda hisself ta dem. His *real* people. He said we had sinned, dat we must atone. He wanted me to come wit him, said he could git dem ta spare me. I . . . I couldn’t . . .”

    Shiakti trailed off, her eyes focused on some point distant, far away and long ago. Numbly, she slumped into a nearby chair, and seemed to fold into herself further. It was only apparent then just how bad she looked. This was not the Shiakti you knew. This was someone who had been shattered, and clumsily pieced back together in Shiakti’s shape.

    “I couldn’t – wouldn’t – go wit him. And I couldn’t return home – I had long turned mah back on tat place. Dey would neva accept me back, certainly not afta seeing me like dis. So I fled, inta ta wilderness, living as ah beast. I hoped in time, living like tat, I would forget. Jus . . . forget everyting. But I neva did.”

    At that moment, the door to the balcony swung open again, revealing the Baron of Gast.

    “And then, many long centuries later, I found her. I regret to say that originally my intention was to use her in the Hierarch’s ritual to release Azguloth. But after I heard her story, well, I was moved with pity.”

    Stepping out to join you on the balcony, the Baron laid his hand on Shiakti’s right shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. She managed a faint smile, leaning back to rub her head against his arm, much as a trained cat would do.

    “I convinced her that roaming aimlessly in the wilderness was no way for a woman of her skills to live. I offered her a position as my chief of security – the head of my Hands, so to speak. But more importantly, I offered her a life – a sense of purpose again, and a chance at the one thing she craved above all else - Revenge.”

    For just a moment, cold fury washes over you at the realization that Shiakti had not been broken and then clumsily put back together. No, every piece had been arranged very deliberately, to twist her into the pale shadow of her old self you saw before you. Zariel had been the one to smash her, but it was the Baron’s hand who had molded her into this . . . freak. Your fury changes to momentary horror as you realize that it is exactly what you would have done faced with a skilled but . . . vulnerable individual. But the horror quickly passes as the rest of you notes that you only care because Shiakti was once a close friend. Encountering a stranger in the same situation as the Baron did, you would have done the same thing. So, perhaps your initial assertion that the Baron held Shiakti in bondage was not quite so far off after all. Unfortunately you were unable to dwell on this further as the Baron turned his attention to you.

    “Tell me something Umber. What do you think the real source of mankind’s woes is?”

    The Baron continues without waiting for your answer, his voice growing more and more fervent.

    “Is it the fiends of the Hells? Our own darker natures? No . . . it is the gods themselves! They have taken it upon themselves to guide us, to command us, and to punish us when we refuse to dance to their tune. But what do we need them for really? Nothing! And that is why I answered with derision when you suggested that I sought to become an avatar Umber. Becoming an avatar would mean serving as the vessel for a god, serving a god! I have no interest in such things!”

    Reigning himself back in, the Baron forced a conspiratorial smile onto his face.

    “Umber, back in your day, you had no use for the gods of your time. In fact you slew any who stood in your way. But really, what’s the difference between the gods then and the gods now? Admittedly most of the gods in your day were merely demons pretending to be all powerful, but we already know the gods of today are not invincible either! Azguloth the Destroyer is imprisoned beneath Ironheart, and he cannot free himself. It took the work of a madmen working since the dawn of time to come even close to freeing him!”

    The Baron gave a bark of a laugh and shook his head.

    “And if the gods were so invincible, then why would they feel compelled to destroy men such as us Umber? They fear us, because just like the gods of old, they are not truly invulnerable. We can beat them, we can break them, and then there will be nothing standing in mankind’s way of complete and total domination of all existence! One is already imprisoned for us, one is absolutely worthless by all accounts, which leaves us with only one target - Miriam the Valkyrie.”

    The Baron clenches his fist.

    “It was Miriam who sicced her pet humans on you after you grew powerful enough to threaten her rule. It was Miriam who has kept humanity locked in a cage of rules and morality. And it is Miriam who has to die if humanity is to truly flourish. I have labored on a plan that will lead to her demise for forty long years Umber, and it is a plan that is finally nearing its culmination! I have offered Shiakti the opportunity to be there with me when the being responsible for ruining her life is finally brought to justice. I would like to extend to you, to both of you, the same opportunity. Think about it Umber. This is a once in existence opportunity, the chance to participate in the execution of a goddess! As a former exemplars of humanity, I would like to offer you that chance, to stand by my side as Shiakti has already chosen. If you’re not interested, however, then very well. So long as you do not interfere in my affairs you may go on your way and do as you wish. But I can offer far more than just the chance to help nail the Valkyrie’s coffin shut. I will expect your answer, yes or no, after the conclusion of the ceremony. Now if you will excuse me, I have a bride to escort.”

    And with that, the Baron turned to go, disappearing back out the door. Shiakti also rose to go.

    “I should go as well. Check ta perimeter, all dat. Enjoy yourselves!”

    Fishtown, The Fishiest Place on Earth that Never Fished

    Gorgondantess

    “We live on an island far out into the ocean. To call it an island may do my homeland a disservice, however. We are our own self-sufficient nation, with a population numbering in the thousands. All trained and focused on the goal of waiting vigilantly for the next Archdemon to appear.”

    *******

    At your questions, Maurice shakes her head with a sad smile.

    “It’s not a question of owing them anything. I was created to guide and protect the humans – ALL humans. It is . . . like an instinctual need, to put it into terms you might understand. I could act against those instincts, and some of my sisters have chosen to do just that. I choose to embrace them, in part because . . . because I pity the humans. Their lives are so short, they barely have time to experience what this world has to offer before they stand to be judged. Such a short time of existence often does not breed maturity. To me humans are like a bunch of squabbling children, not grown enough yet to learn true wisdom. I suppose that makes me their parent then, and like all good parents I am concerned for the wellbeing of my children – especially the unruly ones. And yet, despite the shortness of their lives, a few humans prove to be capable of such bravery and piercing insights I am left breathless. There is much I have yet to learn about them, even after all these centuries of study.”

    At your observations, Maurice gives a short musical laugh.

    “I see humans aren’t the only one capable of penetrating insights. I will remain here, and serve as your teacher at your request. I am sure I can find enough to keep myself entertained until then.”

    And with that, Maurice turns and leaves. As she is leaving she briefly reverts to her angel form to give her wings a few experimental flaps. It is enough to cause her to rise into the air a few feet, but works more like a hop than actual flight. Apparently satisfied with the unsuccessful test or perhaps even embarrassed at her still regrowing wing, she resumes human form and walks the rest of the way back into town.

    ****************

    When you return to your burgeoning stronghold, at first you cannot locate Maurice. You begin to wonder if perhaps she did escape or somehow proved prescient with the idea that something would kidnap her. Then you catch word that your followers had set your “guest” up in the premium room at the inn, and that Maurice had been seen traveling in that direction. Going to investigate, you find the front bar portion deserted at this hour – everyone too busy working on building your vision for your cult (or rather what they perceived as your vision – stupid humans). The common room was deserted that is, except for Omnicron and Maurice who are seated at one of the tables.

    As you enter, Maurice is singing some sort of hymn, the song seeming to lack identifying words but beautiful in its pitch and complex melody. As she finished, Omnicron manages a smile and claps appreciatively.

    “I am afraid we don’t have time for much music where I come from. Most of what we do have tends to boil down to “Kill the Archdemon, Kill the Archdemon, Kill the Archdemon!”

    Both of them break into laughter over that, although Maurice’s laughter fades when she catches sight of you.

    “Oh you’re back! How did your experimentation go? I was just discussing our relative homelands with Omnicron.”
    I didn't actually intend to kill EVERYONE. It just sort of happened.

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  20. - Top - End - #950
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Archpaladin Zousha's Avatar

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    Hondshioh

    Hondshioh's glare at Zariel softens, but only a little. More introspective focus than anger.

    "I have seen on this crusade more truths and lies than I could have ever imagined the world could hold. Part of me wishes I had never gotten involved, my vision of the world never so shattered beyond repair. A paladin can sense the evil lurking in the hearts of people, but now? Good and evil have become so blurred that even the vision of a paladin cannot tell the difference. But the past cannot be changed. I can only strive for a better future, as Ander did. Somehow, I imagine the Valkyrie's planned punishments would cause more harm than good if I turned Morganna over to her, especially if how Morganna has painted her, as an uncaring and vindictive being who wasted countless souls as a passive-aggressive punishment for man's mistakes, is true. Until Morganna and the Council are defeated, we are allies, Zariel. Afterwards...we shall see."

    He extends his hand.
    "Reach down into your heart and you'll find many reasons to fight. Survival. Honor. Glory. But what about those who feel it's their duty to protect the innocent? There you'll find a warrior savage enough to match any dragon, and in the end, they'll retain what the others won't. Their humanity."

  21. - Top - End - #951
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    WhiteKnight777's Avatar

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    Umber

    Umber sat down heavily, his hand cupping his chin, eyes lost in thought. It was like one of those little nesting dolls, with all the layers upon layers. His fate, that was - if fate it could be called. Thoughts reeled drunkenly through his mind, and it took his logical processes a few moments to run them down and mug them into submission so that he could line them up in something resembling order.

    The Baron was his... successor. Of that there could be no doubt. There were too many similarities, too many echoes - and not just echoes of himself. And if that were true, it meant there were more shadows waiting in the wings...

    And speaking of shadows: Zariel. That wretched little bastard. He had destroyed Shiakti with the worst weapon of all: Love. Even the Huntress couldn't stand against that poisoned blade. Of course, the Baron shared the blame for what he had done - piecing her back together in that hunched and hollow thing. But he was a pragmatist at heart, and so Umber's hatred for him burned less fiercely - though in the quiet corner of his mind where Umber kept his accounts, he considered that the Baron was quickly accruing a debt he would be unable to pay.

    But there it was - the question he was avoiding. Where did he stand? Which side did he choose? He took it as a given that the Baron's plan could succeed - despite the enormity of the idea, of killing one of the world's creator-gods, Umber believed it could be done. He might have found a way himself, given the resources and effort of the sort the Baron had put into the effort. But the question was, should he participate in this scheme?

    It was a rare moment of self-awareness, but Umber had to admit in his heart of hearts that he was not sure if humanity could do any better than the gods - and he included himself here in humanity. They were short-sighted little creatures, and he did not think that the power of a goddess would change that, even one so potent as the Valkyrie.

    Aye, and there was the rub - who would step into her shoes? Nature abhorred a vacuum, and supernature as well. Umber had a feeling that the Baron already had a candidate in mind.

    But... well, there were other considerations. That kind of power, if it could be harnessed, might be enough to... Gods and demons, it might be enough to give Fianna back what she had lost. Umber's mouth dried and his heart thud-thudded in his chest. He knew well enough that power never solved problems - but sometimes the person wielding it could. There would be prices to be paid - but to have his love back, and to live with her again, in peace... that would be worth paying it.

    But that left one question, and one that gnawed at him as he sat by Fianna's side, drawing her down into his lap and cradling her there: What to do about the Baron. He looked at her then, aware that she must be going through the same process as he, albeit cooler and without the emotional attachments.

    "And you, love? What do you make of his offer?"

  22. - Top - End - #952
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Incom Morgan

    ”Her father sent a rabid dog to bring her back home and I was not fast enough to stop him.”

    Pausing for a moment Incom let’s the words hang in the air. Prehapes they were still a bit tense but now that Sara had recovered there was the nagging feeling of wrongness that coursed within. That feeling took root the moment he saw the gravestone:

    Here lies:
    Incom Morgan
    An Innocent Man
    He should NOT be here! He should not even be alive. He was dead and buried. Wormfood. Dust and bones and probably very rank by this point in time. It was not natural. It was INHUMAN! DEMONIC!

    Shaking his head violently Incom realizes that too much time had passed since his last comment and he was probably frightening the people of this house. Attempting to take a deep breath (funny how old habit die hard [die hard, hehe]) he looks back down at Jacob.

    ”My apologizes, it has been a long day and I… never mind. Her name is Sara, and her father is an evil man who tried to kidnap her and she was wounded by his own soldier. Seer Maya healed her and said that you might be willing to let us stay while she recovers. We won’t be too long, just long enough for her to gather her strength again.”

    Most of the truth was better than none. Until he knew more he didn’t not want to tell them that Sara was the daughter of the Baron of Gast. Who knows what could happen in that case.

    All the while questions burned within, yearning to get out. What was his body doing in the graveyard? Did anyone know him here? Who brought his corpse here?

    Looking over at the young girl with wings Incom spies something odd. It was a brief movement but it was enough for him to see burned on her arm a number “2”. His own arm started to itch, where once long ago magic burned it with a similar number, a number 1. Was this another prisoner from the hellish depths of Ironheart?
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    I'm feeling this real hard now.
    Curse you, Pwenet. Curse you.... You had my hopes up there...

  23. - Top - End - #953
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    The_Snark's Avatar

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    Mar

    For once, she didn't protest at being called an angel. That, too, was starting to feel like it would be a lie.

    Spending time with Caroline was soothing, in a way. It wasn't restful, exactly, but keeping up with the younger girl required most of her attention, and that kept her from dwelling on the seer and her other worries. After that, she tried her hand at mending an old shirt Jacob kept around for dirty jobs, just for practice, and then there was firewood to be gathered, and a hole in the fence around the trash heap (made by raccoons, Jacob said) that needed to be patched up, and vegetables to be chopped for the stew. Mar was happy to have her hands kept busy; work was just about the only part of life at Ironheart that she didn't mind remembering. There was something nice and clean about seeing a job well done, and when Jacob looked at her he saw someone useful. She practically glowed when she thought about that.

    She was looking forward to the stew, and it was disappointing when the wider world pushed its way into the cozy little cabin to interrupt. She followed Jacob to the door, shying back a little when she saw the peculiar metal creature. It wasn't the Hell Knight, she was relieved to see; that had been wrought in the shape of a demon, whereas this one was fashioned after an angel instead. Not that this guaranteed it was safe; she could remember angels (or rather winged men) doing monstrous things, and not even in her admittedly spotty memories as an angel could she remember metal creatures made in their image.

    But the girl in its arms made it a little easier not to be afraid of the thing, her frailty softening the harsh metal contours of its body. Julian would hardly have brought them here if it weren't safe. And the story... she glanced briefly at the others, wondering if they too heard her story reflected in the girl's. That made her nervous; it reminded her that her father might have sent people after her, too. Was this a trick, or more of the seer's mockery? She didn't trust anything with Seer Maya's name attached.

    And yet... the girl was here now. The scar on her face was real. Mar didn't think she could refuse them. It wouldn't be fair for one fleeing girl to receive shelter while another was turned away.

    Of course, it wasn't her choice to make. Mar glanced towards Jacob, waiting for his decision. She wouldn't say anything - it was his house and she was already imposing on them, she couldn't demand he take in more strange guests - but the mute appeal in her eyes was clear enough.
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  24. - Top - End - #954
    Orc in the Playground
     
    Iethloc's Avatar

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    Sohssal

    Sohssal reasoned it would be best to allow the disease an incubation time. The transformed humans would scare off other potential victims, so it would need time to spread before that. He also decided to make the “cure” purely preventive, and based on a very complex spell at that (the more control he had over it, the better). Those without such protection should become relatively mindless, as he reasoned someone else could exploit an inborn compulsion if they studied the disease (and mutations could make it obey someone else or even no one later on). The comparatively pathetic creatures this plague would spawn won't be a threat to Sohssal, and his powerful demonology should afford enough control anyway. Any sort of complex trigger could be ruined by mutations, so he just designed in one trigger to make the disease permanently active (in humans) after its initial deployment. A simple flare spell would do the job.

    Sohssal gave the most thought to the transmission of the disease. In the end, he decided making it waterborne would be the most effective. This way, the disease could still linger in an area even if all the infected are killed, and could spread through the water and the fish without ever needing human hosts. He still did his best to make sure it could be carried asymptomatically in animals and plants, so it could also be carried in tainted food.


    With the intended properties of the disease, Sohssal was now ready to retrieve more supplies and test subjects. The subjects would be easy enough to get from some backwater village, but the hard part would be getting his associates to go along with this. He suspected Omega would not be overly concerned (her partly-demonic biology would definitely make her immune). Shanks would need the "vaccine", but he seemed loyal enough. Sohssal suspected Roger would be the wild card. He would reveal his plans to them and deal with any dissent some time before contacting the Baron again.
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  25. - Top - End - #955
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Dorizzit's Avatar

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    Korram

    Korram hears Purifier's explanation of the extended length of time that had passed without particular care. It didn't matter. He could still get there on time. Korram immediately sets an almost inhuman pace towards the site of the wedding, vaulting over or moving around obstructions and pushing through particularly crowded area of people. He revels in his newfound physical power, and grins as he arrives at his destination only slightly winded. He sneaks through the riot and past the squad of GHASTs. He pauses for the first time, however, when he encounters his daughter. Korram's expression grows serious at Katrina's admonishment, then gives a small smile at her shock at his new arm.

    "Long story short..."

    He lifts his right fist and snaps it open, creating a small fire ball for a few seconds before dismissing it.

    "I'm back. I can go into details if we're still alive after this."

    With an effort, Korram absorbs his replaced arm back into his body, making him look as though it had never been recovered. He wanted his new abilities to be a surprise for the right moment.

    "Anyway, I need to get to my spot. I'll still fill my part of the plan. It may just end a bit differently than we expected. Anything new I should know about?"

    If there isn't, or if there is and it doesn't affect his part of the plan, Korram then heads over to his spot.
    Truly awesome Ark Tamaeus avatar by Bryn. Full size version here.

  26. - Top - End - #956
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    OverWilliam's Avatar

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    ~Tare

    Tare bristled at Brock's mention of Karami's name, as he had earlier. He wasn't sure how much Brock knew about Karami, but given the fact that he'd never asked, it wasn't hard to guess that he knew enough to satisfy his curiosity. Tare didn't know whose idea it had been to imply the threat to Karami in order to ensure his cooperation with his last 'official' Guild business, but given the options it wasn't inconceivable to think Brock had something to do with it. Since then it seemed that he'd taken up the 'misunderstood nice guy' shtick, and it was quite convincing at times, but Tare swore under his breath right then and there that he would never forget who Brock had turned himself into beneath the surface. Among other things, this was the man that had sent him to Ironheart.

    Tare's silence took on an inexplicable pressure, his eyes merciless in their lack of emotion of any sort to take queue from, but the simmering anger beneath was almost tangible in the air around the two ex-friends. When Brock mentioned the Baron, however, something changed. Wheels were turning, pieces dropping into place, clues connecting and changing the way Tare thought. As Brock continued, the dogged street-thief before him grew no more friendly, but seemed at least a little less intense-- and suddenly pointedly interested in what he was saying.

    And then came his request for a bodyguard. That was enough to make one eyebrow point up in surprise and query, though it wasn't noticeable in the low light.

    When Tare turned to walk away, it was mostly done as a way to pressure Brock into letting more slip-- he was already too intrigued to shut the snake off completely. The ploy worked better than Tare expected even, which took Tare by surprise. He met Brock's eyes without flinching and stared for a few intentionally uncomfortable seconds before finally speaking for only the second time.

    "...You're serious, aren't you." It wasn't a question. Karami's voice interrupted, and Tare looked back, pained, at the door. He didn't want to leave again so soon. He never wanted to leave again ever, but definitely not so soon.

    "And if you aren’t coming, well, you know how I hate theatrics and all, but well . . . this is Goodbye, then."


    The words froze Tare to his core. The chilling resignment in the words stabbed a fear into Tare's gut, and he could only imagine what Brock was feeling at that moment. His gaze grew heavy again, staring deep into Brock's, looking for something buried deep within them. Some hint of the old Brock that he'd prowled the streets with as punk teenagers. He just glimpsed it there, brought out by the fear, before it was lost again beneath the layers of corruption and self-preservation that had come over it since. Tare sucked in a shaking breath.

    "You're not messing with me." He said quietly. "If I don't come with you now, you believe you'll be dead before the sun comes up tomorrow." Again, it wasn't a question. Brock didn't answer, which was an answer all by itself. Tare sighed heavily. "...Give me two minutes."

    ~~~~

    "Mel, would you come here please?" Tare asked, halfway back up the walk to the front door, right in between worlds-- on one side the warmth of Karami and the closest thing he'd had to a family since leaving his birth one behind, and on the other the coldness and uncertainty and fear of a long night that didn't promise a sunrise on the other side. Melcara slipped past Jonas with quiet urgency, and drifted to a stop in front of Tare. Tare had no doubt that if they spent much more time together they might be able to communicate entirely through eye contact, and it seemed to be an immensely efficient means of communication-- in one glance and a few seconds Melcara seemed capable of asking half a dozen questions and more. Tare spoke low so that she was the only one that could hear. "He's in real trouble. I don't know what he's getting me into, but he's really afraid. I can't think of a better reason to run like hell in the opposite direction, but damned if I can't just let the man walk off to his own death." Tare breathed out a grunt of frustration and balled his fists. "He's a snake now, but there was a time when we weren't so different. ...He wants a bodyguard as company to a high-class hob-knob. It's invitation only, and he's only got invites for himself plus one." He watched Melcara closely, gauging her reaction. "You told me a while ago that you weren't strong enough to stand on your own. Truth is, I'm not either. That's why I'm not alone. That's where my strength comes from-- Karami; Teareal and Adame'; ...You." Tare pulled her gently closer and stood with his forehead just touching hers. "Will you stay with her, Melcara? She's going to be frantic for a while. Jonas and Hanna have been wonderful foster parents for her, but I doubt they could hold her down if they both sat on her. I hope even an Angel's strength will be enough-- but you might be hard pressed." He chuckled, despite himself, at his own joke. "...Don't let her sneak out after me. I havn't prepared her to follow me because I never want her going where I've gone. But she can't understand that, not yet. She'll try to follow me, I know it. Please, keep her here. Keep her safe." Tare held Melcara's hands in his own. "And... About that strength of yours. I said I would keep these bands until Adame' was safe. We havn't gotten to see her awake and alive ourselves, but I believe that Brock kept his word, and I trust that Ulrich is even better than he thinks he is-- and far more skilled than Limier. She's alive. And I can't quite go milling around at a high-class function with prison bangles like this at my wrists." He allowed himself a smile. "Try not to make a show of it. No one needs to know who you are just yet."

    "I promise I'll be back. For both of you."

    ~~~~

    "Karami," Tare called her to himself, now kneeling on the house's front porch. Karami was taller than he when kneeling down, and so he had to look up into her eyes. His earlier prediction had been right; Karami had become a young woman while he had been gone, and it broke his heart to think of what he'd missed. Her eyes were full of emotion the likes of which only a teenager feels so intensely. "Karami, Uncle Brock is in some trouble. He hasn't told me what's going on, exactly, but... I'm the only one who can help him. Do you understand, Kiddo? Sometimes there are things that we have to do, even if we don't want to be the one to have to do them, just because there's no one else who can. We have to use what we have to do what we can, even if it's not much, and even if we might fail... because that's what makes Humans Special. We have to fight for what we Believe in, because that's what makes them worth believing in." Karami nodded, tears flowing freely from both eyes by this point. "I don't want to leave again, Kid. I don't want to do anything but go back inside and pour another bowl of stew and hug you and Jonas and Hanna until you all pop and never leave. ...But I have to go. Uncle Brock needs me. And other people too. I wish I could stop time and just stay here with you forever... But if people could stop time then everybody would do it, and then we'd be in a bigger mess. ...I'm sorry that I left before without telling you. I didn't choose to leave, there were some people that forced me to, and I couldn't stop them. But this time, I have to make a choice. And I can't make the choice to stay, even if it's what I want more than anything else, if it means I'm responsible for Uncle Brock getting hurt... or worse." Tare looked up at Karami, his own eyes not tear-free, and saw that she was trying really hard to understand what he was saying. Of course it couldn't possibly make sense to a 15-year old girl-- nothing that dragged him away from her again ever could, it was anathema-- but she trusted him enough to try, to dry her eyes and grit her teeth and bear it, because he asked her to. She scrubbed at her eyes with her hands, sniffed loudly, and nodded, little fists balled up at her sides, eyes pink and swollen. Tare smiled up at her. "There's my girl." He whispered, which was enough to cause the girl to lose the fragile control that she'd mustered for his sake and throw her arms around his neck and cry into his hair.

    Tare choked a laugh through his own tears and smiled, stroking her hair and hushing her. "Shhh... I'll be back. Somehow, I promise. ...Karami, I need to tell you something. Something really important, about your Parents. It's so important that it'll probably take a whole day, just you and me together, and at the end of it there's a decision to make. I swear to you that I won't die until I make it back here to you so that I can tell you. Ok?" She was still tangled around his throat so he couldn't see her face, but he felt her draw in a awe-struck breath at the mention of her parents... and then nod. He patted her on the back. "Attagirl. Now go back inside, it's getting cold out. Look for me, ok? I'll be back as soon as I can."

    ~~~~

    Jonas sidestepped to let Karami back in the house, where Hanna immediately descended upon her, comforting and assuring and Mothering the way Tare had always loved that she could. Jonas fixed him with a gaze like granite and nodded slowly-- a nod of thoughtfulness, not necessarily of approval. He'd overheard Tare's words to Karami, of course, and seemed to make up his mind. "Do what's right, Tare." Was all he said. "I try, Sir." Jonas nodded, satisfied, and then made like a grizzly bear and collapsed one or both of Tare's lungs with a bear hug like an iron vice. Tare bore it as best he could, but couldn't suppress a gasp as his chest fought to re-expand in the hopes of continuing to function as a living organism. Attempt on his life completed, Jonas released Tare and then performed a miniature encore on his hand, gazing into Tare's eyes with the solidness of a steel hammer. "Be well, Lad." Tare nodded, and fought down tears of agony from the broken ribs and bones in his hand. Or perhaps agony of a different sort. Jonas called to Melcara, took her into his home and under his wing in the same motion, and offered Tare a parting shot.

    "We'll keep 'em safe, Tare."

    ~~~~

    Tare returned to Brock, eyes still moist, but resolved. His wrists almost looked empty, missing the thick iron bands that had marked him a slave to his past. "Ok. You've got yourself a bodyguard."
    Last edited by OverWilliam; 2011-06-18 at 07:11 PM.
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  27. - Top - End - #957
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Gorgondantess's Avatar

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    Her mood soured, she thinks over what Maurice said as she returns. Like children...? Perhaps. But still...
    Too many humans were dangerous. Too many humans were wicked. Far beyond that of any child.
    No, they were something else altogether. Indescribable by other standards. But there was one thing to be sure: they are an anathema. This earth wasn't large enough to comfortably hold both her and them. And she'd hardly be the one to step down.

    Back at the town, she shoots all the humans nearby such a piercing glare that they couldn't dare stand in her way. That is, until the two could not be found- at that point, they couldn't dare not point her in the right direction.

    Entering the inn, she sits down before the two, smiling curtly at Maurice. "Educational."
    Raising her left arm, she concentrates and it begins to thin, becoming lean and corded and fleshy. The nails at the end of her fingers lengthen, becoming bladelike claws.
    Staring down Omicron, she stabs one finger into the table, tracing a deep, perfect circle with her claw, thick curl of wood forming before it. Inverting her hand, she puts a claw to his chin.
    "Now... and I advise your answer be... practical:
    Just how do you plan I "save" your organization?"
    "Oh, and your knives."
    She dumps them on the table, hoping against hope he'd be stupid enough to use them to attack her. She could use the catharsis.
    Last edited by Gorgondantess; 2011-06-20 at 02:56 PM.
    Marceline Abadeer by Gnomish Wanderer
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    Critical Failures by Strawberries & Captain Happy, respectively.




    Scizor by Mr. Saturn.


  28. - Top - End - #958
    Ogre in the Playground
     
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    Jul 2007

    Default Re: Flight From Ironheart IC

    Cathedral City

    Archpaladin Zousha

    Zariel, the Reaper, sketches out a final set of words before extending his hand to place it in yours.

    Fair enough. Allies then.

    As your handshake ends, he turns, and is suddenly just gone. You are totally alone in the hallway, as even Odlak’s body is no longer present. Turning back to face the way the others went, it occurs to you that you have no idea how to get out of here. This network of tunnels seems to stretch on forever, a thoroughly confounding maze from which you might never escape.

    Suddenly, a tiny pinpoint of reddish light flares into existence at the entrance to one of the side tunnels. Sensing no threat, you nonetheless cautiously approach to find the light begins to fade, as another one bursts into existence a little ways down the corridor. And hanging in the air in front of you is now a single word, written in the same reddish blaze.

    Follow.

    Once again forced to trust in the aid of a being whose existence is anathema to you, you trudge down the tunnel towards the presumed exit. Eventually you find yourself ascending, and then standing before an open wooden panel, some sort of civilized room beyond. It was a bit of a tight fit to squeeze through the narrow opening, but you manage, and nearly get your head pulverized for your trouble. Seeing the blow just in time, you manage to twist your head out of the way, and Katashiko’s foot shatters the wooden boards beneath the emptied space.

    “Oh, ****!” She growls, pulling her foot out of the floor without fanfare and offering you a hand up.

    “Sorry about that. I thought you might be that freak coming after us. And yes, you were making a lot more noise than he did, but I thought it might be another trick. Him wearing your armor, or something.”

    “Wow, you survived! I’m not sure a whole lot of people can claim that. The Reaper is not exactly known for failing to kill his enemies.” Rickster grunts from across the room. The grandmaster’s breastplate has been removed, and he is currently bandaging the wound in his shoulder, chanting healing litanies under his breath as he does so. He grunts as he pulls the bandage tight and ties it off, and then focuses his full attention on you.

    “So, now what? We know what the Council has been up to now, although we still lack the hard evidence to prove our admittedly absurd claim that they’ve turned the Reliquary into a profane factory to corrupt angels. Greyson’s dead, but they got Ander in exchange. I can only assume that our various orders have formed up by now, and are amassing forces to head here for the climactic battle. We should outnumber what’s left of the Council loyalists, but if they have even a handful of obedient angels . . . well, it won’t go well. For us.”

    Rickster sighs, and starts putting his armor back on.

    “Well, Ander seems to have left you in charge. So what shall we do now, fearless leader? Go meet your gathering army, or try to break into the Reliquary again and shut it down for good?”

    Katahisko looks at Rickster, and then at you, and quirks an eyebrow.

    “So. Are things usually this exciting around here? I figured most holy men just huddled together in monasteries and read holy verses, and meditated on how utterly boring their lives are.”

    Stonefall

    The_Snark & Pwenet

    Jacob examines Incom critically for another minute, and then turns to look at Mar with a sigh.

    “Well. I’ve already offered shelter to one outsider. I suppose . . . two more couldn’t hurt.”

    He says, and then stands aside to hold the door open for Incom. He turns to look down at the little girl poking her head out to see what’s going on.

    “Caroline, go tell William we’ll be having two more guests for dinner and the evening. Go into my room and look under the bed. There should be some of my old camping gear there, including a bedroll. Take that and whatever pillows you can find and set it all up in front of the fireplace.”

    The little girl nods and disappears back into the house, leaving the assembled group outside alone.

    “Thank you for your generosity, sir.” Julian says, earning a bit of a sneer from Jacob.

    “Glad to be of service. I doubt we’ll have room for yet another person in my humble kitchen, so you’ll have to find dinner elsewhere.”

    “I understand.” Julian says, seemingly not bothered by Jacob’s coldness. He turns to go, but pauses to look back.

    “I hope you can stop by tomorrow morning Mar. I still need to give you something . . . something important.”

    And with that last mysterious phrase, the young man sets off down the trail back towards town. With this last bit of business concluded, all focus went into getting Sara into the cabin and comfortable.

    “Watch your head – ceiling’s a bit low.” Jacob commented, his eyes widening a little as he realized that the bulky form of Incom towered over him. Likewise, the narrow doorway built for a normal person proved to be an obstacle, but with a bit of twisting and ducking Incom is able to enter the cabin. Both of the children have been quick in their work, and shortly after entering Incom is able to lay down his burden on the bedroll in front of the fireplace, propping her up with several pillows and covering her with a spare blanket with surprising gentleness for an immense construct. After that the central focus of the evening turned to dolling out the stew and accompaniments for dinner. Having no need for such sustenance (at least, not anymore), Incom stands vigil, crammed into one corner of the already cramped kitchen. Despite the tempting presence of food, the automaton is not left entirely alone. Both children, but especially the fearless Caroline, are quite enraptured by the giant mechanical angel now standing in their own house.

    “Hi. I’m Caroline.” The young girl said to Incom, introducing herself before hammering him with question after question. “What’s your name? Are you an angel? Why aren’t you eating – aren’t you hungry? Where do you come from? Do you carry injured people around often?”

    Apparently thankful that his offspring are intrigued rather than frightened by the engine of death in their midst, Jacob allows Caroline to continue badgering Incom without chastisement. A little way into the dinner, Sara joins the conversation with a soft moan. All eyes turn to her as she slowly struggles awake.

    “Incom?” She murmurs, groggily reaching a hand up to her face. She becomes somewhat more aware after touching her face to find the scar.

    “What?” She says, moving her hand around to examine the closed wound more thoroughly. “What happened?”

    Now fully awake but still woozy, Sara clumsily shifts in her makeshift bed and looks around.

    “Where am I? Where’s . . . oh! There you are.”

    She says, her eyes finally resting on Incom. Visibly relaxing, the young girl settles back onto the bed.

    “My guardian angel.” She murmurs with a slight smile, before going back to examining her scar, running her fingers down its length.

    “How long have I been out?”

    She asks to no one in particular. At this point, Jacob leans in close to Mar, passing her a full bowl of stew.

    “Why don’t you try to get her to eat something. I’m sure she’s famished after what she’s been through.”

    Absorbed in her self-study, Sara starts slightly at Mar’s approach. She manages a weak smile at the angelic girl.

    “Hello. I’m Sara. I don’t believe we’ve met before? Or . . . have we?”

    The girl asks, the light from the fire reflecting off her eyes in a peculiar way. Sara stares at Mar for a long moment, and then weakly shakes her head, breaking the spell.

    “So . . . what’s for dinner?” She asks quietly, changing the subject.

    The Island of Dr(?) Sohssal

    Iethloc

    With the last of the necessary components of the disease puzzled out, all that remained was to test its effectiveness on actual humans and perfect it. That could take anywhere from a few days to months, depending on how rigorous you wanted to test your creation. You doubted you had months, or even weeks, so days would simply have to be sufficient. You also had to alert your compatriots of your intentions, and present the finished product to the Baron. Predictably, only Roger had serious objections, although Shanks had a few practical concerns.

    “Sohssal, let me ask you a question.”

    Roger began, speaking openly rather than using the mental link.

    “Have you gone completely insane!? We’re not talking about dabbling in forbidden magic or killing a few people who had it coming anymore. What you’re doing is plotting genocide!”

    Roger shakes his head and adopts a conciliatory tone, starting over.

    “Listen, Sohssal. You were locked up in Ironheart, so you don’t know the Baron. I worked for him, I know! The man is a complete and total monster, and he scares the **** out of me. And now you’re talking about giving him a weaponized plague!? He’s going to use it Sohssal, first chance he gets! And everyone who dies from it – all those deaths are going to be on you!”

    Roger snorts in disbelief and shakes his head.

    “This isn’t you Sohssal. The one thing I always respected about you was you didn’t go out of your way to hurt people. Sure you’d mess with things you shouldn’t and people got hurt along the way, but you were always focused on yourself. And yes that still makes you a bastard, but all you’ve ever wanted was to be left alone and life forever. You never had megalomaniacal desires to rule the world or burn it down around you. Until now, when you’re talking about designing a plague that’s going to kill thousands! Are you even sure you can control it? Or aren’t you concerned about the possibility of ruling over a barren and lifeless world?”

    At this point, Shanks speaks up.

    “Begging the Cap’n’s pardon, but I see the landlubber’s point. I fail t’see the profit in killing everybody. Then there’s no one to rob and steal from later . . . or trade with . . . or make love to.”

    Shanks say, shooting a glance at Omega and suppressing a shudder. Ignoring the silent comment about her looks, Omega joins the conversation telepathically.

    Unfortunately, you have already made promises to the Baron. Even if you were to decide against continuing the development of this plague, he would not allow you to do so. You would assuredly become his enemy, and the Baron has thus far been most efficient at eliminating his enemies. Furthermore, even if he is dealt with by Miriam before his revenge can come to pass, we will still have to deal with Miriam. Alone.

    “That’s assuming She even cares enough about Sohssal to come kill him after She’s done with the Baron. No offense Sohssal but I think you’re nothing but a speck compared to the blight the Baron is in Miriam’s eyes. That’s going to change though if you develop this plague and let the Baron deploy it! Mark my words – you unleash this disease, and there’s going to be no going back for you. You’re going to be an enemy of Miriam, of the Church, and of every remaining sane human being that’s not yet already a demonic monster!”

    “We could always change sides?”

    Shanks offers, looking around sheepishly as everyone stares at him, dumbfounded.

    “Well, it be just a suggestion.”

    He grumbles, scuffing the floor with his left boot.

    It seems the choice is the same now as it was then. Do we make a mortal enemy of Miriam, or the Baron? Regardless of who is chosen, it is unlikely that there will be any opportunity to reverse that choice once it is made. And it is a decision you will have to make alone. I will remain regardless of which side you choose.

    “I . . . I guess I’ll be staying on as well. Just . . . if we be poisoning the whole world, could I be protected first? Well . . . and maybe a few pretty ladies? The human race will be in need of restarting afterwards!”

    Roger shakes his head.

    “No. I’m not going to be a party to genocide Sohssal. If you have to win the Baron’s favor by making him a weapon he can use to destroy the whole world, count me out. I can’t stop you, I’ve known that for a long time now, but neither do I have to help you. Teleport me out to some deserted island somewhere if you have to, but I refuse to stay here and watch you plot humanity’s death with that monster!”

    Fishtown, The Fishiest Place on Earth that Never Fished

    Gorgondantess

    Omnicron watches your demonstration on the table with a raised eyebrow. Although his tone is level, you can see a slight tremor of fear in his eyes.

    “How many times must I repeat myself? I care nothing for my organization – in fact I despise the Dusk Wardens. What I care about are the people who make up that organization, and have deluded themselves into thinking the sole purpose of their life should be to kill you. As for a plan, it would be difficult to formulate an exact plan that will lead to success. I cannot presume to know exactly what plans our leaders will enact, nor how the rest of my people will react to the idea that you are not to be destroyed immediately. What we must do is attack the heart of their beliefs, and convince them that their entire worldview is incorrect. It’s not going to be easy, especially since they’re going to be trying to kill you the whole time, and killing them in turn, even in self-defense, will only strengthen their belief that you are their enemy.”

    “I’m afraid it’s going to be even more difficult than you think.” An elderly voice calls out from a dark corner. As you turn towards the sound of the newcomer’s voice, a robed man steps out of the shadows, seeming to appear out of thin air. The newcomer pulls back his cowl, revealing an elderly man with a long grey beard and a bald head, which is covered in an intricate tattoo – some kind of arcane sigil you can’t decipher, and which probably only holds meaning for him. And Omnicron, considering the way his hand immediately goes for the knives on the table. The elderly man simply smiles and inclines his head.

    “You will have no need of weapons here, Dusk Warden.”

    “And I doubt you’ll be welcome here, heretic.”

    Omnicron’s eyes drift over to you, and then to Maurice, and he laughs.

    “Well, perhaps I’m wrong. A demon worshipping maniac would probably fit right in with this strange troupe.”

    “How very strange. You are willing to embrace your greatest enemy, and yet you still hold onto your hatred for me, whom you have never met.”

    The elderly man turned and gave a low bow to you.

    “Forgive me for my brashness. My name is Quadramus, and I belong to a sect known as The Preservers. As your young compatriot there mentioned, we have been accused of worshipping and aiding your kind. I hope you are not disappointed to learn that the first part is mere propaganda and misunderstanding on the part of the Dusk Wardens. Nonetheless, the second part is true. As the name of my union implies, we seek to preserve the unique wonder of your kind. A task which the Dusk Wardens have made all but impossible, but we nonetheless try.”

    While Omnicron mutters an insult under his breath, Quadramus shuffles forward to stand by an empty seat at the table.

    “As such, I have come to fulfill my sworn duty by offering you a warning, as well as a potential solution. I would prefer to discuss these matters with you alone, but I certainly understand if you would prefer for your compatriots to remain as insurance against any duplicity on my part. If it is not too presumptuous, however, I would deign to deliver my messages while seated. These old bones of mine are not well suited to long-distance travel anymore, nor do they appreciate being called upon to keep me upright for any lengthy period of time.”

    The Wedding of Amelia Ashargrin and Cheran Gast

    Lonna Theater!

    Quote Originally Posted by Lonna
    The guards' interference with Pyrene's attempts to pick up the rose petals was expected. The appearance of Rose Gast, however, was not. When the woman mentioned knowing that Pyrene was responsible for the deaths of Edward and Alphonse Volesin, Pyrene looked down and steeled herself for a blow...

    Which never came. Startled by the sudden embrace, Pyrene merely looked wide-eyed at the remarkable woman who was now fumbling with the rose petals. In her experience, forgiveness for such a thing was next to impossible. To have received it freely, without so much as an apology, disrupted Pyrene's sense of right and wrong - while she did not regret Alphonse's death, she felt she owed a debt for Edward, to be paid to his family. It was part of the reason she had freely given herself over to Duke Volesin.

    Recovering a bit, she shook her head in amusement at the offer of the cloak - she had worn far less than this in public before. In response to the warning about Duke Volesin, Pyrene nodded gravely. "Thank you for the warning." She had already guessed at her escort's personality from their brief interactions thus far, but it was worthwhile to hear it from a relative's mouth.

    At last the petals were tidied away in their basket, and Pyrene was hurried out to join the wedding party. Receiving her instructions from the Baron, she obediently took her place at the front of the line. The music began. Pyrene loosely grasped a handful of petals and began to walk forward.

    [[OOC: As discussed, Pyrene will follow her directions to the letter, right up until Korram and company burst in to disrupt the ceremony. Then she'll high-tail it to an out of the way corner, unlatch her mage collar, and start working subtle magics to help the Countess escape. Hopefully I'll be back to write up the specifics by the time that becomes an issue.]]
    As you start up the aisle, you scatter the rose petals in front of you, moving at a steady pace. Behind you, Amelia, the Baron, and the rest of his brood proceed up the aisle. Ahead of you and waiting at the altar is a priest wearing ornate and brightly colored robes. He makes no effort to hide his distaste for you as you reach him, but immediately puts a smile back onto his face as the Baron and Amelia come up behind you. You move to take your seat beside Duke Volesin, and the Baron takes his own seat, leaving Amelia alone up at that altar. But not for long before Cheran finishes coming up the aisle and throws an arm around Amelia, pulling her in close.

    As the music fades and the priest begins the ceremony, you feel an odd . . . sensation, and recognize it as similar to the aura of familiarity you experienced when encountering your so-called “evil twin”. Looking around nervously, you notice her, sitting up in a balcony alongside the man you encountered – her “husband”, Umber. Despite the previous hostility they seem to be getting along quite well now. As if she felt the same thing, your twin looks down and sees you, nudging Umber and pointing to you before turning to whisper quietly into his ear. You feel a growing sense of unease start to churn inside you, and a mounting desire to leave the worship area so you can go and approach this woman – or perhaps run in the opposite direction as fast as you can. Volesin seems to notice your growing distraction, although you don’t think he figured out the source of it yet.

    “Patience. This will all be over soon. And then we can return to focusing on the future of your little sister.” Duke Volesin whispers into your ear while putting a firm hand on your arm. It was clear that he wasn’t going to let you go anywhere, and so you simply had to sit there through the rest of the ceremony, while the disquiet within you continued to build, and build, and build. Something was about to happen.
    (Please see below for the joint continuation, listed at the bottom of the post under “All At Wedding”)

    Dorizzit

    “N-no. Nothing new far as I know.” Katrina explains, still clearly uneasy at your terse explanation. Well, that was simply going to have to be enough for her right now. You had no time to coddle her by explaining every little thing that had happened – you had a Baron to kill!

    “Right. Good luck!” Katrina says, finishing up the pouring out of the cask and lighting a torch. She balanced it precariously on the seat of a chair over the center of the oil slick, such that in a few minutes it would set the chair on fire and from there, the oil slick. Then she hurried out of the room and down the hallway, heading for the stairway leading up to the rafters. At the doorway she stops to shoot one last worried look back at you before disappearing up the stairs.

    Alone again, you swiftly make your way to the main doors leading into the worship area. Predictably, there is a pair of guards standing at the ready by the doors, although you doubt the two of them will pose any difficulty to you. Even through the closed doors, you can hear the sound of music playing and a priest droning on through a marriage ceremony. Your thoughts briefly drift back to your own wedding, the same words used in a much more modest chapel but carrying the same weight. The memory ignites your anger to a white-hot pitch – the Baron took that away from you, and now you were going to take this away from him, along with his life!

    (Please see below for the joint continuation, listed at the bottom of the post under “All At Wedding”)

    WhiteKnight777

    At your question, Fianna pulled her lips up in an intentional smile.

    “You always seek my council, don’t you? For all your arrogance and brilliance, you still believe I might have noticed something that you did not. I wonder if the Baron has anyone whose council he seeks – and there is the heart of the matter. He is so very much like you in many ways, and I could even see you doing the same things he has done, but . . . you are not the same.”

    Fianna steeples her fingers in front of her and sighs.

    “You could have elected to continue our efforts to amass power until the whole world lie conquered at our feet and the only challenge left was the gods themselves. And then you could have led us into war against the gods, against Miriam and Athelion, as the Baron is planning – perhaps victoriously, perhaps not. But you didn’t. Instead, you choose to direct us on a different course, a plan to seize eternal life at all costs. Arguably a selfish cause, but a cause that was focused only on yourself. You had an unquenchable thirst for life, a desire above all else to stay with me and the other Lords of Blood. The Baron thirsts only for power, to prove his dominance over an ever-escalating series of opponents. I cannot discern what the Baron’s motivations for this are, or if he even has a longer goal beyond crushing everything within his reach beneath his heel.”

    Fianna shakes her head.

    “A man like that has no friends, no one he cares about beyond himself – he merely surrounds himself with tools of varying utility and expendability. I know you care for me, deeply . . . even if I am incapable of returning those feelings, however much I want to. You would not have abandoned your immortality and risked your life in a near-fatal battle for my sake otherwise. I suspect you even feel something for the other Lords of Blood – we may have started as allies of convenience, but we became friends. That sort of relationship will be impossible with the Baron. He will appear friendly to us, and even prove helpful with our own goals, but only so long as we remain useful tools to him. As soon as our usefulness is at an end, he will seek to dispose of us with the same ruthlessness efficiency you reserve for an enemy.”

    Fianna holds up a hand, indicating that she is not finished.

    “Of course you are aware of this already. I am sure you are planning a double-cross even as we speak. But allow me to make another point – powerful magic requires great sacrifice. We understood this even when we embarked on our quest for eternal life, but I don’t think we fully realized just how true that statement is. We each sacrificed a vital part of ourselves, but we lost so much more than that. Our home was destroyed, and we were driven into hiding, scattered and defeated. One could blame Zariel’s betrayal and the god botherers for that, but I think some other disaster would have befallen us in the end. Just look at where we ended up – you wandered the earth for millennia as a vagabond, enjoying everything life could offer but never able to reclaim your station as a leader among men. I suffered an endless death, tortured by a gnawing emptiness that slowly consumed everything that made me who I am. Kartul went completely mad, which wasn’t much of a stretch admittedly, but I don’t recall him ever having aspirations of actual godhood and saving the world through undeath before either. Zariel was presumably destroyed by his own people, or caged and kept for study over the many long millennia. Shiakti was left utterly shattered and broken, unable to do anything but live as an animal, until the Baron found her. In a sense, Gilgaem and my dear sister Marialta were the lucky ones, as Fate demanded from them only what they had fought so hard to secure – their lives. Although having experienced the limbo that awaited us upon death, I suspect that was its own unique horrifying punishment.”

    Fianna turns to lock her eyes with yours.

    “So that was the true price Fate demanded of us in return for our accomplishment. Now we come to my point, which I will phrase in the form of a question. If those are the consequences for acquiring eternal life, what will be the consequences for slaying a goddess? And as the goal of our quest was to benefit ourselves, it was we who paid the price. The death of a goddess is going to have far more reaching consequences than just for those involved in Her murder. I . . . I am not as comfortable with making decisions that affect others as I once was. Nonetheless, I will support whatever you decide, and I have given all the advice I can. I agree that great advantage can be gained by allying with the Baron, but there will be risks and consequences in equal measure. And if it is within his power to arrange, I am sure the Baron will make us pay for the consequences of his actions in his stead.”

    At that point, organ music begins playing, and the wedding procession files up to the front of the room. You notice that the flower girl in the lead looks familiar . . . very familiar, and then hear Fianna’s breath catch in her throat.

    “Umber, that flower girl. Isn’t that one of the doubles I used to distract you just before my aborted murder?” She whispers in your ear, pointing. The flower girl turns around, and you see that it is indeed the same woman you met during the chase with Fianna, her twin – her replacement, as far as Fate was concerned.

    “I have to speak with her!” Fianna whispers urgently, and moves to rise, but immediately sits down after the priest begins yammering.

    “After the ceremony.” She concludes, as with the girl sitting in the front pew, there was no way to get to her without interrupting the wedding. And the Baron was sure to be most displeased with any such interruption.

    (Please see below for the joint continuation, listed at the bottom of the post under “All At Wedding”)

    OverWilliam

    (I think you’ve managed to write up good-byes without really any additions necessary on my part. Awesome work. )

    At your words, Brock nods and delivers a smile without mirth.

    “Alright. Let’s get a move on then.”

    Turning on his heel, Brock swiftly walks down the street and waves. At his gesture, a carriage comes around the corner. This was not the roughly crafted city or poor traveler carriages that the guild usually used. Instead, this was the sort of carriage used by a well-to-do merchant, and on a night where everyone important had need of a carriage, its use must have cost Brock a fair number of favors. Once inside and seated comfortably on the well-cushioned seats, Brock picks up a wrapped package and tosses it to you.

    “Here. Happy birthday.”

    Inside is a set of finely tailored clothing, as Brock promised. In addition to that is an arm sheath, complete with a plain but functional stiletto.

    “Wear that on your right arm – I had the cuff expanded a little to make for an easier draw. Got one myself – the guards won’t care even if they find it, but they aren’t going to let us bring in anything heavier. Wish I had a ballista for this.”

    Brock grumbled, and then he stared out the window silently as you got dressed, the carriage gently swaying down the road to its destination. The trip didn’t take long – shortly after you finished dressing the carriage slowed to a stop. Brock puts on a brave smile, although his eyes told a much different story.

    “Party time!” He says with bravado, shoving open the carriage door and stepping out. Exiting the carriage you find yourself standing in front of the city’s main cathedral, the entire square in front of it filled with people – troubadours, finely-dressed important people, and guards. More guards than anything really – the entire city watch had to have been called out for this. Which left the corner of your mind that was still a thief wondering just what you would have been able to steal tonight. For his part, Brock was looking around as if plotting an escape path. But then he sighs, and starts walking towards the open doors leading into the cathedral.

    “Well . . . let’s get this over with.”

    Just inside the door is a front foyer, where it seemed as if all the magnificent birds of the world had gathered to compared their plumage. The assembled were actually people, of course, nearly the entire nobility of the kingdom, but no less brightly colored and preening than actual birds. For a moment your heart nearly stops as the thief part of your mind goes into overdrive, ecstatic at the thought of the score you could earn with only a few moments of pickpocketing. Any thoughts of taking your revenge upon the nobility via their precious belongings, however, are cut short as one man walks over to meet you. He is an older man, approaching that cusp between middle-age and elderly, but his hair is still a glossy black and his green eyes shine with a piercing light.

    “Ah Brock, I am so glad that you were able to attend!” The man says with a cold smile, of the sort best suited to crocodiles. You immediately get the feeling that this man is someone you want nothing to do with.

    “Good evening, Your Lordship. I appreciate the invitation – it’s not often that I get the opportunity to mingle with, uh . . . such distinguished company.”

    “Well you’re a bright boy, Brock. Your star has risen high thanks to your hard work and smart decisions. I am confident with the right support it could rise even higher. Of course, it could fall just as easily if you aren’t careful.”

    The man turns his gaze on you and smirks.

    “I did tell you to bring along an escort Brock, but I expected it to be a woman. You aren’t?”

    “Oh? Oh, no no no, Your Lordship. I just, er, thought it would be nice to, uh, extend the same opportunities you’ve shown me to one of my own subordinates. Pay it forward, as they say. This is Tare, an old . . . friend . . . of mine.”

    “Ah yes, Tare. The infamous thief, I presume? It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am Demetrius Gast, Baron of Gast.”

    The Baron says while touching the inside of his right arm, exactly where your brand, the last memento of your time in Ironheart is located. He knows exactly who you are already.

    “Unfortunately I have decided to get out of looking after the kingdom’s desperate and dangerous. As such I am looking for new business opportunities – like the fascinating one your friend Vincent brought up.”

    The Baron said, turning his attention back towards Brock. You note that Brock stiffens at the mention of the name, going silent and still like the rabbit before the wolf.

    “Yes. He mentioned that you were looking into the procurement of certain . . . rare goods. I assumed that you in turn were going to sell them to someone interested in such things for an even higher price, but Vincent was unable to confirm that. I was hoping we could discuss the matter in depth . . . after the wedding. For now, these gentlemen will see you both to your seats.”

    The Baron makes a slight gesture, and immediately four men appear out of the crowd. They are dressed as richly as the guests they are imitating, but there is no doubt none of them are here to socialize. Surrounding you, the four men lead you through the crowd away from the Baron, and down a brightly-lit hallway. Brock seems crushed, staring down at his feet and shuffling ahead like a man going to the gallows. As he shuffles along, he mutters “He knows . . . the Baron knows . . .” to himself over and over again. The four men escorting you are professionals, and walk with an easy grace that suggest more of Limier than your average dumb guard. Fighting all four of them at once wasn’t your ideal solution out of this, and trying to leave now was definitely going to provoke a fight. So for now, you let them lead you and Brock onwards, into a small side room set alongside the main worship area. The four guards don’t follow you inside, but do take the time to lock you in.

    “We’ll be right outside. The Baron will see you again after the wedding.” One of them informs you before the door is closed. As soon as you are alone again, Brock collapses into a nearby chair.

    “Oh sod it Tare, we’re both dead. Dead!”

    Brock pounds on the table in front of him, and then smooths his hair with a sigh.

    “Alright, I figured the Baron was up to something with this invite. But I never thought he had gotten ahold of Vincent. Now he knows it was me, and he isn’t going to let me out of here alive. You either, probably.”

    Brock shakes his head and gives a hopeless laugh, and then indicates the chair across the small table from him.

    “Sit down Tare. I’m sorry I brought you into this, but if it’s the last thing I do I’ll at least explain why you’re caught in this deathtrap with me. I owe you that much.”

    Brock sighs, looking even more uncomfortable than before.

    “Let’s start at the beginning. A few years ago, I was contacted by the Baron of Gast. He wanted me, and by extension the Thieves Guild, to do some things for him. In exchange he would shower me with wealth. In fact, he promised me the Vainglory Cache. The Vainglory Cache, Tare! The largest, most sought after, legendary treasury that has ever existed – ha, I thought he was mad or trying to pull something. But he knew things about the Guild Tare, things no outsider should know! Eventually he convinced me of his sincerity, and that he really could deliver the Vainglory Cache. So, gods help me Tare, but I said yes.”

    Brock rubs his eyes.

    “But not just out of greed Tare. I know you don’t think much of me anymore, but I still have some standards. I just have a healthy sense of self-preservation, and I knew even then that the Baron is not someone you say no to. So I said yes, saved my own skin, and got promised riches beyond our wildest dreams in return. It started out simple enough, with a couple of low-key break and enters the Baron wanted us to do. Tests, as it turned out, to see just how effective the Guild was at keeping things quiet. Then the real work began.”

    Brock sighs and stares down at his hands.

    “The Baron wanted us to go around the city and set up safehouses – little buildings all throughout the city that nobody would go into and disturb what the Baron’s own men were setting up. We were also to smuggle in the supplies necessary for their work. To this day I still don’t know what exactly they’re doing, but it sends shivers down my spine every time I think about it. We smuggled in barrels upon barrels of something – I don’t know what, but it looked like blood. I went down into the basement of one of the buildings we sealed off after the Baron’s men were done – they had the stuff from the barrels smeared up on the walls, in all sorts of strange diagrams and shapes. It looked like something out of some cheesy ghost story, but I had nightmares for a week afterwards. Anyway, I got ahead of myself there – that was after I got rid of you.”

    Brock looks up at you and smiles sadly.

    “Sorry Tare. I’m sure you’ve already figured it out by now, but I’m the one responsible for your imprisonment. That last job I sent you on was a setup to get you caught. But I did it to protect you! After the Baron stopped playing his little games and told me what he wanted the Guild to do, I knew you’d never gone along with it. You were always too much of a straight arrow to agree with helping out a demonic cult – or whatever the Hells the Baron was setting up here. This was so far outside the Guild’s usual activities that I knew I would never be able to pass it off as coming from me, either. I was going to have to tell everyone what was up, but I figured I could bring most of the Guild around. Except you, and your damn resistance would spark other people to refuse! There was only two ways that could have ended then Tare – either the Baron would kill you, or he’d just shrug and kill the whole damn lot of us! So, I got in touch with some old friends, and arranged for a job to send you and some of the other people who might prove reluctant to carry out the Baron’s plan. But I swear to you, I just wanted you out of the way until this whole job was over! I never intended you to get shipped off to Ironheart! That was the Baron’s doing, some kind of lesson to me about the consequences of failure, with you as the example!”

    The confession over, Brock slumps down into his chair, looking as defeated as you’ve ever seen him. He continues on quietly, his voice barely above a whisper.

    “As time went on, I grew more and more convinced that something terrible was going to happen. Something terrible was going to happen to my city, and I was going to be the one responsible. I couldn’t undo what had already been done, and I couldn’t stop the Baron. But I could slow the process down, discretely tip off the city guard that contraband was present in various shipments. Then I had to go and get the barrels of blood, or whatever, back – but at least it took a few extra days. That wasn’t a permanent solution though, and I already knew I would need outside help. I knew the Baron had at least a few clergy in his back pocket, so I couldn’t go to the Church. The City Guard was a laughable idea, so that wouldn’t work either. Then, I got a crazy idea – from some of our old talks, actually – I would go find an angel, and get Miriam involved!”

    Brock shakes his head and gives a chuckle of disbelief at the idea.

    “The Baron was mixed up in some seriously evil ****, and he talks about destroying the gods every chance he gets, the crazy bastard. Maybe if someone went and told Miriam what all was going on down here, someone She trusted, She’d actually do something about it! Angels are not exactly common though, and if word got out to the Baron that I wanted to talk to an angel, I was dead. So I got Vincent to set up an underground bounty, and pretend to be a buyer looking to purchase an angel on the black market. Throw enough money at the problem, and I figured somebody somewhere would rise to the occasion and bring me an angel. Then I could have a nice chat with her, tell her everything, and then send her on her way. If the Baron found out, I could deny it or play it off as saying I was trying to get him an angel to play with as a gift. But he got ahold of Vincent somehow, and I’m sure he’s told the Baron everything by now. Which means after this wedding, he and some sharp implements are going to sit down with me for a nice chat so he can confirm the information, and then he’s going to cut my head off! Oh, and probably kill you out of hand.”

    Brock just sits there, slumped down into his chair, and looks across the table at you.

    “Sorry Tare. I guess you should have killed me when you had the chance.”

    Through the wall, you can hear heavy organ music start up, followed by the priest conducting the actual wedding ceremony. You didn’t have a lot of time left.

    (Please see below for the joint continuation, listed at the bottom of the post under “All At Wedding”)

    All At Wedding

    As the music faded, the priest stepped forward, his voice subtly augmented by the angles of the room’s stonework (and perhaps a little magic as well).

    “Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today to celebrate the union of Sir Cheran Gast and Countess Amelia Ashargrin. May the love that they hold in their hearts for each other only grow stronger with time, creating an unbreakable bond. But love is not just the chain that binds two mortal hearts together. Love is patient, love is ki –“

    “Enough with the lecture old man! Get on with it!!” Cheran hisses, causing the priest to blink in confusion. He seems annoyed, but is apparently used to dealing with the impatience of the nobility as he recovers quickly.

    “Very well then. Do you, Sir Cheran, take Countess Amelia to be your lawfully wedded wife, to shelter and cherish, to love and protect –“

    “I do. Now get on with it.”

    “. . . Do you, Countess Amelia, take Sir Cheran, to be your lawfully wedded husband –“

    “She does. We’re done here, right?”

    “Uh, ahem. Very well then. Let what the gods have brought together be torn apart by no man. If any present have any objection to this union, then let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

    At this the Baron slaps a hand up to his forehead.

    “You idiot!”

    He shouts.

    “I told you and told you, do not ever say that!!!”
    I didn't actually intend to kill EVERYONE. It just sort of happened.

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  29. - Top - End - #959
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Archpaladin Zousha's Avatar

    Join Date
    Apr 2007
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    Hastings, MN
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    Default Re: Flight From Ironheart IC

    Hondshioh

    Hondshioh sighs.

    "Rickster, the Reaper didn't fail to kill me. He spared my life, in exchange for an alliance. He will act as a spy and agent for us amongst the Council, and in exchange, we turn Morganna over to his custody when...or if...we achieve victory. It was only through his directions that I was even able to find you."

    His head sinks.

    "I know you may be angry with me, for allowing him to kill Odlak and then turning around and agreeing to his terms, but I felt there's no choice. We know very little, even now, and his information may well be the key to victory. I don't know what Ander thought of him, but he spoke highly of Ander. I don't know if he can be trusted, but he seemed genuine in his desire to aid us. I don't know whether we can stand against the Council, but we'll stand a better chance with him as an ally than as an enemy. First, I say we reconvene with the rest of the army. At the very least, they need to know what's happened and what we've learned. Then we may make further plans about how to destroy this "Project Angelus" once and for all."
    Last edited by Archpaladin Zousha; 2011-06-26 at 08:32 PM.
    "Reach down into your heart and you'll find many reasons to fight. Survival. Honor. Glory. But what about those who feel it's their duty to protect the innocent? There you'll find a warrior savage enough to match any dragon, and in the end, they'll retain what the others won't. Their humanity."

  30. - Top - End - #960
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Dorizzit's Avatar

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    Jun 2007
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    Default Re: Flight From Ironheart IC

    Korram Alstan

    Korram ignores Katrina's disquiet at his behavior. She was an adult. She could handle her confusion long enough to get her part in the plan done. Korram had his own role to play, and he was going to play it exceptionally well. Korram makes his way confidently towards the main chapel; after all, there was nothing here that could threaten him. All the way, he plans how to make his entrance. After all, he had waited years for this moment. Might as well make it perfect.

    As Korram sees the guards, he chuckles quietly to himself. Deciding to test out his newly empowered body, he lunges forward, grabbing one guard by the neck and crushing his throat before he can react. Spinning, Korram delivers a roundhouse kick to the face of the other guard, knocking him back. Closing, Korram wraps his arm around the throat of the guard and snaps it with a well practiced motion.

    The sole remaining barrier removed, Korram walks over to the doors and pauses for a moment, listening to what is going on on the other side.

    "...Let what the gods have brought together be torn apart by no man. If any present have any objection to this union, then let them speak now or forever hold their peace..."

    Well. This day just got even better.

    "I told you and told you, do not ever say that!!!"

    Oh, you have no idea.

    Lifting on foot, Korram kicks the doors before him wide open. The resulting crash can be heard throughout the chapel. Korram stalks forward until he is several paces in, making his steps abnormally loud. He was the distraction. Even if his presence made the others irrelevant, he would still play his part. Slowly, ever so slowly, his lips curl into a confident, cruel smile. When he speaks, the words are spoken calmly, but carry through the entire room.

    "I object."
    Truly awesome Ark Tamaeus avatar by Bryn. Full size version here.

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