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May 04, 12 at 2:29pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
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Part Fifteen: They Will Fight On As Night Descends
At the pace the group was taking, it didn’t take them even thirty minutes to cross through the rest of the forest and, at last, once again see the light of the outside. Even then, they didn’t pause or slow down. They burst through the treeline and out of Arduskuth, finally away from the Abominations and finally – at least relatively – safe. Almost immediately after they reached the outside and stopped their run, Valko leant forward, his hands on his knees, his breathing more grateful gulps of air than regular aspirations.
“We…left them…” he gasped, even that sounding like he didn’t want to accept what had happened. “We left them…to him…” Corvan, who had recovered much more expertly, glanced back at the forest, his expression a scowl, his eyes betraying his anger and sorrow at what they’d had to do.
“It was what she wanted,” he muttered. “Sam gave us that chance for a reason.” He shook his head, a growl escaping his lips. “But she’s still alive, damn it. All of them are. And so long as we make the most of the chance she gave us and win, so will we be – alive to come back for them.”
A few seconds after the group came to a halt, Saïla came in to land, the updraft as she beat her wings enough to send robes and hair billowing. Carefully, she lay Jakar’s motionless form on the floor, before shifting back to her human form and staggering slightly, clearly exhausted.
“We will save them,” Marvin echoed, although the words sounded hollow even as he said them. How long would it take them? How long after their fight with Sheltam, assuming they even came out of that alive?
“We…have to,” Valko managed, shutting his eyes. “We…owe them more…than to leave them behind…with him.”
“They’ll pull through,” Juno remarked softly. She was turned properly to the forest, staring at it as if to force herself to accept the reality. “We all know how strong they are. I think…no, I know they’ll hold out until we come back. Then…we can finish what we started.” Next to them, Rachael knelt by Jakar, forcing herself to tear her eyes away from the trees. She grabbed the motionless thief’s shoulder in a hard grip and shook him, attempting to rouse him. Nothing. A second attempt produced no better results.
“He’s not moving,” she cut in, her face becoming a frown of concern. “I have no idea what they did to him, but he’s not moving at all.”
“I think he’s breathing,” Saïla told her in a soft voice. “He’s passed out. And from the way he started screaming before he did, I think he’s broken some of his ribs.” Rachael held her hand above the thief’s mouth to be sure, quickly receiving the confirmation she needed – she could feel his exhalations, though somewhat weak and probably strained, on her fingers. A look of relief passed over her face, although the concern was still there.
“I don’t envy him for the potions he’ll need,” she murmured. Glancing up, she motioned to Juno. “Juno. Here.” Tearing her own eyes away from the woods, the younger mage nodded once, kneeling next to them and producing the required bottles. Saïla looked away from their efforts to bring Jakar back to consciousness, knowing that there was very little she could do to help, and walked over to where Corvan was stood.
“Where next?” she asked him in a low voice, her gaze drifting to the treeline in concern. Corvan looked to the side, turning his eyes to her. They were still deeply troubled, and still clearly displayed the sorrow he felt for that they’d been forced to do.
“Orios, as planned,” he told her, voice subdued. “One way or another, our situation hasn’t changed – we still need to reach Buroc and alert Chequan as to what has been happening. As well, I…I imagine Orios will make a better place to rest and recuperate than the outskirts of this gods-forsaken place.”
“You know the way back to the main path, then?” Saïla asked.
“Not immediately,” he responded, producing his recently-updated map of Grandas and scanning it over. “But one way or another, no matter where we’ve come out, the closest town to us looks to be…” He paused, only then catching the name under the marker on the paper. Slowly, he folded the map back up and returned it to his pack, his head turning in Marvin’s direction.
“Brinzac.” Marvin looked up in surprise upon hearing the town’s name, the frowned and cast his eyes around their current location.
“That may not be wise,” he remarked, his voice quiet. Corvan kept his gaze on Marvin.
“How so?” he asked the younger knight. “Is the area dangerous?” A pained look crossed over Marvin’s face briefly.
“Not usually,” he responded, hesitant. “But with the trees in uprising, they may turn on it again. It depends upon how badly drained the... the Abominations were after our battle, and what exactly Briar plans to do.” Luna took her turn to cut in.
“Briar claimed he was ‘declaring war,’” she inputted. Her expression suggested she was in deep, military-minded thought. “If his threat is anything at all more than hot air, he would be stupid to waste resources attacking one town now, particularly for just one group of people. One of the keys to waging war is to save as much of your martial strength as possible for later, more major battles – and after what we’ve shown Briar, he knows sending anyone after us would be a major risk. On top of that, you say Brinzac has been attacked before, so I strongly doubt they will be unprepared for a repeat.”
“When I left, they were in what might feasibly be called a stalemate,” Marvin murmured, frowning in thought. “I suppose, if we move quickly, there should not be so much of a problem. Briar will need a rethink of some of his tactics after our escape.”
“We would not be there for any more than a day,” Corvan offered him, by way of assurance. “Even if the trees were not up in arms, our goal remains to reach Orios as soon as possible. In either scenario, I would prefer to avoid lingering for too long.” Marvin nodded, although he still seemed troubled. Behind the little group, Jakar came to with a spluttering cough, swearing violently in between hacking up his lungs. Rachael was quick to put a careful hand on his chest, over his ribs, the light of channelling springing to life around it.
“Glad you could rejoin us in the land of the living,” she remarked wryly, although it was somewhat muted by both their situation and the focus she was putting into healing him. “This should help some. Let’s hope it’s as good with closed injures, hey?”
“Bloody... trees!” Jakar managed, gasping. “Ow. I think I broke my everything.” Rachael laughed lightly in spite of herself.
“I’m hoping I’ll be able to fix that for you,” she remarked. “Saïla suspects broken ribs.” Jakar grimaced.
“Well, ‘m thankful for a healer at least,” he replied, wincing with every intake of breath. Immediately taking note of said wincing, Rachael went quiet again, focusing entirely on healing him. As she worked, Corvan looked up at the sky.
“We still have time in the day,” he stated. “Once Jakar is in any state to do so, we will move for Brinzac. Weretree attack or no, we’ll certainly be safer there than we are here.”
“I would be uneasy with spending more time than is necessary in the open, at least so close to the forest,” Marvin agreed, eyes going nervously to the treeline. At least in this particular case his paranoia was well-justified.
“Could carry me if it speeds things up,” Jakar suggested cheekily.
“As tempting a suggestion as that is, I doubt it would do your ribs any favours,” Corvan returned drily. “And you certainly wouldn’t be thanking me for it after the first half-hour.”
“They do say it’s a mark of a good soldier, to be able to tolerate pain for the sake of the objective,” Luna inputted thoughtfully. If she was joking, she was an expert at hiding it. Jakar blinked, looking a good deal more afraid now.
“Never mind,” he decided quickly. “Better to wait ‘til I’m more healed.” An almost imperceptible smirk came over Luna’s face, one that no one seemed to notice.
“If it helps any, I doubt that’ll be long,” Rachael offered, tone somewhat clipped in concentration. “I have no way of seeing how healed he is, but I can make something of an educated guess based on how well this worked with Marvin. He’ll probably still need bandaging once we get to town.”
“’ll be fine,” Jakar dismissed, waving a hand weakly. “Seen worse.”
“Yeah, well, better safe than sorry,” Rachael was quick to disagree. “You’re too close to the frontlines for us to take any chances. You’ll thank us for it.” Jakar just flashed her a quick grin, in between his grimaces of pain. In spite of herself, Rachael found herself reciprocating with a slight smile of her own.
Hopeless, she decided, if only mentally.
And for that one moment, she found her mind distracted from the loss of their friends, if only for a little while.
As per Corvan’s plan, they set off as soon as Rachael decided Jakar was healed enough to walk without problems – and even then, she kept herself within easy distance of him just to be sure, despite how exhausted the round of healing had made her.
They found Brinzac, and the main path with it, in just over half an hour. If looks were all they had to go by, none of them would have ever been able to tell just how badly ravaged the Abominations had once left the town. Now, it was just as inconspicuous and unassuming as any of the other towns marking the face of Grandas, as though what had happened to it had never happened at all.
“As good a rest stop as any,” Corvan remarked as they came up to the town gates. “And not a moment too late.”
“Hail,” one of the gate guards greeted with a polite nod. “You look like you’ve been through the wars. What business brings you to the town?”
“You could call us Snowcap’s envoy, of sorts,” Corvan answered, walking up to the guard. “We were planning to head through the Orios. We just got out of the forest.” He grimaced. “For better or for worse.” The other guard narrowed his eyes as the first swept his eyes of the group.
“Trees?” the second one asked. The first grunted.
“Doesn’t look like it,” he replied. “Run to the guard post, tell them to double the watches.” The second guard turned and walked into the town, and the first raised his spear. “In, then. If you’re after the Inn, it’s five minutes South, and the tavern’s ten minutes walk from there.” Corvan nodded once.
“Our thanks, and good day,” he told the man, leading the group through. Marvin glanced at the guard as he entered, but neither young man knew the other.
“Fire damage,” Riki noted, nodding to a building close to the edge of the forest. “On quite a few of the houses.”
“It was deserved,” Marvin muttered. “Cruel, but deserved.”
“I can’t think of much that would justify retaliation like this,” Juno pitched in, her voice subdued. “Unless they did the same to whoever they pissed off, but even then, that’s stooping low.” Marvin’s face was grim.
“There used to be a weretree settlement on the fringes of the forest,” he responded. “Until Brinzac burned them out, through nothing but fear of what they were. I do not know how many died, or how much of the forest burned that day, but...” He bit his lip, not looking happy. Juno grimaced.
“It still doesn’t make it right,” she murmured. Valko’s fists clenched.
“The only one I’d wish either on is their leader,” he muttered. “Briar.”
“There is little gain in dwelling on that hatred,” Riki chastised him quietly. The younger mage looked away, his eyes unhappy, pained.
“He took Sam and Derrick,” he murmured. “I can’t help it. I know it doesn’t solve anything, but…I want to hate him for it.”
“Hate all you will, but do not let it dominate you,” Riki responded. “Briar is not our fight, at least not yet. If you must focus on the hatred, harbour it for Sheltam, for... Skyver.” Valko sighed.
“Yeah…yeah, I suppose you’re right,” he granted quietly. “There’s nothing we can do for it now.” Both Juno and Rachael had turned concerned eyes on him, and now they turned them to each other – an unspoken reinforcement of their agreement to talk to him about his clear change in attitude. Riki nodded, although he still looked troubled.
“If your hate seeks to impair your vision again, talk to me,” he suggested. “I have had enough experience with it myself, in Skywing’s cells, to perhaps offer you some guidance.”
“I will,” Valko murmured. His own voice sounded uncertain, now, most likely of himself. “Thanks, Riki.” The older man smiled faintly and nodded, before turning to continue walking with the group.
I can't feel my own skin,
Though I can see it crawling.
|quote quick quote edit quick edit del posts in thread report|
May 04, 12 at 2:29pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Later in the day, long after the group had sorted their arrangements at the inn and settled into the town for their one night stay, Rachael sojourned for the local tavern. Normally, she wasn’t one much for solid drinking, but some situations – like theirs, for example – were special cases, even if being there would unfailingly remind her of Derrick.
If nothing else, it gave her a chance to think by herself. She strongly doubted the town drunks would disturb her any, particularly now.
Sure enough, Rachael discovered immediately upon entering the building that Brinzac’s tavern dutifully kept up the standard of tavern uniformity that seemed to exist throughout both Aldysia and Grandas. Drunkards were chattering and singing, drinks were being served seemingly ad infinitum, the bartender was going about his job as though there were no drunks badgering him at all…
And there was also a distinctly familiar blonde head sitting at the bar proper. Rachael couldn’t help the wry smirk that came onto her face.
Hopeless, she reaffirmed in her mind, an almost instantaneous reaction. Her original idea of thinking alone having apparently cheerfully tossed itself aside, Rachael walked up to the thief from behind.
“Now why,” she started on her approach, her tone dry. “Am I completely unsurprised?” Jakar glanced up at her. His expression indicated that he’d heard her coming.
“Alcohol’s good medicine for bruised ribs,” he replied in his defence. “Better than usin’ up all your energy on ‘em, at least.” Making a soft, amused noise under her breath, Rachael sat at the stool beside his.
“Let me guess – you took something from Derrick’s health advice,” she retorted. Though her tone was conversational, her eyes showed a faint, though unmistakable, sadness. “How’re they holding up, by the by? Relatively, at least – I imagine they’ll hurt for a while, yet.” Jakar grimaced.
“Been doin’ this before I met him,” he disagreed. “’Sides, he’d drink premptingly.” He poked at his chest, frowning at his dirty robes. “Sorta aching on and off at the moment, anyways. At least I can breathe, though. Always good, that.” He offered her what was left of his drink. Rachael eyed it warily, seemed to decide that it wasn’t Lucia levels of dangerous, then proceeded to drink the remainder. Bringing the glass back down, she continued.
“I’m glad for that, at least,” she agreed. “That was only the second time I’d ever used channelling for a major injury, you know.” She grinned at him. “But I figured you wouldn’t appreciate knowing that at the time.” Jakar shrugged, not looking as concerned as she’d suspected.
“’S magic,” he replied. “Never gonna understand it no matter who’s usin’ it. Don’t let it bother me ‘s long as it works.”
“Well, then, that makes two of us glad it actually did,” Rachael decided. Idly, she signalled to the bartender for another drink. “I - we - had already lost enough friends to that forest. I’m glad you weren’t one of them.”
“I’ll carry you for the drink,” Jakar offered. “Figure I owe you one, for savin’ my life and all.” He shrugged absently. “An’ I wasn’t exactly expectin’ a sudden tree assault, that I can tell you. Hard to tell how much they’re tree and how much they’re people wi’ that lot.” Rachael’s expression was an unhappy one.
“Tell me about it,” she muttered. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think any of us were expecting it. Not like that, at least. If we were, then maybe…” She sighed in frustration, cutting herself off and pointedly tending to her drink. Jakar laughed at that one.
“Never expect whacha get in life,” he remarked. “Long since stopped tryin’ to guess m’self. Jus’ gets me into trouble wi’ my brother’s family anyhow.” Emptying the glass with almost professional speed, Rachael set it back on the counter and gave a sideways look to the thief. Her eyes had turned curious.
“You make it sound like the two of you are from different families,” she remarked. He grinned in response.
“Diff’rent fathers,” he replied. “Same ma, bless her. Din’t raise my brother though. Jus’ me.” Rachael nodded in understanding.
“I think I get where you’re coming from,” she responded. “I’m adopted, myself. Technically, none of my current family are actually my family, not even Valko – not that it matters any to me, mind. Honestly, I don’t even remember much of anything about my birth parents.”
“I knew my brother’s father better than my own, an’ even then I didn’t know much of him,” Jakar remarked with a shrug. “Ain’t never been a problem for me. Jus’ taught me some lessons, knowin’ his folks.”
“Not often that just knowing someone tangentially teaches you lessons,” Rachael remarked. “What were they like? I mean, they must’ve been at least interesting.” Jakar’s grin faded into a frown.
“Int’restin’. That’s a word for ‘em,” he agreed, an unhappy expression ghosting on his face. “Prob’ly not my place to talk about ‘em until my brother decides where he’s going with his life, at any rate.” His expression didn’t slip past Rachael – she caught onto it almost immediately.
“The look on your face tells me you’re not on good terms, or that you’re at least unhappy with them,” she noted. “But…I won’t pry, if you don’t think you should be talking about them.” She gave him a wry smirk. “Unless they’re likely to join the growing ranks of people who want nothing more than to kill us.” Jakar snorted in amusement at that, then quickly gathered his wits and cracked a smile.
“Not so much good terms as I don’ really register,” he replied, before calling for another beer. “Dun’ bother me much though, I gotta say.” He glanced at Rachael. “Although I guess you’re no stranger to murd’rous relations after that stunt they pulled in Redwood.” Rachael blinked in surprise.
“How…” she started. The would-be sentence almost immediately cut itself off, however, as realisation seemed to come over her. Wearily, she sighed. “You, Jakar, are a shameless stalker.” She called for another drink herself. “Either way, yeah, you could say that. Nickar was the reason I never knew my birth parents, you know. I never knew what he did until eight years after the fact, when he hunted me down to finish the job. He was never able to keep from bragging all over himself.” Jakar grinned at her.
“I was int’rested in you guys,” he replied. “An’ to see if you were gonna be any more careful with your money after the first time. Not that I’d’ve dared take it with crazy cat woman around.” He shuddered. “Dun’t care what Verg says, she’s crazy as all out.” Rachael made an amused noise at that.
“Be that as it may, she hasn…” her sentence froze midway, cutting off almost as quickly as her previous one. She turned her head to look at Jakar properly, a frown of confusion coming over her face. “Wait. Did you just say ‘Verg’? As in, Vergil?” Jakar blinked, his mouth moving slightly as he verbally backtracked.
“Hell,” he muttered, his accent fading slightly. Whatever suspicions Rachael may have been harbouring at that moment, she expertly kept them from colouring her voice.
“You know him, then,” she continued, tone entirely level. She looked troubled, but nothing further. “How?” Something seemed to occur to her, because her frown deepened. “Is he your…?”
“Problem with trusting people is you end up telling them things you probably shouldn’t,” Jakar replied, his voice quiet. He stared at his beer, then drank half of it in a single go. “Always preferred being on the side. Following, not being included. Safer that way.” He grimaced. “That way I get the cowards like Salim, instead of my ribs busted and strangled by a tree.” Rachael looked away, her frown not leaving for a moment as she stared at her own drink.
“Who are you really, Jakar?” she asked him, voice subdued. “Are you still just the thief who wouldn’t leave us alone, or is there something more?” He smiled faintly.
“I’m nothing special,” he replied. “Just bad luck and my ma’s poor life choices linking me to those who are, I guess. I was following you guys around way before I knew he was involved.”
“So it’s just Vergil, then,” Rachael continued, looking back at him. Her look was uncertain, a giveaway that she had no idea what to think. “You’re not with them. At least…you’re not one of Sheltam’s.”
“What the hell do you take me for?” Jakar demanded, affronted. “I’m a better damn thief than their guy ever was. Could’ve killed you that first time, but I didn’t. Hell, could’ve left you to be killed by Mardigan’s lot, too! I mean, sure, maybe you’re not cool with the whole thief thing and maybe I didn’t exactly alert you to danger how you would’ve liked and maybe, maybe my brother’s father was an arrogant, manipulative son of a bitch that made him join the wrong side, but me?” He spat on the floor. “No. Never.” Rachael blinked, momentarily stunned silence.
“I’m…sorry, Jakar,” she eventually offered, sounding uncertain of any other way to respond. “I…” She sighed in frustration, looking away. “I’m sorry. We’ve already been on the wrong end of their convoluted-to-hell plans more than once, we’ve just recently seen a man tear a continent in half and we still don’t know why…call it enforced paranoia. I didn’t mean to insinuate anything.” Jakar put his head in his hands, exhaling slowly.
“Sorry. Di’n mean to jump on you,” he replied. “Can you do me a favour, Rach? Will you not tell the others ‘bout my brother?” Rachael was quiet for a moment, ultimately nodding once.
“Yeah,” she assured, looking at him again. “I can do that. I think Lucia would scalp you if she knew, either way.” Jakar snorted in amusement.
“Crazy cat lady’s lookin’ for excuses if you ask me,” he replied. “She’s bloody nuts.” Rachael smirked.
“No worries, then,” she assured. “I’ll protect you.” Jakar raised an eyebrow.
“Thanks,” he returned. “I think.”
The group left town just after dawn the next morning, as per Corvan’s initial plan. Though the losses of the previous day still weighed on their minds, the night’s rest had done them at least some good; now, their general morale was considerably higher than it had been, and, most importantly, they were once again in a fit state to travel. Their lost companions, they knew, would be able to hold on – and that one day, once Sheltam had fallen, they would all return to do their duty to their friends.
In addition, it seemed fate had deigned to be merciful to them that day, at least when it came to travelling – the roads and weather were forgiving, and none of them detected any immediate dangers along the way.
“At this pace,” Corvan had murmured, mostly to himself, as they walked. It was clear he was doing some sort of mental approximation. “I’m actually fairly confident we will be able to reach Orios before nightfall.”
An hour into their trek, however, he stopped, raising one hand to motion for the others to do the same. He was frowning, and his ears were pricked up. Though the others didn’t know what, they knew he’d heard something. Critically, his eyes flicked about their surroundings. The terrain was rocky and dotted with high outcroppings as the mountains of Tuervon flattened back into plains – at least moderately unforgiving and, as Corvan had long taken due note of, easy terrain to use for an ambush.
“Movement,” he told the group, his voice barely above a whisper. His eyes were on one rock formation in particular, directly to their west. “Human, or at least humanoid, by the sound of it. Ready up.” There was a general murmur of movement among the party. Saïla drew her bow, one hand on an arrow. Marvin had his sword out, Riki had one hand on the hilt of his. The only ones who didn’t really need to move were the casters.
As fighters drew their weapons and spellcasters prepared their spells, a voice rang out from ahead of them.
“Imagine my surprise,” it started. Its quality was gruff and blunt, almost approaching the form of a growl. Both Corvan and Luna froze to the spot – both knew that voice, and knew it all too well.
“Imagine my surprise,” it continued. “To learn that the same scrappy pup who could barely stand up to me in training was the one in charge of Sheltam’s prophesised group of misfits.” As if the statement were a cue, the voice’s owner stepped out from behind the outcropping Corvan had singled out.
With almost frightening speed, Luna swiped her sword from her sheath and stormed forward, her expression thunderous.
“Gen--” Corvan started in warning, turning his head just slightly to look at her. She cut him off well before halfway, shoving past him and levelling her sword at the new arrival – a werewolf with white-patched, dark brown fur and a markedly powerful build, even by werewolf standards. He stood taller than any of the group, even Corvan himself.
And he still wore the uniform of Skywing’s guards.
“Tell me why you’ve come here, Buren,” Luna demanded of him, her sword held out at him point-first. “Now.” The larger wolf didn’t seem at all moved or impressed, his expression unchanging.
“What?” he retorted. His voice had a mocking quality to it, almost viciously so. “A man doesn’t have the right to pay a favour back to his sister and her friends?”
“Buren,” Riki murmured, drawing his sword. Darkness hovered about his feet. “How many friends have you brought to hide behind this time, wolf?”
“We are completely buggered,” Jakar decided, glancing around at their surroundings. Although Corvan spared a frowning glance back at him, Buren paid the thief no heed, his attention diverted to Riki.
“Calm down, Forian, you’re not the one I want,” he muttered. “Yet.” His eyes went back to Luna. “This doesn’t have to end with all of you dying, you know. In fact, I’d be willing to let the rest of you go if you tell me one thing.” Luna made no move to lower her sword.
“We want nothing to do with you, Buren,” she spat. “Get out of our sight. Make it quick and I may decide not to castrate you.” As though she had said nothing, Buren continued.
“What I want,” he went on. “Is for you to tell me which of you killed Tobias Skywing.”
“Do you think it matters?” Riki asked him, his sword still drawn and ready. “Do you really think that any of what happened in Skywing wasn’t what he planned for? Are you ready to kill for that?” Buren’s head snapped back to him, murderous intent in his eyes.
“’Am I ready to kill for that’?” he repeated, disbelieving. “You mean, am I ready to kill to pay back the civilian lives your dragon ended and the livelihoods you destroyed? Because if that’s what you mean, then I am damn well ready to kill for it. Now tell me who it was before my friends and I are forced to do something you’ll regret.” Riki narrowed his eyes, but before he could speak up again Saïla held up a hand.
“Don’t,” she muttered, and he paused, looking at her with concern. “They have come after blood, and they are not going to leave peacefully no matter how you argue.” She looked up at the werewolf. “Because they are from Skywing.” Riki made an angry noise under his breath. “It was me,” Saïla continued, no longer talking to Riki. “I killed him.” Buren scowled, but said nothing. Instead, he signalled once with his left hand.
In the frame of moments, the reasoning behind Jakar’s previous interjection was made clear: Buren’s “friends” had surrounded them. As they appeared from cover, Corvan numbered their ranks at at least twenty.
“I wager you’re not going to go through with this the easy way and give us who we want,” Buren muttered, looking at the younger wolf. “Isn’t that right?” Corvan looked him dead in the eye, his expression set, and slid his claws into place.
“No. Not a chance in any hell, Buren.”
“You can try and kill me,” Saïla nearly hissed at him, “but I promise you, you will not find it easy.” An arrow now rested on the string of her bow, although she had not yet drawn it back. “I do not intend to die today.” Marvin cast his eyes over those he could see.
“No obvious casters, but that means nothing with Devroran,” he muttered. “Trying to hold all of them off here would be tricky to say the least.” Riki’s eyes narrowed.
“Take out their leader, and they will retreat,” he suggested through gritted teeth. Luna’s face set itself in a scowl that matched Buren’s almost to perfection.
“With pleasure,” she growled, and before anyone could so much as think of stopping her, she leapt at her brother. Calmly unstrapping his axe from his lower back, Buren signalled to his team again.
“Wipe them out,” he commanded, promptly punctuating it by expertly meeting Luna’s attack. “And leave this one to me.”
Jakar, summarily denied of anywhere he could use to his advantage due to the soldiers of Skywing having got there first, pulled a knife from his belt.
“This is not my ideal situation,” he decided, regarding the fully-armoured soldiers with wary eyes. Riki spun around on the spot, instantly abandoning Buren to deliver dark-laced fury upon the guards of Skywing. He was not the same man he had been since his rescue, nowhere close to the calm, lethal poise he’d exhibited at Orlask’s estate. Cold fury burned in his eyes, and he visited on the guards with bloody, ruthless abandon.
“Got your back, sis,” Lucia told Saïla, darkness forming around her hands as she backed up against her. Saïla nodded once, before taking aim at one of the archers. Quite close to them, Valko and Juno prepared their own barrages, standing back to back to decrease the chances of either taking hits from behind.
“Ready?” the latter questioned, earning a determined nod in response.
“Ready,” Valko agreed. Taking the cue, Juno raised her arm and brought it down in a sweep, summoning a volley of icicles directly over a few of the Devroran. In turn, Valko raised his hand, wind forming around it.
“Gan--…” he immediately slammed his mouth shut, gritting his teeth against the inexplicably reflexive action. Forcing himself silent and unable to cast the spell, he brought his hand down in a diagonal arc, putting a separate detachment of Buren’s team on the wrong end of some rather sharp winds.
As Riki moved from his fourth dead soldier to take the total to five, a spear intercepted his strike.
“Not today,” Mori told him, her voice cold. Riki turned his now coal-black eyes on her.
“You are either my ally,” he told her, “or you are dead.” Mori fended him off as best she could as he flew at her, sword blurring in the air with his speed, but even despite her advantageous position she was hard pressed just to hold equal with the raging Dicarsan. Not that she seemed to be trying to gain ground – her eyes were focussed on his sword, on blocking and parrying and drawing Riki away from the less skilled of her soldiers, who were only just beginning to pick themselves up from the assault.
On an outcrop behind the sparring pair, a male Devroran with brown hair watched them carefully, one hand raised from within his grey robes. Gorman was a specialist in magic – and since he was a Devroran, that meant he was very, very good at it.
He finished his chant just as Riki’s sword, leaking darkness, cleaved Mori’s spear clean in two, and the earth reached up and pulled the Dicarsan to the floor, sharp stalagmites pinning him in place. None of them were fatal – but if he moved, they swiftly would be.
Mori caught the spear a soldier threw to her, left Riki be, and aimed for Jakar.
At the head of both groups, Luna and Buren moved in a blur. They matched each other blow for blow, neither sibling showing any signs of gaining meaningful ground against the other. As the others fought behind them, Luna slid under a flanking axe strike and rose back up, catching the handle of Buren’s weapon. Gritting his teeth, the older, larger werewolf shoved back against her, forcing them into a deadlock.
“Is this how far you’ve fallen, Buren?” the younger spat at her brother, already working out several strategies in her mind as to how to break away for victory. “A Knight of Snowcap, reduced to running revenge for dead madmen?” Buren made an angry noise, placing his second hand against the handle of his axe and shoving back against Luna with nearly doubled strength.
“Tobias Skywing gave me more of a joint than that code-bound hive ever did,” he growled at her. “And no matter what you think of him, the lives your Dicarsan bitch destroyed had nothing to do with his actions!” Behind the two, Rachael fell back next to Jakar, spinning on the spot. Her sword glowed with blue energy as she faced Mori.
“How about we even things up a bit?” she remarked, face set in hard determination. “I doubt you’d find much to gain in cornering one thief.” Mori’s eyes flicked from one to the other, settling into a ready stance rather than finishing her attack. Jakar shot Rachael a grateful look, weighing the blade in his hand and looking at the spear with trepidation. Behind them, a soldier caught fire with a shout from Lucia, and an arrow in his neck while he panicked finished him off.
As Rachael and Jakar engaged Mori, Valko’s scanning eyes landed on Riki, pinned to the ground. He swore under his breath, but didn’t move – instead, he turned his eyes toward the near outcroppings, searching for the responsible caster.
I dare you, he challenged mentally, as if willing his quarry to appear. I dare you to come out and show yourself. I’ll show you magic, Devroran be damned…
I can't feel my own skin,
Though I can see it crawling.
|quote quick quote edit quick edit del posts in thread report|
May 04, 12 at 2:30pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Riki was trapped, and he knew it. The razor-sharp spines of earth were already drawing blood as they pressed just into his skin, and any movement would tear a much deeper wound into his skin. He was fighting to keep his anger in check, knowing that any sudden movement could easily end up with him dead, especially if Rachael wasn’t conscious at the end of the fight. But he had to get free. None of the Devroran had stabbed him yet, clearly deeming the still-active members of the group more important targets, but it was only a matter of time.
Gorman gritted his teeth as darkness began to spill out from under Riki’s still form. He may have been a mage, but he had no way to counter that and he had no idea if it would be capable of destroying his carefully crafted spell or not.
Mori was fighting the swordswoman and the thief, but he had no easy opening to assist there, at least not with his primary element.
The angry mage was clearly itching for a fight, but Gorman had learned a long time ago that it was best to leave angry mages to the physical fighters. Instead, staying safely behind his outcrop, he began to chant the words to construct a trap. On the ground below, Valko scowled, gritting his teeth.
Smart, he took a begrudging mental note. Fine. I can play your game. He shot a glance back at Juno.
“I’ll need your cover for a bit,” he told her, face grim. “I have a mage to uproot.” Looking back at him, Juno gave him a nod.
“Got it, Val,” she promised, grinning. “Leave it to me.” Smiling slightly in spite of himself, Valko turned back to the outcroppings, closing his eyes and drawing on deep reserves of energy. He knew the spell he was about to cast would leave him exhausted and effectively without magic for the rest of the day, but they were near enough to Orios for that not to be too much of a worry. Right now, they had bigger problems – much bigger, as Valko knew from his previous experiences with Devroran spellcasters.
Bringing both of his arms up to his sides, he pulled wind around both of them, forming something akin to a pair of small whirlwinds around each – whirlwinds of condensed magical energy. In a single motion, he brought both in front of him, above his head, and then down again. The wind unleashed itself violently, dropping unceremoniously onto the rock formations below, as well as a few unfortunate back-line Devroran. There were more than a few cries of pain as the wind descended, and Mori’s head snapped back at the sound of it, before cursing and putting her attention back on Rachael. Jakar had used the distraction to vanish, but she wasn’t particularly bothered by that – she had only really been facing the swordmaster.
Gorman, however, was on his back, the wind having slammed his head quite hard into the rock. His chant had been completely disrupted, but he was more focussed on regaining his senses than his trap construction. Blinking, he sat up and rubbed his head, swearing softly under his breath. The little mage had bite.
If it was a fight he wanted, though, he’d get one.
As the mages went about their exchange of spells, Rachael took Jakar’s leave as a cue to step up into proper offence, rather than the cautious attacks she’d had to favour before, in case Mori decided to attack him instead. Expertly jumping a spear sweep, she lashed out at the white-haired Devroran with a quick strike of her sword, blue energy searing past.
You won’t hurt anyone here, she thought, eyes narrowed in focus. Not on my watch.
Ahead of them, Luna broke free of a second lock with Buren, forcing his axe aside. Seeing an opening she’d caused, the smallest of openings, she lunged at him, speaking no words, only brutal, righteous determination colouring her face.
But for everything about him she knew to have long gone, his reflexes had not been one of him. He snapped his left arm up, causing Luna’s sword to connect with nothing more than the broken Snowcap crest adorning his gauntlet.
“Don’t think my time away from Snowcap has made me any less of a fighter,” he hissed at her. “Not ever.” Bringing his hand into a fist, he pressed a release in the palm of the gauntlet. Claws sliding into place, he lashed out at Luna, the counter swift and brutal. The younger wolf was almost instantly forced into a hard, sideways turn to dodge out of its way, Buren’s claws sweeping down only millimetres from her face. Scowling, she fell back, taking up a more defensive stance.
“Not bad,” she growled, a begrudging, ground-out admittance. “But I’ve fought bigger, better fish than you.” Buren settled back into stance, not looking at all threatened. He held both weapons ready, now.
“Prove it, then,” he shot back. “Show me that all the training you begged me for wasn’t completely worthless.”
Jakar, for his part, had gone around to the ambush sites Valko had cleared out and made very, very certain that all the unconscious people were, in fact, unconscious. He stayed well away from the single conscious mage, not willing to risk having magic connect with his rather fragile skin, and instead eyed the battle from above. He had four knives in addition to his combat knife, all good for throwing, and he weighed the first one in his hand as he watched Mori face off against Rachael. She’d helped him out, he felt like he should at least return the favour. The knife would have gone in the big werewolf’s hide, if it wasn’t for the fact that Luna had as good as said to leave him to her and that he wasn’t sure it would even go through his skin anyway.
The knife hit Mori in her left shoulder, his throw not as accurate as he would have liked due to how fast the two of them were moving. Mori yelped in pain, taking that hand from her spear and immediately falling back onto the defensive, at a very clear disadvantage. Rachael held her sword at the ready, but didn’t charge, instead giving Mori a level look.
“I’ll give you one chance,” she told the Devroran. “Take your leader and leave. I don’t want to be forced to hurt you over this.”
In spite of how drained his previous spell had left him, Valko pushed himself into a quick recovery, taking to scanning the outcroppings again.
Either it worked or he’s stubbornly clinging on, he noted mentally, brow furrowing. This one’s better than most of the casters they’ve sent after us in the past. I’ll give him that much… His situation leaving him few other alternatives until his target revealed his location, Valko turned his sights back to the battlefield around them, instead. Corvan was having little trouble combating two of Buren’s fighters, Rachael and Mori had come to a one-sided standstill, and Jakar was decidedly nowhere to be seen. From what Valko could make of it, Riki was still working a way out of the trap his quarry had put him in; as much as he wanted to help, he really didn’t have much doubt that the older man could handle himself.
Albeit slowly, they were taking the upper hand. Valko may not have been an expert on large-battlefield tactics, but he knew that much.
Behind him, Juno cursed violently, inciting Valko to spin hard on the spot to see just what had caused it. An arrow was stuck in the ground just inches behind her, and she had raised a hand to her cheek. When she brought it away, it was noticeably bloody.
“Juno!” he exclaimed. “Are you--” She waved a hand, although her expression was distinctly unimpressed.
“Fine, fine,” she dismissed, magic gathering around her other hand as she said it. “Lucky I was fast, though, otherwise I damned well wouldn’t be.” She brought that hand up in a vertical arc. There was a cry of surprise and somewhat-muffled pain from a ridge above them as one of the Devroran archers took a column of rock directly to the chin, almost certainly knocking out several teeth and summarily knocking him well out. “And boo to you too, you bugger,” Juno grumbled, turning back to the battle proper.
Mori readied her spear grimly, one of the dazed soldiers hesitantly walking over to support her but looking like he could barely support himself.
“He’s not going to leave until the dragon is dead,” she responded to Rachael. “So neither am I.”
“Corporal!” one soldier exclaimed, looking terrified, as the darkness inching through the earth finally snapped a single one of the spines – the one by Riki’s sword arm. In a flash, the rest had been sliced off almost at the base, and he got to his feet with murder written on his face.
Gorman swore, retreated to a slightly further away outcrop, and cracked the earth at Valko’s feet. Swearing, the younger mage leapt back, his teeth gritted. Magic had already begun to gather around his hands, in motion to counter.
Finally getting invested, are we? he noted, mentally. I can deal with that. He brought both arms up, crossing them. Then, he swept them both out, sending a arcing burst of fire out toward the outcroppings ahead of him.
“In case you haven’t noticed, you’re losing,” Rachael countered Mori as the two mages fought. “You might bring that up to your leader, because at this rate, he’ll be the one responsible for costing innocent lives!”
“Shit,” Mori muttered, casting her gaze back at the livid Riki.
“If you do not leave now,” he told her, his voice deceptively calm, “I will kill you all.”
Gorman, pressed against the wall, brought up a weak shield of water and prayed as the fire hit him. As the steam hissed up around him, he began to weave another spell, only for Jakar to jump up next to him and crack the pommel of his long knife against his head.
“That was pathetic,” he decided, swiping the amulet around the mage’s neck.
On the battlefield beneath them, Luna dodged a heavy axe swing with a swift duck, followed up almost immediately by a sideways swipe of Buren’s claws; though Luna’s dodge was still mostly successful, the tips still managed to nick into her face. If she was at all fazed by the pain, she didn’t show it in the slightest, instead continuing her dodge into a manoeuvre around to her brother’s back. The larger wolf barely had a chance to react before she struck – only swiftly bringing his gauntleted arm up and around prevented his sister’s sword from going neatly through his eye. Even then, the tip scored a deep line to the left of it, just underneath. Cursing, Buren fell back, his stance defensive.
And that time, Luna didn’t attack straight away.
“Leave,” she spat at him. “Leave and never come back. Do it, and we’ll let you and your team live. Otherwise, you are set to have more wilful deaths over your head than Saïla ever has.” Buren opened his mouth to counter, but hesitated, ultimately pausing. Turning just enough to look at the rest of the battlefield, the realisation of what Luna meant started to come to him.
His men were falling, most already dead or unconscious. Forian was standing again, and looked in no way happy. Mori’s fight was quickly turning against her, and Gorman had long stopped casting. For the second time in that minute’s period, Buren swore, a violent, frustrated sound.
“Much as I wish it weren’t true, you may have a point,” he muttered, turning back to his sister. “But take my word when I tell you this: we have no intentions on stopping. We will pursue you until you’ve paid for what you brought on our city.” Luna barked out a humourless, bitter laugh.
“Hypocrisy on top of everything else?” she shot back. “You’re less than pathetic, you sorry mutt. To think you wonder why our father disowned you.” Buren’s eyes narrowed and his expression hardened almost tangibly, but he said nothing. Instead, he whistled, signalling to his men to retreat. As they began to pull back, Buren shot his sister one last, blazing glare.
“This isn’t over, Luna,” he informed her, voice curt and direct, as if stating more a fact than a threat. “I - we - have no intention of stopping until we have that bitch’s head for what she did to our home.” At last, he turned away from her properly, a portal opening up in front of him. As he did, Luna spat angrily.
“You’re right about one thing, Buren,” she snarled. “This isn’t over. It won’t be over until one of us kills the other, and I don’t care how many of Tobias Skywing’s lackeys I have to go through to do it. Ever try to hurt this group again, and I’ll put you down like the rabid lapdogs you are.” Buren paused halfway through the portal, but didn’t turn back.
“Fancy that,” he remarked, an edge of bitter triumph to his voice. “It looks like we’re not as different as you’d like to think.”
He continued through, disappearing as the portal closed behind him. Luna, now left alone on the battlefield, made a livid, frustrated noise, slamming her free hand into the nearest outcropping in an attempt to let it out.
“Damn him,” she growled under her breath, exhaling slowly. “By all the gods, damn that dog.”
Saïla lowered her bow as the last of the soldiers was dragged through the retreat portal, unhappiness in her eyes. Riki shook the blood from his sword and sheathed it, but the darkness didn’t diminish from where it lingered around his form.
“Gotcha a present,” Jakar remarked, from where he was sat on top of an outcrop, swinging his legs. He tossed the liberated amulet down to Valko. The young mage caught the amulet, and before he could look up at Jakar to properly thank him, fell to his knees, panting, exhausted and exerted. Behind him, Juno straightened, falling out of the casting stance she’d just been in.
“Bloody Devroran,” she muttered. “Lucky thing they only had one mage.” She looked back at Valko. There was a look of faint concern in her eyes, despite her own knowledge of magical exhaustion. “You alright, Val?” Valko nodded, forcibly turning his breaths from ragged gasps into deeper, more regular intakes of air.
“Fine,” he got out. “Just…fine.” Ahead of them both, Corvan straightened back up as well, sheathing his claws. There was a troubled look on his face.
“Buren,” he murmured. “Of all the damnedest ways to run into you again.” Shaking his head, he looked back to the group, calling to them, “Is everyone alright?”
“Fine back here,” Saïla confirmed, Lucia nodding in bored agreement. Marvin’s armour was bloody, but any of it that was his looked to be superficial wounds.
“No grave damage here,” he responded. Jakar just waved.
“I... will need to sit alone a while, to calm down this darkness,” Riki responded. “But my wounds are minimal.”
“Only got one exhausted mage over here,” Juno called over to Corvan. “He’ll be totally fine once we get to the city.” Rachael sheathed her sword.
“Just a few scratches,” she reported, close enough to Corvan that she didn’t have to shout. “Don’t think I’ll even need any healing for them.” Satisfied thus far, Corvan glanced at Luna, the only one who had yet to speak. Sheathing her own sword, the elder werewolf stalked back over to the group.
“Unharmed,” she reported, tone clipped. “Apologies for my gods-damned so-called family.”
“You aren’t the first of us to have to do so,” Saïla remarked. Lucia did not look even a little bit guilty. Riki turned and walked away from the group, sitting back against an outcrop and closing his eyes, frowning in concentration. Luna laughed a humourless laugh.
“At least yours is helpful,” she countered. “Potentially insane, but at least helpful.” A troubled expression on his face, Corvan walked over to them, just as the others started to regroup around them.
“Everyone, deal with any injuries you think need it and rally up,” he told them. “We’re moving out as soon as we can. They won’t attack us in Orios.”
“How can we be sure?” Rachael questioned, frowning somewhat. “Their leader, Buren…he seemed determined. They may be desperate enough.”
“They want us,” Corvan disagreed, shaking his head. “Attacking us in Orios would mean endangering countless hundreds of civilians. I don’t think Buren has fallen that far.” Luna snorted at that one, but said nothing.
“Only potentially?” Lucia complained, looking put out. Saïla notably had no reaction to that.
“They don’t want us,” she disagreed. “They just want me. It... It would be safer for you if I was not with you.”
“Not happening,” Lucia vetoed immediately. Corvan nodded in concurrence.
“We’ve come this far together,” he agreed. “You’ve been with m…us for too long to leave you now.” Rachael raised an eyebrow at his catch, but didn’t bring it up.
“You also neglect to bring up how you’re safer with us,” she added. “We’ve fought worse than them. I think we all agree on that.”
“They don’t scare me,” Valko muttered, straightening, having been supported up by Juno. “They can try all they like, but the result won’t change.” Saïla glanced back at Riki, who was still sporting a noticeable aura of darkness, and didn’t reply.
“Engaging mopey mode,” Lucia remarked, poking her in the arm.
“And besides,” Corvan continued. “It’s hardly as if danger has stopped us before. We’re stronger as a group, either way.”
“Really, it’s your choice as to whether you want to leave,” Juno pitched in, shrugging. “But…I don’t see a problem as we are, and I don’t think it’d be the same without you and your blunt, stone-sensible logic to counter us crazy people.” Saïla smiled faintly.
“If you think it would be for the best,” she allowed. Corvan granted a slight smile of his own.
“We would,” he responded. “Take my word.” He looked over the group, then, and his attitude quickly straightened back into the one of determined professionalism. “Right. If everyone is present and accounted for, we’re moving out. If we quicken our pace, we may still be able to reach Orios by nightfall, and the sooner we get there, the better. Now we have Buren tailing us on top of everything else, I would prefer to limit our time on the road as much as possible.”
“I am not sure Riki is in control of himself yet,” Marvin disagreed quietly. The older Dicarsan still had a frown of concentration on his face, although he was notably less dark. Corvan cast a concerned glance back at him.
“Do you think there’s anything we can do to help?” he asked Saïla, even though he was uncertain if even she had the answer.
“I do not know anything more about the way he is now than you do,” she responded. “The only ones who did are either dead or gone.” Riki chose that moment to get to his feet and walk back over to the group. The darkness had vanished, but his face was lined with pain, and it aged him.
“I apologise for the wait,” he told Corvan in a low voice. The wolf levelled his gaze at him, concern still in his eyes.
“Are you alright, Riki?” he asked the elder man, noting his face. “We can spare some time, still, if you need it.” Riki managed the barest of smiles.
“This is the best I am likely to be, with what I have become,” he responded. “I will be fine.” Though he still looked uncertain, Corvan nodded.
“If you believe so,” he allowed. With it said, he turned back in the direction of Orios. “Come along, then, everyone. We should move while it’s still morning.”
I can't feel my own skin,
Though I can see it crawling.
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May 06, 12 at 3:02pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
These chapters were awesome; once again we have a nice balance of character moments and action, this time round, the battle is well paced and we have several fights going without becoming confusing or hard to follow.
In short, great work, looking forward to more.
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May 12, 12 at 3:58pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Chapter Sixteen: Pushing On Past Magic’s Vale
Corvan’s estimation of their arrival proved almost spot-accurate – the sun had just fallen when they arrived in Orios that evening, the rest of the journey turning out mercifully peaceful.
The city itself was a sight to behold – it, like Tuervon, was constructed largely out of white marble, suggesting the dragonkin were involved in its construction, long ago and long before their self-imposed dedication to total neutrality. Spired watchtowers surrounded the perimeter of the city, each manned by at least one team of mages, and a massive, white stone complex dominated the western side of the city.
“The academy,” Juno supplied, for those of the group who were unaware. Her eyes were aglow with enthusiasm at the sight of the city. “They say there’re almost no mages on Grandas who haven’t studied there at some point in their lives. Hell, there’re people who come all the way over from Aldysia to learn magic here. I never needed to, myself, but it says something about their dedication to the art.”
“If the dragonkin were involved in its construction, they clearly had no part in properly designing the buildings,” Luna remarked, looking the city over. “Tuervon told me they’re not a race much for artful building design, when their time could be spent on better defences.”
“It was an effort of collaboration,” Riki spoke up unexpectedly. “The dragons, long before their devolution into the kin, built it with the elves and the Ancients of the time.”
“Definitely long before the dragonkin turned into hermits, then,” Juno decided. “But you can tell from the way the city looks. The Ancients had a hand in creating most of the cities of the day, and when the elves do ornate, they do ornate.” She pointed out one of the towers. “And those are blatantly a dragon idea.” Riki smiled faintly.
“It is one of few such cities still standing,” he responded. “That collaboration built Shyusia, which is rubble in the ocean now, and the Ancients had a large hand in Skywing’s construction as well.” Juno raised an eyebrow at that.
“Either the Devroran were a lot less likely to go off the hook back then, or the Ancients were prodigiously brave,” she remarked.
“Given what we’ve seen so far, I’ll venture it wasn’t the former,” Valko added, a tinge of bitterness to his voice. Riki chuckled softly.
“When bored, Tobias often came to talk to me,” he remarked. “I have many stories of the Devroran, although given their source I cannot vouch for their validity.” He looked up at the Academy. “What I know of here, though, I know from my time spent learning here. I can at least vouch for the truth of that.”
“What do you think the shops here’ll have?” Valko pitched in, sounding considerably more enthusiastic now the topic of the Devroran had been left. “They’ll probably have the best selection of magic focuses we could ask for, just to make a start…”
“Thought up your new time sink for the next few days?” Juno teased, characteristically cheerful as ever.
“Nothing wrong with getting stronger, is there?” Valko retorted, in something of a “so there” manner, to which Juno had no other response than to laugh at it.
“I could show you the places I remember,” Riki offered, shrugging lightly. “It has been some time since I was last here, and much has happened to me in that time.”
“Orios is boring,” Lucia decided dismissively. “Been there, done that, got the amulets.”
“You have,” Valko protested. “I never even left the continent before this.” He turned his attentions to Riki, his enthusiasm returning. “I’ll take you up on that, if you don’t mind taking me along. Granted, it’ll have to wait until tomorrow, but…”
“Would you mind terribly if I tagged along?” Juno piped up. “There’s nothing like a city like this to strike up curiosity, and I’ve heard too much about Orios to pass up an opportunity. Riki nodded, looking faintly pleased.
“I make no promises about the things I experienced still being there,” he warned them. “But given Orios’ propensity to stay the same, they are likely to be, at least.”
“Doesn’t bother me any,” Juno dismissed. “A trip around the mage-city is a trip around the mage-city, same or different. Either way, the place is still impressive.” Riki chuckled.
“Their lessons are those of many races. I learned much here.” His face fell slightly. “Once there were Dicarsan here too, but they returned to our town with me for my awakening, the day Tobias destroyed my race.” The group seemed to go silent at that, unsure how to continue such a line of conversation – certainly, no one had thought to bring it up before. After a moment, however, it was Corvan who spoke up and broke the quiet.
“…do you know why he ever did it in the first place?” he questioned, voice subdued. “Skywing may have been evil, but I never thought him the type of evil that would benefit from…genocide.” The saddened look on Riki’s face increased.
“It was not him who cast the spell, but Sheltam,” he responded. “Because certain members of our race found his only daughter, and murdered her.”
“He had an entire race wiped out in retribution for the actions of one group?” Luna repeated, her face set in a scowl. “Pah. It’s no wonder my brother fled to him.”
“Why would Sheltam have needed to cast the spell?” Corvan asked, frowning. “Skywing clearly had the power and capability on his own.”
“He did not know it,” Riki responded with a shrug. “From what I understand, Sheltam approached him with the idea after he heard what had happened. It was one of the reasons he began to collect Yore spells. Tobias disliked being beholden to people he was not fond of.”
“He certainly had an odd way of showing it, if that was the case,” Corvan muttered, brow furrowed. “Although I suppose it matters little now, given his death.”
“I find the Devroran are easier to understand when you don’t try,” Juno inputted helpfully. “I think we’re better off not knowing.” Riki made an amused noise.
“Perhaps,” he agreed. “I suppose he would be pleased that he succeeded at his aim, if nothing else.” Saïla scowled at that, so Riki made an unhappy noise and fell silent.
With his silence, the group continued walking, at last entering the city proper.
Happily, the group located an inn not far from the entry gate, just along the city’s main street. As they walked into the building, Corvan broke away from the rest of them, heading to set out their arrangements with the innkeeper.
“A moment,” he told them. “I shouldn’t be long.”
He hadn’t even reached the centre of the room, however, before a voice rang out from a table between him and the group. Its sound and air was casual and somewhat disinterested, almost lazy.
“You know, you don’t make yourselves particularly hard to find,” it remarked, tone conversational. “Always take the first inn you see?” Corvan’s head whipped around almost immediately, eyes scanning the inngoers for the source of the new voice.
He was quick to locate it. Sitting by himself at a table to the werewolf’s right was a man clad entirely in black clothes – and judging by what little of it Corvan could see under his hood, his hair matched that colour almost perfectly. He was leant back in his chair, idly tossing a dagger into the air and catching it, as if he’d been waiting for quite a while and had settled into his own way of passing the time.
“And just who are you?” Corvan inquired, tone guarded, his danger senses coming alive almost pre-emptively. “And how do you know us?” The man didn’t seem fazed in the slightest, not even pausing his game.
“Not going to kill you, if it makes you feel any better,” he assured. “When people hire me to do that, I usually don’t stop to chat with them first.” Jakar blinked in surprise.
“Slade,” he remarked, actually sounding somewhat scared. “Who sent you here?” Rachael looked at him, seeming just as surprised that Jakar knew the other man as Jakar did that he was there.
“You know him?” she asked. The man in black, now identified as Slade, didn’t look away from his dagger catching.
“Normally, you’d know how I feel about identifying my clients by name,” he responded. “Shady ventures, and all that. But since this is a special case, as most everything involving Viran turns out, I suppose I could make an exception just for you.” He caught the knife one final time, slamming it point-first into the table at looking up at Corvan, rather than Jakar. “General Milaven sends his regards.” His eyes flicked to Valko. “And I’ll thank you to put out the fire.” Valko blinked.
“You…” he managed, the fireball he’d been forming as a last resort, behind his back, dying out in his surprise.
“General Milaven?” Corvan repeated, sounding taken aback by that. “From Redwood?” Slade nodded.
“Sent me to find you,” he supplied. “‘Check in on progress,’ as he put it. Can’t say I’m asked to do that one very often.”
“Any thief worth his salt knows Slade,” Jakar responded, voice low, not out of fear of being overheard but out of respect. “Best assassin in the business, that isn’t tied to those evil assholes in blue anyhow.”
“I do not understand why he would not send an official envoy,” Marvin remarked, bemused. Slade leant back in his chair again, linking his hands behind his head.
“He didn’t send one because most of who he’d send as envoys are still stuck rebuilding entirely the wrong places to be able to help,” he countered. “Namely, Snowcap. Right about now, he has more money than he has free soldiers, and men of my profession typically have more flexible schedules either way. Besides, a single man can move faster than a full envoy.”
“Your words have merit,” Marvin allowed, although he looked a little ruffled. Jakar moved a little further towards the back of the group, clearly wary despite Slade’s statement of intent.
“Is that all, then?” Corvan asked the assassin. “He sent you just to…check in?” Slade shrugged.
“Pretty much,” he confirmed. “And to help if you desperately needed it, but you don’t seem to be having much of a problem.” Corvan’s face was set in a frown of thought, however. An idea seemed to have come to him.
“Now that you mention it, actually…” he murmured. Slade quirked an eyebrow
“The big damn hero actually considering making use of the assassin?” he questioned, sounding thoroughly disbelieving. “Strike up another new one, then...”
“Are you sure you wanna do that?” Jakar cut in quickly. “Really?” He gave Slade another nervous look. Slade looked a bit affronted by that.
“I only assassinate when someone pays me to, you know,” he remarked, sounding dubious. “And I like to think I’m fairly loyal to whoever happens to hold my contract, this case just happening to be one of your friends. Just what do you take me for?”
“It’s not what you think, Jakar,” Corvan cut in, by way of reassurance. “But he’s offered us his help, and I do think I have a way to put it to use.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” Jakar muttered, his voice dark and bitter and entirely free of his accent. “But fine. Ain’t my call in the end anyways.”
“He has a point, though,” Valko inputted, addressing Corvan. “And this guy’s just reinforced it: he’s loyal to whoever holds his contract. Who’s to say Sheltam won’t make a better offer?” Slade sighed heavily.
“Listen, I get the aversion to working with an assassin,” he responded, closing his eyes. “I really do. But keeping on this side is as much a matter of self-preservation for me as it is for you. I know official types like Sheltam too well, especially the ones who’re scrambled in the head like him: as soon as they don’t need someone, they throw them away, especially hirelings, and especially when they get their hands on as much delicate information as assassins do. Even if that weren’t the case, the man is trying to level entire cities. The longer he goes on, the less work there is for me, assassinations or otherwise.” He shrugged. “And besides, backstabbing clients is terrible for business.” Jakar made a slight noise.
“He’s not Blue Rose,” he remarked, almost grudgingly. “It’s as much of a plus point as he’s going to get.” Valko grumbled, but said nothing further on the issue. As satisfied with the result as he knew he was going to be, Corvan continued his proposal.
“How familiar are you,” he started, looking the assassin dead-on. “With Arduskuth?” Slade raised an eyebrow at that.
“Arduskuth?” he repeated. “You’re certainly fond of making enemies everywhere, aren’t you?” Corvan grimaced.
“Yes, well, we didn’t much have to try this time,” he muttered. “You wouldn’t happen to have been on a rescue mission before, would you?”
“No, but I can’t imagine the procedure would be much different,” Slade responded, shrugging. “Unless you expect me to go storming the weretrees’ base from the front, and I don’t take you to be stupid enough.”
“Good,” Corvan decided, his face grim. “Because we need someone to at least try and do one for us, and we’re not in any position to do it ourselves.” Marvin shook his head.
“No. One man will not be enough to rescue Sam and Derrick,” he disagreed. “No matter how skilled he is, Sam and Derrick are the most important factor of Briar’s army. They’ll be the best defended.” He fell silent for a moment, looking distinctly unhappy with himself. “It would be better,” he continued, “to attempt to free Maraicho. She is young, as his army goes, but knows both the forest and the twins well enough to help, if she’s able.” Corvan looked pained.
“Be that as it may,” he murmured. “If there is any chance at all…”
“Take all three,” Slade finished for him. “I’m fairly sure I would’ve tried either way, if there was an opening. Extra credit always looks good on a man’s permanent record.” He unstuck his dagger from the table, twirling it between his fingers idly. “Now, that just leaves one caveat, so pray tell, good leader - how fussed are you with the idea of me having to snuff the guards on the way in? If this place is as well-defended as your knight makes it out to be, I can almost guarantee it’ll be unavoidable.” Corvan closed his eyes, his mouth as much a thin line as was possible for a werewolf.
“Get them out,” he repeated. “However it takes.” Marvin looked strained. It clearly pained him to be speaking out both against their leader and the chances of his friends, but he did so regardless.
“They tried to keep them alive when we were ambushed in the forest,” he murmured. “At least try not to kill the Abominations. It’s not their fault.” Slade seemed to consider it, going silent for a moment.
“I’ll leave them be,” he eventually offered, voice low in thought. “If they don’t endanger my life, or the lives of my passengers. Deal?”
“I suppose it is the best that they will get,” Marvin responded, tone clipped. “Deal.” Slade smiled thinly under his hood.
“Then consider it as good as done,” he decided, sheathing his dagger. Barely-visible dark blue eyes turned to Corvan again. “You know, wolf, you’re lucky. If this wasn’t part of Viran’s payroll, you’d have quite a price tag to match.”
“Then I’m thankful for the General’s good graces,” he muttered, clearly still somewhat uncertain about the idea of working with such a professional, high-demand assassin, despite how little choice they had otherwise.
“Where will you take them if you manage to free them?” Marvin asked, sounding concerned. “It is too dangerous to try and rendezvous with us again. Our path leads straight to Sheltam after this, or as near as can be called it.” Slade thought about it, looking up at the ceiling in consideration.
“There’s a weretree covenant in Redwood,” he murmured. “One that doesn’t have a tendency to kill anything that comes near them. They live in Viran’s jurisdiction as General, as well, and he keeps on good terms with them. If I happen to get them out, I could take them there under my protection, since I have a paycheck to collect either way.” Marvin nodded.
“If I am able, I will return there once we are done,” he responded.
“Then it’s settled,” Slade agreed. “I’ll set off first thing tomorrow and get this out of the way as soon as possible. By the way you make things sound, there’ll be general misfortune abound if I take my sweet time with this.”
“Perhaps not immediately, but soon enough,” Marvin agreed, looking sombre.
True to promises, Riki took Valko and Juno into the city fairly early the next day, just before noon. Both of the younger mages seemed eager, their general attitudes fully cheerful for the whole prospect.
“You know,” Juno enthused as they walked, curious eyes darting about the buildings along the streets. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so many magic shops before. Probably never will again, either.”
“Wonder if their magic focuses are stronger than the usual,” Valko remarked, sounding interested by the idea. “It’s a city specialising entirely in magic, so I’d think they’d be generally better at it than most.”
“There is a mixture,” Riki responded, his tone as tempered as always. “Some masters of the craft live here, and as such you can find pieces of incredible quality. But, as ever, there will be some less than scrupulous merchants hidden among the honest ones, and they are harder to spot with the glut.”
“Yeah, such seems to be the norm,” Juno agreed, punctuating it with a sigh. “Lucky thing bad magical merchandise is fairly easy to spot.”
“Plus, I doubt the bad ones outnumber the legitimate ones,” Valko reasoned. “Otherwise Orios wouldn’t have kept much of a reputation.”
“Of course not,” Riki agreed with a nod. “But travellers are easy to fool.”
“Well, not everyone can be a mage, I suppose,” Juno granted, shrugging. “Just a shame they get so many unsuspecting sods. Usually apprentices.” Her eyes sighted on one store in particular, drawn to it by the rather impressive display in the window. “Not bad. What say we check it out and see if it’s legit?” Riki glanced at it.
“Some of them are,” he replied. “You will get better quality closer to the Academy, although of course it will be more expensive there. If there are any teachers there who remember me I may be able to take you inside.” Both younger mages seemed to have the exact same reaction at the exact same time, their faces lighting up with enthusiasm.
“You could really do that?” Juno asked him. “You could get us into the Academy?”
“Even if we’re not students?” Valko added. “I mean, you were, but…”
“I could try,” Riki repeated, emphasising the ‘try’. “Both of you study magic to some degree, to a level where a successful application could be feasible, and I was reasonably well-known as a student. But it depends upon a lot of things, so I make no promises.”
“It’s good enough for me,” Valko responded, with Juno nodding in concurrence.
“This,” she decided. “Is gonna be awesome.” Riki smiled faintly at their antics, before turning and heading for the huge, white building that dominated the city skyline.
The interior of the academy, as Riki’s two followers were soon to discover, was just as impressive and well-designed as its exterior. Its halls, all in the same white marble of the dragonkin, took more the shape of long archways going into the distance, with surfaces each dedicated by a portrait of some famous mage or other, or an ornamental window.
“Wow,” Juno breathed, her tone appreciative as her eyes scanned around the entry hall. “Wonder if the Ancients had a hand in this…”
“All this time spent studying magic, and I never thought I’d be here,” Valko remarked, sounding as though he still didn’t entirely believe it. As they walked the length of the entry hall, his focus was kept almost solely on the pictures of the mages.
Their welcome to the Academy came in the form of a young man, seated at a meticulously-polished, semicircular wooden desk, right at the end of the hallway. He was dressed in what could only be official Academy uniform.
“Can I help you?” he asked of the three, looking up at them as they approached. His tone was noticeably stuffy, if certainly polite, and his eyes seemed drawn to Riki, clearly singling him out as their leader – although he didn’t seem to recognise the older man, himself.
“May I speak to Sage Nylahana?” Riki asked, casting his eyes over the state of the desk. “My name is Riki Forian, a former student of hers.” The young man looked down at what appeared to be a schedule book, giving it careful, critical once-over.
“Her schedule seems lenient today, so I am certain she could find the time,” he responded, looking back up. “Might I ask your business with the Sage, Mr. Forian?” Riki’s eyes were troubled.
“It is twofold,” he responded. “I was hoping to show these two young mages some of the places of learning. I also face an issue of a magical nature which I hope she may be able to help me with.” Seemingly satisfied with Riki’s answer, the young man stood out of his seat.
“Very well,” he decided, straightening his posture professionally. “If you would follow me, I will take you to the Lady Sage in person.” Riki glanced back at the other two.
“Try to be quiet,” he suggested to them, his voice soft. Both younger mages nodded faithfully.
“We will,” Valko promised.
“One order of silent cheering and enthusiasm, coming up,” Juno agreed, grinning. Riki smiled faintly and nodded, before turning to face the young man on the desk and nodding to him. The secretary nodded once in kind, leading them down the long hallways to their left.
Their trek through the halls went at a brisk pace, only taking them around five minutes to reach the destination the young man had had in mind – five minutes that Juno, true to her word, spent silently enthusing over anything she seemed to find impressive. By contrast, Valko, despite his own enthusiasm, was far more nuanced in showing it, simply looking about in wonder.
“Here,” the secretary told the three, stopping them in front of a door to what appeared to be a study. “I will be only a moment.” He disappeared inside.
“I apologise for the hassle,” Riki murmured. “They are understandably a little secretive in this place.”
“Are you kidding?” Juno responded, although her tone was still respectfully subdued. “They could be ten times worse and this’d still be worth it.”
“I agree,” Valko concurred with a nod. “Compared to what we’re getting from it, it’s no trouble at all.”
“Once we have dealt with Sheltam, if you can, you should come here,” he suggested to them. “Apply for training. It would serve you well.” Valko didn’t seem to need to consider the idea for very long, as he was quick to nod in agreement.
“I’d like that,” he decided. “I could finish my training properly, then.” Juno looked thoughtful.
“I’d have to take it up with Master Xenos,” she murmured. “But I don’t see why he wouldn’t let me go for a few years. He defended Geihola on his own for gods know how long before I ever came into the picture.”
Wherever their conversation may have gone, it was cut short by the near door opening again.
“Sage Nylahara will see you,” the young secretary told them, briskly stepping back into the hallway and politely motioning them into the study. Riki nodded in thanks, leading the other two inside. True to what they could see through the outside window, the room was a study, and a rather well-stocked study at that, with shelves of books spanning wall-to-wall. At the far side, an elf, clearly female, seemed to be conducting a thorough search-through of the texts.
“It’s been quite a long time, Mr. Forian,” Sage Nylahara remarked in a calm, pleasant tone of voice, turning to the three as they walked in. By elfin standards, she looked fairly old – her face was lined by both age and, presumably, the stress of the job, and her hair too pale to make out what colour it used to be. She wore a variant of the official Academy robes, their colour being dark aqua. “In honesty, I had begun to worry I might never see my best student again. For once, it gladdens me to be proven wrong.” Riki smiled, although it was saddened.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to return here, with what has occurred in the interim, Sage,” he responded. “Would you be so kind as to authorise a brief tour of the Academy for these two?” He indicated Juno and Valko with a wave of his hand. “Juno is a student of Sage Rudiger in Geihola, I am told, and both have quite an interest in magic.”
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
|quote quick quote edit quick edit del posts in thread report|
May 12, 12 at 3:59pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Nylahara’s eyes went to Valko, and then to Juno.
“Quite an eager duo to have accompanying you,” she remarked, smiling slightly. “Yes, I believe I can do that for them. I can have one of our free instructors take them through the building.” Valko’s eyes lit up, and Juno stoically forced back an exclamation of cheer. Rather than any other outward reaction, however, both younger mages inclined their heads in thanks and respect, both familiar with addressing Sages.
“We’re grateful, Lady Sage,” the former told her, keeping his voice subdued and polite. “You have our sincere thanks.”
“It means a lot to us,” Juno agreed, her tone almost a mirror match of Valko’s. Riki chuckled softly.
“Thank you, Sage,” he told her, before turning to Valko. “Please do not tell Lucia. I do not wish to risk her temper.” Valko laughed under his breath, giving Riki a reassuring smile.
“I wouldn’t wish that on your hair,” he promised. Riki’s smile was wry.
“Appreciated,” he responded. “Enjoy your tour.”
“Now that, ” Valko responded, his smile turning into a grin for the first time since they’d left Arduskuth. “Is a guarantee.” He looked at Nylahara again, uncertainty seeming to come over him. “And, uh, as to our guide…”
“Go to the secretarial desk and ask Kirkland to fetch Instructor Heska,” the Sage responded. “I’m all but certain he will have the time.” Valko nodded once.
“Thanks,” he responded, turning to Juno. “Shall we?” He got a grin to match his own in response.
“All the way,” she agreed. With that as their final word, both younger mages left the room. Riki’s smile faded slightly as the door closed, and he turned to face the Sage once more.
“As much as I dislike the imposition, Sage, I... I had hoped that I could ask another favour of you,” he began, his voice uncertain. Nylahara’s face became serious again.
“Yes, Kirkland told me there was another issue you wished to discuss,” she responded. “You need only name it.” Riki looked at the floor.
“Shortly after I left the Academy, my home and my people were as good as destroyed by Tobias Skywing,” he told her in a low voice. “I was captured by him a few years afterwards, and he... broke me.” He closed his eyes. “I do not know how he did it, other than that it... it hurt, and with his death I am not sure there are any left who can reverse what he did. But it hurts. It always hurts, and I fear that it may kill me.” Nylahara’s face became the expression of a solemn frown.
“Yes…I had heard of what became of the Dicarsan,” she murmured. “It was the reason I worried for your safety. But in order for me to help you, I will need to know more about what it is you speak of, when you say he ‘broke’ you. How do you mean, Riki?” Riki made a slight noise, and the darkness surrounded him. The elder Sage’s eyes widened, her mouth opening just slightly in shock.
“Darkness,” Nylahara half-whispered, not seeming at all like she believed it. “But that… that…that should be impossible. You were a light innate, and you never used darkness…” Her brow furrowed, her frown deepening. “Unless…”
“He broke me,” Riki repeated simply. “And put me back wrong.” The response did nothing to assuage Nylahara’s confusion, her frown remaining in place.
“It should be an impossibility,” she continued. “And yet, I can think of no other way he could have done this to you.” Her eyes followed the wisping darkness, her frown nearly deepening into a full scowl. “Somehow, he must have changed your innate. Though I am aware it’s been done in the distant past, as I said, your bloodline should have made it impossible. And yet...I do not know of any other options.” Riki sighed softly.
“He tore my soul to pieces,” he responded. “He told me it was because what I was, what I could become, was too dangerous for him to risk in his city. It was the only way he had to control it.” Nylahara shook her head, perplexed and disbelieving and disgusted all at the same time.
“To rearrange the soul of another…” she muttered. “While it would explain how he was able to change your innate, it has only existed as a theoretical possibility until now. It’s unnatural, something of which only cruel gods should ever be capable, and as such…” She closed her eyes, her voice taking a tone of remorse as she continued, “There is nothing I can do to change it. If I could do something, anything, I would; but what Tobias Skywing has done to you is something we never felt we would need prepare for.” She sighed in frustration, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You would have better luck asking Ancients long dead than you would have asking this old Sage. I am sorry, Riki – truly.” Riki smiled faintly, although his eyes were still touched with sadness.
“Perhaps I will try that, then,” he agreed. “Thank you, Sage, for listening at least. It was... a vain hope, I suppose.”
“I can only wish it were not so,” Nylahara murmured, shaking her head again. “Should you have need of me for anything else, Riki, anything else…please, do not hesitate to ask me. I feel I owe you at least that much for my inability to act.” He nodded once.
“I will bear that in mind. Thank you, Sage,” he told her. “I will go and find Valko and Juno. The rest of our travelling party will doubtless be wondering where we have got to.” Nylahara inclined her head.
“Very well,” she agreed. “Farewell, Riki. Be…as well as you can, in your travels, and stay safe in our troubled times.”
“The same to you, Sage,” he returned. “I’Risen bless you.”
“I was right,” Juno decided, speaking as the reunited trio headed away from the Academy, back to their designated inn. Both younger mages were seemingly at a zenith of cheer and wonder, neither knowing the conversation that had taken place between Riki and Nylahara. “That was awesome. Totally signing up there when we get out of this.” Valko nodded all too willingly.
“Second that,” he agreed. “So much magic…so much knowledge…” His eyes went to Riki. “Have I thanked you yet? Because if I haven’t--”
“Seven times,” Juno informed him faithfully. “Going on eight.” Valko gave her a despairing look.
“You counted?” he lamented. “…and still let me rave on like a mental patient?”
“Hey, I didn’t want to be the one to pop your happy bubble,” Juno retorted, grinning.
“Once more, you are welcome,” Riki informed him. He was smiling slightly, despite the long-suffering look on his face.
“Seven thank you’s aside, it was pretty unforgettable,” Juno remarked in concurrence as they made their trek. They were just entering the main body of the city again, away from the Academy’s front courtyard and back amongst the shops and houses. “All things considered, I think it’ll be pretty easy to convince Master Xenos to let me go. Hell, I think he went, when he was training to become a Sage.” She turned her head to Valko, intent being to strike up further conversation. That idea cut itself off immediately, however – Valko’s attentions had long gone elsewhere, namely to one of the alleyways they’d just passed. There was a frown on his face. “Staring off into space, I note. What’s with the look? See anything?”
“I thought…” Valko murmured in kind, but shook his head to cut himself off. “Never mind. Call it paranoia – I think we’ve all had it worse since the forest.” Riki glanced in the same direction, a frown on his face.
“There is no harm in being a little cautious,” he murmured. “Stay alert. It is possible Skywing’s soldiers could ambush us once more, given how determined Buren seemed to be.” Juno’s look turned serious, matching those of the other two.
“It’s a good point,” she muttered. “Unless plans changed while we were out, everyone else would be out in town about now, too – all in small groups. Attacking us now would be a cheap as hell move, but an effective one.”
“Tobias believed in success over honour,” Riki muttered. “He would have passed that on to his guards.” One hand hovered over the hilt of his sword, but due to the possibility of meeting civilians on the street he didn’t draw it.
“Corvan said he didn’t think they’d attack us in the city,” Valko murmured, wind dancing around his right hand. “Do you really think Buren would be that desperate, Riki?”
“I don’t know him as well as Dorian did,” Riki murmured. “They rarely came down to my cell. I would always rather err on the side of caution, however.” Valko nodded once in concurrence, turning fully toward the alley, never taking his eyes away from it. Silence hung over the three as they waited for sound or movement. Beyond the sound of the quiet, however, nothing came.
At least, not from the alley. While their backs were turned, the telltale whoosh of flame broke through the air behind them, and, in a flash, a brilliant, white-hot jet of fire shot out, hitting Riki square in the back in a burst of flame and heat. Riki cried out in pain as the fire caught, darkness bursting out from all around him with force strong enough to crack the pavement in automatic defence as he fell to his knees. The fire burned black around him through the darkness, an unholy combination that only turned his cry into a full-on scream. Both younger mages spun on the spot, already giving voice to their own cries of shock and surprise. Juno immediately leapt into action, unceremoniously dropping a ball of water onto the flames in an attempt to put them out, while Valko scanned the nearby streets for the source of the attack.
Almost immediately, he found it, directly across from them. There, at the other end of the same street they were on, stood an old, white-haired woman in blue robes – an old woman Valko immediately recognised.
“I see you’ve come far, young man,” she remarked, her tone of voice just the same mask of polite, unassuming kindness as Valko remembered it. “I do hope you found my spell useful.” Valko could do little more than make a strangled noise of shock.
“Y-you,” he managed. “You gave me…” Riki screamed again as the water hit him, the fire going out but the darkness springing up even higher. His clothes had been reduced to near-cinders by the heat of the fire, and judging from the raw, red burns on his skin the only thing that had saved him from burning like Mardigan had had been the quick, instinctive reaction of his darkness. His eyes closed, near-blinded by the fire, he reached with weak and trembling hands for his sword as the cobbles around him broke into pieces. The old woman simply smiled, the only outward sign she gave to clue in that she was affected at all.
“For the unaware,” she began, in that same pleasant tone of voice. “You may call me Dreseia. Consider me an acquaintance of your young friend.” She looked back at Valko. “Now, be a dear and tell me, young man – how does this,” she swept a hand in Riki’s direction. “Make you feel? Does it fill you with rage? Indignation? Does it make you want to kill me? Or…” Her eyes flicked to Juno, then back, her smile curving just a bit further upwards. “Shall I do the same to her? I can--”
“For the record,” Valko snarled, cutting her off midway. “All of the above.” His arm shot up faster than most normal people should have been able to react to it, a humourless spear of light firing out at the elder mage.
Dreseia dispelled with a wave of her hand, as though it were nothing. Eyeing the mere wisps of luminance it had become, she laughed softly, under her breath.
“Good,” she decided. “You please me, child.” Riki tried to speak, his mouth moving but nothing more than hoarse sounds emerging. His shaking hands lost his grip on the sword, which went clattering onto the broken cobbles. The darkness around him had made him as good as invisible now, but his eyes – in the brief periods they were open – had gone jet-black.
Juno, who was kneeling next to him as she tried to find a way to get past the darkness and heal him, briefly turned her eyes upward, to focus on Dreseia.
“So this is your idea of getting our attention?” she spat. “Coming from behind and almost killing one of us before we could react? Whoever you are, you’d better be quick about whatever it is you’re after, ‘cause once the rest of the group arrives…” Dreseia simply laughed, a sound just as disconcertingly pleasant as her tone of voice.
“Dear, the two of you are nothing more than collateral,” she countered. “So, really, I see no reason to take any care in dealing with you.” Her smile widened a bit. “As for your friends, we needn’t worry about them interrupting us. I have faith they will be busy for quite some time still.” Valko’s eyes narrowed dangerously, a look of fury gradually mounting behind them.
“If you’ve done anything to them,” he shot at her. “Anything…” Dreseia gave him what, by rights, would have been a perfectly reassuring look in any other situation, that pleasant, almost victorious smile never vacating her face.
“You worry needlessly, young Valko. I’m quite sure my associates have not done them any irreversible harm,” she responded. “Yet. It would be very handy if they have, however, if a bit disappointing. Particularly that sister of yours, on both accounts – how she would be such a thorn in my side, but oh, how she would react seeing what I’d done to you…” Fury, white-hot fury, flashed in Valko’s eyes, and he clearly made no effort to stop his response.
“Gan nei dah,” he growled, lights bursting to life around both his hands. “LIGHT!” He thrust both in Dreseia’s direction, a white blade of light screaming toward the old mage. Her only response was a simple motion of one hand, black tendrils intercepting the blade and shattering it – but despite that, her expression was positively beaming.
“Good!” she encouraged, properly approaching him now. “Excellent! Do keep up, dear boy – keep up, keep failing, keep falling to despair!” A cry of rage tore unbidden from Valko’s throat, his hand tearing upwards again, a fireball already bursting into a flightpath. As Juno turned away, the darkness around Riki began to retreat, coalescing to near-solid form around his badly-burned skin, clinging to it like a pitch-black protective coat. Behind him, it seemed to stretch out across the street, looking almost like wings, albeit badly broken ones.
“No,” he managed, his voice barely audible even to Juno. On his face, through the pain and the burning, was a look of near-desperation. As the darkness coalesced, Juno cursed under her breath – if there had somehow been a way around the shadows before, there certainly wasn’t now. A lost look on her face, she turned her eyes directly to Riki’s.
“What am I supposed to do?” she muttered, almost more to herself than to Riki.
Next to them, the two mages continued their exchange of spells. No matter what Valko tried, Dreseia seemed to know exactly how to counter it, as if she’d prepared for the moment, for their very fight, in advance.
“Come now, dear!” the elder woman encouraged, still approaching Valko, even through the barrage. There was still a smile on her face, albeit a smaller one thanks to her concentration. “How do you expect to help those you love with so little effort?” Valko made an angry noise, a positively livid noise.
“You will never hurt them,” he ground out through gritted teeth, arm flashing in repeated motions for spells. “You…will…never…hurt…them…again…!” He raised his hand, pointing straight to the sky, and brought it back down in a sweep, viciously-sharp icicles materialising in the air above him and following his hand, shooting out for Dreseia. With almost no perceptible effort, she stopped them just feet before they would have collided with her, tendrils of blackness reaching out to intercept them, suspending them in place. Dreseia’s expression turned to one of curiosity, even as she continued her approach.
“I wonder,” she remarked. “How would you react if yours was the spell responsible for their deaths?” With a wave of her hand, the darkness turned the icicles about on themselves, re-levelling them at Riki and Juno. “Shall we find out?” She flicked her hand a second time, firing the barrage back. Valko swore violently, spinning on the spot, a counter-spell already forming at his fingers. That time, he didn’t even need to speak the chant for the effect he wanted – a spectacular fireball shot out of his outstretched hand, bidden only by his will, and intercepted the icicles again, destroying them this time. Anger flashing in his eyes, he spun back to face Dreseia.
And when he did, she was mere inches from his face, very clearly having used the reversal as more of a distraction than an actual attack. Valko made a noise of shock, his hand shooting up as though to cast a spell, but it was an effort in vain – a tendril of darkness caught his arm, locking before he could get to properly casting. A second caught his other, this time before he could even raise it. As he struggled, entirely in vain, Dreseia reached out and grabbed him by the chin.
“Valiant, boy,” she remarked, her tone soft and dangerous. “But it seems that without me, you really are nothing.” She reached into one of his robe pockets with her free hand, the one in which she knew he had stored the scroll she had given him, and produced it. She raised that hand to his face, extending two fingers against his forehead.
“What are--” Valko started, only half completing the demand of protest before light flashed out from Dreseia’s fingertips.
As Valko’s eyes glassed over, almost mindlessly, the elder mage smiled slightly to herself.
“Simply officialising the relationship you made the decision to start,” she replied, even though Valko was no longer in any position to listen or respond. “I’m quite sorry for never mentioning the fine text.” The tendrils retreated, freeing Valko from their hold. He didn’t move. He didn’t attack her. He didn’t even speak. All he did, all he could do, was stand and stare, his eyes vacant.
Nearby, Juno shot to her feet.
“Valko--” she began, already on the approach, but both her sentence and her crossing the gap between them were cut off by a fireball colliding with the ground mere inches away from her. She stopped dead, frozen by both the warning and shock.
Dreseia hasn’t cast the spell. Valko had.
Not daring to move in any other way, Juno turned her eyes to the elder mage, a look of unspoken hatred already making itself clear behind the greyish-blue.
“Mind control,” she started, her voice low and dangerous. “Is that it? You’ve actually gone that low?” Dreseia simply smiled pleasantly as she turned to face Juno.
“Long ago, girl, your dear friend made this choice for me,” she responded, holding up the scroll she’d given him in months gone by. “When he first made the decision to use this spell, he sealed his own fate. It hardly counts against me, I think, when he was the one who made the outcome inevitable in the first place.” She signalled once to Valko and, dutifully, the young mage stepped to her side, facing Riki and Juno as well, his expression blank.
“But to answer your question properly,” Dreseia continued, letting the hand carrying the scroll fall back to her side. In its place, she raised the other in a clear motion to attack with a spell – and almost as a mirror, Valko did the same. “Yes – your friend’s mind is mine. Now, if you’ll kindly excuse us, the two of you have become little more than liabilities.”
Both mages brought their hands down, and both darkness and fire flares out, almost perfectly matching the image of Riki’s shadows swallowing the flames that had burned him.
And darkness stopped them.
A thick dome, surrounding both Juno and Riki, cut through the ground, slicing through the stone of the floor like a knife. Behind Juno, Riki was some semblance of stood – held up almost puppet-like by the darkness around him, feet a few inches from the ground. From his back, an imitation of wings stretched, made of the same darkness that held all of him.
“No,” he repeated, and although his voice was still barely there, it was clear that this time it was not desperation, but anger which coloured his tone. The darkness rippled down as that around him pulled his head up to look at Dreseia, nothing but solid black in them. It was clear that he was no longer seeing.
It was also clear that it was hardly him any more.
Dreseia regarded him with some interest, and what at least seemed to be some caution.
“Ah, yes,” she remarked. “I recall Sheltam bringing you up in the report he gave me on our allies. Skywing’s, weren’t you?” She flicked a hand, her own dome of darkness encircling herself and Valko. “Seeing you now, I think I would have liked him. It’s just a shame you’re set to be so much trouble.” She motioned to Valko, while she began chanting under her breath. Perfectly on order, the younger mage summoned a volley of fireballs, firing them at Riki and Juno. Swearing violently, the latter brought up a wall of water in front of them, providing a solidly effective shield – even if the heat of the flames, seemingly doubled now Valko was under Dreseia’s control, worked to evaporate a fair portion of the front.
Three of us and I’m the only one still properly in my right mind, she muttered in her mind. It doesn’t matter. By all the gods, Valko, I’ll stop her. We’ll stop her. She turned her head to Riki, the look of him giving her pause for only a moment.
“If you can even still hear me at all,” she told him, through teeth gritted in concentration on the spell. “Target her – not him. Please.”
“Control,” Riki repeated, voice sounding like his throat had been scraped with sandpaper. “Wrong.” The darkness flared up around him like fire, then shot across the ground towards Dreseia. The old mage didn’t so much as look up from her chanting, as Valko responded to Riki’s assault for her, calling a bright spear of light into life in order to meet the attack halfway.
Just seconds before the two should have met, however, a wall of earth and rock came between the spells, closer to the light by just enough to stop it and leave the darkness free to continue its beeline for Dreseia. For the first time since she’d arrived, the elder’s expression turned into a just-perceptible frown as she cut her chant off midway in order to dispel the darkness with a light burst of her own – and even after that, her stance remained ready and defensive.
“Clever,” she remarked, voice soft and dangerous. “Clever and quick. It seems my new protégé’s friends aren’t keen to disappoint.”
“If only you knew just how much,” Juno growled, taking stance again. She didn’t attack immediately, however, instead waiting for Riki’s next move. While he seemed to be ignoring Juno, the darkness-clad man was clearly taking notice of her attacks. His next surge of darkness, while still a brutal, frontal assault, came in a wave that was designed to impair his target’s vision. Dreseia’s mouth became a thin line, but she didn’t have to counter the spell herself that time – once again, Valko did it for her, spreading his arms to his sides and bringing up a screen of light between them and the encroaching darkness. As he held it, Dreseia raised her own hand, a white-hot flame coming to life in her palm, the same kind she’d used to attack Riki during her very first assault.
Riki flung out one hand, the darkness leaping from it missing Juno by inches as it writhed around his skin. Pain showed on his face for the briefest of moments, before another rolling wave of darkness struck across the gap between them.
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
|quote quick quote edit quick edit del posts in thread report|
May 12, 12 at 4:00pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Unflinchingly and unfailingly, Valko held his shield strong in the air in front of them, repelling the first waving wisps of shadow.
But this time was different to the last. Before the shield could work to turn back the main body of Riki’s second wave, a hard, grey stalagmite burst from the ground, plunging through the wall of light. Almost immediately, it began to crack, all along its length – and mere seconds after that, it shattered, leaving nothing to stop the blinding dark from enveloping the two mages opposite Riki and Juno. Within, Dreseia’s expression turned into a full-on scowl.
It seems this is what Skywing saw in you, she thought. It’s just a shame I never thought of it first. Under her breath, she began a quick chant, one that she estimated she could finish before the angel’s next spell.
Next to her, Valko wordlessly spelled away the darkness surrounding him – Riki had, in fact, been aiming mostly for Dreseia, and as such, Valko had taken on far less of the attack. With the distraction out of the way, he raised his hand in a clear motion to aid the elder mage in dispelling the rest of the shadows. He never got the chance to will any further spells into existence, however; just as he extended his hand in that telltale spellcasting motion, a small jet of flame collided with it, burning skin and, more importantly, distracting Valko.
It struck Juno as a testament to the damage Dreseia had done that Valko’s only response was to slowly turn toward her instead. There was no recoil, no cry of pain or shock. There was simply blank, empty subservience.
“Sorry, Val,” she muttered through gritted teeth. “It’s for your own good. Promise I have a potion for it once we’re done.” Ahead of her, she saw him raise his other hand, light forming at his fingertips – and that was when she moved, breaking into a full-on run straight toward him, not willing to give him a chance to cast any further spells. Just as the light reached what she knew would be its apex, she rammed into him at full force, slamming him bodily into the outside wall of the building behind him and breaking his spell off before he could attack her with it. Taking advantage of his unvoiced surprise, she wasted no time in pinning his hands with her own, in the process effectively pinning him to the wall behind him. She turned her head up, fierce grey eyes meeting his dull, once-lively blue ones.
Even that, even properly seeing one of his closest friends close up again, did nothing to change the expressionless mask that had become his face.
“Come on, Valko, you know me,” she growled at him, anguished frustration colouring her voice. “Come on! We’re your friends, remember?! This isn’t you! You’d never do this to us – not on your life! So snap out of it, damn you, snap out of it!”
He said nothing, and he didn’t even move. All he did was look down at her with those same vacant, staring eyes. Juno muttered a violent curse, a furious and frustrated sound.
I’m getting you back, damn it, she vowed mentally. I don’t care how and I don’t give a damn if it kills me. I’m getting you back. Starting with—
As if to finish her thought for her, darkness flashed out in her peripheral vision. Dreseia had finished her counterspell, freeing herself from the darkness. As Juno turned her head to face the elder mage, the fury never leaving her eyes, Dreseia fully turned on the spot to face Juno, that same pleasant, triumphant look returning.
“Trying to get through to my new protégé, are we, dear?” she remarked, her voice simpering. “I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work like that. His mind is mine. I even have the papers to prove it.” Her smile widened dangerously. “Either way, however…I can’t have you getting in the way. I’d hate for you to get around to undoing all my hard work.”
Taking slightly more than a brisk walk, Dreseia started toward her. Swearing, Juno let go of Valko, falling back into the street and taking a ready stance – it had been then, and only then, that she truly realised how close in proximity she’d been to the older mage. She supposed it didn’t matter now.
Try me, you old scow, she challenged, if only in her mind. When I make promises, I go through with them. So just try me.
When Dreseia raised her arm, as if to aim straight for the sky, Juno responded likewise by pulling her own right arm back toward her left shoulder, feeling she had at least a fair idea of what was coming. She was quick to be proven right, as Dreseia scythed her hand back down almost immediately, a rush of smothering blackness following it. Allowing herself a grim, almost imperceptible smile at the temporary victory, Juno countered in kind, sweeping her arm outward. Obligingly, a burst of wind shot out to connect with the column of darkness, dispersing it to the side before it could hit its mark. That was when Juno saw Dreseia behind the fading curtain of darkness – already midway through a follow-up motion with her other arm, a second scything motion from underneath. Scrambling, Juno attempted to motion a counterspell with her other hand, but it was too late. It was too late. All Juno had time enough to do was curse herself for it.
So caught up was she in the battle, and the rage and surprise, Juno managed no noise when a sharp, hard line of darkness streaked through her arm, just at the junction of her shoulder. Grey-blue eyes widening in shock, she stumbled back, her left hand going, protectively, to her injured shoulder. Her right arm, in its entirety, had gone limp – and though the blood didn’t come right away, once it did it was like no wound Juno had ever had to treat, deep red expanding out from under her clutching left hand and flourishing across her once-white cloak.
In front of her, Dreseia did nothing more than smile.
“Young…fool,” she remarked, her voice soft as she approached Juno, for what she was confident would be the last time. “I did tell you, didn’t I? I’ve worked much too hard to let you undo what I’ve done to your friend. While it gives me no great pleasure to do this to you-“ the fact that her smile widened as she said it clued into her blunt insincerity, “I’m afraid you gave me no choice.” As she sank, slowly, to her knees, Juno’s head sank, her eyes wide in disbelief at both the fact that she’d been put in the state she was in and how she’d let herself be put in it in the first place. Her breaths were becoming sharp and unsteady – the pain had started to set in.
“I…I…” she whispered, shaking her head as if to disbelieve it entirely. Becoming aware that Dreseia had stopped in front of her, Juno turned her eyes up to the old woman, eyes clouded with pain and hatred. Dreseia’s face took on the same reassuring look she’d given Valko as she knelt in front of Juno, looking her straight in the eyes.
“I’d wager you’re in quite a lot of pain,” she remarked, voice soft and disconcertingly kindly. As she spoke, she raised a hand to Juno’s forehead, in much the same way she had done for Valko. This time, though, there was no light around them – only darkness that would soon become another blade. “You needn’t worry yourself for it any longer, dear girl. I intend to make it…” She smiled slightly. “Go away.” Slowly, Juno’s head sank, her eyes closing.
“I…” she murmured again…and what happened next, Dreseia decidedly wasn’t expecting.
Juno’s left hand shot out, leaving her mangled shoulder, and caught Dreseia’s own in a vicegrip. It was her otherwise-free hand – the one holding her spell scroll.
Mustering herself, the younger mage raised her head again, her expression a pained, but victorious, smirk.
“I…” she repeated, taking in a ragged gasp of breath. “Got you now, bitch…!” In a flash, flames exploded into life around her left hand, quickly consuming the scroll and racing up Dreseia’s arm.
The elder mage shrieked in surprise and agony, intense agony, immediately leaping back to her feet. She swept her right hand, just seconds ago set to be the one that finished Juno, over her left arm, quick to douse the rapidly-climbing flames with water before they consumed her arm entirely. Although Riki’s face remained blank, the darkness around it smiled.
Between the two mages, the control scroll lay smouldering on the cobblestones, Juno’s fire gradually licking it away into ashes. A faint smile on her face, Juno let her head turn, trailing, to the side, her eyes going to Valko.
As the scroll burnt away, that dull, blank cloudiness began to chase itself from his eyes. Though its place was taken by a decidedly lost, unsure expression, it was entirely his own.
“Wha…” he murmured, looking down at his hands. “What just…?” He glanced about, eyes scanning his surroundings. They caught Riki some distance away, still his twisted, angelic self, and seemingly doing nothing more than watching. Frowning, Valko flicked his eyes to the left.
That was where he saw what Riki saw. At roughly the centre of the street, Dreseia stood, clutching a hideously-burnt left arm with a look of sheer, disbelieving anger on her face. Some feet away, Juno was looking up at him from a kneeling position on the ground, clutching at her right arm in much the same way as Dreseia was clutching at her left.
Valko’s eyes widened in a combination of shock and mounting horror when he saw just why that was – when he saw the ravaged, limp state of her right arm.
“Juno,” he breathed, starting for her – and just as he broke into his run, an angry shriek sounded nearby. Valko caught the bright burst of flame rocketing along the street in the corner of his eye and reacted with impeccable speed, practically leaping in its path and blasting it away with a burst of wind. As he faced her, Dreseia’s look of rage seemed only to grow.
“You were supposed to be mine,” she spat. “Mine! You were supposed to be mine, you useless, grovelling boy!” Valko paid her no attention, instead casting a wide-eyed, horrified look of concern over his shoulder, to Juno.
“Juno,” he repeated, paling at the sight of her arm. “I…”
“No,” she cut him off, almost instantly. Somehow, despite the fact that she was shaking in both pain and blood loss, she managed a tone that suggested she was not to be argued with. “Don’t…don’t you dare…focus on me now. If you…if you want to help me…do me a favour.” She turned her head up, shooting him a weak grin. “Kick her ass for me, Val. Then…then you can worry about my sorry hide. You…you got me…?” Valko shoot his head, looking lost and torn.
“I can’t just--” he started, almost immediately cutting himself short when he saw another burst of fire shoot out toward them. Furiously, he countered it with a spell of his own, gritting his teeth and shaking his head. “Fine. I’ll promise that, if you promise me to hold on. You got me?” Unexpectedly, Juno responded with a weak laugh.
“Hah…” she murmured. “That’s…that’s our Val…”
Valko heard the dull, telltale thud behind him. He shut his eyes, furiously clenching his fists as an attempt to force himself not to turn.
You made me promise, he thought. I’m seeing it through, once and for all. So…by all the gods, Juno…see yours through, too. Please. Slowly, Valko turned his head back up, levelling his eyes on Dreseia. There was a fury about them – a silent, dangerous rage.
“Dreseia,” he started, his voice deliberately calm. “I’ll be honest – I honestly never would have cared what you did you me. If my friends were safe, I never would have cared.” He turned his head back to Juno, now lying motionless on the ground, her eyes closed and her left hand still guardedly clutching the streak of a wound through her shoulder. “But that was the line you decided to cross. You’ve made me care.” He looked back at her, that selfsame fury mounting in his eyes now. “This ends here, Dreseia. Once and for all, this ends here.” Dreseia barked out a humourless laugh.
“And just what are you without me, boy?” she shot back. “Tell me, just what did you have before I dragged you from that languishing pit of your own self-pity?” Valko shrugged.
“Perhaps not as much power as I’d have liked,” he admitted. “And maybe I still don’t. But now…I realise what I did have were friends – strong, loyal friends who didn’t care how powerful I was. Friends who would have stood by me and helped me until the very end.” Slowly, he spread his hands out to his sides, closing his eyes again. “And for the record, Dreseia? I already have a teacher, and she’s already taught me more than you could ever dream of doing. Like this.”
As if punctuating the final word, light shot out around Valko’s hands, expanding across the length of his arms and gradually engulfing his body completely. The amulets and talismans he’d collected, and that Lucia had collected for him, shook and rattled thanks to the sheer force of his own exertion – and all about his feet, the cobbled road cracked under the force and pressure that had come into life around his body. Then, all at once, the magic surrounding him flashed outward; sure enough, the form it became was that of a white, just-incorporeal horse, its body made up of wisping, burning lights.
Across the street from Valko, Dreseia’s eyes widened in disbelief – utter, disbelieving shock and terror.
“Summoning,” she whispered. “A human…a mere human boy… to be able to summon an Elemental Lord…” Valko’s horse left her no further time to tend to her ramblings. Rearing once on its back legs, it came down with force enough to crack the pavement more than it already had been.
Then, it broke out into a charge, shooting off down the street in a beeline straight for Dreseia. Vainly, the elder mage hacked at it with blades and whipping tendrils of darkness, and blasted at it with bursts of flame; however, its path was set and nothing she tried stopped in.
“No,” she uttered, just under her breath. “No, no, no, NO, NO, NO!” Each exclamation was summarily punctuated by another equally in-vain spell, another scrambling attempt to counter magic far beyond anything she could muster. So, just as the horse closed the last few metres between, Dreseia shot one shaking arm up toward the sky, a brilliant jet of purple flame shooting from her extended fingertips, one final signal to the “associates” distracting the rest of the group. It came not a second too soon, as mere seconds later, the horse charged into her - through her.
She had no time to scream.
At the other end of the street, Valko let his arms fall back to his sides, exhaling deeply. Then, taking just one step backwards, he toppled, landing, unconscious, almost perfectly parallel to Juno.
Before the horse even had a chance to dissipate through Valko’s unconsciousness, darkness scythed through it. The darkness around Riki boiled, like water instead of flame, and it pulled his head around as if to look at the fallen mages before him. A raw-red hand clenched into a fist, and his teeth were gritted.
“No,” he managed, his voice not directed at anyone but himself. “N-no.” Within the darkness, he turned away from them, the ground cracking and splitting at his passage.
It had been like this for him before. When the sun began to set on the day of the equinox, and it hadn’t really been him in control, more the force of light that worked through him, that had made him grow wings and had given to him almost the power of life itself. He had never properly been him. He had felt like a vessel, able to direct, somewhat, but not control.
The sun was not setting now, and the seasons were not right, but he could still feel it. Inside him, that force, forcing its way through the broken cracks of him, taking back the control that it had demanded for so long.
He had been angry at Dreseia, and that had given him a small amount of sway over it. Holding it back. But she was dead, and she had been killed by light.
The thing inside him did not care what it used, it seemed.
Riki was afraid.
But he wasn’t strong enough to stop it.
Corvan had been travelling through the city, mainly for the sake of browsing the varied non-magical shops, along with Marvin and Luna when the attack had come – in their case, in the form of a slight-figured female elf with grey hair. While they hadn’t been expecting an ambush, per se, past experience with them and the lingering caution after Buren’s attack had allowed the three to recover and strike back almost immediately, masterfully countering the elf’s array of dark spells.
Though they hadn’t defeated her, by the time the signal shot into the sky behind them, their assailant hadn’t managed to land a single solid hit on any of the three warriors. Her teeth clenched, the elf leapt away as Luna struck out, her eyes drawn up to the purple flames hanging above the city.
“She’s fallen,” she murmured. “Dreseia has failed.” Casting her eyes over her three opponents, she pulled her mouth into a thin line, drawing the darkness back around herself. Then, with a simple, almost idle motion, she summoned a portal behind her, stepping back through it. As she swivelled about, Luna’s eyes flashed.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she spat, lunging out at the elf with her free hand.
The portal closed before it could connect with anything more than air. Uttering a low curse, Luna straightened.
“Damn it,” she muttered. “I wanted to at least learn why we were attacked in the first place. She was good at keeping confidentiality, I’ll grant her that.” Corvan’s response didn’t come right away, as he turned to look at the flames the elf had seen. His claws remained extended, as if he inwardly knew their situation was nowhere near over yet.
“She may not have,” he replied, pointing the flames out to the other two. “But they’ve just given us a way to find out ourselves.”
“I don’t like it,” Marvin decided, his shield still raised protectively. A few of the mage’s spells had scorched the metal, but he seemed unperturbed. Corvan made a noise, not looking particularly happy with the idea himself, but he said nothing to the effect.
“In all likelihood, that signal was meant as a general call to retreat,” he responded. “So we’re at least unlikely to encounter any more of them on the way.” He shook his head. “And besides…I would rather we find out as soon as possible if any of the others were hurt in the attack.” Marvin nodded once.
“I will guard the rear in case the mage returns,” he informed them, turning to face mostly away from the flames. Corvan nodded once.
“In the interests of caution, it’s probably for the best,” he decided. Luna responded with her own, concurrent nod.
“Agreed,” she added, before turning hard on the spot. “Vargant, Stale – let’s move.”
None of the three spoke any further words, taking a quick pace toward the direction of the signal.
What they found as they approached was darkness.
Thick, coiling darkness that pooled down the streets like thick oil, that flickered like fire. It was impossible to make out what was beyond it, but at the centre there was still something vaguely recognisable as humanoid.
“Gods above,” Marvin breathed, his grip on his sword unsteady. Corvan’s face turned to a scowl of concern and worry.
“This…is no magic I’ve seen before,” he whispered. “And no magic I’ve heard of before. No mortal being should be capable of this.” Luna held her sword ready, stoically and professionally unperturbed.
“I would suggest we keep moving,” she muttered. “But basic tactics would suggest that moving on such an unknown entity would, frankly, be stupid.” She made an unhappy noise. “So just what do we do?”
“Run,” Riki’s voice, near-inaudible and scratchy, called to them from the centre of the darkness, a hint of desperation to it. “Run.” Marvin’s eyes widened, but his grip on the sword tightened.
“I am not running away from anything else,” he replied determinedly. Corvan fell into a defensive stance in case Riki attacked them, even despite the hesitation on his face.
“Riki,” he murmured. “I never expected this, least of all after what little that elf said.”
“It matters little, now,” Luna told them both. “If he attacks, we’re in grounds to disable him. If forced, we could take him down non-lethally, as much as I loathe the idea of touching that darkness.” Riki laughed in response. A deep, unsettling chuckle that did not suffer even a little for how badly damaged his throat was. It was not the way Riki would have laughed.
“Five years,” he whispered. “Five years, our only remaining vessel denied us with magical bonds tighter than we could hope to hold the power to break. And now, brief freedom, outside of the light of the setting sun, and bound to blackness instead of to light.” The darkness, but not Riki’s face, stretched into a grin. “We find we like it. Kill our vessel, if you will. We will be stronger for it.” Riki’s face distorted, and the darkness shimmered.
“Run,” he whispered again.
“Try us, knight,” he added, the pervasive darkness receding, stretching to the side and carving a swathe through the nearest building instead of up the path towards them. “Take your meagre human strength and despair as you fail against us.” Marvin narrowed his eyes and, slowly and determinedly, he approached the gap. Shaking his head, as if to clear the hesitation, Corvan followed him, with Luna almost immediately taking the same cue.
Forgive us for this, Riki, the younger werewolf thought. If we had any other choice, we would take it.
“Run,” Riki repeated once more, a note of desperation in his voice. In his hand, the darkness solidified into a sword, that dripped blackness to the floor like blood.
“Level playing field,” he whispered. “You like that, don’t you, knight?” Marvin flinched, but it didn’t look like it was from the remark.
“No darkness,” he muttered, sword held level. The darkness pulled Riki’s arm up, still puppeteering him. Gritting his teeth, Corvan leapt forward, claws held ready to intercept an almost inevitable attack.
“Not this time, Marvin,” he muttered. “Not alone.” Marvin made a surprise noise, then nodded.
“Make it interesting,” the darkness suggested, voice low. “Make it a little more challenging, mortal whelps.” Marvin narrowed his eyes, stepped forward, and swung. Pausing only to take a careful gauge of their situation, Corvan leapt at the darkness-engulfed Riki as well, his right hand raised in a swing of his claws.
Halfway through crossing a side street nearby, Rachael froze when she saw Riki, just a bit past the intersection of the roads.
“That’s…” she murmured. Instantaneously, her head whipped around to face Jakar – the two had been browsing the city together when the initial attack came, and hadn’t split up when they saw the signal. “Go. Find somewhere where you won’t be seen. Whatever that thing is, I can see Riki inside it, and it doesn’t look forgiving.”
“Savet preserve me,” Jakar murmured, the colour draining from his face. “I’ll do one better. I’ll go get some people who can help against that thing. See you in ten.” He vanished from view.
A second sword-like amalgamation of darkness formed in Riki’s right hand, and with it he met Corvan’s strike, his left blocking Marvin. The darkness roiled around them, as if to remind them that he could easily have taken them down then and there, if he wanted to. That he was playing them for sport.
An arrow, the tip of it shining bright gold, scythed through the darkness and buried itself by Riki’s feet. The darkness pulled his head up in anger, to see Saïla with another arrow notched and her sister behind her, holding an amulet in her hands and making the tip glow white.
“Not what I expected from following the directions of a poor excuse for a mage,” Saïla muttered, letting the second arrow fly. “But grounds for a stand, nonetheless. Whatever you are, let my friend go.” The darkness smiled.
“No,” it replied simply. Corvan’s eyes went up for the briefest of moments, as if to acknowledge Saïla, before he focused them back on Riki – and somewhere behind them, through the determination dominating them, there was relief for her safety.
As Jakar disappeared to alert what could only be presumed as reinforcements, Rachael bolted into the fray, her sword a blur encased in white-blue light.
“Do we have any idea what happened to turn him into this?” she asked Corvan, punctuating the question by lashing out at the darkness. Corvan shook his head, already following up a strike of his own.
“None,” he responded. “We followed the mages’ signal and found him. My guess is, they expected it just as much as we did.” The darkness looked at Rachael, and Riki’s face twisted up as if in memory, before it scowled.
“Your brother,” he growled. “The light. Too much of it. And she made us angry.” The darkness swallowed another light-loaded arrow as it formed a sword in midair, not even bothering to puppet its host around to counter Rachael. It was primarily focussed on Marvin, whose forehead was creased up in concentration on more than the battle. At the very least, it looked a little perturbed by the sheer force of numbers. Rachael’s eyes widened just slightly, clear concern coming over her face, but she forced herself to keep control.
“What happened?” she demanded, striking out again – in vain, as was the case of the rest of their attacks. “Whoever you are, at least tell me that much. What happened to my brother?”
“He is alive,” Riki gasped, and it was clear that it was really him, struggling to regain some form of control over himself. “I... I am try to... to stop it from... from hurti-ngh, hurting anyone, but I...” One of Saïla’s arrows of light grazed his cheek, and from the way his face contorted it was clear he would have screamed, had his throat allowed it.
“None of your darkness,” Marvin muttered, like a mantra. “None of your darkness, none of your darkness.” Lines of pain sank deeper into Riki’s face, and a thin, milky sheen superimposed over the blackness of his eyes. Still the darkness parried them, but it was faltering, battling against its host as well as its attackers. Some relief crossed Rachael’s features, but she kept up nonetheless, not faltering in the frequency or force of her attacks.
“Jakar said he was going to go for reinforcements,” she informed the others through gritted teeth. “By my guess, he meant mages from the Academy.”
“Then our best option is to hope he’s quick about it,” Corvan decided, shoving back against the latest of Riki’s blocks. “If we can overwhelm him quickly, we might still get him out alive, as well as ourselves.” The darkness laughed again, lunging for Corvan with one of the swords of darkness, the point of it elongating into a spear as it went.
“There will be no hope,” he whispered. “We will take it al-” It cut off mid-sentence as an arrow embedded itself in his hand, hissing through his teeth. His head snapped up, and he growled.
Darkness lashed up the side of the building at an unholy speed, wrapped around Saïla’s neck, and pulled her down against the rooftop. Her bow snapped, the darkness sizzling through the wood and string like it was nothing at all. Riki let out a soundless scream of despair as Saïla made a tandem noise of pain, Lucia staggering backwards with hatred etched into her face.
“Nobody,” she hissed, light in her hands scything through the darkness and forming a wavering shield around her and the choking Saïla, “hurts my sister. Especially not you, you rat-bastard Forian.” The darkness laughed with Riki’s voice around his attempts at soundless protest, darkness beginning to dissolve the roof on which she stood. Lucia narrowed her eyes, hauling her sister up by the shoulders and dragging her out of the immediate vicinity before walking back over, standing on a perilously thin sheet of light atop the darkness. Marvin was still chanting under his breath, every iteration of the sentence making the darkness flinch and the milky sheen increase a little. Corvan spared the downed Saïla one faintly-worried look before plunging back into the fray, following up attack after attack.
Come on, Jakar, he repeated in his mind. He’s starting to falter…if we just had a few more, we could get through…we still can… Beside him, Luna struck out at the darkness, her eyes set.
“Come on, Forian!” she challenged. “Whatever this monstrosity is, you’re stronger than this! Fight!” Marvin yelped out in pain as the sword of darkness, previously acting only as a regular sword, suddenly became corrosive and sliced straight through Marvin’s shield as he raised it to block a strike. The metal was neatly cleaved, the sword slicing deep through armour into the flesh of Marvin’s arm.
“None of your darkness!” he practically shrieked, and Riki flinched as though he’d been physically struck.
“Eat this!” Lucia exclaimed, flinging what was clearly the strongest light attack she could manage at him. A sizable section of the darkness frizzled and cracked as the spell impacted, but the hideous dark angel that hung around Riki seemed nothing but angry.
“I can’t,” he whispered, mostly to Luna. “It’s all... I can do... to stop it... killing you.” Blood dripped to the floor from his hand, and he closed his eyes determinedly, unable to see. Luna scowled in determination.
“Then we’ll fight it out for you,” she muttered.
Then, as if summoned and commanded by that one vow, the telltale whooshing, ringing sound of light magic punctuated Luna’s statement, a jet of pure white firing out from behind Riki, colliding with the darkness that had encased his back.
“Forgive me, Riki,” a voice, aged and female, called out. “But we have little choice in our action.” A second jet shot out, rocketing toward him, followed in kind by several further spells.
Jakar’s reinforcements had arrived.
“Someone call for the cavalry?” said thief called out from the safety of the roof of a nearby building, grinning widely at the battlefield down below.
“We have you now,” Lucia muttered, before breaking off into chants again, her poor skills with light magic clear. Riki howled, the darkness clutching at his face and pulling in the tendrils that had previously encased the streets into a thick sphere around him, rendering him no longer visible. The unconscious forms of Juno and Valko became far easier to pick out on the street behind, oval shapes around their unconscious forms where the darkness had left them untouched.
“No,” both Riki and the darkness whispered. “No, no.”
“Enough of your darkness,” Marvin repeated a final time, his sword sheathed and one arm covering his badly bleeding arm. “Enough.”
Edit: May 16, 12 11:37am
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
|quote quick quote edit quick edit del posts in thread report|
May 12, 12 at 4:01pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
From the street leading away from the Academy, a small division of mages, led by Nylahara, carefully made their approach, each of them readying some flavour of light magic. The elder sage drew her eyes to the group.
“Leave him to us,” she told them. “We have healers for any injured you might have.” She glanced at the two unconscious mages, recognition coming over her features. “Including both of your companions, here.” Rachael’s eyes flicked, intermittently, between the no longer visible Riki and the unconscious Valko and Juno. Slowly, cautiously, she circled around him, her intent clearly to reach the two. Marvin backed off instantly, in no state to fight with one arm unusable and well aware of it. Lucia kept up her thin shield of light, but turned to kneel by Saïla instead, knowing she’d do more good there than by trying to contribute with the opposite of her innate.
The darkness contracted to form a person-like shape, Riki still completely obscured from view. The black wings stretched out once more, dripping darkness to the floor where it hissed on the stones.
“He can only hold back so much,” the darkness whispered with rising glee, and at the back of the group of mages, darkness rose from the ground to envelop one at random. The attack was received with a general chorus of surprised noises, the mages’ ranks dispersing just slightly as they moved away from the area of attack, with some trying to free their unfortunate comrade. At the head of the group, Nylahara’s eyes narrowed.
“Focus your fire,” she called back to the company behind her. “Bring it down, whatever the cost, but avoid killing the man inside.”
“You are lucky that the sun still hangs in the sky,” the darkness told them, blackness spreading through the cracks in the pavement, this time not breaking it but running through it like water. Other than that, all it did was gather more of the darkness about itself, and wait. Solemnly, with their set purpose in mind, the mages in front of Riki regrouped into such a formation that every mage, every member of the company, could each unleash a spell and help toward providing a full volley. Then, on Nylahara’s lead, they did exactly that – but the spells never hit their mark. Before they could come within even a foot of Riki, a rolling shield of darkness formed up between them, rising from the cracks in the ground and absorbing the spells for its master. Nylahara gritted her teeth.
“Again!” she commanded. “Do not let up! He can only hold for so long!”
“So you hope,” the darkness whispered. “But as the sun sets, I grow only stronger.” The darkness that leaked through the streets began to circle around the gathered mages, the first ring sealing with a burst of black light and darkness scything both across the floor and up around the unfortunate woman trapped within it. Riki himself didn’t move, simply hovered, the darkness deflecting almost all of the light flung at it. He winced every time a spell hit the shield, but did not seem to be otherwise impeded. Stoically forcing themselves not to be perturbed, the mages fired out another volley, all roughly at the same moment. Almost as a single unit, the lights streaked outward, coming to hit their target at almost the exact same time, effectively exploding against his shield all at once.
Although it took the darkness a few seconds to reconstitute his shield from the strength of their assault, pain on both the masked face of the darkness and Riki below it, it was far faster to do so than any of the mages were to begin a new spell. The darkness retreated somewhat from the streets, only a few questing tendrils still circling the group, the rest reabsorbed to help him rebuild his defences.
From the rooftop above, with Saïla now unconscious at her side, Lucia watched from her floor of light magic. Though his shield was clearly manoeuvrable, several of the mages having fired spells that originated behind the darkness surrounding Riki, it was countering only those to who he was currently paying attention. The mages.
“Every time,” she muttered angrily, the smallest orb of light appearing in her hands. Unlike darkness, which she could have pitched about all day without tiring, even the small amounts she had so far summoned had begun to drain her energy. She knew there wasn’t much left in her. “Every time we did something, you’d dismiss me,” she continued, essentially to herself, as more light was swallowed by the darkness and the horribly corrupted body of the first mage was finally released from its black cocoon, the man within it hitting the floor with a sickening crack. “Like I was worthless.” With a beat of incorporeal wings, Riki’s body lifted further from the floor, the darkness continuing to seep through the streets. “Like I wasn’t worth paying attention to.” Despite her tone, her mouth curved up into the faintest of smiles, forming the blob of light – now the right size to rest comfortably in her hand – into the shape of an arrow. “I told you,” she continued, “that it was a mistake.”
With a few more muttered words, the arrow of light shot through the air, no shield rising to meet what it wasn’t expecting to see, and buried itself in Riki’s back.
The creature screamed. It was not Riki’s voice, it hadn’t been wholly Riki’s voice for quite some time. It was a multi-layered noise of actual pain, and in lieu of anything else, the darkness pulled Riki’s body around and threw everything it had been using in defence directly at Lucia.
It didn’t intend to let her have the chance to do any screaming.
It was as Riki’s focus shifted and his defences fell, however, that Nylahara and her mages took their chance, with the elder Sage taking the lead. She struck her hand out, light springing to life from her palm and shooting out at Riki in the form of a whipping tendril, slamming hard into the enveloped Dicarsan.
“MAGES! NOW!” she shouted back at her company. They responded with professional swiftness and precision, each calling up a spell similar to Nylahara’s.
All at once, the lights struck.
Lucia fell to her knees, raw, red burn marks from the darkness all over her skin, her clothes torn and ruined from the corrosive blackness. She smirked as she watched Riki hit the ground.
“Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Forian,” she managed.
The darkness had completely vanished from around Riki’s body – not even a scream in response to the assault that time. He lay unmoving, the ground cracked and broken at his feet, and the damage from both his initial burns and the new light assault left his body hardly recognisable.
He was barely breathing.
Nylahara made her approach cautiously, taking special care in case Riki wound up able to attack again. She took little time in gathering that it wasn’t the case, however, and ran to his side, kneeling next to him with a look of worry on her face.
“This will take time to heal,” she murmured. Then, she turned her head up to Corvan. “I will take care of him. If you have healers in your group, you would do well to tend to your companions.” She indicated Valko and Juno with a wave of her hand. Corvan nodded, his eyes going to Rachael. She seemed to take it as a cue, at last finishing the approach she had been attempting to make when Riki’s darkness was still out of control.
“Could do with a healer up here!” Lucia called from the roof, still on her knees but in nowhere near as bad a shape as her sister. “Or some potions, or something!” Jakar glanced around at the fallen people around him.
“Wow, but did we take a beatin’,” he remarked, sounding faintly impressed.
“Healing would be appreciated,” Marvin muttered, one hand on his slowly bleeding arm.
As she pulled healing magic around Riki, Nylahara looked over her shoulder at one of the mage company, a tall elf. She indicated Marvin as she addressed him.
“If you would, Kasmir,” she instructed him. The elf responded with a curt nod, already gathering magic of his own as he approached Marvin.
At the other end of the street, Valko groaned weakly, slowly coming back into bare consciousness. He looked up at Rachael just as she knelt next to him and Juno.
“Rach…ael…” he managed. Relief, full relief this time, crossed the older half-elf’s face when he spoke.
“Valko,” she breathed. “Are you alright? Are you--” He shook his head weakly, barely managing to raise his hand to indicate Juno.
“Not…me,” he groaned. “Her. Help…help her.” Though not entirely convinced of Valko’s wellbeing, Rachael turned her eyes to Juno.
They widened almost immediately as she saw what Valko saw, finally seeing the full extent of the smaller mage’s injures. Taking Valko’s plea entirely to heart, Rachael moved closer to Juno, already channelling the energy she’d need to heal her.
“OVER HERE! I’M GOING TO NEED HELP!” she called to the others, carefully turning Juno so she was on her back.
Uncertainty settled into the pit of her stomach when she saw just how pale the smaller girl had become.
“Hey,” Jakar greeted, crouching beside her as a human bedecked in amulets began to approach them. “These ones are the healy ones.” He pointed to a few of the bottles, marked with green wax. “Dunno what does what exactly though.” With her mouth set in a thin line, Rachael pulled Juno’s blood-soaked cloak out of the way of the wound, laying her hands over the girl’s savaged shoulder.
“If you know they’ll help, I’ll need you to apply them for me,” she told Jakar, not looking away from her work. “With a wound like this, she’s going to need all the help we can give her.” Jakar nodded, tugging one bottle from Juno’s belt and uncorking it, grimacing at the smell that it produced.
“Hate these things. Sting like crazy,” he remarked, before attempting to apply it to her wound. It was clear that he only basically knew what he was doing, unlike the far more skilled Juno.
“Then, at least for now, she’s lucky she’s unconscious,” Rachael decided, her tone clipped in concentration. “I don’t envy her how much it’d hurt if she was awake to feel it.” She shook her head slightly, exhaling. “Gods, I’m amazed she held on as long as she did. I have no idea what did this to her, but to wound someone like this…” Nearby, Valko made a weak noise.
“It was…a mage,” he whispered. “The one…who gave me the scroll. Dreseia.” He clenched his fists. “My…my fault.”
“Oh, shut up,” Jakar suggested, the human mage crouching by them.
“Ouch,” he remarked, whistling through his teeth. “Give me some room, I’ll see if I can close this up.” Obligingly, Rachael pulled away, the energy around her hands dissipating. As she let the mage work, she looked back at Valko, frowning somewhat.
“The mage that gave you the scroll?” she questioned. “What would she even want?” Valko shook his head weakly.
“Me,” he murmured. “It was…meant to weaken me. So she could control me. That’s…why they came.”
“You?” Jakar repeated, as white light appeared around both the human mage and Juno’s whole body. “Why’d she want you? No offence, I mean, but there’s stronger mages in the group than you.” Valko laughed a weak laugh.
“Exactly,” he whispered. “She wanted me…because I was weak. At least…because that’s what I thought of myself. I was an…easy target.” He shook his head again. “They attacked us because of me. Because of me…” He looked at Juno, his expression pained. Sighing, Rachael put a hand on his head.
“That’s enough, Valko,” she told him, her voice gentle but firm. “Whatever mistakes you made, or think you made, it doesn’t matter now. There was no way you could have known what was going to happen – and besides, what’s done is done, now. We all came out of it alive, didn’t we?” Valko made a weak noise, closing his eyes in exhaustion.
“Barely,” he murmured. “But…you’re right, in the end.”
“Don’t tell the crazy cat lady you were accepting favours from another mage,” Jakar advised, fear in his eyes as he glanced at the rooftop where Lucia was still sat. A half-elf had clambered up, and was attempting to heal them both while putting up with the elder Dicarsan’s rather acerbic tongue.
“I’m not…suicidal, you know,” Valko protested, giving Jakar as much of an affronted look as he could manage. It defused quickly, however, as his eyes drew themselves back to Juno, and the human mage healing her. “How…how is she?”
“She’ll be ok,” the mage responded, looking strained. “Eventually. It’ll need more than just one round of healing though.” The light faded from around him, and he ran the back of his hand over his forehead. “Take her back to wherever you’re staying for now. Tell Sage Nylahara where you’re staying and she’ll send some more healers around tomorrow to finish off.” He held his hands out over Valko, the light briefly reappearing over the two of them. “There. Should just be regular exhaustion causing you troubles now.” He glanced over at Nylahara and the downed Riki uneasily. “Assuming that godforsaken thing doesn’t come back, I guess.” Valko, likewise, looked over at Riki.
“Hopefully, nothing with give him reason to,” he murmured. Across from them, they saw the aged elf rise from Riki’s side, still looking faintly troubled.
“It’s a start,” she murmured to herself, looking up at Corvan. “It would seem more than one of your number will need further attention tomorrow.” Corvan made a noise, looking unhappy.
“So long as they come out as healed as possible, I have no issue with that,” he decided.
“Doin’ ok over here, boss,” Jakar called over to him, as if to reassure. Marvin, who was still holding his arm even though it had been healed, glanced from Riki to Juno and Valko with concern in his eyes. At Jakar’s interjection, some relief crossed Corvan’s face.
“Then we can be thankful for something, at least,” he murmured. Then, he turned his head to look at Lucia and Saïla, as well as the hapless elf healing them, and called up to the former. “How about the two of you? Are you both alright?”
“Sai’ll live, although she’ll be out a while yet,” Lucia replied. “I’m tougher to kill than Forian there could ever manage.” The half-elf, a talisman around his neck, nodded in mute agreement rather than risk speaking up over Lucia. Corvan’s face was coloured with full relief, at that.
“Good” he murmured, closing his eyes. “Good. If that’s the case, then we would do well to follow recommendation and head back to the Inn for the day, so our injured can rest…and, frankly, the rest of us as well.” Next to him, Luna finally sheathed her sword, now totally confident there would be no further danger.
“No one can claim we didn’t earn it,” she decided.
“And some of us will be having words with certain other parties later!” Lucia added, looking positively daggers at the fallen Riki. “Because that sort of thing doesn’t just happen.” As Rachael helped him from the ground, Valko cast a surreptitious look over his shoulder, eyeing Lucia with caution on his face. He definitely wouldn’t be bringing the scroll up to her, he decided.
Later on in the day, long after the group had returned to the inn and Nylahara’s company had headed back for the Academy, Corvan found himself outside Saïla’s room. He’d been making a round of the injured – Lucia was, predictably, just as fine as she would have been if nothing had happened at all, while Marvin’s arm had been fully healed at the scene and Valko needed nothing more than sleep, which he figured would end up trumping his own guilt eventually, one way or another. On the other hand, Juno and Riki…they would be fine, at least, but the Academy’s mages had been right in estimating they’d both need further treatment. They were just lucky the group had taken up shelter in exactly the city that could give it to them.
That just left Saïla. And while Corvan had full faith she would have recovered even if Riki had managed more than knocking her unconscious, both the sake of completion and his own lingering, admittedly irrational concern for her drove him to check in spite of that. So, silently, he knocked on the door.
It took about half a minute for her to answer it, pulling the door open and blinking once in surprise. She had dark, deep bruises around her neck and under her eyes from the darkness’ attack on her, but otherwise seemed fine.
“Corvan,” she greeted. “Has something happened?” The wolf shook his head.
“Mercifully, no,” he responded. “I was just taking a round of our injured. I figured I should check in.” Saïla smiled faintly.
“A little bruised and disorientated, but otherwise recovered,” she reported. “I did not expect the counter to be so... brutal as it was. Nor did Lucia, I fear.” In spite of himself, Corvan made something of an amused noise.
“Then I suppose we should count it as a blessing that she seems so thoroughly unaffected,” he decided. “I’m sure the poor mage Nylahara sent to heal the two of you could vouch for it.” Saïla laughed softly.
“I feel Lucia’s sharp tongue did more damage than any of Riki’s attacks did,” she agreed. “Although she has always been good at hiding how much things hurt her. She dislikes showing weakness. I suppose it served her well during her time with the enemy.” She leant heavily against the door, clearly still quite weak. “I will need a new weapon, eventually. How... How is Riki?” Corvan’s amusement was quick to fade, replaced by concern.
“Physically, he’s…recovering,” he responded. “He will still need a second round of healing, as the Sage said, but that should be all. Other than that…I couldn’t say. I suspect only he could.” Saïla nodded, looking concerned.
“I did not even know it were possible,” she murmured. “But I suppose it is foolish to dwell on it. In hindsight it is not unlike Skywing, to do something like that to him.” She sighed, running a hand down her face wearily. “I apologise that I could not do more to stop him.” Corvan held up a hand, shaking his head again, just slightly.
“No need,” he disagreed. “The only way you could have stopped him is if you knew what happened to him, and the only way you could know that is if Skywing had taken you as well.” He frowned. “And frankly, I would deal with as many monstrosities as the gods could send me than wish that on you.”
“The thought is somewhat comforting,” Saïla responded wryly. “I am certain he will tell you when he wakes, no doubt full of guilt as always.” She tightened her grip on the door handle, swaying slightly. “Apologies. I am still a little disorientated despite the healing,” she remarked, one hand on her head as if to stabilise it. His frown deepening just slightly, Corvan reached a hand out and placed it on her shoulder, to help steady her.
“Then you shouldn’t let me keep you from resting,” he responded, sounding concerned. With his other hand, he pushed the door open somewhat wider, as if to make way to lead her back into the room. Saïla nodded, letting go of the doorframe and resting her weight on Corvan instead.
“If this is the state we end up in against only one of my race, I do not wish to think what taking on an Ancient will be like,” she murmured. Corvan made a slight noise as he led her.
“To our credit, we did manage in the end,” he responded, voice subdued. “Not that it’s much of a credit. I suppose we can count it as a small comfort that, even if we fail, Sheltam will never be able to manage a campaign like this again, now the capitals are wise to his existence and his armies have all but evaporated.” He shook his head a little. “Again, not that it’s much of a comfort.”
“If his true goal is kept out of his reach for long enough, he will be dead before he presents a threat again,” Saïla murmured. “That is enough.” Corvan nodded, although his face was still troubled.
“Mm,” he agreed softly. “Although, understandably, I would still prefer to be alive to celebrate our victory.” Saïla laughed under her breath.
“Naturally,” she agreed, her tone droll. “As would we all. It would be... hard, to lose friends again.”
“We’ve been lucky, so far, not to have lost anyone else after Eros,” Corvan agreed quietly. “Particularly given the circumstances we’ve been in. And I’m glad for it – after all this time, I couldn’t…I can’t even begin to wonder what it would be like without even one of our own.”
“I suppose that I, at least, am due a little luck,” Saïla murmured. “We have lost enough, but it could have been worse. Far worse. I am thankful for the enemy’s lack of co-ordination. And... And in a way, for some of the things that Skywing did.” Corvan made a noise of agreement.
“If nothing else, that spell of his made countering Sheltam that much easier,” he admitted, as if grudgingly, as they reached the bed. “Whatever his reasoning behind it may have been, we would not have been able to disable Orlask without it.”
Saïla sank down onto the bed gratefully, leaning back against the wall and closing her eyes.
“He told Vergil to let you live,” she murmured. “In Snowcap. He let us leave with you before he cast his spell.” She breathed out slowly. “I do not know why. I never understood him, I do not think I want to.” She shook her head. “But I am glad for that, at least.” Corvan laughed softly.
“As am I, naturally,” he responded wryly. “As little as I understand the man, I am glad for what blessings he gave us. Whatever his reasons may have been.” At that, he glanced at the single chair in the room, looking unsure. “I don’t suppose you’d mind if I stayed a while longer, would you? It’s been…quite some time since any of us have had any time for talk.”
“If you truly desire my company so much, stay for as long as you wish,” Saïla told him dismissively, waving a hand in the approximate direction of the chair. “From what I can gather, most of our group consider me too maudlin to converse with. In no small part thanks to my sister’s interference, I suspect.” Taking it to be as good a cue as any, Corvan sat, an amused expression on his face.
“Evidently, keeping to oneself is a cardinal sin as far as Lucia is concerned,” he agreed. “Frankly, I’m amazed I, myself, haven’t been on the receiving end of it yet. Not that I’m inclined to complain of my own good fortune.” He frowned, just slightly. “Personally, I appreciate your input. Important as it is to keep good spirits, I prefer honest advice, and I feel I can trust you to give it to me.” Saïla smiled wryly.
“Well, that at least I can promise to keep giving,” she responded. “Lucia has... backed off a little since what happened in Skywing. Things have been harder, but... Well, I am used to coping.” She laughed softly. “No reason to cease it now.” Corvan chuckled lightly.
“Another reason, then, for me to be glad for your input,” he decided. “For all the travelling we’ve done, you’re still far better at it than I am.”
“I am better at hiding my distress,” Saïla murmured. “Better at closing off, better at withdrawing. I... would not say it was a good way to be, simply that it is the simplest way to continue to live.” She sighed wearily. “I have... nightmares, where I see you die. You and all the others. Ever since Skywing. Since he cast that spell on me.” Something of surprise came into Corvan’s eyes.
“Nightmares,” he murmured, repeating the word. “How frequent have they been?” Saïla exhaled wearily.
“Frequent enough,” she responded, her voice quiet. “Almost as bad as the fear that followed me after Skywing took my friends.” Corvan’s look was worried as he shook his head.
“You could have told me sooner,” he remarked softly. “I would have been there to listen. You shouldn’t have to go through it alone.” Saïla waved a hand dismissively.
“Everyone has had their worries,” she responded. “There is little time for such things during a quest such as ours. I worry more for Marvin than myself, after what happened to Sam and Derrick.”
“Be that as it may,” Corvan continued, the worry not leaving his expression. “It’s still nothing to ignore, particularly when we have time for reprieve. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve already dealt with enough on your own. You’re one of us now.”
“Is that so?” she remarked, smiling faintly. “It is a strange feeling. I wonder what it means to the others.” Corvan leaned back in his chair.
“I couldn’t tell you, myself,” he responded. “At least, not on their behalf. But for me…it means relief, knowing I’ll never have to fight my battles alone. Just the same, it also means more to protect…but I don’t mind it. Personally, I’m more than willing to take that up.” Saïla was silent for a few long moments, before nodding slowly.
“I knew from the time we met that you and I saw the world in different ways,” she murmured. “I had lost too much to hope for something that would stay in one place. I was cold because I believed I could no longer afford to care. You were... I suppose I thought you were naive, that your view would change when you had seen the world the way I had.” She shook her head at that, as if in wonderment at herself. “And yet I found that it was I who changed. That I... I wanted to care, even if I still thought the price was too high. I had begun to believe that this... this thing that we have, whatever it may be called, that it would endure. Even with Eros’ death, I still... I hoped.” A slight smile graced her face. “Which is why it bothers me all the more that it could be torn away, I suppose. But I have found something that I would be willing to die for, and yet do not wish to die at all, lest I may miss it.” Corvan went quiet for just a moment, before chuckling softly.
“Then that makes two of us,” he remarked. “And…I’m glad. Considering everything you have had to go through…I’m glad you found something to believe in, and I’m glad for whatever part I may have had in it.” He closed his eyes. “Although, I cannot quite say I came out unchanged, myself. I doubt any of us have – even Marvin.” He grimaced, just slightly. “Particularly Marvin.”
“Marvin copes in his own way,” Saïla decided. “I- thank you. For convincing me to stay, after Buren’s assault. After... what I did in Skywing.” Corvan opened his eyes again, meeting Saïla’s.
“We all do things we come to regret,” he responded. His voice had become subdued. “As I suspect Valko came to realise today. I could never push you away because of It, Saïla. You mean too much to…to us, for me to let you leave.” Saïla looked down at her knees, her fingers laced together above them.
“In Skywing’s spell, there were six mirrors, six reflections of myself,” she murmured. “Betrayal, Sorrow, Conflict, Confusion, Failure, Love. I saw you in one of them.” Although Corvan’s outward look didn’t seem perturbed, there was something unreadable in his eyes – knowing, perhaps.
“If it was Failure, I will be somewhat offended,” he remarked, although he didn’t smile, listening as seriously as he had been doing. Saïla shook her head with a quiet laugh.
“No,” she agreed. “I failed my people. My parents bred confusion. I fought with what was left of my race. All the deaths, and Riki, they bred sorrow. Lucia betrayed me.” She sighed softly. “And in love I saw Riki, but I never really loved him. Only the idea of him, as a young girl.” She let her hands fall still in her lap. “And you.”
Even though he was relatively still in the chair already, Corvan seemed to freeze. He had gone as silent as the night above them – every time he appeared ready to muster some sort of reply, it seemed to cut itself off before actually coming into words. For several long moments, that silence, as quiet as the night above them, was his only reply. Then, after a while, he smiled almost imperceptibly.
“Heh,” he chuckled softly. “To think…I never would have imagined. I…” he shook his head, figuring there was no longer a point in catching himself. “I…thought I was the only one.”
“You cared,” Saïla murmured. “You are... the only one who does, really. The others appreciate my presence, but they do not care for me. Not the way that you do.” She sighed heavily. “I am unsure of what it means, in the long run. I feel... selfish, for saying such when a battle that could well take both our lives looms close on the horizon. But I have said it now.” Corvan leaned back with his hands behind his head, exhaling slowly.
“Given the nature of our situation, I’m glad you did,” he remarked. “After today…after the damage we took…it’s best to say the unsaid while we know we still have time.” He laughed under his breath. “As much of a hypocrite that makes me.” Saïla frowned slightly.
“I wonder,” she murmured. “I had thought that Marvin and Sam, that they...” She trailed off, grimacing. “Yet the way he acts now, it seems it went unsaid. It makes me wonder how much she expected what happened in the forest.” Corvan’s expression turned to a frown to match Saïla’s, and his voice was subdued as he responded.
“She knew more about that forest, and about the weretrees, than we ever could,” he remarked. “Both her and Derrick. And yet…whether she knew or not, she went in with us anyway. Perhaps she wanted to believe it wouldn’t happen.” He shook his head. “I suppose, now, the best we can do for them is hope we can free her. Then, they could have all the opportunity in the world to have a heart-to-heart.” He smiled faintly. “Like us, I suppose.” Saïla laughed at that.
“Indeed,” she agreed. “Even if we must work to facilitate such.”
Edit: May 16, 12 3:54pm
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
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May 16, 12 at 4:15am ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Great chapter once again; a nice conclusion to the Dresia plot and the scene between Corvan and Saila was really touching; awesome stuff all round.
Only critque I can point out is that one or two words have ^this^ strange symbol around them; I get that it's meant to emphasis the word, but it just looks a little odd.
Keep up the good work, can't wait for more.
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May 16, 12 at 11:33am ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
quote Anima SwordUh, yeah, that would be me failing at markup. Give me a moment.
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
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May 19, 12 at 3:58pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Chapter Seventeen: Close To The Stars, The Wound It Mends
Early the next morning, Valko, in much the same position as Corvan had been the night before, found himself facing the door to Riki’s room, uncertainty on his face. In admittance, he hadn’t slept much that night, as guilt, working together with worry for both Juno and the elder Dicarsan, had kept him up most of the night. Now, he figured it was the least he could do to check on even one of them – and now that his own hatred and anger had actually overcome him, not to mention endangered them all, Valko had decided it had come time for him to take Riki up on his offer to talk it over, if the older man was in any position to talk after what had happened to him, or for that matter, even awake. So, slowly and quietly, Valko pushed the door open, not risking a knock for the concern that Riki might still be asleep.
“Riki?” he asked, voice subdued, as he peered into the room past the edge of the door. The older Dicarsan was awake, and sat up in the bed he’d been put in. In the light through the window, minimal though it was, his burns were still raw and red despite the healing.
“Valko,” he greeted, his voice quiet and a little hoarse. “Come in.” With a fresh wave of remorse coming over him for Riki’s poor state, Valko stepped into the room.
“Riki,” he murmured, his expression unsure. “I figured I’d check in, given…well, given what happened yesterday.” Riki smiled faintly.
“I will recover,” he assured him, his voice still quiet. It was clear he couldn’t manage a much louder volume. “Although I doubt it will reassure you to hear that I have been worse in the past.” Valko returned with a weak smile of his own.
“Not particularly,” he agreed. “But if nothing else, I’m glad we were in Orios when it happened. I doubt we could have healed the two of you on our own.” He cast a glance at the chair by the bed. “May I?”
“Go ahead,” Riki agreed. “And yes, I was... grateful for Sage Nylahara’s assistance. I could heal with my own magic in the past, but...” He grimaced. “No longer.” Quietly taking his cue, Valko crossed the room and took his seat on the chair, linking his hands in his lap as he looked down at the floor. His face was troubled.
“For…” he started, as though unsure exactly what to say. “For what it’s worth, Riki, I’m sorry. If I’d just been a bit smarter about things, if I hadn’t been so desperate…you wouldn’t have ended up like this.” He shook his head. “And neither would Juno. But thanks to me…”
“Do not blame yourself,” Riki advised softly. “That cycle is endless, and leads only to more pain. Recognise your mistakes, where you made them, but also understand that the situation was brought about only because of that woman’s evil, and rather than wallow in your sorrow, work to correct the places where you went wrong.” Valko looked at him, thought and consideration in his eyes. When he looked away again, he laughed weakly.
“You have a point,” he agreed quietly. “But…it’s hard for me, sometimes, especially when I know my mistake is what made her able to injure the two of you like this.” He sighed softly. “But I’ll think on it. I…I know you’re right.” Riki smiled faintly.
“You should be glad,” he remarked. “That all of your mistakes are ones you can correct. That nobody is out of your reach so that you can no longer apologise. Be thankful for that.” Valko nodded slowly, smiling slightly.
“You’re right,” he murmured. “If nothing else…I have that. Thank you, Riki.” Riki laughed, although it sounded painful.
“You will be fine,” he assured him with a smile. “I have lived through more than this, I do not intend to let it kill me. And Juno would blame you last of all those involved in what happened. Sleep easy. Learn and move on.”
Somewhere in the depths of Arduskuth, a shadow waited amongst the treetops just outside Briar Maverick’s operational headquarters.
Slade had made his arrival just the day previous – three days, all in all, since Viran’s oft-touted group had commissioned his help – and, with the sort of punctuality only an assassin could boast, had set to his Task straight away and without delay. His first order of business had been to find and solicit a floor plan from one of the guards, one who, aside from evidently both experience and a sense of direction, had been more than happy to oblige.
As far as Slade was aware, his superiors still hadn’t found where he’d left the poor man.
With that transaction concluded, he set to staking out and sizing up each of his options of entry. Through comparison with the unfortunate guard’s map of the building layout, Slade had managed to locate an air duct that led to the second level of the base, underneath the ground floor he found himself staring down upon now – exactly where the trees kept their captives. Then, by way of inconspicuously attending one of the guards’ drills and the shift debriefing that followed, he learned that, on top of the duct in question being patrolled only by a single two-man team at any given rotation, the only resistance he could expect from the cell block he needed would be from the unsuspecting on-duty jailers, leading Slade to the conclusion that Briar and his trees had no idea what stealth infiltration meant.
Now, a day later, he sat idly by in one of the trees outside the headquarters, twirling a knife between his fingers as he watched the patrols switch, patiently awaiting precisely the moment he needed to strike.
Then, some thirty minutes into the current shift, that chance finally came as both on-duty guards crossed paths under exactly the wrong air duct. Stilling the knife in his right hand, the assassin produced a second with his left as he slipped out of the tree and landed, almost completely noiseless, in the undergrowth. With that done, he made his approach – just as the two hapless guards in front of him made the fatal, unknowing mistake of stopping for a chat.
Interruption came in the form of Slade springing up behind the guard first on the left, bringing his left arm around the man’s neck as his right hand came back and buried his first dagger well into the base of his skull. As the guard’s partner in conversation recoiled backwards in shock and horror, hands desperately scrabbling for his sword, Slade gave the corpse under his arm an almost casual shove, toppling it unceremoniously into its former partner. With a cry of disgust, the second guard, now thoroughly mortified, batted the corpse away from him, finally managing to pull his sword from its sheath as he did so. Then, clearly intent to at least try to mount a defence, he turned his head up to face Slade - just in time to catch sight of the second dagger cheerfully whistling through the air before it thudded into the space between his eyes.
With that task done, Slade retrieved his blades, making haste in dragging the two now-former guards well into the depth of the woods. Then, taking one last cautionary glance about his surroundings, he doubled back to the headquarters, pulled himself up to the duct, and slipped in.
One hurdle past. Now – the involved bit.
In the cells, there hung a false silence.
It was forced. Every noise felt out of place. Every little rattle of Derrick’s chain, every one of Maraicho’s soft footfalls as she walked back and forth across her cell. Only Sam truly obeyed the oppressive silence, forced into motionlessness by her many chains.
“Do you hear that?” Derrick’s voice, though muted, seemed too loud. His eyes, their customary dark green, flitted over the walls and ceiling. Wearily, Sam raised her head, her bindings clanking against one another in protest.
“Hear what?” she murmured. They’d lessened the charge in the shock collar around her neck at least, but her forced immobility made it hard for her to sleep, and dark bags had etched their way into the skin beneath her bloodshot eyes. Derrick’s gaze halted high up the wall near Maraicho’s cell.
“There,” he muttered. “In the vents.” Maraicho stopped pacing, going up to the bars and wrapping her free hand around one of them. She craned to see the spot, but her position made it impossible. Maybe it was help. The idea both made her heart beat faster, a hopeful skitter in her chest, and filled her with cold dread. They’d already decided what they’d do – no, there was only one thing they could do. If help came, only she could really be freed.
If help had come, she’d have to leave the only two people she considered family.
For a moment, nothing happened, and nothing came of the vents aside from the faint, still-distant sound of what seemed to be clattering. Then, after a while, the sound grew closer and closer – and as it did, the three slowly but surely came to the realisation that what they heard was, in fact, far larger and far more humanoid than they had dared to hope.
Then, at last – after what seemed like an hour of crawling, breathless silence – the three Abominations witnessed as Slade Lenstark dropped down into the vent, slid out, and straightened as though this were nothing more than another day at work. As he righted himself, he took a slow glance about his surroundings, as though making absolutely certain he had taken exactly the right path.
“Right on target,” he remarked, satisfied, to no one in particular. “All things considered, I’d say that was one of my better infiltrations via vent.” He produced his cloak – which he had long since removed and stashed under his arm for ease of movement – and unceremoniously tossed it onto an abandoned key peg near the door. Then, he shifted his gaze to face the captive weretrees. “Which means the three of you will be my mission statement. A pleasure, I’m sure.” Derrick grinned at him in reply.
“Certainly,” he agreed. “Been getting boring around here. No booze to speak of.” Sam looked like she was considering an attempt to move, but just shrugged and gave up in the end.
“I’d wave, but I’m a little tied up right now,” she replied. “But you’ve probably triggered the ritual alarm, so I’d get moving if I were you. There’s four keys in the next room, take the red one and get Marai out.”
“I’m not-” Maraicho started, looking unhappy, but a single look from Sam effectively silenced her. Slade raised a curious eyebrow at them.
“Not even stopping to question the assassin’s motives,” he remarked, sounding as if the concept had long become foreign to him. “There’s a turnout for the books. You three must put a right lot of faith in those friends of yours.” He pivoted on the spot, striding up to the door and checking the handle. When found it to be thoroughly and entirely unlocked, he couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “Have they seriously never heard of a stealth operation before? Right – give me two seconds. I’d tell you lot to stay put, but given your situation, being a smartass just wouldn’t feel right.” He pulled the door open, slipping out as though he were never there.
“Well, if you’re going to kill me I can’t exactly stop you,” Sam pointed out, shrugging through the shackles. “And I figured you would’ve done it by now if you were.”
“Marai’s going a tracker in her right shoulder,” Derrick cut in as Slade passed him. “Magic based. Simple. Get her out of the woods and break the seal and you should be set.”
“Given trends thus far, I’ll assume Briar never had the foresight to failsafe it in any way,” Slade remarked as he passed by, ring of keys in hand, and started to work on Maraicho’s cell door. “I’d suggest you bring up how horrible he is at planning ahead if I didn’t think he would subject you to some inhumane torture or other for it.”
“He plans,” she disagreed. “It’s just he’s got bigger things to worry about than Marai right now.” Derrick snorted in amusement.
“An upside to being a good little Abomination, I guess,” he agreed. Slade seemed to consider it.
“Well, if he plans on it no matter what, tell him anyway,” he decided. “It’s the truth. Not our problem if he can’t handle it.” He paused partway through opening the door, a serious look coming over his face, and cast an aside glance at the twins’ cells. “I could take you with, you know. Your friends did tell me to focus on releasing Maraicho, here, but they left their entire keyring behind. You’re sure she’s the only one who wants out?” Derrick shook his head.
“We’re the most important. We’ve got better protection, better tracing, more care all in all around us,” he responded. “Plus letting her out just set off the alarms, so there’s that too.” Sam looked Maraicho square in the eyes.
“Go,” she told her, “and don’t come back.” Looking petrified, Maraicho nodded once. Slade, in the meantime, merely gave the twins one final seconds’ worth of a glance before finishing the lock and sliding the door open. Then, he entered the cell.
“Well, either way,” he went on, locating the key meant for the clasp around Maraicho’s wrist by way of rifling through the ring. “If these friends of yours are half the group Milaven makes them out to be, they’ll be back for the two of you one way or another.” He flicked the proper key out upon finding it, ridding the younger weretree of the constraint, then turned on the spot and beckoned. “And knowing my employer, we’ll end up meeting again. Come on – I doubt these gormless sods are going to stay put forever.” “They’re already moving,” Maraicho whispered, one hand around her neck where the ice dampener had been as if she couldn’t quite believe it. Her eyes met those of Sam and Derrick, and it was clear she worried that it would be the last time.
“Go,” Derrick whispered, a faint smile on his face. Maraicho turned away and followed Slade. Upon the retrieval of his cloak from the repurposed peg, the assassin in question craned his head to look back up at the vent he’d come through.
“As good as any,” he decided, tucking the article back under his arm. Then, with a well-aimed jump, he caught onto the side of the duct and clambered back in, turning so he was facing the room. He cast the twins one final glance. “Until your friends inevitably make us meet again. Tell Briar to make it a challenge next time, will you?”
On that, he bent so he was leaning partway out of the duct, offering Maraicho a hand up. Maraicho took it, yelping as he pulled her up into the vent. Sam grinned.
“Oh, I’ll be sure of it,” she agreed, before starting to murmur in treespeech, her collar lighting up in magical response. Slade allowed himself a thin smile as he watched.
“Shame I won’t be here to see the show,” he remarked, at last turning around in the duct. “Right. Maraicho – follow me and hope Briar’s men aren’t nearly as sharp of hearing as your friends. And here’s hoping you’re a quick sidler.” He disappeared further into the vent, out of the twins’ sight. Maraicho nodded mutely in response, crawling along the vent at a far slower pace than Slade was, wincing at every little noise she made. The sound of shouting and concerned guards was already filtering through from the prison. Inside the vent, Slade couldn’t help but smirk to himself in the darkness as he sidled along.
“Seems they’ve struck a nerve,” he noted, voice subdued but tone more than a bit satisfied. “Good. The more guards they send swarming after Briar’s out of control captives, the better chance we have of getting out of this forest without their attention. Let’s keep going.”
Assassin and escapee spent far less time leaving than the former had spent arriving, urgency driving them to leave before Briar’s men could figure out where they’d gone. Thus, just fifteen minutes after they had made their impromptu disappearance, Slade and Maraicho dropped out of the other end of the vent, once again reappearing amongst the heavy forest outside the headquarters. As the former once more produced his cloak from under his arm, fastening it around his neck again with swift hands, he cast a cautious glance over their immediate surroundings.
“No one,” he murmured, drawing the hood over his head. “They’re flooding the base. Those friends of yours must be bloody powerful to warrant this much attention. Not that I’m complaining.” He settled his eyes upon the route he’d taken on his initial approach, the day before. Then, he bolted for the shadows, beckoning Maraicho behind his back. “This way!” Maraicho nodded, stumbling after him as her legs cramped up after so much time in both a prison cell and crawling through a tiny vent. Magical alarms were blaring with sound, alerting the base to a potential outbreak of the two most dangerous and likely pissed off of the Abominations.
In spite of Maraicho’s rather sorry state after the time she’d spent in Briar’s cell, the two were able to maintain a pace quick enough to take them through the forest, and away from the weretrees’ main base, with marked and reassuring rapidity – such that, by the time just half an hour had passed, they had reached the very border of the Arduskuth woods, with the road linking Brinzac and Tuervon just visible to them beyond the trees.
If Briar’s trees have any sense left in their bodies, they’ll have long checked the trace by now, Slade noted idly within his mind as they finally slowed, stopping at the very edge of the forest. Which makes breaking it the final hurdle. Simple. If all goes well, they’ll be stuck wandering like gormless fools in the middle of the forest. If not, they’ll keep going anyway and slam straight into Brinzac. Can’t say they won’t deserve everything they get if they’re stupid enough to let that happen. He turned his head, regarding Maraicho.
“Holding up?” he inquired of his charge. His tone was unreadable, his expression hidden by the combined darkness of his cloak and the shroud of the woods.
“I will be fine,” Maraicho responded, her tone as muted as ever. “I’m sorry for slowing you down.” Slade waved his hand dismissively, turning back.
“It’s no issue. We arrived soon enough,” he responded by way of assurance. “But we can’t stay put – not with that tracker of yours set up to make hell of our lives.” He continued on through the thinning veil of the trees, heading on toward the road. “Come on. We’ll do something about it once we’re out of their home territory.” Maraicho nodded, jogging to catch up with him. Her face was a mask of concern, but she didn’t say anything more, simply kept checking over her shoulder for any sign of pursuit.
Little more than five minutes later, the two found themselves outside and on the road; safe, at least for the moment. Remarkably, was still relatively early in the day, a fact impossible to tell in the depths of the forest.
“We’ll head to Tuervon from here,” Slade went on as they emerged, casting a cursory glance of his own over his shoulder. “I imagine this seal of yours will be at least partially protected, and I’m magically disinclined enough not to have a chance in all nine hells of breaking it myself. Granted, the dragonkin are probably worse, but I’m fairly sure we’ll be able to find an elf or two in the city proper.” Maraicho put a hand over her shoulder almost subconsciously, nodding.
“Anyone with a basic magical knowledge should be able to break it,” she murmured. “It is only because of the way they cast the spell that I cannot remove it myself.” Slade nodded, the information satisfying him.
“Then we shouldn’t have a very hard time of finding someone who can remedy it before it becomes a problem,” he decided. “And if all goes well, if we can keep this pace, we should be tucked safely into Tuervon before the shops close. Let’s keep it up, then.”
Maraicho stuck close to Slade as they passed through the gates of Tuervon. The assassin might have considered the area safe, but she had been abducted from the city before, and she was painfully conscious of the tracker inside her shoulder, patiently beeping out a little magical beacon to any of Briar’s soldiers who happened to be listening.
She tensed up as Slade stopped without warning, flinching as a voice greeted them with a simple ‘hey’. She relaxed when the man that jumped down in front of them had the tanned, faintly scaly skin of the dragonkin, not the dark bark-coloured skin of the weretrees, but only slightly. As an illusion mage, she knew full well that magic could mask your true self from passers-by all too easily if you were practised enough.
“You. You’re an assassin,” the dragonkin remarked off-handedly. “And I know you from Rynus,” he added to Maraicho. “So let me know what your deal is in Tuervon.” Slade seemed to size the man up with a once-over of his eyes, caution written on his face – mostly with regard to the apparent guard’s flagrant lack of a uniform. After a moment or so, however, the assassin’s mouth set itself in a thin line.
“Rynus,” he repeated, the man’s words seeming to ease his suspicion some. “Your people laid siege to the place not long ago, as I recall – helped along by a group of travelers who I’m told fought at Redwood. You know her as one of them, I take it.”
“Fario,” Maraicho murmured, his face finally clicking in her mind. The young dragonkin grinned.
“Yep. Now answer my question,” he responded. Slade frowned, clearly still cautious by habit. Then, at last, he sighed deeply and finally answered.
“If she knows you and you haven’t tried to take off with her yet, I suppose there’s no harm in telling you,” he admitted, if grudgingly. He jabbed a thumb in Maraicho’s direction. “Weretree fugitive. They took three members of this fabled group of yours and Viran’s a few days back, so the lot hired me to be their hero of the day. She wound up being the only one I could take.” Fario leant against the wall of a nearby house, looking thoughtful.
“Ok,” he murmured. “General Milaven is a decent sort so I’ll give you the benefit of a doubt. Plus points for not being Blue Rose.” His face contorted briefly into a scowl as he said the name, but was soon back to its previous neutral expression. “Who were the other two?”
“Sam and Derrick,” Maraicho murmured before Slade had any chance to respond. Fario sighed. It sounded somewhat saddened.
“Ok,” he murmured. “What’re you after?” Slade shrugged.
“A spellcaster,” he responded simply. “Any spellcaster, really, but preferably not one of suspicious repute. Maverick had the foresight to stick a failsafed tracer in her shoulder, irritatingly enough, and I don’t stand a chance in hell of breaking it myself.” Fario raised an eyebrow.
“Spellcaster? Asking a lot in Tuervon,” he remarked. “I’m sure I can find you one. You want me to meet you later?” Slade nodded.
“Just point us in the direction of a decent inn this side of the city,” he agreed. “We’ll wait it out there. I imagine my charge could do with a break either way.”
“I’ll find you at the Spear,” Fario responded, before jabbing a thumb at a street behind him. “Down there. Second right, third left. Big sign with a spear on it. Can’t miss it.” Once more, Slade nodded.
“Understood,” he responded. “We’ll catch you there. Come on, Maraicho – we may as well find it while we’re ahead.” He pulled his hood back and started down the street.
Edit: May 28, 12 1:08am
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
|quote quick quote edit quick edit del posts in thread report|
May 19, 12 at 3:58pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
The sun was setting as Fario walked up to the Spear, an unassuming amulet dangling from a string in his left hand. He wasn’t acknowledged as he walked into the establishment, other than a friendly nod from the barkeeper, which he returned amiably. Even when he wasn’t particularly trying, Fario had a knack for being invisible. That was partly why he’d been so impressed when the assassin had managed to spot him earlier.
It wasn’t difficult for him to locate their room, even without asking. A quick rap on the door greeted him with silence, as he’d expected, so he settled against the wall and waited for his visitors to stop being quite so paranoid.
Then, after a few moments, the door cracked open and Slade’s nigh-black blue eyes peered out at Fario from the gap. There was a knife just visible in his hand, although it was noticeably in no effective position to strike.
“Fario,” the assassin regarded him, tone neutral as he pushed the door open the rest of the way, making room for the dragonkin. “You’ll have to excuse the knife – you caught me halfway into sharpening it and I decided to take it with for the sake of argument. I presume you have something for us?”
“Gotcha a present,” Fario agreed, tossing the amulet at him. “Press it onto the marked site, should nullify the magic.” Slade caught the trinket, regarding it with a neutral expression and a scrutinous eye.
“Handy,” he decided. “I’d ask if you want it back afterward, given I’m fairly sure you paid for it, but I don’t see what personal need a dragonkin would have for one of these. No offense.” Fario shrugged.
“Don’t think the guy I got it from wants it back. He didn’t say anything of the sort,” he dismissed. “Didn’t cost me a thing, other than my time. And that’s pretty cheap these days.”
“Even handier,” Slade decided. “Thanks for the drop-off, then – might keep this with me in case Viran decides to promote me to hero again. I take it you won’t be sticking around for dinner?” Fario raised an eyebrow.
“Figured a guy like you would be too paranoid to eat out of anything other than a locked chest,” he remarked. “I’ve got business, I’m afraid. But I’ll be keeping an eye on you while you’re in the city – for your benefit and ours. It’s protocol. Boring, but needs following.” Slade considered it, then shrugged.
“Fair enough, I suppose,” he allowed. “Just try to avoid dropping in on me out of the blue. Good way to avoid me pegging you in the face on reflex.” He turned back into the room, idly looping the amulet’s chain around the palm of his hand. “Good business, dragonkin. Have fun stalking.”
A week passed as the group waited in Orios for their companions to rest and heal, a time that went by, mercifully, without any follow-up attacks on the part of Sheltam or his associates. Then, early on exactly the seventh day – their eighth overall in the city – Nylahara informed them that Riki and Juno had both been healed to the fullest of the Academy’s abilities.
That was the day Corvan decided to mobilise them to leave.
“The sooner we reach Buroc, the sooner we can rest knowing Sheltam has no means of recovering,” he decided, speaking to the general group as they gathered in the lobby. As he spoke, near the stairs, Juno tested her right arm, flexing her hand as though gripping something. Seemingly unsatisfied, she glared down at it.
“Gods’ sake,” she muttered. Valko shot her a glance as he descended the staircase.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, sounding just faintly concerned. “Isn’t it fully healed?” Juno waved her other hand idly.
“It’s fine,” she dismissed his worry, sighing heavily. “Healing-wise, at least, but still not working like it bloody used to.” Shaking her head in annoyance, she pulled on the new cloak she’d appropriated from one of the shops earlier in the week, once it was decided she no longer needed consistent rest. “Hell with it. I’ll cope.” Riki, on the other hand, seemed outwardly fine – a lot of his skin was still red, but it was clearly damage that would heal rather than the horrific burns he had been sporting before. Marvin and Saïla had long since been healed to a state where their injuries were nothing more than memory.
“Good. I was becoming anxious with how long we have stayed in one place,” Marvin murmured, mostly to Corvan. The wolf nodded.
“We were lucky,” he agreed. “This was the longest we’ve stayed in one place since we left Snowcap. It seems disabling Orlask worked to our advantage.” He frowned slightly. “Admittedly, as did Skywing’s spell. One way or another, I’m thankful for it, as I suspect it would asking far too much to hope the rest of our time on Grandas is as uneventful.”
“We head to Port Perunia next, correct?” Marvin asked. “From my admittedly dated knowledge of the continent, it is the closest to us.” Corvan made a noise of concurrence.
“Mm,” he confirmed with another slight nod of his head. “From what I remember of our map, it’s little more than a day north of us. If all goes relatively well, we should be in Buroc within two weeks.”
“It will be nice to be away from the looming threat of the forest,” Marvin muttered, not looking happy.
“Buroc,” Saïla repeated, sounding thoughtful. “I have never been.”
“Then you’re in for a treat,” Rachael inputted, a grin on her face. “If you’re interested, I could give you the full tour of Chequan when we get there. I figure I may as well do my part to make it memorable, what with it being our final stop and all.”
“I guess,” Lucia remarked idly, “that really our last stop is Celeste.” Riki frowned at that.
“I have heard stories of Chequan,” Saïla remarked, ignoring her sister. “It would be nice to see it in person.”
“Then it’ll be your lucky day,” Rachael decided. “Which has to be one of the first times that phrase has actually applied to us.”
“Either way,” Corvan interjected. “We should be going while it’s still morning. I’d prefer we make as much progress as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.” He frowned at that, something seeming to reoccur to him. “But before we do…” He turned his head, eyes going to Riki. “Riki. I have something I’d like to ask you.”
“I had expected you would,” Riki responded quietly, no surprise in his voice. If anything, he seemed resigned. The reaction didn’t escape Corvan.
“You sound as though you know what’s coming,” he remarked. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Either way…I want to ask you about what happened last week. About…what came over you, whatever it may have been.” Riki nodded slowly, looking down at his hands.
“I am not sure how much you know of my race,” he began, “but there is one lineage that is... special, for want of a better word. My family line carries the ability to channel the angels, at the equinox. We are always magically gifted, always with light. With the angels, we have a capacity for healing greater than any other race – we can even create life.” He closed his eyes. “But it is a strong magic. It was too strong for Tobias to want to face down, which is why he broke me.” He made a pained noise, shaking his head slightly. “But I still heard them, on the equinox. Normally it is merely a whisper, a faint sensation that there is something not... not you inside your head. But then I could feel... I could feel them more strongly than before. And they are not... not kind.” He glanced at Saïla and Lucia, but neither of them had reacted, other than a feigned look of boredom on Lucia’s face. “Tobias repressed them, but now I am free, it has been... harder to fight it.” He looked over at Corvan. “You are lucky the phase of the sun was not right for them.” Corvan’s expression was troubled, as well as thoughtful.
“…I see,” he murmured. “Given Skywing was the one responsible for it, I suppose it would be too much to ask to hope you know how to fix it?”
“I have made a few inquiries, but...” Riki began, sighing in defeat. “So far, I have found nothing. The only ones who knew anything of what was done to me were the Skywings themselves, and even then...” Corvan made a noise.
“Yes, I can understand the problems that might pose,” he muttered. “And the only ones I can think of who might know a way out are the Ancients themselves, and even if they hadn’t disappeared after the War, it would be next to impossible to reach them.” He shook his head. “I had no idea, Riki. Frankly, I suppose I should have suspected it was Skywing’s doing.”
“As is everything surrounding me,” he agreed with a nod of his head. “To a point. For what it may be worth, I... I am sorry for not being able to stay in control.” Corvan raised a hand.
“No need,” he disagreed. “There is little point apologizing for something you can’t control to begin with.”
“Tobias could control them,” Riki replied, his voice quiet, frowning. He was clearly unhappy with that.
“Yes, well,” Corvan muttered. “Correction: something you no longer have any way to control. And even if he were still in any position to control them, I would prefer risking another bout with your…angel, than send you back to him.”
“You are wrong to think so, but it does not matter,” Riki dismissed. “Time wastes. We should leave.” Corvan nodded once.
“A good point,” he agreed, casting a glance back at the group as he said it. “Come along, everyone. We’re leaving.”
The sun was just ready to set when the group stopped for the stopped for the day. By all accounts, they had made good progress – in roughly twelve hours of walking, Corvan estimated they’d gone through at least a quarter of the way to the port, at least when using their current map as a judge.
“Given our progress today, we shouldn’t be long from Perunia,” Corvan remarked, eyes glancing about their surroundings, clearly taking note of how open they were. After their two most recent attacks, his near-paranoid caution had returned in full. “Another three days, roughly, which is fortunate. I’d rather we move out of the open as soon as we possibly can, before Sheltam throws someone else at us.”
“He’s only got Skyver left to throw, by my reckoning,” Lucia muttered, not sounding happy. “He won’t care where we are as long as he can murder something.” Corvan gave her a look.
“That is…something, I suppose,” he decided, sounding markedly dubious. “How likely do you think it is he’ll actually send Skyver?” Lucia grimaced.
“Unlikely,” she decided. “He’s not sent him yet even after we trashed Skywing to hell and back. He’s probably keeping him on a leash to use as a guard dog on the off-chance we actually make it up to Celeste.” She looked thoughtful. “That might actually be an issue, thinking about it.”
“Yes, well,” Corvan muttered, not seeming as though he was looking forward to the prospect of dealing with Skyver, at any point. “It’s an issue we will have to deal with when it comes to us, which looks to be some time from now.”
No worries, the idea doesn’t thrill me much either,” Juno interjected helpfully. “Brutal death, and all that.”
“Skyver is a monster,” Riki murmured, Marvin decidedly not looking at him.
“We shall cross any such bridges when we come to them,” Saïla decided tersely, clearly suggesting that the distressing topic be abandoned.
“Agreed,” Corvan concurred, all too readily, as they all set about making camp for the night. However, as they dutifully went about their business, a sound cut out behind them – it was a telltale sound, and certainly one they could have gone their entire week without hearing. Almost immediately, they froze.
It was the sound of a portal being opened.
“I did wonder just when you planned on leaving Orios,” a voice followed it, low and gruff, and yet almost conversational. “It was smart of you to hide out there. Sheltam may have had you attacked, but I didn’t quite feel like involving the city.” Luna barely waited until the sentence was finished before she spun around, her sword already out.
True as she’d thought, she found herself faced with her brother.
“Look who it is,” she spat. “You waited long enough, I thought you’d just gone home to curl up in your master’s lap. Where are your sheep this time, Buren?” The older wolf didn’t look fazed in the slightest, simply raising his head just enough to look past the group.
“I think you’ll find they’ll be along shortly,” he grunted. “You’re in luck. Lady Amelia authorised me to take a larger force this time.” Jakar disappeared almost immediately.
“You cannot beat us in a fair fight, so you must overwhelm us with numbers?” Saïla remarked, an arrow already at her bow. “I suppose I should expect little else from the cowards of Skywing.” Marvin drew his sword with a ringing of metal on metal, his face set. Buren didn’t even turn to look at Saïla, his eyes still focused on the road behind the group.
“Our interest isn’t in a fair fight,” he retorted bluntly. “Our interest is in paying back the people you murdered.”
Just as he said it, portals began opening at the other end of the road, one after another. By Corvan’s estimate of the sound alone, Buren had brought well over two dozen this time, including the faint sound of the portals that had opened in the sweeping hills around them. Facing Buren, Luna gritted her teeth.
“Leave him to me,” she told them, her voice low and dangerous. “I can deal with him on my own, and right now, he’s the least of our worries. Focus on his friends.” Locking eyes with her, Buren unstrapped his axe.
“This time,” he started, weighting it in his hands. “Things will be different. It ends here, one way or another.”
“Don’t suppose you could go nova on these guys, Riki?” Lucia suggested sweetly. Riki gave her a pained look for her troubles, which made her laugh as she formed darkness in her hands. “Coward.”
“One day I will be able to accuse you of hypocrisy in return,” Riki challenged, tone as light as he ever got. Darkness began to drip down his sword as he drew it, and his eyes became cold. “But I will offer no mercy to soldiers of Skywing.”
“I will try to hold the left,” Marvin told Corvan in a low voice. “The mages should distract any magic-users Buren has brought. They will be the largest threat.” Corvan nodded once in response, unsheathing his claws as he did so, and shot an over-the-shoulder look at Valko and Juno. Both nodded, as if taking a wordless cue.
“Leave it to us,” the former promised.
“On it,” Juno agreed.
“I make a living distracting magic users,” Lucia remarked, her grin dangerously toothy. Corvan nodded, satisfied with that, as he turned and faced the growing collection of up-front fighters, walking to the head of the group.
“If that’s the case, everyone, ready up,” he muttered. “Don’t break formation and we may give them a harder time of this than they thought they’d get.” Behind him, still face to face with Luna, Buren raised a hand, a clear signal to his forces.
“For your own sake,” he started, addressing his sister in a low, dangerous voice. “You’d better bring your best, little sister.” He brought his hand down in a sweep and, as his men began their attack, he lunged for Luna, axe coming up in a sweep. Gritting her teeth, Luna settled into an adaptive defensive stance.
You’re right about one thing, Buren, she thought. This time, it ends. This time, I’m making sure of it.
Mori stood at the head of the force directly at the rear, spear held tightly in both hands. Unlike last time, Gorman was stood just next to her, an amulet around his neck and two worn as bracelets on his wrist.
“Like we practised,” he muttered to her, quietly enough that the rest of the soldiers couldn’t hear, but still enough to get a glare from her.
“This won’t end the same way it did last time,” she promised, levelling her spear at Rachael. “Soldiers of Skywing! Forward!” Rachael drew her sword, hand tightening around the hilt.
“You chose this,” she muttered. “I don’t want it to end like this, but you chose it.” She shot a glance over her shoulder, at Valko and Juno. “Both of you be careful, hear me?” Juno waved a hand.
“No worries, Rach,” she dismissed, smirking. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
“Juno,” Valko protested lamely. The shorter mage just grinned at him.
“You like it, really,” she retorted. Her face turned serious again as she took her place, back-to-back with Valko. “But don’t worry about us, Rachael. Worry about taking out their lieutenant.” Rachael nodded once, determined, and bolted into the fray of soldiers.
The soldiers that Riki approached had already taken up a defensive position, with weapons either set aflame or radiating brilliant light, depending upon the skill of the warrior. Shields had been raised, but Riki was already past the point where he cared about how extreme their defences were. He charged into them almost recklessly, Marvin at his back in a strange reversal of roles, keeping him from being completely overwhelmed as he cut a swath of death through the soldiers.
“Boring,” Lucia decided, pitching darkness over the nearest outcrop. Gorman flicked a hand out, the earth following Mori like a shield even as he began to prepare another spell. As Rachael approached, Juno turned round, eyes on Mori and Gorman, sizing up the latter. Her face set in an unimpressed scowl, she thrust her hands out toward the ground.
“Keep them back for me, I have a fish to fry,” she told Valko, not even turning her head to look at him. Taking his silence as a nod of concurrence, Juno let energy flow out into the earth to form a stalagmite, inwardly pleased that her newly acquired handicap hadn’t deadened her magic any.
Gorman smiled thinly at Juno, the earth around him leaping up at a single spoken word, his own magic infusing it and making it impossible for Juno to affect herself. The stalagmite slammed into it with a shower of dirt, as it and part of the wall crumbled to the ground.
Mori, for her part, completely ignored what was going on just behind her. With her spear now aflame, she engaged with Rachael. Energy came up around the latter’s sword in kind as she met Mori’s first attack with clenched jaw.
“I don’t want to hurt any of you,” she told the Devroran, her voice just as calm as it always was. “But I won’t let you hurt any of us. So I’ll give you one final chance: take your leader, abandon this revenge gambit of yours, and go home. This isn’t worth what you’ll lose.”
Behind them, unseen by the two fighters, Luna leapt backwards and out of the way of what would have been a crushing overhead swing of Buren’s axe, the blade still scoring a nick in the sleeve of her uniform coat. She uttered a low curse as she came to a halt, quite near Corvan, who was in the process of holding off a pair of Devroran swordsmen.
“Not bad,” she muttered, looking up to meet Buren’s eyes. “Too cocky to use both of your weapons, mutt?” Buren snorted.
“Save your trump card for last,” he shot back. “I hope you’d already know that, General.”
“The honour of our people requires the head of your pet beast,” Mori responded. “We will not rest until we have it.” Saïla scowled at that, fingers hesitating as they brushed the fletching of her next arrow.
“If you want the dragon, I will give you the dragon,” she muttered through gritted teeth. Lucia caught her wrist before she could bring her hand down, making her look over her shoulder in surprise. Her sister only shook her head, so with a noise of frustration, Saïla put another arrow to her bow. Ahead of her, Rachael broke away from Mori, making a frustrated noise.
“You’re all as bloody stubborn as mules,” she muttered. “Forgive me, then. You haven’t left me much choice in the matter.” A blue blade of energy flashed around the blade of her sword and, in a blur of movement, she lashed out at Mori in a vicious strike. Mori brought her spear up in retaliation, ice crusting along the handle to meet Rachael’s sword and take most of the impact. From Gorman’s circle of earth, the ground around them began to crack underfoot. Rachael glanced down, noting the state of the ground with wary eyes, before turning her attention back to Mori, deciding there wasn’t much she could do about it herself. Juno, on the other hand, narrowed her eyes when she saw it, shooting an unimpressed glare at the shielded Gorman.
“Don’t think so, bud,” she muttered, summoning another stalagmite in an attempt to uproot his shield. Next to her, Valko concluded with dropping a fireball on one of the Devroran archers before shooting her an over-the-shoulder glance.
“Holding up, or should I help?” he asked. She waved her free hand.
“You can help by keeping them from sticking me in the back with an icicle or two,” she dismissed.
Gorman managed to finish Juno’s job for her, quite spectacularly – the shield became a wave of earth that rolled over the cracked ground, bearing down on the two young mages. Mori danced over the cracks, her feet picking out the patterns as if she’d fought over them many times before. It was giving her more than a slight advantage over Rachael.
“What a bitch,” Jakar remarked to the unconscious Skywing mage slumped next to him, watching the pair of them carefully. “Not going to get a hit in on her like that.” His eyes went to Gorman, and his fingers ghosted over the hilt of his short sword at the fond memory of knocking him unconscious. His eyes kept scanning the area somewhat nervously, clearly wary of another attack. He was certainly playing it defensive. “Alright, Rach, guess I’ll get back to you,” he decided, ducking out of sight of an archer and sneaking through to try and get to the back of the enemy line.
On the battlefield below him, Juno let out a violent swear at the sight of the earth bearing down on them. Moving as quickly as she could, she raised both of her arms, bringing up a wall of rock and condensed dirt in front of her and Valko. Almost immediately, she recoiled at the force of Gorman’s spell, struggling to hold the shield up.
“Val,” she ground out. “Take that back…up for a little help here…”
Valko’s only response was a nod. He spun on the spot, bringing both arms out to his sides and summoning an opaque screen of light through Juno’s earth wall, reinforcing it and giving it a bit more support and structure.
Ahead of them, Rachael ghosted out of the way of a spear sweep, relying on peripheral vision to alert her to where the cracks were. She never took her eyes fully from Mori, her stance defensive as she waited for an opening – any sort of opening, really.
Gorman gave up on the wall with a bitter curse, beginning to chant. Around his hands, light began to form, the glow getting stronger with each word. Mori continued to discount him, focussing on trying to break through Rachael’s defences.
“Sir!” one of the Devroran shouted, his voice tinged with an edge of panic, and making Gorman stop mid-syllable. The soldier was looking at Riki, now at the centre of a reasonably sizable number of down or dead bodies, and he had turned his eyes to them. Once more, Gorman swore.
“On the defensive, get the archers up,” he muttered, switching his immediate focus. Riki locked eyes with him, and his bloody hand tightened around the hilt of his sword.
Juno allowed herself a grim smile as Gorman’s wall fell. Not willing to give him any more chances, she began a chant of her own, under her breath. As she recited it, the earth at her feet started up in a low rumble.
Fairly near them, Corvan cast his eyes about their surroundings as he held back a Devroran spearman in surprisingly durable armour.
“They can’t keep this up for much longer,” he muttered to himself, dodging out of the way of the spear and promptly scything his claws through his quarry’s less protected back. His eyes went to Luna, still furiously engaged with her brother. “Keep it up, General…the sooner you bring him down, the sooner this ends, and the fewer we have to kill to end it.”
“Mage,” Riki whispered, a dangerous darkness in his eyes. “We have a score to settle.”
“Fall back,” one soldier suggested to Gorman. The young Devroran had gone pale, but shook his head, his eyes on Mori and her ongoing stalemate with Rachael.
“Can’t,” he returned, one of the amulets on his wrist glowing as he threw one hand out in an arc in front of him, putting up a hasty shield of ice, before switching back to another chant, eyes on the approaching Riki.
“Fall back,” Mori snapped at him, taking an opening she had barely managed to create to snap at the mage instead of lunge at Rachael. “Or he’ll bloody kill you.”
“Can’t,” Gorman repeated, holding up a hand that glowed with bright light, aiming it at Riki.
As the divisions of the two groups fought amongst themselves, Luna and Buren’s engagement continued uninterrupted. In a blur of red, the younger swept out of the way of a horizontal arc of her brother’s axe, ducking down and striking up at his legs. He spun with a growl, meeting her sword with the blunt end of his own weapon’s handle, tossing her away from him. She righted herself masterfully, straightening up with jaw clenched. She never fell out of stance.
“So this really is more important to you, is it?” she spat at Buren. “Avenging a sociopath is more important to you than family? Than your own homeland?”
“Don’t,” Buren growled, his voice low, threatening. “I made my mind up long ago, you dumb pup. Focus on the fight – not treating me to therapy.” Luna barked out a bitter laugh.
“So it is,” she muttered. “To think, I used to think you were better than this. I used to think you were above letting the death of one man push you so far.”
Something seemed to change in Buren, as his eyes flashed dangerously.
“Luna,” he warned, his voice barely above a snarl. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare use him to try and convert me.” He levelled his axe at her. “And you know it was more than that, you know it damned well.” Luna’s expression remained in place, fixed and unfazed.
“You shame him, Buren,” she told him, her tone simple and matter-of-fact. “Morris wouldn’t have wanted this, and you shame his memory for it.” Buren’s reaction came with speed almost frightening, even by werewolf standards. Locking her stance, Luna raised her sword and blocked the blade of the axe overhead with her own, putting her left hand behind the blade in provision of extra leverage. Unperturbed, Buren shoved back, bearing down on her with a thunderous expression.
“I told you,” he snarled. “Always save your trump card for last.”
Luna barely had time to widen her eyes, barely had time to move back at all, before he lashed out with his other hand, claws out in an upward sweep. She’d only managed just enough distance to keep the attack from being fatal when the claws struck her, tearing through the front of her coat and streaking four bloody lines through her side and shoulder.
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
|quote quick quote edit quick edit del posts in thread report|
May 19, 12 at 3:59pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
The sound of tearing armour made Riki turn on the spot, facing away from the increasingly stressed Gorman towards the two werewolves. He hesitated, torn between dispatching the two leaders of the opposing pincer and going to Luna’s aid, before Gorman made up his mind for him.
Earth jumped up at him, clearly not intended as a trap like last time but to legitimately damage him. Riki turned on it with darkness jumping up from his body and cut it to pieces with a jet-black sword, the earth crumbling under the speed and force of his assault. Then, he turned his eyes to Gorman.
Mori’s spear came up with light around the blade to block the next strike, her teeth gritted in concentration. Gorman had already staggered backwards, his normally tan skin pale with fear.
“Fight fair, Dicarsan,” she hissed. Riki glanced at her, then slid his sword out of the deadlock.
“As you wish,” he returned, ignoring Rachael and the damage to the earth in order to press a relentless assault on the young soldier.
Behind him, Luna skidded away from Buren, one arm held up against her wounds, protectively. Blood had already begun to darken the front of her already-red uniform, and her face had taken on a look of actual, if faint, surprise.
“So this is all it means to you,” she remarked, voice just above a whisper as she regarded her injuries. “To think, I never imagined…that you had this in you. That you’d actually fallen this far.” Buren’s face was stony as he took up the proper stance for dual-wielding.
“And I thought you would understand,” he growled. “I’ve found something to believe in, and I’m fighting for it just the same as you. I never imagined you’d become this much of a hypocrite, Luna.” The younger sibling barked out the start of another bitter laugh, but cut it one off with a gasping wince, pain searing through her wounded side. Fighting off another wince at the movement, Luna straightened, bringing hateful, betrayed eyes to meet her brother’s.
“It’s…ironic…isn’t it?” she managed. “You were so desperate…so desperate to escape the ‘system’…that you fell into one of your own.” Gritting her teeth against the burning under her ribs, Luna forced herself to raise her sword, levelling it at her brother. “You’ve become…what you hated…the most.”
Buren seemed to freeze to the spot, his eyes just a bit wider than normal in an expression of disbelief at what he’d just heard. Slowly, the look turned to a scowl.
“What…did you say to me?” he growled at his sister. Luna didn’t flinch away, even just a bit.
“You...heard me, Buren,” she managed. “You’re…blind, you stupid dog…you’re blind.”
Behind the two warring werewolves, Saïla swore and narrowly avoided a column of fire that rocketed up from the ground beneath where she had originally been standing. An arrow went into the shoulder of the nearest Devroran mage, forcing them to retreat with a noise of pain.
“We are outnumbered,” Saïla muttered through gritted teeth.
“Seen worse,” Lucia replied cheerfully, setting the nearest soldier on fire. “Besides, looks like Riki’s flipped the murder switch again.” Saïla refused to let herself be distracted for long enough to look over at Riki, draped in darkness and forcing the leaders of the other half of the Devroran assault further and further back. It was a testament to Mori’s skill, she reasoned, that the young soldier was still alive.
Mori, however, was in no mood to be praising herself for anything. She was losing ground, and fast, what had been a fairly level playing field against Rachael now nothing more than a desperate series of attempts to evade her foe’s flashing blade, skipping backwards further and further away from the battlefield she and Gorman had purposefully constructed. Her mage partner had practically run to the main lines, chanting all the while like some sort of fool, and Riki had already battered away two of his magical attacks. Mori, of course, had immediately had to distract him from simply breaking away and taking Gorman’s head the second the spell was cast, and she was wearing thin.
She could see that Buren’s opponent, his sister as far as she could gather, was heavily wounded. It would be a blessing if he put her down in the near future and came to help them ward off the monster that was a righteously enraged Dicarsan.
We did this to him, she thought, memories rising to the surface unbidden of seeing her now-deceased Lord speaking with members of Sheltam’s forces, a dull and near-lifeless Riki by his side. He had made him into a weapon. And now that weapon had turned on them.
As the fight wore on, the two siblings stood across from each other, all both motionless. Buren still stood in stance, disbelief yet colouring his features, and Luna still stood partially bent, sword pointed at her brother. Near them, Corvan struck down one of the Devroran with a swift downward sweep, spinning on the spot immediately afterward to take full gauge of Luna’s situation.
Had he been human, he would have paled at the sight of her wounds.
“General--” he started, but she cut him off with a weak, but pointed, look.
“No…Vargant,” she managed to growl out. “Do not…focus on us. I have this under control.” Her eyes went back to Buren. “In fact…I think…I just hit a sore spot. Isn’t that right…brother?” Buren spat, shaking his head furiously and weighting his axe in his hands, clearly ready to move on her.
“You know nothing about me, Luna,” he snarled. “Nothing!” Luna smiled, a bitter and pained expression.
“But I know…something about your lord,” she gasped, taking a deep inhalation of breath before continuing. “I know…he let us go. For whatever reason…he wanted us alive. And you…” She let out a shuddering, vicious cough, flecks of blood colouring her lower lip. “You put your revenge before that. You put your revenge…before what your Lord wanted. Before…what he thought was best. So, really, Buren…how alike…do you really think we are?”
Buren went as silent as the dead Devroran strewn around them, if just for a short while.
“You…” was all he managed when he did speak, her words bluntly having shaken his resolve.
“Run, dammit, Gorman!” Mori exclaimed as Riki destroyed another of the mage’s assaults. Gorman narrowed his eyes, continuing to chant just like he had every other time, before shouting in pain and falling to his knees as a knife buried itself in his side, the thrower – clearly Jakar – already long gone. Riki’s eyes flicked to him, clearly seeing his weakness as an opportunity, but Mori as good as threw herself in the path of the Dicarsan.
“I told you to fight fair,” she growled through gritted teeth.
“The Devroran do not order me any more,” Riki responded simply, the darkness latching on to her ankles. Pain spread across her face, but she moved through it, pressing forwards with her spear and making him move back, away from Gorman, before he flew at her with renewed vigour.
Behind them, Luna stayed firmly rooted to her spot, even as blood loss began to sway her, just slightly. Her eyes remained firmly on Buren.
“You’re quiet,” she noted, her voice quiet. Her smile had a sort of grim victory about it. “You’re quiet…because you know…you know it’s true.” Buren scowled at her, but his eyes were troubled and he remained utterly, deadly silent.
Moments passed – hanging, wire-tense moments of nothing more than silence. Then, at last, Buren dropped out of stance, his axe drooping to the ground and sliding out of his hands.
“Seems I owe you an apology, Lady Hyanna,” he muttered. His eyes turned up to Luna, their look pained. “All happy with yourself inside now, Luna?” Luna’s smile widened as much as it could in her victory, and she responded with one weak laugh before swaying and, at last, sinking to the ground.
Corvan moved, but Buren moved before him, catching her passed-out form before it could hit the ground. As he knelt, lowering her in the process, the older wolf gave his unconscious sister a baleful glare.
“Stupid,” he muttered. “Ten years later and you’re still a stupid, stubborn pup.” He spun his head round to look to the torn remnants of his force. Then, over the din of the fighting, he called to them. “Everyone! Stand down, now! They’ve won!” He sighed, looking back down at Luna.
Among both group and the Devroran, weapons were lowered and stances shifted out of the offensive, somewhat confused in many cases. The only exceptions were Riki and Mori – the former having locked his blade against her spear, neither willing to break the lock.
“You’ve won,” she growled. “There is no more need for death.” Riki scowled, then his face flickered briefly in pain, and he staggered backwards. There was darkness around him still, but it had relinquished its grip on Mori’s now bloody ankles.
With a hiss of pain, Gorman pulled the knife from his side and held his free hand over the wound, white light gathering around his skin. He did not look pleased.
Standing at the south end of the road, Corvan cast a surprised, uncertain look down at Buren.
“Surrender?” he questioned, not sounding entirely like he believed it. “After all this, you surrender now?” Buren made a noise of frustration, rubbing his eyes irritably with one hand as he eased Luna to the ground.
“It seems my sister can talk me through a loop even to this day,” he muttered, standing up. He didn’t look at Corvan when he continued. “Do me a favour and have her healed, scrap.”
In any other situation, Corvan would have been far more surprised to hear Buren address him by the elder wolf’s old nickname for him. Instead, he allowed himself a faint smile and nodded, turning back to the others.
“Rachael! Juno!” he called back. “We have injured!”
“Can I have my knife back?” Jakar called, from where he was now leant against the outcrop he’d been using for cover. With his free hand, Gorman threw the knife at him in bitter frustration, but the thief let it hit the floor and picked it up without looking perturbed.
“Mages! Form up!” Mori called, her spear already on her back, clipped onto a holder designed specifically for it. A gaggle of five mages appeared, a sixth limping up shortly afterwards, one leg a mess. “Heal those that need it. Stabilise only, save your energy,” she instructed. “Khoran, don’t move any more on that leg.”
“Yes ma’am,” the mage agreed, sitting gratefully. Across from them, Juno whistled softly at the sight of Luna’s injuries.
“Damn,” she remarked, kneeling next to the downed werewolf and paying the nearby Buren no heed. Rachael followed her motion, but seemed decidedly more cautious of the far larger werewolf, casting intermittent, untrusting glances at him as she worked.
“I’m astounded she managed to keep fighting through this,” she remarked, bringing energy up around her hands as she said it. “That’s enviable determination.”
“She’s always been like that,” Buren interjected gruffly, the suddenness surprising both of the two somewhat. “Stubborn as a damned dragonkin and almost as impossible to budge once she gets an idea in her head.” He sighed irritably, turning as though to walk back to Mori. “It’s stupid and frankly suicidal…but she’s an idiot with a purpose, at least. I’ll grant her that.”
He stalked away, leaving them to their devices.
Mori nodded to Buren as he approached.
“Sir,” she greeted. “Fifteen dead, all thanks to Forian. Nearly three times that incapacitated. I’ve already split up the healers.” Buren made a frustrated noise, rubbing his temples.
“I’ll give the scrappy dog one thing – he runs a good company,” he muttered. “Luna was right. This attack was a mistake. Avenging Lord Skywing was never worth losses like these.” He sighed heavily. “How severe of injures are we looking at?” Mori grimaced.
“It varies. Most of them are fairly severe but not mortal. Many of the soldiers will need at least a week’s attention before they’re back on their feet.” Behind her, Gorman cursed again as he regarded his bloodied robes mournfully, the healing light still around his hands. “Some are simply minor concussions. All things considered, it could have been far worse.” Riki was watching them silently, clearly not trusting Buren to have completely given up. The elder werewolf exhaled slowly, nodding once.
“No room for complaints against small blessings, I suppose,” he muttered. “In that case, we’ll head home when we’re sure everyone’s stable. They can heal properly when we get back to Skywing.” He closed his eyes, frowning deeply. “I think Lady Hyanna and I have quite a bit of talking to do, either way.”
“Will the Lady be angry?” Mori asked, sounding concerned, although it was clear that worried her less than some of the other options.
“Thank Savet it wasn’t Lady Anilla’s orders,” Gorman muttered through gritted teeth behind her. Buren snorted at that.
“If she is once she sees how many men have been died for this, then she’s in desperate need of a priority check,” he responded bitterly. “But I doubt she’s the type. At least, I bloody well hope she isn’t.” Mori nodded, looking uncertain.
“Good,” she murmured, her eyes going uncertainly to Riki. The Dicarsan continued to watch her, not even attempting to modulate the suspicion on his face. Buren, per contrast, didn’t even spare the Dicarsan a glance, his eyes mostly focussed on Luna as he leant back against a nearby tree.
“You can stop giving us that look,” he remarked gruffly, still not looking away. “Only idiots fake surrender when the situation is against them. We’d be killing ourselves if we did.”
“It will be a cold day in the hells before I trust Devroran again,” Riki responded, his tone quiet and modulated. Gorman flinched just at the sound of it.
“It has not stopped others before,” Marvin muttered, looking bitter. By contrast to them, however, Buren still looked utterly and completely unmoved.
“This is nothing to do with trust,” he muttered. “It’s common sense, Forian. If we were to break surrender now, your group would massacre us.” At last, he looked up at Riki. “Then again…that’s exactly what you’re hoping for.”
“Do not claim to understand me, you neutered guard dog,” Riki hissed.
“Don’t bait the Devroran!” Lucia protested. “I’risen preserve me, you’re just as stupid as you always were.”
“It’s not about understanding you,” Buren grunted, apparently far less provoked than Lucia feared. “It’s about understanding basic emotional reaction. I don’t know exactly what Lord Skywing did to you, Forian, but I do know it happened. By rights, I’d think you couldn’t care less if the entire Devroran race went as dead as Sheltam made the Dicarsan. In fact, you’d probably enjoy it if they did.” He fanned a hand at their surroundings, at the dead and injured, with a bitter look. “Just like us, when she--” he jabbed a thumb at Saïla, “destroyed our home.” He looked back at Luna. “But now, I’m past caring. About you, about your vendetta, about your group. Skywing will come back with or without me.”
“I would not care if the Devroran died,” Riki responded, voice more tempered now, “but I would not wish for it. I do not care what happens to you, to Skywing, to any of yours. The man who broke me is dead. The circle of revenge that he started has been closed. The darkness that he produced hungers for blood, but it is not dictated by things so petty and mortal as revenge.” He shook his head. “I did not ask for, nor desire, the destruction that her Other wrought upon your people.” He narrowed his eyes. “But I do not trust you, regardless.” Buren shrugged, making a noncommittal noise.
“Your choice,” he remarked. “Paranoia’s obviously kept your lot alive so far.” Riki opened his mouth as if to protest, but stopped when Lucia tapped him on the shoulder.
“You gotta learn,” she remarked, “how to spot when it’s acceptable to antagonise people.” He narrowed his eyes at her, but said nothing further.
The building’s back halls were all but dead silent as Kaspar traversed their lengths, blue cloak trailing just above the floor behind him. Idly, he glanced out the interspersed windows as he went about his walk; looking out over the sea, directly in the direction of Grandas. Something of a small smirk came over his face at its sight – a knowing, all too knowing, smile.
His relatively brisk pace allowed him to make quick in reaching his destination: a door, set in the furthest wall in the east of the building. Somewhat unusually, it was already partially ajar; this didn’t seem to perturb Kaspar in the least, as he simply approached it and pushed it open the rest of the way. To him, it was an invitation – it simply meant someone was expected.
“Word of mouth says you were expecting me, Alzen,” he remarked as he entered the room. “Something about the birds Sheltam sent us after?”
The man sat in the chair opposite glanced up as Kaspar approached. He was unassuming – small, with long lilac hair and the tell-tale tapered ears of an elf. Like Kaspar, a sky-blue cloak was slung lazily over one shoulder.
“Ah, Kaspar,” he greeted, moving up from his lazed position to be sitting up properly, linking his fingers together. “I’m glad you got my message. Yes. We’re leaving them alone for now.” Kaspar made a noncommittal noise of acknowledgement. His face held, oddly enough, no surprise at hearing the news.
“Sheltam will not be happy,” he remarked idly. “I strongly doubt he will pay us in full once he finds out, if he pays us at all.” Alzen shrugged, clearly unconcerned.
“For now,” he repeated, holding up a cautionary finger. “We’ve been paid in half. At the very least our reputation owes it to see the job half-finished.” He smirked, almost to himself. “But...” The smirk turned almost immediately into a scowl. “That half-blood bastard of a Devroran has made life a touch too tough for my liking. In his blood, I suppose.” The scowl deepened. “I’m not putting resources on people so dangerous with Grandas in turmoil. If you feel it would be beneficial you can have a pass at them on their way to Celeste, but otherwise it’s just going to get people killed. A waste.” Kaspar inclined his head, an almost idle gesture.
“Then so it will be,” he decided. “I suppose half is pay enough to keep up with what we need to pay the men. I will inform them as presently as possible.” He inclined his head. “Have you any further need of me, Alzen, or shall I set to it?” Alzen cast his eyes over the other assassin, then shrugged. He made it an elaborate movement, somehow.
“Go over the current active contracts, reassign our people as necessary,” he responded. “I see your dragonkin protégé is missing. How does she fare?” He laughed to himself. “And how goes that... project that I gave to you?” A smirk ghosted over Kaspar’s face.
“Intriguingly, I was just recently planning to send her after them again, given her success during our previous move,” he remarked. “As to the project, the detachment I sent have reported favourable progress thus far, as I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know. With some luck, you will have your package soon.” Alzen shrugged.
“The when is immaterial as long as it occurs,” he responded. “My current attire has proven to be more than adequate so far.” As if in response, he got to his feet and walked over to the window, looking out towards the sea. “Do not let her die. It would be a shame if that were to occur.” He scowled at the horizon. “She is useful. A useful link to the dragonkin.” He laughed softly to himself. “And what hides among them.” He glanced back over to Kaspar. “And what,” he whispered, as if afraid to say it, “of Zia’rakai?” Kaspar’s face turned serious again.
“Nothing, as has become the standard,” he reported grimly. “One of ours though he had caught sight of him, but was ultimately unable to subdue the target. As of now, we are wise to where he may be, but nothing more than that.” Alzen spat, looking angry.
“Fine. Such as it always is,” he allowed, although not graciously. “I cannot blame them, I suppose.” Almost carelessly, he trailed his fingers over the arcane markings on his face, looking thoughtful. “May, may, may. Always may. I feel we may do better to spare a few of the hunters to putting out feelers, instead. I hear the trees have moved, and with Grandas in a state it may not be long before... the creature makes another move.” His eyes hardened. “Despicable thing that it is.” Kaspar clasped his hands in front of himself.
“It will still be some time before the thing has any freedom to do so,” he remarked. “Sheltam still stands and still has Bloodkreigel on his side, even if his watchdog can no longer move freely. If he were to catch so much as a peep as to the creature making a move…he would not stop at crippling it, this time. And even in its state, his side still have far more strength than any glorified necromantic cult.” Alzen made a bitter noise.
“One day I will see it dead,” he muttered. “But for my reckoning, Sheltam has not long. I find it amusing that history is attempting to repeat itself so neatly. All they are missing is a pet bloodkreigel, and...” He laughed. “And Zia’rakai.” Kaspar gave out a low, soft chuckle, under his breath.
“Then what we can hope is for Sheltam to provide at least a few more weeks’ reprieve before the creature is freed,” he decided. “By my estimate, once they commission their ship, they will not reach Perunia before the end of two weeks, and Chequan will be another away from them at least.” He smiled thinly. “If you so desired, Alzen, I could take…precautions, in that time. It would be useful to have eyes and ears where we’re confident he might strike, before he ever does.”
“Yes, do,” Alzen agreed, turning away from the window and regarding the stone of the opposite wall with a thoughtful expression. “Let me know how it goes. Send Pitt to Grandas.” Kaspar responded with a purposeful nod.
“It will be done,” he promised. “Have you any further need of my presence?” Alzen shook his head, collapsing lazily back into his chair.
“Not unless you wish me to,” he responded, waving a hand carelessly. Kaspar inclined his head.
“Then so may it be,” he decided. “Shadow hide you, Alzen.” Turning sharply, he left the room again, cloak circling in a flourish and then, again, ghosting above the floor behind him as he walked out. Alzen snorted as the door was closed.
“As if I would want to walk in the shade,” he murmured, mostly to himself.
Edit: May 20, 12 11:40am
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
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May 19, 12 at 3:59pm ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Surprising most of the group, Buren turned out to be as good as his word; he left that night, once his casualties were in a fit enough state to be moved. In addition, and mercifully so, Luna’s injures turned out far less severe than those Juno and Riki had sustained in Orios; to the fact, by morning the next day, she was already healed enough to insist that they shut up about her wellbeing and keep moving. Personally, however, Corvan’s experience serving under her had taught him better.
He knew Luna would have done it even if she hadn’t been as well as she was.
Thanks to that, they were able to set off again almost as though they hadn’t been interrupted at all. From there, they were able to continue on without any further pause, and come the break of dusk on the fourth day, they finally arrived at the gates of the port, Perunia.
“Our last destination before Buroc,” Corvan remarked as they entered, only after he’d satiated the suspicious pair of guards on the gate with his mission statement and the Snowcap coat of arms on his cloak to prove it. “I’ll see if I still can sort out a ship for us tonight, so we can leave in the morning.” He looked back at Saïla. “Could you do me the favour of sorting out an inn for us?” She inclined her head once in confirmation.
“Sailing tomorrow,” Jakar repeated, looking around at the town thoughtfully, before glancing at Lucia. One of her nails had become suspiciously claw-like, and she was examining it pointedly. Jakar swallowed and remained decidedly silent.
“Two weeks’ worth, if I’m not mistaken,” Corvan agreed helpfully. “So, in other words, it will be a while until we see land and civilisation again. Given, I’d recommend that anyone interested make the most of our night here.” He turned his head, eyes going to the docks. “Ah, excellent. A moment.” He broke away from the group, heading for them.
“We must hope they do not set any assaults on us while we are on the water,” Marvin murmured. Riki was frowning, his eyes looking up at the sky, squinting in the cold light of the winter sun.
“Two weeks,” he murmured, his fingers moving as he worked out dates in his head. Saïla turned and walked off towards the Inn, no words of parting as she left.
“If we’re going to be out that long, we might want to do with stocking up on supplies while we’re here,” Rachael remarked, sounding thoughtful.
“Like potion components,” Juno grumbled, rifling through one of the leather pouches tethered to her belt, wearing a rueful look on her face. “I think the last time I actually had a chance to grab some more was back in Tuervon, and we’ve needed a good lot of healing since.” She shot a pointed look at Jakar. “And poison, Mr. Emulating-The-Assassins.” Jakar shrugged.
“Gotta keep up with the people that can kill you,” he reasoned. “I got morals, ‘s better than some of ‘em.” Juno shrugged.
“Well, it’s not like I mind the fine details,” she remarked, shooting another dejected look into her pouch. “What I mind is how many ingredients it blows through. Least it stops us being killed, else it wouldn’t be worth it.”
“One shopping trip for us, then,’ Rachael decided, sounding more amused at their banter than anything else. “And we won’t even have to be as money-cautious about it this time. There’re only two more stops left on this little journey of ours, after all.” She paused, considering it. “Two more stops…Gods. It’s been a while.”
“Well, I dunno what we’re goin’ up against, but never hurts t’ be prepared,” Jakar decided. “I’ll tell you what t’ buy.” Rachael nodded once, clearly taking it as a sensible idea.
“Probably for the best,” she decided. “I wouldn’t be able to tell very well, otherwise. I know enough about potions to keep myself going when it comes to it, but poisons…well, I can’t say I’ve needed them in past.”
“’d hope not!” Jakar replied, looking concerned. “Gen’rally a last resort to be fair.”
“And we’ve had to resort to a few of those since we started, yes,” Rachael added with a grimace. Near the back of the group, Luna took something of a thoughtful frown to her face, moving to their front.
“On the note of what we haven’t done since Tuervon, I suspect I rather need to check for missives from Snowcap,” she remarked, glancing about their surroundings. “Provided this town has a roost for mail pigeons, given how close they are to such a large city.”
“Perunia’s got pigeons,” Lucia cut in. “Verg used them sometimes, when he wasn’t portalling about like a dumbass.”
“Good,” Luna decided, her mouth a thin line of thought. “In that case, a moment.” In much the same vain as Corvan, she broke away from the group and headed off into town, albeit in the opposite direction their leader had taken.
Luna took some time in returning to their designated inn – long enough, in fact, that the rest of the group had long since brought themselves back. When she did come back, she sighted a table near the others and strode for it, sitting down.
“Apologies for the wait,” she remarked, her voice subtly, but markedly, subdued. “I never thought I’d have that much trouble finding a bloody pigeon roost.” Corvan waved it away.
“No bother,” he responded. “Were you sent anything?” Luna inclined her head once, placing a scroll out on the table in front of her.
“Mm,” she confirmed, her mouth set in a line and her eyes faintly troubled. “I’ve been called back.”
With his frown remaining firmly in place, Corvan glanced the letter over.
“Most all of Sheltam’s men have been driven from Aldysia,” he repeated, under his breath. “As such, we need every capable leader we can muster to watch over repair and cleanup duties, in our city and beyond…” Finishing the read, Corvan sighed and rolled the parchment back into a scroll. “So it seems.”
“Could you request to stay?” Rachael interjected from a nearby table, turning in her seat to face them. “Tell him you feel you’d be of more use to the cause here?” Luna gave her a rueful look.
“I could, but I doubt it would be much help,” she responded. “In admittance, His Majesty has a point. Sheltam is as good as finished, whether we fail from here or not, and no matter how you look at it…” She sighed, leaning back and looking up at the ceiling. “My job was nothing more than to warn the dragonkin, and clearly, they’ve responded well to that.” Exhaling slowly, Corvan cast a look to Saïla, seated nearby.
“What would you say of it, Saïla?” he asked, looking somewhat hopeless. “Given who and what we’ve lost already, could we afford it?” Saïla looked over, surprised at being involved in the discussion.
“The point is moot,” she offered. “Luna will lose her rank and position if she ignores an official missive.” She shrugged. “While I am sure we could use her aid, I think in our position one more werewolf will not swing our battle in either direction.” Corvan sighed deeply, but nodded.
“You have a point,” he murmured, looking back at Luna. “It looks as though the path is set.” Luna laughed softly.
“So it is,” she agreed. “Seems we’ll be setting off on different ships tomorrow. At least I can go back knowing we’ve won, and that I’ll be seeing you again.” Corvan nodded.
“If we win,” he concurred, but Luna gave him a hard, stern look.
“When you win,” she corrected.
“Sheltam will not live through this if I have my way about it,” Saïla offered as a compromise. Luna smiled slightly.
“Then we have that as a small comfort,” she decided.
In the dark of the night, the thief crept across the rafters of the Inn.
Jakar was a firm believer that talents not routinely used fell into disrepair, just like any other tool. While his combat and his stealth muscles had been getting rather more flexing than he would really have liked, his most important of skills had been neglected quite thoroughly – thievery.
So Jakar had made up his mind to steal something.
Jakar had never been a bad thief. Even as a child he’d had something of a knack for thievery that had led to his ma wearily disciplining him when she could be bothered to do so. He’d kept it up anyway. Not that they’d technically needed it, his ma being somewhat dubiously self-sufficient herself and his brother often turning up with expensive amulets for no apparent reason, but he’d figured that one day he would be out in the world on his own, and he’d much rather take things from other people than earn them himself.
He slipped out onto the roof and moved like a cat across it, before carefully lowering himself down to his mark’s window. Cautiously, he checked the hinge. The paint hadn’t crusted around the edge, so he got out his Toolkit.
Windows were designed to open with the latch on the inside, so opportunistic thieves like Jakar couldn’t just climb down and let themselves in. Jakar had learned a few tricks with incredibly thin wires to counter this unfortunate safety measure, and a tiny hole and five minutes of fiddling and mental cursing later, the latch clicked and he swung the window open.
He landed on the floor with a minimal amount of noise, his mark still sleeping quietly in their bed. A quick search of their bag produced a pouch full of gold, which he grinned at and threw up into the air once to catch. The coins went chink.
“Score,” he decided, before going over to his mark and shaking them. “Hey, Rach, your money is so not thief-proof.” Slowly, Rachael blinked awake, turning to locate the source of the voice.
“Wha?” she articulated groggily. “Jakar? What’re you…” Her eyes came to rest on her pouch, and even in her half-awake state, she somehow managed to look up and give him a masterfully unimpressed glare. “Really, Jakar? Really?”
“I was feeling rusty,” he replied, chucking her money back on the floor. “Felt it was fair to let you know so you didn’t get all paranoid in the morning.”
“You couldn’t’ve swiped Luna’s badge again?” Rachael complained, sitting up and irritably rubbing sleep from her eyes. “I’m sure the chase would’ve been good to remember her by."
“Diff’rence between you an’ her is that she’d kill me for it,” Jakar replied, looking serious. “I like my skin, y’know?” Rachael gave him a pointed look.
“This coming from the man who stole from us while Lucia was on watch,” she countered. “And, might I add, already stole Luna’s badge twice before.”
“Yeah but I didn’t know about the crazy cat lady,” Jakar protested. “An’, y’know, goin’ for the badge crosses a line after so many times.”
“So you choose tonight to decide to start being sensible. Joy,” Rachael muttered. “Although I guess I should thank you for the warning, at least.”
“T’ be fair, it’s only fair game for a thief of my level,” he offered by way of consolation. “There ain’t many o’ them who ain’t assassins to boot.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Uh, that was meant t’ make you feel better,” he added, looking rueful. Rachael gave him a half-heartedly unimpressed look.
“Naturally, I feel so much better,” she returned wryly, letting herself fall back onto the bed. “Now, is it safe to go back to sleep or have you set your eyes on some other shiny thing I happen to own?”
“Nah, I’ll leave you be,” he allowed graciously, opening the window again. “You an’ your gold.” Rachael shot him something between a smile and a smirk.
“Well then, I appreciate your generosity,” she informed him dryly, albeit sincerely. “Good night, Jakar. Not that I’m expecting you to go to bed when you’re on a roll.”
“’ll get shouted at if I don’t,” he disagreed, hopping out of the window and pulling it closed after him. The latch clicked shut.
Edit: May 20, 12 11:41am
"Don't be afraid of the dark and cold..."
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May 20, 12 at 1:48am ^re: Legacy of the Ancients [M] [Action/Adventure] [Novel] [C&C Very Welcome]
Pretty good chapter overall. Slade's break in was fun to read, and the rest of the chapter served as a nice send-off to Buren and Luna's plot. I will admit that part of me wonders if there could have been one more scene for Luna or Buren to sort out their feelings (about Buren and/or the group) before they left (just to give a better sense of conclusion), but it still works the way it is now.
Overal, good stuff.
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