It was the devil's mark in the days of Sooth when Leylocke Gadamir stepped from the Farplane.
A mage of war, yet he had no spellbook to speak of, his arcane knowledge confused and garbled. For magic did not behave as it did in the Outlands. Not here in this strange world where creatures worship his friends like gods, and hold him in ill contempt for his blasphemy.
To harness his sanity and rebuild his intellect, Gadamir called forth the one legacy of his people, a semi-sentient magical ink pen, buzzing about like a dragonfly; he called Lemira, and with her help he wandered the new world, absorbing every book he could. But he could not memorize everything, so he carried the scriptures with him, adorned upon his skin. This would become his spellbook; prepared and studied, he would cover himself in scrolls of his own flesh, each time wincing through the pain of unleashing his magic - each time it would burn a little deeper. Soon, the arcane weave would embed itself within him, some spells permanently infused into his blood, the flesh burned black by the untamed weave.
Each morning and each dusk, Gadamir would pull away his robes and sit half-naked in meditation, reaching out to the scorched surfaces of his skin, tugging upon the fragmented memories of magic in the Outlands. He would use this as his study, his preparation, his reflection, and his pain. And each day, with each new shred of companions, he would drift further and further from his world beyond.
But Gadamir's love for Io-Sooth would grow when he found himself under the care of the Auran people. The Skyborn, he called them, and his many years fighting for their independence in the name of Kord and Pelor would garner him a great respect from their elders, who gifted him a clutch of baby griffons. Now a Paladin of two gods, and a man of two worlds, Gadamir's code of ethics extended beyond simple coin for deeds. He saw the power of the arcane and divine, a righteous union of awesome power and responsibility. So he gathered others of his like mind, carefully selecting them for strict trials and valiant quests, all without promise of coin or treasure.
What he found was a lot of trouble, and was often in the frame to defend himself. But after ten years of discord, for every group that swore him off, there was one who stayed. And the ones who stayed were gifted the griffons, now trained and grown, and gathering more. Leylocke named them the Knights Of Duros; a blend of his world's greatest elder (an Elder Elemental from another time) and this world's Pelor, Kord, and Helm. An Allfayth was born under an ideal: protect the weak, defend the innocent, trade value for value, and keep your promises.
Before the turn of the age, Leylocke, now 180 and growing still older in a frail human body, left his legacy to a young captain, Sir Eres Black, and began a planar pilgrimage. He left at the turn of the tide, and never returned, but his deeds garnered such renown among the kings and queens of Erena that they gifted his memory with the eastern nation, home to his aviary of knights and the skilled artisans of Tal'Fune. Duros defended the shore, and would do so evermore...
Traditions and Codes burn hot in recent memory, but back then at the edge of Empyr, thousands of years past Gadamir's pilgrimage, the Knights were undergoing a revolution of ideals. Their code was one of sanctity, trust, and empathy, but rarely supported expansion. Gone were the days of the wizard-paladin, righteous beacons of knowledge and ethics, and as the water became more muddled, so did the idealogy.
The scale did shift with the swell of ranks under the leadership of two great Knights: a monk named Arthurian Dragoon and a warlock, named only Ortacana. Arthur was a militant man of strength, discipline, and order; he wore his tattoos proudly, adding to his ink notes of sentimental values and religious code. His followers did the same, emblazoning his teachings and the ancient interludes of Gadamir all over their bodies. Such a display amused Ortacana, and it could be this bravado that first drew her to him. Playful friendship became passionate romance, and the two spoke well of the order...and its need to expand.
With the blessing of Sir Hana Black, Ortacana and Arthurian ventured Westward, eager to set up an academy in the wondrous shorelines of Shefara. They righted wrongs along the way, gaining further renown and still more soldiers to their ranks. Now over 1000 strong, they set to the sea to find their future. And though there were threats, a combination like this, fortified with an ideal understanding of the weave, and the growing influential boons the entity called Vaeyen bestowed upon her champions, these valiant vanguards punched through the veils of the sea. Shefara was happy to have its champions, and the Flashburn Academy grew tenfold before the fall.
The Burn decimated the Knights of Duros. Thousands ripped from the weave itself, others gone mad by the culling. Countless deaths, the Knights tried to rebuild, but the shockwave sent from Ifa herself left Avianas and Tal'Fune in ruins. Further out from the impact point, at the westward reach, Flashburn was still standing. Shaking, but standing. An elderly Arthurian, desperate to reestablish order across the continent, dispatched all he could spare to douse the flames of discord and rally the people toward hope.
Arthurian found it in a merchant alliance. A drow named Breton Al'Frama. He had a small band of artists and engravers seeking refuge and sanctuary, and Arthurian welcomed them with open arms. Eager for knowledge, Breton asked many questions about the studies of Gadamir, and explained that magic no longer worked the way it was expected; that perhaps the Academy was the last great library of the weave before. The two became good friends in a short time, and the merchant guild was a curious, helpful sort; skilled in many things, they worked together to rebuild Shefara.
But Ortacana had been having nightmares; she said that Vaeyen was crying. Mourning the loss of her champions, and fearful of her waning power. She, an elder creature, was scared...a thought that would burn a hole so deep into Ortacana that it would shake her very soul. One night, while Arthurian still slept, she awoke in a trance-like state, wandering out toward the sea. The water parted for her, and she disappeared into the black...
Ortacana awoke on the surf, surrounded by bodies. She found the lost lives of her knights, their throats cut and drained dry. Sobbing and enraged, she pulled one back from the brink, ripping its soul back to her. "It was Breton..." It wheezed. "He got the others drunk and drugged..." Relinquishing the soul to rest, she scoured the academy for signs of life...and found none. What she did find, were the remains of her beloved and his consort; skinned and bled out.
"They were here...for our flesh." Her words carried with them the realization of an Elder's fear. That all that were marked by knowledge would become targets for those to eager to earn it themselves; that we were just goods and services to be claimed and bartered; and that our trust, our empathy, and our hope opened the door to monsters.
Even as the unmarked children ran to her, coming up from the hidden bunkers beneath the sand, Ortacana was shaking, and earth was rising around her. An elemental rage, raw and pure, and an acknowledgement of another voice deep within, like a seed sprouting. "Vaeyen...is that you? Am I to be your vessel, your haven, your mountain?" A rumble in her chest acknowledges. "Then you shall lend me all your power, and we will make safe the way..."
And Ortacana wielded the Elder as her Sword, summoning the angry spirits of her allies, an army of revenant souls. Perfect in their dread memories, and vengeful in their hearts, the Vagrant of Vaeyen and the Ghosts of the Flashburn sought out every "skinner" and scribe, killing and burning the bodies as they went... A dark tapestry of the swinging pendulum, her children spinning her threads into the tomes of our brethren.
And it is her example that we summon today.
Leylocke Gadamir was an idealist in a time where ideals were needed; he would feign to defend himself if there was but a chance to save the other. But Flashburn tells us that the Duros is dead, and we must discard this empathy for now and wear the dark shroud of dreadful purpose and ironskin. Only then can we usher back in the light. Only...when it is safe.
So bless your Ink, and harden your hearts. We build a better world, one body at a time.
--Imperiona Dragoon, Second of the Living Sun
"I am prepared to kill you. Are you prepared to die?"
He stands tall, a cut above the rest in this rabble. Dancing around them in the boots of a swashbuckler, his doublet never touching red, he smiles as he draws it from them, carving new scars into flesh.
It started as an insult of honor; a disrespect of the word "no", and a call to Apologize. The Instigator refused, drawing his axe and flipping a table. This cleared the floor. We were all poised to Adjudicate, but elders lay claim, and the sea captain called dibs.
Calm and collected, Micah took his space across the room, helping others away first. An older gentleman was taking his time, so the Slate turned to carry him to the edge. It was here the Instigator charged, eager to cut down a man of the Queen's Favor. But Micah is fast; everyone knows him to be. An expert of the breath between cuts.
In a flash of green, the axe flies from the man's grasp, embedding in the floor. A millisecond later, a gash appears on his left cheekbone. Such grace, such flash! A few claps chitter through the room as our reverend captain holds up one withered hand, "First Blood!"
The clapping stops as the big man sneers at the crowd, then sizes up his opponent. Micah, The Green Flame, stares back, his sword sheathed once more. "Your Dishonorable Form is noted."
Unimpressed, the big man spits in his face. "Note that." He growls and clomps back to his axe, hefting it back up onto his shoulder.
"Do you Apologize?"
The Big Man surveys the room, his rotten smile pulling at the sides of his mouth. I swear he makes a biting motion toward one of the girls - my friend, Bonnie. I feel my hand clench in anger around the wooden ladle in my hand, the wood whining against the pressure. "Easy, Jules." A firm hand claps onto my shoulder. Henrick, the owner of the Ravenwatch. "I know you're gunnin' ter Squireship, but you ain't built like it yet. The Slate is here; let it play out."
"No piece of strix here deserves an apology from the likes of me. I own this strip, I grew up here. With the licks I've taken, it is these buckets of filth that owe me!" He leers more at the crowd, taking a step toward Bonnie, who flips her tray and draws her dagger, flipping it face down. She's so cool. The Big Man seems amused. "Well would' ya look at that, you DO want to play with me..." And he charges her.
Another flash of green and the Big Man's on his back, fresh blood pooling at his bicep. He had taken two steps before Micah cut him off. "In case you didn't notice, your duel is with me. Your Dishonorable Focus is noted." Micah turns back to the captain, who nods, raising a hand.
The cheer rings out, "SECOND BLOOD!"
Micah's green blade stays drawn this time, his smile hardening to a cold glare. "I am prepared to kill you. Are you prepared to die?"
The Big Man's smile fades. "Fine." He turns to Bonnie and makes a big show of bowing to her. "Sorry for insulting your honor, and for bringing your mother into it. I. Was. Wrong." And with that, he picks up his axe, and leaves. A moment passes while Micah watches him and sheathes his sword. Then, we erupt in applause.
Micah buys everyone a round and receives a few handshakes before returning to his table. I feel Henrick press two steins into my hands and all but kick me in the Slate's direction. Old coot pushes so hard I lose my bloody balance and stumble right toward the table...but I don't hit.
"Easy there, buddy." Strong hands have caught me, and easily right my stunned form. "It's Jules, right?" Micah takes the two steins while I search for a reply.
"Ah, uh..." I wait for him to get bored with me so I can escape...but he's still staring at me a good ten seconds later. Say something, you idiot, or he'll think you're a mute! "Ah...yeah, kinda."
"Alright then, Jules Kinda. You work on that stutter you'll make an excellent Whisper someday."
I can feel the sweat already moistening the top of my head as my cheeks flush. Say it, say it, you moron, say it! I close my eyes, grab my dreams by the balls, and shout way too loudly. "I'D LIKE TO BE YOUR SQUIRE, LIR MICAH!"
I think Bonnie dropped a dish, or maybe it was Henrick coughing, but the room becomes still. Everything is quiet, save for the creaking boards under my shaking boot. Cursed left leg, shut up! I feel a hand touch my shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze. I squint my eyes open, face all scrunched up from embarrassment...and Micah's still watching me, beaming from ear to ear, hazel eyes warming me to my soul. "I'm honored, Jules. But I don't take Squires anymore. Ask around, though, I know of a few Slates willing to give you a Knight's Favor." He taps my stunned shoulder a few more times before heading back to his seat.
"Ack!" Apparently I'd been standing there a good five minutes staring at the floor, because Bonnie just smacked me.
"Get back to work, dreamer..."
It's late by the time Bonnie leaves. She gives me her usual hug and wink before gathering her things. Still a little starstruck, I've been slow in my chores, and she instead opts to help by sweeping so I can take the damn grease bucket out. It's been filling and boiling most of the dinner wave, so I don my Henrick's mitts and hoist the heavy pot out back.
I almost trip and eat strix down the stairs, still slick with the morning's grease and some stray liquor. "Gross..." As I investigate how badly my boots are sticking, a sound makes me freeze on the corroded stairs.
Clashing steel, followed by hushed voices. They're close. A duel? Stay still. I listen a little longer, the pot getting hot in my hands. A pained sound. Wait for First Blood. But there's no call. No Adjudicator? Wait, that means...
Against my better judgement, I inch around the corner stone, and I feel my eyes widen.
The Big Man, plus two others, blades drawn and hand-axes out, have surrounded someone. Whoever it is, they're having a hellova time drawing First Bl-
With a burst of green flame, one of the men is hurled backwards, fresh burns and lacerations coursing over his chest. Most of him charred but a few feet from me, he twitches, hurt but alive. With another flourish, I watch an armored mantle of green embers settle upon The Green Flame himself, defending his life against a band of Brutes. This was no duel. This was a three-on-one fight; a duel without honor.
The charred one stirs, reaching into his coat and pulling a vile of red dust, pressing to his lips. He downs it in a moment, chewing the ruby shards and I watch his injuries disappear as he draws a wicked curved dagger dripping with poison from a hidden sheath. He dashes forward behind the Big Man's shadow. Micah won't see him in time!
"Lir Micah, look out!" The words had already echoed against the brick and danced their jig along the stone before my better judgement could catch them, and I flinch at the flying sparks of clashing steel. In a haze, I look up with dread to see...Micah parry the blow, running the man through with an extra burst of fire. I grin stupidly, before a meaty hand smacks me across the face.
I stagger backwards, my thoughts swimming, and stare into the angry golden eyes of the Big Man from before. He cracks his knuckles and bears down on me.
So I pour the grease on him.
Cooled and half-congealed, the grease spills out in slippery slabs, coating the ground in front of me. The Big Man, with all his momentum, steps once, twice, and falls flat on the cobblestone with a crack. I let out a giddy giggle, shocked by my own victory.
And then something hits me square in the gut.
"No!" Micah yells more my way, but I can't make it out. Everything's fuzzy. So I take a deep breath...except I can't.
"Hey! Hey man." A clatter of steel. Something was dropped. "I give up. I wish to cross." I look up, vision blurring. The last man falls to his knees, begging, hands up. "I wish to cross! Please, I-" and then Micah cuts his hand off, blood pouring out from the stump. "You have to keep it open, you have to -- ygergk!" He sputters as the blade, brimming with arcane acid, plunges through his heart.
The Slate leans in close, but I hear the whisper. "The Door was always open. You closed it the moment you threw a knife at a child."
Hands trembling, I grasp the hilt embedded in my stomach. It's a long blade; I wonder if it went all the way through. I bet Bonnie would love to have it in her collection. "Lir Micah..." I pull it out.
He remembered my name. It's the wrong name. I have to...
He takes my hands in his, warm blood spreading down my legs. I slide down the cold brick, and sit with my eyes locked on his. With life flowing out of me, I lend all that I am to this moment. "Please... Please... It's Julien. Julien Tiana..." His brow furrows, and he nods gravely. Propping me up as best he can, he takes a knee before me, plunging his blade into the Big Man's corpse. He rests its edge on my shoulder, wiping the blood upon the cloth. I feel the tears well up; I've been given a great honor already, but then he begins speaking.
With this your first blood, I impart the Knight's Favor upon thee.
It is your choice to accept the bond of the Three.
To uphold the Gentlemen's Code,
To draw when the Name is forsaken,
To suffer the words of Ill and Grave,
And to leave the Door open, until it must be closed.
If you accept these terms, in your heart and your soul,
Then my Squire you are, and you are not alone.
"Then rest, Sir Julien Tiana. We will face many foes tomorrow."
And as the tendrils of pain and red fade to numb and black, I am content to join them at the gates. I feel the smile tuck at the corners of my face, wet with tears. I am eager to take up arms... Tomorrow. Yes. Just, let me rest a bit. I am so very tired...
The mists do sift
This transient rift.
A minstrel of the wheel,
Our stitches will heal,
Sown into the heart of the gift.
Lessai of the shift,
The Old Code of the drift,
Guardians of the Seal.
A pierce to glare.
A spirit might lift,
Though the seas might list,
A weighted grip must feel,
As in home, as in steel.
As in the gate to the broken rift.
Bury the needle into the seed,
And sow the future we desperately need.
THE SEVERED WING
Mission and History: The Severed Wing emerged out of fire and death at the turn of the age. A zealous banner to rally the people under fealty and purpose in a time of chaos, their leadership stands as a pillar of order in history. They are the voice of the hurt; loud and militant, they boast to stand on the brink - soldiers of the fallen deity - to punish those that threaten the balance of Io.
The death of The Weavemaster has proven cataclysmic to the planet and the planes that surround it, and inaction will only steer us toward destruction. The only way for us to atone for our mistakes is to reclaim the pyres that drove us into the dark; our faith must be in ourselves, driven by the Rage Within, and justified by the Lawmaster himself, we will rebuild the world.
Head: Matriarch Saoir and Adjudicator Blake
Mothers: Relian, Thoria, Nelefi, Aeraria, Mytho, Sen, Ilonos, Holly, Ella-Rose.
Fathers: Jaka, Horace, Faerd, Jerelt, Gaern, Archer, Cooper, Lauchlan, Tristan, Lennon, Joseph, Odhran, Macleod, Arran.
Father Arkham (deceased); Father Striade (deceased); Father Tobias (exiled); Father Ventus (exiled);
Headquarters: The Winged Citadel - Stormwrack
Notes: This scribe writes these words with skepticism, as none of the Lost Pantheon have ever appeared to denizens here in the Storm's Bastion, the platitudes of this faction are based upon, well, blind faith. The obvious trope represented is, of course, that the creature believed to be the entity of magic and the tempest was the one to have fallen, hence the state of the world, but there is no tangible proof. It is just as likely that these banners and statutes are merely a vehicle to commit violence, as demonstrated by recent events. While the Blades hunt down the remaining Zealots in the streets, this scribe loses little sleep in regards to the severance of this particular faith, as their methods leave much to be desired by those under their scrutiny. But, as always, time will tell.
THE CONFLUENCE OF LIGHT
Mission: When the world broke, it shattered. Its shards rained down upon the people of Io, and the knives of our consequences crushed so many. Yet, the cosmos smiled - a confluence of light and warmth to carry the people once again. But no entity on its own could carry such a weight, so by Jenora's grace, we, the Confluence, bring forth an alliance of faith. A Trinity of Suns, held aloft by the Four Pillars of the Alliance, we shall weather the Storm with poise and warmth. Come and rest by our hearthstone. You will be welcome.
Head: Lightbringer Ilvana Orshia
Notes: There was a moment in this scribe's life where I was befallen by hunger and blight, and it was the Confluence that saved me. Their homogenous robes of white and gold, even their strange winged apparati, are all symbols of hope. The help they give is often thankless, and anonymous, and if by Pelor's light, or Kord's strength, or Sarenrae's redemption...no matter your faith, absent or present, they care not. Ask, and you will be helped. With the Citadel taking flight and the Matriarch silent, the Confluence's consistency will be something the entire city will need. Look for the wings in the crowd.
THE SPIRE OF THE RAVEN QUEEN
Mission: A city is bleeding, slow rivers of denial running down the ramparts of our desire, pooling in the mists of mythos and whispers. Here, the darkness growls, and the Raven watches. Its talons sharpen, its prey shrinks away, and in a flash of feathers, the lesser walk in peace, none the wiser.
Head: Seeker Hendragon Marina
Seconds: Vagrance Keana Orowind; Loremaster Ruse Rosa
Notes: this scribe has yet to witness the Spires at work, but their presence in the recent events is unnerving. A secret police powered by the abhorrence of undead and unnatural beings sounds good on the surface, but the Storm's Bastian is too often a haven for those entities seeking to rally against their nature. I fear the lens through which such fervent oaths are viewed, and how such cracked glass may skew the vision.
Have you located the Eye, yet?
I do not wish to hear it, Miss Scabbard.
You'd best get used to it. Here, your mistakes will be remembered.
I cannot be held accountable for the many imperceptibles in a cluster of strix.
Actually, you can. This is war, Mr. Flint. Moves and countermoves. Even standing still is an act of movement. A failure to act that has compromised one of your own.
A temporary setback. He can track it easily.
But a setback, nonetheless. You'll have to learn patience in the field. Don't rely so much upon the martial abilities of your Hats. Though effective they may be, you must admit, they've been a bit messy.
The Shiver's presence forced our hand.
Did it now? As I recall, it was still roaming the basement when the scaffolding fell in my favorite theater.
I thought one of our tenets was not to become attached, Miss Scabbard?
Assets are still assets, dear replacement. Do not lose sight of future opportunities just because you have commitment issues. Only the strongest of resolve can make the most of a situation.
And what strings are you fit to tug on, Miss Scabbard, and how many hearts will be broken by the end?
Don't worry, yourself, darlin'. They won't be any of yours.
Good evening, my lovelies.
Good evening, My Sovereign.
A good evening, indeed. Many clouds on the horizon; a tempest promised. Miss Scabbard, how fares your Sword?
She has entered a process of temperance, My Sovereign. Soon, she will be reforged, and sharper than ever. Her song is set to a strong tether.
It does seem that there might have been casualty?
Mistakes were made; hands were forced.
Your mistakes, Mr. Flint. Your hands. If you cannot control them, I hold no qualm in removing them from your body. If they are diseased and inept, they will be cut out. Do not ever forget what happened to other man in this station.
Yes... My Sovereign. With your infinite wisdom, how do you think it best to proceed?
Find the Dim Fox, Mr. Flint. The Echo won't be far behind. Bleed him if you have to.
Get all that, Mr. Flint?
It will be done, My Sovereign.
Pray that it is, if you value your hands as much as your excuses. ...Be well, my lovelies.
Goodnight, My Sovereign.
Somewhere on a rooftop overlooking the steel forest of Stormwrack...
"Sava, my darling, are you there?"
One in the chamber, two up the hill, five to get started, and four on the hill. "I have never left, My Sovereign."
"Excellent. Did you get my gift?"
Long metal core with a silver strand, crystalline ether and a cunning brand. I eye the metal box, punching in the only code that makes sense. A satisfying hiss escapes the gap as a hatch rises revealing a long outer barrel and a long fissure down the shaft that shifts with smoke and electricity.
"Sent straight from the Assembly. They call it an Anti-Matter Rifle. I think you'll be pleased with its range. I apologize; it is, unfortunately, rather loud."
It glows blue in my grasp, brimming with life, clarity in death's clasp, into each bullet I shall pour my strife. "It is beautiful, My Sovereign." I run my bare fingers over the cool metal; it's lighter than I thought it would be. Balanced.
"I thought you would like it."
"Is there a special occasion?"
"...A storm is coming. It may just be the perfect time. I need you to be my Lance again, sweetheart."
A fleeting sense, a rising breath, calm and dense, I summon death. "I would pierce the moon for thee."
"I fear nothing so extravagant, my love. Just a simple Field Test."
"Thy will be done, My Sovereign."
"Good girl. I look forward to your symphony of thunder. Aim low, and happy birthday."
Happy birthday to me...
It is no secret that the Elderburn changed things. It is a heavy heart to carry the burden of knowledge to antiquity and beyond, but this the lot I have thrown in with.
To leave magic to its ends is a folly and a farce. We students of war and arcanum understand the order of things; injuries can be mended by faith, the gods exist as entities as real as each of us, and the laws of magic are forever maintained.
But I felt the death of the Druids; eons of shepherds and timeless elemental law burned from the memory of the world. I felt the shift; not a crack in the weave, but a flood. The Font of Magic blown open; it entered the world without measure or tempo, and some creatures were unprepared. It slaughtered them, and took their energy, pouring their Ashes back into the weave.
My herbalism and botany has served me well - science is powerful, but arcanum is once again mysterious; all that we have learned is now rendered wrong. Spells do not behave as they did before, and only those who adapt by force of mind and will and study can find the answers.
But this study will be dangerous, my brothers and sisters. It has already claimed the lives of so many, as we seek to unlearn ourselves. To sift through the ruins left by our pride. In an age of discovery, there will be casualties of the body, mind, and immortal soul.
To my priests, my clerics, my soldiers of fortune - do not weep long. We are in need of your faith in the people of Io; the gods have grown tired of us. We must reclaim the Scorched earth for ourselves.
And still, fear grips me.
An image haunts my dreams. An idea; unrelenting, all-encompassing, the Last Law of the world. Like the sun and moon, the flowing seas and writhing tempests, the only Primal that remains.
Some forces try to slow the clock; stay the hands of age and seasons. Others speed forward toward destiny, eager to meet it before they're ready. These creatures are simple; we've dealt with them before. This is not my warning.
There are others. I see them, like broken tendrils of magic; loose threads of possibility. They lurk in the nightmare, obscured and secret. They wear many faces, use many names, and speak many lies. They aren't here to manipulate the clock. No, they seek to break it.
Imagine, my brothers and sisters: an endless age of chaos. An undulating mass of terror and fear, where the monsters are real...and invisible. Where voices are spoken, but the world is deaf, and nothing changes.
We say "the pendulum swings." What if it were to never swing back?
And this is why I study. I will study forever. I will fight for the magic of the world, for those left behind by the first rapture; it may take centuries, but I fight for the clock. For time is the Last Bastion; the great equalizer. It is my only weapon, ancient and immortal.
And I choose it to be my Sword.
-- The Memoirs of Daniel Miller, Loremaster
---- Recovered by Cidrynn Valsoro, Blackstaff
One step, two step, three step, four.
How many sins knock at your door?
Five step, six step, seven step, eight.
How do you plead on this night of Fate?
"GUILTY! The whole lot of 'em!" Hargus Haygen Habbernath, the triple H himself, slams the tankard down, ushering in another wave of jeers and applause. He settles back into his seat, rolling a cigar along his lips and adjusting his stained coat, still slick with rain.
"Really, Trip? How many this time?" Teagan Scheherazade, of the Sultan Press, raises an eyebrow at the large man before synching up his thin crimson tie. He leans back, pressing into the booth's cushion, careful to avoid any excess spittle.
"Relax, tea kettle. This one's on me. All I need is a piece."
"Too far, too slim, Trip. Everyone sees you as the lord of conspiracy, but none of it holds water. How deep are you willing to go here?" Teagen sips from his personal bamboo cup, keen to keep as much of himself from making contact with the table.
"Alright, alright. Fine. You want a trickle? Here it is." Hargus leans forward, pulling a wad of parchment from his coat's deep pockets. He spreads them out, opening a quill with his teeth, and begins tracing lines along a sea of names.
Teagan massages his brow. "I didn't ask for a sypher, Trip..."
"No, no, tea kettle. It'll make sense...it's confusin' on purpose. See here?" he points to a name, "This, uh, 'doctor' Cefarion? Yeah? From the hospital two disses up? Yeah...ain't no doctor. I seen her; runs down to the docks - speaks to a man in a dark cloak - trades packages. ...I'm betting it's drugs." He licks his lips, and leans in closer. "I'm bettin' it's Strain."
"Kahna, Trip. No way the caretakers need that crap. Bury it."
"Fine, but what about that Surtur game?"
"Oh Hargus, not this again..."
"I mean it, kettle. The pirate broadcast, the call to arms, and then that wacko storm and the quarantine police!?"
A well-manicured hand rises. "Would you keep your voice down?" Teagan leans in a little closer. "The Guild's shut down; we don't have champions if we need them. Now is NOT the time to have the Horsemen blowing smoke up my ass."
A mischievous grin spills across Hargus's face, broken teeth poking through. "'Cept I know who that new Horse is. I've got his name. Maybe even an address."
"And what of it, Trip? What good comes from-
"They've been lyin' to us, Tea! All of 'em!" Teagan immediately sits back, his eyes deftly scanning the perimeter and meeting a few gazes. He glares until they return to studying their own drinks. But Hargus is far from done. He sways forward, pulling himself over the table, crawling like a rabid beast toward the suit. "That weren't no storm, and it weren't no wildfire that burnt up Utriena. It was a coup... In-fighting between the cloaks and daggers." He begins frothing now, backwash and bits of mutton splattering from his words as he growls shy above a whisper. "Ain't ya' never heard of Mr. Curse?"
"...You stink of the pigs and you're as mad as the Druids that spawned you. I'll have none of your alchemy; you can burn on your own." Teagan shoves himself out of the booth, scooping up his fine duster and donning his hat in one movement. A few clip steps and he is gone.
"Hey! Tea!" But he's already out. "Hmph. Pussy." Hargus spits on the ground where his friend once stood, and turns on the table. It echoes its creaking insults and stained laughter...so he drives his fists into it with a roar.
"You! You break Gigi's stuff, Gigi breaks YOU!" The heavy footfalls of the minotaur close the distance immediately...
Welp. There goes a rib. Nothing a bit a' whisky and a nap won't fix. Mama said I always heal quick, anyway...
Hargus rises, bones creaking and chest sore from the beating and the alcohol. Fresh rain patters over his trench coat while he fishes his hat from the overflowing gutter. With a pop and a snap, he stands up, waddling his way down the narrow streets and cobblestones of Spyrelight.
An errant raven cries overhead, and for a brief moment, Hargus Haygen Habbernath, the triple H himself, contemplates how best to spend the gold that will undoubtedly be promised for the truth on the tip of his tongue. At least, this is what he would have thought, had a thunderclap not resounded so forcefully, as if it ratcheted through his own skull and shattered his senses. His knees buckle, and his body crumples like broken twigs.
Any eye that passes assumes another drunkard, face down in a ditch, and no one notices the tiny river of blood draining from a fresh hole between his eyes...
One in the chamber, two at the side, three for a lever, and four to hide.
As blood pools thin, I try to ride,
This rush I feel,
"Is it done?"
"Yes, my Sovereign."
She exhales; a beautiful, satisfying sound - like wind over leaves. "Well done, Sava. You are a sapphire among bedrock. Your next assignment is moving... are you sure you wish to tackle a third this evening?"
"Do not worry, my Sovereign..." Another casing slides into place, the receiver clicking closed. I rest the stock while I pull back the hammer and a rush of breath catches, waiting for another release. "I could do this all night..."
Promises and fallacy, I listen. I ask it questions never answered, yet I listen as its tongues flick and shudder against my skin.
Crackling visions and shattered memories, it dances across the skin.
Freya loved fire. You love it now, my beloved, a gift sent from the ground. Let it course over your mask, finally crack the porcelain that covers you.
Will you not stir? The ashes have risen. It is time to wake up. HE cannot hurt you anymore; HE does not twist your voice, it is only I. Only us.
...It is alright. Here, let me help you.
I'll carve into your feathers and peel back the husk to reveal your smiling face within. You wear my canvas again and again, and I paint my skin with your colors, mixing it with the salt of my tears, slicing away at my mask until I am raw inside and out. I feel The Beast in my bones; HE forms hooks from my marrow, and pulls my ether toward the void.
Tell me my art is beautiful. Stroke my hair from my face. Play. Play. Play with me. ...Or tell me who can. Who can stay the knife, who can stay the hand, who can pull me from HIM. He waits for me in the dark; a canvas of dusk and metal and teeth.
Let this dream become a nightmare, no, let me wander just a bit more. I see you, I see HIM. The hooks tear and bind, bleed and pull. Surrounded by ash and smoke, I trace your lines in the cosmos, and wear your scent as the fire dances.
Show me, Freya. Show me the feather.
Watch as it traces the many faces surrounding her. Secrets. Musings. Accusations. A river. A tower. A lady. An egg.
A face. New lips. Onyx hair, soft curves, and inviting eyes. Yes, an Invitation.
She kept your feather; tucked it away as something precious. You have passed your relic, Freya. This form no longer your reliquary. I the flames spread, and flinch as a sob enters my ears. A child nearby - mewling and broken.
But not me. I am not broken. I am a dancer. My wings are immortal, fire my blood, and pain my pleasure. The hot air wisps under my white wings and I soar into the night.
Every time you are lost, I find you. Just hold on, my starlight.
Do not blink. Hold me in your gaze just a bit longer.
Please don't blink...
The gnawing teeth are moving. Pawan to Siphon Three. 3P-1S-2R 3
Sprinting without scamper, it seems. Good way to get skinned. Smith to Tang Four. 3P-1S-2R 4
A ghastly fate, indeed, Mr. Silk. Raptor to Tang Seven. 3P-1S-2R 7
Shall we move shipments? They'll certainly be raided by this riffraff. Pawan to Siphon Four. Smith Shift to pool. 3P-1S-2R 4
Rinsa is still in our pocket. The Auroran will keep them safe, as they always have. No need to be alarmed. Pawan to Tang Six. 3P-1S-2R 6
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Forgive my worry, Mr. Curse, but the Lockgnaw are not to be misjudged. All it takes is a tiny grain to tip the scale, and these creatures are getting smarter. Raptor to Siphon Six. Raptor takes Pawan. 3P-1S-2R 6
Miss Scabbard raises a fair point, my dears. These creatures appear to have a chieftain as of late; organized, and hungry. Raptor to Tang Two. 3P-1S-2R 2
A Shiver was killed while in their midst. If they spread any further, a purge may be needed. Pawan to Tang One. 3P-1S-2R 1
Must we burn them? Could they not be culled? Seems a waste of resources to kill them now. Raptor to Siphon Seven. Raptor takes Raptor; Raptor Knight armed. 3P-1S-1R-1RK 7
We won't waste a dime if they stay put, Miss Pike. With the market flanked, they've got no reason to move. Smith to Tang Eight. 2P-1S-2R 8
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
Hunger drives all growing packs to move, Mr. Curse. Observance in their behavior suggests a change of tactics. Pawan to Siphon Five. 3P-1S-2R 5
Mr. Oro seems weak in the legs; has he been tested, has he been tried? Raptor to Tang One. Raptor takes Pawan. 3P-1S-2R 1
Rinsa is a fine distraction; the Auroran are the prize. The rest are scum. Pawan to Tang Four. Pawan takes Pawan. 2P-1S-2R 4
No need for such language, Mr. Shade. Lest we forget; the Blood Fated is there. Or shall I ask your wife for clarification once again? Knight to Siphon Eight. Knight crushes Smith. 2P-1S-1R-1RK 8
Many assets gather in Utriena. My record speaks for itself. We run business better than any Grin on payroll. Raptor to Tang Two. Raptor takes Raptor; Raptor Knight armed. 2P-0S-1R-1RK 2
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
Blood mage or dice thrower, the eyes of luck have not smiled on you for some time, Mr. Curse. I worry for your future enterprises. Raptor to Siphon Two. Raptor takes Knight; Raptor King armed. 3P-1S-1R-1K 2
Perhaps he could take over management at the Howling Den. I hear the Rainmaker has gone missing, and that is some prime real estate... Raptor to Tang Two. Raptor takes King; Raptor Knight armed. 3P-1S-1RK 2
Leave the Rain and Sooth alone. They serve the city, more than any market you know. Pawan to Tang Seven. 2P-1S-2R 7
The siren's song has pierced your stoic demeanor, Mr. Shade. I hadn't set you for a romantic. Raptor to Siphon Seven. Raptor takes Pawan. 2P-1S-1R-1RK 7
My lady of luck smiles each day in the hearts and minds of denizens below the law. I am their champion, if never they know my name. Pawan to Tang Two. Pawan moves Raptor Knight to Siphon Eight; Knight and Knight are obliterated. 2P-0S-1R 2
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
So much faith in the strung out and discarded. Are you sure that you haven't been wafting the Ash as you go? Raptor to Siphon One. Raptor takes Raptor; Raptor Knight armed. 3P-1S-1RK 1
Come now, Miss Scabbard, accusations will mar his feelings. You know how touchy he can be. Pawan to Tang Seven. Pawan moves Raptor to Tang Three; Raptor takes Pawan. 3P-1S-1RK 7/3
If he is huffing it for himself, at least he's learning something. True pain is the greatest teacher. Snipe Raptor for Raptor. 2P-1S-1R N/A
If it is any consolation, Mr. Curse, I see bright flames of chance and opportunity dancing in your eyes. My visions are always pure and always true. Raptor to Siphon Two. Raptor takes Raptor Knight; Raptor King armed. 2P-1S-1R-1RK 2
Stay your hands. It appears that I am out. My market calls me, anyway. Do have fun in my absence. 2P-0S-0R Forfeit.
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8
Lo there, my darlings.
Lo there, My Sovereign.
Let it be known that our Mr. Curse has not only outstayed his welcome in our guild, but has outlived his usefulness to our cause. A severance is in our best interests. Miss Scabbard, is your sword prepared?
She is, my lady.
Then see that it is done, my lovelies.
Yes, My Sovereign.
Hampton rolls his cigar in his mouth, a thin veil of sugar and saliva congealing over his lips. A dry cough bubbles up as he spews smoke toward my face. "What do you make a' this one, Bolt?"
I slide my disgust back inside my duster, fishing the gloves from within. Their silk and leather stretch across my fingers; a shield from the leeching tendrils of his aura. How this man ever made captain, I will never understand. Useless humans and their fringer habits.
This city has an anathema. A far cry from my Feathertongue. From the stone inlays to the cracked cobblestone, everything here...is wet. A thick film already sticks to my coat; I am slick with it. The stink of liquor, tears, and regret. No wonder the dragonborn left.
It is a girl this time. Eyes still open, gazing up at the stars when life left her. It seems she was smiling when she died; a curious dichotomy to the twisted mess of flesh and bone that lay beneath her, like a gnarled bit of discarded meat. The spriggan, a frail stick of a creature, was snapped several times - no cuts, no bruises, just...broken. The girl; fine silk and cashmere, beautiful rings without the sigil of a house, circlet and bracelets that hold the dress of sky and water together, framing her fine corset and flowing curves. A young maiden - fleeing from the confines of her noble city to consummate her brigand of a boy.
They thought they were safe. A pretty, pretty princess playing too far from the eyes of her guards.
I tug at the fingers of my glove; the last one yielded so little. Will this one yield more? I'll never forget it...but it may provide another piece to this spectral puzzle. I exhale long and slow, then rip the glove off, pressing two fingers upon the girl's forehead. I poor my will through the conduit forged of my precursor and wait.
Hammering rain. Soft flutters of breath. A suppressed giggle. Soaked feet. Blurred sight. A tiny chill, but too late to act.
The images are slow at first, like trickling water. But the flood increases. I feel her heart rise, her blood boiling in anticipation. Excitement. Terror. Uncertainty. Absolute fear. Ecstasy. Numb. Falling and staring. A woman; clad in leathers and covered in blood. She paints the wall, singing to herself, as I feel life drain from me - blood washed away by the rain, seeping between the stones. She finishes her symphony upon the wall, and watches me with dread curiosity in my last moments. Her eyes transfix me - hold me there, too big, too bright, too alive.
I return, and my hands are shaking. That woman...never blinking. I suppress the shudder, but the words escape me before I can bite my tongue. "...Druid."
"What'd you say?"
I pull the glove back on as I rise, stealing one last glance at the princess. You never should have left home, little girl. These nights are cold and full of murder. Spinning on my heels, I address the captain. "This was a mercy killing, my dear Hamp. ...Now, be a good boy and close her eyes for me."
"Excuse me? Why?"
"Because... I do not sully my hands with the bodies of traitors."
Game On! Director, Gray Owls Game Master
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