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Mag

LotE: The Descent

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Humans are governed, much as the world is, by sets of facts. Where, for the earth, facts alter landscapes and shape horizons, denote coastlines and scorch soil, the more emotionally-inclined derive from them thoughts. We are touched by facts not without, but within. In the soul, or heart, or nervous system. Empathy, sympathy – we can feel one another’s pain and loss and happiness and hate and anger and love, even if it is not ours. A mother winces as her child trips, a father smiles fondly at his daughter’s wedding. Two friends drink to a third’s success, and a widow sobs somber once a year. Our faces are mirrors of the world, but not perfect. Each is unique in the way it reflects the histories that have happened, the events that are, and the promises that will be.

Nonetheless, for all this individuality, we are still presented with the same set of facts. We all see the same things that move us and shake us. We live with each other, not against.

These were the facts that were currently presented to the residents, refugees, and travelers of the Valley:

Isore had fallen. Eight hundred thousand dead in a day, the fate of the other 1.5 million, unknown. There was no soul brave enough to venture into the ruins of the Walled City to find out. Many escaped as refugees. Many of those refugees were burnt to ashes by the dragon-fires that ravaged the Isorian forests.

The dragons of legend had begun to awaken. Old wives’ tales had become more and less than mere fictions. Children did not know whether to laugh or to cry that their fantasies and nightmares were realities. Those in Isore never had the chance. Casualties of myth – and we once wondered what fate befell those in the flood when God smote the earth for sin, what happened to the men and women of the cities when the Olympians met Typhon in desperate melee.

When the sun rose this morning, it was through a haze of inky black that drifted across the eastern horizon. The ashes and charcoal from the Isorian fires were blown wayward to the north and though by now they are thin and feeble and nothing more than a shadow on the horizon, “harmless,” they are still made of homes and bones and the ashes of the dead. A reminder to we who are quick to forget, that yesterday has happened and that tomorrow is no more hopeful. The sunrise is bleak and dark. The end of the night is nothing more than a formality. No great, God-sent symbolism awaits us there.

There was no way to flee but to the distant west coast, to the sea. The ships were beginning to fill. Perhaps they were already full. Perhaps they were almost sinking beneath the weight of the frightened. Heavy hearts make for heavy ships that bob on the ocean’s gray waves, and all it’d take is a pinprick to make the tension break into pieces. Nothing more than a pinprick. Perhaps the ships, too, were a myth (it would be a good season for myths). They were spoken of in hushed tones, in bars and taverns full of rabid rumor and hysterics. The Western City-States were across the long and unforgiving Oestean Desert. Hundreds of miles of death for the chance at life – better than the handful past which lay certain death to the East, they all agreed.

Could you imagine, what makes a man agree to suffering? And in a place such as the Valley, that knows no such thing. For the first time, in a long time, in a timeless place…

The air shudders and shivers and feels alive. With fear, with desperation – all those things that civilization tries to purge from us, the emotions that lurk beneath the conscious and make themselves known only in times when we cast away thought, intelligence, sapience, for the comfort of instinct. Comfort. It hangs on their words as they pretend to haggle with the caravaneers westward-bound, ready to pay any price to bring their families towards the waning light of sunset. If they can’t afford the prices that steepen with every circuit of the sun, then it is the air that makes him consider, for a second, the wallets and pockets of other. And the next hour, he’ll consider it for a minute. A man feels his spine chill as he walks down the alleys after a long day, praying for tomorrow to come take him away, and in the same breath praying against tomorrow. Each midnight is a midnight closer to an escape. One way, or another.

In the night, the horses toss and turn sleeplessly in their stables, and the streets are quiet and likewise sleepless. The Valley has a plague upon it, this electricity that makes all our hairs stand on end and robs us of the idea of peace. Even if it is quieter than it’s ever been, even if the air is so still that even the flap of a butterfly’s wings cannot blossom into a hurricane regardless of principle. Because it’s too still, see, because it’s playing dead. It’s forcibly frozen. If one speaks too loudly, it’ll shatter like glass. It’s a hospital, and we’re waiting on someone to die, because it’s inevitable. We are the dead.

Tucked away behind and beneath all of this thickness, this atmosphere that feels like a stretched thread that’s given into its fate, there is a little dram of madness. There are teaspoons of it sprinkled among a handful of people. Madness! I could call it hope if I liked, but it’s not hope. It’s self-love, the musings and machinations of the lifeless and disturbed, it’s anger, it’s hate and cat-killing curiosity and resignation. It’s folly, idiocy, the boy who strikes deals with demons because he thinks that his blood and his soul is worth selling for an instrument. It’s madness, it’s lunacy, it’s suffering.

But it is neither fear nor desperation. For this, we can call it hope, because we have nothing else. So there in the Valley, tucked away behind and beneath the suffocating tension, despite the horrors and atrocities, despite the deaths of a million and the insurmountable obstacles that face them, despite themselves and damned emotion…

The fact is that there are a few people with hope.


THE CLINIC

RELEVANT PARTIES

 

 

 

@Mag

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The room in which five of these people slept was still. There was one girl and a half-dozen motes of dust in the sunbeams and the distant scent of coffee, and these were all the things that moved, however lazily. Four of five beds were marked by crumpled sheets and an absence of warmth. Not for the weather – autumn afternoons in the Valley, and especially this autumn afternoon in the Valley, were warm and dry – but because Madon, Jinsoku, Judas, and Bolt had left to find greener pastures in the city, somewhere better than here to pass the time that slipped by. Lily, alone and preparing to read quietly beneath her sheets, was unsure what greener pastures were out there.

This was her town. She had lived in the Valley her entire life. A five-year-old orphan is found in the desert; what could they do? “It takes a village,” the saying goes, and it took The Valley to raise her. The town was as much family to her as she was kin to herself. She remembered the wild vastness of the desert spreading out between her toes as she played among the dunes. She remembered the streets that were choked with the scents of cinnamon and spice, and food from the farthest reaches of Nar Oeste, and gruff men crowded around gruff fires with laughs like gold and soft fleece. She knew that two steps out from this inn-become-clinic, one could meander down to the left and take the second right, and there would be a bookstore run by a middle-aged woman, Mas Andstromm, who took great offense if you pointed out the grey streaks in her hair that she obviously tried very hard to hide beneath more youthful locks.

Lily bit her lip and shifted onto her side, half her face buried in the pillow. The other eye – her good one – traced the whorls and hard lines on the page thoughtlessly, staring blankly at the handy penmanship of Exarch Laslow Steelshield. She could feel the sun through the window warming her bare back through the thin linens. The dull thrum that rustled through the drowsy air was probably the noise of the street outside. It weren’t as loud as that which she remembered, and the noise was a lot closer to white than it was to the vibrant colors it should’ve been. The blue notes of the cellos, the reds of haggling, the yellows and browns and greens and fiery orange that symbolized the frantic welcoming of another massive caravan.

This was not her town anymore. It had been less than a month since she’d left the Valley she remembered, at midnight, clasping a dragonstone and a heart so full of vigor and hope and determination. She still had the dragonstone. She still had her heart. Her hand pressed absentmindedly against the bandages covering her chest.

It must’ve been the city that changed in the meantime, then, because the young woman hadn’t.

There was no one to blame. Those who once brought joys and tales from faraway lands were replaced by those who brought struggling families and haunted survivors who, more than anything else, were interested in abandoning their memories rather than making them. The Valley, once a heaven, was now a haven. A convenient place to hide from the horrors of war for a few days longer, while the flames were as distant as the horizon and no closer. There was no trade except in lives and arms.

So what could Judas and Madon and Bolt and Jinsoku be looking for? There was nothing for them anywhere. All Lily needed was hope, and that lived only in this room in all The Valley. Two Seal Fragments at her side. Two of seven pieces of the lethal puzzle. Lily closed the journal, placing it carefully inside her bag beside the two stones, and sat up with a yawn and a stretch. How to Save the World, Seven Easy Steps. As long as they could complete the seal, no matter the sacrifice, disaster could be averted. That was how it was, almost laughably simple, right?

“Isn’t it?” She asked to the empty air, rubbing her bare shoulders that were suddenly cold despite the sunlight. The historian knew her histories. She had to believe in the truth, because the truth was in their favor and the truth was good. So long as she had these two fragments, she had hope. All of them had hope. Nar Oeste had hope.

There came a knocking at the door, quick and very firm in its insistence. It told her that it wasn’t a request, but a warning. Like trumpets or fanfare, but those were for kings where hard knocks were preamble for hard knocks and people who meant business.

“Come in,” she wanted to say, but by then it had already opened. “Coming in,” he said brusquely, and paused when he saw Lily’s half-naked body. She started to raise a hand in greeting, a smile rising on her face as all her thoughts fell away in favor of recognition. “Oh. Charles. Long time, no see. What brings you here?“

The door slammed closed. The librarian’s voice came muffled from behind, sounding every bit as disheveled as he had looked in her memory.

“I’ll wait for you to get decent. Get on out here.”

Suddenly, The Valley felt a lot more like the home that she remembered. Her eyes brightened for the first time in a month. “Can’t spare any time for a friend you haven’t seen in a month?”

“Amusing. I’d rather you not call me that in public. My real friends would question why a middle-aged man is consorting with a twenty-two year old. Barely more than a girl,” he added with a scoff.

“You don’t respect me.”

“I don’t. I think you’re still nothing more than an impulsive youth, and god I hope my daughter won’t grow up anything like you.” There was a hint of irritation in his voice. Lily’s face fell.

“I guess you’ll want to know where I’ve been?”

“I have a good guess, but I’d like to hear you admit it. And not just me.”

Lily pulled on a thin black cardigan and slacks and stepped into her shoes that had been worn dry by the vast reaches of sand that they’d hiked once the horses had given way to the weariness of the journey. A moment of deliberation later that was full of nothing but a single, resounding yes, the girl grabbed the bag with the journal and the fragments, carefully tucked out of sight, and pulled open the door to the hallway with a careful look on her face.

What explanation drove a girl to disappear from her hometown in the dead of night? The truth was felony, but she couldn’t admit this to her friend. Criminals are caught because they make mistakes, and admitting that she’d fled the town because she’d stolen the Seal Fragment – the first of many that she had set her mind to obtain – was, if not the very definition of the word, a very very good approximation.

“Fine. Let’s talk.” She stepped into the hall, tasting silver on her tongue as the lies began to spin, and glanced askance at a rather pale-looking Charles. “What’s up?”

Something flew into her chest, right at the sternum, almost like a bird; she tried to look down and her eyes didn’t make it halfway before his other hand slammed into her temple and her body fell forward into the support of his arm. One last breath, enough for her to see him unfurling with his other a bag that looked awfully large on the inside – and then Lily was gone again, and a man, just one of a million weary souls in the city, walked out of the inn with a folded-up burlap bag in his pocket, making his slow, meandering way towards the Great Library.


THE MARKET

RELEVANT PARTIES

 

@Fragile

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@SweetCyanide

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@Mag

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@Chouette

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@sheep

Lot_E_HEADSHOT_Judas.jpg

 


Elsewhere in the city was a knight.

This was not a remarkable occurrence, because the mercenary armies of the continent had begun to coalesce at the Valley in preparation of a long march southward towards the fortresses of Glia and Dodon. Like a heart, the Valley pulled the blood of the land, its people, its warriors and defenders, from where they were scattered in dales and hamlets, and pushed them towards the distant battlefronts where they were needed most.

One could tell from looking at the soldiers, from their drooped gait and tight-lipped, unshaven faces that they knew they went to their deaths. They camped far apart from the city because they knew this, because they did not want to infect others with their thoughts. The nominal cause of their fatal march was gold, but the true cause was listlessness. Where would they go, if not towards war? Unattached men and women would only drift whether it be on land or sea. The greatest purpose of their lives were here. They knew they were no heroes, and they knew that there were no heroes.

But their story is for another, later time.

There was a knight in The Valley, and she was not of the free companies, neither was she motivated by things like a lack of purpose. Adelaide Fontaine was full of purpose as she stood there, lost in the midst of the marketplace. Because she was not Lily and was foreign to the city, she did not know what joyful mercantilism looked like. She did not remember coziness and had never seen the full warmth of the Valley. To her, this was normal, this tight-packed alley of shuffling and shouting and fruit-sellers shooting glares at the grimy refugee children whose hands were as red as the apples they tried to steal. Hostility was in the air, and when a man jostled against another he was accused of pickpocketing instead of being excused. The dog-eat-dog world had overtaken one of cooperation. Mistrust had triumphed over trust.

But Adelaide kept her wallet locked and on a chain, so to her it was all perfectly acceptable, even if others were brought to tears by what their city had become. There was no problem in the state of things here. The problem was purely personal: she was lost, had lost someone very valuable to her. Some who was fifty-two gold pieces per day of valuable to her.

“JASPER!”

She crooked a frown and spun to look for the author who had hired her as armed escort. She was tall for a woman; this didn’t matter when there were just as many men of average and equal height choking the alley, and it extra-didn’t-matter when Jasper Gray was shorter than average. Short enough to be a kid. Short enough to be abducted, and although she didn’t know what kind of enemies an aspiring author could hope to make, Adelle was the sort of person who thought of (but clearly did not plan for) all eventualities. “The hell did she go?”

Great tarps cast themselves overhead across the buildings to protect the vendors and shoppers from the glaring desert sun. Some would say that the point was to thrust them all into the cool comfort of shade, and it would take a great idiot to bemoan this, but the knight was on the edge of complaining that it was too damn dark. Jasper, at least in personality, was a dark young lady (man? Adelle couldn’t tell, but it was less awkward for the both of them if Adelle assumed that she was a girl – Jasper hadn’t complained yet). So allowing her to come out to the bazaar, shady in so many more ways than one, was the first mistake. One error begets another. There was danger here; not from her fellow men, because all of us are good at heart, but from the air that they breathed in that was full of the things which drove children to steal and integrities to slip. There were men leaning against the walls, lounging at corners and smoking on the curb, ready to walk nonchalantly towards the soon-to-be-less-fortunate. They had their hands in their pockets and in those hands they carried tomorrow. Tomorrow and fists that would buy it for them.

If Jasper was assaulted, Adelle would have failed as her guardian. That was the one thing that was to her, unthinkable. A knight never breaks his vow. A loyalty made is a loyalty kept under any duress. “JASPER! Where are you?”

They had left their room because they needed to buy groceries, and an author needed to observe the conditions under which people break. Just author things, Jasper told her by way of explanation. A knight and a writer comes to a land on the precipice of being consumed by war – a land in which millions had died in the span of weeks and one where the sun is darkened by the burning corpse of a city, something that disturbed her even then, a thousand miles distant on some other continent – and one of the two wants to ask the other: why?

The answer was simple. Novels written in peacetime are not as raw as those written in war. You do not understand what people are like until you’ve watched them at their lowest point, seen evil with your own eyes and lived through hell. It sounded at first to Adelle that Jasper wished simply to die. There was something horrible about it, about waltzing blindly into the midst of widows and shattered lives and saying, “Fascinating.” But the dead needed someone to tell their story, she realized, and it was for this that she accompanied the shadowy, dark-demeanor’d young woman to The Valley. Because although she wasn’t losing sleep or shedding tears for the loss of life in Nar Oeste, many others were and just as many were robbed of that voice. Someone needed to speak to the dead.  

Earlier in the day, they had spoken to a librarian who’d told them of the First War of the Wyrms. She had not liked it, although Jasper seemed to be interested in the man’s spiel. The war was nothing more than a legend, with almost no literature left of that time period. It was a myth. Something to fuel the imaginations of hyperactive children who slept thinking of riding dragons. Never mind all those who died and those who had to suffer life afterwards. They must be turning in their graves now, knowing that the same grave mistakes had been repeated and all their sacrifice was being trampled into the dust. That the grim pall falling over the land now was bought so cheaply, at the cost of mere forgetfulness.

This, she told Jasper after the fact. She would have to write for them, if she lived through it all, and Adelle, ever the knight, would give her life to bring that “if” to a certainty…

“And so where the hell are you, eh?” The knight rounded another corner, one she was 90% sure was looking depressingly familiar by now, and sighed. The intelligent course of action for Jasper would be to head back to the room. Intelligent referring to practical, and Adelle felt, with a sinking feeling in the stomach that the author was as far from the knight’s idea of practical as the stars were from the sun. She clenched her teeth. Search until sundown. Jasper was an observer. Someone, in turn, must have seen her.

The nearest vendor was a jeweler, cutting as clean and sharp a figure as the gems that she peddled out of her stall. Not bad, Adelaide thought as she pretended to look through the wares – she figured that people helped you more if they thought you might buy something – and unconsciously slipped her wallet out of the chinks of her breastplate onto the table, lost in her examination. How long did she have to look before she encroached on rude and window-shopper? There was a nice emerald gold ring, would form a formidable pair with her eyes, she’s sure. But she couldn’t look up too soon, or else it would be insincere. Or pearl earrings? Something creamy, to contrast with her tanned skin? Sapphire on a silver bangle! Blue-green combination, one-two punch. Adelle frowned at her silvery armor. Maybe she needed some gold to offset?

Settled it. Emerald was the way to go.

“’scuse me,” she said to the woman whose name Adelle would later learn to be Basilica. The rather handsome knight flashed her most dazzling smile. It’s never disarmed a man, but it’s sure made the uglier ones a bit angry. “Have you happened to see a short, thin little pipsqueak of a…girl…boy? Name’s Jasper, shifty little thing. Looks like she spends all her time indoors?”

“Hey, watch it!” Someone said angrily. This was the first indication of an object incoming.

“I’ll take the emerald ring, by the way,” the knight said, oblivious. Loud noises were the norm in the cities of her youth. If she looked around for every sign of every altercation, her head would never stop turning.

Staggered footsteps were the second signal, swiftly closing in towards her back, and at this point Basilica might’ve noticed a white-haired kid stumbling towards her customer.

“It looks lovely,” Adelle added, beaming.

And then someone who weighed more like an ultradense something slammed into her back and the knight yelped as her hip struck the table in almost poetic expression of Newton’s Second Law. The jewels shook in their places, but good craftsmanship kept them in their place. The knight’s wallet did not benefit from such a thing. Instead, it slid towards the edge and, with a cheerful jangling of chains, fell into the crack between stalls and bounced to the floor beside Basilica’s feet. Out of sight, out of mind.

“Hey, watch it!” The knight, doomed to repeat history, whipped around as the boy muttered something – was it an apology? – and disappeared again into the crowd. “What the –?”

“GOD DAMN! MY WALLET!” Adelle’s eyes shot wide open as she came to the (mostly true) realization that her wallet was missing. Her (mostly false) conclusion: “HEY KID!”

There was a knight in The Valley who suffered from a great deal of hardship, and for whom being robbed blind was so common an occurrence, that chasing down and tackling street-children was not an idea that was ever alien to her mind for very long.

Edited by Mag

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A loose square of white cloth flutters away from a grasping hand, and flies into a crowd to smack against the face of a tall man, who in his surprise drops a clay jar and sees it smashed to fragments at his feet. Wind chimes ring with an ominous melody, drawing worried glances from superstitious eyes. Prickling spices waft from an open pot straight to the nose of a wrinkled grandfather, who flinches, twitches, and then sneezes out loud. There's a mischief on the breeze.

Fast and tricksy as a weasel, sweeping over hot ground and blowing up clouds of dust that'll have eyes stinging and noses stuffed, the ill wind darts through the market towards the jeweler's stall. Two women are there, one armed and armored, the other clad in soft black with a red purse hanging at her side. The wind pounces upon the latter, rippling through her clothes and tugging at her hair until she shoes it away, stifling a laugh.

"I'm afraid I wouldn't know if I have."

Basilica's eyes are the color of ash, her smile soft and quiet. One hand brushes her hair back into place before coming to a rest on the tabletop, while the other remains hidden in a long sleeve. "The Valley's overflowing with pipsqueaks at the moment. It's hard to remember which is which." With a look of concern, she glances out at the churning market. "Sorry, did you say a boy or a girl? It might have been... Ah, behind you-"

The table jerks, and Bas steps back a little, her eyes immediately flicking downwards. She stamps hard on the fallen wallet, pinning it to the ground, and reaches out to try and grasp the knight's arm. "Don't worry! I-" Her hand is weak, however, and the mercenary is already rushing off after some unruly child.

Frowning, Bas lifts her foot, then deftly slides the toe of one shoe beneath the wallet, balancing it there as she raises one leg just high enough to reach down and take it without bending beneath the tabletop. Laying the pocketbook just in front of her, she beckons to a nearby man with the look of a sellsword about him.

"Would you mind following that woman-" here she points at the furious knight, "-and bringing her back here? I'll pay you for your trouble."

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It wasn’t every day Floria Vyse held a gun. If the fates were kind, she would never have to hold one ever again. 

Her small adolescent hands, hands untouched by any sort of dirty work in their life, gripped the cannon with a quiet mixture of fear and excitement. It was heavier than she had expected. Scarier too, somehow, now that it submitted to her. At her age, it was almost like holding a kitchen knife for the first time- only this knife could kill with a thought. Floria looked back and found her father watching from afar, among other caravan members who’d taken interest. His eyes shone like pools of crystal glass under the desert sun, and a knowing smile played on his lips.

“Ready?” Teddy asked.

Floria held her gaze. It wasn’t until her father nodded (for the second time that day) that she felt confident enough to respond. “Ready,” she echoed, eyes swivelling out front. On a flat stone thirty meters away, two glass bottles stood apart by the approximate length of a grown man’s arm.

From behind his sleek hunter’s helmet, Teddy spoke. “Shoulders.”

Floria complied, squaring her posture just as they had practiced. The gunslinger, satisfied, circled around to the leftmost corner of her vision, cloak fluttering listlessly behind him. “Legs,” he continued, to which Floria bent her knees and positioned her feet at opposing seventy degree angles. Teddy paused, waited, then circled once more. 

“Gun up.”

In one cautious motion, Floria pointed the revolver. A bead of sweat trickled down her temple, past her chin, as she slowly thumbed back the hammer. 

“Whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay.” Floria took a deep breath.

...

The trigger yielded against her finger more easily than she could’ve possibly imagined. In the half-second it took to pull it, Floria thought the weapon might have been a toy; but then the revolver reared, like a wild stallion bucking for its freedom, and she nearly yelped as its thunder shattered the desert stillness. The spiderweb crack of exploding glass followed instantly, and in its wake a breezy silence reigned.

Behind her, the crowd stared wordlessly. Then, abruptly, everyone burst into cheers. Had Floria turned around, she wouldve've seen her father throwing his hands to the sky. Through the sharp ring needling hers ears, she heard someone shout, “You still got one more!” and it took her a moment to register these words before she reanimated with a kind of dazed focus. 

CRRRRAAAAAAAACK!

The second bottle popped out of existence, confetti-style. Another chorus surged behind Floria, and all at once a tidal wave of triumph and exhilaration threatened to overtake her- and overtake her it did. An ear-to-ear smile spread across her eleven-year-old face, and she whipped around, suddenly oblivious to the loaded gun in her hands. The caravan shrunk back faster than Teddy could think, Oh mah lawrd.

That was fucking awesome!” Floria boomed.

Teddy was on the gun in a flash. “Hey hey hey!” He plucked it from the girl's hands as easily as he would a blade of grass, then wagged a finger in her direction. “Language!” 

Floria didn’t seem to hear him, nor acknowledge his bogus gesture. “Can we do that again?”

Teddy blinked. He glanced upwards, as if the clouds had an answer for him, then zipped right back to Floria. “Again?”

Floria’s nod said more than words could have, though that didn’t stop her from using them anyway. “C’mon, pleeeaaaase.” 

“I think that’s enough playtime for today!” This came from Floria’s father, who rushed over to plant his large, weathered hands along her slender shoulders. “How about you head back and help everyone get ready? It’s almost time to go, you know."

“But-“ Floria protested.

“Listen to your dad, kiddo.” Teddy was busy holstering his weapon. "I don’t need you dropping any more F-bombs on this caravan.”

“But-“ Floria meant to say something yet couldn’t seem to find the words. She went on like this for a few seconds, hopelessly stuttering on the edge of a syllable. Eventually her face turned pouty and she whipped around, ready to stalk off dramatically as children often do. 

“Hey, slow down a sec."

Against her better judgement, Floria did slow down. She threw a glance over her shoulder, and saw Teddy holding up a thumb. “Nice shooting,” he said, this time with complete sincerity. 

Floria weighed his thumb with her eyes, saying nothing. She turned and walked away before the bounty hunter could see her smile.

Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Teddy watched her go. “Mr. Vyse, I swear I didn’t teach her that word.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Mr. Vyse said, patting Teddy on the back. “She learned that one from me a long time ago."

They both laughed.

“Guess you know what to get her for her birthday.” As an afterthought, Teddy added, “She’s a natural."

“Yeah well, we’ll see,” the caravan leader tempted. “She could definitely use one, what with the times and all.” He drew in a deep sigh, and the entirety of his years caught up to him in that brief moment. “You sure you don’t want to come with us past the Valley? We'd be happy to bump your pay if that’s what you’re after. Lord knows you’re worth the coin.” 

“You’re too kind, chief,” Teddy conceded, switching his gaze to the mountains in the distance. “But I’d like to stick around for the end of the world just a little bit longer. Maybe add ‘dragon slayer’ to my resume if the iron gets hot."

Mr. Vyse chuckled, not entirely without concern. “Just be careful, alright? Floria’ll have something to say if she finds out you’re a corpse.”

“I imagine you’ll teach her a new swear for the occasion.” 

The two men laughed again, knowing it would be the last time they’d do so before parting ways in a few hours. They shook hands like old friends in spite of their short time together, and soon began preparing for their trip into the Valley. 

 


 

I need a drink.

It was easily the most clichéd thought the bounty hunter could’ve possibly had as he strolled into town, but the desert, ah, it got your thirst going. And Teddy Leon, ever the connoisseur of cosmopolitans and strawberry daiquiris, was curious to see what Nar Oeste considered ‘girly’. If there was such a thing in this part of the country. Unforgiving as it was, he hoped the people here were at least a little more... open-minded about their sugary drinks- and not so gung-ho on picking fights with those who drank them. Losing a tooth over a Bellini was stupid no matter which way you sliced it. 

Teddy supposed he’d let matters shake out when he actually got to a bar, which was step numero uno in the quest to appease his sweet tooth. He had already passed an establishment on his way to the bazaar, which looked quaint enough on the outside; then he poked his head through the door and discovered an extra large serving of Alcoholics Anonymous: Gone Wild, where everyone was perpetually plastered and crying and this close to exchanging fists instead of routine sob stories. One particular bartender seemed to be on the verge of joining the chaos, undoubtedly debating whether all these tips were her crowning achievement or her greatest misfortune. Having no intention of walking in and introducing himself-

(Hi, my name is Teddy and I’m an alcoholic. Let’s par-tay!)

-the gunslinger kept on the move, hopeful that the next joint hadn't yet succumbed to the pressures of war. 

As Teddy rounded the corner, a distinct voice roared above all else. “GOD DAMN! MY WALLET!” it raged, drawing the attention of several including the bounty hunter’s. His head swivelled in knee-jerk fashion, prompting him to scan the street. The voice in question soared a second time, and when Teddy's eyes found their mark, his heart might as well have taken off with it. 

God damn, he thought unashamedly, staring. He was a bit of a gawker that way, he knew (something he’d learned from his eleventh grade ex, Piper Castle, after she caught him staring at her ass in gym class), and it was one of many faults he still hoped a New Year’s resolution could fix. At the moment, though, New Year’s was still a good ways away, so he stood idly by, content to observe the jet-haired woman chase after some dinky kid until a peculiar motion finally caught in his peripheral vision. 

Pulling away, he shifted to the nearby merchant waving in his direction. He met her hand with a upturned finger when no one else seemed to respond.

Who me?

The merchant (a jeweller, he realized) nodded, hurriedly, in a manner that might’ve said, Yes, you, you idiot. So, Teddy rushed over to her booth. 

God damn, he thought unashamedly, seeing the jeweller up close. “Can I help you?” he managed, suddenly thankful for his helmet.

To this the jeweller replied, “Would you mind following that woman-“ Teddy traced her finger to the handsome knight from mere moments ago. “-and bringing her back here? I’ll pay you for your trouble.”

The gunslinger was philosophic at the jeweller’s request. If putting money into his pocket was the universe’s way of introducing him to two fine young women, who was he to say no? 

“Consider it done,” the gunslinger decided, spinning on his heel in pursuit of the knight. 

Edited by Wade

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Oh2SAw1.png  ` The beauty is on the inside. 

Has he ever stolen anything before in his life? No, not really. Has he ever gotten away with theft? Definitely not.

Muttering a considerate yet silent sorry once he bumped into a handsome knight, Ares arched a curious brow once the knight in shining armor began stomping down the market street.. towards him? He pointed to himself in confusion, anixous with the aminosity the woman gave off. Forcing a lump down his throat, he took a few steps back when she was running a little too close. Her eyes were on the prize, and Ares began to dash away in a confusing manner.

Was she that angry with the mage accidentally shoving her? Was she after him because of fleeing from the Byrn Territory? Slowing down, he attempted to reason with her-- turning around and holding his hands up in a don't kill me manner. "Uhh--" He yelped, stepping to the side to avoid an aggressive grab, and stepping back to dodge a possible tackle.

"Lady-- what's the probem?!"

He yelped once again, but this time, decided to run. Ares anxiously stepped back from the armored woman and began to dash through the crowd like a slippery bastard. Slipping under a tall clock whilst two men were holding it up, jumping over of what seemed to be a bunch of crates, and accidentally stepping on some poor mutt's tail. The mage hoped that it would've slowed her down, but the lady was relentless, and determined to catch up with the young boy.

How did he even get into this situation? Hopefully it was just a misunderstanding!

"Lady, stop CHASING ME!"

He looked back to ensure that she was gone, but marked again wrong that the handsome knight was about to catch up. Paranoid adrenaline coursing through his veins, it didn't take time for him to realize that an obstacle was headed his way.

CLANK!

His face decked against a metal sign, his head filled with dizzying sharp pain and a nauseous aftermath of a headache. Reeling away, the boy smothered a leather glove into his forehead, stumbling like a drunken man.

"Wait wait wait--!"

But before Ares could react any longer, the crushing suffocation of metal armor crashed down onto his back, and doubled with the fact that his sternum and face planted onto the market's busy floor. More importantly, he was struggling to breathe under the weight of a handsome knight. He was able to flip over to his back, and attempted to push away the woman. "Hey, hey, hey! Get off of me!" His voice, squished. His personal space, probably trampled.                            

 

Edited by SweetCyanide
MISTAKES--

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“How are you feeling… Dragonborn?”

 

-A female’s voice rang through his thoughts, one that he was all too familiar with. How was he feeling? His stomach was growling fiercely from time to time, his throat running dry begging for a drink of any kind. Hell, he’d probably settle for swamp water if it meant staying hydrated. Bolt heaved out a sigh and responded to his companion within him.-

 

“Well, I’m not dead. And I can move… So there’s that. But, I feel like I could eat a damn horse right about now.”

 

-Bolt used his thoughts to communicate with Sorrilth that way nobody looked at him sideways for talking out loud to himself like a crazy person who escaped the nut house. Nobody knew of Sorrilth on this planet or the realm rather, not even the group he had encountered. They only know that he is part dragon but not what lies deeper within. The time will come when Bolt is ready to reveal her to his new traveling group… But until then? He’ll stay more focused on doing his job as a protector.-

 

-He and Jinsoku had left the clinic a long while ago after waking up, unsure of what the plan was since they had passed out just before getting to The Valley. With this in mind, they supposed exploring the area wouldn’t be too bad of an idea…. How wrong they were. With each step taken, Bolt could feel how depressing this place really was. Some people tried to stay happy while others were just pickpocketing thieves and just your average every day street criminals. It reminded him of Dragonspire and how bad certain areas of the Kingdom was. Almost made him feel kind of homesick, but that was a feeling he had to put behind him…. He didn’t have the desire to go back.-

 

“Jinsoku, was it?... It seems you have some sort of mastery over lightning. Much like me with multiple elements.” -The dragonborn had to break the ice somehow so the entire walk wasn’t silent and awkward the entire time. No awkward potatoes here, folks.- “How did you gain the ability to control lightning?... Were you born with it? Taught maybe? Or did some mystical being granted you the power to manipulate it?”

Edited by Bolt Mulaag
Fixed an error or two.. Oopsies.

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rTKQfhr.gifSgZzP8C.png

It all began with a jolt. 

Eyes strained by lack of sleep, lack of concentration, lack of passion. The heart raced irregularly, blood rushing forth to fill any voids left within the body. One couldn't bestill the ever-present aching not just of physical origin but mental, spiritual even. A cough, two perhaps, the writhing in pain they'd grown so accustomed to. Agony was Jasper's rooster, their coffee, the gentle kiss on the forehead by their lover; and they wouldn't have preferred it any other way. 

Dripping accompanied the dread-ridden silence that engulfed the entirety of their surroundings. Blocks of ice scattered in an odd formation about their being, a bucket of water hanging from the ceiling above. Upon their exposed form one would see a multitude of scrapes, cuts, bruises, and anything else to indicate physical harm. Oddly, despite all the damage done to them, they hadn't moved an inch since being viciously torn from their slumber and beckoned to the cruelty reality enforced. 

Apathy was it's origin, emotion was their goal. Whether it be choking, slitting one's wrists, freezing one to near death states, the sensation of being burned, buried, and eaten alive; nothing! They'd known no feelings, as such, they couldn't bring themselves to express them on paper. What was fear? What had it meant to break, to lack composure? Such simplistic things to the common mind eluded them so...and it ate at every inch of their inner workings. It was clear to them that self-inflicted harm wasn't going to produce results. She needed to see it plastered among the visages of the hopeful and the hopeless. True human emotion at it's finest... 

They'd eventually made a conscious decision to travel to The Valley; a cesspool of repulsiveness and home to corruption manifested. They were accompanied by a knight, Adelaide was it? Rather empty-minded yet incredibly gifted physically; truly a perfect specimen for their journey. Their goal was to learn of fear, pain, suffering through a series of various encounters that they alone would observe. While they felt safe traveling with the embodiment of gusto, that was the completely opposite of what they desired. At the behest of such cravings, they formed a plan to slip away whilst shopping for groceries. 

It was relatively ease, all in all. Being one of short height, they were able to easily slip through the cracks of the common people and traverse to the darker areas of this land. Men ready to take fate by the neck and wring it, ladies with faces wrought like metals, children forced to succumb to thievery and tricks; all just to stay alive for just one more minute, one more hour, one more day... They found it absolutely fascinating. They'd come across a grouping of individuals, each with their own distinguishable features. After analyzing, they'd found one who sought freedom just a bit more than the others and approached them as a whole. 

"Excuse me..." 

They all gazed toward them, faces of glee with the intention of malicious acts. 

"Are you lost little girl? Where's your mommy and daddy?" One asked "Are mommy and daddy rich, little girl?" 

Suddenly, their expressions shifted as money was shoved in the direction of one particular man. As their eyes locked with his, it was evident to him what he must do. Respectfully, she looked to the others and bowed; wishing them a safe journey in passing. "Woah man, you wouldn't do anything stupid now, would you?" pleaded one "Sorry guys, it's been fun hanging out but.. this money can get me and my family out of The Valley for good". With that, a spiked bat crushed into the bodies of the men before it; mangled corpses left in it's wake. As the man took his money and ran, Jasper alone stood before them whilst writing into a notebook. 

"The chains of security become quickly unraveled when in an alarming situation yet..." They pondered for a moment "Is fear better produced when the cause is from a familiar or otherwise comforting source? Father killing wife, children, close friends. Breaking points cannot be seen so narrowly, however." Ruffling their hair, the closed the book and turned toward an opening back out to the main streets. "I must continue my observations; I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of my research." Exiting outward, they'd seen a small child rocketing down the street; Adelaide following shortly after. "Look at that, she isn't so empty-minded after all." Apathetic gaze and a nigh-robotic walk in tow, they began to swiftly follow The Knight and her prey in the hopes for additional findings that may stretch her studies further. 

Edited by Fragile

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Jinsoku walked idly in thought beside Bolt, though he felt alone. It wasn't anyone he was with, nor was it home sickness or anything like that. In fact it was more important than any of those things. The Raiju. Even now his right hand rested upon his gut as he just stared ahead, considering the facts of what could be wrong before he came to his conclusion. Simply put, the Raiju felt dormant, as if it was being lulled into a deep slumber. It felt sick, and for the first time in a long time, it felt foreign. Considering the only logical answer to be their change in environment, Jinsoku hypothesized that the toxic atmosphere had finally tainted his Ki enough to adversely effect the Raiju. This also explained how he passed out earlier despite the usual notion of accelerated regeneration. It would seem that in what was becoming more and more of a time when he needed his powers most, it would seem they had been reduced to little or nothing. If he was lucky, Jinsoku could get sparks to arc off of one fist at a time, though that was barely any help to him. For the first time since he began his training with James, Jinsoku would be tested without the advantage of the Raiju within. For the first time in a few years, he was almost simply human again. Granted his condition did nothing to change his status of being. Or so he thought regardless of the assumption that he was a Meta. Technically he was, and yet he literally wasn't. Irony would strike as Bolt began speaking to him, his hand dropped from his gut and his mostly undivided attention was given to the speaker. He nodded once to confirm that Bolt had remembered his name correctly. Once he posed the question of the source of Jin's abilities, Jinsoku instinctively smiled before he brought his arms up, bending them at the elbow before placing his hands upon the back of his head. His fingers laced betwixt one another as they supported one another in unison, locking them their as he would simply control his breathing in his battle against the nausea that was setting in slowly but surely.

"To be completely honest, I'm still trying to figure out exactly how it all works."

He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts as his charcoal eyes referenced the gloomy, polluted stratosphere. 

"One day, while doing as my new Master at the time instructed me to, I happened to find myself running  right into a storm. Being in the middle of nowhere, I sought temporary shelter beneath a rather large tree. Coincidentally, I became that one in a million to be struck by lightning...Where I come from, we have an extensive belief in spirits. One particular great spirit is known as Raijin, the Shinto God of Thunder and Lightning. Legend holds that Raijin is a caster of bolts from the heavens, and in these bolts lesser spirits known as Raiju, Lightning Wolves."

He paused before his hands broke free of one another and naturally dropped to his sides once more. He shook his head as he snickered to himself about the irony of it all.

"Coincidentally, I happened to be the one a bagillion to be struck with what I can only identify as one of Raijin's bolts, embedding one of his Raiju within me. I don't know if it was pure chance, or if I was chosen, but here I am! I was out for a week I heard, yet when I woke, the medical personnel dealing with the aftermath of my accident were astonished to find that the damage done to my body had completely reversed within 72 hours. When I woke, I didn't recall being struck right away, though it soon dawned on me that I had. If it hadn't have been for the Raiju, I'd be paralyzed or dead right now...At this point it's a part of me, it always protects me, and in turn I protect it it would seem. I was honestly eager to find out more, and once I found out that it practically burrows into one's soul, hollowing a void to fill out of it...I began to grow worried. I considered having it removed, though the methods available come with too great a risk to even think of. Either way the Raiju would die, yet in my case, even if I survived I wouldn't have a complete soul..."

Throwing his head back he laughed nervously, his hand lifting to scratch the back of his head out of habit. He refreshed his smile before he would turn his head just enough to see bolt out the side of his eye.

"My bad, I'm totally rambling off topic. But that is where my power draws from, the Raiju. In exchange for it slowly siphoning my Ki, it provides me with it's Yoki in return...I think. Considering it's reliance on me for survival, I doubt it's parasitic, I realize this now...And so I've decided that even as a Slayer, this is one demon I will protect with my life. We depend on one another, and I can respect that. The funny part is, it's the only thing I can consistently rely on, and yet I've never even given it a name. Hell, I have spoken to it with demand, but I've never truly tried speaking to it. Perhaps I could've avoided a lot of anxiety and stress if I had, though even now I'm not so sure that this spirit can speak common."

And it was rather unfortunate that this was the worst possible time to consider such. Baka.

@Bolt Mulaag

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It was almost funny how quickly things could change, and how thoroughly they could do so. Not even a full week before, Madon had stood among the defenders of the Walled City, Isore. Regal in bearing, every blow telling of the strength and fury of a warrior-king. A man worthy to bear the title of Exarch. What, in comparison, was this man who trudged along the streets, uncaring of the thinly-veiled despair all around him? Whose armor was covered in dirt, in sand, in dried blood? Whose lance, once gleaming and a sign of a grand legacy, was now dull and could barely be differentiated from more common armaments?

There was little to tell Exarch Madon Galen Ingeram apart from a mercenary, now. In some ways, the less that knew who he actually was, the better. However... he chafed at the thought of being equated to those around him. Those who saw the far-distant smoke of a fallen city and feared that they would soon face that same fate. They who prepared to flee in the face of encroaching doom. What did they know of such loss? They knew naught. When Isore had fallen, they were likely going about their days as usual, while the world of so many fell to pieces around them, shattered by flames and lances. And why did they deserve the chance to escape the devastation, when the citizens of Isore had never had such an opportunity? It was... unfair, to put it lightly. They would get no sympathy from Madon.

And it was that thought that brought a decision to mind: his current condition was unacceptable, improper. If he ended up being recognized by somebody hostile to him, so be it. Even in his weakened state, there were not all that many who could match him in battle. That reassurance firmly in mind, Madon strode forward, his demeanor brightening slightly as he set forth to his next tasks. First, he would clean off his armor and Arcane Piercer both, so that he could reclaim at least some semblance of his old self, at least in appearance. Then, he would search for a suitably skilled blacksmith, someone to repair the hole in his shoulder armor that doubled as a weak point and an infuriating reminder of a battle he had not been strong enough to win. Possibly hand-in-hand with the previous task, he would also seek out whatever refugees there were that had made their way here from Isore. Whatever he may have thought of the plights of the others in The Valley, the people of Isore were still his people, and his duty still remained with them.

Within a short time, still lost in thoughts, Madon looked up for a moment to see that his rather aimless meandering had brought him to a water pump. There was only a woman there, with two girls that were presumably her daughters. He mumbled a polite greeting at them, sitting down in a nearby patch of shade, waiting for them to finish their business. Once they had done so and departed, he rose up and made his way over. He unclasped his cloak and laid it under the pump, and then started the process of cleaning. He smiled as a memory came to him, but shifted to a frown as he recalled that Severus had been working on something that would drastically speed up the process of cleaning armor and weapons. If Byrn hadn't struck, he might have had time to finish the project... He shook his head slightly. There were better times for nostalgia and lamentation. Madon returned to his diligent work, occasionally looking up to scan around the area with his gaze. It was less of a rational decision than it was the product of instinct and repeated drilling by his mentor to remain vigilant, especially in places that were seemingly friendly or innocuous. 

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♦ Excerpts ♦

“Seventeen years ago I left home, seeking adventure, just like any other young man my age. It was slow, boring, in the beginning, but I kept at it, for I knew a life of mediocrity would do my heart no justice. I forced myself upon the path, kept at it and I’m glad I did. Eventually, it happened.I have stolen kisses from fairies, and danced with demons. I have dined with kings in the most grandiose castles, sailed across the harshest seas, and slayed beasts with more eyes than my entire village. I have lived.

But never have I seen a sight such as this. As I stand upon the precipice, in the middle of nowhere, I see a little village, patched together with absurdities. But there is more to it, a lot more, it hides within its little fist, possibly everything the world hungers for: Love, Knowledge, Camaraderie. These are things men seek their entire lives and die without, yet these people have it, and they don’t even try.

I am certain, this marks the end of my journey. What the boy set out for, he has found. I will spend the rest of my days here, eating meals with orphans, sharing tales with men from far-away lands and bickering with the nuts in the Great Library. The Valley is truly heaven on earth, how I hope it never changes.”

- The Memoir of Draven Noir, Traveler. (From the archives of The Great Library)

•••


 

Was it merely smoke that cascaded the sky? Or did it hide ghosts of the dead in its ashen embrace?

The wind carried with it a heavy burden, as tendrils of smoke clamored the sun for one last whiff of hope, and the gods for a glimpse of justice. Slowly, they drifted away, the impossibility of their attempts made apparent. Until, more of the dead followed, hoping for the same, hope trumped impossibilities, didn’t it?

The Valley was dressed similarly today, in blacks and grays, in a sordid eclipse.

 

The Invisible Door 


The Invisible Door; the entrance to the Valley as it was so called, named to signify the hospitality of the people. A door that was missing rending the land open, always, for everyone. So, many came, so many. Amidst, against, the crowd that tumbled in, he stood with a monkey by his side. A missing eye, a pair of lips quivering in disgust, a broken hand restrained to a cast, and a mind that had abruptly began to stutter.

“We’re drowning in shit.” The boy whispered, his voice apathetic.

The monkey agreed, in silence.

The masses moved like a river, uncaring for what pebbles may lie in their path, with a single intent; survival. Some struck his broken hand, and some stepped on his foot with a vow to break it, unaware of the pain they caused. Each time he was pushed away, he’d slowly walk back to the spot he had picked, and stand still until he was pushed away again.

The boy’s intentions matched theirs, his stance differed, it was contrary, both in ideology and position. While they resorted to the residue of their prior to existence to help them survive, he would attain the means necessary. Despite, his vow to the Exarch, the boy had little interest in becoming a link in a chain too frail to accomplish anything.

The broken hand bound in the cast held a sharp secret; A blade inching out, visible only on close inspection. The boy’s repetitive movement of assuming the same spot, was more artful than it seemed. He moved with a sly gait, bumping in, and pulling back, at all the right times, slicing pouches and wallets at all the right times. Anything of value, anything he could spot, would fall into the hands of the monkey, who tread through the legs of the crowd with great ease. He would be ignored at large, for he was too little, and the crowd too consumed in hysteria to notice. The rewards, though, were pitiful. Most had little other than dust in the purses they carried; trinkets, keepsakes, heirlooms, all useless. He’d discard them all to be crushed under the footsteps of the men who revered them. Few had coins, but not enough. Did they hope to survive like this? Idiots.


Little did the boy know, that with the flow of this river, his own hope would begin to erode. Doubt and contemplation began to seep in the gaps betwixt the routine of picking pockets. Before he knew the thin moments of thought became longer than the rest, even though they weren’t. He had remembered the place differently. Had it truly been The Valley, a man would’ve scooped the boy into his arms by now, and fed him three meals more than he needed. Where was the frolic and effervescence? Why were his hands still empty?  Where was his gold? Where were the Dragons?

Time would slow down to present a moment of reflection, motes of dust would hang in the air, purposeless, and the footfall would cease, their intent to survive dissolved. A boy and a land once glorious, belligerent in their existence, failing to fall in line with the rest of the world.

A boy and a land now broken, their fates tied together, suffocation, then death.

Guilty? Isore.

“We’re drowning in shit.” He repeated.

“Let’s get out of here.”

•••

 

But surely, there was hope in the Valley, yes?

 

In the knight hoping to keep her loyalty to her employer,

In the woman hoping to rescue kids gone astray,

In the mercenary who gave the child a path to power in a world that crumbled so easily,

In the lone survivor Zenith,

In the wordsmith that disregarded danger for the sake of their art,

In the men that had vowed to protect the king of a fallen kingdom,

And In the king himself, who refused to give up regardless of all he’d lost.

 

There was hope.

 

The Market 

 

 

The temperatures of the Market were relatively relaxed as the truth ever so slowly, teasingly even, began to solidify. Intentions changed,festering a different kind of chaos altogether. The boy and the monkey endeavored to transverse among the stagnating crowd, feet tied in doubt. There was no place in particular they wished to reach, letting at times, the stumbling, mumbling, trembling, crowd guide them. 

Ants scrambled in trepidation underneath the diaspora, mimicking their panic tenfold, only to be crushed, one here and another there,  none stopped, for dooms like this were merely habit . They stumbled through the world everyday, an indifferent shoe away from death, and yet, they continued, with no regards for the gods and their injustice.  Judas hadn’t realized when aimless wandering gave way to following one of the little critters, the one that perpetuated even as his brethren failed, even when he was ground under a boot.

“This one makes the idiots around us seem shoddy.” Judas snickered, as his lips pulled into a devilish grin“It’s become panic itself.” He whispered, cried almost, his words sprinkled with a hint of madness. Awe consumed his body, as a shiver trickled down his spine, and the hair on his arms found themselves standing.

In an instant, the world changed yet again.

“Gold.” The boy to his own surprise found himself amidst the Bazaar, staring at Jeweler and……. a familiar face?

Knight Lady?

In perfect synchronicity with his realization, the universe gave way to more entropy. The familiar face skipped his mind as quick as it’s owner.“Today, we shall name you, Sir Stealsalot.” He announced, thrusting his leg towards the monkey, who grumbled in return. “That’s our way out.” Judas  gestured. There was no more need of conversation, no need for planning, not today.

Panic.

Judas pushed through the crowd, approaching the stall with unbridled ferocity. His fingers wiggled, excited, nervous. This was the deciding moment, if he could not pull of something as simple as this, he was truly doomed.

 

“I'll pay you for your trouble”

“Oh, yes you will.”


For a moment, he was gone, swallowed by the river of people.  His hand rose to place an imaginary mask upon his face, changing faces, a ritual essential to his act. The thief became a helpless survivor; the monkey became the wind, nowhere to be seen. The boy would then reappear in the lady’s field of vision. Their eyes would fall upon the other, Judas would ignore the jewelry laid out up-front entirely, holding the woman’s eyes. His face would offer questions but no answer, it would demand attention without explanation.“Here” he stated sternly, his eyes still holding hers, as he emptied a pouch full of coins right next to the jewellery. “Give me whatever that buys, carrying money at hand is not safe. I need to go.”, he worded, slowly, voice raspy and damaged. Were any questions asked of him about the money, he’d accredit it to his dead parents, with an air of honesty and uncertainty.The ring of coins would turn into a pleasant melody as the lady began to count, each note louder than the previous. The boy would shuffle his legs, tap his feet, feigning a desire to pee. The little mountain of coins he had created at her stall would turn into a mere statistic in her mind.

 

Panic.

 

The ill wind came once again, and with it came the monkey, materializing from the void. Perhaps, she would notice him hanging mid-air, reaching for her, ready to rapture her face, perhaps she would only notice the pain, the blood and her missing wares. It was debatable.Enclosed between moments of anticipation and agony was a moment of ecstasy, for the world would cease, and the smoke would vanish, and the sun would shine as bright as it ever had threatening to burn the world. The boy would smile akin to the devil, his eye would bulge with lust.

 

Rubies, Sapphires, Emeralds, Diamonds, Gold, Silver.

Yellows and greens and blues and reds.

 

They boy’s arm would crash like a wave against her precious collection. A few fortunate stones would rise higher than the rest, denying apprehension until they didn’t, they rose 

to be kissed by the sun, to shine with blinding magnificence. The jingling and clattering of stone and metal would burst into a honey-glazed song of angels.

 

Ecstasy.


 

Zenith reached, so came the fall.

The smoke would return and the sun would die again, the music would cease giving way to the pain. The thief would disappear into the flock, with all things precious, holding them as many places as he could: mouth, hands, and cloth. The monkey would disappear over the walls, leaving the woman reeling.

They’d rendezvous, and then they’d sail into the sunset, unfortunately the Valley would die without them.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by sheep

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A thief makes his move, and misfortune strikes three times.

One. The jeweler does not count his coins. There's a soft heartache in her gaze as she meets his lonely eye, and then she's reaching out, placing something on the tabletop before him, withdrawing a hand wreathed in dark silk to reveal a beautiful diamond pendant on a silver chain. It sparkles; lavish, ornate, and very obviously worth a great deal more than the boy has offered.

"Here." A sad smile flits across her features. "It looks to me like you've paid enough already."

Two. The wind blows suddenly, flicking her hair out of place, and her attention snaps upwards to catch the monkey mid-leap. She dives to one side, and at the same time an unusually powerful gust just so happens to shove the hurtling ape into an uncontrollable spin, sending it tumbling straight past its intended target to crash painfully down behind her.

Three. Basilica is on it in a flash, grabbing the creature before it can recover and pinning it face down against the ground. Her grip seems frail, but she's leaning into it, using her body weight to keep her hold secure whilst she glances about, breathing fast, trying to take stock of the situation.

Her wares are exposed, gleaming in the sun. The monkey is trapped, pressed into the dirt.

Edited by Chouette

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-The dragonborn listened intently as Jinsoku explained how he obtained his lightning ability. It seemed like they were both vessels of a spirit… Though by how it sounds, Jinsoku only has a fragment of an entire God while Bolt himself has an entire Goddess within. Either way, it was interesting to find out that another person was a God’s vessel. Fragment or otherwise. It does make him wonder though… Is anyone else like these two then? Other people outside of Nar Oeste? Perhaps there is… Bolt still had a lot to learn about this planet and its people because it seemed like everyone and everything was unique one way or another. There are things he’s never even heard of and he’s been to several realms! Still, these curious thoughts didn’t distract him enough to know that he is still in a very depressing and eerie Valley.-

-Emerald dragon eyes look towards Jinsoku and nod before focusing back on the areas in front of them while they explored.- “Huh… Seems like you and I share something in common then…. Though, I won’t say what.” -The dragonborn gave a cheeky grin before holding his palm out, wanting to reveal his elements. But, he remembers that his body is still recovering from what had happened previously. So, he stuck with explanations for now- “I don’t just control lightning… I control several elements. Fire, water, lava, wind, earth…. You get the jist.” -He pauses to pull his hand back down to his side, being a little sad that he couldn’t quite use magic yet Oh well.- “Celestial magic and Gem magic are also my talents.. Though, I don’t believe magic like this is common on this planet. I don’t know… Still learning many things about it.” -He adds, chuckling a bit.-

“Hey, I rather you ramble than us looking like two awkward strangers walking together.” -The dragonborn joked before the sounds of a hungry stomach erupted and caused Bolt to look off to the side in embarrassment.- “Dammit…” -He muttered, hoping his walking companion didn’t just hear his growling stomach. The man was half dragon after all and had a dragon’s appetite. Does he dare trust any food given to him though in The Valley? Or does he wait until they’re in a better town or city? A question to be answered by Lady Fate.-

“What do you suppose the rest of our group is doing?... Think they’ll be alright while we’re separated like this?”
 

Edited by Bolt Mulaag

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Initially, Jinsoku would be reminded of his time in Sigil when Bolt mentioned being the host to a Goddess, which was also a dragon. It was his most vivid memory, the very story he told when formally introducing himself. The day his world exponentially grew, the day he learned true fear. The day he almost died. When he had felt the warm sensation of his own urine saturating his pants simultaneously as tendrils of shadow bound his legs and stopped him from running before pulling him to the ground and dragging him back to Her. The White Demoness of the Dark. Even now his scarred legs itched and tingled as he recalled his past. Just when he thought he was beyond all facets of hope however, He came to save the day! Master James arrived in the nick of time, overwhelming the demoness with ease, and yet forcing her to reveal her true form. A form that came in the shape of a fucking dragon! Despite the overwhelming odds against Master James, and the fanged maw that cradled him in it's vice grip whilst threatening to break bone, the Slayer charged his fist with sacred energy, only to punch the dragon literally in it's mouth with extreme prejudice! Forcing the dragon not only to release him, but to run away.

"Interesting..."

He muttered as he would soak it all in. Pushing his own thoughts to the back of his mind, he was swiftly reassured that his banter was acceptable. Shortly after which Bolt's belly would rumble in protest to it's emptiness. The cursing to follow would inspire a snicker in Jin, a smile forming on his face that was much more natural and usual for him. In that moment he would fail to understand, but he would realize he hadn't smiled like this in  a long time. It had been months since the tragedy of Whispernight, months since he had feigned recovery. This, this was true recovery, true progress. Especially considering the circumstances.

"You know, actually, I do think everyone will be fine. For the first time since arriving on Valucre, this is the first party I've had the pleasure of joining that just seemed to be really hard to kill. Though with each encounter, our prowess diminishes. While this worries me, I am not reduced to hopelessness. Just like my Master before me, I will rise above the circumstances and come out on top! Good will prevail in the end, you'll see!"

Suddenly his own belly quaked, rumbling with a depressive groan of emptiness that rivaled Bolt's. His face flashed to one of embarrasment just before he would refresh him smile, a certain sharpness accenting his almond shaped eyes as they narrowed in a moment of sureness to his path. 

"However, perhaps in the mean time we should concern ourselves with eating. If we're starving I'm sure the others are hungry too. Let's swing through the market and get what we can. Otherwise we'll have to search this growing wasteland for game to hunt, in which I'm guessing will donate no positive result."

@Bolt Mulaag

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Never surrender, and never accept surrender. Life is about coming out on top, and if you’re dumb enough put your hands up, you’re deserve all the L’s you’re about to get.

Adelaide’s father, before he had become a father, had been a vicious, cunning man, and he had tried to raise his children to be as powerful and independent as he had been. He drilled them. He lectured them. He trained them. It was a mind-and-body effort (the bruises of which, their elementary school was alarmed to find), and he had hoped that Adelaide and her brother would inherit the killing instinct that had kept him alive for so long in a dangerous world.

Of course, the lessons of old were the farthest thing from her mind as the knight hurtled and hollered and clanged down a busy thoroughfare after a child in broad daylight. (Shame? Disorderly misconduct? This is a lawless land, you know, and a knight is bound only to the code of loyalty anyhow. They’ve no time for trifles like acceptable behavior.) But she remembered the one, and so when Ares turned his head and asked, so very politely, with every fiber of his being, Don’t kill me, Adelle had no intention of humoring his request.

“Play stupid games, win stupid prizes,” she quipped to the boy stumbling back and forth clutching his head, and tackled him into the dirt.

“Teach you damned street kids to steal MY wallet.”

Adelaide knew how to search a man. A criminal could hide a knife in a thousand places, a smuggler his goods on every imaginable part of the body and a few unthinkable. When a woman is caught between a rock and a hard place, the arrows are flying overhead, and there’s a body at her feet – and the knight had been there more times than she could count – knowing how to find and use everything the enemy has will make a difference. With Ares pinned beneath her waist and her fingers wiggling freely…

It’s a valuable life skill, she assures you, and although the unnecessarily civilian might blush angrily and urge their children to look away from the peculiarly sophisticated grope, her hands have in this time found all the things that Ares carries for a living. Darts, nun-chucks, small axe, fifteen pence, a discarded cigarette wrapper, a pouch of alchemical reagents, a vial of – sniff - blood, his wallet and identification (Ares Shezmu, of Zenith), a broken pencil, a pen, an ink-stained eraser, smudged parchment, a spare pair of gloves…

No wallet.

“…Oh.” Her voice had the bent of mystery, as if she’d stumbled upon an ages-old riddle. Fold the arms, and put the fist to the chin in thought, rest the elbow upon the knee: “The hell?”

Ares mumbled something in response, face bound to the ground beneath the weight of her armor. Adelaide shifted to press her weight into a fresh spot upon his back, eliciting another groan, and smirked with the (childish) sensation of supreme justice. Then enough was enough.

She stood and, pressing a hand into the scruff of his shirt, hefted him up with a hand until they saw eye-to-eye. She squinted at his face, perhaps looking for traces of her wallet in his dark eyes. A memory – an impression of the thing. Any sign of remorse or regret. “Clever little fella, ain’tcha? Where’s my wallet at, huh? I know you hooligan types, don’t think I haven’t dealt with plenty ‘a you.” She pushes him up a bit higher, the sharply defined bones of her fist pressing into his throat. Harmless, but uncomfortable. “And in places more miserable than this.”

Around them was a small ring of mutters and whispers and darting eyes. For those miserable and peaceful whose hearts were sped on by fear of real conflict, this was a sort of catharsis to watch. They didn’t know anything about the two, just that things were close to blows, and the threat of it got men’s hearts pumping and dead passions aflame. Passions, maybe, or simply base instinct.

Adelaide cocked her head to the side. “Well? Out with it.”

Spoiler

 

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It was, in no uncertain terms, a strange sight. An elderly man, using a staff for support as he walked, following a... floating bucket of water? Of course, the despondent and the hopeless had greater concerns than the strange, and so it went almost entirely unnoticed. The man, for his part, occasionally glanced at the refugees around him, not showing the sadness that the sight of them caused him. Once, some time ago, he had known these people. Or more accurately, perhaps, their grandparents, maybe their parents. Dawnwulf shook his head slightly and continued on his way. The state of these people was deplorable, to say the least. Yet, there were greater concerns for him as well, concerns that required the time and resources that would have to be spent in helping these people. For the moment, they would just have to remain strong and persevere.

The bucket turned around a corner, bumping into a pair of arguing refugees. They turned angrily, but the bucket kept going past them, and Dawnwulf mumbled an apology as he passed. The refugee on the left grabbed his shoulder roughly, and turned the old man toward him.

"Hey! You think you can just waltz on past us after hitting us with a bucket? You're gonna pay for that, old ma-"

The other refugee stepped forward and slapped the first one.

"You bloody moron! We're not so far gone that we're gonna mug the elderly! And he's probably a bleeding mage as well! Stand down and let me do the talking, before you get us both killed."

He turned toward Dawnwulf and smiled apologetically.

"Sorry about that, sir. Things have been rough for all of us, and we're dealing in our own ways. Carry on, I'll make sure that he won't be messing with you again."

Dawnwulf gave a grateful nod toward the refugee, and moved quicker than before to catch up with the bucket, which hadn't waited very long for him. How had things come to this sorry state? By the time he had caught up with it, he could see that the bucket was locked onto a man cleaning his armor at a water pump, advancing quietly but swiftly toward him. Could it be...?


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Focusing on one piece at a time, Madon soon found his armor clean once more. It was not quite in the state that it had been before his flight from Isore and the events thereafter, far from it, but it was much greater than it had been just a short time ago. Reaching his arm into his pack, he pulled out a rag, and started using it to dry off his armor... only for, less than a minute later, water to be dumped upon him, followed by the sound of a bucket falling and clattering upon the ground. By the time Madon stopped sputtering, and his confusion had cleared, he turned to find an old man standing a short distance from him, an amused look on his face. Anger flashed upon the face of the fallen Exarch, and he brought up Arcane Piercer, halting it inches from the old man's throat.

"You have gotten the better of me. Very clever. Now, explain your purpose, and try my patience no further."

Dawnwulf chuckled and raised his hands in a mocking gesture of surrender.

"Ah. You are so very much like your grandfather before you, Exarch. We should have known better than to believe that death would find you so easily. But I suppose you'll stab me if I don't get around to my purpose, so let me skip ahead. You are not alone in your fight. There are others that seek similar goals to yours, and I will lead you to them, if you are willing."

Madon relaxed somewhat and lowered Arcane Piercer, but still raised an eyebrow.

"And why I should I trust you?"

"If you have grown so cynical, Madon, that you cannot even trust family, I despair at how lost you have become. Now. Gather what companions you deem necessary, I will wait for you here."

As Dawnwulf sauntered off towards a nearby tree to sit down in its shade, Madon stood in shock, mouth slightly agape as he processed what he had just heard. As far as he was aware, barring perhaps some distant relative, all of his family was dead. His parents and his grandparents had passed, and he had been an only child. So who, then, was this old man? Pondering, the former Exarch shouldered Arcane Piercer and set off. He had no idea where Bolt, Jinsoku, or Judas had gotten off to, really, and he didn't want to disturb Lily if she was still resting. That left the only person that he really knew the location of: Wymp.


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Of all the times for something to go wrong, why did it have to be under his watch? He had gone on a short trip to gather some supplies for the innkeeper, in lieu of payment for her hospitality. His liege, he knew, had some money tucked away, but it would not do for him to offer that when Madon likely had some grander purpose in mind for the funds. So he had volunteered for the simple jobs, leaving the Exarch and his companions free to do more essential work outside of the inn. Finishing this last errand, he had made his way to the room the Exarch's companions (and his companions as well, he supposed) had been staying in, in order to check on the last one that remained... only to find that she was gone. There were no signs of a struggle, but something was off. The room was too empty. Surely she would have left some indication of where she was going? He rushed back out, only for his fears to be affirmed: The innkeeper hadn't seen her leave, and had assumed she was still in her room. Something was undoubtedly wrong.

So it was that Wymp had taken off, searching for someone to share the ill news with. Madon would be the best to inform, but any of his companions would do just as well. He had to let someone know. He stopped at an intersection to catch his breath. Surely he would fin- Aha. Off to his right, he caught sight of the two men that had sworn fealty to the Exarch outside of that burning inn. They were distinguished from the rest of the crowd by, if nothing else, familiarity. Wymp rushed toward him, ignoring the burning in his lungs. He almost collapsed to the ground upon reaching them, but held himself up through sheer force of will.

"Lily... Lily is... gone. She's gone..." 

 

Edited by EpicRome23

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Back in the fall of 586 WTA, when Teddy’s infatuation with disco was quietly sneaking from the Land of Interest to the Kingdom of Obsession, he had successfully secured the position of student council president for exactly two months. Why? Because the boys’ bathroom had been the singular, most unpleasant experience in the entire memory of Copper Cove High, and Teddy wouldn’t suffer another year of fishbowl urinals without dividers to protect him from flanking pocket rockets. In the grand scheme of things, it was a trivial, if not sophomoric, issue - the girls certainly thought so - but Teddy was determined to have his peace of mind, so he sweet-talked his way through the ranks until he had enough sway to enact his little project. Once the deed was done, he abruptly retired back into the old, comfortable life of a B+ student, where he could take a whiz in blissful ignorance and be none the wiser for it. 

The point? Teddy had a queer way of getting what he wanted. 

And as the gunslinger observed the handsome knight, harassing some kid he kinda felt bad for, it struck him that he’d probably have a queer time getting that date he so desperately wanted.

Geez.

For a time, Teddy was comfortable to kick back and assess the situation; not all mercenaries were afflicted by a case of shoot first, ask questions later. But after a while, even he (who hadn’t seen Basilica pick up the wallet) began to doubt the knight’s claims that she’d been robbed by this boy. From beginning to end, he’d watched Adelaide tick off every box he was aware of in his experience as a thief, and all she’d scrounged up were a bunch of knickknacks and some indignation. He sort of expected her to let the the kid go at that point.

And then she had to go and haul the poor guy off his feet. 

“Okay, that’s enough,” Teddy interjected, letting impulse take over. The crowd parted around the gunslinger as he stepped out of the ring, his approach slow and deliberate and trailed by a new chorus of whispers. “He clearly doesn’t have your wallet, and beating him up-“

Is going to make you look like an ass el supremo.

"-isn't going to change that.”

When Teddy got close enough, he held up a quizzical, non-threatening hand.

"May I?"

The knight’s eyes zeroed in on the gesture, then flicked to Teddy’s black visor. He took the understanding in them as a cautious yes, so he proceeded to search the boy himself.

“Alright, let’s see. Nothing there. Or there…” Teddy on went on like this for most of his investigation, navigating Ares’ body with a skilled laziness that spoke of his familiarity with the craft. He rifled through the boy's pants and shirt, took off his shoes, felt his freaky bone-tail-thing, ruffled his hair for show, and at the end performed the same shameless grope Adelaide had so easily managed. When nothing came from it, he folded his arms.

“He’s clean,” Teddy announced matter-of-factly. “Now put him down before you decide it’s a good idea to check up his butt. I have a feeling I know where your wallet might be…” Teddy went on to explain how Basilica hired him to chase after Adelaide, though not without embellishing the story a little, as was his habit. It kind of embarrassed him it took him so long to put two and two together, but he managed to keep a steady tone throughout the whole spiel. 

“If you don’t believe me, bring the kid,” Teddy concluded, motioning for Adelaide to follow him. "You can even slap me if it turns out I'm wrong. Just let him go after that, alright?”

Edited by Wade

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