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Wade

Whisper of the Wyrm

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The Spire was not a place many people expected Blaine Moreton to come visit so often. As High Councillor of War, he was a man of action, regal in his fury and just in his might; he was tall and handsome, a lion in shape and mind, commanding loyalty wherever he went with the weight of ten generals. 

Apparently, that made him ill-suited to reading.

It was ancient, the Spire, and more cavernous than it had the right to be. The interior was smooth rock and polished wood; the smokeless lights burning along the walls cast the balconies in a lustrous, tangible blue. Many of the alcoves, like the one Blaine was headed to now, dotted the lower floors at irregular intervals. They were typically reserved for scholars. Sometimes men of faith. Those who had no business spending whole days on their research were relegated to the public tables on the first and second floor, rarely the third. It was often a point of contention how difficult it was to acquire some privacy. The Spire had enough space to house a storm, let alone enough depth to echo like a canyon.

Beautiful, Blaine thought, as he always did whenever he came here. Casting his gaze to the side, he peered over the railing. Even from the tenth floor - being underground, they counted up as one moved down - he couldn’t see the bottom of the inky black hollow. Supposedly it connected to the ocean, where the water flooded in from Coastal Grande’s subterranean caves.

“If you listen hard enough,” the servant guiding him said. “You can hear the streams.”

Blaine didn’t know about that. The Spire was a library, after all, and his ears were perfect. The only thing he heard were their footsteps, and the passing whispers of two men in the middle of a search. The bookshelf they rifled through was the size of a small house. 

“Here we are, sir.”

The servant unlocked the door, then handed Blaine the key. He muttered something about getting comfortable while one of the scribes fetched his book. 

“Thank you,” Blaine said, before the servant disappeared down the hallway and up the lift. 

Sometime later, a small woman arrived with the tome Blaine had requested. It was old, thick yet delicate, with a crisp leather cover titled Of Dragons and Men. He pored over it for an hour, maybe two, beginning where he’d left off last week after he’d gotten a little more than halfway through. 

They were given power once, but they’d lost it already, he read. The sun in their words, the blizzards in their teeth, the storm in their roars, the venom in their lies. They gave it away. Never truly knowing how or why. What had transgressed, they faced-

“So it’s true,” a voice cut in. “You really are more than just a dog in a suit.”

Blaine looked up. High Councillor Vindama was leaning against the doorway, eyeing him with that hawkish face of hers.

“Vindama,” Blaine started, his surprise melting into a smile. “This is unexpected.”

“Words right out of my mouth,” Vindama replied. She flashed her own smile, sharp and thin. “I almost didn’t believe the others when they said you came down here to read book.”

“Most people don’t. You’ll have to explain that to me sometime.” Blaine gestured to a chair. “Please, have a seat.”

“How kind of you.”

He watched Vindama come forward, never shifting in his seat. Her green eyes met his, and she smiled that same knife-like smile from before. He found it mildly unsettling.

“It’s not very romantic in here, is it?” she asked.

Blaine’s eyes flicked around. “No, it’s not,” he agreed. “But I’m not here for romance.”

“Shame,” Vindama purred. “Would’ve been more interesting than talking to you about scribbles on a page.”

“Vindama-“

She cut him off with a wave. “Relax. I’m just yanking your chain. You’re always so formal.”

Blaine nodded silently. It was one of the few things that made him look confident when he didn’t know what to say.

Vindama’s grin told him she knew better. “So, what do you have there?” Without waiting for an answer, she reached over and grabbed the tome. Her eyes flitted over the cover, dissecting its every detail. Her left brow arched ever so slightly. 

“The Draconis Totems?”

It was Blaine’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “You’re familiar with the book?”

“Yes and no. More no than yes.” She flipped over to the first page. “One of my cousins - we don’t talk to him anymore - owned a late copy. He was an aspiring archaeologist, you see. Always digging his nose in dead people’s junk.”

Vindama glanced up. She was waiting for a reaction.

Blaine didn’t give her one.

“This book,” Vindama continued, half-sighing. “Is what got him started. He was obsessed with it and anything remotely related. Made it his life goal to find the totems.”

“You talk like he’s retired."

“I guess that’s a word for it.” Vindama shrugged. "There’s a reason we don’t talk to him anymore. He never came back from one of his expeditions.”

“Oh," Blaine muttered. "I’m sorry.”

“No,” she said. “You’re not."

Blaine nodded silently, again. 

Vindama slid the back to him. Its worn leather cover dragged against the table. “Why are you reading fairy tales?”

Blaine leaned back in his chair, tome in hand. His idle fingers began leafing through the pages, towards the one he’d been reading before Vindama took the book from him. “Well, in this particular case, I prefer to call it history."

Vindama’s perpetual grin suddenly softened. 

“Blaine,” she started, almost mockingly. “Don’t tell me you think this stuff is real.”

Blaine found the page. “Myths and legends have to begin somewhere, don’t they?” He bookmarked it with a slip of paper.

Vindama’s lips flattened into a severe line. 

“Blaine.”

“Yes?”

“Listen to me.”

“I’m doing that right now.”

“Don’t be an idiot-“

Something in Blaine’s breast pocket abrutply grew hot and alive. A hum accompanied it, along with a slow buildup of light. He fetched a hand in his pocket, producing a chainless amulet of sorts. His eyes flickered between the object and Vindama. She bowed her head knowingly.

“I’ll go,” she said, standing up. “We’ll continue this another time.”

“You don’t have to leave,” Blaine offered, even though he wanted her to. “It’ll only take a few minutes."

Vindama looked him over critically. “No," she said, a little too thickly. "I think I’m alright, thank you.”

Blaine waited for one of her usual snipes. In the end, she left and closed the door.

Another minute passed, just to make sure Vindama wouldn’t come back. Blaine glanced out the doorway, peaked around very quickly, then went back inside the alcove and locked it with a click.

He gripped the talisman tightly in his hand.

Show me.

The walls around him quietly twisted away, like a dream unravelling in the most intricate of fashions. A gentle fog crept in where an endless void replaced them, stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see. Waiting for him a short distance away was a dark-skinned man dressed in ragged travelling attire. He was holding an amulet identical to Blaine’s. 

“Professor Velakis,” Blaine said, then more pointedly, “What are you doing here?” 

Velakis didn’t seem to notice him. He was too busy looking around, fascinated by the mindscape.

Blaine took a few steps forward, each one leadened with irritation. “Where’s Romo? Why do you have his trancer?”

“Romo’s dead,” Velakis answered, not turning away from the fog. 

Blaine started. “What?"

“He’s not the only one,” Velakis continued. “Me, Viha, three of your guys… we’re the only ones left. The others are all gone.” He finally faced Blaine, then chuckled humourlessly at the expression on his face. “But don’t worry; we found it."

Blaine stared at the professor. “You found it?" he asked slowly.

“We did."

“The Vault, you mean.”

Velakis nodded wearily. The motion revealed a shallow scrape on the underside of his chin. 

“Describe it to me,” Blaine demanded.

At that moment, something howled in the fog. Something awful, like despair on the wind. Velakis craned his head towards the noise, squinting at it as if it were an old and familiar nuisance. 

“Guess my time’s up too,” he said.

As the sound shifted to an abrupt, jerky rattling, Velakis fished out a crumpled note from his pocket. “Listen well, Councilor. I’m only going to have the time to read this once; everything here’s written on the wall.”

The rattling changed yet again, this time to something slow and wet. It was louder now, coming from behind Velakis. Blaine opened his mouth to ask the professor what he meant, but Velakis silenced him with a glare. It was less the urgency in the man’s eyes than it was the dread that stopped him from speaking.

“Don’t interrupt.”

“Alright.”

Velakis paused for a moment, then cleared his throat. His words were precise and carefully timed.

That which you seek you stand before

But only with the key may you unlock Death’s door

Shrouded within Shadows it awaits

But only by the elements might one navigate

From whence it was born, it shall return

Undying or dead, it must be earned

Ferns of winter to be milled

A fair lady’s ashes faithfully swilled

And to appease the debt and see it paid

The mortal trade must be made.

Blaine waited for something more. The silence was so swift, so empty, that Blaine almost hadn’t heard it. Velakis was staring down at the note in his hand, still as a statue. He seemed used up. Defeated. Infinitesimally small, despite his large stature. The colour had drained from his face, his hands, and the queer sound behind him was a hollowed-out roar now.

“Did you get all that?”

Blaine blinked in response. Instinctively, he ran the narrative once more in his head.

That which you seek you stand before

But only with the key may you unlock Death’s door

Shrouded within-

A starved wheeze interrupted his thoughts. He shook his head.

“What does it mean?”

 “Are you daft? It's a key-“

And just like that, Velakis disappeared. One second he was there, the next he wasn’t. All that remained was the amulet he’d been holding, which clattered to the ground in a puff of light smoke. Blaine picked it up, held it at eye level. It was cracked, nearly torn in half, with a vicious groove running along its center.

“Velakis?” Blaine called out.

No response. Not even the everchanging cacophony. Blaine wanted to call out again, take a look around, even though there was nothing to see. Instead, he willed himself back into the real world, where the alcove’s dark stone walls loomed over him. Velakis’ amulet still sat squarely in his left palm. He laid it down on the table, then reached for a stack of papers.

-Shadows it awaits

But only by the elements might one navigate

From whence it was born, it shall return

Undying or dead, it must be earned

Next came the pen. Blaine dipped it in an ink bottle.

Ferns of winter to be milled

A fair lady’s ashes faithfully swilled

And to appease the debt and see it paid

The mortal trade must be made

He began to write.

 

@roboblu @Rhysing @SweetCyanide @Csl @ourlachesism

Spoiler

Shoutout to Rhysing for the riddle

 

Edited by Wade

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The Siren's Song cut soundlessly through blackened waters, no more than a wraith in the darkness.

Hunting,

Hungry,

Out for blood.

The lamps had been doused and the sails raised, allowing the ship's dark hull to blend into the vast inseparable expanse of sea and sky, nearly invisible. There was no wind, and only the steady slosh of waves and gentle creak of boards dulled the encompassing silence. But despite the night's stillness, the Siren's crew was very much awake, moving across the deck with purpose. They flitted like shadows, dressed in black, seeing by nothing but the waning moonlight and the blades which gleamed beneath it

Aldren's magic surged through the water, propelling their vessel toward the distant flickering of lanterns. There was life floating on the seas, less than a league away now, and they had no idea they were being pursued.

She twisted one of the silver rings on her fingers, staring out at their conquest. She'd first heard of the totems years ago, though they'd meant nothing to her at the time. But now?

Now it meant everything.

Aldren turned on her heel, surveying the activity on the deck. Weapons were being handed out, ammunition stored in pouches and pockets, and as was customary, bets made. She overheard Illbryn boasting that he would dismount in a flip from the ropes to Kerthal, who struggled to hold in a laugh in response.

Out of the corner of her eye she caught Casisth, her roguish Quartermaster, descending the main mast and making his way toward her. 

He crossed to her with long easy strides, lips uptitled in a lazy smile and hands tucked in the pockets of his trench coat.

"I don't see anything notable about the ship," he reported comfortably, scratching at the scruff on his jaw, "Seems pretty standard, albeit flashy. They likely have defenses on board, possibly some canons, and I can make out a few crew members above decks, the poor bastards who got stuck with night duty. Other than that it's too dark," He paused, allowing her to consider the information, "Should we send Scylla?"

She shook her head, "That won't be necessary." 

Even though the odds were she wouldn't be spotted, Aldren thought a bird perched on one of the yards might seem blatantly odd this far from land. Besides, Casisth's information was helpful enough.

"What's not necessary?"

Casisth nearly jumped out of his skin at the smooth questioning voice, whirling around to face its source. Scylla was standing with them now, having executed her typical noiseless approach. She was Aldren's First Mate and secret weapon, cat-like in her movements and possessing a subtle predatory nature that could put the crew on edge when awakened.

"Sending your feathered ass over to that ship," Aldren teased.

Scylla rolled her eyes, but smiled none the less. 

"The crew's all ready," she announced, tucking a piece of short dark hair behind her ear, "shall we prepare to broadside?"

"I don't recommend," Casisth chimed, green eyes thoughtful, "We don't know what weapons they have, and it'd be a shame to sink our ship before the adventure even starts."

"Ay," Aldren agreed, "We'll maneuver so our port side faces their stern and swing aboard that way."

Scylla raised an eyebrow. "It'll be tricky, we'll have to climb onto the yards to make up the height difference and be sure to keep the ship in place, but it could work. We'll certainly be harder to see, and harder to hit."

"I can keep the ship steady," Aldren concluded, a smirk finding its way onto her face, "Tell the crew to get climbing."

Edited by Rhysing

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“Whoa there,” the sailor said as he sat across the table. “McGillis. You look like shit.”

“Do I?” McGillis replied, idly poking at a plate of fish and greens. He felt sick. Sicker than he had felt in years. It was like someone had turned his stomach inside out to let all the acid wash over his bowels. ”I didn’t realize I was stealing your job. My mistake.”

“Hey, didn’t mean anything by it. Just saying it like it is.”

McGillis speared a piece of broccoli with his fork. 

“I hate boats,” he said. “How the hell can you stand all this rocking?”

“Lived on the sea my whole life. It’s all I know.” The sailor shrugged. “You throw up yet?”

“Twice now.”

Martin McGillis had worked for Coastal Grande’s military for fifteen years. Seven of which he’d done as a regular guard, before enlisting as a soldier for the other eight. He wasn’t originally from the city. He’d been born in a small farming town several miles out from Mezthaluen. Most of his childhood had been spent planting crops, ploughing fields- real backbreaking work you did under a hot sun, with the solid feel of dirt under your feet. For the longest time, that had been his excuse. That the ocean and him didn’t get along because he’d been land-bound for a whole eighteen years. It worked for a while, earned him sympathy from the rest of the navy guys, until eventually enough time had gone by that he should’ve gotten his sea legs. Now they simply pitied him, while he occasionally doped up on anti-nausea meds. 

He hated himself for forgetting them this time around. 

“This is why I work the inland jobs,” he muttered, giving up on the piece of broccoli. 

The sailor, meanwhile, wolfed down his meal with a fiendish sense of gusto. “Why’dja bother in the first place?”

“Hmm?”

He held up a finger while he finished chewing. “Why take this job?”

McGillis nodded in understanding. The motion didn’t help his stomach, and he regretted it instantly. “Didn’t really have a choice. Our client needs someone to watch over things here, and I’m that someone. Not to say he’s untrusting of you guys, but he likes to cover his bases.”

The sailor nodded back. “I take it you’re still not going to tell us who this mystery client is, eh?”

Blaine Moreton. The name tingled on the end of McGillis’ tongue. No one on board had the slightest idea they were working for Coastal Grande’s High Councillor of War, and he found it mildly amusing. “No can do.”

“Didn’t think so,” the sailor mused. “Getting a bunch of mercs to hunt down liches, then bring you back the bones? Without telling anyone why?” He pointed with his knife. “That’s kind of shady.”

“Could be you’re working for a bunch of paladins.”

The sailor shook his head. “Nah. Your asshole’s not tight enough for that.”

McGillis laughed. Again, the motion made his stomach flip. It deterred him from asking the sailor why he’d taken the job if it was so suspicious. “Think I’m going to head my cabin,” he said, standing up slowly. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

The sailor mock-saluted him, and then he was gone. McGillis forgot about him as quickly as he’d left the galley. 

Just a few more days, he told himself queasily. We’re almost there.

The bed in his quarters was stiff. It didn’t really bounce when he flopped onto it. Regardless, lying on his back helped immensely, and he didn’t think he’d be ready to get back up until they arrived in Kuratel. A funny thing, considering what awaited him there. Most people he’d known would’ve taken seasickness over a city of undead.

“But not me,” he whispered to no one in particular. “Wonder what that says about me.”

The question faded from his mind as he slowly fell asleep.

 


 

One week and three days. That was how long Teddy had been locked up.

“Would you rather grow pubic teeth or dental pubes?”

Suffice to say, he was getting rather bored.

Podrus held his chin in one massive hand. A deep hum rumbled in his throat. “Dental pubes,” he said thoughtfully. “At least I can shave those off.”

Teddy nodded. That was what he would’ve picked too. “Chip?”

The dark, wiry man sat apart from them in the corner of their cell. Considering its size, that meant something like seven feet away. “The minotaur has a point,” he mused in his usual dry tone. “I do not relish the thought of taking a chisel to my… what’s the word in your language? Tistic? Sicking?” He made a hammering motion close to his waist, somehow managing to keep a straight face.

Teddy wasn’t so successful. “I think the word you’re looking for is ‘testicles’.”

“Testicles,” Chip repeated, as if tasting the word. “Yes. It sounds so vulgar in Terric.”

“Does it not sound vulgar in Genesarian?”

Fluyemilakun.”

“What?”

“That’s the word in my dialect.” Chip raised an eyebrow. “Does it sound vulgar to you?”

Teddy thought about it. “It flows off the tongue, I guess. Five syllables is kinda long, though.”

“So you agree your version is barbaric?”

“I mean, maybe?” Teddy glanced at Podrus. “What do you think?”

“You could use ‘balls’ for short,” he offered. “I know I do.”

Chip hooked his arms around his knees. “Useful information,” he muttered, in a way that could’ve been entirely serious or delicately sarcastic. “Any other questions, my fine barbarian friend? You seem to have a wealth of them, and I have never been so enlightened.”

“‘Fraid not,” Teddy answered with a shrug of his hands. “That was my last one. Brain’s starting to run a little low on calories.”

“Hopefully we get something to eat soon,” Podrus moaned. “I’m dying over here.”

Teddy wanted to say they were all dying, but it was true. Podrus was starving. The jailers fed them equal portions of slop, just enough to stave off the hunger. Problem was, they were portions fit for a human. Podrus was an eight-foot tall giant, weighing in at something close to nine hundred pounds. He could’ve eaten a whole turkey and still have room for dessert. 

Christ, I could go for dessert, Teddy thought.

It all seemed so far away now. Real food, real air. Real life. Aldren had taken that away from him, as brutally and effortlessly as she might’ve plucked the head off of an ant. She’d killed the crew of the Egremont in front of him, just so he could watch, and in a twisted show of generosity let him live to think on his failure; his inability to save the people he’d been hired to protect. It still gnawed at him, in the bone-deep way only anger could. He felt it every time he scratched his beard, every time he tried to go to sleep. His dreams and waking thoughts were plagued by savage fantasies, and it was only by talking to his cellmates that he’d managed to keep his composure up to this point. 

Teddy looked at Chip and Podrus. He liked them well enough, he supposed. Chip had this stoic thing going for him, like a sharp stone in the middle of winter, while Podrus was softer around the edges, like a great, lumbering wind. They’d both been aboard the Kingcup prior to their imprisonment. Chip as a passenger, Podrus as a chef. Aldren had apparently taken them prisoner since they hadn’t fought back when she raided their vessel. It appeared to be a source of shame for the two, particularly Chip. The one time the topic came up, he’d practically shut down and let Podrus do all the talking. His hands had been balled into fists. He reminded Teddy of himself.

Minus the baldness, of course.

“Lotta noise up there,” Teddy finally commented. “Sounds like they’re getting ready for something.”

Podrus tilted his head towards the roof. “You think so? Doesn’t sound much different to me.”

“No, he’s right.” Chip’s gaze also drifted upwards. “Maybe we’re going to dock.”

Teddy didn’t know if he should’ve been excited about landing or not. Out of their cell, he was sure they’d be sold off as slaves. “We’ll have to ask Gunnar when he shows up.”

As if on cue, the staircase further down the hall began to creak. Slow, laborious footsteps gave way to a heavyset man carrying a metal tray. He was ugly, and profoundly so- he made Teddy wonder if the ship’s crew had discovered dental floss, or the miracle of aftershave. 

“Looking at him,” Chip began in a low tone. “I understand why some animals eat their young.”

The man known as Gunnar stopped by the edge of their cell. “You know the drill,” he said lazily. “Hands behind your head, face the wall.”

Teddy stood up, followed by Chip and Podrus. They did as they were told while Gunnar fiddled with the keys. “So, Gunnar,” he drawled, exaggerating the name. “What’s with all the racket? It’s cutting in on this new thing we’re trying.”

The keys continued to jingle behind him. “And what’s that?”

“Meditation. Keeps our clothes from ripping apart.” Teddy drummed his fingers impatiently. “There’s also something in there about achieving inner peace, but that just sounds like a bunch of hocus pocus if you ask me.”

More jingling. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Of course it doesn’t.”

Click!

A scratching noise rose into the air as Gunnar slid the tray into their open cell. Teddy could feel the pistol trained on their backs, as acutely aware of it as he was of his own hunger. It was a tightness that ran down his spine and bloomed through his chest, mingling with the anger resting inside of him, reminding him of how large it was. 

Click!

“Okay, turn around.”

Teddy didn’t waste a second. His stomach was calling the shots now, even if it made look him weak. He took one of the bowls sitting on the tray, not bothering to examine its contents. If he did, he’d only be adding unwanted details to supplement the already terrible flavour. 

“But seriously,” he said, chewing on what might’ve been a piece of onion. “What’s happening up there? ‘Cause it sounds like a party you weren’t invited to.”

Gunnar sat down in a chair opposite from the cell. It was his job to watch them as they ate. “Yes, because mocking me is going to make me want to tell you. Maybe I ought to have you whipped.”

“Hey, whatever turns your crank.”

“Been thinking about it for a while now,” Gunnar went on, almost to himself. “Wouldn’t take much of an excuse.”

Podrus sensed the danger in Gunnar’s voice. As did Chip. The looks they shot Teddy conveyed a very clear message: stop talking.

Teddy ate the rest of his meal quietly after that. It wasn’t what he wanted but it was the right call; Gunnar had been staring at him eagerly the whole time, waiting for him to say something. Just one wrong word, and not even that. 

“I’m gonna kill him,” he whispered, once Gunnar left with the bowls and the tray. “Right after Aldren, he’s next on my list.”

“I hope you get the chance,” Podrus replied, resting a hand along his stomach. “I really, really do.”

Edited by Wade

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Hesperid misses the feeling of flying.

The ocean breeze feels cold against her lifeless wings, blowing strands of her silver hair away from her face. Standing on the deck of the Wet Dog, the night sky is beautiful and unobscured, out in the vast open seas. Her fingers reach out to that dark starry blanket above, and she wishes, not for the first time, that she can take flight into that endless black.

Her wings are sickly. She does not entirely know why.

Doctor Elias, for all her mixed feelings towards him, has taken her under his care, tending to her wings in the hopes that they may one day fly again. He has confidence in the success of his treatment on her, a blinding optimism, forged from the machinations of a mind brilliant enough to make this body in the first place.

My body, not yours.

She swats the wayward thought away with exhausted mental shields, visible cracks along its surface from a near-constant barrage of belligerent attacks. A dark chuckle rings in her head.

That's enough, she begs it.

Hesperid clutches the railings of the ship, evens out her breaths until the panic simmers down and the voice grows quiet again. She turns her attention back to her own train of thought.

Tied to the ground as she is, Hesperid thinks that she is not particularly well-equipped for this mission, not in the least. Aside from her wings, the little tricks she can do are far from being capable to defend herself, not against what they’re supposed to be pursuing.

She does not know much about the Lieutenant, nor the driving force behind the hunt of a lich and the retrieval of its bones, but she knows that she needs the compensation for this mission. Besides, Elias is here as well.

She sends one last lingering glance into the night before wandering over to the small group of crewmen assembled near the center of the ship, quietly hovering on the verge of sleep and boredom.

Perhaps she can weave them a story to pass the lonely hours of the night watch, offer some sort of comfort in the chill of the evening air. Her gaze passes over the more colorful individuals accompanying them on the mission, and Hesperid hopes that she can entertain them as well.

“Once upon a time, there was a little girl who walked into a desert and never came back.”

The young men turn to her in equal parts confusion and curiosity. She clears her throat before speaking again.

“This is also the story of a girl crafted to be beauty herself, who awakened the imagination of her own creator, inspired him to continue his work on other forms.”

Those are my memories, Intruder.

Hesperid bites down a sharp retort, pushes down the bile rising in her throat as she continues the story, painting the tale of a gullible adventurer who fell victim to bloodthirsty monsters and a lovely creation with cold hands and an even colder heart, a story set amongst the ruins of a monolith in the shifting desert sands.

She carefully does not acknowledge the other presence in her mind, a soul so entwined with her own.

Now, now, you paint us so wonderfully in your stories. I wonder how they would feel if they knew the truth.

Wouldn’t that be lovely, Lycia?

Edited by ourlachesism

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Unlike the ocean, Ares's trashy garage music rocked harder than the ship.

He scratched the back of his head with a yawn, hisses when a scab rips off and the blood ruins his white locks. The pain reminds him of the stench of a molding cell, something he clearly does not want to be reminded about. But he's had trouble remembering ever since that bloody incident, so why should he have trouble forgetting about that? He scrolls down on his phone, traversing through detailed paragraphs he himself typed minutes on. What worries him truly is that he'd lose a good chunk of his brain cells - but at the same time, he's one smart son of a bitch. Sooo -

"Did you fart?"

Holy-

Ares almost looked offended when he whipped his head to his side, shoulders easing when he realized it was just the half-elf. He forgot he dragged her along with him.

"Uh," He takes the earphones off, "Wh - no?"

"Well. It's either a dead dude or some birdshit,"

"I'm pretty sure it's probably your breath," Ares gestured, "Walking back into your face."

Tommy squinted.

"Yeah, I farted."

Tommy and Ares were on night duty because 'teenagers sleep late'. They were a little pissed that they had to watch the ocean the entire night, but mostly pissed at the fact that they were right - and they're just pissy because they don't get to sleep on the job.

The halfling fidgeted with the enamel pins on her white jacket, a key chain dangling from her belt. Unlike Ares, Tommy was listening to a stranger's story with the rest of the crewmates staying up late however they can. Obviously, the white boy couldn't care less, and began to type restlessly on his phone. Tommy smacked his arm and urged him to listen, and he scoffed, turning his gadget off and unamusedly turned his attention and his crossed legs towards the interesting stranger.

In the middle of her words, he spots something in the ocean - but his eyes are immediately diverted back to the storyteller with repeated slaps on his lap.

Unknown to them, something hides in the dark and lovingly listens to her with sleepless eyes.

 

 

 

Edited by SweetCyanide

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The lilting tones of the butterfly girl roused him from his daze. Elias tore his gaze from the ocean - undulating, dark flecked with faint starlight - and spared Hesperid a glance. Telling stories, now, aren't we?

Boredom crept over him once again. The man adjusted his glasses - not that there was any need for them, he liked their weight, the concept of a glass barrier between the vulnerable membranes of his eyes and the world - and leaned against the side of the boat. The slosh of the waves against the hull below was a comfort, a reminder of his creations from before that damned wave of fog and beasts had buried it all.

His thoughts wandered to the locked box in his cabin - the scraps of tissue and fluid samples, neatly arranged and labeled, secure in their compartments. If he had the time, had the proper resources, he would return to his craft in a heartbeat. At present, he had neither, only an indifference towards most moral codes and the ability to mutate the form of living creature, for the right price.

At any rate, it was better than doing body modifications for the rich and vain - larger eyes, straighter noses, pouty lips. He had little patience for such minuscule, insignificant uses of his power. No, he was worth more than superficial pinches and tweaks. He did not change. He created.

So now, here they were - the only surviving Flesh-Shaper of Illumad and his pet, off to hunt a Lich and get its bones or some nonsense.

Elias closed his eyes, feeling the swaying of the deck underfoot.

He listened to Hesperid's story.

He wondered if the undead flesh of liches could be reshaped, if their bones could be coaxed to spiral and coil, to - for example - become wings.

Edited by Csl

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The words. They’ve been found.

Have they now? I’d nearly forgotten about them.

Forgetfulness is not in your nature.

Perhaps. Though I must say, I am surprised.

You don’t think they’ll understand.

The last ones didn’t.

Wrong. It was your righteousness that led them astray.

I see.

But now you’re here, with me.

I struggle to grasp how that changes anything.

Don’t lie. It changes everything.

And if they open it? What then?

Then my time in this place will come to an end.

Again, I fail to understand.

It’s better that you don’t.

Then you’ve merely come to boast.

Forgive me. This victory is all I have.

You used to have questions.

And you the answers.

I had expected desperation.

I would have thought you wiser than that.

Eternity does strange things to a man.

I am no ordinary man.

As you’ve shown. It’s why you’re here, with me.

A sense of humour.

Is that so strange?

I suppose not. You've always been full of surprises.

Edited by Wade

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The opposing ship's stern loomed in front of them, and If they hadn't already been spotted, they would be any second. It may have been dark, but a pirate ship couldn't exactly go unnoticed.

Aldren crouched on the yard above the mainsail, keeping a firm grip on one of the ropes they had dangled from the pole above. She'd rather not break a leg before she had the opportunity to see some heads roll.

Anticipation toiled away in her gut, setting her nerves alight with a deadly spark, a spark that had become more addictive than any drug or drink. But this time felt different, Aldren knew it was different, because this was it. This was her shot at freedom, to sever her bindings and start living for herself again. It was the first hope she'd had in a long time, one of the few theories she hadn't been able to test.

She'd be dammed if she let it sail away into the night.

Once centered with the other ship, Aldren reached down that invisible magic tether, feeling the sea’s restless energy on the other end. She beckoned to it like an old friend or a lover, listening with amusement to the familiar song that answered. She sensed the subtle change below the ship like an extension of her own body, as the waves became a cradle rather than a riptide, steadying them to a gentle rock.

Pushing that thought to the back of her mind, Aldren raised a hand, signaling in a flicking gesture to the remainder of her crew below. She could make out movement on the deck and a moment later grapples had been tossed onto the stern, pulling taught against the back rail.

Just in case she lost focus.

She stood, moving her braid to hang down her back. Behind her, Scylla was also standing, and with ardent eyes nodded her assurance. 

Wrapping her hand tight around the rope, Aldren pushed off the yard and swung across, weightless for a moment before dropping near soundlessly onto the other ship’s poop deck. Scylla appeared at her side a moment later, Aldren never having heard her. As far as she could tell, no alarm had been raised, which meant they had to dispose of the pilot on night duty before the rest of her crew boarded. It seemed they still had the element of surprise after all. She kept her steps light, careful to minimize any creaking the boards might make as she moved quickly and quietly down to the quarterdeck, Scylla watching above. Before her was the helm, and at the helm was the unfortunate soul who would become first blood.

He was tall, his blonde hair tied back, and totally unaware of Aldren. He leaned against the ship wheel, apparently entranced by the rhythmic feminine voice floating up from the main deck, reciting some kind of story.

There was that spark again, rapidly building. 

Thunder in her bones.

Lighting in her blood.

Keeping her body low to the deck, Aldren drew her sword and lunged forward. She took him by surprise, one hand clenched over his mouth and her blade at his throat as she dragged him back and out of the sight of the opposing crew. He let out a muffled cry, one she swiftly silenced. He struggled against her firm grip, but went limp within seconds, unconscious and soon to be dead. Taking his weight, she cautiously lowered his body to the floor, keeping herself as free of blood as possible. She signaled to Scylla on the deck above, and the shifter disappeared to the back.

Aldren could feel the moment he died.

She felt his life flicker out and his soul being pilfered as she cleaned her blade on a dead man's clothes. It was an eerie sensation, a crisp wind across bare skin, icy claws dragging down her spine. She cursed the demon for the ten thousandth time, and she would likely curse it ten thousand more before this was over.

But maybe not. Maybe her theory would work. It had to work, otherwise this would all be for nothing. 

The girl was still telling her story, continuing on despite the death of her crew mate. She had no idea that her words were weaving a cover better than any darkness or shadow. The cover of distraction. The cover of entrancement. 

Stare at the sun and you'll go blind, after all.

She smiled at that, listening while she had the opportunity, albeit brief.

In minutes Aldren's crew had swung aboard, Casisth bringing up the rear, leaving only a small portion to stay behind. Now for the fun to begin.

She scanned them briefly in the dim lantern light as they gathered around her, ready to change into the fight, before turning on her heel to walk to the quarterdeck railing. She leaned over it, picking out the girl almost immediately, and smirked to herself. The hiding part was over.

"That's a lovely story you've been telling," She called, tone somewhere between flirty and mercilessly taunting, "It's a shame it's going to get you all killed."

 

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Perhaps it is a curse, or simply a consistent streak of bad luck, but Hesperid has never been allowed to finish her stories. This one is no different.

"That's a lovely story you've been telling. It's a shame it's going to get you all killed."

At the unfamiliar voice, the dangerous edge to its tone, Hesperid’s words stutter in her throat, her body pivoting to face the red-haired stranger and the menace in her stature.

At first, the thoughts that race through her mind suggest that this is a joke, that someone from the crew has taken it upon themselves to intrude on her story and display their flair for drama. However, she has not seen this woman among the sailors, nor the colorful individuals aboard with them. The realization pours ice, cold and sharp, into her veins.

This is what you call a raid, Intruder.

Her skin prickles, her mind picking up on the slight changes to the wind, signalling foreign entities in the vicinity that had not been there before, and it occurs to her that she had noticed them, but so enthralled with the idea of entertaining the sailors with her words, she had not given them much attention.

“I—I—” Hesperid backs away slowly, casting a desperate glance over her shoulder for Doctor Elias, wordlessly shouting for help. She is powerless here, with her lifeless wings and her broken core, and boiling frustration bubbles in the pit of her stomach.

The loss of our powers is of no one’s fault but your own, Lycia, the voice hisses, pained and furious, and it takes everything within her not to respond, not to scream, not to beg.

“Who—who are you,” she breathes towards the stranger, hoping to keep her attention long enough for her to make her way to Elias’ side.

 

Spoiler

I haven't got her profile up yet, so this is what Hesperid looks like:

2d934310cc493f4e52f1f7a373439e3c.jpg

 

Edited by ourlachesism

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BANG

- went the warning shot, and down went Ares.

At first, she was confused as to why. Tommy asks, "You dead?" before realizing their ship was being raided, that her good old friend adrenaline was booming unconsciously in her blood.

She whistles - at first seeming like a hoot to bring attention to her, but is actually a call of magic that releases the bindings on a keychain dangling from a belt. The chainsaw held in her right hand is puppycat, painted pink and decorated with stickers. Donning a furious face, Tommy pulls the handle and let's er' rip. In comparison to the rougher, meaner, tattooed mercs in the Wet Dog, Tommy was freckled and short, a sweet little half-elf with a candy bar sticking out from her back pocket.

But hey - looks are deceiving. She's gotten in street hustles before, so delinquents and no-good goons are outta the question.

But what are pirates?

Well, Tommy thinks they're no-good goons on boats.

"Oi!" She stumbles, on Ares's legs.

"Back the fuck up!" In her right hand, puppycat growls for blood, for carnage. If Ares didn't get knocked out with a bullet, he would've held Tommy back - he would've said something like; You see that red hair? She looks just like my aunt Rox. But meaner-lookin' - cruel and cold kinda feelin'. Wanna know why?

The half-elf is drawn to the woman's taunting gaze - stares at it as if looking into a pitless abyss.

She's the captain of the goddamn Siren's song.

 

 

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And suddenly, there were pirates.

Fantastic. 

The first sign of her presence was when the scarf tied around his neck quivered. The scent receptors Elias had sewn into its skin - from some sort of shark, he couldn't quite remember - had sensed blood. Curious, Elias pulled the fabric up and over his lower face; automatically, it tightened, paper-thin muscles contracting, tightening, winding around his nose and mouth. His skin prickled as his nervous system connected with the Flesh-beast, and he held his breath, bracing himself against the explosion of stimuli from his suddenly-enhanced senses.

When he'd finally adjusted, the intruder was no longer alone, and no longer hidden.

Lovely story, indeed. Elias caught his creation's glance and straightened, the laziness melting away from his stance. The Flesh-Shaper took a step forward, the movement almost casual. His thumbs traced the inner sleeves of his coat; the flesh-fabric responded, hair-thin fibers wormed their way into his wrists, twining themselves into his fingerbones. 

He cast a cursory glance at the girl with the chainsaw roaring in her hands, the white-haired boy prone at his feet. He took a longer look at the pirates. His eyes lingered on the blue-winged girl. Elias sighed.

I hope I'm paid extra for this.

A flick of his fingers and a pair of pink tubes enclosed his index and middle fingers, leaving holes on the tips of both. With an expression of bored displeasure, Elias pointed both hands at the woman. These finger guns look ridiculous. Still, spitting cobra venom was the most practical option at the moment. He'd have to wait until the baddies were closer so he could bring out his better toys.

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McGillis had never woken up to gunfire before. It didn’t really occur to him that, at one point in his career, he might, not having given the idea much thought. But if he did, he supposed it would’ve been frightening. Exhilarating. Like the kind of panic that propelled you out of bed when you overslept for work. Not this pregnant calmness that left him waiting and wondering, creasing his brow into a singular question. It almost didn’t feel real. The muffled pop pop pop coming from the other side of the ceiling, the unmistakable whir of a chainsaw- it all had this placid absurdity to it that made him simply think Hmm.

And then, just to make sure he wasn’t dreaming,

“Hmm.”

With one languid sweep of his legs, McGillis slid out from his cot. Someone on the other side of the ceiling roared, and then there was a scream. He couldn’t tell if both voices belonged to the same person; he wasn’t sure if it really mattered. The answer would come to him upstairs, surely, where the truth of things awaited him, but for now his rifle was the one thing that needed his attention the most, and give it his attention was exactly what he did. Bolt works? Check. Magazine’s full? Check. Am I ready to do this? Fuck me, I god damned hope so. Check, check, check, everything checked out. 

Woo-sah.

He opened the cabin door and stepped out.

Woo-sah.

One turn around the corner later, he stood at the bottom of the staircase.

Woo-sah.

At the top of the staircase, a bullet greeted him.

WOO-S-

McGillis spun to the ground. Pain flared bright and white where he’d been struck below the collarbone. It was so sudden, so vicious, that he was more dumbstruck than actually hurt. He didn’t know how long he laid there, oozing blood onto the cracked wood. He thought it was something around five seconds, even though it could’ve been as high as thirty. Eventually he found the will to fight through the agony, to get back up, to shoot the startled pirate who thought he was dead. It still didn’t feel quite real, seeing the man the drop, everyone around him caught in a frenzy of blades and gunfire. 

“McGillis!”

He spun to his right. The same sailor he’d met at the galley, the one who’d lived his whole life on the ocean, was hiding behind a stack of crates, waving frantically at him. 

“Don’t just stand there! Move!

McGillis didn’t waste time. His run was quick and decisive. A bullet zipped past his shoulder as he dove for the makeshift cover, and he pressed his back against one of the crates before his breath tumbled out in a ragged, throaty gasp. The sailor said something, he didn’t know what- it was hard to make anything out over the pain in his chest and the audible chaos polluting the air. 

“What?” he asked.

The sailor, impossibly, grinned. “You look like shit.” 

A moment passed. Just long enough to make him grin too, like an idiot, like they weren’t this close to dying. “I hate you.”

The sailor, Luger in hand, peeked over his crate and let off a couple of shots. “Got a plan?”

McGillis imitated the gesture. “Not really. I just got up here.”

“Well, we could use one,” the man said tightly. “'Cause I think we’re losing.”

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There were two kinds of people who made up Aldren's crew.

The ones she cared for,

and the ones who died.

She spun to the side, a bullet whizzing past her head. She hardly broke stride as she raced across the deck, cutlass in her right hand, pistol in her left.

Sailing with Aldren meant learn fast or die. It meant being light on your feet, learning to control fear and embrace the weighted dice of fate. Anyone could gamble, but only the clever ones knew how to cheat. The clever ones knew how to survive.

The deck had erupted into an anarchic maelstrom, and the deafening roar of a chainsaw only made the wildfire in Aldren's eyes dance to a chaotic crescendo. She shot at whoever had sent the bullet her way, it was only polite to return the favor.

Crew members came and went over the years, some joining with bravado and visions of grandeur, only to jump ship with hell-hounds on their heels  the very next time they saw land; others met a more decisive end. But the rest, the rare ones whom her eyes strayed upon, who took their first steps onto the deck with such untamed audacity, it was as if the gods themselves had created them for the sole purpose of bringing the brew of anarchy to a boil.

Those were the ones Aldren knew would make it aboard the Siren's Song. Those were the ones like her. The clever ones. The slightly unhinged ones.

In one fluid motion she slid a foot back and pivoted on the other, slashing at the person who had charged her from behind. Her victim stumbled back from the force of her blow, blood droplets spraying like shimmering red stardust against a gruesome backdrop, and fell to their knees. Aldren barely noticed the blood that had splattered across her cheek, her face, didn't particularly care either. Conflict made her ruthless, conflict made her feel alive, electrified. It consumed her, and It's all she felt as she whirled back around to continue on her path of destruction, her opponent left to bleed their life into the boards. 

Another soul claimed.

Those clever ones, who'd proven themselves countlessly, surrounded her now, a tangled uneven net fighting with elation equal to her own. It's how they'd survived in the beginning, and it's how they continued to. They knew to stay near to one another, to her. Unskilled stragglers were easy to overwhelm and pick off, but as long as they kept proximity, bunching together and spreading apart like waves, pulsating like a heart, they could be nigh unstoppable. 

Nothing works like the buddy-system.

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After, when the deed is done and these events become nothing more than pretty stories for her to tell someday, Hesperid will never admit to cowering behind Elias or anything that untoward, but if she is to be honest, what she is doing is very much just that: cowering behind Elias.

As soon as the shooting starts, she turns and darts towards the Doctor, crouching low as her feet carry her forward in a panicked frenzy, her wings closer to the ground than they have ever been recently. When she makes it behind him, she stays low to the ground, her small frame shaking like the world is ending, when really, there have been worse things before this.

Coward, the voice croons, mockery framed with love. Do something hurtful to save yourself, will you? You’re good at that.

Hesperid grits her teeth, shuts her eyes against the sudden spark behind their lids. She cannot. She will not.

These hands will not be used for anything other than to heal and to love and to cherish ever again.

The ghost inside of her laughs, shivers rolling down her spine. I never took you for a liar.

A sharp gleam in the corner of her eye catches her attention, and she whirls to see a man bearing down his sword towards her with a wicked grin. She screams, raises her hands up to cover her head, the world narrowing down to the name that tears itself out from her throat in a shrill cry: “Elias!”

Edited by ourlachesism

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Looks like pulling out the big guns ended up exciting these pirates, an opposite effect Tommy was going for. She expected to, well, scare them away. With a chainsaw.

But it ended up encouraging them to fight - a mistake on her part. Now that it was a stupid move, she's hiding behind a barrel, remembering never to bring a knife to a gunfight. And speaking of gunfights, she is hilariously bad with a gun. Finger kept loose on the trigger, Tommy scowled thinking about the mockery Ares would lose himself over. She could already imagine him rolling around, that little white bastard laughing himself to death - oh, she'll show him-

A bullet whizzed past her ear, an explosion of splinters coming along with it. She was too terrified out of her ass to take a sneak peek and aim, so her hand came up like a whack-a-mole and pulled the trigger, narrowly missing twice before shooting the third one and hearing a comforting SHIT, which prompted her to hop out behind the barrel and dive in with her axe. Grip steady as it should be, the rust found it's way into the pirate's neck. The blood dripping from the blade made her steady grip slippery - her white jacket painted in a blissful amount of red.

A moment of relief washed over her as she watched the goon drop dead - that moment quickly cast away once she made a cursory glance to her left and saw another pirate. This time, sprinting with a blade meant just for her. Obviously, she reacted by shooting him - then missing, then shooting again - and missing the second shot - and the third - until she said 'fuck it' and whipped out that gnarly pink chainsaw from the keychain on her belt. Staying low, Tommy lunged forward, starting up the saw after forcefully plunging it through her victim's abdomen. She felt every muscle and organ tense up against her - and like a hot knife through butter, Tommy ruthlessly ripped and tore, the warcry of Puppycat mixing with the rumbling screams of pain of a dead man whose stomach narrowly opened up.

The sight of it was disgusting.

The feeling of it, was absolutely great.

Shrinking the saw back into a keychain, she stepped back and looked down at her crime against humanity. Tommy was covered in more blood now, having torn apart a man whose life she would have thought about sparing - and now has his entrails currently splattered against the greasy floorboards. But hands possessed by the devil, look at what she's done now. She let a shrill exhale pass out from her lungs; a breath filled with fatigue, guilt, and carnage.

"Elias!"

Shifting her body to the side and judging by a quick peripheral look and sound of voice, it appears she has found the endearing storyteller quivering behind - perhaps, one of the other crew members she hasn't properly introduced herself to yet. Sprinting at them like a maniacal bull was definitely not one of their own - a man whose grin twisting with every moment he neared closer with a sword in hand. Instinctively, Tommy reached for her gun-

Until she was suddenly hit in the back of the head with a handle - followed by an amused duet of hearty laughter, then punched in the face and pushed off the ship without a second thought.

"SHI-"

Tommy fell into the ocean that night. 

Unable to register what the hell just happened - her primal instinct began to scream - her brain telling her that she is in the water. And by utter luck, Tommy does not know how to swim. Tommy pulls out a small knife and stabs it into the side of the ship, beginning to scream and beg for Gaia's mercy, hoping someone have heard her panicked screeches over the bullets and blades - her elvish dialect swerving in from time to time while she clung on for dear life as the tides drowned her again and again, struggling to keep up with the pace of the Wet Dog.

Meanwhile, Ares was still out cold.

Edited by SweetCyanide

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