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When Snow Falls

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ARON CREGGAN STONEHEART

"Are y'fuckin' kiddin' me, boy?!" This was the sixth time the damned axle snapped, and Cregsgy was regretting not spending the extra Merlin for the other caravan. It felt as if they had spent have the trip moving, and half the trip sitting in snow twiddling thumbs. Stomping out of the vehicle, bottle in hand, Aron thought to give a word to the driver.

"I paid money — good money! — to get to Valjer by th'mornin'. Why aren't we moving?"

"Listen sir, it's the blizzard. I told you earlier, th-"

"Screw th'damn blizzard. How many times is this goin' t'break?!" he yelled, pointing his wine bottle at the broken wheel.

"I can't control that, sir. Gah...," he grunted as something cracked underneath, "C-could you just give me a moment to fix this, please!"

"Y'sure you don't need help, lad? Ev'ry time y'fixed it', the damn thing falls apart!"

"No, I don't need help. Thank you for the offer. I sincerely mean it. Really. Just — please get back in the car."

"Was that sarcasm, boy? Well y'know th-"

"Please get back in the car, sir, I re-."

"Aye! I wasn't finished yet. Did yer mother teach y'any resp-"

"GET BACK IN THE CAR!" the driver screamed, pulling out from under the car and chucking his wrench at Aron's face.

Barely registering the flying hunk of metal, Aron swerved out of the way, almost falling over in his drunken stupor. Looking back to the driver, he couldn't help but be amused at how red the man's pasty face was. He looked like a ripe, murderous, tomato, and Aron found it hilarious. No matter how hard the driver breathed, or how tightly that driver's fists were clenched, the dwarf knew the boy wouldn't fight him. He was Aron Creggan Stoneheart III, a champion to the people, and less-importantly, the caravan's prescribed guard for the trip. The driver wouldn't dare hit the man he hired now, would he? If the kid was from Cobran, maybe he would have shown the dwarf a little bit more respect.

Regardless, the driver must have been a complete idiot, throwing his wrench away into the snow during the blizzard. Cregsgy would have helped the poor lad find his lost tool, but, Stoneheart got the message, and with a smirk and a swig, he opened the tarp and rejoined his fellow travelers. Taking yet another drink, Aron recanted his earlier assessment. The group would probably make it by morning, and if that was true, then he was worrying about nothing. Sunrise was at noon, being winter and all in the Imperial South.

"So th'bitch ain't all bark aft'r all," he muttered to himself. "Sucks t'be you — hope yer ass f'reezes outside."

Edited by Artificer

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MARCEL "SNIPE" LANCASTER

With the clouds fully parted, no tonic, brew, nor bitter medication could suppress the changes any longer. The moon's silver rays ensured that all such fetters and glamours was done away with by the time he reached the shack. When he entered those old, weathered, creaky doors, he no longer felt the chill of the wind on his skin. His heartbeat was ever-quickening, letting the blood flush throughout his veins, warming flesh, bone, and marrow.

A pang of hunger struck his stomach with a note of bitter longing.

"No...," he said to himself, "Wait for Knox... wait for Knox."

In retaliation, his stomach growled loudly, and with it brought pains to his sides. He grit his teeth — he would wait this out.

Dull pain soon sharpened, and then turned to burning. Spreading, spreading went the fire throughout his body, until even the tips of his nails were itching in anguish.

"Wait for Knox..." he said once more, hoping for the return of his partner so that the man could relieve him of his torment. "Wait for Knox."

Then came the moonbeams, entering through the cracks of the door, and so too did his senses. Sight, smell, touch, sound, taste — all grew in shocking clarity, turning the soft murmur of the winds outside into crashing thunder. His ear drums pounded as his skin prickled. Sitting on the floor, he covered his ears, just wanting the tumult to end. Still, the sound cared not for the wind would not stop for one man. The damned shed seemed to amplify it all, he thought. He couldn't stay inside of there.

Getting up, he found himself stumbling out of the doors, wandering through the snow, until he came to the neighboring building.

Food, Snipe immediately thought.

Something delicious was being cooked inside, he surmised. What else could have been that wonderful scent that wafted through the narrow cracks? Forgetting the pain, he focused only on the growing hunger he had. They hadn't eaten anything since that morning, hadn't they? Surely, the owners would share their meal with a starving adventurer, especially one who was on a quest to liberate their sister city Cobran.

Walking to the door, Marcel yanked on the handle, but to his dismay, it was locked. Were they really going to lock a starving adventurer outside in the cold?

Mindlessly, he pulled on the handle once more, but the great doors would not budge. Finally, with one last try, he wrenched the handle, and with the sound of splintered wood, it reluctantly opened. Swinging the door wide out, Snipe let himself into the building, whatever it was. Feet crunched on the hay littered on the floor as he walked through the large, cavernous room. It was dark, but Snipe could see things as clear as day. Why was there so much hay in a room filled to the brim with food? Eyes wandered from course to course, wondering which would be the best to sate his insatiable appetite.

Then, his eyes met with those of some magnificent beast — an equine of the finest caliber, no doubt.

His mouth watered.

He hadn't eaten in days.

Edited by Artificer

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KNOX "FROST" HADLEY

"Ah, who am I kidding. You probably would have met a stryder in that storm than a lone caravan," he laughed, giving Samuel a pat on the shoulder.

Aside from the introductions, chit-chat was rather stagnant, consisting primarily of menial banter and empty conversation. The people who had just arrived looked weary from their long journeys, and with Dan leaving the group for bed, Knox wondered how long it had been since Snipe had left. Taking a look at the sky, he judged from the position of the moon that roughly thirty minutes had already passed. It was far too long a period of time for him to have left his partner alone, and Frost couldn't help but feeling a slight, yet nagging worry tugging at him. Another few minutes passed, and the small nagging feeling grew into a pressing urge to leave and check up on Marcel.

"Alright everyone, best we all get some rest,"  he announced. "We can meet up tomorrow at two when the sun begins to set. We'll make our journey to Cobran at the time, so be ready because it will be a day's worth of travel."

With a wave goodbye to everyone, Knox set off on his ways back to the shed at the periphery of the town.

 

Edited by Artificer

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KNOX "FROST" HADLEY

The shed door was wide open, drifting back and forth like a dead leaf teetering from its branch. His gut feeling was right, and with confirmation in stow, he felt a great weight in his chest. Reluctantly, Frost slowly approached and knocked on the swinging wood. "... Marcel?"

Nothing.

"Marcel,... are you in there?" Knox asked once more, knocking twice.

Nothing.

Pulling the door open, he looked shed.

Nothing — just motes of dust shining in streaks of light.

It was jarring. Everything was immaculate, items all organized and unmoved from where they had been placed in the morning. Walking over to the desk, Knox grabbed the spare ice-axe. Varda said she needed a pick for climbing, so making a mental note, he clipped it to the side of his pants and continued through the room. Then, at the sight of it, his heart dropped. On the floor was a large pot of once-steaming, now-frozen mutton stew that the they got from the inn-keep that morning. Picking up the bowl, he relented. The food was for Snipe.

Cursing under his breath, he dropped the pot on the ground, and ran back outside.

The tracks couldn't be too far, he thought. Leaning down to the ground, he leveled his face with the surface of the fresh snow, and looked across just like Marcel had taught him. Knox never imagined animal tracking would be so useful in finding his partner, but given recent events, it was inevitable. Scanning, he finally saw it. There they were. They were faint, but were definitely depressions in the snow. It was by some miracle of the gods that they weren't covered up. Rising up, he stood to look at the shape. Boot marks. Deep, but boot marks nonetheless.

Perhaps it wasn't too late.

Following the tracks, Hadley noted how the steps became deeper, widening slightly.

He hoped it wasn't too late.

When he found boots tossed carelessly to the side in the snow, his worst fears were confirmed, and with that, Knox ran, snow crunching beneath his boots, pick and lamp swinging at his side, following the large, prominent, lupine footsteps.

He must have ran a quarter mile before he finally arrived at the stables. The tracks ended there. Swallowing the phlegm from his chill-burned throat, Knox bent down to catch his breath. It was then that his purple eyes caught something glimmering under the snow. Kneeling down, he picked it up, lifting it up to get a better look at it in the moonlight. It was a door handle, metal warped and crushed from what appeared to be the grip of a monster.

He could not lie to himself any longer — it was too late.

Careful not to make too much noise, he crept up to the alley doors, one barely hanging from its hinges. The crunching of bones were faint, but as clear as the stars in the sky. There were short, staggered breathes of many animals from within, likely paralyzed in fear, but there was one set of breaths which were calm, collected, resonant.

"Marcel?" he whispered.

The crunching stopped, and so too did all of the animals' frantic breathing. There was a brief, wet noise of tearing flesh, but nothing else save for the howling wind outside.

With that, Knox unhooked the pick from his side, clenching the handle firmly in grip.

A flash of phosphorescent amber eyes cut through the darkness, staring straight at Frost.

"Marcel? It's me, bud, it's Knox."

Padded footsteps could be heard, along with a low, menacing growl.

Grip tightened around the ice-axe until his knuckles were bone-white.

It was Marcel.

Edited by Artificer

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MARCEL "SNIPE" LANCASTER

"Want some?" he asked nonchalantly with a mouth full of horse flesh. Holding out the half-chewed up leg, he came out into the moonlight and offered it to his partner. Sure, the dribbly bits were somewhat gross, and the sinew was literally hanging like threads, but aside from that, the horse had good thighs. It was so good in fact, he took another bloody bite of the damn thing. He was lucky there was food around. They should have gotten food like this earlier.

After the next bite, the werewolf eyed Frost curiously. A perplexed look was plastered on the man's face, tinged with a subtle, but noticeable, note of disgust. Did Snipe have blood on his cheeks or something?

"Knox?" he said, mouth stuffed to the brim with fat and horse flesh. Maybe his partner wasn't responding because he was talking with his mouth full. Frost always hated that. Swallowing the chunk of meat in his mouth, he tried again. "Knox?" he spoke once more, throat clear and unobstructed, head tilted to the side as he waved the severed leg in front of him, jiggly bits and red strands doing a little dance in the air.

His partner sighed.

Much to Marcel's confusion, Knox then flipped the ice-axe so the handle was pointing out.

Still, at least it was a response, he thought.

Next, Frost lifted it up in the air and — much to the werewolf's surprise — smacked him hard on the snout with the blunt end. The strike sent Snipe reeling backwards into the hay, causing the wolf to drop his meal on the dirt.

"What the hell, Marcel!"

Edited by Artificer

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As Hadley patted Samuel on the shoulder, a familiar scent made its way to the armored mans nose; a scent that he could never mistake for anything else. He didn't know how he could have missed it until now; maybe the cold weather, or the strong wind was messing with his finely tuned senses. Suddenly he also noticed the concerned look on his employers face as he said goodbye to the rest of the party and walked off. With all this new information, a hunch began to take shape in the warriors mind, but he would confirm it before confronting Hadley. Searching the snow, he found a pair of tracks leading off towards the stables, and began to make his way there.

By the time he was halfway there, he could hear the sound of tearing flesh and frenzied eating carried on the wind, which was now blowing in his direction; also carrying the scent from before, but stronger. He saw Hadley open the door, and go inside, and quickened his step to catch up with him. When he got to the door he could hear the man reprimanding his friend, and peeked inside to see his suspicions confirmed. Throwing off his cloak, he made his presence known by loudly closing the door behind him. One hand moved to the sword on his back as he slowly approached.

"Do you have this under control?"

His tone was calm, but Samuel's demeanor left no doubt about what would happen if he thought that things weren't in control.

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KNOX "FROST" HADLEY

Snipe's face flashed a dangerous, feral, look when the horse flesh hit the floor, and Knox immediately regretted his decision. Without warning, Knox went from standing upright to lying flat on the ground — a huge, slavering beast pinning him down to the cold, dirt ground. He would have gasped in surprise, but the wind was knocked straight out of his lungs by the sudden assault. A deep, throaty growl came from Marcel as the beast bared its fangs towards Knox. Hadley felt a wave of nausea come over him as the monster's foul, meaty breath washed over his face. The lycanthrope's lips were smeared with blood and flecks of gore, and Knox couldn't had the uncanny feeling that he was soon to be torn apart like the horse carcass strewn across the room. Those wild eyes narrowed to slits were not his friend's. No — they belonged to something else entirely.

"Marcel..." he barely choked out, a set of ivory daggers brushing his neck.

At those words, the werewolf leaned back, and took another look at Frost. Yellow eyes widened as the beast suddenly backed off.

"Knox?" the monster spoke, vowels lengthened, doglike, distorted, yet with a quality that was distinctly human all the same. "What... what did I just do?"

Turning to his side, Knox began hacking violently, blood-laced sputum sputtering onto the ground. Slowly, but surely, he picked himself off of the ground, and wiped the blood from the corners of his lips.

Sure, behind all the fur, pointed ears, fangs, claws, and taste for live flesh, there was his friend, but Knox swore that the man he knew was slowly disappearing with every full moon.

"Knox?" the werewolf said once more, looking at his partner insistently.

Then the door slammed shut.

30 minutes ago, danzilla3 said:

"Do you have this under control?"

The voice took both Knox and Marcel aback. A pure feeling of terror went down the hunter's spine, more so then his earlier fear of being eaten alive. Despite everything — despite almost being devoured —, he feared for Marcel. Despite everything, despite the curse, the restless nights — everything —, Marcel was still the one and only thing in this world that he cared about.

Stumbling to his feet, Knox grabbed the ice-axe, lit the lantern, and looked to the entrance.

To his relief and utter shock, it was him and not a Valjerian like he imagined. However, the man's eyes had a different quality to them in the lantern light than it did outside — a dangerous look dancing in its piercing gray.

"S-Samuel? What are y-"

Upon seeing the man's hand move towards the pommel of his blade, Knox involuntarily threw himself between the werewolf and the mercenary, throwing his arms out to the sides.

"Wait, wait stop!" Taking a moment to regain his composure, he took a deep breath.

"Yes. Yes everything is under control. Please just wait a moment, I can explain everything! Don't hurt him!"

@danzilla3

Edited by Artificer

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The man, currently wolf, covered in the blood and viscera of its latest meal seemed to have regained some composure now that its hunger had been sated. Still, Samuel was under no illusions about how dangerous a werewolf could be; seemingly docile one moment, and explosively violent the next. Still, through the blood and fur, he could see fear and confusion on its lupine features. An unwilling, recent, convert to lycanthropy perhaps? For the moment Haley seemed to be telling the truth about being in control of the situation. He let his hand drop from his weapon, but his stance remained guarded, ready to pounce.

"Get this sorted, then explain."

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KNOX "FROST" HADLEY

Dropping his arms to his side, Frost took a brief moment to look back just to confirm to himself that his friend was unharmed. The werewolf was still there, gaze locked on the new arrival. It struck Knox at that moment that Samuel had not met Snipe, and Snipe knew not of Samuel.

"Samuel, this is Snipe. Snipe, this is Samuel."

"The others are already acquainted with Snipe, Samuel, but you didn't meet him when he was... human.... He left early before you arrived is what I'm trying to say."

"He is a member of our party, and was there when Dan, Khakina, I, and the other survivors came back from the first expedition."

"This affliction... is recent — All of this, it isn't his fault," he said with firm conviction, gesturing to the bloody mess that was behind him. However, as he looked back and saw the horse's decapitated head lying on the ground, Knox began to believe less in what he was said. Why didn't Snipe just eat the stew like they had discussed earlier. Why the horse?

It was nights like these where he questioned whether his friend was now more beast than man as the curse was clearly changing him.

Still, the question was not if he believed in his own words.

The question was, did Samuel believe him?

Could a simple man understand?

@danzilla3

Edited by Artificer

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The story was a familiar one; a curse of lycanthropy placed on one who never wanted any part of it. Indeed, the Gareau's had studied the issue and found that most werewolves did not first become what they are through any choice of their own. However, it was not unusual for the afflicted to begin to enjoy their new strength the longer they had it, beginning to see themselves as superior to vanilla humans. Some eventually loose all sense of identity, and become the same ravenous beasts that cursed them in the first place. A vicious cycle in more than one sense of the words.

"You need to get a handle on this. I know of a number of remedies that can help take the edge off, make him feel closer to normal."

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KNOX "FROST" HADLEY

"Are you serious?" Knox said, eyes glimmering with hope. Could this be true? Was there actually a remedy for these long, restless nights? What did this knight know about werewolves? The hunter was tempted to ask, but that piercing look in those luminous, steel eyes made him reconsider. The man was offering Snipe a kindness beyond measure. Who was Frost to question it?

Still, with the coming of Cobran, the betrayal lingered like a fresh scar in his mind. While this man was willing to help, who was to say that he wasn't dangerous? He was a stranger, and followed Frost out to the outskirts of Valjer City. The more he thought about it, who was Frost not to question it?

This situation was far from normal, and the man's appearance so far from the tavern raised the hunter's suspicions. Who was this man? If he was an inquisitor of Wolfbane or a member of the Deepdelve Rangers, there was no doubting that he would have slaughtered Snipe on the spot, perhaps even Knox for being affiliated. Then again, even if he was just a normal mercenary, his reaction was far too calm. Far too collected. Why did Samuel undertake this quest? There were so many questions, but so little answers. For certain, Samuel knew more than what he was saying.

Hadley had to be careful, for he was treading in dangerous waters now. Something was off. This man was dangerous.

"You seem to know a lot about werewolves...," Knox spoke with slow, deliberate care, scrutinizing the man's expression for any hints of deception — any sign that he could be hiding anything important. Frost figured it would unwise to show his suspicions in full, so he would continue, making the other comment seem to be a meaningless side note meant to enhance his next words. "I am thankful that we have someone who is knowledgeable in lycanthropy joining us on this quest. Wolfmen, white wolves — Cobran's packed to the brim with them. Quite frankly, I'm new to this whole 'my-friend-is-a-werewolf-now' dilemma, so perhaps tomorrow, you could share some remedies to, how you say, 'take the edge off' off of my companion's... impulses. For now, I have to clean up this... mess, so perhaps it would be best if you get some rest for the night."

He did not fully trust Samuel, not yet, but he needed the man's assurance. They were all to travel together tomorrow as companions, and complications would indeed be unfavorable.

"You must not tell anyone about what happened tonight," he said, looking the knight straight in the eye. "We are going to tell the rest of the party about Snipe's condition once we leave Valjer, but no one must know about what happened in this shed tonight."

"I need your word."

@danzilla3

 

Edited by Artificer

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images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQtNhsn2SvIVo97X0z_vesBhL_GNMLor4GKEYpd3q2Sh05cWMwDThe parting with Dan was rather uneventful as both of them moved on to work on their respective preparations. While Dan was busy on his shoppong spree, Khaki on the other hand was settling herself atop the tavern roof with numeroys bottles of various spirits. What would a little girl do with these bottles? She's gonna get wasted of course.

So it went on, her drinking spree until the wee hours of the night. It was a nice night, and the atmosepher was just right for a round and up above thw rooftops was the little girl with her face flushed scarlet. Beside appeared the ghost of a woman that only Dan would recognize.

"Well hullo there Khaki! Mind sharing a bit of drink with little old me?" the ghost asked.

Khaki spared the ghost a brief glance then went back to ignoring the phantom. Then came the awkward silence between these two once good friends. Except for the sudden flare of lycanthropy somewhere down below it would have been a solemn moment between the aunt and her niece. Khaki was of course the aunt and the apparition was the soul of her dead niece, the that died in the frigid land of Shawnee.

The ghost let loose a ghastly chuckle after a while. Of course only Khaki could hear it but those with peculiar sense would faintly notice the phantom's presence. In response to the haunting noise, Khaki gave a loud burp before chugging off another bottle.

"Aren't you the least bit concerned about the furries below, Khaki?"

Khaki shrugged. "Not necessarily. Why?"

"Nothing. Just curious. Last I heard you were more concerned with the welfare of others."

Khaki leaned back, to lie on the rooftop, her eyes fixed on the stars above. "I am. But it seems somebody else took care of it."

"Oho! How perceptive, auntie Khaki. As the Mistress, I should commend you. But alas I am but the faint echoes of a woman long past this mortal realm."

Sighing, Khaki ignored the ghost and willed herself to sleep. Ever since that eldritch abomination invaded her nubile body, she found that she needed less rest than before. But she needed a few minutes of sleep to at least remind herself that she's still human albeit partly. Tomorrow is the big day after all and she's more than done with her preparations. The piece of scribbled all over her person would be her insurance for the ensuing battle, something she did on the side while drinking. Oh, how hardworking Khaki is.

Tomorrow. She reminded herself if the notion. Soon she and Dan will put an end to this long nightmare.

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MARCEL "SNIPE" LANCASTER

Beyond the coppery stench of blood mixed with grass, something was amiss. As Knox talked with the knight, Marcel couldn't help but get the feeling that the man's scent was familiar. It was faint, far too faint for any human to notice it, but just strong enough for Marcel to notice. If Samuel had been a few feet farther, the werewolf would have missed it. It was fresh like the wild, malodorous like the untamed. Whether it emanated from the interior of that man's armor or the clothes we wore, Marcel could not tell. Still, no soaps, perfume, or dirt would wash it out. Marcel would know. After spending months in those forsaken lands, he knew what they smelled like.

Marcel growled lowly, now fully convinced that the man who smelled of wolves was a lycanthrope as well.

It did not matter whether Samuel was actually one. The man's seeming affiliation with them was enough for the werewolf's condemnation. Marcel would not entertain the risk of another treachery. He and Knox knew very well where misplaced trust would lead them — Lyall engraved that lesson into their skulls the moment the he set his wolves upon them.

Circling from around the post, the werewolf walked in front of his partner, crouching low to the ground, baring bloody fangs, and never letting his eyes leave the knight's hands.

Knox may not have known, but Marcel knew.

If the man so much as took another step towards the two, so much as put his hand on his blade....

He would be sorry.

@danzilla3

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KNOX "FROST" HADLEY

The sudden growling from behind broke through Hadley's thoughts, and at that point, the hunter briefly believed that Marcel had finally gone feral. Looking to his left, he saw the werewolf stalk from around the side, and Knox feared that all of his words would have be for nothing. If Snipe attacked now, it would all be over, Hadley thought. All of his words spent, all of the potions purchased, all of the lies he told — it would all be for nothing. Forget the expedition to Cobran — what would be the point of killing the wolves if his sole reason for going was dead?

"Marcel!" he yelled, throwing his arms around the werewolf's neck. "Stop!"

No response. The lycanthrope did not seem hear him. Knox felt his hands quiver as he felt the beast's throat vibrate with its low, guttural growl.

Was this going to be the end of the line?

A few moments passed, but no one moved, much to Hadley's relief. Releasing his breath, Knox felt some of the nervous pressure wracking his chest subside. It looked as if the hunter's efforts were not completely in vain. The werewolf did not approach the knight any further, keeping a safe distance from the man. Marcel did not look like he was poised to pounce on Samuel. Instead, the beast was in a stance that Knox had only seen in animals holding their ground — the kind that beasts held when they had something to protect.

Edited by Artificer

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Samuel barely heard anything Hadley said once Marcel began to circle around the other man, eye's burning with a primal fire that threatened to consume him, fangs bared in warning. The warrior made no move to reach for his sword, but also knew better than to show any signs of relenting. His feet remained planted, his stance low, ready to shift into combat at a moments notice. While any display of aggression might push the werewolf into action, any perceived weakness might stir his predatory instincts and make him attack anyway. It was a delicate balance, and one that grew more precarious by the moment.

"You need to calm him down," Samuel warned, voice calm, but unyielding.

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