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vielle

bewitched; unceasing [artifact, s-class]

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It is without further ado that the rest of the group follows in the Hildebrand knight’s footsteps, Steffan wordlessly trudging along behind the women as they lead the way to the stables and their horses.

He isn’t exactly an avid admirer of the dirty creatures, but he supposes they’re needed to reach their destination in time before the sun fully rises to its highest position in the sky. Contrary to whatever Cecily may think of him, he would in fact prefer to walk all the way to the Greywood.

But then again, why does he care what Cecily thinks?

A growl rises unbidden in Steffan’s throat as he dismisses the thought, and the black stallion designated to him by Willard picks up on his distress, nudging his arm gently with its forehead. He’s stooped so low that even damned animals can see through his facade now, and that just won’t do.

“A’ight, let’s get a move on,” he grumbles under his breath, swinging himself onto the horse with awkward grace. Nevertheless, he keeps his balance, and so he passes the time watching the others get on their own steeds.

“We ride, my friends,” quips Lord Caerdonel, and together, the party races off into the dirt path leading to the wildlands beyond.

 

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Perhaps she’s drowsier than expected, because one moment, Cecily is closing her eyes from the sight of the roads in front of her, and the next moment, she is opening her eyes to the daunting facade of the Greywoods beyond. She takes a brief moment to observe the way the ground is dappled with warm sunlight streaming through the fire-red leaves of the greywood trees, the way the horses seem to sense that all is not right in the undergrowth, the way the temperature drops like a slow descent into the grave.

Alright, perhaps she is not that prepared for the reality of what they are about to face.

“What do you make of this, Miss Sheathe?” She whispers to the other woman in the group, watching Willard slowly make his advance towards the entrance of the forest path. “Have you ever encountered a strange forest before? Perhaps it is only my unease speaking, but I rather think this one is strange, for all the normalcy it seems to exude. It’s a gut feeling, you know.”

 

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True to her organization's rather stubborn nature, Holly the farmer did not mount any of the four-legged beasts her companions had provided. She found it prudent and more natural to just let her own two legs do the traveling for her. Like her mentors from the circle of old, beasts are not meant to be ridden.

Sprinting in time with her mounted companions, Holly barely broke a sweat but clearly these four-legged beasts are already drenched in their perspiration. Clearly, Holly is the better traveler out of them all. A season runner, whose gifts were born from her intense prejudice against such beastly drivel.

As they entered the woods, she deliberately slowed to keep pace with her cautious companions. Contrary to their wary nature, Holly was mostly unfazed with the unfamiliar woods.

"Woods are always strange," Holly replied to the man's query, "Especially one dripping with the supernatural. My magical senses are tingling. With intensity."

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Without any ability to sense magic in any way or form, Cecily is suitably confused by Holly’s declaration of her magical senses tingling, of all the possible ways it could be reacting to their proximity to the forest. Nevertheless, she is not about to let that get in the way of her understanding; the next course of action is obviously to ask for an elaboration. Perhaps she’ll even get to learn something about the arcana from this experience.

“What do you mean, Miss Sheathe? What exactly do you sense?” Cecily tilts her head, tapping a finger on her chin lightly as she deliberates. “Do you sense perhaps—something dangerous within the woods?”

“Clearly, there is something dangerous in the woods if people keep disappearing into it,” Steffan snaps somewhere further away from where he and Lord Caedonel inspect the worn path leading into the thick of the trees.

“Oh, do shut your piehole, Steffan.” Cecily rolls her eyes, turns her focus back towards the other woman with an excited smile on her face. “So? Please enlighten me with your knowledge, miss!”

 

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Dangerous? To the others perhaps but not for the Lady of House Sheathe. She had fared against worse and had always survived. A couple of random malevolent beings could pose no harm to her being.

Except for one problem.

Her eyes shifted to the others. Strong as she might, she cannot keep everyone safe especially when she herself is preoccupied with fighting for her life. At the very least she could throw Sunscar at her enemies and run away.

She did not linger on her thoughts for too long before addressing her companions. "If any of you fear for your life, you can leave now. There are many of them and I am unsure if I can protect all of you."

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Holly Sheathe’s declaration is valiant and speaks of a woman who is capable of many great and brave deeds. However, Lord Caerdonel is an esteemed knight of the House Hildebrand, Steffan is a brilliant tracker, and Cecily knows more about the properties of herbs than anyone else. He rather thinks they’ll be fine all on their lonesome, but he is not about to argue with such a bold statement.

“You are most kind, Miss Sheathe, but this is our quest too. We will not abandon it over something as mundane as danger,” he chuckles heartily, tapping a finger on the sword strapped to his armor. “However, if you believe yourself able to protect at least one of us, I would ask that you keep Cecily safe should any harm befall us within.”

“Keep me safe?” Cecily raises her eyebrows, disbelief apparent in the tremble of her voice and the stiffening of her spine. “I do believe in Miss Sheathe’s capabilities with the sword and with magic, but I would also be perfectly fine if I were on my own.”

“What about me and my safety?” Steffan whines from the short distance further ahead.

Of course, he doesn’t bother to respond to any of that. He opts instead to keep his eyes fixed on Holly. “Is that alright with you, Miss Holly? If so, you may stay at the front of the party to shield us as we travel through the forest.”

 

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“Is that alright with you, Miss Holly? If so, you may stay at the front of the party to shield us as we travel through the forest.”

Holly merely shrugged at that. "If that's everyone's choice then so be it."

However, the Lady of House Sheathe did not lose her vigilance. At the very least, she felt more assured that her allies are capable. It has been so long since she found companions who can take care of themselves. In the past, all she had were her once pack of criminal after another, all lacking and are now in hiding from the government. She however, is out here, doing what she deemed is right.

"Shall we go?" Holly asked as she moved to enter the forest. "We'll never get there if we stay here twiddling our thumbs."

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And with that, they push on into the darkened depths of the Greywood. The path is littered with twisted ivy and gnarled tree roots, poking out from the soil like a broken battlefield after a gruesome war. There is a distinct smell of dampened decay, if one has the nose for it, and with his capabilities as a skilled tracker—and sobering lack of alcohol in his system to bog him down—Steffan can very clearly distinguish what is in the forest and what is definitely not. There’s no sign of any woodland life here. There is only trees and silence. 

Well. Mostly silence.

“Perhaps your incessant chatter should be kept away when our journey comes to an end, Cecily,” he can’t help but sneer in her direction, but true enough, the woman turns her nose at him and harrumphs. Stubborn girl that she is.

“Are you frightened, Steffan? I thought you weren’t afraid of anything.” She smirks triumphantly, waving her hand in Holly’s direction. “I was merely making sure Miss Sheathe isn’t bored to death by the lack of any action around here.”

He growls at her, eyebrows knitted in frustration. “Perhaps you should be ecstatic there’s no action of any sort, you dolt.”

“Enough, you two,” Lord Caerdonel intervenes, sighing wearily. He calls their attention to some tracks on the ground half-hidden beneath the foliage. “What do you make of this, then? Animals? Horses or some other sort of creature? What do you all think?”

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 “I was merely making sure Miss Sheathe isn’t bored to death by the lack of any action around here.”

"Lack of action?" Holly the farmer cocked her head at that. "Boring is fine. No action means everything is safe."

For someone who lived a life of constant danger and fighting, serene moments like these which evokes boredom for most people, are what the kind Lady of House Sheathe value the most. Boring...boring is nice.

“What do you make of this, then? Animals? Horses or some other sort of creature? What do you all think?”

"I can sense them but I cannot identify them," Holly replied after a while. "They don't seem that hostile. Yet. We can leave them be for now."

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Ah, but there is a kernel of truth in Miss Sheathe’s words, now that Cecily thinks about it. Boring really does mean safe, out here in the dangerous wildlands. This realization brings an embarrassed flush to her cheeks, but she’s not about to stoop down and let Steffan see such a weakness. She’ll be damned if she lets him know how affected she is.

To her left, Lord Caerdonel stoops down and peers closely at the tracks. His fingers brush against the indentations made in the dirt with careful inspection. “Hmmh, I cannot identify them either. My experience tells me this is a two-legged creature, but there cannot be much of those aside from humans in these parts. Unless, of course, nonhumans have entered here.”

“Possibly,” Steffan snorts mockingly, and Cecily gives him a very rude hand gesture, just because she can. The look on the bastard’s face is worth it.

Ignoring this exchange, Willard straightens up and looks around the assembled people in thoughtful silence. “Yes, perhaps we could, Miss Sheathe. Let us keep moving to—”

—the bushes nearby shake, leaves rustling against each other. A blur of something fast-moving leaps out from the shadows of the undergrowth.

Cecily screams.

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