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Patience is Power [Artifact Quest]

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Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” 

—Abraham Lincoln

I fucking hate the snow.

Born and raised in the sweltering heat of the Velhatian Desert, Rune is not a man that favors cold weather. Accustomed to it, yes, for his line of work takes him all around the world, to the most unsavory and uninviting of places, but pleased with it. He tells himself that the money is worth it, that there will be more to this endeavor than just ice and snow and bitterness. But as he sits there eying the flames at the heart of the small hovel that has become their forward base, he can’t see that future.

So, he turns his mind to the brief. It’s just one piece of a larger puzzle, the first clue of many. Their client has gone to great lengths to provide them with the information he has, and it’s barely anything at all. It’s nothing more than the name of a village half-buried in snow, all but forgotten by the country’s regime.

More recently, it’s become the home of infighting, situated on the border between two wildling territories. Savages with bows and arrows, axes and swords, with furs and leather for armor. Nothing Rune and his companions can’t handle.

“We’ll clear out the hostiles first,” Rune says. “The last thing I want is to be worrying about a hatchet in my back while I’m digging through snow. Once they’re dead, we can start looking around. The brief says what we’re looking for isn’t here, but information on how to find it is. What it is, though, I don’t know.”

The lack of information about the object in question is, quite frankly, bothering. Rune understands the need for secrecy, but when it impedes his job, it becomes a liability. “We could be here for a while,” he adds as a precaution.

@vielle @Csl

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Sinjari stands at attention by the shelter's entrance, her unblinking gaze fixed on the snow. She stands as she always does, regardless of the danger (or lack thereof)—straight-backed, feet planted at shoulder's width, left hand resting on her blade's hilt: a soldier's pose. She carries the same quiet alertness, ever on guard, wherever they go, whether  they rest in a frozen tundra or in the warmth of a peaceful village inn.

Koru only wishes it were not always so.

The trials he and his daughter had experienced before their entry into the service of House C’zirqonia have ultimately shaped them, for both better and worse. It matters not the diminutive vessel of her soul: his daughter bears the mark of her maturity in the hardened glint of her eyes, the impassive lines of her youthful face.

Like so many times before, gazing upon her with her fingers at the ready for whatever fight comes brings a near-physical ache to his chest. Koru turns his attention back to the crackling fire. "You will catch cold, kàrmei,” he tells her in his thick-accented gravelly baritone, calls her beloved in the ancient language of their tribe from long ago. He does not wait for her to answer, knowing it is not likely, and so Koru turns his focus to the other member of the party, Rune.

He does not yet know this man, and so he is wary. Koru buries his suspicion under a benign smile, stroking his bald head as he bends closer to the warmth of the flames, old joints creaking as he moves.

“You have good plan, friend. We follow you.” The old man knows next to nothing about their mysterious, anonymous employer. Perhaps Rune knows more, but he has not extended any such information, and so Koru does not ask. “We are ready to stay as long as needed. What do you know of village?”

 

@King @Csl

Edited by vielle

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“It was a prominent township before the current regime,” he replies. “But, it looks like that didn’t last. Now, it’s a battleground for two warring tribes that have carved territories out of the area. From what I’ve heard, it’s been that way for at least half a year.”

With any luck, they’d be two distracted killing each other to notice the phantoms sneaking about the battle lines, killing them both from behind. “We’ll use that to our advantage,” he explains. “I’ll take the north end of the city. You’ll take the west, and she’ll take the east. We’ll work our way south, you two along the edges, me directly down the middle. We kill everything that moves.”

Despite the brutality of the content, Rune speaks rather matter of factly. After all, he doesn't hate either of the tribes occupying the warfront. It's simply good for business. A survivor might return to the main camp, demanding more reinforcements to deal with an additional issue. A complete blackout would ensure several days of isolation, at least until a scout or messenger came for word.

Killing him or her might afford them another day at most. Thoughts for later, he tells himself.

“Once we’ve met up at the southern gate, we’ll retrace our steps, combing for survivors. When we’re sure they’re all gone, we can start looking. I suspect the old lordship’s estate is our best place.” It was a large building and would take some time, but he imagined that anything of value—and for an operation like this, whatever they were looking for, it was certainly important—would have been kept there.

Looking his companions over, he rises to his full height. “We start tonight.”

Edited by King

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"You will catch cold, kàrmei.”

Reluctantly, Sinjari moves further inside the building. The girl positions herself beside her mentor. Her blade never leaves her grip as she listens to the words exchanged between the two men. North, west, east. It was a straightforward task, one she has performed many times.

Koru simply nods at the information their other companion has unraveled before them, his bushy eyebrows furrowing in thought, forehead creased and then smoothing out as he figures out his role. “Good plan. We are like ghost in the night. They will not expect us.”

As Rune stands, Sinjari silently falls into position behind Koru. A matter of habit; she knows they will have to separate soon, but until then, his presence is a comfort. They exit the hovel together. Sinjari narrows her eyes against the wind. It takes a moment for the cryolite prosthesis in her eyes to adjust, but then the obscuring darkness is replaced by clarity.

When it is time for them to go their own ways, she remains standing, watching the silhouettes of the two men fade into the shadows.

Then she leaps, landing on the nearest rooftop with the softest clink of her false legs, and begins running.

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It is almost too easy, but then again, such is to be expected. They who had once been wildlings themselves are no longer; Koru and his daughter are now under the servitude of something greater than themselves, something far more contemporary and newfangled in its modernity.

Koru melds into the shadows, ghostly pale robes bleeding into the ivory blanket of snowflakes with ease, and moves into the small courtyard, feet whispering over snow and stone with nary a sound. Along the edges of the township, the men slumber in weary restlessness, replenishing their strength for another day on the battlefield.

It is quite unfortunate that this night shall be their last in the waking world.

Koru moves in a systematic manner, snapping the necks of the barbarians with the help of his crystal quarterstaff: soundless, quick, and undoubtedly merciful. Men with less compassion would have seen them burn, relish in the pain of their death throes. It is certainly a staple of their old tribal origins, for himself and his child. However, it is not one tradition he wishes to propagate.

“How goes, neika?” Koru whispers in the aftermath, his prosthetic ear already hardwired to their personal comms: a hardy gift from C’zirqonia, peculiar but welcome all the same.

“I am well, adeir,” comes the soft response from the other end. It is not as wordy as he would have liked it to be, but it is enough, should be enough.

Sinjari is a far more ruthless warrior than he ever will be.

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Rune places his hand over the mouth of an unsuspecting victim, sliding length of his flipblade through his throat. They’re ten feet from another sentinel, but invisible. He lowers the corpse to the ground, soundless, and then stalks over to the other watcher—another stab to the neck, and two of them are down.

He is a minimalist, as far as killing goes. Quick, efficient.

He’s seen fighters that make a display of their art, severing limbs and dancing around the battlefield. They waste their energy, open themselves to more dangers than necessary. Rune’s master—Raven, they called him—taught him the art of simplification. The quickest way from point a to point b is a straight line, and such is true in all things.

The two sentinels dead, soaking in a pool of their own blood, the group below him has no way of knowing what’s coming next. He drops behind them, the heels of his boots muted thuds in the snow. He isn’t the strongest man, but he’s quick as a viper, and far more deadly.

He strikes twice before any of them realize what’s happened, whipping his blade out in two wide arcs that slice through the back of a pair of necks. One man turns from the side, noticing his companions fall, but fails to ready his axe before Rune skewers him through the mouth. The remaining two draw their blades, but two throwing knives find their necks.

Always aim for the throat, he remembers Raven telling him. Men shout and make noise when they fight. A blade stops that, keeps you hidden.

These barbarians, he could likely handle as many of them as they had. But that was wasteful, unnecessary. Better to kill them off like this; small groups were easier prey.

He leaves the bodies where they are as he presses on. The snow is falling heavily, and it will only be a matter of minutes before their buried. He hates the snow, true enough, but can’t deny how incredibly useful it can be at times. There’s no way for him to communicate with the others, but as no alarms have sounded, no groups flocking to a single location, he suspects all is well.

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The highest point in the east end of the township is the iron spire on an abandoned building. Perhaps it was once a religious structure, a church of some sort. Sinjari doesn’t pause to contemplate this, merely adjusting her speed as she darts across the rooftops. She leaps, bends her knees as she lands on another roof, then kicks down. The force of the jump launches her at the spire; Sinjari swings her sword, lodging its serrated edge halfway into the metal. Gripping the blade’s handle, Sinjari steadies herself, planting her shoes against the base of the spire.

From her vantage point, she sees almost the whole town. And then some.

The girl blinks, and the heat signatures of the wildings bloom like ghostly silhouettes against the cold. Her eye is another of the many things the Lapidaries had gifted her. Another one of the many reasons why she and Koru are indebted to them.

In a single motion, Sinjari yanks her blade free while pushing off from the spire, launching herself towards the nearest gathering of bodies.

She lands on another roof, pauses, and considers the best approach. The blade is sheathed, replaced by an ice pick in each hand. Sinjari drops down to the snow, silent, and drives an ice pick through the back of the first wildling’s skull, destroying the brain stem.

Before he drops she has already moved to the second one, driving one pick through his lower back and through a kidney, and another through his spine. To be sure he does not cry out, Sinjari retracts the picks, steps back as the man falls backward, and drives both points through his throats.

Her gloves are stained now. She glances towards the building: within, the heat signatures of half a dozen men lay prone on the ground, sleeping. She has time. The girl lays the picks aside and kneels down, rubbing snow on her hands. After this, she stands, cocking her head as she eyes the building.

She considers the tools she has at her disposal, selects an ice axe, and slowly pushes open the door.
 

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Even as he relinquishes the primitive bearings of his past, he does not forget where he comes from, the spiritual movements that have led him and his daughter to their new life. Their ancestors continue to watch over them from up high, from that distant place where the dead move on as spectral guardians over their succeeding seeds on this earth, and yes: he yet believes they have brought him and Sinjari to C’zirqonia.

Koru, true to form, takes a brief moment to pray over the souls of his fallen victims, stark pale and crimson against the ivory blanket that covers them, envelopes them like a funeral pyre. Silvery candle-chain swinging back and forth in a smoky pendulum, he walks through the bloodied field with unhurried purpose, hovering his weathered hand over the bodies in silent benediction.

“Bless your souls,” he says.

Forgive me, he means.

There is a twinge at his ear, and Koru sighs, suddenly weary despite himself.

There are but more endeavors to pursue tonight. He moves onwards.

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“W-who are you?”

Rune doesn’t answer the boy. He’s bleeding bad from the deep gash on his thigh, spilling his lifeblood into the snow. The soft powder drinks it greedily, turning a deep shade of red.

“Wha… what do you want?”

The boy—and he is most certainly a boy, with no hair to his face and a young, thin frame that made slicing his artery easy work—is too delirious to scream, leaning in and out of consciousness. There are others around him, another group of five he’d put down before they even realized what was happening.

It’s just a few minutes later than the boy lets his head sink into the snow, eyes open. Flecks of snow fall into his irises, giving the dark brows a cool, glazed sheen. Then they’re covering his face, his body, and in moments he’s hidden beneath of thin blanket of white.

The moment stretches longer, and the bodies around him vanish, as well.

These people have been here for so long they’ve started families, rearing children, breeding their own soldiers so they needn’t wait for reinforcements. It doesn’t bother Rune. All men must die – young, old, it doesn’t matter. He stalks his way down the heart of the ruins, slashing, stabbing, and breaking those that happen by him.

He’s cleaning his blade on his sleeve when a baby’s cry catches his attention, bleating out into the wind from a hovel nearby.

The work continues.

Rune follows the sound to silence it.

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