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Hold Your Vines

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Most of the Aligorian contingent had departed for the base at the Furthest Point. Led by Frederick York, the Subversor commander in Yh'mi, and Ilene Cantu, his counterpart in the Shadow Guard, they had departed in the wake of Gormaric Warmoon. That knight wasn't officially part of Aligoria, but the Aligorian contingent deferred to him as their overall commander nonetheless. Those Aligorians that remained in Inns'th found themselves with little to do aside from fine-tuning the Uru coating Inns'th's wall. While the majority of the work was now done in that regard, a good handful of little nooks and crannies remained to be dealt with.

A handful of Subversors. A handful of Shadow Guards. Five of Warpgolems, half of the ten that had arrived with the contingent. And finally, one war elephant, whose brother had accompanied the force that went to reinforce the Furthest Point. Of this force that had been left to guard Inns'th, three women had been selected to command it...

"Stella! Are you still drinking that swill that they serve over at Purgatory?"

A red-haired woman wearing light leather armor rolled her eyes at a white-haired woman clad in the black and gold armor of the Subversors. The white-haired woman, Stella smiled.

"Ah, Umbra, you really can't afford that trademark Hillbrooke snobbery around here. You take what you can get, and besides... for the lack of resources here, the quality really isn't that bad!"

The red-haired woman, Umbra, shook her head at Stella, but still had a small smile creep into her expression.

"Whatever you say, I suppose. I'll stick with the stock at our encampment until it runs out, and hopefully Neque will be gracious enough to have another shipment of supplies en-route by then, if not more reinforcements."

"Depends how many come back from the Furthest Point, I suppose. Speaking of... is that bit of gossip floating around true? About how enamored you are with Sir Gormaric?"

Umbra blushed and mumbled for a moment before having a thought and looking at Stella defiantly.

"I'm not saying either way, but what about you and Sir Frederick, hmm? I've heard some juicy rumors about how he's even taken his helm off for you!"

Stella looked scandalized and sputtered for a few moments.

"Who told you that? If I get my hands on them, I swear I'll..."

She made an exaggerated motion as if she was strangling something. Umbra's train of thought shifted as she noticed a flyer clutched in Stella's hand, and her eyes narrowed for a moment.

"Stella... what's that in your hand?"

Stella shrugged and held the flyer out toward Umbra.

"A flyer I picked off of the bulletin board in Purgatory. Says something about the order wanting a team to venture into the Whitewoods, and find some kind of vine."

Umbra examined the flyer thoroughly, then looked back up at Stella with a knowing smile.

"Considering the contents of that last shipment Neque sent to us, and how bloody boring it's been around here... we can kill two birds with one stone. It looks you're not useless after all, you arrogant tin can! Go find Tenebra, and then meet me at the gates leading into Yh'mi. I'm going to make some preparations."

Stella nodded and jogged off to find Tenebra, while Umbra raised her fingers to her lips and let out a whistle. Three Shadow Guards stepped out of the shadows and bowed their heads slightly deference to Umbra. Her gaze swept over them.

"Look throughout Inns'th. Find me anybody who wants to venture into the Whitewoods and is interested in testing that rumor about how the Saevions can be calmed by a certain type of vine, then bring them to the gates. While you're at it, get those gloves that the paladins said they would provide. We could probably make due with what we have, but there's no reason to turn down free stuff that will make our lives easier."

The Shadow Guards nodded, before dispersing and jogging off in different directions. Umbra smiled to herself for a moment, before whistling a soft tune and striding off toward the gates.

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William sprinted down the road, boots slamming into the ground as he propelled himself after the Shadow Guard that had found him. The man was so damn fast, gods above! He'd barely spoken when they met at the bar and, if there was a speck of honesty in his veins, Will wasn't sure if he hadn't just made up the quest in a drunken stupor. He was young man and alcohol was still strong on the nights he spared to enjoy his town's night life. Was it possible...?

No, the Shadow Guard was proof enough and this was a new day. Will grit his teeth and clutched his bag tighter in one hand. In his other hand was his crossbow, the related bolts resting in a quiver at his hip. He was going as fast as he could, but clearly a civilian hunter like himself was at a disadvantage in a foot race against this stranger. Still, he was usually quick on his feet. His build was lean, optimized for running fast. Why couldn't he close the distance? "Slow," he puffed, "slow down! Hey wait for me!" His voice had raised to a bellow, but by that point the Guard had slowed to a halt and was waiting for Will to catch up. 

Behind the stranger stood the gates. Behind those... well, he'd known of Yh'mi. He'd known of a lot and, for a man like Will, knowing stories got old. Being a part of one, however, was a new experience. He had no attachments to his meager present life. Such a truth had him eager to begin an adventure. 

He slowed to a halt next to the Shadow Guard and tossed his belongings on the ground. He immediately began wiping his brow of sweat and bent over to catch some rest. "Gods man," Will panted. "You're so fast!"

No answer, which was not a surprise. There hadn't even been a word of warning when the Guard had turned their leisurely walk into a mad dash for the gate. He stared at the ground for a few quick heartbeats, then rose again. A breeze helped cool his weary body, rustling his brown hair gently. Better than the wind that pushed against him as he'd ran. 

It took him too long to notice that he wasn't alone at the gates. The woman there had red hair and held an authority that Will couldn't ignore. "Hello, ma'am," he managed in between heavy breathing. "My name is Will. Ah, William Sharr. Will, preferably."

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A man sat humming a dreaded tune at, as he clattered stones against each other, though one couldn’t be sure if it was an attempt to light a fire, or accompany the hum with some offbeat percussion, perhaps both. He had lit a single candle and placed it next to him, as he dedicated himself to making strange sounds fitting for the strange land he was in. The flame danced wildly underneath the endless darkness of the sky, painting him in a different light every second. The man had long hair that reached down to his back, tied in dreadlocks. They were frizzy at the edges and had a rough look to them, His long hair were accompanied by a short beard, and dark skin. He wore a simple white shirt and black harem pants underneath, both of which were muddled and had several tears and holes. 

The unkempt appearance of the man inspired the onlookers to whisper in contempt as he beat away at the stones. Though it was not uncommon to see a mad-man wandering in Inns’th, he still stood out, his aura a strange one. The meditative ritual of his continued until a voice emerged within him. Follloow ttthhheeeemm!! A horrible shriek, that of a lady, resounded between his ears, he had always been unsure if the other had been able to hear her.

Go with them!!!!!! The voice came again, and the man finally let go of the stones he held, looking up as several figures approached looking to venture past Inns’th into the broken plains. His eyes were a strange gray, and had an enchanting depth to them. One dare not look for too long into his eyes, lest they be lost forever.

The man stood up, and gently walked to the lady, “I will come with you.” He said with certainty.

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Spoiler

   The Shadow Guard had set about their task and were already reigning in individuals to aid in their commanders' task, but one soul was only beginning to stir even as the rest of Inns'th had already set about their daily duties. He slept alone in an spare empty cot within a lonesome room below the chapel. At first, it might all seem a luxury if not for the hastily forged bars covering the window, which made it abundandtly clear his stay was not of his volition or to his pleasure. The man's skin was clammy and the shirt he wore damp with cold sweat. His breath came quickly and erratically, as if caught in a panic, and his body remained tense even in his slumber. Every so often the man would twitch and writhe in his slumber as if recoiling from a phantom assailant, just as he had done throughout the night, until at last he jolted upright in his bed to return to the waking world.

   Generous breaths of air filled his lungs as Malus looked about the walls in a near panic, almost if he expected the room to melt away into whatever realms of terror his mind had been entrapped. But reality held fast, and the memory of his dream began to fog in his mind's eye and eventually drifted away. Soon the fear in his chest began to fade, and he was finally able to breathe easy again. Yet even this brief moment of respite was squelched by the sobering reality that he awoke to; Inns'th, and beyond its walls, that ominous curtain of shadow known as Yh'mi still loomed. Even the thought of facing this place again was enough to illicit a tired groan from Malus as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and onto the cold stone floor. Wiping the chilled moisture from his brow, the old knight prepared to attempt to muster the will to face the day, as was local custom here in Inns'th.

   The dark bottle next to his bed side was the first thing to catch his eye as he prepared to rise. It was the liquor he had fallen asleep with, still uncorked and smelling as rancidly strong as ever. The bottle had been a luxury Malus had to practically beg for before one of the guards gave into his request, of course now he wished that he had never asked. Malus grabbed the bottle by the neck as he stood from his bed and strode toward the drain adjacent to one of the walls of the room. The bottle was still half full, as the errant knight had hoped to drink the rest tonight in hopes of a restful sleep. But apparently not even booze, no matter how harsh or vile the swill, could deliver him from the nightmares that continued to plague his nights. If anything the stuff only made them worse.

   Malus would at least be relieved to be rid of the stench of "Purgatory's signature brew" as he tilted the bottle over the drain, until he thought back on the trouble he gone through to get it. Malus hesitated for a moment, before finally pulling back and replacing the cork on the bottle. He'd find a use for the liquor one way or another, if he didn't at least pawn it off on a guard in exchange for some half-decent pipe leaf. Of course, Malus was hoping against hope even thinking that such a thing as tobacco leaf had made it into Inns'th, even with the recent influx of supplies. At the very least it was a doubtful thing to hope for, especially compared to what Inns'th required just to keep its people in fighting shape. Not that he was supposed to know about any of that, but you tend to overhear things when the only thing you get to do all day is people watch through a foot-and-a-half hole in the wall that some might call a window.

   Peeling the shirt off his body, Malus set aside the liquor and knelt next to a basin of cool water placed underneath the window. Malus wasn't sure what time of day it was, but considering what he could hear from people passing by outside, it wouldn't be long before one of his "captors" arrived. He splashed his face with the water to prepare for another day, and what would likely soon be yet another interrogation, courtesy of this "Order of the White Hand". Such had been his routine every day ad nauseam since his arrival in Inns'th, or his return, depending on who you asked. And it had been some time since his return to these ancient walls, ever since he rode into the maddening wastes of Yh'mi with The Brotherhood of Charity. Imagine his surprise after he returned alone, only to find the ramparts manned by unfamiliar faces belonging to an order he knew nothing about. Malus often wondered if it had come as a much of a shock to these paladins as it had to him, that a century had seemingly passed him by as he drifted through the wastes of Yh'mi. He doubted it.

   Then again, he sometimes wondered if this entire scenario wasn't simply an elaborate trick of the mind, if he was actually still wandering the broken plains as another wretched soul given over to the madness that permeates the very soil of this baleful place. He surmised that would be as appropriate an end as any to a story such as his, a man with nothing else to live or fight for, save for oaths sworn to long dead men. The entire thing did seem an impossible story, but perhaps that's what made it believable. After all, since when did anything in this place make sense? Maybe it was for that very reason that he was even still breathing; a more gracious reception than what he would have given if in their position.

   Malus plunged his head beneath the water, momentarily curing him of his grogginess just in time for a knock at his door. As usual that was the only warning he would receive before his daily visitor entered the room, flanked by the guards posted just outside his "quarters". It felt about the right time of day for him to arrive, though that didn't make Malus dread his appearance any less. Quickly removing his head from the basin, Malus glanced back at the intrusion to see that either guard was armed and armored from head to toe, while the man who now stood between them was wreathed in a dirtied white cloak and wore only a breastplate over a well worn gambeson for protection. He was a Paladin of the order, like everyone else that frequented the chapel. Against all reasoning, this man had managed to stay perfectly groomed in this hellhole, right down to his trimmed mustache. Still, it wasn't as if he were a dandy, his dull eyes and the limp in his gait from a lingering old wound were proof enough of that. Malus had come to know him as Daggot Albus, a seasoned but lower ranking member of the Order who had taken to more scholarly duties here in Inns'th as of late. Evidently these included his position as an ever present thorn in Malus' side as far as the latter was concerned.

   "Freshening up for another thrilling day, are we?"

   Malus ignored the question and began drying himself as he stood and peered out his window. "Ah, there you are. You've more questions from the order I suppose? You'll have to keep them brief today I'm afraid, I've a busy day watching feet pass by on the street."

   Daggot looked about the lonesome room, his gaze eventually settling on an object of interest, "My men said you were having fits in your sleep, worse than usual. Don't suppose it had anything to do with that, did it?"

   Malus didn't have to look at him to know he was referring to the bottle still at his feet, "You want it back? I won't miss it. Tastes like piss and leaves you with one hell of a headache after."

   Daggot managed to stifle a chuckle, though not well enough for Malus not to hear. "Well, you're in rare form today. In any case, you might be pleased to know that I've only got one more question for you..."

   The heavy sound of linked chain found its way to the ears of the knight errant, beckoning his attention. Sure enough, he turned to see his armor and equipment laid out on the cot plain as day. For the first time since he had entered the room, Malus' met Daggot's stare, trying to glean any hint of an ulterior motive, before his attention returned to the armor. Galfaux took up his equipment for inspection as Daggot strolled past his two escorts, taking a seat in a rickety chair at the far end of the room. The Paladin's eyes remained set on the errant knight with an air of severity that had been absent until now.

   "The Kingdom of Aligoria, formerly Teaville; its rulership is retained by Neque, the one known as the Shadow King. Ever heard of it?"

   "Doesn't sound familiar." Malus answered, without taking his attention from his task, "Don't suppose it was around a century ago?"

   Daggot's personage loosened a bit, and that irksome smirk that Malus had come to expect began to tug at the corner of the Paladin's mouth again. "Only came about fairly recently in fact. The reason I ask is because we happen to have a deployment of Aligorians here, in Inns'th, and few have elected to ease the Order's burden by completing a currently outstanding assignment."

    With a tired sigh Malus laid out his armor neatly as he spoke, "And?"

   "And... you'll be going with them."

   The room seemed to have the air sucked out of it all of sudden, or maybe that was simply the impression Malus received upon hearing those words.

  "You mean out there? To Yh'mi? Is this some sort of sick joke?"

   "It is not." The Paladin stated flatly, "One of their own came to the chapel this morning, a Shadow Guard I believe, let us know that the request had been accepted and that they were there to retrieve the equipment the Order was providing for the excursion. This individual also inquired about any extra men we might recommend for their excursion, and I deferred to the only asset we don't have preoccupied with something already, that being you."

   "Oh, I'm an asset then. The bars on my window and guards at my door gave me the impression that I was still comfortably within the realm of 'prisoner'." Malus turned from the Paladin and began rooting around his few belongings for a somewhat clean shirt, "So what are you telling me? Do I get to prance around the Broken Plains in shiny white armor like you lot, or is this just the creative solution to my execution?".

   "Now wait a second!" Daggot spat back like a commander giving orders, prompting the guards in the room to become that much more stiff, "Believe you me, I still don't trust you or this ridiculous story you've been peddling, but if the Order wanted you dead then they wou-"

"I'll do it." Malus' words were curt and plain, but they were enough to stop the Paladin's rant cold and leave him speechless. "I am a Knight of Charity, if you aren't going to execute me then I can at least be useful. Just tell me one thing..." Malus looked towards the Paladin, "does this mean I am no longer a prisoner?"

The Paladin's eyes flicked downwards momentarily as he tried to summon the words he needed. "Listen," The Paladin began, standing with some difficulty as he approached the Knight Errant. "In truth the order doesn't know what to make of you. You're still under detainment as far as they're concerned, but you've already made it clear that you don't intend to return to the world despite the things you've claimed to have experienced beyond the walls. So, the Order has decided it can't very well just keep you locked in a cellar forever, and the one thing they do know is how to put a soldier to work."

   "Spare me the sermon, Sir Paladin." Malus turned back to sorting his equipment, "I understand. Inns'th can't afford to feed someone that isn't contributing, and everyone has to pull their weight to survive. At least that much hasn't changed." Even as he spoke, Malus began putting on his gambeson, "I just hadn't expected to return so soon. Then again, all the time in the world can't prepare someone for what's out there."

   "No, I suppose not." Daggot reached within his cloak and held out a rolled parchment to Malus, ""But whatever awaits us, we will meet it nonetheless."

   The crestfallen warrior stopped just as he was tightening his gambeson, "We? You don't mean that-"

   "I do." The paladin interjected with a smirk once again plastered across his face, "I'll be accompanying you."

   That was enough to entice a laugh from Galfaux, albeit a sarcastic one, "So they've a gimp to keep tabs on their prisoner in a tour of most inhospitable environment in Terrenus." Malus gave a tired sigh as he began tending to his armor once again, "I might have known that the Order wanted me dead, but I wonder what you did to earn their ire."

"I requested it, actually." Daggot said as he pressed the parchment into Malus' chest, "I've been down here day after day asking you the Order's questions, looking for any sign of treachery, so if you're not who you say you are, I'll know when you're act starts falling apart out there better than anyone. Who else is better to know when to put a sword in your back before you have a chance to turn." Daggot turned on his heel towards the door, "You'll find the details of the assignment in the document. I'll be waiting with our Shadow Guard friend outside, once you're ready we'll join the rest of the group and prepare to leave. Oh and Malus..." Daggot stopped at the threshold of the door to look back at his prisoner with a sly smirk once again, "Don't keep us waiting. I didn't take the Shadow Guard for the patient type."

   Without another word Daggot disappeared with his two guards behind him. The door shut tight and Malus was once again alone, clutching the paper he had been given in his hand. But the threat the Paladin had left with him bore no weight. A sword in the back, or a beast's maw, in the end what difference did it make how one died in the wastes of Yh'mi? It was determined to take anyone who dared set foot in its maw, and would do so without warning if you let it. So what else could Malus do but writhe against such a fate, against death itself?

   Graven of face and solemn of vow, the Knight Errant fits himself with mail and maul once again. Resolved to honor his oaths, he willingly embarks into the dark once again, if only to keep it at bay but one more day.

   Minutes Later...

     The clop of horse shoes could be heard approaching just as one or two Shadow Guard began to converge upon the gates, and with them came the volunteers in tow. The group that had gathered thus far was already beginning to look a bit... motley, to say the least, something that hadn't gone unnoticed by the two men on mounted approach. One of these men was obviously a Paladin of the Order here in Inns'th, Daggot Albus, now covered head to toe in what might have been gleaming armor once, save for his helm which hung at his side. Now the ornate plating had become dull and scuffed from a number of battles, and the once pristine white cloak adorning his frame ragged and dirtied. His sword hung at his side, while his shield hung secure on his horse. Despite the worn appearance of his equipment, it was apparent that the Paladin took pride in his appearance by his well groomed visage, right down to the neatly trimmed mustache anointing his smile lines.

   To his left was a man of an obviously different stride judging from appearance alone. While the Paladin clad himself in the traditional vestments of his Order and thus possessed an air of some nobility, this man seemed to be enraptured in a dismal cloud of foreboding. Gaunt and grave in disposition, it seemed he hadn't shaved in some days based on the shadow of a beard beginning to grow on his face. He wore a coifed chainmail shirt with sparse plating for protection, along with a simple buckler. A small cape was affixed underneath his right pauldron, bearing faded remnants of an unknown symbol. A mace hung from his waste, and a well-used halberd was strapped to his horse. While his armor was no more dingy than the Paladin he rode with, his melancholy countenance seemed to draw attention to these features, making him seem a ragged and loathsome figure at first glance. And yet a dangerous aspect seemed to linger about his personage as well, made more apparent by the dead look in his eyes, akin to a starved animal now unafraid of men.

    The Shadow Guard that had accompanied these two men as far as the Chapel doors before rushing ahead had already found her way to the gate and her commander. With a quick bow the Shadow Guard delivered the special gloves, courtesy of the Order of the White Hand, to her commander, the red haired Aligorian they called Umbra. However, the Aligorians weren't alone at the gate now, as a couple of volunteers has already set about introducing themselves.

   Malus looked over the faces gathered, "Well this looks like a joyous bunch. Outside of the Aligorians, I might say they're not exactly what I would have expected, but since when does Inns'th ever attract normal?"

   "You're no exception to that rule Malus." Daggot whispered back as they finally came upon the group. Looking about at all the faces which had gathered there, Daggot gave a warm smile, "Salutations. My name is Daggot Albus, Paladin of the White Hand. My companion goes by Sir Malus Galfaux, though I'm sure he'd prefer Malus. We've come by request of the Order to assist all of your... uh..." Daggot hesitated for a moment as he glimpsed and lingered upon the strange man that had yet to name himself.

   "All of your efforts," Malus finished, the interruption pulling Daggot's attention from the stranger as the Knight Errant he accompanied spoke, "Or rather I am, on behalf of the Order's well wishes, or something vaguely along those lines. But the Paladin is just playing chaperone today I'm afraid." The Paladin puffed in annoyance at Malus' comment as the both of them dismounted, the former wincing and stumbling a bit as he came to the ground.

Edited by Ghastardly

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A bit of music always made the mood for Sinder just right however with the current location she was at she didn't have access to something more ominous like a pipe organ. With her guitar on her back and her shirt tied around her waist, she made her way to the gates she was supposed to be at. Whether she was late or early she'd find out soon enough. "How long have I even been walking?" The girl had walked for what seemed like days, weeks even, but she was determined to make it to the place she was supposed to be at. "Gotta go do this stuff, and that stuff and little bit of that too." As she heard the sounds of hooves from an animal she walked towards it, completely forgetting her current objective.

Upon arriving at the location she saw the gates and a few other. 'I think I made it. That's good news I think.' She felt so out of place with her attire compared to the rest. She wore a red flannel shirt and some jeans she had from back home and that was all she could ever wear because she never had money to afford armor or even more clothes. It was always spent on a place to sleep and food and drink. With a quiet clear of her throat she slowly huddled into the group with a nervous look on her face. "Sorry I'm late. Got lost."

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The first of the Shadow Guards returned with a man in tow. Judging by his build, and the crossbow he had in hand, Umbra supposed that he was a hunter. One of the better occupations and skillset to have when venturing into Yh'mi... but one that couldn't quite match up to that of the Aligorian Shadow Guard, as evidenced by the impromptu race between the two of them. She laughed quietly as she watched them. The Shadow Guard approached and bowed to Umbra before stepping into the shadows off of the side. The man with the crossbow then introduced himself to Umbra as Will, and the red-haired and amber-eyed commander nodded at him and smiled.

"Welcome, Will. I hope you're a good shot with that crossbow of yours, because Yh'mi doesn't give second chances."

She hoped she wouldn't scare him off with that sentence, but it was nothing less than the truth. She thought of saying something more, but her attention was drawn away by the approach of an unkempt man with a strange aura. He spoke with certainty about accompanying her, and she turned her gaze to him for a few long moments, sizing him up. Then, she nodded.

"... Very well. I see no reason to object."

Or at least, no reason that she could really articulate. The man seemed just a bit... off, but she couldn't see what angle he could have to cause harm to this expedition. Unless he was a Twistling perhaps, but she had devised a way to test that. Just a bit of the poison she had created into his next meal, though she didn't particularly the want to resort to that until Ilene sent word back to her whether her poison was effective or not. Further thoughts on that matter were interrupted by the arrival of the second Shadow Guard, who presented the gloves provided by the Order to her commander before following the example of the first Shadow Guard, bowing and stepping into the shadows. She looked at the two new arrivals. One of the Order's paladins, along with a ragged knight who had an aura of danger about him. Something about the latter man piqued Umbra's interest, but she filed the thought away for later as she looked at the duo of new arrivals.

"Well, well. I'm surprised the Order was able to spare anybody for our little expedition, what with all the efforts going towards securing the Furthest Point. But nonetheless, your aid will most certainly be appreciated."

She looked around at the assembled group.

"With that, we should be ready to go as soon as Stella and Tenebra arrive. With the reduced presence of Yh'mi's creatures on the Broken Plains after Remissio's assault and the later defense of the breach during the repairs, this group should be enough t-"

Umbra was interrupted as the third Shadow Guard rushed towards the group. He hastily bowed to his commander, and then pointed out a girl approaching the group. Regular clothes, no armor, and no obvious weapons. Either she was some kind of mage, had some kind of power to her, or she was a full civilian who would be little more than a meatshield out there in Yh'mi. Umbra supposed she'd have to find out, one way or the other. She smiled slightly as the girl apologized for being late.

"No, you've arrived at a good time. We're just waiting for the last stragglers to get here before we depart. And one of our Shadow Guards was supposed to escort you here, but I suppose he managed to avoid your attention."

She turned a quick and sudden glare to the third Shadow Guard, and he slinked further back into the shadows. When she turned around, she heard heavy footsteps approaching. Stella came into view, with Tenebra and one of Aligoria's vaunted Warpgolems following behind her. When they came close, the white-haired warrior in black and gold armor smiled at her Shadow Guard counterpart, but walked forward to stand next to her without another word. Umbra simply shook her head at Stella for a moment, then turned her attention to Tenebra.

"Hmm, you're bringing along one of the Warpgolems?"

Tenebra nodded, and Stella turned toward her with a frown.

"Why not the other war elephant, Tenebra?"

Umbra rolled her eyes at Stella.

"I know you Subversors all share a war elephant fetish, but considering our destination is the Whitewoods, and we don't want to trample or burn down all the vines we want to find... the Warpgolem suits our purposes much better."

Stella muttered something under her breath as Umbra turned back toward Tenebra.

"Alright, Tenebra, you've read the tomes. Before we leave, how do we identify the vines, and where in the Whitewoods should we find them?"

Tenebra nodded, and her steel grey eyes seemed to light up for a second as she recalled the information she had read.

"The Tempest Vine... green, arrow-shaped leaves. They grow around trees in the parts of the Whitewoods where the mists are the thickest. And the poison they contain means that to handle them without specialized gloves or through other means is to court a slow, agonizing death."

Umbra processed the information, and nodded before turning towards the rest of the group.

"Well, there you have it. Unless any of you need anything else, we'll depart. Stella and the Warpgolem will take point, and the rest of you can take formation as you see most fit. Though, if I must recommend something... Daggot, Malus. You two should take point as well, or take up the rear if you think that is more prudent."

With that, Umbra turned her attention towards the gate, and gestured for the guards there to open it. As it started to raise, Stella and the Warpgolem readied their weapons, and strode to the front of the group before venturing into out into Yh'mi, into the Broken Plains.

Edited by EpicRome23

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He took Umbra's words to heart, though there was a brief moment of panic that pushed itself to the foreground of his mind. It left as quickly as it'd arrived, leaving an expression of determination that Will presented to each newcomer in tandem with a smile and introduction. "I'm Will," he repeated what felt like countless times until Umbra began speaking to two others about the goal of this expedition. 

The Tempest Vine. Will had never heard of it, but the idea was certainly one to pursue. Anything to get those beasts he'd heard of to slow down was worth exploring. At the mention of the possible fatality involved with simply touching the vine, he thought faintly of the stupid leather gloves in his bag. I'm guessing those are useless. 

The group got moving quickly after that. Will fluidly picked up his crossbow, selected a normal bolt from his quiver and slid it back until the elastic locked, keeping his finger off the trigger. The enhanced projectiles would hopefully be saved for the Whitewood, but the crossbow's base strength should be more than enough to puncture a tough hide or even an armored beast. He also pulled out his monocle from his jacket pocket. It was a dinky thing, the glass best defined by a large crack across the center. Will wiped a smudge from it and secured it over his right eye to check that the FarSight enchantment was still working. He made sure to close his left eye and looked out at the Broken Plains, gazing past the bobbing head of the white-haired woman. Yes, he could see quite a few leagues ahead with more clarity than he usually had. He pocketed the lens and picked up the rest of his belongings before hurrying after the people who had already begun moving.

After some deliberation, Will decided that the flank was probably best suited for him, so he settled in a position on the right side. It was once he fell into a rhythm that he fully took in the Broken Plains. 

Gods, they were broken. His boots crunched on stone, and the sound echoed through the expanse like a beacon. He grit his teeth in frustration at the idea of his location being broadcast. It couldn't be helped, however and, if he listened closely he found that he could also hear sounds over their own. What was out there? In the group's immediate vicinity it seemed like the area was deserted. He looked out at his side, squinting at the western horizon. He couldn't see them from here, but he knew they were there and erect in all their glory: the infamous Spires. 

No, instead all Will could see was more rock. The ground itself looked like shattered concrete, but the division between pieces seemed to go far deeper than the surface. More than once, Will had to step over gaps to avoid tripping. Small ones so far, but he wondered if the gaps were larger in some places. He wondered if they were large enough to fit him. And he wondered if he'd survive the fall. Gods, don't think like that. He swallowed hard and forced his thoughts elsewhere, fixing brown eyes on the heads of their vanguard. One of them was a Warpgolem? Will was unfamiliar with the term, but didn't exactly want to broadcast that to the group. He already felt out of place. Among a group of intimidating Aligorians, the noble Order, and a spooky hermit with obvious latent power, his only potential counterpart was the girl with a guitar. And she's probably got something crazy going on. He sighed, then asked a question anyway. 

"Yh'mi," Will began, "how often to you guys explore it? It's my first time, you see." His words were punctuated with a cold wind which made him look at the sun. He frowned in confusion. Even the sky felt off, and they weren't that far from Inns'th. It must've been in his head. Definitely. 

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Like a worn out marionette strung to a tired hand, the man stood amongst the odd assembly. His eyes sought eternity in the stone beneath his feet, but found none. The world appeared as a blur. He couldn’t quite see the faces they had so painstakingly put together, or understand their demented voices. Their faces melted into the bleak scenery, their voices became the cacophonies of demons and the skies above sang of the deceitful land that lay beyond. The world was a nightmare come alive, hadn’t it always been?

Amongst the chaos, were moments of lucidity, where the grey of his irises faded to a deep yet gentle blue, moments that were marked by a strange cheer, moments of connection and recognition, but these moments were short lived. The blue would give in to the grey often and men and women would turn into ghosts again. But his existence was not without understanding,  although diminished, he recognized what was taking place; a handful of souls offered themselves to the trappings of this strange land.  

Silence was the law here. The void ruled. It consumed all that dared to exist, to sing, to speak, to utter and it would not rest until it stifled the mild utterance beaming from Inns’th. In an abrupt moment, his lousy gait disappeared, as if the strings of the marionette had been pulled taut. The world remained a nightmare, though it became less so. The voice found its way into his ears.

Sing.

The man strode along towards the front, snatching the guitar that had suddenly appeared in his vision. He would halt at the head of the party facing them. “Now, we will sing.” He let out, in a raspy voice, “For song is survival.” and with that his hands began strumming the guitar.
 

Edited by sheep

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    Inns'th had seen a veritable explosion of activity with the influx of manpower and supplies from across Terrenus, and yet not even the bustle of the encampment could drown out the heavy footsteps of the Warpgolems dotting the town. At the sound of one of these behemoth's approach, both Malus and Daggot twisted around to see it and it's entourage. The imposing stature of the automaton was enough to illicit a low whistle from the Knight while the Paladin could only look on at the size of the thing as they both made way for its passage. The mechanical goliath took its place amidst the Aligorian contingent, the warrior's attention still fully focused on it.

   "Ain't that a sight..." Daggot said quietly to the errant knight, "A bit overkill, but between here and the Whitewoods, hard to imagine there's anything that can stand a chance against that thing."

   "Whatever you can imagine, Sir Paladin." Malus turned to Daggot with a wry smile, "...there's always something much worse out there. But, in any case..." Malus' expression flattened as his attention returned to the Warpgolem, "I hope it's as tough as you say, because any chance of going unnoticed is gone with that thing following us around."

On 7/6/2019 at 12:45 PM, EpicRome23 said:

"Daggot, Malus. You two should take point as well, or take up the rear if you think that is more prudent."

  The two horsemen straightened up at the sound of their names, it was time to begin.

  "Aye, aye, ma'am." Malus called back, taking up the reigns of his horse and beginning his trot towards the front of the pack. Naturally, Daggot began to follow, only for the Errant Knight to halt and look back at the Paladin questioningly. "What are you doing?"

   "I'm taking the point. What are you doing?" Daggot questioned back.

   "No you're not. You're taking up the rear. I'll be taking the point."

   Daggot seemed to recoil at the idea, "You not leaving my side as long as I've got anything to say about it. Make way."

   Malus sighed and he readjusted in his saddle, glancing at the creaking gate and tumultuous lands beyond before turning back to the Paladin, "If- When we run into one of Yh'mi's little horrors and it bears down on us, teeth barred and mouth foaming, what do you plan to do? You gonna beat it to death with a gimp leg?"

   Malus' words were biting, and doubly insulting with an open gesture to the leg in question. He did a good job of hiding his emotions behind a fake smirk, but the reddened face of the Paladin made it apparent he was boiling under the surface, even as he spoke with the tone of a priest, "Things go sideways, I'm as good on a horse as most anyone in Inns'th. Besides, I'm not just gonna let you-"

   "It's not uncommon for a horse to break its leg while traversing the broken plains," The Errant Knight cut in, "Or it could just get ripped in half and eaten by whatever is waiting for us out there, followed shortly by you. At the very least, I can run away. And, if you're worried about me..." Malus glanced towards the massive silhouette currently leading the group, "Even if your worst suspicions about me were true, I believe our friendly steel giant is more than capable of keeping any 'nefarious machinations' of mine in check."

   "Alright, you've ran your mouth enough." Daggot's polite smirk had all but vanished now, sucking his teeth as he glanced across the horizon, "I'll take the rear for as long as you don't give me an excuse to not stay there." The Paladin took his reigns in hand, "Don't forget. I've got my eyes on you, Galfaux." With a prod of his boots, the Paladin's horse trot past the Knight Errant without another word, and Malus followed suit.

   As the group passed through the gates, Malus looked up at the ramparts and the Paladin's that even now patrolled them, each with their eyes set on him as the group departed. "You and everyone else in this damned place." Of course, that wasn't about to change anytime soon. Even as he departed and left the Order's suspicion behind, now Yh'mi had its attention on him and everyone else in the group. If there was any frailty, and weakness, it would find it. Whether this group was aware or not, they were already being measured by the darkness that dwells in this accursed land.

   As soon as the group met the broken plains, the sound of their every movement echoed out across the dead expanse, and a familiar tightness began to manifest in Galfaux's chest. It had been some time since he had set foot in this place, but his body remembered it all the same. Malus took a deep breath, but the stale air of this foul place did little to ease his nerves. He'd have to work through it, just like everyone else, lest he become a liability. Just as planned, Daggot settled at the rear of the company, while he spurred ahead and took his place at the front next to warrior known as Stella and her Warpgolem companion. Reaching to the side of his horse the Knight Errant began to fidget with his halberd, until a sudden commotion brought his attention front and center. At first he might have thought that the group was meeting its first hint of opposition, and so soon into their expedition as well. Thankfully, it only turned out to be the homeless man that had joined them on their excursion, now trying his damndest to play a peculiar stringed instrument he had swiped from another member of their party. The man's erratic behavior and cryptic words were enough to put anyone on edge, and Malus certainly didn't appreciate it given the circumstances.

   The Errant Knight was the first to approach this odd individual as plucked feverishly at the instrument. the nose of his horse nearly touched the man's head before knight stopped in his advance. "Daggot, I wasn't aware that the Order was enlisting crazed vagrants."

   To which Malus would receive a staunch "Go to hell." from somewhere behind him.

   "Well, as entertaining as this is, we've got to get moving. If you've lost your mind then get out of the way and find somewhere to get killed where we aren't." Even as Malus made his demands, his horse leaned forward and sniffed the strange fellow before giving him a sloppy lick across his hairline, leaving him with a rather pronounced cowlick.

   "Don't put your mouth on that. You might catch something."

 

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Looking at the group Sinder felt incredibly out of place except for one person, the weird, crazy looking man. There was an odd vibe to him she couldn't describe except for he just felt off. With a shrug, she walked along with everyone keeping note of everyone. A man with bolts on his side, which she assumed were for a crossbow type weapon of sorts, the weird crazy man, a few knights on horseback, more armored people, and lastly a massive golem. Quietly she stared at the golem and admired it slightly. She's seen a few golems in her travels but they were more village protectors and a lot smaller.

13 hours ago, sheep said:

The man strode along towards the front, snatching the guitar that had suddenly appeared in his vision. He would halt at the head of the party facing them. “Now, we will sing.” He let out, in a raspy voice, “For song is survival.” and with that his hands began strumming the guitar.

As she was distracted by the surroundings, looking at the dark plants, she felt the strap on her guitar come undone and the she was a few pounds lighter. Quickly she looked around and couldn't find it until she heard the guitar strings being plucked in the front of the party. The vines markings on her arms glowed with magical essence and vines comes from her hands, shot into the ground and began finding it's way to the thief. Once the vines met the thief they instantly wrapped around the legs of the still man. With an annoyed growl she stormed to the front, pushing people aside even though she as weak as an average mage, staring the man down the entire way. The second she got close she snatched the guitar from the man's hands and tightened the vines ever so slightly. 

"Don't. Touch. The guitar."

Quietly released grip of the vines and began strumming softly, the magical melody calming everyone around before anything can escalate. Any annoyed, upset or negative emotions that would arise would soon be calmed down by the strumming of the guitar.

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Alarm rose in the group, a quick ripple that could look to the strange hermit as its origin. He stood in front, guitar in hand (had he had a guitar?), and spoke a single directive. 

On 7/19/2019 at 9:33 PM, sheep said:

“Now, we will sing.” He let out, in a raspy voice, “For song is survival.” and with that his hands began strumming the guitar.

Will had to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. He quickly stifled the sound, however, as he realized how easily sound traveled around here. "We should be quiet," he said. His words, however, seemed to fall on deaf ears again as the ground of the Broken Plain shook and cracked. He whipped his head to the girl and watched her vines bore into the very itself and find their way to the thief. They disregarded the horseman that stood in front of him, seeking only their quarry. 

Ah hell, Will thought. He moved from the flank and trained his crossbow at the vines, but suddenly...lowered it. As the vines loosened around the hermit, and as the girl walked away and begun her jolly tune, he felt himself relax. No more alarm. He was fine. The group was fine. Frowning, Will looked back at the mage and noticed that her tattoos were glowing.

"Didn't think we'd be fighting each other," he murmured as he approached the rider, Malus he remembered, and the unnamed thief.  "Are you all right, sir? If so, then Malus is right: we should keep going if you're able. From what I've heard Yh'mi isn't a place for lounging but, unlike him, I'd rather you not die alone."

They were still so close to Inns'th, yet Will felt stranded out here. Perhaps one of the horseman could cart the addled man back? Malus didn't seem likely to, but perhaps the other one, Daggot? 

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The performance had ceased a little too soon, and not with enough appreciation. The guitar was plucked away from his hands, and he had felt something slide against his face. A medley of sounds surrounded him soon after, most incoherent, except one. His face was washed over by a strange calmness, ridding him of the inertia from the sudden break in his attempt to guide them. 

A hint of a smile emanated from his lips, as the man turned to face Yh’mi again, leaving all questions answered. “Now, we will sing!” He announced, quiet jovially. He began to hum in a broken voice, harmonising to the strumming of the guitar. With each intonation, the hum began sweeter, amplifying the calmness that emanated from the guitar, though it carried alongside it a haunting presence, a strange hollowness. The bleakness of the land seemed to pull back, and the man began to tread forwards, his song becoming ever sweeter. 

Anyone in the vicinity would experience an intense feeling wash over them, something quite like what came from the guitar yet not the same. Those close by would feel their souls come awash with a serene bliss, but those farther would hear something else entirely; demented shrieks accompanied by the feeling of constantly being stung, until of course, they came closer. The song carried on with no intention, no purpose, only with an invitation to come drink of it. One could only wonder who or what would answer it’s call.
 

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Tenebra was the closest of the Aligorians to Will when he asked his question, with Stella and the Warpgolem at the group's point, Umbra toward the rear, and the three taciturn Shadow Guards spread evenly throughout the rest of the group. The shadow mage smiled lightly as she addressed the crossbowman's question.

"How often do we explore Yh'mi? For us Aligorians... about every two weeks or so, with a week dedicated to rest and recovery in-between each mission. Usually, we only send out a portion of our force out at any given time, and the rest of us remain in our camp on the 'safe' side of Inns'th: taking time to help our engineers and blacksmiths with reinforcing the Wall with Uru, keeping watch atop the Wall, stuff like that."

She paused for a moment as her gaze scanned over the nearby plains.

"But things are a little odd right now. The majority of our force is tied up at the Furthest Point, led by Gormaric, Frederick, and Ilene. While they're there, Umbra, Stella, and I are in charge of the remaining force within Inns'th."

Tenebra looked as if she wanted to say more, but was interrupted by the commotion that broke out amongst the group. The strange hermit took the guitar of that one girl who had been last to arrive. He began to sing and play before the girl took her guitar back and played a calming melody. The hermit than began to sing a strange tune. It was at the blending music that a bit of paranoia kicked in for Tenebra, and her gazed turned swiftly to Umbra and then Stella. The red-haired Shadow Guard leader nodded and quietly gathered together her three subordinates just to the side of the group. Stella, meanwhile, turned to the Warpgolem next to her with a wide grin.

"Anywhere... grab that fellow and shut him up. We'll sort this out once he's quiet."

The imposing Warpgolem nodded slowly and made his way towards the strange hermit. Meanwhile, Umbra turned toward Stella with an incredulous expression.

"Stella! You brought Anywhere? That bloody Warpgolem was supposed to be in charge while we were gone! Who's going to be leading our force in Inns'th now, Scipio? The bloody war elephant?!"

Stella grinned sheepishly in response.

"You guys wanted a Warpgolem! So I got the best one I could find! Is it so wrong that I want this damned mission to suc-"

Stella cut herself off as she caught sight of Chhitten crawling out of a nearby crevice, drawn in by the sounds of the music. All in all, she counted 50 of the little buggers, separated into 10 staggered groups of 5. She drew the horn from her belt and drew a loud, commanding note, cutting through the hermit's singing. At this point, though nobody might have noticed, the guitar music had stopped and the girl named Sinder was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she had second thoughts and slipped off in the commotion. Regardless, the focal point of attention was the approaching Chhitten. Anywhere stopped his approach towards the strange hermit, and turned his attention to Stella. The Subversor warrior motioned the Warpgolem to follow her, and Anywhere and Stella moved close together, before they turned to face the incoming buggers with a two-man shield wall. Or, rather, a one woman and Warpgolem shield wall. Tenebra, meanwhile, extended her left hand and formed a disk of dark purple runes in the air, soon culminating in a flurry of ice spikes that shot forth and eviscerated one of the groups of 5 Chhitten, reducing the approaching skittering tide to 45. Umbra and her Shadow Guards zeroed in on another group of 5. With their arm crossbows and their knives at the ready, they would undoubtedly have that group slaughtered within the minute. The rest would be up to the rest of the group for the moment.

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In the midst of the Broken Plains, a land shattered and mourning its own forgotten past, a loud booming horn flew into the sky. It signaled a warning for all who heard it. To William Sharr the call was startling, and turned his heartbeat into a war drum. The melody...that song from the hermit...why didn't it sound pretty anymore? And why did he feel off? How long had they been walking in this fog state? He wet dry lips with his tongue and whipped his head around, eyes zeroing in on new arrivals.

They scurried in packs, disgusting insects that seemed keen on tasting flesh. Will cursed as the distance between himself and a group shrunk, smaller and smaller until he found himself backpedaling. From his side a bright light nearly blinded him while cold ice pushed past and impaled a collection of Yh'mi's finest. Fuck, he thought, they're here.

And suddenly they were upon him, legs skittering on the stone floor of the Plains and mandibles churning hungrily. Five in total, moving as a hive with Will as their common goal. He swung his crossbow in front him, then hissed in frustration. They were too close and too fast. What-

A creature sprang into the air, shooting toward him with a speed that chilled him to the bone. Instinctively Will slammed his crossbow into the thing and shoved it to the ground. It chitin shell glittered in the sunlight, but he managed the fix it still with a boot and pull the trigger. It stopped moving as he shot a bolt point blank into its back, but four more were there to take its place, zooming over the ground and toward him. 

Will cursed as another lunged for his legs. He kicked hard and sent it flying backward. then swung his bag in a wide arc. The pack caught another leaping critter and slammed it away. There was a squeal, but he couldn't focus on it. With a speed he'd long since honed, Will pulled a bolt from his quiver, set it in his crossbow, and locked it in place. He aimed down the sight and spotted the bug he'd punted in the distance, attempting to make its way back to him. Pfft! 

A bolt found its home in the creature's shell, cracking the back and pinning it to the stone. As it died Will yanked another quarrel form his quiver and set in place just as two more approached him tentatively. They'd seen their brethren killed and seemed cautious now. He swallowed hard, swiveling his crossbow between the two. 

The third bug he'd slapped away made its way back to them, swaying as if disoriented. Will stepped back when they began to advance, their eerie eyes glittering with eagerness. He needed distance with the crossbow, but these things weren't staying still. Gods what now?

His boot caught on an edge of the shattered ground. In a flash Will's vision was upended as he fell to the the ground, head slamming into the ground and igniting a dull pain. He groaned and attempted to right himself. 

The attackers took this as an invitation and charged him without much preamble. Will half rose and viewed their approach with wide eyes. Shit. 

They arrived at the same time, all three springing into the air and toward his head. In their fervent fury they hadn't strategized an approach, however, and two ended up clashing with each other and tumbling into the ground. Will fell back on his ass and fumbled with his crossbow. He ignored the tangled mess and aimed for the one still leaping toward them, letting loose a bolt that impaled the creature midair. 

It flew back, but died on impact. He blinked, then got to his feet. No time to panic. Get this done.

And so, Will did. As the other creatures separated they each found Will standing before them with a curious resolve in his eyes. To them, it was nothing to be concerned about. After all, they wanted a meal, and couldn't process the strange intricacies of a human mind. They launched an offensive once more, no doubt surprised when Will batted both away with the crossbow. He moved with deliberate speed, footwork engineered to prevent either of them from getting another chance. A pivot here, sidestep there, and a well-timed kick. He was untouchable...why? Is this Yh'mi? Is this what it does?

They circled him in confusion. How long would this go for? Will grinned and suddenly spun, aiming his reloaded crossbow at the creature opposite of him. He killed it quickly with a thick bolt firing across the distance between them and puncturing its shell. The creature behind him recognized the opportunity and lunged at his back, but Will had predicted this. He whirled around again and revealed a knife from his belt, the steel blade flashing in the sunlight and sinking into the exposed underbelly of the insect. The dying beast squealed in his arms. Its legs spasmed and claws scratched his flesh but he kept the blade in until it fell still. 

Around him the sound of battle finally sunk in. Will looked up with a wild expression and dropped the carcass from his knife. They needed to rally but, for now, he'd do his best to offer support. He began to fire at unsuspecting attackers, trying to relieve his comrades as best he could. 

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Umbra and the three Shadow Guards brought down the group of 5 Chhitten they faced with a barrage of bolts from their armbows: less powerful by a factor or so than the bolts from Will's crossbow, but very fast to fire and most likely tipped with all kinds of poisons and sorceries. Then there were 40. Will fought through his group to make the tide of skittering creatures 35. Stella and Anywhere engaged five more. 30 were left unoccupied, and...

The mad hermit, the strange knight, and the paladin of the Order. Tenebra could see no trace of them. A frown deepened on the dark mage's face, and she prepared another spell to fire at the dwindling but persistent horde of Chhitten. Umbra and the Shadow Guards moved to engaged another group, and she noticed that Will still remained and fired shots at Chhitten that weren't paying attention to him, thinning their numbers. But still, with the suddenly lost manpower, the balance had suddenly tipped out of their favor...

And then, out of what seemed like nowhere, a dark flash was briefly visible, and five of the Chhitten were flung up into the air, before falling back towards the ground in several pieces. Standing near where that group was been was a man with purple eyes that had a slight glow to them, who had chestnut brown hair and noticeably pale skin. He held a sword in his hands that was almost as big as he was. Finally, he was clad in chainmail, and his gear seemed to indicate that he was some kind of mercenary. Tenebra looked away for a moment to fire off her spell, then returned her attention to the new arrival. This man looked one of the mercenaries that had been in Inns'th before the arrival of the Aligorian contingent. She thought all of them had died, whether in Remissio's assault or the defense of the breach, or had fled back into Terrenus, never to return to the bleak lands of Yh'mi. As if reading her thoughts, the mercenary grinned at Tenebra, and turned to another group of Chhitten as black flames burst to life along the length of his blade. Tenebra's eyes widened, and the attention of Stella and Umbra was also drawn to this man, for a moment. That was the power of the Inanis, without question. And the black flames were Gormaric's signature manifestation of that power...

The dark mage did nothing for the moment but watch as the mercenary slashed his blade into the ground amidst a group of the Chhitten, the black flames spreading from the point of impact to consume the creatures and leaving naught behind but ash.

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