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Meraxa

The Stronghold of Storms

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"THAT WAS FUN!" the older sister sheepishly squealed once the dust all settled in and the ship was no longer in motion. The 'supposed' crash was well-received the strange woman much to the younger sister's amusement.

Shishi could not help but sigh at her older sibling. Still, she was more than glad that a few other people survived their recent predicament. Now she and her sister are trailing after the group, on the ground, going farther and farther away from their only trip home.

The magic here is thick and cloying, heavy enough for even Shishi to perceive it with her eyesight alone. Wiping some of the blood off the small cut on her forehead, Shishi wondered aloud. "Any ideas, sister? Turning off such a massive floating fortress?"

The older woman shrugged. "Breaking it would be the simplest answer but I doubt anyone would want to destroy such a good facility. Now shutting it down would be the harder option."

Shishi mulled on those words. "Let's hope it won't come to that."

Chuckling the older sister took the lead to stand a beside Roen. "We can always hope."

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Raccoon had actually fainted during the crash. His body laid face-first on the wooden floor. And, without warning, bolted awake.

"GARGHLOOKOUT-!" 

He sat there, momentarily wide-eyed, his adrenaline continuing from where it left off. The surging panic, the beat of his quickening heart pulse—had already died. There was no turbulence, nor was there any storm. The ship wasn't even moving at all. Raccoon had been absolutely dumbfounded, flashes of white light still burned into his eyes. What just happened? A few minutes ago, he was wrestling with gravity. But now. . .  no. . .  is he-? Raccoon grabbed his body; his waist, his chest, his face, his beautiful face-!

He's alive! But what about. . .? He squinted, swiveling his head around—left, right, up, down—scanning for a familiar glint that had almost immediately caught his eye. He blindly scrambled to his knees, snatching his glasses off the floor. He breathed into the lenses and wiped them squeaky clean, placing it on his face and blinking into a world where he could actually see. Raccoon pushed himself up, his legs rickety like a newborn baby deer, still caught in the middle of a rocking ship bullied by a storm. He scanned for his crew mates next, all of whom, he was not able to find. 

I see, Raccoon thought to himself, in quite a literal and metaphorical sense. 

He placed his hands together, preparing a prayer so that their souls may be peacefully guided to the afterlife.

Bless their hearts and souls, O Divine One, so that they may find peace after death. They are good people—though I've known only three of them for about . . . what, a day? My judgement is not very clear, at the moment, but, er, never mind, they're right there. 

"Hey! Hey guys!" 

Raccoon ran up to his formerly deceased companions and slipped. He forgot that he had a slight weakness in his legs, but eventually, he got right back up.

The last of their companions caught up to them, with a deep crimson scrape on his right cheek. it jutted a splinter, trickling with thin lines of blood. He deeply questioned the citadel that towered before him, but it was too late for that. Raccoon joined the party right behind the sisters from earlier. He hadn't actually gotten a chance to give off a better first impression awhile ago (most probably because of the storm) so he quietly accepted the death of his ego. 

One of their companions—he hadn't actually gotten his name—began talking about how turning off the fortress was coherently a horrible idea. You can turn a fortress on?

A few moments passed. Raccoon decided to do the one thing he usually did.

"Welp." He sat down, his legs in a criss-cross position. "Don't mind me."

He began to 'totally space out, dude'.

Closing his eyes, Raccoon tapped into his sixth sense; ebony tattoos inked across his body illuminated deeply with blinding light, accompanied by the faintest sound of song. Most of what his companions said were muted out in the middle of his transcendent state, attracting spirits to linger on his physical and ethereal body. For about a minute, Raccoon had said nothing, until his eyes opened, briefly white and glowing, before gently fading into a pair of pupils. The light vanished as he bolted up, his free hand digging into his pocket. He placed his hand on the pilot's shoulder—unnaturally friendly. Tiny spirits crept up on some of the party.

"Cool, cool." Raccoon mumbled, listening to a little spirit on his shoulder. "There's something at the bottom of the citadel," he said, pulling out an extra pipe; less ornamental and more wooden. He ignited it. "I don't know what it is, but it feels like something really big."

Raccoon puffed a lazy cloud that drifted faintly familiar shapes, as if faces had appeared on the clouds he smoked. "Also, there's a potted plant somewhere. It's being really taken care of, i think."

His eyes studied the stairs. Then he studied the faces of the people here with him; Argi, Ravenbush and her sister, the pilot, and a bleeding man. 

A what-

"WOAH—!" He didn't do well with blood. But then again, he didn't notice he was also bleeding. "That doesn't—uh, ughh," he sucked in some air, "that looks bad. You want some, uh, ointment on that?"

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OOC: Utmost apologies for the delay on my part. If you guys -

@Roen @Vilhardt @Thotification @SweetCyanide are okay to continue I'd appreciate it, but would understand why one may be put off

 

'Machine'. There was a word that was utterly unfamiliar to Argi, and so made him quite curious as to what it must have referred to. It was being used to ascribe the fortress in some fashion, so was it a martial term? Magic, perhaps? Then again, if it were either of those things, Argi knew the words in Terran, or whatever they called the language, and it didn't sound like them. It was also, he realised, not the best time to thinking too hard on words he did not know, when there were other things he did not know to be concerned about.

Like how the heck did the door like that.

It had only happened mere moments ago, but before he have pulled out Peldun to deal with the situation, Argi had beheld the doors swing open by way of some unknown force. Though the wind outside was quite heavy, it could not have been what forced them open - otherwise they would fail their apparent purpose in every instance. Had it been one of the others present? If so, then what they did was an art unseen, at least by Argi's eye.

 

As for the fortress itself, apparently such things were not entirely unheard of among the lowlands. The man that seemed-to-be-Jim affirmed the likelihood of a magical involvement, but again that word 'machine' was used, suggesting a distinction between the two. It was difficult not to be distracted by that fact, especially when what otherwise lay around him was... perhaps so overwhelming as to encourage his mind to not even consider it. So many stairs, so many ways to go, his eyes would sometimes glance towards one, his head turn towards another, and then in the end, settle on none at all.

"There's something at the bottom of the citadel," said Raccoon from behind, drawing Argi's gaze that way. His face scrunched up in considering the suggestion, before he sighed, and set off for the nearest set of stairs that were going down. There really was nothing else for it, was there?

 

...Well, there was always falling through the floor instead, apparently.

 

Argi, and anyone that would have elected to follow, quite literally fell victim to a pair of doors that masqueraded as the floor, swinging open when sufficient weight was placed upon them. Argi, square in the middle of the wide opening, had nothing within reach to grasp, leaving him subject to gravity's whims. For those that might try to escape this trap, the walls of the pit into which they fell were smooth and bare, without even seam to plug a sturdy sword into, like in some tales - other solutions would be necessary. For anyone who hadn't gone forward so hastily, whether they wished to assist or not, they would find themselves having to contend with a series of arrows fired from on high towards them. They came one at a time, fired from a single source, but fired in rapid, seasoned succession. If instead of evasion, one opted to block or deflect the attack, the adventurers would find things quickly complicating, if they tried to do so with magic. For any construct of the arcane that came into contact with these arrows would lose most of their sense of coherency, unravelling as the shaft of dark-blue turned orange upon contact.

 

The archer that fired those arrows, clad in archetypal hooded cape - archetypal of the continent's largest military, even - rested at the top of one set of stairs, in the forward-right corner. Whatever their reason, after their initial volley, they retreated up the stairs. Pursuit would lead to a realisation that the stairs extended above the entrance hall into a criss-crossing stairwell, each leading into entrances that immediately exited unto another, like some confusing painting. Here, the archer would be perched several layers up, looking down upon any guests in all possible senses of the phrase.

"I'm afraid there's no leaving." His voice echoed downward, quite bluntly. "Besides, I need target practise before we get to the real show."

 

Meanwhile, for anyone that had made the descent into the unknown with Argi, they would find themselves in a... rather welcoming setting, actually. Rather than some dark and damp hole, it was a well lit room, furnished with all the trappings of the well-to-do. Shelves lined the walls of the wide chamber, and upon those shelves, books and trinkets from all corners of the continent. Reading one such book was a woman, seemingly only a few years older than Argi himself, but dressed utterly unlike him. This was a woman not only familiar with civilisation, but class, set in a black and burgundy dress with an intricate floral motif. She would regard any visitors after reaching the end of the apparent chapter she was reading, laying a bookmark within the pages before clapping the tome shut.
"...I did wonder if anyone would come to us, before we reached Ignatz." The woman mused as she swivelled in her seat, putting her hands together. A single, deep blue eye would study the scene - the other was veiled by the sheer length of the fringe.

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Josh tapped his foot, looking towards the top of the spire for a moment as the twins babbled amongst themselves, feeling as if he had forgotten about something important. The old man Jim rattled on, reminiscing about 'Blarf' or something like that; whatever that was. The word magic caught the knuckleheads attention though, causing him to nod in agreement as the coot confirmed the pilots thoughts. Jim started hollering about getting off of the fortress, and the white haired one snapped back to reality. He cleared his throat, preparing to ask Argi a bit more about that strange box but was quickly reminded about that thing he had almost forgotten.

 Something had touched his shoulder, taking him by surprise. It was... Badger.. Or was it Possum? His ears were still ringing a bit from the crash, and he didn't really care about that much anyway; after having lost his coat. The hair on Josh's neck stood as Raccoon's hand settled, while twitching at the eye and flaring his nostrils in realization. The smell... That awful, putrid stench caused the soldier to lurch forward slightly.

 Back into his own world he went, ignoring the spirits aloft. Ignoring what Raccoon had said. Ignoring the others, and recoiling in disgust when he could no longer fight it. It was on Raccoons hands, the puke, and it smelled like... Well it smelled like puke, lingering on the shoulder of the pilot's black turtleneck. Revolting truly, sending the man into a frenzy which caused him to ventilate pure anxiety while he thrashed about, stripping the sweater off and throwing it at the ground; leaving his gun holster slung across his bare chest. The mage turned to face the group from the center of the room, putting his foot down hard in preparation to set things straight.

 "Alright!!! Now look here Chipmunk!! This is NOT!!!..."

 The floor gave way.

"COOOOOOoooool......"

 Josh was the first down, banging off of the walls before sluggishly coming around in a tasteful environment. The woman of class caught his eye, causing him to sit up when he noticed her. He smiled fiendishly, flexing a bit and dusting his chest off before something else came crashing down on top of him, knocking him out for a moment.

Edited by Vilhardt

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Following Argi was quite the eventful decision. Neither sister expected the surprise but only the older sister welcomed it with open arms. As the fake floor doors swung open and the were plummeted downwards, Shishi could not help but get worried. In fact, it greatly stressed her that she did not notice her body reacting accordingly to the predicament. Wings of light shout out of her back thus slowing her descent while her older sister merely floated in mid-air. To make matters worse, the older sister pulled out a stick of cigar and began smoking while the two gently reached the ground. 

Theatrics aside, Shishi was surprised to find another person living inside the floating structure. She found it weird that this woman seems to be in tune with the latest trends and clearly not the outdated native she had expected. Shishi turned to her sister for assurance only to find the other woman staring daggers at other person. 

Inhaling a lungful of smoke, the older sister regarded this woman. "The fringes don't suit you."

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While the older sister sidled up to him, Roen turned his head and leveled the weight of his scrutiny on Raccoon. Arguably one of the more interesting members of the party, loud voice and antics notwithstanding, the man was doing something peculiar. He was sitting down and, for lack of a better word, glowing. It didn’t take much to hazard a guess that the man was performing an esoteric action, though to what remained largely unclear. It was the sheer candor of it, though. To ask for no minding before sitting down and glowing was, in of itself, something of a comedy. Roen might have laughed, were he not so concerned with the whyfores of Raccoon’s ministrations. Viewed through the lens of the Art, Raccoon was alight with psy-flame, and attracted denizens from beyond the veil. 

As a matter of precaution, Roen retreated deep within himself beneath the camouflage of the mundane. He was incognito, after all. His name was Jim. It wasn’t enough to appear human, he also had to feel like one, too. Laying a hand across the steel pommel of his sheathed sword, Roen watched with all due interest while Raccoon went about his task, and didn’t flinch, not a bit, when the man opened his eyes, glowing at first, and bolted upright. It had, to Roen’s perspective, been a right of sending that Raccoon had performed. It seemed, for all intents and purposes, that he had been communicating with the Beyond for insight. 

Fascinating, Roen thought, with not a little envy. That was talent, right proper. 

What was not fascinating was the lighting of a pipe and the comment concerning ointment, and even less so the feeling of the floor dropping out beneath them all. So preoccupied with Raccoon’s rite and conversation, Roen had lost focus on their immediate surroundings, and so was caught entirely off guard by their sudden descent. Without meaning to and on impulse alone, the fiend in disguised reached out, and with hands as hard and as rough as bark with labor-callouses, grabbed the elder sister beside him in a vice-like grip. Fortunately, Raccoon was not the only meta-human in their company. The elder sister, who Roen grabbed as a lifeline, was floating. What was more surprising was that Roen didn’t feel it happen. He didn't even feel it now. 

It felt, to his preternatural senses, completely natural that she floated, as if it were the action of a natural law and not the breaking of one. Gravity pulled at him, though. Voraciously, hungrily, it pulled at him, but he didn’t plummet as others had. Holding onto dearest life, Roen spared the elder sister one quick, furtive glance to make sure she would still float, and then swiveled his attention down, where the plummet was. He watched Agri and Josh fall, the latter striking walls violently as he did so, before being struck and knocked out. Argri, on the other hand, Roen didn’t quite see. Still, it was enough evidence to suggest the length of the drop, and once Roen had a measure of it, he waited until the elder sister floated down close enough for him to let go of her and fall safely. 

Landing hard and falling painfully to a knee, Roen rocked slightly where he knelt, shivered with the pain of bruising that would soon bloom, and huffed his way to his foot and full albeit modest stature. Without missing a beat, the pretend sellsword reached out, grabbed sheath and hilt both, and drew the old, battered weapon from his hip with a steely hiss of metal whispering against leather. He took the lead, but not before employing some esoteric ability himself: a sending. Casting thought and will behind him, Roen whispered words into the minds of Shishi, her elder sister, Argi and Raccoon. Get the mage up. Be alert. Acting the part - he had been hired as security - Roen juxtaposed himself between the party and the woman of class before them. He gave her a once over after briefly rolling his shoulder and pressing his cheek and eye against it, wiping blood from his sight. 

“We didn’t come to you,” Roen told the woman with the blue eye. He held his sword neutrally, its tip hovering near the ground at his feet. “We crashed.” Glancing briefly at their surroundings, alert for shifts in the environment, the man frowned severely. “Your floor broke beneath us, sorry about that. We’re just looking for a way off of this rock, so if you don’t mind..,” he trailed off, leaving the rest implicit. They didn’t want trouble, here. They just wanted to leave. It was a lie, of course. He was content to get the rest of the party off of the citadel, but as for him -- well, he had other ideas. 
 

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The thing that fell atop Josh's head was none other than Argi, who grumbled and fell from the pilot's back, catching himself upon the smooth, stone floor of the chamber in which it seemed the grand sum of the party had fallen. The fall hurt, every bone and muscle screaming at him for having allowed such a thing to have happened at all. And yet...

Looking up briefly, that felt like it had been far too little for far too much. His bones and muscles were screaming, but they were not broken. It hurt to stand, but it was not so agonising as to be impossible. Sure, he had fallen on someone else, but that surely couldn't have softened everything... could it?

Something still didn't feel right...

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"I see..." The woman with blue hair rose from her seat, revealing the full shape of her dress as it fell from her figure. She regarded each of the party with curiosity, though of a differing shade of such for each. Argi seemed to draw a mostly bemused kind of curiosity; a sheer lack of novelty to the likes of him. With Josh, she seemed to see something she quite liked, and her mind was calculating something or another with regards to him. To the sisters, there was... confusion, and discomfort; the kind which one has when they are left ill at ease by the implications of something. A similar feeling was felt towards 'Jim', and for such, she briefly brushed apart part of her long fringe, revealing that where her right eye should have laid, there was something else, with a deep, amber glow. She studied the man with a great intensity, before covering up her gaze once more.

"There are many reasons why I would not normally even associate with one as yourself," the stranger said to the elder sister, taking a breath as she steadied her stance. To 'Jim', she could not help but remark, "But you...  What are you? Could you be..."

 

Suddenly, she stopped, clasping the side of her head. Wincing, and tilting her head as though listening to a conversation, she nodded a few times in turn, before settling her gaze upon the group once again. Towards Jim, her hand was held up, and she said, "You may go, follow the stairs to the right, and then the second right each time after."

Should he heed these words, and the others attempted to follow, or if he made no move at all and stayed, the woman would... sort of glide across the room, rather than walk, to settle herself between the rest of the group, and the apparent exit.

"My mother-in-law has asked that you not be allowed to leave this place alive." She informed them, with a slight, bitter hint to her words, followed by a sigh. "So I guess if none of you have ever seen a vampire before... well..."

There, there could see them now. The glint of fangs, sharp as knives.

 

Without another word, the stranger flung herself forward towards the sisters, with not so much a hunger as conviction in her eye, seeking to throw otherwise delicate fingers firmly around one of the other women's necks, and use a strength possessed more by golems than the well-to-do to squeeze the life from them. Should an effort be made to strike her, whether in flight or in the midst of her attack, the woman in burgundy erupt into a flurry of what might seem like a thousand bats, scattering about the room. Quickly however they would come together again, behind the man with no shirt - Josh - and with her form solidified once more, the stranger would attempt to sink her fangs right into the neck of the pilot. Should she make contact, then the sensation would be most strange; she would not draw blood, as was so commonly ascribed, but it would seem more as if she was attempting to push her blood into the man's body!

 

As this occurred, Argi's eyes fell towards the aforementioned stairs. A part of him wanted to fight here, fight this... thing, in the form of a woman, but another part of him had him curious. Why single out Jim, of all people? Who was in the mother-in-law? Was she the one in command? If she was, could they afford to be held back here...

Warily, he began towards the stairs, but turned back and forth as he did so, indecisive on whether or not to fight. Meanwhile, if Jim had gone ahead of him, they would find that the directions were indeed accurate, allowing one to rise with surprising speed through the structure - entirely ignoring some superfluous staircase designed to confuse the hell out of wayward visitors.

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The vampire's claws did find purchase but at the wrong woman. At the least possible moment, the older sister had pushed Shishi out of the way and leaped forward to take the full brunt of the bloodsuckers grasp. Her body was flung backward from the force, her neck trapped within the clutches of the vampire.

Shishi might have been surprised with the sudden development but her body never forgot its training. Her body moved on its own, turning her fall into a roll then she's back up again and moving towards Argi. Not even daring to look back at her sister's fate, Shishi attempted to grab Argi in an attempt to drag him towards the stairs.

"Let's go!" Shishi screamed at Argi in hopes that the man would just follow her in escaping their current predicament.


Meanwhile, the older sister could only chuckle bitterly at her fate. "I think you grabbed the wrong person." As she spoke, the vampire would realize her squeezing hands barely did any damage. The poor thing, she never realized who she was dealing with. A bright light shone underneath the woman's coat. The blade Baeoi had been there all this time. Even if this place is not Genisaris, the artifacts power has yet to wane.

"Blessing and Unblessing," said the older sister. The blade responded with her words and a 5 meter bubble of pink energy appeared with the older sister at the center. Grinning madly, the woman grabbed the vampire's arms in attempt to lock the beast down. Anything with that bubble of energy will feel its abilities suppressed. Then the older sister's body would radiate scorching light, its power backed by her artifact.

"Now be a good girl and stay still."

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 In the event that one ever had to choose between being assaulted by a war hammer, or being a cushion for the mountain man Argi, it was after this day in which the white haired warlock would advise the former. Argi's ignorantly thick rear crushed the pilot, flattening cheeks between stone. Everything went white for a moment, sound dimming before everything faded straight to black. The poor fellow rested their for a moment, just kind of staring between the cracks of light and shadow around him before coming around.

 Everything was muffled, generally without discernment except for the changes of pitch before Argi got up; at which part he heard clear mention of the undead. Argi and another brushed by the mage as he began to rise onto his feet, struggling a bit in disorientation still. He could make out the silhouette of a doorway which they had headed for, pushing his palms into the ground and pulling his right leg beneath him in an attempt to follow; only to be doubly halted. In the resulting scuffle, an unexpected gathering of spiritual energy surfaced, pulsing from a vibrant pink bubble which exuded an auric light. In instinct, Josh held a hand before his face, blocking the warmth of the rays. What had happened next then, seemed just as instinctive.

 Something man handled the confused mage, literally pulling him into the air from behind. It restrained his free hand, the other stopping the light from the opposite side from assaulting his eyes, and barricaded Josh between the two forces. A moment later, his nerves ruptured with a visceral pain which spread immediately from his neck outward. His collar throbbed, tightening in response, and he clenched his jaw in madness.

 His body was beginning to give into something which had entered into his system. A contagion of sorts, or, perhaps a result of such laws of magic. It wasn't a one way affair however, the vampire coming to an obvious conclusion that whatever was within that man, was fiendish. The very nature of his black blood cells seethed with a desire to assimilate the structure of both the living and the dead. The mundane, and the supernatural. The oldest of the alchemists, and those studied in the spiritual aspects of the mind, body, or soul had no definite way of categorizing such a thing, divulging them as a source for all crafts in a pure or entropic state; Prana.

  What exactly the undead woman had done was immediately unapparent, but it seemed to have been successful. There was no resistance, no adaptive response or feedback in an attempt to counteract the vampires measures. Only acceptance of the work at hand. Josh remained within the woman's clutches, blocking the blinding light from his eyes for the moment.

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The mask was flawed, Roen realized with a measure of displeasure. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, the Lord of the Black City and archdevil in disguise cocked his hip and, in a gesture that should have surprised no one, sighed as the put-upon actor he was. This wasn’t the first time this mortal guise had failed him. Were the eyes too green, he wondered? Was the face too stern? Or was it the sheer stint of normality that invited closer scrutiny? He considered this briefly, this image he formed for himself of the urbane and the natural, and briefly wondered if it was in fact too good to be properly useful. Questions. Questions. 

He turned his head, loose strands of hair falling across his bloody, stern face, and looked at his companions for the span of a few heartbeats. He had red eyes, once. Like two discs of rubelite set in ivory, they were. And a tail, of course. Long, sleek and black as night, he could make it curl and lash to the delight and fright of others. But these, too, were false iconography; theater, of a sorts, to hide Truer Matter. All masks, all acts and plays. There was an impulse to abandon it all together, his every attempt at subterfuge doomed to fail, but his was a sentimental disposition, and he feared he would forget the mortal guise altogether, and walk eternal as -- well, something that could never look and be looked upon with love. 

But these were errant thoughts, quick and fleeting much like his care. He was found out if not conspicuously placed, and while their hostess might not have guessed the true scope of his dark majesty, it seemed to him that there was someone else who did. He turned back towards the hostess, and when his companions left his sight, so, too, did they leave his mercurial mind. ‘Jim’ was their protector, guide and companion. Roen was not. Loosening his grip on the sweat-stained hilt of his sword, Roen let the slab of sharpened steel fall to the ground at his feet with a clatter, and walked away. 

And if he felt a pang of guilt, leaving those brave young men and women to their doom, well, he tucked it some place in the back of his mind to share crawlspace with the rest of his woes, regrets and spent desires. There his guilt would remain, until he had some special use for it. He walked passed the vampire, his eyes, still green as bladed grass, tracking her as he made for the stairs to his right. He said nothing, and when she, too, left his gaze, he turned ahead and followed the path the vampire had instructed him to take. Up the stairs, his footfalls fell, and then to the second right each time after. He moved at a stately pace, neither hurried nor sedentary; he moved with the ease of a proprietor, one who owned all that he laid eyes upon. In a sense, he was and did. 

All that was left was convincing whomsoever he was journeying towards that fact. 

Edited by Roen

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The vampire had cursed and spit when she beheld the elder sister's coat, and her grip had held little effect upon their throat. On the one hand, they had managed to response swiftly enough as to evade the elder sister's response in full, leaving one to stand in that shimmering sphere of light, not two. On the other, it was a few of her bats had not quite escaped it, and so were suddenly submerged by a power that willed them back into the lumps of flesh they should have been. The only blemish to the vampire's face, suckling upon the pilot's neck, was that of such a lump missing from her right cheek, revealing there some of the bone. One would suspect then that any other absences of material were scatted across her body, and thus hidden by the fabrics of her dress. Fortunately, for her at least, the first bit of blood she had consumed was already serving to amend this issue--
Wait, no...
She choked, her essence and that of the man erupting from the wound. Uncertainty and fear flickered in her eyes; something so raw and afraid, clearly inexperienced with the evident thought of this not immediately and easily working.
 
But it did, sorta.
 
The vampire withdrew her fangs from Josh's neck, sputtering as the mixture of fluids fell from her face. With some of it still upon her fingers, her fingers began to flutter through a variety of arcane symbols, while words of power slipped across her tongue. She wasn't just a vampire, she was a vampire sorcerer. A conflagration erupted from the gap between her fingers, greater than even she anticipated, if her widening eyes were any indication. Though the air immediately surrounding the elder sister would be incapable of ignition, flames that were already lit - air already subject to combustion - were no longer a thing of magic themselves, merely a product of a process. As such, that searing, rampaging heat would fly at the elder sister, its master intent on subsuming her in its wrath.
But, it was not the only thing to which she might be master.
If Josh had reacted as any other would to what the vampire had afflicted him with, then he would not be... quite so turned, as the stories say. He would not have been made an equal to the vampire, whose name he now knew - by sheer instinct of blood - to be Sofía. But his body would have ceased to care for mortal limits of the human physique - if such ever confined him - and instead push itself to the utmost limit, as though acting on an unending supply of adrenaline. Not because it was or because such a level of physical performance was somehow without consequence, but that his body, if subject to this sublimation, had simply ceased to care about such consequences. What did it matter that his hand might buckle upon impact, if it could be in service of his master?
 
Such service... he could feel... was the desire to erase the enemies of the master, through whatever means were available.
 
"What the-?!" The vampire suddenly spoke in shock, at the image of what appeared to be a tiger suddenly manifesting at her side. The hand with which Sofía cast her flames whipped around, redirecting the torrent of flame towards this target, either forgetting the first was there, or perhaps hoping the Elder Sister had been rendered little more than ash by this stage.
 

 
How long did the devil wearing the skin of a man climb those steps?
 
Well, his senses would surely be able to tell it truly: Five or so minutes, give or take. But he would feel and know what had been intended for those that took that path, presumably without permission or proper preparation. An ailment of the senses, subtle enough in its placement as to remain undetected by all but the most acute in the arcane arts, yet strong enough its conviction as to be difficult to resist for all but the same. A distortion of the perception of time, making some such sections of the climb feel like an age, while others gave such a sense of swift progression as to then make the 'longer' sections seem all the more arduous. But the journey came to an end all the same: Exiting unto the entrance of a presumably grand hall. Other stairs and paths led to this place, suggesting that somewhere in the depths, there other ways to reach it. But that creature - that vampire - he had left far below had direct means of going to and from this place, undisturbed by any other.
And there were others.
An 'organised rabble', as oxymoronic as the term might otherwise be, would be likely be the most apt description of this band. Set to either side of the entrance, clustered in loose formation but ultimately choosing how and where they stood of their own accord, it was clear this was by no means a traditional, conventional, or even really military force. These were brigands, bandits, or perhaps even more plainly, people; though they were armed in a fashion that belied sinister intent. Some bore equipment clearly 'gifted' by the armed forces of one Odin Haze, whether willingly or not. Others had seemingly shaped their own blades, with a level of craft that seemed amateur at best - but even an amateur blade need only be sharp enough to cut the skin. A few others bore items that might have seemed of interest to the one that approached them, but at his approach, they stepped back.
 
Not out of fear - though there was a hint of it all the same - but as a welcome, the doors of heavy sarsen swinging open as part of the same.
 
"Well... you're certainly something, aren't you?"
8zMckwI.png
"By no means are you a servant of my master... but there is much akin in you to him. There must be, for you to alarm my old senses so. An irony, don't you think? That the rejection of all that is foul and unholy, should itself be a way to discern who may be an ally to our cause?"
The elder matriarch - and it was quite clear, stood before a vast and empty throne of smooth stone at the end of the vast chamber, that she was the matriarch here - inquired rhetorically, turning her head slightly as she held her gaze towards Roen.
"Though, I suppose such a view makes little sense without some... context." The elder, shifting slowly in her rags, took a few steps closer to the throne, centring herself before it, but clearly making no move to sit upon itself herself. She tilted her staff forward, directing it towards Roen as she spoke, saying, "I am a servant, as are all who should call this great Stronghold - Baradalgo - home. Our master is the Witch-King Zengi, whose return we have awaited for many years, and is now whispered among the wilds of the Fractured Continent."
As she spoke, her hands were raised, and drawn in together. The great slabs of sarsen stone that served as the entrance to the hall swung inward, and so would seal shut the entrance behind Roen. Once this was done, the woman lowered her hands, letting her well worn, ragged robes settle together, while she herself seemed to ease a bit, smiling faintly as she beheld the devil with an amber gaze.
 
"All truths told, it matters little whether or not the dark one does walk the land once more. It was enough to rally my people to seize our revenge." She told him, then turning a hand on herself to say, "I am Elisha Barcid, Herald of Zengi. And a woman who would very much like to see the empire of Odin Haze laid bare like all of the others that came before it. Eradicating its heart in a great flood, which the wind and waters of this storm shall bring, would seem a grand step in that goal, no?"
Then, her hand stretched forth towards Roen.
"You, I would imagine, are no friend to the 'Saint-King'. While I do not know what precisely drew you here to begin with, I would extend the offer now: Would you not wish to join us in this endeavour?"
 

 
Argi had been dragged, at Shishi's insistence, up those flight of stairs that seemed to pass by both so quickly and not at all. It had been at the expense of those left behind to find the strange lady in the pretty dress; there were a number of stories among the Menjen that might much her description, though equally, none of them quite fit either. Part of him wanted to go back down, to question and to gain answer. But another part of him wondered about the fact that Jim had just left, at that same woman's invitation. Nothing about Jim had at all suggest he might in any way have business with this place, and he had seemed to perplex the woman in the dress before he was invited upward. Why? Why? Why?
"...Hold." Argi stopped suddenly, and insistently, dragging his arm as best he could from Shishi so as to stop on the step, and look up towards her. So much was running through his mind now, and it was evident in the way he tried to focus on her, fighting against an ordinary urge to try and glance at every little thing. So deep into the stone walls, it was quiet, which helped.
 
"This place..." He gestured around, though confined to the small area of the staircase, clearly meaning the whole of this airborne citadel. "Evil?"
He knew the question was simple, and it clearly frustrated him to ask it in such a fashion, while his command of the language remained so poor.
Still, with hands clenched at his side, he tried to communicate further, "This place, heart of storm. Heart, yes?"
By which he meant, it should seem that either the fortress itself, or someone within it, should seem to be the source of the storm. Somehow. However that was possible. But why else would it seem to so deliberately avoid it? How could it be so precariously yet perfectly perched in the centre, it was merely another victim of the winds?
"This storm... if pass over mountain... pass over home."
His mind threw back to years ago. It was not entirely impossible that his people should heavy winds and rains. He had himself sheltered from... two that he could recall, that were really bad. Gales threatening to lift away the tents and fling some wayward part of the structure into a person's side, and the valleys were flooded weeks after. If something like this were to hit them...
 
"Help stop?"
It was sudden to ask, he was sure of it. They had simply landed here but minutes ago, crashed rather than landed. They had fallen into that hole, not chosen to step into it where they were then threatened. No doubt a desire to escape this place would see them have to fight anyway, but...
He wanted to fight, now that he had thought about it, and he wanted to see if he had Shishi's support in that endeavour. Whether or not he did, they would have to continue their path, and so emerge before the doors of sarsen, as 'Jim' had before them. However, when they arrived, the doors were closed, and before them, those that had stood there with their weapons, now bore them towards the two. They might have even begun to charge, if not for instead taking a moment to burst into laughter, as Argi drew out a sword hilt with no actual sword within it. Yet all the same he held it before him as though the blade were there, and then with one great and booming voice, yelled out,
"PELDUN!"
 
An emerald light enveloped the room before the great hall and its sarsen doors, which when it cleared, revealed a giant, golem-like creation of a varied blue hue. It wielded an actual sword, and a very big one at that. It unnerved those who merely wielded blades in hand, but those with arcane instruments and heavy hammers yelled loudly in defiance, setting themselves upon the now charging automaton, leaving the remainder to try and take on the woman as well, however committed to the cause she may have been. One, whose blades was as jagged as it was curved - albeit reversed, coming down like a hook - was the first to get near to Shishi, attempting to strike swift and true...!
 
Edited by Meraxa

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gqqBlFd.pngEveryone had fallen. Everyone, except for him.

Man, did he wish he’d fallen like the rest of them.

"I'm afraid there's no leaving."

The sound of footsteps. The echoing groans of the rows of stairs above him. His own heartbeat. An amalgamation of spirits bred by pain festering on his hand, wailing and crying like they’d never before experienced the sight of blood.

“Besides,"

Raccoon cursed, unable to internalize his frustration.

"I need target practise before we get to the real show."

If he wasn't so preoccupied with the intensity of his situation, Raccoon would've replied with a dull comeback characteristic of his inability to formulate a good insult. Because right now, he was cornered, hiding under a staircase, gripping his wrist like a madman because, Sweet mother of Gaia there's an arrow in my HAND!

"You've gotta be fucking kidding me," He mumbled to himself, "oh, you've gotta be-"

This was just insult to injury. He was already bleeding prior. Fleshy red scrapes on his arm and cheek with a bit of splinters, maybe, but this—by far—was the biggest splinter of all. An arrowhead jutted out the center of his palm. The other half of the arrow shot straight through the back of his hand. The muscle surrounding it pulsated a non-stop loop of pain, and a thick river of good old blood oozed out to say hi.

About a few moments ago, he'd cast a talisman barrier. And that required you to put your hand up in the air. With all the arcane procedures running through his head, the last thing he was thinking of were dozens of arrows with the literal ability to nullify said talisman barrier. Predictively, the arrows sliced right through his razzle dazzle like hot knives through a soap bubble.

He reluctantly glanced down at his gnarly little flesh wound. The blood made him absolutely sick to the bone. Should he be pulling this thing out? But doesn’t that make you bleed even more? Is this mission just going to be about him throwing up all the damn time? Keep it together, man!

He pressed his head against the wall. Keep it together. He started looking through his glasses—also stained with fresh blood from the arrow earlier. You're just having a bad day, he started feeling for something, maybe his pipe, most likely his gun, you're just having a bad day.

You know what? Start thinking. Where's the team? Down there. Need to get to them. How? How do I get to them while trying to get rid of this FUCK—this—nice—guy up there? Think. THINK. THIIII-

He came to mind. 

Right, yes, of course, you stupid dum—Raccoon thought, his thoughts overlapping each other in chaotic disarray. Nevertheless, he went straight to work like the professional he was. He shut his eyes and did his thing. His, ‘zone out’ session as he would call it. He drowned out the noise, opened his third eye, and called out to him, he who was beyond the physical realm. 

First, it was his snarl. A disembodied, guttural snarl that traveled in all directions. Second, the appearance of lazy trails of smoke rising from the floorboards; trails of smoke coming alive to  intertwine into clumps of spiraling mass. And finally, the formation of the body—the face, the fangs, the recognizable stripes on its coat—the white tiger had taken shape, once again summoned to the living world, circling his master in predatory instinct.

He hadn't noticed the spirits around him had actually gathered in fear. They expressed their concern by twitching erratically in all places unusual. Raccoon used his hand (the non-splintered one), to reach out and pet Pepper. The spirits screamed.

“Need you to do something for me, real quick.” Hand pressed against its head, the shaman transferred a shock of memory into him. Pepper growled in response. “Go protect them.”

The tiger stepped backward, regarding his master with a somewhat rebellious glare, until swiftly disappearing like the trails of smoke it had been created from.

Raccoon had been left with an air of awkward unease.

Gaia, I need a smoke.

Raccoon glanced up. Now, arrows go straight through his magicks. That means homeboy wants to do it the old-fashioned way. And if homeboy wants to do it the old-fashioned way,

Raccoon whipped out an ornate flintlock with a dangerous sheen.

He'll do it the old-fashioned way.

“Where they at?” He asked the spirit on his shoulder. It took a moment to process, then it spoke with it's six mouths. Right there, it pointed upwards with a thin finger. Raccoon looked. He scowled deeply.

“Target practice. Target—I’ll give you some target practice, alright. One hell of a fuckin’ target—”

He pointed, pulled at the trigger, and—BANG

"What the—?!"

He manifested in spiralling ashen clouds, carrying himself with pure animosity and animalistic hunger. A predator beyond the grave, he hunched low, stabbing the floor with steel claws. His eyes watched the woman. His nose picked up the scent of blood—the scent of an unnatural! Pepper bore his fangs and bellowed his ear-splitting roar.

Fire reflected on his glossy slitted eyes. He split apart in two halves of himself—narrowly evading the hellfire—dissipating into two clouds of smoke; chasing after the woman like two serpents. Then meeting each other, the tiger melded together once more. He pounced forward, hellbent into sinking his claws and fangs into her flesh. 

(Should he fail, Pepper dissipates into smoke, appearing again to relentlessly attack. Should he succeed, he pins down the woman and nearly tears her arm from her body.)

 

 

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 The covenant had been formed, spilling the blood of the dead worlds from a planar body, an endosymbiotic alignment of eldritch and sublunary mana which reacted to the will of an eidolon given shape by such union. It was with a short delay that a throbbing dystrophy formed beneath the surface, creeping repulsively below the victims skin; crawling into darkening veins which swelled outward from Joshua's forearms in an attempt to become animate. Pressure tensed the nerves of the cheeks, stinging along his neck, and forcing his teeth to clench. His being fought to consume itself, to trade life and limb for a lusting power, an accursed exchange of asset; the cost of which he was well familiar. The hands which had fed his Frankenstein, however, were not his own.

  The desperado hadn't lost his will to the flesh, but rather, lost his flesh to itself; stiffening in response to a sudden flame. Sofia had doused him in a gout of fire, causing a grim reaction of sorts. Embers bore into his back, fuming as they dug beneath the epidermis. The pilot pulled his hand away from the light which assaulted his eyes, foregoing sight and sense as he blacked out in pain. His left side steamed in an ephemeral moment, combusting spontaneously thereafter. Ectoplasmic heat rose from the mages charred skin, melding into translucent flames which cast a morbid shadow behind him. Any would find that within this darkness, the flames spread like wildfire, casting deeper pockets that extended it's clutches. Dread Fire, growing from the darkness, burning hotter in the presence of fear and despair.

  The arcane reaction had ignited Josh's blood, no longer strictly a thing of magic; but a product of the covenant. The very same which covered Sofia was no different, with little distinction of friend or foe, igniting without the same confines of mortal limitation which she had freed the pilot from. It would attempt to feed off of her own mana, burning uncontrollably if successful. After all, what did it matter now, if they burned into ash in a blaze of glory. Even unconscious, Joshua was prepared to slay his enemies, his body crisping from the Dread Flame which overtook his chest and crept across his face; accentuating his dull eyes. A maddened smile crept beneath his nose as he spread shadows forth, paying no mind to anything other than combating the immense light. More flame wreathed across his body, spreading pain which swelled his strength further as his wounds began to fester, focusing pressure towards his palms as he prepared to snuff out the only other person in the room; the elder sister.

Edited by Vilhardt

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The Elder Sister (The Mistress Blackhead)

Fire. For the white-haired elder sister, fire was both a symbolic and sentimental phenomenon. It was fire that razed the slave brothel in Izral where she had destroyed the slave prostitution ring inside and saved the multitudes of child slaves within, the flames purging away the horrors of that sickening place. It was fire had burned the only student the elder sister ever had leaving the poor girl with nothing more than a burned husk of the woman her student once had been. It was fire that burdened her path in the Velhetian plains, a never-ending horde of flame elementals that stood between her and the legendary blade Baeoi. It was fire that laid her to rest on the cold lands of Shawnee, when her died at the hands of the Legion, her body hanged and burned in the pyre. It was fire that lead to the wounding of the loci of Ursa Madeum caused by the anger of the raging fire spirit that lived within Mt. Egon, a disaster that the elder sister had failed to prevent. And even here, it was fire that threatened her life.

The woman was more distraught than ever especially when Shishi was not in her sights. She needed to hurry and run to Shishi's side, to ensure her the safety of her last remaining family. She was more distraught that she failed to keep her appearance in check when the fire razed her and her surroundings. With her life in danger, a bright light shone from within her coat, the legendary blade Baeoi hidden within it ,responding to the enemy's attack. The bright light expanded into a sphere of around five meters with the woman in the center. As the fire entered the area it would gradually lose its strength until it was nothing more than a candle flame which cannot stand from even the tiniest of whiffs and then she would snuff it out with a light blow. But the cost of such sudden measures can clearly be seen on the elder sister. Her glamour was broken, the snow white hair had lost its purity replaced by the pitch black hue of the night. Her face had lost its former shape, distorting into another, but one more similar to Shishi's. In this very moment, the vampires would be witnessing the return of the 'infamous' terrorist known as the Mistress 'Blackhead.'

A haughty chuckle escaped her lips, as power rose within the Mistress. "My, my, it seems that I cannot hide from the world any longer. Come, bloodsucker. Prove to me that you are worthy of my presence."


Meanwhile, Shishi would roll away from the danger of the death inducing blade. Once cleared of the threat, she would roll into a stand without missing a beat. A dull light would glow within her as the summoning began. A spear of light appeared within her outstretched hand which she threw at the nearest enemy. Then she backed away to stand near Argi in a defensive position.

"I'll cover your back," spoke Shishi as dark mist emanated out of her other palm which solidified into a black sword, the blade exuding the nauseating aura of corruption. "Let's clear this place before my companion starts tearing the whole place down.'

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Only twice did the Outsider pause in his journey. 

The first time he stopped, he turned his head to the ceiling and pursed his lips slowly and spectuatively. He felt it, of course; the temporal distortion and the threat thereof. It hung heavy in the air, sticking to his teeth and bones with foreign weight. He was an interloper, this man, this thing of crude matter and sinister intent, and did not ride on the stream of what most, mortal and immortal alike, considered time. He knew the touch of it, though. He knew the taste and pain of it, and he also knew of the feats of esoteric (and sometimes technological) skill to accomplish it. It bespoke volumes of the techno-sorcery that was invested into this citadel, these wards he passed through that threatened to spring should he have been the unwary or the unwanted. Testing his footing, he wondered briefly what it might be like, walking an eternity through a labyrinthine trap. He smiled without mirth.

The second time he stopped was for reasons far simpler but no less profound - he had heard his name. Cocking his head and turning, the Outsider flinched as if struck. Carried from afar by unseen hands and whispered to him by the enchantments laid upon it, his name and the subsequent seven words issued by the speaker thereafter touched his mind and injured his calm. Once upon a time, when his ambitions were young and his blood still boiled, his name in the wind was common enough to ignore; naysayers to curse him, supplicants to beg his attention and fishwives to gossip. Those days were long gone, and the people who spoke his name aloud were fewer than those that remembered him at all. 

Disturbed, charmed, angry and confused, the Outsider furrowed his brows and, in a fit of mercurial inconsistency, turned and started to walk back from whence he came. He made several feet of journeying before he stopped, rooted in place by yet still more indecisiveness. There was a part of him that demanded he quit the field and return to the surface, to seek out the foolish soul that threw his name so blandly into conversation and assert himself once again as an entity not to be spoken of so lightly. That part, too, spoke of ulterior motives, desires and sentimentality and of needs and fantasies better consigned to oblivion rather than indulgence. It would be a thrill, it whispered with all the damned seduction it ever possessed, to lay eyes on her again.  

But pride stayed his hand if not his retreat, and the Outsider found himself rooted in place, grimacing and frowning. Stifling the beating of his heart with a hand over his breast, he took several long, indiscreet moments composing himself - whispered her name under his breath, though in threat or promise, none could say - and turned his back on impulse. Irritated and anxious, the Outsider lost much of his aloofness and level-headed disposition, and scowled the rest of his journey through the citadel to meet his would-be hosts. To that end, he entered the greathall with hard, sharp taps of his hard-soled boots against the stone beneath his feet, and kept a level disdain for all those he strolled passed and parted before him. He knew their kind, having seen their faces on many worlds across many lifetimes: the poor, the angry, the embittered and the hopeless. 

These were not the souls he were expecting, but he supposed he was not who they envisioned, either. 

Sensing no hostility by stint of general mood gauging as opposed to any esoteric means, he raised his right hand in greeting and to show he was unarmed, displaying his splayed fingers to one half of the parting crowd, then the other. They were of all ages, he saw. Some old, most young, and a few younger still, barely out of their adolescence. He suddenly felt very vulnerable, as if close proximity with his lessers somehow made him susceptible to their collective weaknesses. A herd mentality, some distant part of him whispered, though it was quickly silenced. He was no lost lamb returning to a flock, but a contented predator, wading through and soon to leave once curiosity was satisfied. 

”Well… you’re certainly something, aren’t you?” 

Months of isolation had done much and more to dull the Outsider to the social contrivances. Once, he might have responded with a witty retort liable to charm or set oneself at ease. Now, though, his mind struggled to come up with something even remotely charming, and he gave up trying. Blunt, stupid honesty would suffice where a gilded tongue no longer remained. 

“I am.” He said simply, a touch of sadness coloring the outside edges of his tone. He was sad, and he did not know why. 

With want for a place to put his hands, but not wanting to seem too nonchalant, the Outsider clasped his arms behind his back and above the small, wrists braced. It straightened his posture and lent him an air of authority, or so he liked to think, at least. Turning his green gaze to the wise woman that addressed him and turning her way, he approached slowly, wary but still possessed of the curiosity that led him thus far. She was making introductions, both of herself and the citadel they now stood within, and the Outsider rewarded her honesty with honesty in return. Though, that itself was a struggle. When he thought to introduce himself in kind, he no longer recalled the truth. Though the Black City still existed, nay, even thrived, he was hardly Lord over it. A Duke of Perdition, too, was a title that was gathering dust, his ties to his own masters severed and for many years, now, with much detriment to his power. 

Lord, Duke, Margrave, Emperor and King, these titles were either irrelevant, left behind or removed; he was a far cry from the illustrious being he had been in this world but a handful of years ago, and he struggled to remember who he might be after all was said and done.

“My name is Roen.” 

I’ve been called worse.., he thought. 

“Long have I heard whispers of the Witch-King, longer before the continent was Fracture. That’s all they are - whispers.” 
Turning his head, the Outsider leveled the weight of his scrutiny on the disparate group that hovered near the edges of the conversation, ignoring how the matriarch clapped her hands, evidently prompting the stone doors to close behind them all. It wasn’t until the matron spoke of vengeance that his head snapped back around and his eyes found her again, dark with intent. “Revenge..,” he whispered, tasting the word on his tongue. “Revenge.” He said again, muttering, preoccupied with the sound of it. Revelatory, it was. He felt his stomach lurch with providence, and looked on the older woman more studiously, intensely. He approached closer, closer enough to touch, and glanced down between he and Elisha both to the hand she offered. 

He was being offered a place among them, and that, too, tasted of fate and destiny. He just couldn’t take it, at least not yet. 

“In my dreams..,” he said slowly. “In the words of prophets that have come to my door, seeking asylum. They showed me this place.” He looked back up, frowning. His was a face made for frowning, all lines and trenches. “She said I would be reborn in black and gold. That I would find Vindicta.” Tilting his head and turning vaguely, he looked up at the walls, the ceiling, the citadel itself. “In my dreams, that is what I called this place. Vindicta. The Spirit of Vengeance. That is why I came, I remember, now..,” he trailed off. Looking back down, he regarded Elisha again. “It isn’t enough to see an empire fall, Herald of Zengi. What is your reason for war?” He tilted his head. 

“Your casus belli. What drives you..” He gestured around them. “What drives all of you to seek revenge?” 

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