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The Dead of Winter

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DANGEROUS GAME: ACT IV

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THE DEAD OF WINTER

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MARCELLUS L.H.

Once, he would have welcomed the crunch of fresh snow beneath his boots. He would have welcomed this winter with childlike wonder. The crisp, cold touch of Valjer was vastly different from that of his warm, sun-kissed home Kethlerin. There, the smell of grain and fresh soil permeated the atmosphere. Fields of rich amber carpeted the horizon, much like how the snow here blanketed the earth white. There in the North, it was calm — it was familiar — it was home. Here in the South, it was new — it was refreshing — it was exciting. It was an budding adventure into new unknowns, one which he did not share alone.

However, now there was no such joy this time around. He was no longer as naive as he once was.

Walking up to the frosted bulletin board, Marcellus noted the pieces of parchment tacked on with cold iron. They hung like frozen flags, caked with white powder and unmoving in the wind. There, he reached out towards one of the notably older bulletins, marked not by the discoloration of old, musty paper, but by the cracks along its edges. Penned in a familiar script were the words, "Wolf-Hunt in Cobran Ruins", with the bottom signed "K. Hadley". The mercenary's frostbitten fingers reached out to touch the name only for the corner of the quest to snap off and be blown away.

They should have never gone South.

He stood there in the cold for a while, letting the feeling seep deep into his skin and bones before letting his better judgement take over. There was no point at staring at the piece of paper. Staring wouldn't bring Knox back.

Marcellus turned, and went back towards the warm lights of the city square's perimeter, and entered the inn.

Loud laughter and the clamor of adventurers filled the small tavern along with the stench of cheap booze and spilled ale. There were men leering across tables and gamblers screaming their bets. There was singing, and fighting, and dancing. There were the locals with their silver hair and many foreign faces from afar —all drinking, eating, and enjoying a brief reprieve from their daily lives. A wave of nostalgia washed over Marcellus as he passed through the crowd, careful not to touch anyone.

While the mirthful spirit of the bar had remained wholly the same, it just wasn't the same as it was before. Before, he had his company — friends born of battle, blood, and sweat —, and when they left him, he had Knox.

Now, there was no one.

A certain hollowness replaced those wistful feelings.

He was truly alone.

Some soldier bumped into him, causing his form to shimmer slightly.

Shit, he thought, noting the man's badge. Wolfsbane.

Marcellus sucked in his breath.

Did he see it?

Thankfully, the wolf-hunter simply waved the finger and cursed lightly before hobbling back into the rest of the crowd. The man was too drunk to see through the thin veil which served as Marcellus's guise.

To the average eye, Marcellus looked similar to when he was fully human: fair complexion, ebony hair, pale green eyes — tall, and somewhat spindly. To the more observant, unaddled by wine, one would notice clear discrepancies in his form. Whether it was a minuscule shift of shape or brief glimmer of light, the glamour he had on could only hide so much. There was always that nagging feeling in the back of his mind, What if someone found out?

In the past, he had brief periods of time where he wouldn't have to worry about such things. Brief moments where he was human. Now, he wondered if he would ever turn back to his original form. Would he have to continue living the rest his life as a cursed creature that could barely control itself? Those few hours of lucidity he had when he was partially human were a blessing he had taken for granted. Without them, he just hoped he could hold on long enough to meet up with the Genesaran who he was scheduled to meet. The temptations of the flesh were far to numerous here in the city. The sooner he could leave, the better it would be for everyone.

A sense of doubt came over him. Would Sikkoran even recognize him? Marcellus wore a different face than the one the mage had once known. Then again, maybe the magic-user would see through it immediately — see that monster hiding beneath. That form would be easily recognizable given the circumstances of the previous trip....

In either case, there would be questions. Would he ask why Marcel did not look the same? Why his face had changed? Why he needed an illusion?

A pit grew in the hunter's stomach.

Would he ask about Knox?

Marcellus shook his head. He wouldn't entertain those thoughts.

Better to distract himself with other matters.

It was truly unfortunate that many from the previous, failed expedition had not returned to try again. Most of them had already obtained what they desired: the coats of white wolves to hang on their mantles. Others had lost interest in lieu of other, more personal matters they had to attend to. Some had died then, like the dwarf Cregsgy, on the return trip. The only people who were still interested in the unfinished quest were Marcellus, Knox, and Sikkoran, the Genesaran mage. Strike out Knox for what happened in Shrine City, and there were only two left willing to make the journey.

Then again, while Marcellus had only received one letter, who knew if any others were still to join. Mail was hard to receive so deep in the South, so there was still the chance that there were others who would come. Still, after the previous failures of the last trips, who knew if anyone still had the heart to continue?

As Marcellus walked up the steps to the second floor, the old floorboards groaned loudly in protest. While the glamour shrouded his true appearance, it did not change his weight.

There was a click of the lock as he turned the key to his room. The room was average sized for a human, but definitely too small for him. Closing the door behind him, Marcellus lumped onto the small, human-sized bed, nearly breaking it for the twentieth time. The bedframe was already warped from his many nights sleeping there.

Laying on his back and looking towards the faded ceiling, he wondered if the mage would arrive anytime soon. To be fair, Marcellus wouldn't blame the man if he decided to not show up. It was a fool's quest — two men taking on the warpacks in those ruins.

But Marcellus needed to do this. If not for his fallen friends, then for himself.

 

@TheElementHunter @Fierach @The Hummingbird

Edited by Artificer

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MARCELLUS L.H.

Slowly, Marcellus closed his eyes, and tried to let his mind drift. It had already been a week since his arduous journey to Valjer had ended, but for some reason, there was this lethargy he could not shake. To add insult to this, no night since his arrival had been restful. Was the fatigue a manifestation of the past year finally catching up to him? Was it something else — a new twist to his condition? Then again, his tiredness could just be due to the sagging mattress which left his back in a curved, uncomfortable position. This, and the fact that his stomach kept gnawing at his insides, left Marcellus sleepless. Perhaps if he just turned to his side, he would be able to get some much needed slumber.

Marcellus shifted to the left, and unsurprisingly, the bed naturally swayed with his weight.

Much better, he thought. His back was no longer in that awkward position, although his form still sagged. At least it was comfortable enough to let him relax. From that point, he let himself slip further, and further into sleep.

Maybe tonight would finally be the night he got some shut-eye.

It wasn't until his ears caught the faint creaking of wood that his rest was interrupted. Without any warning, there were several loud cracks, and Marcellus found himself rolling off of his bed and onto the floor. A resounding THUD echoed throughout the room as his face met the ground.

"Gah!" he yelped. Eyes tightened in mild pain as he grabbed his nose and rocked on the floor. "Shit... shit... shit!" There was no way in hell that he broke the bed. How would he pay for it? Marcellus sat up from his side, hand cupping his brow. He didn't want to open his eyes to see the damage. He barely had enough Kites(1) these days to afford proper lodging, and there was no way he was touching the quest money.

Marcellus took in a deep breath.

There was always the option of leaving first and paying later when he had the coin for it.

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes so that he could survey the damage.

"Damn it."

The mattress might as well have folded since the bed had splintered into two pieces. Three supporting legs were snapped off, and even the flooring beneath did not go unscathed. There was a clear indentation where the mercenary had first landed along with multiple scratches on the hardwood floorboards. He would definitely have to pay a lot.

This was one of the nicer rooms too.

He would have to go outside to get a broom or something to get the mess cleaned up. He sincerely hoped no one was outside in the halls.

To his surprise, when he turned, Marcellus felt a stream of liquid pouring onto his leg. Immediately, he looked up. No leak from the ceiling. Looking back down, he noted the color of the liquid, and immediately touched his face. The hair above his lip and below his nose was sticky, warm, and matted. The coppery taste on his lips was unmistakable.

"Oh my god..." he muttered to himself as he pinched his nose hard, trying to stop any more blood from gushing out. He didn't notice it earlier, but looked back to the floor around him, there was a small pool of blood where his face met the ground.

Running over to one of the cabinets, he grabbed a towel, and held it to his face to stem the bleeding.

Could the night get any worse?

 

@TheElementHunter @Fierach @The Hummingbird


(1) Kite: a form of currency used widely in Genesaris. Worth 10 Chips.

Edited by Artificer

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A year. One whole year.

Sikkoran couldn't believe he was back to Genesaris, back to the place that'd given him restless sleep and sweat soaked nights. Death was something he'd only seem sporadically in his life, maybe a deer falling to the hunters bow, or a man to the mouth of a beast. But these were natural things, things that were needed in order to have balance in the world. The wolves were an entirely different thing.

They killed out of greed, much like the humanoids of the land, except they had nothing and no one to keep them in check. He can still remember the snow, its purity stained with the blood of the fallen, both man and beast but mostly man. Everything he smelled was sharp, the blood, the sweat, the fear, all mingled together in the cries and snarls of battle. His magic too was hampered by the ice falling from the sky. He made it where others hadn't, alive and clutching the gash that ran from chest to side.

He came upon Valjer in the dead of night, the flickering of lamplight like tiny fireflys on a summer night. The cold still bit deep, chilling his bones with more memory than chill. It was surreal to see everything unchanged from the last time he'd been here. The same rickety buildings teetering in the wind, ice covered tiles glistening in the moon light. The mountains remained the hearty sentinels of peace and austerity, their black silhouettes rising into the night.

Truly strange how everything could be the same, yet so very different.

He walked into the Inn, meeting the gaze of the dwarven barkeep across the way, motioning to the rooms upstairs.

"How much?" Sikko asked once he made his way to the counter.

"Well, for them nicer ones it's two Ravens. Not so nice, one." Sikko nodded, rummaging through his pack. Silverstrike mewed jumping out of the sack to stretch.

"His enough for one night, I don't know how long I'll be staying here so I'll pay you more if needed." He put a Raven in his hand, accepting the key out of his. "Have a good night." The keep ovly grunted before returning to his ale.

Sikkoran walked upstairs slowly, trailing his hands across the rail. The sharpness of a splinter was a welcome relief to the numbness that had settled over his soul. Even though his physical wounds had healed, he felt as if whatever had happened to his mind hadn't. There was a darkness in him. Why? He didn't know, but it drove him to write that letter, drove him to travel thousands of miles to the place of that darkness' origins. He needed to do this, for himself and everyone that'd fallen along the way, even if it killed him.

BUMP!

Sikko startled, immediately going to the origin of the sound. It was a room, one of the nicer ones he guessed by the brass door knob. He hesitated a moment, listening. Their was ruffling, meaty footsteps, then nothing. he lifts up his hand, knocking three times.

 

@Artificer

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MARCELLUS L.H.

Knock.

Eyes darted towards the door as a feeling of panic came over him. The first knock made his mind race.

The room he was staying in was stated neither in the quest post nor the letters he wrote out. Those he expected were coming were just told to stop by the fireplace on the tavern floor on the morning they first arrive.

Knock.

It had to be tenant... or worse: the innkeeper. Seeing how people with his affliction were hunted with impunity under the new, militaristic reign of the Imperial South, Marcellus could not risk the threat of any questions. If it was a Deepdelve Ranger or Wolfsbane patrol(1), there would be no room for mistakes. He needed an excuse, and quickly.

Knock.

"Just you hold on, I'm coming!" he managed to say, voice nasalized from all the blood in his nose.

With a swift dash across the room, he blew out the flames of the golden candelabra, plunging the space in darkness. The only boon to his curse was that he could see much better in dim lightning than the average individual, although the colors he could see were limited to only dark, light, and red. The crack of light from under the door was in stark contrast to the muted grays of the shadowy silhouettes. There were three breaks in that light: two presumably from the feet of one person and the last from some other object or creature.

Slowly, he edged toward the door, carefully grabbing his sword by the sheathe. A bead of sweat rolled down his nose. If worst came to worst, he thought it would be best to try knocking whoever was standing outside unconscious.

Leaning the scabbard next to the door, he turned the lock with his free hand.

Click.

Cracking the door open slightly, Marcellus peered through, one hand nearly crushing the brass knob, the other holding the red towel to his face.

Eyes widened in disbelief as his stance relaxed.

"Sikkoran?" he said, somewhat stunned. Taking a brief moment to peek his head out, he looked in both directions of the hall. No one else was wandering the guest floor thankfully.

"Come in, come in," he said, beckoning the young man inside. "We have much to talk about."

 

@TheElementHunter


(1) Deepdelve Rangers and Wolfsbane Patrols: Both the Deepdelve and Wolfsbane are organizations who act as Valjer City's protectors and military. Their primary activities involve hunting and purging the surrounding areas of White Wolves and other supernatural creatures.

Edited by Artificer

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Sikkoran startled a bit when the door open, revealing a semi familiar face. It was Marcel, the strange broody man from the trip, the one to whom he'd sent his letter. Silverstrike hissed a bit, running up his leg and onto his shoulder. He shushed her before nodding, accepting the invitation to come inside.

Sikkoran's human eyes didn't allow for much seeing in the dark room. He summoned a globial of fire in front of him, the arcane flicker warming him a bit. The room was quite nice. Big fluffy curtains sat over the windows, the small desk and closet were inlaid with intricate designs, flowers that turned into dragons and back again. He walks around inspecting the sag in the mattress and the spots of blood rippling beside it.

At some point in his life he'd have pried into his business, asking hows and whys, but not now. Something was off with the man, that much was obvious, but he didn't need to know what it was exactly in order to work with him. With a sigh he crosses his legs, sitting down upon open air.

"What are we doing Marcel?" He glides over to the window, opening the blinds. Snow winks back at him, the city glistening in its playful touch. "What are we to do?"

@Artificer

Edited by TheElementHunter
wording

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What will we do?”

“They say the wolves are unstoppable”

“We lost touch with the villages along this line”

“There was nothing left. Not even bodies

This and a dozen other muttered whispers floated upon the air, fear of an abused populace traveling far as rumors tend to do, a persistent undercurrent beneath the air of good cheer in the tavern. From that fear however, sprang hope. Their increased plight drew increased scrutiny, and drew the attention of a quester of no average skill from a far away land.

Kosvo Hoss entered the tavern, stepping lightly despite the heavy array of furs and gear he was wearing. Lifting back his frosted hood revealed a younger countenance, with blonde hair cut short and clean. A newly promoted Knight of the Order of Force Majeure, he came to this land in search of the troubles that plagued it. The first order of business was, of course, getting a drink. It was a long trip and some alcohol to warm the body up sounded great.

Taking a seat at the bar for now, the young Knight would just be another adventurer, another foreigner who drank and made merry.

Edited by Fierach

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MARCELLUS L.H.

As the boy entered the room, Marcellus couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief. The palpable weight of his burden which he had been carrying for the last year had finally eased up. He wasn't going to have to do this alone after all.

Remembering the mess that was inside his quarters, Marcellus anxiously closed and locked the door, keeping an eye out for any person passing by. There was no telling what the tavern staff would do if they discovered the state of his room. Best to resolve that issue another night.

When he finally let go of the knob, he grimaced when he saw its crumbled, brass form. It served as a reminder that his frayed threads of control over himself were wearing ragged. The tonics prescribed by the Zephyr were losing their potency as more days past.

A chill ran down his spine. There wasn't much time left to rid himself of the curse. He didn't want to be reduced to the same state as those slavering, mindless slaves which plagued Cobran. He was probably the only one to have escaped The Final Refashioning. Yes, he was not in thrall to that pale-eyed demon, but who was to say that he was loose of its tendrils of corruption? It seemed that time was finishing the unfinished job. Would he have to bear the yoke of enslavement? Was that fate even avoidable? It was a thought he often had, but one he never lingered on for too long. There was no room for doubt in this quest, and yet still, he doubted. Would killing that beast fix anything — fix anyone affected by that plague? The Whispernight was cruel, but the wolves were crueler.

It was then that the light of a sole, flickering ember, birthed from nothing, grabbed Marcellus's attention and thrust it back to the present. The darkness which shrouded both him and the room receded as Sikkoran held out a curious flame. Marcellus couldn't help but be mesmerized by the shadows in the room, wavering back and forth, swinging away from the dancing tongues of fire.

Perhaps he was running away too — away from the burning truth of it all.

Maybe you'll be stuck like this forever.

Something deep and primal hit Marcellus like a hurled brick in that moment. Mouth grew wet as heartbeat began to race.

The boy's back was to him — eyes too busy admiring the decor. It was just the two of them in that room, wasn't it? No one was in the halls as everyone else was downstairs.

No one would hear, were the words that rang through his mind.

Let loose, stop trying — no one is watching... No need to hold yourself back.

Just one bite — one taste — far too easy at this distance.

There would be no screaming if done quickly. No pain at all.

Marcellus's right foot moved on its own.

Go for the neck.

The prospects were too alluring.

Then came a look, and Marcellus was petrified where he stood.

If it wasn't for the thing which shifted on the boy's shoulder, Marcellus just might have done it — killed Sikkoran right there and then —, but that pair of fierce eyes, gleaming in shadow, made him freeze in his tracks. It was the boy's wildcat, the only one who saw straight through the glamour. One look, not a blink — a visual exchange between two predators. Don't come any closer, its eyes warned.

— And then Sikkoran spoke.

 

On 12/17/2019 at 7:26 AM, TheElementHunter said:

"What are we doing Marcel?" He glides over to the window, opening the blinds. Snow winks back at him, the city glistening in its playful touch. "What are we to do?"

 

The hunter shook his head and swallowed hard, trying to shove down a newfound shame. His humanity was no more than a fragile mask that was starting to crack, and the glue keeping it from falling apart was starting to thin. Walking over to the desk, he grabbed a phial of purple liquid from the drawer with one hand, bit off the cork, and imbibed its contents without hesitation. He nearly gagged as the inklike substance ran down his throat, coating the inside of his mouth with the burn of molten silver. It had a pungent, tannic taste that made his gums itch, but drinking it was a necessary precaution. It was the only thing keeping him coherent.

He tried to speak, but coughed thrice instead. That draught was as potent as venom.

"Well, since you are here, I suppose it would be best to leave here in two-days time."

"— Get your affairs in order, stock up on some food and other supplies. Then we go to Cobran, and...."

Wiping the corners of his mouth with his wrist, he stopped speaking.

Plan... did he have a plan? Such a simple question caught him off-guard. Knox was always the one who made the plans — he just followed. The extent of his 'plan' (if it could even be considered relevant) encompassed what he would say if the Genesaran confronted him about Knox — about his condition. A question like "Where?", "Why?", or "What is happening?" were the questions he was prepared to answer — he wasn't ready for the "How are we going to achieve this?" question. Again, he never actually expected Sikkoran to show up. Now here he was, standing next to the ruined bed, expecting a plan, in this prolonged, pained silence.

He needed to say something.

"... It does not get much simpler than that, I suppose.... We can go over the map tomorrow in the morning if anyone else shows up. I'll give you the full details then."

If he were human, his face would be flushed red from that answer. In an instant, he felt so embarrassed just standing there. First the broken bed, then nearly losing control, and finally being absolutely clueless on how to proceed.

He was some leader alright.

He wondered if his glamour would reveal rosy cheeks. Was it incapable of showing emotion, or did it show his exhaustion — the silver strands of worry in his hair? Did it show that brief flicker of wild, malevolent intent? That inhuman emotion? What did his face look like when he spoke? When they saw his shadow, did they see his shadow or the shadow of that monster? He couldn't actually see his own disguise — a foil by the wizard's design. All he knew was what he should look like, when the charm was inactive, and that there was always the possibility for failure. These of course were facts, not self-made observations.

"See yourself for what you are," they told him. "No man can hide themselves from their true nature."

A long, drawn-out sigh escaped his lips.

"Honestly, Sikko, you caught me at a bad time. I know you are tired from your long journey here, so can we continue this tomorrow? Never good to make plans when you're half-asleep," he half-laughed, gesturing towards the broken bed with his free hand. "—And I, for one, am personally exhausted."

"I brought you inside because I was excited to see you, but now, it would be probably best that we both get some rest."

He gave his best attempt at an earnest smile as he nodded toward the door.

"Have enough money for a room?"

 

@TheElementHunter

Edited by Artificer

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Sikkoran stares outside, listening, mesmerized by the gentle falling of ice and snow. Marcel is silent for a moment, coughing, then producing a shaky reply.

Sikkoran hadn't expected much from the man, who actually knew what to do in the face of such giant odds? He spins around, lowering his legs so that he can look the man in his eyes. Eyes filled with pain and stress and... something else that Sikko himself felt but couldn't quite describe.

5 hours ago, Artificer said:

"Honestly, Sikko, you caught me at a bad time. I know you are tired from your long journey here, so can we continue this tomorrow? Never good to make plans when you're half-asleep," he half-laughed, gesturing towards the broken bed with his free hand. "—And I, for one, am personally exhausted."

"I brought you inside because I was excited to see you, but now, it would be probably best that we both get some rest."

He gave his best attempt at an earnest smile as he nodded toward the door.

"Have enough money for a room?"

"Tired? No, rest does not come easy these days, but I will get out of your hair and we'll reconvene tomorrow at breakfast." Silverstrike hisses as he walks past the man and into the hallway, the door opening and closing all on its own. Once he steps out the blinds close and the fire flickers out, leaving Marcel to the darkness.

@Artificer

Spoiler

Figure I'd make this one short so we can resume with everyone, yeah?

 

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SCENE — MORNING IN THE ICE DRAGON, VALJER CITY

When thick slabs of animal fat touched the hot pan, the savory aroma of breakfast cut through the heavy, humid air of the tavern. Patrons began to wake as they heard the sizzle of fried meats echoing throughout the otherwise silent halls. Those who were still unconscious at the bar from a night's worth of celebrations were suddenly revived by the promise of a hearty meal. The chef knew this all to well. No person could resist their own hunger. No better way to rouse a house full of hung over deadweights than by tempting them with good food. It was one of the few methods of establishing a sense of time in the otherwise disorienting night.

Here so deep in the Imperial South, it was difficult to distinguish morning from night. Winter shortened the days here to the point where darkness swallowed the sun. At the peak of the season, one could only hope for a tiny glimmer of light on the horizon before the sun retreated back to its secret hideaway. There was only an hour's worth of both sunrise and sunset at noon, so most work was done indoors.

— Unless your job was that of a mercenary, hunter, or guard. For them, winter was a never-ending battle.

Fortunately the tavern was a safe place for those who kept watch in the blizzard-stricken wastes. Fresh food, fresh spirit, and good company.

Logs were tossed haphazardly into the fireplace(1), a new blaze replacing the old. A warm, golden light enveloped the otherwise dark floor, illuminating the scene. There were a few seated tables around the hearth, most sitting on top of various old, beer-stained rugs. The menagerie of trophies came into light as their features were revealed in greater detail. Swords, armor, pelts, and other baubles adorned the walls. The glassy eyes of a taxidermied wolf head lifelessly looked on past the patrons — perhaps transfixed on the image it saw before its demise. Such creatures deserved only death and despair. It was only fair for what they had done to the people of Valjer.

Breakfast marked a new day, and it only took a few minutes for the daily clamor and mirth of the tavern to return to The Ice Dragon(2).

Plates of withered greens, buttered bread, crackling bacon, and golden eggs were served. Men and women of all creeds and class came together in camaraderie, eating and laughing — some drinking themselves silly already. The bar was just wiped down for the latter patrons.

Open for business — a home for adventurers.

 

@TheElementHunter @Fierach @The Hummingbird


(1) The latest quest post made by Marcel states that those who wished to take on the quest will be meeting next to the fireplace in The Ice Dragon on the morning of or after their arrival.

(2) The Ice Dragon: The largest, multistory tavern in Valjer City.

Spoiler

OOC: I will be posting last after everyone else posts. Take this time to acquaint yourselves with each other downstairs.

 

Edited by Artificer

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Sleep was sweet solace after so long a journey. Though brief and filled with dreamless black, even a short nap was relief, and so Kassandra took her time rousing herself to full alertness. She had arrived only a few hours ago well before dawn, gliding into the tavern like a ghost to the surprise of a sleepy bartender unfortunate enough to oversee the place at so early – or late – an hour. Two rooms were vacant; she had paid the two Ravens and gained one of the more lavish spaces, warmed by its own set of firestones fixed into the walls. There and only then did she rest.

Now she rose from the bed and dressed quickly but thoroughly. A silver tunic with a green tint, dark green slacks and boots, covered with a layered leather vest and a warm woolen cloak to keep out the chill the South was so well known for. Adding some finishing touches to auburn hair and fair face, she peeked at herself in a mirror, studying herself. She looked quite fine in the freshly prepared gear, and flashed herself a smile.

Well, my dear. Time to go, she decided. With a few steps, she swept out the room, shutting the door silently behind.

Descent down the stairs greeted her with aromas of meat and bread, mixed with that of melted cheese, shredded potatoes, and even some savory broth. Hot food was a valued luxury in Valjer. Expensive, too, but she managed to purchase a plate of warm pastry and a cup of tea. With the meal in hand, she sauntered over the place she had been told, by letter and word, to meet.

The fireplace, adorned with bravery and blood, judging by the wolf’s head hanging above the crackling flames.

She looked up at the head, its lifeless eyes glaring bleakly out at the tavern grounds. She smiled again, taking a delicate sup of her tea. Yes, she had come to the right place.

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Kosvo woke early. He was a man diligent in certain practices; sleeping early, waking early, quite proper in certain regards and wild in others. If Kassandra looked around, she might see the adventurer-Knight preening himself in the reflection of a particularly well-burnished tin of drink, eyeing the stubble he had developed overnight in one of the cheaper rooms of the Ice Dragon. He had half a mind to whip out his knife from his pack and scrub it off. He would not develop enough facial hair to insulate his face from the cold in any ideal amount of time anyway, so he might as well. Then again, he looked very young without any facial hair, and how could one call themselves an axeman without having facial hair? Truly a dilemma for the ages.

When his share of the hearty fare arrived, he smiled politely and fished the coin out of a purse. Off the purse then went with the rest of his pack nearby. He was dressed as adventurers often did, thick gambeson under a sheet of scalemail. There was a large pile next to him consisting of a cloak, a bag filled with a map, supplies and some sundries, leaned upon by a curious-looking round shield and battle-axe. As he ate, Kosvo took glances occasionally to the fireplace, to see if anybody else had specifically taken up spots by that area of the tavern.

Edited by Fierach

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Sikkoran didn't catch sleep that night. It flitted about his head, her beautiful form morphing from nightmare to terror. Sweat soaked his brow when he finally sat up to be awake, to look out the window and ponder like he did these days.

Night turned into Dusk and so he made his way down, stopping and the bar to order some tea and bacon with a side of eggs. Silverstrike trailed behind him, nipping and growling at people who got too close as he walked over the the fireplace, joining the two already there.

"Hello, I'm Sikkoran, call me Sikko."

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MARCELLUS L.H.

Next to the splintered remains of his bed, the beast slept unmasked. There, curled atop beddings on the ground, Marcellus snored with his true form unveiled — features showing in full in the filtered beams of lamplight from the outside. His claws and teeth shone like polished ivory, his fur three shades darker than night, his body lithe yet chiseled. A small chain of crimson yarn which was the vessel for his glamour was left off to the side of the stacked comforters he lied on. If he had the choice, he would have worn it to sleep — he was not proud of this new bestial appearance of his. Unfortunately, there really was no such thing as a cheap, everlasting spell. Wear the charm for too long, and there was no guarantee how long its spell would last before fizzling away in a puff of smoke — a lesson learned from experience. Thus, at night, he kept the thing off when he rested. Better to be ere on the side of caution, especially when the whole town was out to kill monsters like him. True, there was the risk of being seen by some intruder if one were to appear, but he would rather be caught by a lone thief in darkness than take his chances in a crowd in daylight.

Unsurprisingly, there were no trespassers. No one to wake him from his bleak, dreamless slumber.

Prior to his arrival in Valjer, Marcellus’s nights were plagued with nightmares of the past — of people he had killed. It wasn’t easy to sleep easy with victims on the conscience. Given that the first man he had unwittingly murdered was buried underneath a burnt shed on the outskirts of Valjer, Marcellus had fully expected his inner guilt to come back in the form of all-devouring terrors as he slept. He feared that those relived experiences would sweep him back into that maelstrom in the back of his mind — back to a place where he would sit spectator to a scene where his body moved on its own. Killed, on its own.

Strangely though, coming back to the town where it all had started had granted him respite from the onslaught. He just didn’t dream at all.

Stranger too that the closer he neared the destination of Cobran, the less guilt he felt.

*     *     *     *     *

The haste of his step was quite apparent with the clicking of his claws on the hardwood stairs. Normally, he would step lighter, but he was too hungry to bother. While this carelessness could certainly serve as incriminating evidence against him, Marcellus knew it was a detail that most would overlook. His magic would ensure that he looked like the young, fair-skinned man nearing the end of his youth people thought he was, and the noise of the people should mask the sounds of his dog-like gait. Mix his face into a crowd of many, and most wouldn’t be able to discern the difference. Those who did would have trouble even identifying the source.

Donning the signature azure cloak of his ill-fated company around his mantle, Marcellus descended into the crowd. There was a clattering of his quiver against the metal faulds on his hips as he pushed his way past hordes of tenants. When he finally emerged at the counter, his cloak had all but been pulled off, revealing the full extent of his attire. His chest and arms were swathed in the muted tones of a thick, baggy, fern-colored linen. Along his chest was a steel chestguard, and over the sleeve of his right forearm was a weathered, leather vambrace. The gray pants he wore were also thick, layered linen, going up to his iron knee-pads before stopping entirely. Arguably, the most curious part of his attire would be his footwear, or rather the lack thereof. No cobbler in cities under Imperial rule had shoes tailored for monsters like himself, so Marcellus had to improvise. Thus, instead of shoes, for each leg, he had thick swathe of bandages running from the ball of his foot to his shin.

Strange attire, but he'd seen stranger on his journeys. It was a compromise between functionality and comfort, and was enough for him.

Peeking over the sea of faces, Marcellus spotted one of the less-busy-looking waitresses and fervently waved her down. He was starving.

Without thinking he looked her head to toe — eyes scanning as if appraising an animal for slaughter. She was a young woman in the prime of her youth. The curves of her body were like an hourglass, and her skin so pale in complexion. Curls of fiery, long hair draped past her neck, her eyes an intense shade of emerald green. The way she walked was clumsy, but her step had an unusual, captivating grace. If Marcellus’s heart didn’t belonged to another, he would not have minded courting her for a night.

He blinked twice.

She rolled his eyes at him.

Had he really been staring?

“Missus, care I bother you with seven orders of that stew over there?” he said pointing over at the counter.

“Bear meat, tubers, and wild rice?” she replied with an air of clear disinterest.

“Yes please.”

After Marcellus declined ordering any drinks, the woman disappeared back into the sea of tavern-goers.

Having secured his order from an already busy kitchen, the young hunter situated himself at the far corner of the bar. He found himself more comfortable eating away from company — especially any company he had official business with. Being well-mannered at the table was never his strong point.

In a few minutes, he had seven bowls of piping hot stew laid out in front of him, and in less time, he had finished pouring the last of the food down his esophagus. A few of the patrons sitting close to him watched in awe, some with mouths agape. They clearly had never seen a man swallow a whole bowl’s worth of food without chewing, let alone seven. When he finished licking the dishes clean, he left the money on the bar counter, and proceeded in the direction of the fireplace.

While many sat at the large dining table near the blazing hearth, the three closest to the flames caught his eye. One he knew — the Genesaran named Sikkoran — while the other two were complete strangers.

The first stranger was a woman whose hair and eyes were shockingly similar to the waiter who had just served him. A clear coincidence, he assured himself. Auburn locks and vivid green eyes weren’t all too uncommon back in his hometown. And yet, despite knowing that the two were unlikely related, Marcellus couldn’t help but feel his superstitions get the better of him. Was this an omen of sorts? She smelled of tea, and carried no visible weapon. Perhaps a mage like Sikkoran? Maybe a knifeswoman? It was hard to discern her profession by first impression, but she gave off a curious aura. Either that, or Marcellus was unsettled by the fact that he had met two gingers who could practically be twins.

The second stranger was a younger man with short blonde hair and scaled armor. By the looks of the man’s filled pack, shield, and battle-axe, the newcomer seemed ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Still, he looked a bit too serious for his age. A protege without a master to accompany him — an axe-man without a beard? That very faint scent of alcohol from a night of drinking? Less a beard and more stubble on the side? Was this a boy, or a man? Did he have any actual experience, or were these visible preparations just a show to hide his lack of skill? Departure was to be discussed — not decided by the arrival of a single man. Still, his arrival and preparedness was fortuitous. If there were no delays, the group would be leaving on the morrow.

Taking a seat next to Sikkoran, Marcellus laid down his rucksack on the floor.

“I take that everyone is here for Cobran, yes?”

“I suppose we all should introduce ourselves...”

“My name is Marcellus, and I am the one who made the post for this quest.”

“First of all, I would like to thank you all for coming here on such short notice. I understand that the postings had only been put up a month ago, and we are meeting in the dead of winter, but I very much appreciate that you all came.”

“Perhaps we should all introduce ourselves first? Then, we'll discuss the plans....”

@Fierach @The Hummingbird @TheElementHunter

Edited by Artificer

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SCENE: NIGHT IN THE FROZEN TUNDRA

MARCELLUS L.H.

Heavy linen, weighted layer upon layer, whipped wildly along the beast’s fur. The wicked winds picked and dragged what they could, trying to rip the very clothes from Marcellus’s frame. Still, the werewolf trekked forth with stalwart resolution — even if the sails of his clothing pulled in the opposite direction. Their destination was the Southern Coast of the Cold South. Towards the ruined harbor. Cobran.

The four had been traveling through the frozen wastes for less than half a day, and the weather had started to take a turn for the worst. What was once a gentle falling of ice and snow had suddenly transformed into a raging squall. The group could have turned back, but it was unknown when the storm would stop. If the flurry evolved into a full blizzard, then there would be no telling when there would be “good-conditions” to try making the trek once more. It was now or never.

Most people thought it foolish to leave on such a dangerous journey during the winter. They thought the danger of both beasts and forecast were too great for such a journey to be worthwhile. What point would there be to leave during a blizzard — during the season of endless night? Would it not be better to go forth in the spring, where weather was mild and one only needed to worry about the hunt? No. To go in the spring — to go in the summer — would be suicide. A fool’s errand. As Marcellus explained to the other three, if one wanted to hunt the warpacks in their home, one went during winter. In times of abundance — of light and warmth —, the herds would be back grazing the untamed forests, and there would be plenty of food to sustain the thousands of wolves in Cobran. When the herds retreated away in the autumn, the warpacks would go hungry, and would need to scatter out in search of sustenance. For this, the population of beasts thinned in the city during the winter. Less wolves meant less adversaries, and less adversaries meant less casualties.

And Marcellus would be damned if he let another soul fall to those monsters.

Every failed expedition made towards Cobran was a successful expedition for the traveling warpacks. It was winter that the white wolves hunted their favorite quarry: man. The wolves which left Cobran chose their food from settlements all across the Imperial spread, wiping out small towns in the span of single nights. Yes, while desperate adventurers may have hunted for the alphas in Cobran, the wolves would hunt for women, children, elderly, infirm — any sack of meat they could get their teeth in. Whole villages would be wiped from the maps — not a bone left behind. Some guessed the victims were all devoured, but Marcellus knew the truth was far worse.

Those missing would be turned — minds erased — transformed into thrall for the growing army in The South.

Join. The. Pack.

Marcellus shook his head, and sucked in another bitter breath of cold air.

He had discussed the entirety of the truth with the rest of the group — save for that single, damning fact. Sooner or later, they would find out. When would be the best time to admit to his deceit? Would any time be appropriate? Could he trust them not to stab their swords into his back once the truth was out? His glamour his the fact then, but hiding it would be impossible.

Did they see the tracks he left behind as they trudged through the snow?

They already knew the general premise of the quest as to its urgency — wasn’t that enough for now? The goal of the expedition was simple. Discover who or what was behind the mass organization of the warpacks and find a way to stop them. How they were going to achieve that was another matter entirely. The problem was information: there was little to none on the state of The Ruins of Cobran. How the packs organized, where they had their patrols — there was nothing. All that Marcellus knew was that there was a great, malevolent entity within that great hall within the cylindrical spire of undaunted stone smack in the center of the city. A Demon in The Castle.

He was certain that creature was responsible for turning people into monsters. After all, Marcellus bore witness to the whole thing first hand.

Barely audible over the roaring winds, there was the faint sound of howling in the distance.

A pack was on their trail.

Sikkoran! Kosvo! Kassandra! Steel yourselves,” he growled towards the rear. “We may have unwelcome company very soon.”

Clipping the lantern to his pack, Marcellus strung his bow. Despite the distance, the wolves would arrive at any moment.

 

@TheElementHunter @Fierach @The Hummingbird


Reference for Cobran Town

Edited by Artificer

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"Good! They come to us. Save us the trouble of finding them!" Kosvo cried out happily. There was a glint in his eyes utterly at odds with the naivety in his words, and the way he brought his axe up with a flourish and kissed the blade spoke of the experience of past murders made.

Unlike many, Kosvo did not like swords. There was a nobility about them that he was ill at ease at with. Swords were intricately forged things, and they carved great stories and legacies in the hands of kings and heroes. The young Knight considered himself just a killer, one raised above his station to hunt those who were killers themselves. Axes were much more preferable to him, honest in their brutality, jovial in their murderous nature. It was a warrior's battle joy made manifest, requiring both strength and cunning to use properly.

To speak of killers, he was interested in Marcellus. There was a wildness in the other man, and a faint hint of magicks that spoke of greater forces at work, likely related to current events because he felt few others with the urgency to action within them. All Knights of the Force Majeure were magically or supernaturally sensitive beings, traits that helped them greatly in their lines of inquisition and investigation, and the order would not have sent Kosvo had not sone unnatural force been surmised to behind the raids of the wolf-packs.

That being said, Kosvo had introduced himself as a simple adventuring warrior, nicknamed "Haft", a common enough fool nowadays. Perhaps the others even expected the young fool to be the first to die. He hoisted his shield up in his other arm, his back to the others.

He would have to disappoint such a thought.

Edited by Fierach

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