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EpicRome23

The Consequences of Belief (Artifact Upgrade)

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"Springing up basically overnight is rather impressive to be honest... Even from a civil war. It can be hard to get people to align with something that quickly." As they ride past she looks back at the conflict thinking on what would even cause a civil war and a new major or even minor power to rise up that quickly. He had a point though. Stuff like political affairs or power changing hands doesn't affect adventures to terribly much seeing as there are still things needing slaying or places to be explored and adventures only need the payment for such deeds they owner of the payment generally matters very little so long as they have it or are in need of the help. Turning back to face the current path though she doesn't dwell on the thoughts to terribly long. 

His next line of thought caught her off guard rather quickly. She didn't fully expect to hear him say it but she fully understood the ideas behind it. She had to admit while she liked the travel and the adventure the allure of it doesn't stay that long. For every heart pounding minute fight off a dragon and basking in the fame or thrill of slaying such creatures there's days worth of travel of nights spent camping or in an inn alone. People tend to forget the boring parts or the times where you struggle to find work to even pay for food. Then when he poses the question she has to think a moment on it. 

"What would I do with if not on the road... That's a question I've never thought of if I'm being entirely honest. I've had a life like this for years upon years now and don't even know what a stable life would be." She had basically been out on her own or with a guardian since she was in her teens so did find trouble even thinking about it but an answer came to mind fairly quickly. "I honestly think if I didn't do this I might have ended up or would want to be in some sort of public service like a guard or maybe a teacher. I do this to help people for the most part and I don't see myself just being a shop keep, waitress, or something like that. I don't know what else my life would entail beyond that though..." She wasn't sure why he had asked it but it definitely got her thinking about how her life could have turned out.

As they came to the mountain and the horse stopped Maria is rather surprised to see the spirit before her. She had figured she'd not see it till the end or later in the trial. She was less then thrilled though to hear scaling a mountain was the first task. She wasn't a huge fan of likely having to spend quite a while scaling it. That said she had little choice as she climbed off the horse and adjusted her outfit before looking to Cerik a slight giggle escaping her. "Aren't you supposed to pack that like first thing for an adventure?" She mostly just found it amusing but she certainly had fallen victim to forgetting something rather basic once or twice herself.

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"... I do this to help people for the most part and I don't see myself just being a shop keep, waitress, or something like that. I don't know what else my life would entail beyond that though..."

Cerik nodded in response to Maria's words.

"Take my line of questioning as some idle curiosity on my end, with perhaps a dash of boredom. But I agree with that sentiment. Those occupations help people in their own way, I'd say, but not nearly so directly like we are used to as adventurers. I'd probably try and become a guard of some sort myself if my idea of becoming a 'proper' knight again were to fall through."

With that he began to search through Stormfire's saddlebags in earnest. At Maria's comment about it being the first thing to pack, he took a moment to turn and level a stare at her, before chuckling and returning to his search.

"It's not that I didn't pack it! Just trying to remember where exactly I put it in these damn saddlebags, since it's been a bit since I've had to break it out."

After a short bit more of searching, he pulled a rope with a grappling hook at the end of it out of the saddlebags. Grinning in triumph for a moment, he strode forward and started spinning the hook in preparation to toss it. He turned his head up and leveled his gaze at the mountain side. Yes... those rocks there would catch the hook very well, he would simply have to aim it just right. The monocle beneath his helm glinted for a moment as the hook sailed through the air- and lodged perfectly on those rocks at the edge of the outcrop. Cerik gave the rope a few experimental tugs, before nodding in satisfaction and then turning toward Maria.

"There we go. I don't foresee any problems occurring on this relatively short climb, but just in case... it may be best if you go first, since you're lighter and I will be better suited to catch you if the rope breaks or something. I doubt the reverse would end very well."

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Maria gives a nod to Cerik as he shares his own ideas on the whole thing. "I figured it was as much. Your the first person to ask it though. It caught me off guard a bit... I figure most adventures would share your sentiment and be a guard or knight. It seems plenty of the more pure hearted people out there that chose the life do it to help people. That said I've been told I sometimes give people more credit then needed." She gives a small laugh to that idea as she lets him search for the rope.

She can't help but share his chuckle as he levels the stare and returns to searching the pack. She supposes that most people pack such an item but never make a ton of use of it. As he pulls it out she gives a little clap at him finding it! "You found it!" She clearly says it more as friendly jest then anything rude or mean. She was actually pretty impressed when he lodges the hook on the first try. She didn't really have a ton of experience with rope climbing but it couldn't be to hard! She felt confident enough in it. She reaches back over her shoulder and gives the cat in her bag a little pet. "Okay Nyx were going to climb so don't move to much." With that instruction the cat gives a bit of an annoyed meow before pulling itself into the bag.

As she approaches the rope she gives a slight nod at his comment. "I'm not the best at catching things anyways. Hopefully it does hold though I would still rather not fall." She says before getting a grip on the rope and pulling herself up it a bit unsure for a second before getting a good idea of how to climb it. It was certainly a different feel from rock climbing. Eventually though given no faults in the rope she would make it to the top and look down at the knight and give a wave to. "Your good to climb now!" She yells down at him before watching the rope ready to hold it in place if it were to try and dislodge itself.

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Posted (edited)

At Maria's call that he was good to climb, Cerik directed Stormfire into an alcove tucked into the cliff-face. The warhorse could take care of herself most likely, but best to keep her safe in case some hostile party had chosen to pursue them for some reason. He took hold of the rope and began the climb. Maria reached the outcrop with no issues in her climb, with the rope holding up perfectly. The armored knight followed suit, but when he close to the top of the rope... it cleanly fell apart, as if it had been cut. Given only mere moments to react before a painful and possibility debilitating fall, Cerik lurched upward, grasping the edges of the outcrop with his hand as the rope fell to the ground below. He cursed under his breath before looking up and directing his voice toward Maria.

"A bit of help here, if you don't mind?"

With the aid of Maria, Cerik would make it atop the outcrop. He rested there on his back for a bit, then pulled himself to a sitting position and spoke.

"Damn rope held steady until the perfect moment for it to hurt me greatly with the fall. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was sabotaged. ... Is this part of the trial, Amura?"

The spirit floated nearby with a visible frown, shaking her head at the knight's question.

"No. A third party has interfered. If I were to speculate, I would say that they are after one or both of the artifacts that you carry, Sir Cerik."

Cerik frown's deepened as he shot upright and drew his sword Farcutter.

"If somebody has interfered, than they must still be here." He raised his voice to be heard all about the outcrop. "Whoever you are, show yourself!"

A boulder on the outcrop shimmered out of existence- an illusion or veil of some sort, dispelled to reveal three people. Two men, one larger and clad in armor, one hand replaced an intimidating false hand of blackened steel. The other, a man in a hooded robe with a notable glow around where his heart would be, as if something were implanted there? And the third... a woman, in a rather plain green dress and other garb that indicated her as a traveling merchant. This face was familiar to Cerik, and he had a visible expression of shock.

"... Salida?"

The merchant woman grinned, and one could very well imagine venom dripping from her teeth due to the malice in her expression.

"Cerik. I was hoping you would fall, it would have made my work easier and kept this companion of yours out of the way. But as it stands... I'll have to take matters into my own hands. You might remember these fellows here from your journey to claim the Desert's Eye. The deserter whose hand you cruelly severed, and the cult leader whose heart you eviscerated and incinerated."

The knight's expression was still confused and shocked as he responded.

"Why would you bring those men here? Why are you here after everything..."

"The Monocle, and now the Eye. I never had a good opportunity to take them in our previous meetings. Too many companions with you, or too many people who could be witnesses. ... You must be curious why I seek them so. The Eye is just a bonus. But the Monocle is mine by right- the woman who took it from the captain was my ancestor. I had been in progress towards reclaiming it when you strode in, you sickening knight, paragon of justice. You fell easily for my wiles, yet fate denied me what I sought. No longer."

As Salida rambled on, Amura had turned to Maria and spoke quietly to her, as to not be overheard.

"This will soon come to conflict. Do you as you will, but I recommend that you wait until they're engaged, then blindside them with whatever power you have to muster. If these interlopers prove too strong for the two of you, I will render aid as best as I can."

Meanwhile, Salida continued.

"... This ends here. Boys, take him down. Leave his companion for afterwards, if she refuses the opportunity to retreat."

The deserter and the former cultist leader drew their weapons- the deserter with a wicked-looking handax in his non-metallic hand, and the cultist with his warhammer that Cerik remembered vividly as doing him some damage. The knight took a ready stance as they charged. The deserter's ax was deftly spun around, and a pre-emptive strike at the cult leader's arm forced him to pull back and thus causing his hammer's swing to only clip Cerik's armor, ending in a reverberation throughout the armor and minor damage. The knight dashed past them with a retaliatory swing of Farcutter- but the sword only dealt minor wounds to the two men. They all pivoted and turned to face each other, carefully considering their next moves as their current clash resulted in little damage in the end.

Spoiler

NDS Rolls

Deserter and Cultist Leader- Aesthetic (3)

Cerik- Aesthetic (2)

 

Edited by EpicRome23

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Maria was already worried that the rope might slip or break as she climbed so when it snapped she was already there and springing into action. She wasn't that strong so she was glad to see Cerik grab the ledge. Her hand was already reaching for her as he asked for help. With a bit of effort on her end she manages to help drag him up and back to safety. "That was quite unfortunate getting down just got a bit harder." She adds with a bit of a laugh. Upon him mentioning interference she gives a bit of a nod. She wasn't sure who would have interfered as she didn't see anyone at the moment but she follows his lead and draws her own weapon. As the boulder shimmers away she turns her gaze to the three people behind it. Cerik clearly knew them but she didn't really know anything about them. 

The way they talked seemed like they had actually meet rather recently before this. Maria had to wonder though... Why would the merchant chose two people that Cerik had already bested to stop him? Seemed like a rather under thought plan to her at least. He already knew what they were capable of and what he would have to look at for. It didn't really matter what she thought as they were already here. The conversation didn't really interest her or involve her so she stays out of it until the spirit directly speaks to her. She offers a nod to it. That seemed like a rather good idea to catch them off guard.

Before the fight begins the pyromancer moves her self off to the edge almost like shes making her way out of the area. After all they had offered to let her leave they weren't after her. As she makes it a bit away she hears the clinking of a blade against metal and uses that as her moment to turn and come rushing back into the group. Flames swirl to life around her blade crackling and hissing as they dance along the edge. They spark to life in her free hand as they grow more intense. Her eyes growing a deeper shade of blue. How dare they think she'd abandon a partner on a quest! It was insulting to her and everything she stood for as an adventurer! 

With the thought she stabs the blade forward stopping short of the first guy as the flames launch free from the blade in a vicious display of energy as the engulf the guys arm and half his stomach. The flames Crackle loudly as the severely burn the guys arm melting the armor along it clean off. "I'd be no better then filith to leave a a companion behind at the first conflict." The flames just as quickly as they engulfed his arm recede all the way back into the blade with their job completed.

Spoiler

Damage rolls:

Maria 8 (Critical) Used to rend some armor and burn the cult leader

 

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Fire. Fire had nearly extinguished the life of the cult leader in that harsh, unforgiving desert. Only the swift intervention of Salida after the knight Cerik had departed in the wake of his slaughter of the cult had allowed him cling to life and regain his strength. Now... fire seared him once more. His right arm, and more or less the entire right side of his torso, was consumed by the fierce flames sent forth by Maria. His warhammer clattered to the ground, the head red-hot from the the heat of the flames, and dropped to his knees and let out a pained scream of agony. Salida winced, and the noise distracted the armored deserter as he moved in with a devastating cleave of his ax- Cerik parried the blow with such force and precision that the head of the ax shattered, rendering the weapon worthless. The deserter tried to block out the cultist leader's agony, which had subsided to sobbing and groaning, and picked up the discarded warhammer, which glowed with heat.

Cerik, however, did not fail to capitalize on the deserter's distraction. As he picked up the warhammer, the knight dashed forward with a piercing lunge, one that drove Farcutter through a gap in the deserter's armor. It was not a vital blow by any means, but one that scored some good damage and sent the deserter staggering backwards with a growl of pain. The knight and the deserter stared each other down as they planned their next move. Cerik momentarily wondered what the merchant Salida might be preparing while he was distracted with her goons... but he could only hope Maria had a better read of the situation from where she stood.

And indeed, if Maria were to look, she would find the merchant Salida digging through a large and heavy pack set upon the ground, muttering to herself as she did. There was no way to tell what she intended to produce from within it- but, surely, it could be nothing good?

Spoiler

NDS Rolls

Deserter and Cultist Leader- Aesthetic (2)

Cerik- Standard (4)

 

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As the warhammer clatters to the ground Maria backs away a bit. She didn't need to be close to fight after all and she mostly worried about a retaliation attack as was common from people when they found themselves in a situation not looking favorable and it would only take a single hit from a massive hammer like the cult leader had to knock her out of a fight. AS nothing of the sort happened though she was quite relived as he only screamed in pain. She was all to familiar with the scream so it phased her none. She had seen her fair share of people be eaten by the flames and have similar cries. It would seem he was mostly disabled as the deserter went for the hammer she saw Cerik go for an attack so she directs her eyes to the merchant who was digging through the pack. She had no idea what would be in the pack to help them but she figured nothing good comes of letting her search for an item.

She makes her way over to the merchant and with a swift motion kicks the womans hand free from the bag. She wasn't going to have her digging through it for some artifact that could turn the fight against her and the knight. Fire whirls to life in her hand as she throws it between the merchant and her bag. It sparks to life in a rather bright display of power cutting the merchant off from her bag unless she wanted to reach through the flames to grab something. It was controlled enough at the moment to not burn the bag or the merchant so long as neither got closer to it. Intentions were clear though. Maria wasn't looking to hurt the merchant so long as she didn't try anything

Spoiler

Damage rolls:

Maria 8 (Critical)  Used to separate the merchant from her bag. Minor damage

 

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Cerik was the first to move to break the standoff with the deserter. He was momentarily distracted by Maria's fire that cut off the merchant Salida from her bag- an opportunity that the knight pounced on without a moment's hesitation. A powerful blow from his sword Farcutter sent the deserter's acquired warhammer sailing into the sky and then down the cliff face, out of sight and far out of reach. With no more weapons to bring to bear, the deserter looked around desperately as Cerik advanced forward, striding forth as he was the very incarnation of death itself. And to the deserter...

He was just about to be. Cerik plunged Farcutter into the ground and then strode forward and drove a guantleted fist into the deserter's torso. Then, in one smooth and expert motion, he pivoted around the deserter while drawing Windpiercer from his back. Then, gales swirled violently around the lances' head as he thrust it forward and began a charge toward the cliff's edge. Cerik shouted over the winds as he drove the hapless deserter forward.

"You may have been saved from your rightful execution previously. But this time... you will not escape justice!"

And with that, he reached the edge of the cliff and directed the gale-force winds in one violent burst... one that forcefully ejected the deserter from the head of the lance and sent him flying down and away from the top of the cliff. It would not be a pretty sight on impact, that was for sure. And the knight turned away and faced toward the merchant as the deserter fell with a drawn-out scream.

 

Salida, for her part, was in desperate straits. She wouldn't be able to grab what she had planned to. The cult leader was a babbling wreck on the ground, and the deserter was currently learning why humans weren't able to fly without external aid. And that pyromancer companion of the knight was keeping a watch on her, and would react to anything she tried overtly. Only one thing for it, then...

She carefully met the approaching knight with her own stride forward, after turning toward Maria and showing her that she had nothing in hand that she was trying anything with. The two's paths soon met, and Salida turned her gaze up toward the knight that towered above her. Tears streamed down her face as she bowed her head and spoke.

"My dear Cerik, I'm so sorry! I was overtaken by something that controlled my thoughts and stoked dark desires... How could I seek your doom after all our time together?"

Maria would sense Amura floating next to her. The spirit had a concerned aura around her, and her words to Maria were very quiet.

"Hmm. Her words seem fully genuine to me. Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that something isn't right here..."

Meanwhile, Salida continued.

"... Some dark sorcerer had to have put a curse onto me, or a demon took possession of me. Perhaps even that cult leader worked black magic in order to save his life and indoctrinate me into his schemes. There has been little harm to you or your companion, Cerik. Would you let me go if I swore to never get involved in such dastardly schemes again? I will take my own life before being compelled to such a bleak course action again."

The knight considered the merchant's words. Then, his guarded stance softened. His posture relaxed. One could sense a smile concealed behind that helm of his.

"If you speak true, Salida, and so solemnly swear... then I suppose the only just course is to allow you to go. I will watch for further tricks as a matter of course, but let us seal the agreement here and now."

Cerik extended his hand forward. Salida extended her own forward... and Amura felt the power of a spell emanate forth from it.

"NO!"

But it was too late for Amura to intervene as a lightning bolt shot down from the lightly clouded sky to strike the momentarily abandoned Farcutter. The sword rose from the ground as if held by an invisible warrior, the blade crackling with electricity. It then plunged forward into Cerik's lower back, piercing the knight's thick armor and sending electricity surging throughout his body. Salida's grin turned outright demonic as she leered down at Cerik for a moment. 

"Your fatal mistake was letting your heart override your mind's warnings. Or perhaps it was more base desires...? Regardless, may your last moments be those of regret as I claim my prizes."

Salida strode forward to the knight, who had fallen and was convulsing on the ground. Amura swiftly floated over to him and spoke to Maria as she did so.

"I will ensure that Cerik survives this. You must stop her, Maria, as my power will be fully occupied with him. Go swiftly."

Spoiler

NDS Rolls

Cerik- Lethal (10)

Salida- Lethal (10)

... You honestly can't make this up.

 

Edited by EpicRome23

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Maria was rather inspired by Ceriks fight prowess... Though she realized she was preforming rather well herself more so then usual so she wondered if this was just a good day for both of them. She sweeps the idea away though for the moment as she turns her attention back to what really matters at the moment. As Cerik sends the man off the cliff the pyromancer finds that a bit brutal but she didn't really mind as they did try to kill them so it seemed justified. She turns her attention to the merchant now. She had been effectively disarmed and was with out her body guards so she seemed rather harmless at the moment unless she possesses magic. Maria ruled that as mostly unlikely in any really dangerous sense since she had tried anything up to this point so she lowers her blade a bit.

As the women gets up the pyromancer moves herself between her and the bag while returning to a bit of a guarded stance in case there was a bolt made for the bag she could stop it. She felt that the real threat was in the bag if there was one. She didn't mind if the women was actually just trying to plead for her life. Maria was nothing but reasonable. There was no need for killing or fighting if the women was actually sorry for her actions. As the spirit talks to her she turns her gaze for a second. "She is disarmed though... I suppose she could use magic but she has yet to use it..." She whispers to the spirit... That set off a few alarms for her. She might have been hiding her magic specifically to take advantage of good will. She didn't like that idea.

Unfortunately, by the time she decides to act its to late. As the hands of the knight and merchant meet Marias eyes widen in a bit of shock. The crackle of lighting echoing out as the bolt jolts down and strikes the knights weapon. Then the sound of it impaling itself in the knights armor with a rather disturbing sound to the pyromancer. She knew just from the look and sound it was a rather deadly surprise. One she couldn't really forgive.

Flames swirl to life around Marias blade before sparking off of it and forming a secondary replica in her off hand as she springs into action at the spirits order. She wasn't going to let Salida off with this. Her foot stops just short of the merchant as she throws the sword of fire at the merchant the tip turning to obsidian as it lands piecing what clothing or armor the merchant is wearing before the flames come crashing in after it engulfing the women's torso it a raging fire. "You dare take my trust for granted?!" She spits out in a rather angry tone. Her second blade thrusting for right at the spike of obsidian she had impaled the women with diving it in a bit deeper. The flames meanwhile likely searing her flesh and causing burns to form along her chest were she not armored under her dress or by magical means.

Spoiler

Damage rolls

Maria 8 (Critical) Used to drive a stake into the merchants stomach and pierce armor should she have any under her dress and cause burns along her torso if unarmored

 

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"You dare take my trust for granted?!"

These words were heard clearly by Salida as, at the height of her exultation of her treacherous victory, a sword of fire struck deep into her torso. The fire spread around her torso as the spike of obsidian was driven deeper by a second blade of fire. She reacted with... a demented laugh? The intense pain she assuredly felt was mixed into her tone, but still, she laughed. Soon enough she spoke.

"The artifact... ahahaha, no, not the artifact! I saw the future! The very fabric of reality... ugugahhga... UNRAVELED!"

As the burning merchant spoke, the cultist leader stood up and began to walk forward. Maria might normally have attacked him as well- but it was quickly obvious that he was not approaching her, but instead Salida herself. His burnt-away robe revealed the strange crystal embedded in his chest- glowing an angry red now. He met Maria's gaze for a moment, and he motioned for her to keep Salida's attention. Whatever he was planning, perhaps it could only benefit her. Salida swiftly continued, oblivious to the approaching man.

"The threads of the loci, severed! Cerik's artifacts... I needed them. Not to prevent what was to come... ahahahahah... no, no single person could possibly! Nor even the cooperation of all of the peoples! But with them, I could save my master... and her chose-"

The cultist leader surged forward, putting Salida into a headlock. Weakened by fire and probably insanity, she wasn't able to struggle free despite a brief attempt to.

"Damn your master! Damn you for not letting me die and then using me as your puppet! Damn you for treacherously striking down the knight who rightfully defeated us all! I know not visions of insanity lead you down this path, you damned merchant... but I will ensure that you go no further!"

His crystal glowed brightly- an obvious gathering of energy, even to those untrained in the magical arts. He met Maria's gaze with a rueful smile.

"Your fire burned away the strings that controlled me. I thank you for that. I'm sorry I wasn't able to act just a bit earlier- I might have been able to prevent her treacherous blow. But ah well, I'll do what I can now. Her mad ranting is a cover for the deadly spell she's readying... it will fire off upon her death even if your fire takes her down first. I'll destroy her before it's ready, but just two things first. First, tell Cerik... it was a good fight in the desert. And if he dies here, I will be extremely disappointed. And second... beware the First Sage of Light. Beware Imryll Duskbane."

With that, just moments afterward, the stored energy burst forth from the crystal. A violent burst of light came forth and consumed both the cultist leader and Salida. When it faded, both of them were gone without a trace.

Salida spoke telepathically to Maria as the silence settled.

"I have done all I can for him. It is all up to his will now, whether he clings to life or lets himself slip into the embrace of death. Also... two presences approach. A presence of Light from the west, powerful. And a presence of Shadow from the east, of equal magnitude. Prepare as you can, if we are lucky they may pass this mountain by."

Edited by EpicRome23
sthuff

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Maria wasn't even sure how to react to the crazed woman's ramblings. She had heard people say absurd things before when standing on deaths door but she had never quite heard such claims from them before. Was the artifact really capable of that? Cerik's goal was upgrading it but she didn't see that much of an upgrade as being possible... As she ponders the meaning of the merchants words the second blade of fire fizzles out of her hand the embers being carried off by the wind. She regains her composer as the ally to the merchant makes a move. It was clear by this point her words were likely insane ramblings… She couldn't rationalize how it would have happened but stranger things have occurred.

His words were ones coming from betrayal and she felt sympathy for him. He didn't deserve what happened if he was controlled. "I am sorry I can't save you. You don't deserve death here. I will let him know." Is all she can really stumble out in response. She didn't know what else to say to comfort him but even if he had done wrong at least he made a right choice in the end and all deserve the chance for redemption.  Hearing Salida's words now Maria looks down at her weapon then to Cerik. He was in no position to fight now and she had no idea what those two forces were. She doubted her ability to carry him far as he was a knight in armor and she was never focused on strength.

She sighs a bit and moves over to him. Maybe the forces would pass by if nothing else maybe he'd wake in time and be able to fight. "Hey you! You can't pass here. It's not your time. You have to live for what your future holds. Plus that cultist leader would be disappointed! Don't let some cheap shot be your end! Your a knight aren't you?" She plants her weapon in the ground as she says this before standing back up and scratching some things in the ground to prepare for what may come if the forces do notice her. She may not be the strongest mage but any one with a sense for magic can be deadly when given enough time to prepare.

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Posted (edited)

"Hey you!"

...

The good intentions and the pain...

Lay drowned now in the pouring rain.

...

It's not raining. It's not... anything. Was this death?

"You can't pass here. It's not your time."

There was a faint light far ahead in Cerik's vision. A voice, as if speaking from far away, entered his ear.

"Sir Knight. I am Alexios. General of Aligoria, and High Commander of the Shadow Guard. I am here on the behest of Princess Sibyla. Allow me to take the Dead-Eye Monocle, and bear it into the cave just up the peak in your stead. I swear on my honor, I will collect the power dormant there with the Monocle, and then return it to you, empowered."

The knight gave a weak nod of assent and a muffled yes- in reality, at least. Wherever he found his mind in, it had been much a stronger response there.
------
In reality, General Alexios had nodded in his turn and then spoken to Maria.

"Forgive my sudden appearance, my good lady. Even now, the Princess moves to engage Imryll Duskbane-"

A loud pop sounded as a wave of power breifly washed past them. Above them, a sphere of white fire and a sphere of black fire collided, a figure within each hard to make out but visible.

"-and it is up to you which you will support. You can, of course, choose to try and slip away while they are so engaged. But if you choose that path, I must warn you of this."

He pointed to the west. Over the ocean, there was what seemed to be a wall of solid darkness slowly but inevitably approaching- tearing up the land before it and sucking it into the void, where it fully disappeared from view.

"You will have to escape from that. And I cannot guarantee you will find sanctuary on your own. Aid the Shadow Princess, and I swear to you that we will lead you straight to sanctuary after the First Sage of Light is dealt with. Whatever you choose... your actions will make it clear. Either way, I will be making good on my word to the Knight."

He knelt down for a moment, gently removing the monocle from beneath Cerik's helm. Then, with a couple worried glances at the encroaching wall of darkness and the battle above, he began to climb the surprisingly gentle slope of this part of the mountain to the cave visible beneath the peak.

------

"You have to live for what your future holds."

"My... future?"

Cerik looked around. Images of a time past came into view around him. Marcygate. The order of knights, his king, his first love Luanda. Each broke away into pieces that moved away from him and faded as he moved to touch them, as if they were mirrors he had just shattered with a great blow. The guardian of the underwater ruins where he found the monocle. Salida. The deserter. The cultist leader- the cultist leader did not fade. Instead, he smiled. Then, he opened his mouth and Maria's voice came forth.

"Plus that cultist leader would be disappointed! Don't let some cheap shot be your end!"

A cheap shot...

Cerik looked down at himself for the first time in what felt like forever. Through him and his armor, his very own sword Farcutter, crackling with electricity. The memories of what had just happened returned to him. Reaching for Salida's hand- sudden pain and betrayal. Mad ranting the last thing he heard before consciousness had faded from him. ... The surroundings before him shifted. Two paths unfolded before him. One toward that faint, distant light. And the other, deeper into a darkness that seemed all too blissful. At the fork of these paths stood his best friend of old. The one whose death had set him on the path of an adventurer. He spoke with a neutral expression.

"Which will you choose, Cerik? Will you get back up and continue the fight? Continue to stand against evil in all it's forms? Or will you allow this to be your retirement? Let the embrace of death overtake you, reunite with me and all the rest that you have lost in your years?"

A decision of great weight and import. Perhaps the greatest decision the knight would ever make. Reduced to a simple fork in the road. At another time, he might have laughed at the strangeness of it. But he didn't, and contemplated the choice before him. Maria's voice echoed all around one last time, loud and vibrant now.

"You're a knight, aren't you?"

...

A knight.

...

You are a knight, Cerik Windshade.

...

You have found your goddess. You are on the verge of an even greater power to combat the powers of evil. Would you truly let it all end here?

...

"... No. My friend, there is not really a choice here, in the end. I am a knight. And a knight never gives up the fight until peace is clearly won."

His old best friend smiled widely, stepping forward and clasping his shoulder.

"I suspect that's what you'd choose in the end. Godspeed, Cerik. And one day? When the time comes for you to take the other fork... I'll be waiting for you with our favorite drink readied."

Cerik grinned and returned his friend's gesture.

"Better double that, my friend, I have no doubts that my thirst will be grand at the time. I can't say I look forward to that day right now, but I can promise I'll have a smile when we once again unite."

With that, Cerik strode forth on the path toward the faint light.

------

In reality, Cerik sat up with a groan. Farcutter laid beside him, bloodied but no longer thrust through his lower torso. Amura floated nearby, Maria stood a short distance away. And above him, two beings of great power clashed. White fire and black fire. White fire... the First Sage of Light. He wasn't sure where he had picked up the title, or why he felt a revulsion upon hearing it. But he knew what he had to do. He clutched Farcutter in his right hand, and turned toward Maria slowly and with a wince.

"A knight such as me... one would expect I would choose to support the Light without hesitation, no? But Light is not inherently good in every single instance. I have a feeling, Maria, that this light above us is not good, not just."

In his left hand, he drew forth and tightly clutched the Storm's Eye. The air around them perceptibly began to shift as Cerik exerted his will over the weather around them.

"If this Shadow Princess gives me an opening, we can end this in one blow. Coordinate your magic with me, and a swift victory will be assured. All I need is a couple minutes."

He looked across the ledge, where two figures in white armor that almost seemed to glow approached with weapons in hand. White wings spread wide behind them.

"... and it seems I'll need you to buy me those minutes. Our troubles should be over after this, I hope."

Edited by EpicRome23

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