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Walk Among The Abyss

The Ruins of La Cierra (Quest/Closed)

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The ground belched, lofting Evie's dark brow alongside the fetid air.  She quietly dipped the rag into the bucket of now-pink water settled by her feet and wrung it out, studying the Hunter as he moved through his grief.  In the span of just a few moments, the color and vibrancy in his aura had leached out, leaving him colorless and drained, turned inward like the dying.  If she were honest, she wasn't altogether sure he would survive such close contact with the beast, but fuck if she had even an inkling what to do about it-- the crawling miasma looked bad, and she didn't have any more defense to its malevolence than Keldorl did.

"You sh--"

..move away, is what she was saying when the grumbling and the belching came to fruition, and the ground vomited spikes up into the air, impaling the corrupted unicorn. It's screeching, high-pitched scream echoed off the ramshackle buildings and bounced around the small bricked marketplace until its energy was exhausted along with the beast's last breath.  Suddenly wary, she cast a light glance over the area, finally settling on the rooftops as the least treacherous place to be, if she needed to be quickly away.

"Fucking beast."

The rampant decay spreading across Keldorl's spirit began to dissipate as the spikes crumbled and the unicorn's corpse sank to the ground, but Evie eyed him nonetheless.  "You alright, there?"  She wondered, her Will settling on the more practical need to defend, as a thin layer of energy hovered invisibly above the ground near her.

"Sorry Evie, I don't think you'll get to ride that after all, but I'm not confident to think I killed it. It's Ki feels very much alive. Shall we pack what we need and call it quits for a while? I will need some new boots and possibly pants."

"I'll live," commented Evie, smirking as the possibility of riding the blighted beast was again raised.  Atop the wagon, she tossed the rag into the bucket and breached the wagon-edge, vaulting the wood and gracefully landing on the ground with little more than a rough scrape of the dirt beneath her boots.  "How about I eat while you check if any of the clothes on the corpses will fit," she offered, adding, "and then, you can tell me what Ki is.  I'm not sure I've heard the word before.

What do you want to do with these two, by the way."  Throwing a wave backward, she gestured toward the caged cook and groomsman.  "We can't just leave them here caged.."

Well, of course they could, but appearances and all.

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His eyes that momentarily twinkled with awe and admiration of a new living creature faded away as he approached Evie’s figure. “Do as you wish with them. I don’t pretend to lust for killing those who are not warriors so let them go is my opinion. Also, you and I smell like sweat and dirt. You think we can find a well or fountain that still produces water? Ah, never mind. Too much of a hassle. Our stench will just bring us closer I suppose.” His gritty words were of such nonchalance providing a question, would she even hear his humor?

Sweeping up his spear from where it had laid, he eyed the pot of stew over the fire. He couldn’t resist taking it. “Evie, I will have food waiting back at our base. Once you’ve decided what to do with the two, you’ll find me resting. We can discuss our plans to finish up this escapade.”

Walking away from the destruction that was left, the liquid stew splashed around inside the pot as the handle of the cast iron skillet still hung from the wooden spit.    

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Let them go?

"..you know they're just going to go running back to wherever they came from with names and descriptions of us, right?" she asked as she approached the Hunter, ragged as he was in his long, nearly pristine cloak and the anachronistic contrast of the singed and blackened remnants the Unicorn's corruption had left behind.  A long sweeping glance took him in, from the muss of his hair to the wiggle of his big toe peeking out from the remains of his ruined shoes, and as she got to the shreds of his pants, she mocked a wolf-whistle and wagged her dark brows.

Two could tease, after all.

"Also, you and I smell like sweat and dirt. You think we can find a well or fountain that still produces water? Ah, never mind. Too much of a hassle. Our stench will just bring us closer I suppose."

"Such a flatterer, let's not forget all the blood.."  While her skin had wiped semi-clean, Evie's clothes were now overlaid with a grotesque shade of speckled pink and red.  It was not attractive, not unless the 'serial killer' look was in this year.

"Evie, I will have food waiting back at our base. Once you've decided what to do with the two, you'll find me resting. We can discuss our plans to finish up this escapade."

"You definitely have a career in middle management.  At least take the clothes from the corpses before you go; whatever we do, I'm pretty sure we'll want you to have pants," commented the woman as she curled a glance toward the two caged humans.  A deep breath inflated her lungs and was held there for a moment, trapped by the press of her lips as she considered their fate, idly spinning the Mindgorger's shaft in her palm as Keldorl walked off.

She waited a long while, eventually making her way over to the unlucky pair as Keldorl's presence became a lost memory.  Their eyes fixed on her-- four pools of terror, stripped bare of any hiding place as the sun rose on what they expected was their last few minutes.

"You see how he's like?" she mused aloud, curving and stretching her spine as she sought to soften the fabric- it had dried with the blood and was stiff now, unforgiving, and not at all comfortable.  "Always clean hands from this one-- he doesn't dodge the need, no.. just the act.. so he'll leave me here to 'figure it out' and claim purity all the way back to DuGrace castle.  It's interesting, isn't it?"  She nodded to herself, but the cook and groomsman bobbed their heads alongside hers like hopeful puppets, backing up as she approached until their backs hit iron.

"...and a bit dishonest.  We shouldn't let the Generals escape their war crimes, should we?  It's their words, after all, that drive the tanks and drop the bombs.  Why should their cowardly heads remain fixed to their yellow necks just because someone else's hands executed the orders?

We shouldn't.

The solution to the problem is you execute them all. the. way. up. to. the. top," she concluded as she drew up to the cage, wrapping her free hand around the cold bars as she curled an edged, half smile.

"I have kids...!"  The cook shouted, his revelation bursting forth as if mattered- as if she would care- and probably some people did, but Evie didn't.  Her lips twisted, lured off to the side as she considered the pair.  In the silent gap, the groomsman counter-offered, "I have.. a dog, oh, god..", and sunk to a crouch, weeping.

"Me too, well.. just one.  Still, you both would have smiled and gone about your day while your companions," a look slid off to the side, sharply indicating the dead slavers, "soldered a collar around my neck and sold me to the highest bidder, so.."

So she wasn't entirely sympathetic.  Her smile could have cut ice as she went on, flat-toned, "However, I think you know some things that I would like to know, so this is what's going to happen: we're going to make a deal.  You're going to trade me everything in your head for everything in your body. 

Sound good?"

For her attempt at humanity, Evie got immediate agreement from the groomsman and a suspicious pause from the cook.  "The other option is I take it anyway, gut you, and set the leavings out for the manticore..", she countered, which prompted a sharp cry from the still sobbing groomsman and a quick nod from the cook.

"Fantastic." 

With the agreement in place, Evie made her way over to the cook cart, pawing through its contents until she came up with a few bottles of liquor, which she carried back over and tossed through the bars.  

"Drink."

They drank, suffering through another bout of Evie's troubled musings on class warfare and the consolidation of power among the elite - the irony was lost on her, by the way - until their responses became slowed, their words smudged and slurred, and their slow sway dragged them down to slump against the ground.  She joined them there, pulling her long legs into a cross-legged perch as she lay the Mindgorger alongside the cage and went to work.

She reached.

Her Will extended, wormed its way into their minds with a casual ease that was still terrifying to those who truly understood her capabilities; the ones who knew how far her determination and work-ethic had brought her, how much higher her bar was after she consumed the PRIME and how the Mindgorger's ancient dynamism made it all so much more.  It was only habit that had her ply the prisoners with liquor-- that crutch was one she didn't need any longer, not truly, not since she'd merged with James and found new ways to sharpen her sword and cleave through the masses' minds.  It still took time, and more importantly, focus-- she wouldn't be rewriting her targets' memories mid-battle anytime soon, but with them in a cage, drunk and willing, the only difficulty she had was finding a comfortable place to sit.

Their minds opened like books, chaotic and scrawled in drunken crayon that the First scanned like a machine, bypassing entire decades in her hunt for useful knowledge.  Neither of the men was a slaver at heart-- they were both opportunists, who had families, and kids, and no marketable skill set beyond labor. Vast swathes of their memories could simply be passed over.  Starving childhoods, awkward first-kisses, disappointed parents-- ironically, these were the people Evie enlisted in her shadow wars, and maybe that commonality is what saved them.

In the end, both would be useful to her-- the groomsman had traveled extensively with the caravan and, as a result, had a broad expanse of general knowledge about Orisia and Genesaris, including a fair amount of first-hand experience of the slave routes and criminal groups that peppered the landscape.  For some reason, he could also play the flute, but Evie let that memory lie.

The cook was less well-traveled but had based out of both Dairut and Antigone and, being intimately familiar with both, knew the power-players and guilds in each location.  It was from him that Evie lifted the understanding of the badges she had stolen from the slaughtered forward scouts, information that would provide significant benefit as she began to lay plans to bring misery, ruin, and a wailing death to Gregor the Bear.

Ah, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Having searched and found everything useful to her, Evie backtracked out of their minds, ripping out all their memories of her (but not Keldorl) and cauterizing the wounds as she went.  It was always dangerous, doing something like that in a place like this - - but a cursory check verified their memories of her were in ruin and when she came back to herself, she was still alone.  The sun was higher; she'd lost an hour or so but gained so much more, and as the men succumbed to exhaustion and unconsciousness, she unlocked the cage, gathered up the rest of the slaver's badges along with anything else useful, and headed back to the abandoned guild hall to meet Keldorl.

Edited by Noko

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"..you know they're just going to go running back to wherever they came from with names and descriptions of us, right?"

Her words had fallen on deaf ears as Keldorl turned to walk away.

What did he care? A deep and empty shell of the man felt nothing. Why did the beast have to be so damn stubborn?! What a waste of a creature. The elegance, the darkness, the chaos of it’s Ki. A waste for what happened.

“At least take the clothes from the corpses before you go; whatever we do, I'm pretty sure we'll want you to have pants”

Grave robbing was not on a list he checked often, but she had a point. “Yes, I suppose.” Grumbling as he removed what he could, several pants, boots, and shirts were among the essential items he tossed on top of a canvas. Odds and ends from belts were also wrapped up tightly and slung over his shoulder. His eyes latched onto Evie’s figurine and floated to the cage of people then to the body of the animal. “Stupid beast,” he muttered at no one. “I would have liked to turn you into a stallion.” With that he left.

 


 

Back inside the large hall of the building, Keldorl was stretched out on a makeshift couch from cushions and bedding he could find throughout the building. The pot of food hung precariously above a lavished fireplace of granite and stone. Portraits of men and women, assumedly who had worked here for the city, hung in proper positions above the fireplace. Age had eaten away at some of the golden frames but those eyes, those eyes were hauntingly alive.

 Once back, he had managed to pull water from the ground outside. It was another simple trick children were taught young. Find the water source below the earth, compress it to one spot, and force the land to bring it forth. A makeshift well of harden rock gave the water a place to rest. Drinkable and useful to clear the grime off. He would make sure he told Evie about it. The water was far down, doubtful it was contaminated by the land’s poison. That was the last of his energy he had for the day. The land was harder on his abilities more than he could have hoped for. He smirked. It was what he wanted after all.

The canvas of clothing and items were laid on a table. After a rinse of water, he appropriated the clothing that fitted as well as some boots. Nothing fancy. The rest of the items he left for her. A nagging suspicion that she did not mind looting through the dead’s valuables. There was no honor it that.

Have you ever had honor? Death is a ripple behind you, every step you take more die as you wade by.

He should have stayed tucked away in the pit he came from. When and where had he lost his self? Stupid question. He knew. He just pretended to forget. Blue orbs glared at his left hand. He couldn’t forget. Not anymore. It was now a part of who he was. A constant reminder of what he attempted.

The silhouette of the woman’s figure in the doorway was symbolically contrasted with the light in the background. She was no angel. Was anyone? He wanted to call her a demon, but that was inaccurate. His thoughts fluctuated to their argument on the roof. His stubbornness prodded her more than she had liked. Still, he wanted to know more about her. He wouldn’t dare make the same mistake. But it lingered. The feeling that she was hiding in a shell, her silhouette concealing what she hid so well. No, he wouldn’t make the same mistake.

“I created a small well out back if you wish to rinse the days activates away. And, there is a pitcher I found that you could use and some cups for drinking.”

His eyes were fixated on her. The inner dialogue spoke to him but he whisked the words away, ignoring them, ignoring the warnings.

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"I created a small well out back if you wish to rinse the day's activates away. And, there is a pitcher I found that you could use and some cups for drinking."

"Yeah?  That's fantastic."

Gods, that was the best thing she'd heard this entire day.  Her smile rewarded Keldorl for his work, fast blooming across her face like the sunset on a clear morning as she lingered in the doorway, one hand lifted, lazily gripping the jamb.  

"I grabbed some apples and jerky they had buried beneath the wagoneers seat.."

The corners of her full lips picked up even further, proud like an obedient puppy, before Evie shifted her thin hips to the side and worked one of the apples out of the pack she'd lifted from the unlucky slavers.  An underhand toss sent it arcing toward Keldorl before she let her hand drop and leaned, draped against the wooden doorframe.

"No mask - - so, no flowers in here?  That's lucky..." she commented as she straightened.  Long strides carried her into the room, and she tilted her head backward, looking up at the distant, cracked ceiling as the sound of the cook fire crackled loudly.  It was a hard choice - shower or food - and Evie agonized over it before her stomach growled as she caught the scent of breakfast.  After slinging her pack to the ground by Keldorl, she grabbed a bowl and dipped it into the bubbling pot, then kicked a cushion over and sat down next to him.

"So, I let the cook and the horseman go-- fingers crossed that doesn't bite us in the ass later.  Did you find anything useful in here that might help us find the key?" she wondered as she brought the bowl in, cupping it in both hands and looking at Keldorl over its rim.  His aura dripped, hung low, and grieved like a widow, and she squinted at its desolation, then sighed.

"Why so glum?" she wondered idly, watching Keldorl for a moment before she leaned back, tipping the bowl to her lips and tapping its side to urge the oats out.

Edited by Noko

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“Tired is all.” Going forward he would play his cards close to his chest with the woman. Old memories of losing family and friends resurfaced but his weary mental status couldn’t handle dealing with those emotions. She had grown on him since their arrival, but did he have room for a mysterious friendship? Surely not. That part of his life had been missing for months. He could go on without it. That’s what he thought.

“I’d like to finish this task soon. I’m happy we have only run into small hordes of flowers. That will prolong the masks usage.” His eyes picked apart the woman then rushed back to the small black book in his hands. Scanning words and glyphs, he turned a few pages until he came upon odd symbols. Ancient language he knew little about. Enough to make out a few key words – resurrection, chaos, sacrifice – nothing that was out of the ordinary than he expected.

“How many lives have you taken?” The page turning abruptly stopped. His head leaned back to stare at the ceiling above, a staircase twisting upwards to meet the second level. “Have you had to take away the lives of those you’ve loved?” His words were low to ground, a heavy wind that couldn’t rise. “No, never mind. No point in that discussion…You wanted to know about this Ki, right? I guess it isn’t a secret and you’ve already heard it now.” He changed the topic before receiving a response from her, not wanting a response. His friendship with her would go no further.

“Call it Ki or life-force, or energy, or whatever. It’s this feeling of knowing where a living being is. I can sense it. Each person, animal, being, has this vibrating source within them. It takes, an extremely long time of training and being trained by key people. Not something you’re born with.” Closing his eyes, he breathed in, slowly, methodically. “I’ve recognized your vibration. Like a stamp only you can have and no one else. It’s a handy trick to track people and creatures.”

“Where it gets tricky are the undead. Their bodies don’t beat do they. So, you must find another way to sense them, to feel them. It can be done. That is toward the mastery end of the spectrum.” Blue opals of eyes opened. “I assume you do something like this with your powers, not the exact but the premise is probably close.”

Tucking away the black book into his back pocket, he stretched his muscular limbs out and gave a groan like a cat waking up from a nap.

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Tired didn't fly for an answer, not when one could see the sharp, angsty shards stuck in Keldorl's aura like burdock seeds, but Evie gave a little nod as she swallowed her first mouthful of food and let him move on.

"I'd like to finish this task soon."

Wouldn't they all; somehow, 'recover a lost key' hadn't fully encompassed the effort this task had required, and if Evie'd been the adventuring type who relied on payment from these little excursions to feed her family, she would have been a little annoyed.  It was one of the many ways the deck was stacked against the commoners; underpayment, over-tasking.  As she chewed on the overcooked oats, she mused over the thought that these quests and monster-hunting were primary economic drivers.  If the slew of creatures and calamities impacting the land-holders were to ever dwindle, there would be almost no wealth flowing between the classes, and that would create issues.

What an excitingly different way to start a rebellion.

She issued a soft hmm, her thoughts and her gaze drifting off as she tapped her lower lip with her forefinger before Keldorl's question ripped her back to the present like a slap to the face.

"How many lives have you taken?  Have you had to take away the lives of those you've loved?"

"No.." She answered instinctively, her face twisted with dismay, and denial, as furrows dragged her sculpted brows down into a sharp angle. "Why.."

But he went on, and she was left to her thoughts.

Why would she? Wasn't that the whole point-- to grow powerful enough to get what you wanted, then to keep the things you wanted, then get more of things you wanted, and so on?  If she was sacrificing her cares and desires, something had gone terribly wrong, but.. if she had to?  

Maybe...

No.  

Maybe?  

Perhaps at the start, but in her years as the First she had begun viewing the Dead as an extension of herself-- as hers-- and in reality, that was true.  The combination of her Contract and her psionics had proven enigmatic and enduringly complex.  Intended or not, the two had become interwoven to the point at which she was intrinsically aware of the Dead, merged with their presence until she missed their lack like a fish misses water.  Their loss injured her deeply, and she didn't spend them needlessly.

The question cast a pall that lingered on through Keldorl's musings on Ki; she began to refocus about when he drew parallels to her, and to tracking, and she filed this 'Ki' away as something she'd need to be able to obscure.  It didn't do to have someone able to track her through personas-- that's why she had blockers, but with the continual influx of new and strange magic into Valucre it was a constant effort from the R&D department to keep things up to date, and quiet, never-solved deaths when they couldn't.

"Where it gets tricky are the undead. Their bodies don't beat do they. So, you must find another way to sense them, to feel them. It can be done. That is toward the mastery end of the spectrum.

I assume you do something like this with your powers, not the exact, but the premise is probably close."

The bowl drifted downward, still cupped between her hands as she looked at Keldorl, tilting her head as she considered her answer.  "Uh," Evie hesitated, her confusion plain.  She was a wind mage, supposedly, and her answer flowed naturally from that, "No?  Mostly I can move air against things and infer they exist, and their shape, by the way the air moves, but I couldn't tell you who it was to save my life.  That's a useful ability," she continued. "How far does it work- like, are you aware of people you can't see, or miles away?  What if someone is nearby but in another room?

It must be a lot to keep track of, especially in cities... you have quite the disjointed skill set.  Is this all part of one job where you're from?"

Edited by Noko

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The little woodland sprite fluttered down from the ceiling. A dewdrop of light rained through. Years of unkempt buildings had taken its toll on the city. “I see you’re back little one. Did you tell them to relax their watch?” The little sprite nodded, wood-like face with crimson-like cherries for eyes peered back. A cherry tree must have been her origins at one point.

“Forgive me. Back inside the house and once more with the caravan, I had this sense that your powers could reach out and feel in some odd way.” A dead chuckle rose, “But I can’t say I’ve dealt with wind magic before. In my world, before I sank into the vortex, there were many casters in elements, but I had never personally met anyone with the ability of the wind. To me, you are a black unicorn.” Ah, the unicorn. How sweet it could have been. “If Van was here, he would surely want to talk to you. He revels in anything that is deemed unnatural.”

“As for feeling the dead, it’s quite simple. You wait.” He paused, staring into her eyes. “You continue to wait.” His voice become tranquil like the serene waters of a pond. “And wait until one takes a chunk of you, then you skewer them!” Loud laughter echoed through the room exploding into the ceiling.

How far does it work- like, are you aware of people you can't see, or miles away?  What if someone is nearby or in another room?

“No. There are limits to everything is there not.” Poking the sprite off his shoulder, she fluttered away like a butterfly and found a banister to perch on. “Imagine if you took yourself, a bunny, a child, and an ogre and scattered through this building.” Flourishing his right hand as to indicate the scene.

“I know your Ki. I could be able to tell it is you. Depending how far away you are of course. I’ve hunted many bunnies, they have the same energy, small, skittish, always moving. I could tell where it is at. Now the child. I could sense where the child is but not that it is a child. Only that it is a lifeforce. Until I witnessed that child with my eyes, I wouldn’t know. It would be an obscure energy that I have no recollection of.”

Had it been so long since he had an informal discussion? No matter her motivations for knowing, he found himself not caring but fulfilled in talking. Weeks, months, years, decades – had he ever felt fulfilled? Gratified or please? Maybe. When had the seed of chaos been sowed so deep into his soul?

“You’re wondering about the ogre, aren’t you?” The gravity of silence swept across the room. The wind outside began to pick up, whistling as it slipped through door jambs and broken windows. “An ogre will never stay in one place long, so you will know immediately where and what it is. No one needs Ki for that.” A twisted smirk bestowed upon his face. A horrible attempt at a joke he thought.

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"... He revels in anything that is deemed unnatural."

Evie winced a bit, drawing her dark brows down as she glanced askance at Keldorl.  She still hadn't decided if he meant it-- he dropped insults so casually, as if he were commenting on a cool breeze or a distant storm, and not her rightness as a person.  Was there a reason?  She wasn't sure, honestly. 'Evie' as a persona was a neutral nothing, no background, no strong opinions, nothing remarkable beyond the bits that Phoebe emphasized when it was to her benefit to do so. Yet, she seemed to inspire venom in the man, consciously or not.

Shaking it off, she exhaled a loud breath, one that slowed and pushed out her cheeks as frustration escaped her lips.  He went on; she ate, scooping hot oats from the bowl with curled fingers, and refocused as the Hunter began to discuss the dead.  She did her best not to react to that, but she wasn't that far removed from Tia and the feel of fangs tearing through her muscle.  Abruptly she shuddered as Keldorl laughed and moved to fix her face in humor, lips pulling upward in a broad smile, as she set the bowl down and rubbed the goosebumps from her arms.  

Fucking vampires.

When he opened his eyes, his laughter was fading like thunder on the horizon, and Evie was right there with him, normal, laughing, and quieting with him, mirroring the settling of emotions as he transitioned to explaining Ki while she shoved her remembrance of Tia and its monsters back to the unexamined shadows.  Her performance was masterful, all sparkling eyes and amusement, as empty as her bowl.

A swipe of her finger cleaned the last few grains out of the bowl before she tossed it aside the fire and stretched out her legs.  A bath would come next- at least as much as she could manage in this location- but for now, she imagined the scene Keldorl lay out for her.  Ki seemed similar to what she called auras, but he didn't seem to gain emotion from it - just uniqueness.

"You're wondering about the ogre, aren't you?"

She nodded, wide-eyed, and gestured for him to continue.  Of course, she was wondering about the ogre-- in a story with a child, a rabbit, and an /ogre/ one was always wondering about the ogre, if only for the sake of the rabbit and child.

 "An ogre will never stay in one place long, so you will know immediately where and what it is. No one needs Ki for that."

"I've been fortunate to not run into any literal ogres.  Plenty of metaphorical ones, but.."  She smirked; the metaphorical ones were a dime-a-dozen these days, easy enough to joke about and cast aside with the wave of a hand, which she did before going on.

"So.."  Evie squinted, wrinkling her nose in an exaggerated display of thought.  "You know a person by their Ki if you've seen the person before, and animals by their patterns again if you've seen them before, is that right?"

She leaned her upper body forward, gesturing idly with one hand as the thoughts built-up, then spilled from her mouth.  "Is someone's Ki always the same, or does it change with their moods?  What about as they get older?  Is it indicative of the kind of person they are or just that they're a person?  What about twins?"  Well, she was certainly full of questions, which she acknowledged with an awkward chuckle, adding.  "Sorry, I don't mean to bombard you with questions, but I've never heard of this- granted, I haven't heard of a lot of things.."

And while it was true that Evie hadn't heard of Ki, the statement that she hadn't heard of a lot might be the biggest lie she'd yet told Keldorl.

And then came the kicker.

"What does mine look like?"

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"You know a person by their Ki if you've seen the person before, and animals by their patterns again if you've seen them before, is that right?"

On one side of the trench was his self who trusted nothing, no one. Saw people for lying, deceitful miscreants who would stab whoever they could in the back to get a leg up on the competition. This self was the older, run down and haggard looking Keldorl. On the other side of the trench, the light emitted from the body, radiating joy and curiosity; this was the self who knew of friends, of love, and what the word optimism was. This self-gripped just as tightly as the one cast in shadows.

“I admit. As you’re aware from last night’s outbursts, I tend to avoid trusting anyone. Too many wrongs. Not enough rights.” Had life given him better options…

Her questions had given him his first insight in her curiosity. A smile crossed his face, whiter teeth than expected gleamed.

“I will explain a little. It’s not a science and I have learned the hard way, a toddler stumbling to walk.”

“Imagine a sky, dark with night. Hundreds of floating orbs in the air, each shinning differently. One may have a yellow tint while the next may glow less. Maybe one glows brightest out of them all.” His eyes peered upward as if seeing those globes of energy.

“Yours has this cloud I suppose. I see your light. It’s there. But.” His hand reached out touching the sphere that was not there. “A blanket of fog is around it. I suppose, that is the best way to describe what I sense from you.” Retracting his hand as the ball twinkled out, what was not there was no longer there.

“I’m unsure what that means truthfully. I don’t pretend to remember every Ki I’ve sensed just as a person can’t be expected to remember every face they’re met. Yours, it is perceived differently.”

Tranquility overtook him. The sound of nothingness washed over his present and hugged him gently.

“I also can’t tell you if it is indicative of who you are. An animal can sense fear, anger, or determination; I can use that Ki to try to sense but it’s always a jumble with the higher beings such as humans. Animals are simple. We, well, we are not.” He brought his head over to lock eyes with her. “All I can say is there seems to be some loneliness inside you. I can’t say how. Maybe your eyes. Maybe your energy.”

Without focusing on that subject, he slid his body onto the floor until his head was positioned on a makeshift pillow. A vague expression grew on his weathered face. For brief second, he looked as if he could be a model for a local adventurer’s guild. Closing his eyes, he spoke.

“You are an interesting person. It would sadden me if something were to befall you while we were together. I want to protect you even though you do not need it. As any friend would feel that same way, that is how I feel.”

“I’m going to rest. If you stab me, make sure it’s not in the back please.”  

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"Too many wrongs. Not enough rights."

Evie shook her head, sighing as a mild curl pulled her lips down.  In all her days, she'd never understood how people could be so passive-- always expecting life to give them things, to bless them, and keep them, and bestow upon them gifts just for existing, without having worked for it, or had to out-work someone else who wanted it just as much as they did.  

Keldorl engaged, though, and the spark that lit his eyes was young and inviting, and despite her better judgment, Evie found herself matching it as his explanation unfolded.  In time, he got to her perception of her, and the occasional fidgeting she did - retying her laces, scratching at the drying blood - settled.

"Yours has this cloud I suppose. I see your light. It's there. But.  A blanket of fog is around it. I suppose, that is the best way to describe what I sense from you. I'm unsure what that means truthfully. I don't pretend to remember every Ki I've sensed just as a person can't be expected to remember every face they're met. Yours, it is perceived differently.

I also can't tell you if it is indicative of who you are. An animal can sense fear, anger, or determination; I can use that Ki to try to sense but it's always a jumble with the higher beings such as humans. Animals are simple. We, well, we are not."

He brought his head over to lock eyes with her. "All I can say is there seems to be some loneliness inside you. I can't say how. Maybe your eyes. Maybe your energy."

She held his gaze for a moment, her light eyes failing to match his spark as she drew her legs up and rested her arms on their knobby peaks.  Evie let her head fall forward to the shadow she made and sighed. "I miss my family," she said from within the hollow, and it was true.  For a moment, her lids drifted closed, and she could sense Aristotle in the way-off, so far away that he was just a pulse and a sense with no emotion attached, but her daughter was stronger, truer, and its steadiness only made her feel more alone.  

At least Keldorl couldn't see James, though - that had been the concern, that the PRIME was visible in her aura and she'd go traipsing through Nu Martyr having absorbed their god and all of these confounding Ki users would be able to see it.  

It was a small win, but she would take it.

"You are an interesting person. It would sadden me if something were to befall you while we were together. I want to protect you even though you do not need it. As any friend would feel that same way, that is how I feel.

I'm going to rest. If you stab me, make sure it's not in the back please."

She hugged her legs and glanced up at Keldorl, unable to help from laughing softly -- what kind of person called you a friend in one breath and followed by asking you not to stab them?  

The man was such an enigma.

"I'd have to roll you over," Evie pointed out, continuing, "but I won't stab you in the back or the front if you don't spy on me," she teased, pressing to her feet as she snatched up a pot and turned her shoulders toward the exit.  "The chance to wash is calling me.  Can you make sure the fire stays up?  It's not chilly yet, but it will be, and the gods know it's impossible to fight anything in cold, wet clothes."

Truer words were rarely spoken.

She exited out through the abandoned stone guild to the small yard out back where Keldorl had summoned water from nothing - which, she noted, was a goddamn useful skill.  There she filled the pot and stripped bare, throwing her clothes into the pot to soak as she squatted by the well, cupping water in her hands and using it to scrub the day's death from her skin.  She'd been lucky, all told- four dead, no wounds, it wasn't a half-bad day.  None dead would have been neater, but at least she'd cleaned up the loose ends and wouldn't need to worry about running into the groom or the chef at a later point.

Another handful brought the clear water up to her shoulders, where it remained pure for only a moment before it ran red down her arms, to her fingertips, and dripped on the ground.

She inverted the pot, rinsed her clothes, and lay them out- then made use of it to wash her hair while musing over the Hunter's abilities and their strangeness.  Phoebe was a lot of things, but not a mage- she stumbled through remedial blood magic and could write several dozen runes at this point in her life, but it was like a child who had memorized sentences in a foreign language.  She could her task done, but understanding the how, or creatively applying her skills to another task?  

That was still far, far beyond her.

How did Ki work?  

It seemed old, more related to life-force than intention, and so differed quite a bit from how she perceived people.  Similarly, individuals carried a fingerprint in their aura - Keldorl would (mostly) always look like himself, without interference, but the atop the foundation of himself was his intention, his emotion, which in the man's case most of the time looked like a whirl of thorns and brambles that she couldn't see past.  He was angry; she knew that.  Mistrusting, deeply suspicious and bordering on paranoid, and at loggerheads with himself constantly.  As she lay out on the grass, to dry alongside her clothes, she thought that it must be the most tiring thing in the world to continually be at odds with yourself-- always fighting, always concerned about something's rightness, or wrongness, and its impact on 'your path', whatever that was.

Silly.

She wrung her hair out, then vigorously scrubbed at her scalp before scooting to the side and sitting in a dry area of grass.  As if to spite the morning's violence, or perhaps to highlight how little nature cared about the goings-ons of people, the day was beautiful; the sun was high and the sky clear and as she settled back on her palms the songbirds picked up a noon-time ditty and twittered it out into the air.

Her sprite fluttered down from somewhere unseen, its delicate claws settled onto her knee with tiny pinpricks of pressure.

"I want to take a nap.."

The sprite stared at her, blinking its big, too-blue eyes.

"Just a short one, plus I have to dry off.  It's a win-win."

It blinked again; she sighed.

"Will you wake me if anything comes close?"

It gave a tiny nod and fluttered upward, cooing as it settled against her neck and she lay back, hands behind her head, stretched out to nap in the sun.

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Without saying a word, he toppled over to his side and snatched up some broken wood. Sparks flew as the flung wood found the fireplace. Flames danced to the rhythm of the crackling embers. The day was young, but his energy felt sapped from these lands. A constant drain like a succubus pulling out the life. Even now, he was training. There were expectations of this when he took the mission. It had been some time since he could test his resolve and the lands were proving to be a wonderful teacher.

Back on the makeshift bedding, darkness took controlled over his mental state. A distant memory floated to the surface; a violent storm cascaded on the ship, torrential downpour making visibility impossible. The yelling of the crew trying to reduce the sail. The maelstrom had gripped a hold without anyone knowing. After that – darkness – Keldorl’s eyes opened to a dying fire. A few pieces of bark brought the heat back.   

Roaming around the room, his eyes drifted to her belongings but shifted away just as quickly. Of all the contradictions he was, he would never stoop to espionage or deceitful tactics. Curiosity could not get the best of him.

Finding his new attire in his bag, he changed into the form fitting gear he was accustomed to. The dark green long-sleeved shirt felt brand new along side the darker gray pants and that color-changing cloak. He snickered. There was no argument that he went for fashion. Only function. The boots he removed from the dead soldier would manage for the remainder of the trip. He never thought to carry extra boots. You never thought you’d have a peculiar horse try to rob you of life either.

 The sun had moved over the noon position and was making its way to kiss the horizon. Pulling out the leather journal tucked into his back pocket, he strummed through the pages. The same pages he had seen dozens of times. No closer to understanding the data on the yellow paper. He gave an irritable growl at the book before it got stowed away in his pocket.

Finding Evie asleep out back gave him some reassurance that the naps went without any alarms. Cloudy, radiating light flickered around her until Keldorl pushed that out of his mind. Her existence bewildered him but there was no need to dwell on it.

“Sleeping Queen, I believe we should be rested by now.” The deep voice consistently wanted to growl when he spoke. “The woods around the city are quiet. We should be able to wander freely this evening.”

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From its nest, burrowed in Evie's dark hair, the sprite softly snored.

"Sleeping Q--"

And then it was all motion-- the sprite shot up like a blue rocket; Evie's eyes snapped open, and there was a sudden pressure around Keldorl, like the air itself had taken him in into its boulder-sized fist and begun to squeeze, exerting a fast-growing and undeniable force that constricted every inch of his body, from the angles of his ankle to the broad swath of his forehead.  It wasn't hard to imagine being reduced to gore and paste in just a few moments, but then as fast as it had settled on him it was gone, and Evie had focused briefly on his face before casting a glare at the sprite fluttering overhead.

Nude, she sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

"--ueen, I believe we should be rested by now.  The woods around the city are quiet. We should be able to wander freely this evening."

"I thought we agreed in exchange for no stabbing that there would be no spying?" wondered the woman as she turned, lightly plucking her undergarments from where they had been lain out to dry on the grass.  As she pulled them on, over her long legs, Keldorl had his view of her-- we could wax philosophical about her physical gifts, and she was a remarkable woman who clearly spent time maintaining her physical attributes, but the most curious thing about her was perhaps how untouched she was: she had no scars, no marks, no moles or any identifiable trait beyond a series of tattooed vines, and leaves, and some foreign symbols which ran from the rounded mounds of her shoulders down to the middle of her sinewy forearms, visible as she stood and pulled on her last pieces of now-clean(ish), and dry(ish), clothing.

"What about the trees?" Evie suddenly wondered, then went on to explain as she grabbed her boot from the forest floor, "Any chance that they know the locksmith and saw him that day?"  She paused, the back of her boot pinched as she stood evenly on one foot, statuesque, and pulled the worn leather up and over her heel. 

"We should find his house; maybe there are answers there.  Unless you have a different idea.."

Edited by Noko

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The feeling was, Shocking. The pressure was immense, sand piling from on top as well as the sides, building a catacomb from which no mortal could unearth. As his body was released, he smiled and gave a chuckle. “I had no intention of spying but…” He turned away from her body, “I also wasn’t expecting a naked body to be sunbathing either.”

“No matter. It’s not the first time I’ve seen the skin of another but, I promise I will avoid remembering this moment,” another slight chuckle as his exterior shell broke away to the younger soul.

As soon as the sound of her clothes ceased, he turned back around. “I only meant to get some scouting done this evening before the moon wakes.” The sounds of his neck cracked as he moved it side to side and straightened up from the pressure that had wrapped around his body. “My, your magic grips like a giant’s hand. Once this is done with, we should have ourselves a bout!” Blazing eyes lighted up his face. “I love a formidable rival and nothings better than a spar with…” As the blaze died down, his voice dropped back to the grizzled person Evie had met, “Ah, never mind. Yes, about the trees.”

“Since I’m unaware of who this person is or looks like, I do not have a clear imagine to present to them. My little sprite said she has found a few buildings North of here that look promising.” There was little to imagine where a locksmith would be but a warehouse or a smithy would fit the description. “The place she showed me has the looks of a person who dabbles in that sort of field.”

“But, the area is scattered with those flowers so masks will be essential. Once you’re prepared, I’d like to journey out and follow the sprites.”

With a spring in his step, he moved toward the interior. “Once ready, meet me out front in the street.”


Once his spear and a small satchel was grabbed, Keldorl waited outside in the street with mask hanging on his hip, the color-shifting cloak mirroring the buildings around him as his body blended in. Warily he smelled the air. Yes, all things were quiet but, the trees were rustling. An odd presence had made its way into the outlining forest again. Without talking to Banyan, the tree spirit, there was little else he could do for information. The man was no sage. Only through Banyan could he communicate with the lesser spirits. Something Evie didn’t need to know. Only the sprites could pass information to him. Better she thinks he can control the lesser spirits. And even then, Banyan was the only tree spirit who allowed Keldorl to summon him. The other forest spirits thought ill of the man. His existence was toxic to them. The atrocities he had committed with their help would forever haunt him.

He growled and spat into the dirt. Damn Gods and Goddesses. Damn those spirits and their black and white morals.

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"No matter. It's not the first time I've seen the skin of another but, I promise I will avoid remembering this moment," The man chuckled, his younger soul breaking through.

The younger soul was appealing, friendly, almost approachable, and Evie laughed, unabashed and unashamed in her nakedness even as he turned away.  In another time, in another place... maybe, if he stripped his cloaking paranoia and she, her infinite deception, they could be friends.   

But, one might as well wish for a black sun.

He went on, she got dressed.

"...we should have ourselves a bout!"

A smile graced her lips, small and almost patronizing (surely, he imagined it) before she shook her head, then laughed lightly. "I don't fight for fun, plus I'm sure with you being a trained Knight you would roll right over me."

That would have been easier to believe if he hadn't just experienced that overwhelming pressure.

Maybe that hadn't been her?

She scrambled to her feet in his wake, combing her fingers through her still damp hair as the sprite flew quickly alongside, hovering by her ear and tugging at her lobe in a way that seemed pleading.  In her thoughts, they conversed in pictures-- tiny blue hands lifting a flower, and Evie's storm clouds rolling in.  A field of daisies, a fog swept horizon.

A puppy playing in a field.

Cheater.

She narrowed her eyes, catching the sprite's wide, apologetic expression and sighed as the hint of a smile picked up her lips.  "Fine," she said simply, "You're forgiven, but no more guard duty for you."

The sprite darted back and forth and eventually settled atop Evie's head, nestled in her damp locks with a smile so broad that it caught the sun before the woman crossed out of the light and into the darkened guild hall to retrieve her belongings.  She snatched her pack, slung it over her shoulder, and summoned the Mindgorger to her palm-- its heft familiar, and calming, as she slipped its wicked length through the straps of her pack like its eternal wrath was leashed to no more than a beggar's walking stick.

Exiting to the street, she found Keldorl once again.

The air smelled fine, but the Hunter's aura was troubled.  She slowed, glancing around at the tree tops.  "Is the manticore back?" she wondered, as the blue sprite atop her head grabbed two thick locks of her hair and tumbled forward, hanging as it stared into her light eyes.  It showed her clear skies, and she breathed a soft hmm as it flew off.

"You're a chaotic man, you know that?  I leave you for two minutes and your mood just goes to shit-- is this your way of saying you want to spend more time together?" she teased, "I mean, it's fine with me-- but one day you're going to need to explain what the world did to make you so upset and why you haven't balanced your scales and been done with it.

Now, which way to those buildings?"

Edited by Noko

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