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[Other FULL] Wishes Divine [M][IC]

  • 25,595
    Posts
    12
    Years

    Chapter Three - Goblin's Call

    Two cloaked figures stood on the cliffside, looking down over Demeste as the sun slowly began to set over the town. A lot of the immediate violence had died down in the hours following the explosion of the Gem Star. It seemed that, in the grand scheme of things, not that many had actually landed inside the city itself. Although, here and there, there were signs of impacts from the heavens, most of the damage to Demeste had been done by the Warlocks that had gathered there.

    Even then, roughly a day after the Gem Star had arrived and split, there was still conflict within the city. The majority of the warlocks had filtered out into the surrounding mountains or wilderness, but a handful remained inside the city fighting over presumed Stars or taking the chance to air out their frustrations against each other or settle old grievances. That kind of folly was irritating to the point of being sickening to Cato Favian.

    "It seems as though all those worth contacting in the city have been contacted," he said to the figure standing next to him. "I'll make sure the others know."

    The second figure heard the sliding of metal and a familiar wet sound as the one that had been speaking to him dissolved into a cloud of dark smoke.



    Miles away, in the small and shabby town of Wildfold Watch, a third cloaked figure was walking up the main street. The town was quite empty, of course, the perfect location for his gathering. The time was getting nearer.

    "I see," he said aloud, although nobody was present to speak to him, nor hear the response.

    All as planned, child. Our patience will be rewarded.


    Info
    In this chapter, you will all encounter Cato Favian, the man who calls himself Goblin. As he did with Cebres, he will invite you to a gathering of warlocks in the town of Wildfold Watch to discuss the Gem Star situation.

    It is not mandatory to agree to the meeting, although you may have a slightly harder time integrating yourself into the main plot of Wishes if you don't attend. I'll make sure to be around to help you figure stuff out if you choose to abstain, but it's something to keep in mind. Once everyone intending to participate is present in the town, there will be a group JP for the meeting itself.

    Wildfold Watch: Wildfold Watch is a small, dusty and shabby-looking place located about 5-7 days foot travel outside of Demeste. Located in Ashela's barren wilderness, it is the furthest out of the Demeste Protectorate and marks its end and the end of the city's influence and power.

    As an outpost town, it has always been a small place with not much of a permanent population. Its only real purpose is to serve as a rest stop and a link between the Demeste Protectorate and the continent. However, you will find the place empty and abandoned.

     

    Sonata

    Don't let me disappear
  • 13,642
    Posts
    11
    Years


    Valencia Strago
    19 // Warlock
    She Who Bears Sin
    Wishes Divine [M][IC]














    "What a fucking mess." Valencia climbed out of the wreckage of the ship that she'd collided with the docks of Demeste. "Not like there was any better option though. I'm not exactly captain material."

    'You could have swam.'

    "No thanks. I've spent enough time out there seeing what's going on now that the guardian's dead. I'd really rather not choose to get in the water."

    "Hey! You can't just wreck a ship into our dock and then waltz on off like nothing even happened!" The man rushed around to stand in front of her. He was a stocky little man, stood only a few inches shorter than Valencia and was at least double her size even with armor on.

    "So? What do you want me to do about it?" She waved her hand as she spoke and peered into the man's soul. It wasn't terrible. A few acts of petty theft. A few lies here and there. A bribery. Nothing to waste her time on when there were still fragments to collect.

    "So? What do you mean so? You've got to either pay for the reconstruction or help to rebuild yourself! The fuck's the matter with you? Just because you're beautiful and a knight you think you can do whatever you-"

    Valencia pulled her sword and quickly pressed it against the man's throat. "No, it's not because I'm a knight or because I'm attractive. It's because I'm a warlock and I have better places to be."

    "Leave him be, Warlock."

    The voice came from a man behind Valencia, she quickly unsheathed her other blade and spun around to face him, waving the blade upwards to create the pact as she brought it level to his face.

    "No need for hostilities, I'm here to talk to you. Warlock to warlock."

    It was true. She could see the shadow of a patron within his soul, but couldn't make out its identity.

    "You may look into my soul, if you wish. We are… similar. You can see me more clearly than I see myself, anyways. So that'll make this whole introduction that much quicker."

    Valencia nodded, dropping her sword from the dockworker's throat and pointing both blades at the man in front of her before peering into his soul. "Cato Favian. The Goblin. You've… murdered entire towns, whole settlements of people wiped from the face of the earth. Yet you also have moments of sincere goodness. Freeing slaves, offering food and wealth to those that have not. Birthing children from the wombs of the recently deceased. Yours has not been an easy life, but for me to judge another warlock would mean your death. Do you still want to be freed from the burden of your sins?"

    The man shook his head. "No, no. That's not what I'm here for at all. My sins are mine to bear, not yours."

    "Then there's nothing to discuss. I've got other places to be and I can't risk you having a partner laying in wait to ambush me. I'm not going to take any risks when there's still shards to collect."

    "Aren't you interested in my invitation?"

    Valencia shook her head and sheathed her weapons. "Given what it took for you to free up that space, not exactly."

    "So you're not interested in the shards that will be collected there then?"

    'Judging that many warlocks at once would be well within your current powers now that you possess a shard yourself. The only matter is whether or not any of them are as capable in combat as you, my child. Why not hear him out, and when you arrive you can pass judgement on them all and collect their shards in one fell swoop?'

    Valencia sighed and dropped her shoulders. "Fine, go ahead and give your little speech."

    The man smiled, revealing a mouthful of damaged and unnaturally jagged teeth. "I propose A gathering of warlocks. Rather than kill each other mindlessly over hunting for numerous tiny pieces of Star, my thought is to gather a group of us together and decide communally what to do about this situation. Of course, given your abilities you may very well turn on us all and find yourself in possession of a large number of shards, but that's not any of my concern. At least I'll have made the attempt to handle this matter… civilly."

    'Even if he were to turn on you, with the weight of his sins it's unlikely he'd be able to defeat you. If you could take out the weakest among them and obtain their shards, your powers would grow even further.'

    "I know," she hissed under her breath. "What you propose isn't a bad idea. After all, they'll all need to be judged eventually anyways. Whether it's now, later, or once you've decided to put the completed gem star in my possession. We will all be judged when the time comes."

    "Oh, scary. And pray tell, who passes the judgement on the judge when all is said done?"

    Valencia shook her head. "It's certainly nothing to concern yourself with. Now, when are you hosting this little family get-together?"

    "Five days time. I assume you already know the location. You should have no trouble making it."

    "And what if I just decide to follow you and pass my judgement on the other souls you collect along the way?"

    The man shrugged. "None of my concern. As you've said, you're going to do it anyways. Who am I to stop you? I just ask once you enter the town, you give it a chance to be handled in a civil manner before you draw your weapons."

    Valencia looked the man up and down, still flipping through the sins etched onto his soul like the pages of a book. "Very well. I will restrain myself for the time being. Collect your offerings. I'll be there waiting for you to screw the pooch."

    The man smiled and bowed. "Do as you will. I look forward to seeing you there."

    Valencia watched as the man disappeared into an alley and then turned on her heels, still feeling the presence of the dock worker behind her. "And? What else have you to say, gremlin?"

    The stout man puffed up his chest and tried his best to look taller, despite the obvious fear and worry painted on his face. "I- I still have to ask you to fix the dock, warlock or not!"

    Valencia rolled her eyes with a sigh and grabbed the man by the collar of his shirt. "Begone, fool. We're in no court and I've no time to listen to your balls jingle." She dropped the dock worker into the sea before walking away.

    "No, no! Please! I'll aghghf-" the man's voice was cut short as a clawed, and webbed hand reached out of the water and wrapped around his face before pulling the worker under, never to be heard from again.

     

    Songbird

    Tonight, the marigolds bloom for her.
  • 554
    Posts
    10
    Years
    • Seen Apr 11, 2024
    Edir was strangely absent today. Eve knew that if prompted, they would answer; yet their attention was elsewhere for longer than she'd gotten used to over the last months. From the time she woke up this morning to her dinner in the early evening, she had been left to her own devices.

    In that time, the feline managed to secure a small bundle of Star fragments from a warlock on his deathbed, in the aftermath of a battle in the wastes. The one who killed him was exceedingly displeased with her purloining their hard-earned prize, but that was their problem.

    It was no comparison to the paw-sized chunk she retrieved on the first night, of course. On the other hand, the city was devastated, and it was only getting worse anywhere the Gem Star reached. Living warlocks (and people) were already sparse, and finding one susceptible to parting with their loot was easier said than done for a non-combatant like Eve.

    Having spent the time to calm herself after the fact, and conceal the addition to her collection, she felt that it was too early to sleep quite yet. So she began to wander in search of something fun.

    Perhaps Edir had been a bad influence on her. She knew that she was unlikely to acquire more shards any time soon. She had enough food stocked up in her storage space to last her a month of unchecked gluttony. She wasn't entirely sure just what she was going to look for. Only that it had to be interesting.

    Eventually, when the sun was partway beyond the horizon and dyed the sky in a soft red glow, she came across something that fit the bill: a familiar face in a nameless, run down village some kilometers out from Demeste proper. Eve hadn't truly met many people in the region, and that only made the ones she recognized stand out to her—especially one with hair blue like ice.

    She spotted the woman from above, sitting on the roof of one of the village's homes. She looked to be heading to the locale's small tavern, still serving as one of the few forms of entertainment available, and an escape from reality for those who needed it.

    Before she could reach the door, however, the woman was approached by a diminutive man in a cloak. Eve wasn't sure how tall he was, but he was easily the shorter of the two, and even from what she could see from the rooftops he looked like he'd been positively mangled throughout his life, covered in scars.

    The woman regardless spared him no mercy for getting in her way. Seemingly on reflex, she slipped her bow into her hands and fired an arrow of ice—a warning shot—at the man's feet. He dove back behind the building he walked out from, immediately pleading for mercy.

    "Hold on! I come in peace! Look, here's my sword! Dropping it!" He pulled a shortsword from his hip, including its well-used leather sheath, and let it hit the ground. "That's my only weapon. I'm unarmed now. So, please, could you put the bow away? Let's talk for a minute!"

    An uncomfortable moment later, the ice-wielding woman lowered her bow and demanded, "Speak."

    "Oh thank goodness," the man sighed, revealing himself once more. He brushed the dirt off his cloak, then continued. "You don't seem the type for unnecessary pleasantries, so I'll just cut to the chase. I'm inviting warlocks to a gathering, to work toward a common goal of unifying the Gem Star."

    "And what exactly is the point in that?" She sounded irritated, although Eve guessed it was more about her stop for a drink being delayed than the invitation itself.

    "Because decimating the country or more over a thousand tiny pieces would be a hollow victory for whoever's left standing, in my mind."

    His reasoning made sense, at least to the observer on the roof. The question was whether or not the people he recruited were capable of cooperating. As if reading her mind, or (far more likely) because he'd already been through this song and dance a few times, he added, "Now, I understand you're skeptical, given you attacked me on sight yourself. It's just something I'm trying to make happen despite the odds being stacked against me. What self-respecting warlock wouldn't pursue their ideals?"

    "Y͢o̵͜͏u'͡r̸̢͘e ̵͠be̸̢i̡͡͏ń̶͞g ͜͜͡wa͢t͟͞c͝h́e҉d͘.͠"

    Hm...? Eve blinked. That voice...

    It was faded, and crackled like wood chips in a campfire, the words difficult to discern. Still, she remembered the mature yet cold tone behind it. She heard it briefly the day before, while she was being treated like a pet; and just the same as last time, there was no physical presence to attach to it.

    Is this maybe the voice of her patron? Then, why can I hear it?

    If Edir were listening, they likely would have answered, "Because you can." They were no help in understanding the intricacies of their powers. Eve gave up on finding answers to such questions long ago due to that, and her attention soon returned to the conversation at hand.

    "All I ask is that you consider my offer. I'll be holding the gathering soon, in a town called Wildfold Watch. It's a few days from here by foot."

    The woman returned her bow to her back. "I'll think about it."

    "Thank you very much. And apologies for interrupting you." Without so much as mentioning his name or asking for hers, he walked off opposite the direction he appeared, leaving the woman alone in the street.

    Once the man was finally out of sight, she turned to face Eve. "Did you follow me here?" she muttered, looking up at her on the roof. Eve tilted her head quizzically in response.

    "Maybe not."

    "B̷̶͠aç͢͜k ́͞in͏ m̕҉ý... t͟re̢͞ss̸̛ỳ̀́m̨̨s͞ ̵͠w̷̸͡èr̶e... ̷̕͞u͡nd̡e͞rst̛an͘d ̡l̢ąng͡uage̛.͘ P͠er̴ha̴p̸s̛..."

    Eve wondered if getting closer would allow her to understand the woman's patron better. The sheer murderous aura she had been exuding had already completely faded, but it still made her hesitant. Leaving the choice of approaching to the human, the feline hopped down from the lowest point of the roof, using her wings to soften her landing, and sat down on the dirt.

    "Just for a moment…" the woman sighed, almost in the form of a question.

    "F̢ì̵̕r̛͝s̸t̛ ̷͟y҉̸o̸u҉̕r̵̢҉ p̧ò͘į̷͟n̵̷͟t͏l̵̨͡ę̷ss̴ ̛a͜͏l̷c̡o͝h̴̶̴o͞l͠..̷́͘.̀̕ f̴͠il͏̛t̸hy̵ ̶̡͟c̷͘r̀ea̷̴͞t͘͡ur̸̕e͏̵ ͘͜aģá͘iǹ?̶̛ H҉ave yo̵u͢ f̡orgo͠t... ̧doi͟n͘g,҉ ̡hum̸a̧n̷?̕"

    She paused. "I know, I haven't forgotten… Just let me have one moment?"

    "... I ̢͘͝r͝҉eal̸ly ̶d̷̨͝o̵̴҉n̢'͟͏t̵ kn͝o̧w͠ ͞w҉h̷y ̰̦̪I̢̖̰̙̠̫̺..̀.̵ Yơu are̢ ́t̡ès̸tìng ̴m͝y ͞pa͟t͞i̢e̸ņc͏e̕...!"

    As Eve expected, further exposure slowly allowed her to decipher more, and the higher power's voice grew clearer. At the high point of her anger, the human clutched her chest in pain, legs unsteady underneath, which made Eve take a step back.

    "They're, they're not going anywhere... Given time, m-more fragments... will be in, ngh, one place..."

    After a little more of her writhing, her patron apparently contemplating the information given, the human's pain subsided and her balance returned. Something of smirk tugged at the edges of her lips, indicating that if nothing else she came out on top in this discussion.

    The blue-haired woman moved nearer to the winged feline, and crouched down as close to her level as she could, holding out a hand palm down to her. "Come over here... I mean no harm."

    Eve gave it some consideration, then closed the gap between herself and the human. She nudged her head against the woman's fingers, allowing herself to be pet for a little while. She wasn't sure why, but there was something relaxing about the way the woman delicately rubbed her fur. Her fingers felt cold to the touch, and she assumed it was related to the power over ice she was given.

    "You don't have an owner, do you?" the woman asked. "If we're gonna keep meeting like this, how about you stick with me?"

    Excuse me?

    "Ex̛c͏u͞sè me͡?!"

    The argument that ensued between the woman and higher power was no more than a minute at most. However, it lasted long enough that the latter's voice was no longer distorted by noise to Eve's ears, and enough that she learned to tune out said voice on demand. Being late in the evening, it didn't cause a scene to any of the villagers in their homes either... not that they would have done anything.

    Thinking about it, this was exactly the kind of thing Eve spent her solitary afternoon looking for. So to cut off their conversation, she bumped her head against the woman's hand once more, then meowed in the affirmative.

    "Hm? Is that a yes?"

    She meowed again, eliciting an audible, drawn-out sigh of exasperation from the patron.

    "Fine. I give up. Do whatever you want."

    "Good having you, cat." As she stood the woman gave her name, Talia. Although, she didn't expect Eve to write hers down in response—the shortened version, at least—in the dirt with one of her claws. "Smart one, huh? Alright, Eve, let's go. Got a stiff drink waiting for me. See if we can't get you something too."

    Following up with another meow, Talia finally resumed her walk to the village tavern, her new traveling companion trotting alongside her.
     
  • 25,595
    Posts
    12
    Years
    Cebres Payne

    Cebres sat down to catch his breath, two more tiny fragments of Gem Star shimmering in his hand. Both were a fair bit smaller than the ones he'd already gathered, and none of those were exactly large either. He supposed it was a good thing that they were though, since he'd been ambushed by the Warlocks previously in possession of them.

    They had erupted out from the ground, attacking him with mutated, clawed limbs and fangs. At first he'd thought they'd been beasts, but the reality had been that they were a man and woman who shared a patron. That became evident when they started to mutate further and brought out their fragments. Cebres had been forced to use his own Star pieces to defeat them and had been very close to violating his principas and summoning undead minions to defend him.

    He could still see particles of ash in the breeze, the remnants of a battle quickly fought. In his head, he heard a rumbling of contentment from Szazoch. It seemed the Higher Power's prior irritation had at least partially abated with two more fragments in his possession.

    He closed his eyes and laid back on the uncomfortable barren earth. He felt the exhaustion washing over him in ever heavier waves. Feeling the power of the Gem Stars running through you as a conduit was an incredible sensation, it was invigorating, but when the battle was over, you were still just a mortal borrowing power from a patron and a stone.

    Cebres supposed there were probably Warlocks out there who had abilities that could offset how tiring hard treks and ceaseless fighting was, it didn't exactly seem far fetched when he could drain someone else's life to heal his wounds and extend his own. It was just unfortunate that it did little for his vigor in the long run. At that moment, he felt a strong temptation to just fall asleep there on the ground in the middle of nowhere.

    "That's where I'm at right now, and this Goblin man wants to get a group of warlocks together for some sort of conference and negotiations? There's no way this doesn't end in a bloodbath." That wasn't necessarily a bad thing though. Cebres wasn't exactly sentimental, and he was a practical man, but he wasn't the sort to go looking for unnecessary violence. If the meeting was destined to be a disaster though, that was one more reason he wouldn't have to feel bad about killing the other warlocks and taking their Gem Star fragments. There was too much at stake to have moral compunctions. Thousands of lives were being lost to a plague in his homeland.

    Aware of Szazoch's patience starting to grow thin, Cebres forced his tired body to its feet and continued trudging towards Wildfold Watch. He would have to rest eventually, he was still nearly a day out of the town from what he could tell. For the time being though, he would continue his travels.



    Wildfold watch was tiny indeed, you could walk from one end to the other in only fifteen minutes or so - probably less. It was shabby too, many of the buildings were old and worn and there was notable damage to most of the buildings - broken windows, hacked up wood, missing doors, burn marks. There had been fighting in the town already it seemed.

    That would make sense give how conspicuously empty Wildfold Watch was. On any given day, even in a town as small as that one, you'd expect to see villagers walking about as they went about their business. Instead, Cebres had seen only a handful of individuals skulking around the town - most of them armed.

    Miiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. All miiiiiiiinnneeeee!

    Szazoch's growling in the back of Cebres' head was enough to tell him that these were almost certainly other warlocks, gathered there for Goblin's meeting - probably with the same expectations as Cebres himself. Not that he needed an extraplanar being screaming in his head to work that out, after all, the place had been designated a meeting spot for Warlocks by Goblin when Cebres had been invited there.

    It seemed likely that many, maybe even all, of the assembled individuals possessed Gem Star fragments. Cebres could feel the intensity of Szazoch's greed and longing in his words. What was more though, there was a strange feeling hanging over the town. It was eerie, but also strangely vibrant, as though a low buzz was emanating from the town. Cebres wondered if that was the feeling created by the raw magical power of having so much of the Gem Star in one place. He couldn't help but imagine what it would feel like when he had the whole thing and put it to work. That kind of power running through you was almost impossible to really picture.

    "You here looking for a fight?"

    The woman's voice shook Cebres from his contemplations, neither he nor Szazoch seemed to have detected this woman and that was very alarming. Cebres cautiously turned to the source of the voice, finding it came from an alleyway to his left.

    The woman in question was average height, maybe a little taller. She had lightly tanned skin, long black hair and razor sharp features - she had the sort of appearance that implied she would be very pretty if she lived an easier life. Instead, she looked threatening and worn. The pile of bodies behind her in the alleyway probably didn't help with that perception though.

    "Not right now," Cebres answered. He was unsure if her skill set included a way to tell if he was lying, so he settled on an answer that was truthful but obtuse. At that very moment, he wasn't looking for a fight. That would come later, after he heard Goblin speak and saw what came next. He'd let the other warlocks take each other out first… and hope this woman was one of the ones who died. She was concerning. "Where's Goblin?"

    The woman indicated a run down tavern at the end of the town. "In there with a handful of other warlocks. Don't try anything funny."

    Cebres nodded and made his way towards the building.

     
  • 865
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    13
    Years
    • Age 38
    • Seen Feb 24, 2024
    Talia and Eve
    To Wildfold Watch - "Partner"



    After a couple of hours in the tavern, Talia and her new feline friend set out from the village and trekked through the night. The latter voiced no complaint about this plan, and diligently kept pace with Talia for most of the next day. She only left Talia's side twice—once in the morning and early afternoon, presumably getting herself something to eat—but regrouped in a matter of minutes, which Talia found reassuring.

    Upon her second disappearing act, in a small yet still active town they were passing through, the cat had brought back a skewer of cooked meat, not realizing that Talia didn't need food. She accepted it regardless, if only to humor her companion.

    However, that evening she wanted to let Eve get some rest. Due to her patron's influence, rest was another thing Talia herself didn't require. Much to her surprise, Mifuyu approved of the idea, leaving Talia to set up a makeshift camp for two; the night air brought with it a refreshing chill on the wind, which may have had something to do with Mifuyu's attitude.

    "Just how shameless can this creature get?" Mifuyu asked herself not much later.

    Not long after Talia started a fire to let the cat stay warm, she defenselessly sat down against Talia's leg and curled up to sleep. It was like she didn't want Talia to leave her alone. Talia watched over her during the night, and she woke before sunrise—before Mifuyu grew tired of waiting—to cool fingers gently stroking her fur.

    Two more days passed in a similar fashion. Both human habitation and encounters with humans alike were few and far between in the wastes, but Talia managed to find some time for alcohol on the way. Eve didn't seem to be a fan of the bitter kick, shuddering vigorously and backing away after being offered some from Talia's hand. Talia wasn't one to complain about the flavor as long as it was strong.

    Half a day's travel from Wildfold Watch, she knew they were closing in on their destination when they happened upon a firefight at the edge of a derelict village. They spotted the fray well after it had already begun, but it was easy enough to guess that because they weren't yet in neutral territory any provocation was liable to turn into a battle. Naturally, Talia thought the same, and decided to take advantage of the situation to appease Mifuyu's drive for more of the Star. There was no telling when she would get another chance.

    She pulled her hood over her head, as little good as that did under the midday sun, and erased her presence while she took cover near the combat site to ready her bow. Eve seemed adept at making herself scarce, as well, as she even escaped Talia's notice when she wanted. Their efforts were useful, but not entirely necessary with the fighters fully engrossed in the battle at hand.

    Calling it a firefight was quite literal, one of the warlocks involved wielding it with abandon. The fires he set weren't left to burn, though, being promptly doused by the control over water one of his opponents used. At the same time, any direct attacks from the latter were quickly rendered a harmless cloud of steam. Perhaps the two were simply meant to hate each other.

    Another pair were participating, ultimately making it two one-on-one fights with occasional collateral damage. The third swung what appeared to be a wrecking ball on a chain, and moved with all the grace of one as he demolished the village outskirts. The final combatant had agility in spades and weapons of solid light, but her opponent's recklessness made closing the distance more difficult than it should have been.

    "Whoever that bastard is," Talia muttered under her breath, "he sure gets around."

    She suspected they were all contacted by the same man who met with her. So many warlocks being drawn to the same location couldn't have been a coincidence or by the instruction of the higher powers they associated with.

    "Three of them possess a piece of my Star."

    The light user was the first to give, a few minutes after Talia and Eve started spectating. Splintered wood and broken stone flying all about eventually took their toll, and one slip-up was enough to finally meet the business end of the torso-sized flail.

    Not bothering to loot her fragment, the brute who took her out didn't waste a breath turning around to run off and disrupt the magic-oriented warlocks' duel. Talia changed position to keep up, and Eve followed right behind.

    That disruption was exactly what was needed to break the warlocks' stalemate, but it resulted in the brute being burned alive when he attacked the fire wielder and refused to let go of his flail. Whips of water wrapped around his legs, keeping him in place as flames trailed up the chain. His hands melted into the metal, and the rest of his body combusted within a few seconds.

    With the warlock of fire having lost his concentration, his first opponent capitalized on the chance to make an attack that would connect. The wrecking ball musclehead was left to his fate, but through all his screaming and swinging he also landed a decisive blow on the fire mage before he died.

    At the end of the chaos stood only one ragged warlock with much of his body charred or cut up. He must have known of Talia's presence, but he summoned a bucket's worth of water to cool himself down. It appeared to have some degree of healing properties too, because many of his wounds slowly closed on contact.

    Opportunist that she was, Talia nocked an arrow as soon as the water mage gave himself a moment of respite and let loose. It struck firmly into the warlock's chest from behind, flash-freezing his heart and lungs. The water on his body did the rest for her.

    Then, for good measure, she did the same for the brute and fire warlock before moving in to check the corpses.

    "There you are..." Rummaging through the water warlock's singed coat, she pulled a fragment of a glowing red gem. Eve ran off at the sight of it, surprising Talia. "Hey!" she called, pocketing the shard.

    She thought that maybe Eve was afraid of the fragment for some reason. It was true that it emitted a palpable power, but Talia had been carrying many for days that she'd merely kept in her pocket. She left thinking about it for after she looted the fire warlock's corpse, knowing full well the limit of Mifuyu's patience, but the tressym returned in the middle of her rooting through his clothes.

    The third fragment was sticking out of her mouth.

    "You... went and grabbed it?"

    "Mrrow," she replied after dropping it next to Talia.

    A degree of satisfaction in her voice, Mifuyu mused, "Perhaps allowing you a companion had some value to it after all."

    "Thanks," Talia could only offer a pleased petting as a reward for the moment, but she figured Wildfold Watch had some decent food she could treat Eve to after they arrived.
     
  • 25,595
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    Years
    Cebres, Eve, Talia, Valencia and Amaro

    As the old tavern had started to fill up bit by bit, the cloaked figure of Goblin had risen from his stool and walked outside to the street beyond. He stood there silently, hood still pulled over his disfigured head and hands clasped behind his back.

    A short time passed and the warlocks present in Wildfold Watch, those in the tavern included, started to slink out of the buildings and from their alleyway hiding places to gather around the tiny man.

    It was as this was happening that the tall woman with the razor sharp features joined him, startling many as she stepped out from the crowd having moved through it undetected. A large, heavily muscled man with long, straight hair and a vast sword at his hip also came to stand by Goblin's side. He was a familiar face to many, not a Warlock himself but a mercenary who, with the help of the Relic he wielded as his weapon, had become quite famous: Alvar the Warlock Hunter.

    Goblin himself may not have been intimidating, but the presence of one of very few non-warlocks who could hope to best one who had been blessed by a Higher Power in combat next to him was reason enough not to attack. Not to mention the eerie woman who seemed impossible to keep track of.

    To Cebres, who stood near the back of the forming crowd by the tavern's door, it was clear that he had made the right move by biding his time instead. Even Szazoch didn't seem to have any objections.

    Cebres simply watched and waited, keeping an eye on as many of those gathered as he could tell - especially on Alvar and the woman. It was strangely hard to maintain his focus though, the thrum in the air, the one he assumed was caused by all the fragments present, had only gotten stronger as more had gathered and it was making his head feel somewhat foggy.

    Goblin too seemed content to wait, simply standing there in that same position. He didn't speak or shift his posture, he was as a statue. It seemed likely he was waiting just a bit longer to see if anyone else would appear.

    Valencia strolled up to the back of the meeting space, taking in the hue of so many souls at once. The darkness which had collected in this small area was in desperate need of judgement, but what interested her even more at the moment was the sheer number of shards at present. With the Warlock Hunter alone, should a fight break out in such a small area, it would be easy for her to snag a fair few of the shards and make an escape. She knew the sins of those around her, and had already accepted that if the opportunity arose, they would most definitely need to be felled.

    The female knight checked her armor, counting the new additions to her collection that she'd found on her way into the ghost town. It was only a matter of time now. She unfortunately wasn't a mind reader, but Goblin's intentions seemed dubious at best. And then, there was that woman. She... was like The Speaker. Even with her directly within her line of sight, she couldn't get a read on the woman's soul. The Speaker's powers were incredible, but would he change his appearance so much and try to sneak in to something like this? There just wasn't enough to go off of to know for sure.

    Amaro slipped in the group already clad in a disguise. His illusions gave him several deep scars and a cloudy left eye. His mood was already sour, and hopefully looking as he did deterred any would be gossipers or idle chatterers from bothering him. He'd struck out with the island, a pair of warlocks already claiming the shard before he was able to get to it, catching only the tail end of them leaving. If anything, this meeting would help him get an idea of the current situation in the world.

    Even if he couldn't glean any relevant information in regards to a shard, he'd at least identify some of the warlocks working in the area. Better yet, potentially the opportunity to identify any weaknesses or grudges among them. If he could trick some of these warlocks into disposing of each other soon, well that was less competition overall, wasn't it.

    Cebres heard a sudden, although admittedly half-assed, growl from his patron and felt his head turn almost of its own accord. He caught sight of a woman joining the back of the crowd on the other side of the street from him, but what had really drawn Szazoch's attention was the winged cat at her feet.

    Is she controlling it maybe?

    Cebres figured that was the most logical conclusion. It would explain how a Tressym had managed to collect and hide Star fragments and get one up on three Warlocks. Any further thoughts on the matter would have to wait though, because Goblin had started speaking.

    "That seems to be about everyone we can expect," he said, just loud enough to be heard by all, "For those of you who were less inclined to listen to my introductions earlier, my name is Cato Favian. Most, however, call me Goblin - for obvious reasons looking at me as I'm sure you can gather."

    Goblin gave what would have normally looked like a warm and welcoming smile, but was twisted on his heavily scarred face with his jagged teeth. "The Gem Star exploding and scattering is unprecedented and has left us with quite a situation. Much of it was scattered around this general area and some has ended up making landfall even further away if my research is correct. Because of this, we'll be spreading an equally unprecedented level of destruction across Ashela if we keep fighting for the pieces of the Star as we have been and, personally, I do not want the entirety of this continent to end up looking like Demeste does right now. So I am proposing an alliance. We collect all the pieces, minimise conflict as much as we can and then decide communally what to do with them."

    Valencia scoffed. A 'communal' decision likely meant once all the pieces were gathered, Goblin and his aides got rid of the competition and split the star between themselves. In that case, it was better for her to stick around just to find out where everyone else would be searching. She couldn't trust the greater majority of the warlocks here, but the hunter Goblin had brought along seemed reasonable enough. That being said, it wasn't as if his hue was anything saintly itself. Nobody here was pure by any means, nobody, except for…

    Another of my children.

    Valencia fixed her gaze on the armored man across from her. His hue was the purest that she'd seen since getting her powers. Even when sins were judged, the hue of the person in question would typically be immediately influenced by their own thoughts and how they still feel about the sins they were just forced to remember. But for that knight… she wondered if her own soul were as beautiful as his. Though she doubted it, given that she'd asked for forgiveness so many times before as she did what she felt was necessary.

    "And what about those warlocks who didn't agree to this little meetup?" Valencia spoke up, mostly considering the case of The Speaker. She wasn't certain of the powers of everyone in attendance, but for that warlock in particular… the only counterattack she could think of is if someone were deaf, and even then, that didn't guarantee they'd be safe from him since he could still power himself up.

    The masses weren't a big deal, but bloodshed would be inevitable, even if it spared those in attendance for a short while longer. With so many different spirits here, it would be impossible to come to a common ground - not even considering the weaker of those gathered. If any group of them were to be stopped by a stronger warlock who for any reason became interested in why they were working together, she had no doubt the weaker willed among them would give this location away to spare themselves.

    "A fair question," Goblin replied, "I don't deny that a total halt to the violence is an impossibility. However, by moving as teams and striking quickly and efficiently where needed, we can greatly minimise the suffering of the civilians and avoid another Demeste."

    He paused for a moment to wait for interjections, but when none came he soon continued. "The majority of the Warlocks here are quite powerful, some more than others certainly, so groups of us have little to fear from most targets. In the account of a foe a group cannot surpass alone, the group can flee for reinforcements or they can lure the Warlock here where there's no risk of civilian casualties and where Alvar and Callista will remain to defend myself and the location. You would find them very effective backup. Are there further concerns?"

    Cebres listened intently to Gobin's speech, it seemed like he had prepared for questions such as that offered by the woman. In truth, Cebres had been wondering the same thing. He had other concerns that warranted raising too, but he wanted to see if any of the other Warlocks present brought them up first. It would be good to know how clever the assembled people were - although there was always the possibility some were doing the same as he was.

    "You still haven't given us a particularly good reason to do things 'communally'." Amaro spoke up, dropping his own tone to a gravely pitch he pictured a scared warlock should have. He crossed his arms, covering the back of his hand even further with his forearm. No need for accidents now. "It sounds good when you talk about squads and reinforcements, but unless you know how to give everyone a wish here then I cannot see this alliance having a happy ending."

    Amaro thought it was a good plan. He should have thought of it himself, if only he had the magical prowess to be sure he could finish the grift. Oh well, it gave him a good idea on how to continue forward. "If anything, it sounds like you're just delaying the fighting until people realize they get nothing if the 'community' decides so. By then you'll probably have enough loyal pawns to crush the remaining competition and take it all for yourself."

    "Undoubtedly, we won't all get to make use of the Star if we're all aiming for huge wishes," Goblin replied without even really looking directly at Amaro, watching the group at large instead. "There should be enough power in it though for a fair few smaller boons on top of a single massive-scale spell that we can decide upon by vote."

    Again, Goblin's eyes swept over the group in front of him. He never seemed to look at any single one of the assembled Warlocks directly, instead he continued to take stock of how people reacted to what he said. "We have a relic present, it resembles a chest. Once all of the fragments are inside, it won't open until we make a decision. We can make that time easier by ruling out the impossible now."

    Goblin waited in silence for a moment, taking a few deep breaths as though steeling himself for something. Cebres tensed, waiting for an attack and noticed several others around him doing the same. What came next though, was not something he had anticipated.

    "Some of you have likely promised your patrons a return to this plane of existence," Goblin spoke, "This is not possible. Or rather, it is not possible with the power this Star will provide. To undo that barrier, you would need a Star of equal or greater power as the first and largest and the saviour witch's own power combined. No Star has been that large since and no warlock has that kind of power. There's no way to break the barrier."

    As Goblin finished speaking, there were several shouts of alarm. Cebres' hand flew to his chain, but soon dropped to his side again. A Warlock near the front of the group had burst into flames, a few others in the group had simply dropped dead where they stood. Evidence of the consequences of forming an unfulfilled contract - and a reminder to complete one's own.

    "That was unfortunate," Goblin said, his demeanour not changing in the slightest, "However, I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect as much. Are we done with our questions now? If so, I'd like to start planning our first moves."

    Valencia shook her head. It seemed obvious to her, at least. It was more the fault of the patrons than anything else that these warlocks had to die. If it were so easy to pull them back into this plane, then surely one of them would have already accomplished such a feat. At the very least, that thinned out the number of souls she'd have to judge later on. Though, what interested her more was this relic Goblin had brushed past in their retort.

    She didn't know much about relics personally, but would there really be such an item? And was remaining locked really the only thing it could do? There were implications for its intended purpose going in either direction, but there would be a better time to ask about it later. For now, she'd have to just go along with things and pick off the sinners individually.

    When no further remarks came, Goblin smiled again. "Excellent, time to start planning."

     
  • 25,595
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    Years

    Chapter Four - The Alliance Moves

    The assembled warlocks, whether shocked or ambivalent about the sudden deaths around them, listen intently to Goblin's words now as he explains his plans. With his resources, mysterious and unknown as they are, he has narrowed down the locations that the assembled will need to investigate and the actions that must be undertaken.

    Info
    This chapter may well set your character's trajectory for the rest of RP. While the goal is much the same (collecting fragments of the Gem Star), the formation of Goblin's alliance changes everything. Now you must decide if you will work alongside Goblin and the other warlocks, or if you'll use the information he has given out for yourself and work against him, racing the alliance for the fragments, fighting them if need be.

    Make sure you publicly claim where you'll be going from the locations below.

    The Convoy: A merchant convoy seems to have rather sneakily gotten their hands on a Star Fragment, although somehow Goblin knows about it. They are travelling southward to the port city of Castivare where they are hoping to sell the fragment at a high price to one of their associates taking the long seaward journey down the coast to the islands of Oronse and Galilla in the central south and south-west respectively. They have skilled and well-armed guards, but no warlocks at their disposal.

    Spoiler: Subsequent Locations
    Castivare: Castivare is a large coastal city state with a protectorate of comparable size to Demeste's, but somewhat larger. Castivare is a bustling city with an extremely active port. Unlike Demeste, this city exists on a much more navigable stretch of the north-eastern coast which makes them much more profitable as a port city. The city is ruled by a merchant queen who has her hands in every business within Castivare's tall white walls.

    Oronse and Galilla: Although they exist on opposite sides of Ashela's horizontal axis, these places are quite similar. They are (relatively) large and mountainous islands with one wealthy primary city surrounded by a handful of smaller and poorer villages. Oronse is ruled by a council similar to that of Demeste, but Galilla is effectively a constitutional monarchy… money talks in both locations though and it is the merchant guild that operates across both that hold the real power.


    Fallen Valley: Fallen Valley is a terrifying place located in the towering Ore Mountains that cut through a large segment of western Ashela. It is said that this is where the first Gem Star fell and is populated by an unusually high number of dangerous monsters. While the Ore mountains themselves are populated by bandits and barbarians, few are brave enough to venture into the valley. In the hours since the detonation of the Gem Star and its subsequent spreading over Ashela, the monsters in the valley started behaving extremely aggressively and spreading out further than usual, raising concerns in the fairly close Joepstijn Principality. Goblin suspects that one or more fragments landed there and are the cause.

    Demeste: While Demeste is a wreck, it was the area the Star was over when it exploded. As such, there is still several fragments remaining through the area. The harder-to-reach locations in the Despair Sea and Ironcrown mountains are where attention is turning to now, although there's likely still fragments in the Barrens too. Warlocks who didn't join Goblin's meeting have a head start, but that doesn't mean they can't be eliminated while they're away from civilization and their fragments claimed.

    Aion's Pinnacle: A single, narrow stone monolith in the north of Ashela, surrounded by a twisted, thorny nightmare forest full of terrible beasts. Not only does it seem likely a few fragments ended up here, but atop the Pinnacle itself lies an ancient temple to a long-forgotten Higher Power. It seems a small group of warlocks have gathered here and are using the temple as a central location to gather the fragments in the area.

     
    Last edited:

    Sonata

    Don't let me disappear
  • 13,642
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    11
    Years
    Cebres Payne & Valencia Strago

    Valencia watched the fellow warlock of Estrillad the whole time that they had been moving towards the monolith. It had been days since they started walking, and they'd already lost two of their party. Unfortunately, neither Val nor this other knight had been able to cleanse their souls before they fell.

    "Can we-" a young, feeble looking warlock gasped for breath as he climbed over some of the nearby rocks on the path. "Can we stop here for today? I don't think I can go on any more."

    This boy was interesting to Val, having the second clearest hue among them. But… despite that, the feeling that she got from him made her skin crawl all the same. He may not have done anything yet in his life, but there was something about him… he just hadn't done anything yet.

    "That's fine," the other knight turned to look at them all before taking a seat on a nearby log after clearing it of the thorns that had wrapped around it. "There are beasts around, but you should be able to protect us, yes?"

    The boy cleared his throat as he fell on the ground. "Ouch…" he groaned, leaning back up to pick the thorns out of his back. "This forest is terrible…"

    "You should be able to protect us, yes?" The knight questioned once more.

    The boy looked up at the knight and then began to scan the woods around them. "Y-yeah. I should be able to do that." The boy took off his pack and closed his eyes, placing the tips of his fingers together, making a circle with his hands at his chest. "Put your hands on me…"

    Valencia and the other knight nodded, having already done this a few times before and knowing the potency of the boy's powers. The two warlocks of Estrillad looked expectantly at Cebres, waiting for him to join them so that they could get on with things.

    Cebres finished his own survey of the area before crossing what would become their camp site and placing his hand alongside the other two warlocks. "I have to admit, this is an extremely useful ability."

    In the back of his mind, he heard Szazoch growling hungrily and felt the faint temptation to start siphoning the youth's life force rising. He disregarded it though, this was not the time to make enemies and he himself had no desire to kill anyone aimlessly. He could feel his patron's frustration, but made a point of trying to tune it out.

    If I get killed for turning on them, you're going to lose out on a lot of deaths. It was already hard enough to explain away why the other two turned into ash when they died.

    The boy, having felt all three hands on his body, suddenly stopped breathing. He leaned his head back, opening his mouth before releasing a gutteral screech which was followed by nearly a dozen ethereal arms which caused his throat and mouth to bulge as they poured out from within him. The arms dug under the ground, uprooting what was left of the nearby trees with ease as they cleared out everything around the boy within a 100 meter radius.

    The boy's body began to shake as time went on, his face turning purple as he came closer and closer to passing out with each second that creeped by. Valencia squeezed the boy's shoulder whispering into his ears. "You've done enough. Hurry and finish it."

    The arms immediately stopped creating the clearing, and shot into the sky, clasping together at a point above the group before melting together and creating a canopy over them that nearly reached the edge of the empty space they'd created. The boy quickly closed his mouth, breaking his hands away from each other as he passed out, gasping for breath as the color slowly returned to his face.

    Valencia rubbed the boy's head, feeling somewhat sorry for him having to put himself through so much just to act as their shield. But, that being so… even with his hue being so clear, she wasn't sure that she should let the boy live on once they finished their mission. The way that those arms were so easily able to uproot the forest and scare away the creatures that took up residence within it… how easily such a power could be used to take the lives of others. Was the risk of letting him live worth the potential loss of life that such a decision could lead to?

    For now, his strength in creating these barriers would be worth keeping him around. "You've done well, child. Now, get some rest."

    The other knight had already walked away, leaving the boy to fend for himself as he set up his bedroll. The knight removed his plate mail and his helm, keeping the heavy layer of chainmail on as he took a seat on the cushioned mat. The two warlocks of Estrillad glanced at each other for a microsecond, knowingly nodding their heads. The boy would be easy enough to dispatch if it came to it, but they still didn't know much about what Cebres was capable of. And if he chose to turn on them, they wouldn't want to be completely unprotected.

    Valencia left on her armor set, not having nearly as thick plates as the other knight. Besides, she'd grown used to sleeping with its weight as she travelled out of the mountains after first becoming a warlock. The girl pulled out her own bedroll, laying it out on the ground a fair bit away from the other warlocks. "I'll take the first watch." The barrier had been able to keep all the monsters they'd seen up until this point out, but that didn't mean there wouldn't be something, or someone else that could break through it… whether that threat came from outside, or within.

    As the other two got, for want of a better word, comfortable, Cebres busied himself with setting up a small campfire. He didn't particularly feel like freezing to death, and the light made it harder for shifty travelling companions to pull something sneaky on one another.

    "You know," he said, "While I certainly appreciate the caution, I can't imagine sleeping in that heavy armour every night is particularly comfortable. If I was going to attack you, I would have done so already."

    He reached into his pack for some of his rations and his own bedroll, keeping an eye on the other two conscious warlocks to see how they'd react to the statement.

    The knight who had stripped down to his chainmail had paid no attention to the other warlock, and had instead pulled a small book from within his breast pocket. With a jar of ink - created hastily from the ashes of the fallen warlocks and a small bit of water - and a quill, he began to write something into it.

    "And if you had no intention to, you wouldn't feel the need to bring it up."

    Valencia continued to scan the edge of the clearing as she spoke, hearing the crackling of the fire that was being built up behind her. The two warlocks of Estrillad didn't need the light of the fire to know if one of the others were about to attack, but their aura vision wasn't exactly something they wanted to reveal to every random passerby for that very reason. As far as Cebres should know, they had to actively turn that ability on or off and that would give him time enough to get in a sneak attack.

    "Besides, it's not any of us that I'm really worried about." She paused, pointing out towards the part of the woods that was still standing outside of their protection. "It's them - and whatever else we've yet to see." The warlock stared back at the beady red eyes which were locked onto them from the shadows of the forest.

    Cebres shrugged and offered the rations to the rest of the group. "Suit yourselves. Personally, I'm not overly concerned about either you or the beasts. If you were going to attack, you would have done so while I was asleep and the beasts have not been able to so much as dent this barrier."

    The boy had proved very trusting, but these two were certainly much shrewder. Cebres wasn't lying when he said he had no intention of attacking them at that moment, but he couldn't deny he was prepared to if he had to. He would have to watch them carefully.

    The other knight pocketed the book and writing utensils, looking back over his shoulder at the treeline. He stared at the top of the monolith, which was peeking out just over the highest trees they could see from where they stood. "We should be there by tomorrow."

    'To the temple?' Valencia questioned, using Estrillad as a messenger to talk directly with the other warlock.

    'To the temple.' He responded, glancing back at the woman. 'I've been there once, but only for a few seconds.'

    Valencia mulled over the statement for a second, turning back away from the other warlocks. "I wonder what's going on up there…" Both warlocks had been able to see the mixing of hues for the past two days. Although they could have taken the direct path to the top, knowing that there were other warlocks laying in wait, they chose to go in a roundabout way to the peak.

    They'd explained to Cebres at the point where they split from the "path" that was still just barely visible from those that had tread it years prior that they'd noticed other warlocks up at Aion's Pinnacle, who most definitely were not part of their group. So far, they'd only had to fight through the regular beasts of the forest, but even then they'd managed to lose two of their party.

    These four were all that was left of the party which had started out at the behest of Goblin. The threat of running into a group which might actually pose a threat was certainly real and present. Killing regular sinners was one thing, but if they were to be outnumbered and rushed by warlocks who actually had power…

    'Valencia,' the knight spoke to the woman once more through their shared patron. 'When the others go to sleep, we must speak candidly, and in our own voices.'

    The woman furrowed her brow, not turning to look at the knight as he laid down, crushing the thorns and barbs which were poking through his roll with the weight of his armor. Valencia chose not to reply, instead focusing on her task of keeping watch. She didn't know what they had to speak about, or why it had to be done in their own voices, but as far as she was concerned, he was the only trustworthy person there.

    Time passed on, the group sitting in silence in front of the campfire as the sky darkened. Eventually, Cebres settled down on his own bedroll and shut his eyes. He did not truly sleep though. He would eventually, but first he wanted to hear what the other two said to each other when they thought he wasn't listening.

    Valencia watched out over the creatures that paced at the edge of the barrier. Hours passed as she read the scorn and anger which gleamed in their eyes, piercing through the darkness of night. She heard the crunching of twigs and thorns from behind her, turning her head briefly to see the other knight making his way towards her.

    "It is safe to speak now," he said softly, taking a seat directly next to her. "I've checked the others. It seems they're asleep."

    Valencia turned her attention back to the barrier. There were many things they could speak on, but she was uncertain of how much Estrillad passed on to her other warlocks. If anyone was going to waste time bringing up topics that the other already knew about, then it wouldn't be her. "What did you want to speak on?"

    The clasped his hands together and joined her, gazing out towards the edge of the barrier. "How much about our powers do you know?"

    "What do you mean?" She questioned, not really sure what he was getting at. The first month in her pact with their patron had been nothing but learning how to utilize their powers. What more could there really be to it that Estrillad wouldn't have told them? Then again… Estrillad never told her about The Speaker until she was face to face with him. "Only so much as our Patron has told us."

    "I see… then tell me, how did you come about your pact?"

    Valencia turned her head slightly, not enough to actually put the knight into view, but enough that the movement had been recognizable. "I… wished to be able to enact justice on the man who killed my family and razed my kingdom."

    "And?"

    "And…" she paused, remembering back to that time, not all too long ago. "He was also a warlock, in a pact with the same patron as us."

    "I see." He paused, fiddling with one of the chainlinks on his arm before continuing on. "And then… did She ask you to kill him?"

    Valencia hesitated, remembering back to the day she found the other warlock, cackling over the thrones of her newly deceased parents as he invoked the name of their Patron. "He got what he deserved. His sins were-"

    "Did she ask you to kill him?" The knight repeated, his voice more commanding this time.

    Valencia hesitated again, and then slowly shook her head. "No… she didn't tell me to kill him."

    "As I thought." The knight began rising to his feet to look down at the woman. "We who serve She Who Bears Sin, should never kill one another."

    Valencia tilted her head towards the man, and then quickly looked away. "And what would you have had me done different? The color of his soul was one of the darkest I have ever seen… though my judgement may have been clouded by my own rage at the time, I was justified in carrying out my duty."

    "Then what of your own soul?"

    "My own soul…" she paused, looking back over towards the brilliantly gleaming soul of her fellow knight. "I… I assume it is unlike yours, with the weight of your words."

    "Though you do not know, you also do not lie." The knight reached his hand out to the young woman. "Take my hand."

    Valencia looked up at the man and then followed his arm down to his hand. "Why?"

    "I will show you - what you should have done when you were but a fledgling warlock."

    Valencia brushed her hair back with her hand and then extended her own towards the man, prompting him to take it and lift her up with ease. "We have the power to judge, and the authority to execute. But, as you know, execution is not always the answer. Redemption is possible if you can clear the darkness that clouds their perception. Their every sin weighs on them and their every decision. Whether they know it or not, the first time that they act upon evil, they'll have already found themselves trodding down that path of self-destruction."

    Valencia nodded knowingly. In the few short years since she'd become a warlock, she'd come across many whose sins were not so unfathomable that they deserved to die for what they'd done… but even those who'd committed petty theft a single time could find themselves with a hue as dark as any murderer or rapist.

    "I will now contract with you, and judge your sins, Valencia Strago."

    The young female knight staggered backwards, feeling a weird sensation within the mark between her shoulders. It was a feeling of sinking she'd felt only a few times before, but whereas that had been relegated to her chest, this was like a dripping wax that trailed down her spine. The girl lurched forward, curling her fingers and opening her mouth to scream, but releasing no sound.

    "I, Domingo Pestle shall now pass judgement on you, Valencia Strago, warlock contracted to She Who Bears Sin."

    As Domingo spoke, everything that Valencia had done in the past weeks quickly ran through her mind. The warlocks she'd killed on her way to the meeting spot, the villagers she'd judged to be corrupting their children with the darkness of their own greed, everything - all the way back to her attempted judgement on The Speaker.

    Domingo staggered backwards, the color of his hue slowly turning darker as he took on the sins of his fellow warlock. Tears began to fall from his eyes as the months passed by, and then years, and then… there they were, standing in front of the first man she'd ever killed with her powers as a warlock.



    "Hah hah ha!" The man cried out, repeated sliding his sword in and out of the woman who had long since stopped moving. "It's what you fucking get! You royals are all the same - filthy… filled with impurities as you let your sins fester and grow without ever acknowledging your wrongdoings!"

    Valencia pressed the doors open, her armor stained and bloodied from her father and the many barbarians she'd killed on her path back home. The draperies burned around her, the crests of her kingdom reduced to ashes that fluttered to the ground like leaves in Autumn. "What have you done!" She cried out, brandishing both of her swords as she strode across the marble floor leading to the two thrones.

    "I've done you a favor, girl!" The man laughed as he pressed his blade through the woman once more, breaking the arm off of the throne upon which she was slouched. "Without these royals guiding your life, you can be free! You can be pure! You… I'd go so far as to proclaim that you have been saved!"

    "Shut up!" She cried out, tears filling her eyes as she came to the steps that sat just before the thrones. "I'll make you pay… I'll kill you for what you've done!"

    "What I've done? Child, I've done no more than right the wrongs of this world! I've only enacted my god-given right to pass judgement on the filthy sinners that inhabit this plane! My God, Estrillad, The Bearer of Sin! She's blessed me with such wonderful power that I might protect the world from evils such as these! It's only right that I use what I've been given!"

    "If your so-called 'God' really did give you the power to pass judgement on 'sinners', then she is entirely cruel and unjust! You've murdered, raped, and pillaged for your own pleasure! I've followed you through the hinterlands, walking the trail of your sin! Following your trail of evil and destruction! And you dare to stand here and incite the name of your 'God' and try to claim what you've done is just?" Valencia shook her head, completely baffled by the tyrant in front of her. "If there is any justice to be dealt this day, it will be by my hand unto you!"

    "You would sully yourself with sin, just to see your revenge played out?" The warlock questioned, his eyes filled with sorrow as he pulled the blade from the corpse of Valencia's mother and stepped towards her. "When you have no idea of the pain and destruction that your very parents committed? The sins that they've carried since before the thought of you was ever conceived?" The man shouted, pointing his own blade towards her now. "You, who have yet to be graced by the divinity of Our Savior, dare to speak to me in-" The warlock looked away, his eyes searching the room as he cocked his head. "No, no… I didn't- but- no, you have to understand that I- wait, Estrillad, I-"

    "You will be held accountable for the atrocities that you've committed!" Valencia screamed out, leaping up the steps towards the distracted warlock. "I will be both your judge and executioner!"

    'You will stop, child.'

    Valencia strode past the warlock, slicing at his chest as she slid across the marble towards the corpse of her mother. There was no time to pay heed to the voices in her head, nor to mourn the death of either of her parents. They would be avenged in this moment, or she would be joining them soon after.

    'I said, you will stop, child.'

    Valencia felt a burning on her back, causing her to fall to the ground in pain as the voice reverberated through every fiber of her being. "What… what have you done?" She spat at the warlock, dropping her swords as she arched her back and cried out.

    'I am Estrillad, the one known as She Who Bears Sin. Should you wish, I can give you the power necessary to pass judgement on this warlock.'

    "You-" she laughed, taking a short pause in between her words to wince and catch her breath. "You would push me into a pact, just to see blood shed between those that you've taken an interest in? You truly are an evil being."

    "No!" The warlock cried out, searching the room. "Estrillad, please! Do not allow her to become one of your children! I am enough - I can do anything you need! I will be your sole vassel, I will enact your will, I will-" the man cowered, wincing as if he'd just been reprimanded.

    'The man you see before you is indeed one of my own, however, his soul has become consumed by darkness and the sins he bears. He is no longer the knight that I once called into my order of warlocks. However, should you choose to take my offer, you may be able to ease his pain.'

    "You want me to kill him… because he's gone mad with the power you've given to him? And what then, should I go mad will you do the same to me in time? You're crazy… you're all crazy! You're not worthy of judging others! You're covered in far more filth than any of those that you would deem fit to kill! You're no judge, you're a simply marauding about in the cloak of those innocent people whose life you've taken before all whilst pushing the blame onto whoever you find convenient!"

    'Valencia Strago, do you accept my arrangement? Should you choose not to take up this pact, you will surely join your parents. There is but one way for him to be stopped at this moment.'
    "Fuck!" Val cried out, feeling the weight of the pact forming on her back. "I'll do it! I'll do anything just to put him in his place! Take me, my soul, my life - whatever you need, I'll give to you if it means I can wipe that smug look off of his face."

    "Oh… no, Estrillad why? Why would you forsake me in this- oh, I see. I had no idea that was a possibility!" the man began to laugh uncontrollably again as Valencia slowly rose to her feet, empowered by the newfound power of a warlock. "Well then, if that's how it is, come at me! Perform your holy duty! We warlocks of Estrillad must-"

    Valencia flew across the marble floor, her blades cutting through the warlock's neck as if it were air. The man's head quickly began to slide off of his neck as he fell to his knees. The new warlock turned to look at his body as it tumbled over, watching with her aura vision as the spirit of the warlock escaped, splitting off into two separate masses of black and white which disappeared through the busted glass panes in the ceiling.

    'It is finished. There is nothing else that can be done now. His sin has been purged, and his soul released from the pain that was forced upon it.'

    Valencia's eyes filled with tears as she dropped both of her blades. She'd done it. After months of tracking the warlock through the hinterlands, and catching only the aftermath of the chaos he'd caused, she'd finally done it. She smiled and wetted her lips, letting a short laugh escape her lips before falling to the ground.



    Domingo staggered backwards, having taken on all of the sins that Valencia bore throughout her time as a warlock. The man did his best to quiet his voice, feeling the sudden strength of lifetimes of sins piled up on his back. Valencia watched as he curled up into a ball, crouching down to the ground as he winced in pain.

    "Are you…" she whispered, reaching out towards him. His soul was dark - not nearly as dark as The Speaker, but darker than anything else she'd seen before him. "What am I… what am I supposed to do?" She questioned, suddenly feeling the weight on her back disappear. For the first time since she'd become a warlock, she felt incredibly light. There was nothing holding her back from her full potential, no worries, no anger, no sadness… "Is this… is this what I-"

    "I've removed your sin from you…" Domingo stated, slowly stretching himself back out as he rose to his feet. "But, all that it's accomplished is moving it from one soul to another. Your darkness still exists within me."

    Valencia furrowed her brow, not exactly following what he was trying to lead her into. "So… how do you fully get rid of sin, if it can only be moved from one soul to another?"

    "There are… two... ways." he spoke slowly, grunting in between words as his body twitched and contorted. "The first is to simply kill the host of said darkness." Valencia watched Domingo, watching as the two hues of his soul began to split apart - one of pure white, and the other consisting of her own darkness. The second… is to fully accept your own darkness."

    Valencia shook her head and looked into the pit that had formed in the man's soul as it attempted to take on her sins. "What do you mean by fully accept my own darkness?"

    "You've judged many times… and accumulated many sins. Now I've returned the favor, and you've seen the darkness which has accumulated within your own soul. Now… you can see it within me, having taken on all of your sins. The only way to remove this sin from existence is to accept it, before I'm forced to harbor it. By now… my soul should be-"

    Domingo winced, falling quickly to the ground. His soul was beginning to envelop the darkness of her cumulative sins, and she couldn't figure out what she was supposed to do to stop it. Was she supposed to judge him now? Wouldn't that just move the sin back to her? She couldn't kill him either. What was there left to…

    'Have you really accepted your own darkness?'

    "Estrillad?" Valencia questioned, turning her head to look towards the sky.

    'Where are you looking, when you should be finding yourself?'

    "When I should be finding…" the girl walked up to Domingo, placing her hand on his chest as he fell back on his heels and looked up at her. "This is not you… this is my sin to bear, the consequences of my choices that have led me here." Valencia focused on the darkness within Domingo, forming a black circle in the center of his chest. "Valencia Strago, in the name of She Who Bears Sin, I, Valencia Strago, accept me for all that I am."

    From where he lay on his bedroll, Cebres listened carefully to the exchange. He did not open his eyes, as tempted as he was to do so, because that would risk giving himself away. He was not one to judge others for their choice in patron, it was hard to justify doing that when he himself was partnered with an eldritch abomination who profited off of death. There was a lot to be concerned about with what he heard though.

    Certainly, there were plenty of warlocks who worshipped the higher powers and saw their patrons as gods. But if these two's patron were presenting themself as some sort of arbiter of justice on the world who gave them authority to judge those around them, that likely made them volatile zealots. He would have to be very careful. They seemed strong and he had little desire to fight both of them at once.

    A few minutes passed in silence. Valencia stared at the shifting darkness within her hands. The sin - her sin - that she'd pulled from the body of Domingo was within her grasp, free from any retainer. The sin shifted, pulsating and moving as if it were a living thing.

    "You've completed the first step," Domingo whispered, rubbing his chest where the second circle had been. "Now, you must give it a place to reside - until the time that you may see it properly laid to rest."

    "What do you mean by that? Properly laid to rest? Why can't you just be forthright with what you need to tell me?"

    Domingo glanced up at Val, and then looked over at the two other warlocks they were travelling with. "Even if they are asleep, there are some things better left communicated solely between Patron and warlock." The knight turned his gaze back towards the young woman and motioned towards the three blades at her waist. "If you simply release the sin now, it will go back out into the world and take root in someone else's soul. What you must do is give it a new vessel. Now... choose."

    Valencia followed Domingo's gaze, tapping her dominant hand against the blade at her waist. Was this… was this what she was supposed to do? She unsheathed the blade, coiling her fingers around the sin with her off-hand as she held the sword out in front of her. She looked back at the other warlock, searching for the nod of approval that came from him mere seconds later.

    "I don't really understand why I'm doing this… but-" she whispered as she pressed her sin against the blade, forcing it inside of the weapon with surprising ease. "I don't know what I expected, to be honest. But… I didn't think it would be that easy."

    'That is your sin. You are now free, unclouded in your sight and released from your misjudgements and wrongdoings. You may use your own sin in situations where there is none to take, or against those whose sins are too much for you to bear.'

    Valencia listened to the words of her patron, pulling the sin from the blade and placing it back in repeatedly. "So if I-"

    "Do not worry. You have now fully accepted what you were, and what you have become. Your sin no longer has power over you."

    Valencia looked down at the blade, watching as the manifestation of sin coursed through its length. She sheathed the weapon, not wanting to think on it any more. "So… that is how it should have been."

    The other warlock frowned slightly and then nodded. "That… is how it should have been."

     

    Songbird

    Tonight, the marigolds bloom for her.
  • 554
    Posts
    10
    Years
    • Seen Apr 11, 2024
    Kieran
    Untouchable



    The royal capital of Lindel went into a frenzy the day his sister vanished. It wasn't an exaggeration to call Aine one of the faces of the country; and as her older brother, Prince Kieran always had something of a soft spot for her. Which was why he grew increasingly frustrated over the passing months.

    Despite the best men and women in the royal family's employ putting forth their greatest effort to find her, they couldn't report so much as a trace across the continent. So Kieran took it upon himself to bring his sister home, no matter the method. The first thing he needed was a patron. He left worrying about approval for after proving he was capable.

    He grabbed every book in the royal library on the subject, and ordered subordinates to acquire any records they could obtain in the capital about the higher powers. Weeks were spent in one of the royal castle's studies to pore over them as they came in, marking out each one he felt suited his needs.

    The first he marked was one who seemed like the obvious choice: Salem of the Hunt. His skill in tracking was unmatched, and that skill was one of the boons granted to his warlocks. However, he was notoriously difficult to contact. So much so that one should give up if Salem doesn't approach them himself.

    The second was named Grenyth, the Listener, and bestowed the gift of telepathy and mind reading on those who swore their service to her. As long as the warlock knew their target, they didn't even have to be near each other. She was also one of the easier higher powers to meet. The problem was that she was extremely selective of her warlocks. Just as her warlocks could read minds, so could Grenyth, and she turned away many prospective beneficiaries before they could open their mouths.

    The third, and the option Kieran settled on, was known as Edir, the Trickster. The title humans knew them by aside, their mastery over space allowed one to cross half the world in an instant, and see from perspectives far beyond their own. They were whimsical and unpredictable, and their powers were far less direct than he preferred, but they were his best shot.

    Having made his choice, Kieran went about learning to reach them. Some higher powers were straightforward in their method of contact: artifacts left behind after the Saviour Witch banished them, an offering at an altar, or simply saying their name three times to a mirror in the dark. Unfortunately, he was at a loss as to how to meet the Trickster. No exact method was documented. A location where the planar barrier was weakest seemed like the only chance he had, but there was no guarantee Edir would be the one he met.

    "Why did I have to pick the most difficult powers to work with?"

    "Beats me. You're a pretty smart guy."

    Kieran looked around the study, but found no one. Not even his personal retainer, Faolan, who normally stood dutifully by the door as Kieran worked or assisted him by his side.

    "I gotta say, I don't really like the idea of being your third choice. A bit offended, even."

    It felt disturbing and uncanny to listen to them. They spoke with the sound of his own voice in a way he couldn't imagine speaking himself, coming from his own mind no differently from his thoughts. But something told him that this was a conversation. That this was the Trickster. And that they were watching him. The whole time.

    "I dunno, maybe I should just be grateful. I can count on one finger how many humans've gone looking for me in the last seven hundred years."

    There was no point beating around the bush with them, he soon realized.

    "If you know that much, you know why I sought you, yes? What I want your power for."

    "Cutting to the chase, I see. Ever heard of small talk, princey boy? You should try it some time. Yeah, I know. But what'm I getting out of this?"

    "I can get you the Gem Star." Judging by the records, their power would have made short work of obtaining it.

    "Hm... Tempting, but no thanks."

    "What?"

    "But y'know... maybe there's something you can do for me after all."

    "Just tell me what it is."

    "See, I owe a favor to a friend of mine. You help me take care of it, I'll give you a taste of my powers for a while to do with as you please. No fine print."

    "That's all?"

    "That's all."
    Moira
    Unbreakable



    The Principality of Joepstijn was a small nation bordering the northeast of Lindel, made to look only smaller by the Ore Mountains cutting through a large portion of it from north to south. Taking advantage of a territory richer in metals than others, Joepstijn profited greatly from the wars of others throughout its history.

    Eventually Joepstijn became a military powerhouse in their own right. Their profiteering methods diversified as well; no longer content with only selling the weapons, they began specializing in creating cause to use them.

    Calling themselves a principality was a formality more than anything, as Joepstijn was ruled by one who merely styled himself a prince. His "army" consisted of mercenaries, or assassins, selling their skills to the highest bidder and operating under the banner of foreign powers and individuals, while the prince claimed neutrality within his borders.

    The target of what should have been a successful assassination, Princess Moira of Lindel instead became the first warlock in an era to fulfill the terms of a contract with Sirain, the Immortal.

    "Dammit, this was supposed to be an easy job! Couldn't have been simpler." And an easy, flashy job it was. He and his men were skilled. Skilled enough to open fire on a princess during a festival, for sure. Just as the fireworks began their ascent, he set his arrow aflame to match and let loose.

    Three decoys were shot from his team, and his struck home unopposed. They all immediately broke formation, leaving him to guarantee the results.

    Naturally, he had to confirm the kill. No job was complete without it, regardless of the public's cries. His patron's boon was indispensable for his work, blending him into his surroundings and fading out of perception as he willed it.

    That was why he was the one to finish the job every time.

    The guard team already fanned out for him and his squad, leaving only two of their men behind to care for the princess. One had her in their arms. The other a weapon.

    "What?" His arrow landed square in her heart, without a doubt. To prove it the flame had burnt a window in her dress, and the fires yet fell from her chest. Despite that, she still drew breath.

    Not only that, but the arrow was nowhere to be seen.

    In fact the blood on the ground and on her dress was burning. And her once ashen hair looked akin to a fire slowly coming back to life, red-orange embers flickering from the root down.

    No matter. He drew his knife without the slightest sound, only to be repelled by an arrow in the arm when he tried to move in range.

    It was unfortunately one of the drawbacks of his power. If his target was on high alert, it had little effect without some real effort on his part, and a princess's personal bodyguards were nothing to scoff at, even for him. He was already blocking out the pain using his ability, and he couldn't do it all at once without risking further injury. He had no choice but to retreat.

    It was his first taste of failure in nearly a decade. A taste that wouldn't have been so bitter if it wasn't planned.

    "Bastard's gonna pay for setting us up."

    There was no other explanation for leaving out information, he concluded. They were never told that their target was a warlock.

    All he had to do was make it to the bar. The "usual place", as his squad referred to it while working, where they were to meet after the job. Then they could talk about repaying their "client".

    He was cut off by a masked man some time later, after ducking into an alleyway near the city gates. The only visible features on him were icy blue eyes, looking down on him like he was little more than garbage. A wisp of smoke rose from the man's hand, and he knew he had to escape.

    He turned around to find a hiding spot among the people—easiest way to lose a tail—only to find his right leg cut away at the shin, as if everything below the knee simply disappeared. He nearly went blind from the pain in the instant before he suppressed it.

    He flipped onto his back with one hand, flinging his knife with the other. Or he would, if he still had a hand with which to throw it.

    A suicide attempt quickly became pointless as well. The man didn't care to question him at all, a hole suddenly appearing where his heart should have been.

    Before his consciousness finally failed him, he heard the man muttering to himself; to the power behind him.

    "All you said was to not interfere. Never said I had to let him get away with it."
     
  • 865
    Posts
    13
    Years
    • Age 38
    • Seen Feb 24, 2024
    It had been about two weeks after Talia left Wildfold Watch with Eve in tow. Talia decided that moving alone was vastly more preferable to suffering a group she almost certainly wouldn't be able to stand. They later learned that only six other warlocks dared to brave the Fallen Valley, now another two weeks' travel away, and operated together.

    Thus far their journey proceeded much like their time in Demeste did. They took every opportunity to find human habitation (and stop by every bar) on the way, and picked up a bite to eat once or twice a day. Talia came clean about herself not needing to eat a few days into their trek, making her fixation with alcohol a recurring point of confusion for her companion.

    Mifuyu came to tolerate the cat's presence as well. The latter had gotten adept at discerning the higher power's feelings despite having no connection with her... and unlike Talia she didn't talk back.

    For Aine's part, she'd grown rather attached to the revenant in their short time together. Talia never stopped being a source of entertainment for the princess and her own patron. Despite her taciturn nature, Talia shared a brief story from her past every now and then, as though reminiscing to herself. Once in a while Mifuyu would even start the story or add some commentary.

    This was one such intermission. They reached a river running west through the plains, over a mile wide and stretching to the horizon in both directions, while Talia performed some routine maintenance on her bow and other equipment. They had been seeing plenty of use in the monster-infested wastelands. Normally, this was done in peaceful silence, but something about Eve not being human made her a little more willing to talk.

    "This kind of reminds me of when I was still alive." Eve promptly perked up at this. Talia hadn't yet spoken of anything from before she met Mifuyu, so Eve was happy to listen. In stark contrast, Mifuyu's interest dropped dramatically, as this had nothing to do with her. "My party was escorting a merchant caravan."

    The cat looked at Talia like she just heard something crazy—almost as if it needed to be repeated that she had a team. "Alright, listen here you little shit, I didn't always work alone."

    Talia went on to say, in her relatively few words, that the caravan had made camp at the largest river in Ascantha, her home country. As it wasn't mating season for most of the local fauna, they were allowed a quiet rest as they refilled on their water and prepared their tents. There was no more noise than the same rushing of water that she and Eve were listening to.

    In fact, the animals were almost disturbingly silent, with few anywhere in sight. Eve could already guess where this was going, and was on the edge of her proverbial seat.

    Unbeknownst to the merchants, a monster had recently made the area its hunting grounds—the distinction between the danger of "monsters" and normal beasts of prey of course being quite vast. It often took a proper team of experienced hunters or knights to deal with a single monster if they weren't backed by a higher power's influence in some way. And even then, coming back a limb or three less between them was considered a rousing success.

    The monster that made the land its territory was a stag that towered over the forest trees at full height, but during the day as it slept it made no indication to betray its presence. As night fell, though—
    "Hm?"

    Talia took her restrung bow in one hand and snatched up Eve in the other, dashing away from the stone she sat on. A moment later, lightning struck despite the clear night sky. "Jackasses," she spat, spying a warlock retreating from a distant hilltop.

    Back then, while she was already a skilled archer, she didn't have the advantage to perception that her still heart provided. None of her party detected the stag until after it became visible across the river, electricity lighting its fur and antlers against the evening sky.

    Why would we be attacked out in the middle of nowhere? Eve wondered rather casually, allowing Talia to carry her for a few seconds before jumping back to her own feet. Someone with a grudge? Talia certainly seemed to be the type with a bounty on her head, if she didn't have one already.

    Monster attacks weren't rare on the road between settlements. It was something all merchants accounted for when trading long distances. In the minutes before the stag was confirmed hostile, as per standard protocol, they consolidated their most valuable goods and supplies to a single carriage.

    The biggest problem with monsters wasn't their raw power, although they had more than enough of it. No, it was their intelligence. They knew very well just how powerful they were and how to best use it. In that way, they were actually more of a threat than many warlocks.

    "Dillon, can't your sword do something about that monster?" Talia asked from behind one of her squadmates after their attempt at a stealthy escape across the bridge devolved into a chase down what constituted the main road. They hopped on a single horse together, the archer of the two taking steady shots at the beast. The others were farther ahead, controlling all but the merchants' most valuable carriage.

    Dillon was in possession of an artifact, a shortsword capable of ignoring distance. Once swung, the blade reached its target without fail... bringing the wielder along for the ride. It was a silly question, really.

    "You wanna take it for a spin? Be my guest!"

    "... I'll pass."


    Aine's ears were assaulted by mortar fire, one of the warlocks firing cannonball-sized clumps of dirt in their direction. The noise was more irritating than the attacks themselves were dangerous to her, so she kept up with Talia easily while they rushed toward their assailants across the plain. They clearly expected an easy kill, as the turnaround was abrupt and messy.

    As they ran, the feline felt a shift in the air, the very same that Talia had noticed earlier before the attack. The clumps of dirt were being shot in a pattern, pushing them into his partner's area of effect where little cover already existed. They figured this out too, and Talia's ice creation lagged in the defense department. Even so, she didn't stop running; Eve hopped onto her shoulder, and a massive horizontal bolt of lightning electrocuted thin air.

    "Got its eye!"

    "Nice shot!"

    A couple kilometers down the road, just when the stag was properly gaining on them Talia landed a perfect shot into its face, delaying its advance. As expected, that only served to enrage the monster. It must have felt this was something like a game, and the humans just broke the rules.

    Electricity surged over its body, finalizing between its antlers before firing. Dillon's steering kept them safe from the first two volleys. Then, seeing its efforts bear no fruit, it switched targets to one of the carriages further ahead.

    They could do nothing about it hitting such a large target, and one of the decoy carriages driven by the other knights was ripped apart, throwing the horses and driver to the wayside heavily injured (albeit more by the debris than the lightning itself).

    "Tch. Take the reins, I'm going in."

    She knew there was no stopping him, and realized her suggestion may have had something to do with his decision. She only bid him good luck, and braced herself as Dillon stood on the saddle. He leaned back along with the horse's gait once he drew his sword, the straight blade engraved with indiscernible runes, and took his shot.


    "Eve?" Off to the side, Talia glanced at her partner's glowing eye incredulously, but she didn't break stride or lose focus. Their opponents switched completely to defense, erecting trenches and walls to block the path in the middle of their getaway, but only wasting energy.

    "Can you get us over there?" she asked.

    «I can.» Eve turned her gaze skyward. Perhaps owing to the time they spent together thus far, Talia understood it in no time and readied her bow.

    Another wall came up, obstructing the view between them and their targets. The next instant, they were twenty meters in the air above the attempted assassins. Talia's bow was already pulled taut, a fierce blue light emanating from the string. Letting it fly, she released a rain of frozen arrows that exploded into a snowstorm on impact, freezing everything in a wide area.

    The stag finally retreated after taking Dillon's attack head-on, accepting the prize of a carriage and prey with a pair of gaping wounds in its neck. The landing hurt, but the knight rolled into it well given the height he fell from, using his sword's power to catch back up to Talia and the group once they stopped some ways down. They weren't going to be able to retrieve the fallen knight's tags, nor any goods that may have survived the attack, but it was enough to mourn when they were safe again.

    Talia and Eve crashed into an impromptu snowbank to soften their landing before the storm fully ended, which the latter found quite fun, starved of such simple pleasures for most of her life.

    She worked herself to her feet in the fluffy white powder, and was surprised at how well it stuck when she tried to shake it off. By the time she actually got around to this, the wind died down, and Talia had already gotten up and finished off their would-be killers. She still didn't recognize them. The sight of Eve covered in snow, however, glittering in the moonlight, managed to elicit a snort from the revenant.

    Sensing that Mifuyu was about to make her presence known once more with the chaos behind them, Aine thought to cut off what she already expected to be said. Thankfully, Mifuyu was in a good mood after seeing her powers put to such effective use. They agreed to a session of Twenty Questions (or more—however many the patron wanted to ask) on the way to the next town. With Talia speaking as Mifuyu's proxy, of course.
     

    Songbird

    Tonight, the marigolds bloom for her.
  • 554
    Posts
    10
    Years
    • Seen Apr 11, 2024
    She remembered the day they met like it was yesterday. How long had it been since? Almost ten years, that was for sure. She'd been getting reminded quite often lately that her debt was soon to come due. As if this was just a dream she was about to wake up from.

    She sort of hoped it was. Murdered in a border village by the very king she served, Talia was made the plaything of a higher power at the end of her life. In exchange for her service, she gained complete mastery over ice and snow, a body that felt neither pain nor fatigue, and the opportunity to exact vengeance on her country with her own two hands.

    The reality was, her revenge came pitifully quick. In only two months, the king of Ascantha and his collaborators were all assassinated, the culprit known to but a select few survivors who knew where a slip of the tongue would get them. Her work finished, she had nothing to do with the chaos that followed, and Talia became a wanderer.

    Her combat experience and powers made her a quickly renowned hunter, keeping her skills sharp. Her unnatural beauty and ability as an elite knight to navigate high society made her an effective assassin, ensuring her purse was never too light.

    It would have been so easy, so braindead simple, to lay low until it was time to repay her debt to Mifuyu.

    So why, instead, did Talia become the savior of a princess from another country?

    "Talia, when will you finally teach me to use a bow?"

    "You know my answer."

    "Then would you tell me why not?"

    "Because if you were to protect yourself, I'd be out of a job."

    For some reason, an excuse like that always got her to drop the subject on the occasions she asked. In honesty, she merely didn't want to see the girl pointlessly callousing her hands. This was Aine, the third child and second princess of Lindel, a kingdom a good few lands away from Talia's birth country.

    When they first crossed paths, it was nearly a year after Talia had completed her revenge, having drifted her way to near the capital of Lindel. Aine's carriage and entourage were set upon by a rather vicious monster, and the target of Talia's hunt that day.

    Knowing full well the dangers of trying to defend someone while repelling such a creature, she didn't spare the guards a glance as she engaged, only ordering them to protect their charge when she passed them. She took over the battle in no time, and ultimately subdued the monster more or less singlehandedly, backed up by a few potshots that couldn't draw its ire.

    If she was to take the proof of her kill and get out, that would have been that. And that's probably what she should have done.

    However, the passengers were able to see her fight from their carriage window. Despite her just doing an unrelated job that she was getting paid for, they came out to thank her personally before she could leave.

    It wasn't just a young Princess Aine inside, naturally. Her mother and a personal attendant joined them on the outing.

    At the same time, she learned that this was the second monster of its kind they had faced in the day, which was unplanned by them and unexpected to Talia—there was only one in the job description. With the remainder of their guard contingent already exhausted, and Talia still in top shape, she took on an escort job at the queen's behest.

    Over the next few days together, Talia had the chance to speak at length with Queen Catria. The young princess took a liking to her as well. Lady Mifuyu wasn't all too pleased about the turn of events herself, although she found some humor in the taciturn kingslayer hitting it off with a queen.

    It was another few months before she became Aine's personal bodyguard. Talia spent most of that time getting settled in Lindel and garnering the trust of the royal family. Through no fault of her own, mind. It all started when she took on a training request from the guard after they returned to the capital. The queen and princesses spotted her at the castle grounds, and it spiraled out of control from there.

    Ever since, she and Aine had been inseparable by necessity. The princess was already familiar with the risks of being a high profile figure, and Talia wasn't given any time for her skills to dull. It was convenient in a way that her opponents came to her instead of making her waste her time looking. Of course, it only served to get Aine further attached to her in the process.

    In that respect, perhaps it was only natural that one of them might have felt something more out of their relationship. That was a problem for Talia, given that she was working on a deadline, but she couldn't bring herself to turn down the princess's affections. Part of her didn't want to, either, as long as it pleased her. At least the bodyguard could keep it to a minimum by using her job description as a defense; but in the safety of the castle, that defense was paper thin and often ignored.

    "Talia."

    "Yes, Your Highness?"

    "Look this way."

    "As you wish—"

    Talia turned her attention to the princess standing on her toes, and the latter pressed her lips to Talia's before she could protest.

    Talia opened her eyes to the morning sun rising over the Fallen Valley. It looked so peaceful from a distance, a nature reserve untouched by human hands. But when she focused her ears, she could hear the morning cries of the valley's resident monsters coming from within. If they broke camp now, they'd make it well before noon.

    "Was I asleep?" she asked herself. The last she remembered, the sun had only just gone down.

    «Did you sleep well?» came a response from under her nose. Her legs crossed, Eve was curled up in her lap, now looking up.

    She'd completely forgotten what proper sleep felt like, but she felt refreshed, as much as a walking corpse could be.

    "I suppose. But..."

    «I asked Lady Mifuyu if she could grant you a moment of rest.» Apparently, she did it as a show of gratitude, lacking worthwhile material goods in her state. The reason didn't matter to Talia, though. She only cared about how Mifuyu pulled it off, and what her dream was about.

    "Your body cannot even function without my support. Every action you take is because I allow it. It's only natural for me to restore one such function I myself made unnecessary to you."

    She asked if Eve had anything to do with the dream she had next, but the cat had no control over it and thus gave no conclusive answers. Not that Talia touched on any of the details.

    In the end, Talia pushed it to the back of her mind in favor of more important things. Eve hopped off her lap as Talia got to her feet, pulling her cloak off the ground and giving it a good shake before wrapping it about her shoulders.

    "You ready?"

    «Yes.»

    They had a long day ahead of them.
     
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    • Age 38
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    "No way I'm making a dent in that thing."

    Not long after Talia and Aine entered the Fallen Valley, a number of things about it became immediately apparent to them. Their first encounter, so to speak, was a stone colossus covered in plantlife like a walking terrarium, its actual body cobbled together from well-cut blocks as if it had sprung up from a ruin. Massive as it was, from half a kilometer away they had to crane their necks to see the top of its head, and at first they believed it to be no more than a rock formation.

    «It does not appear to have anything resembling a heart or core. Is it akin to a golem? Or are the plants perhaps moving it?» Talia's feline companion was oddly talkative about the sight.

    "Whatever moves it matters not. This place is home to the first Star. Its chaotic energy yet remains to give birth to the impossible."

    The colossus was agonizingly slow, though it didn't come off as aggressive, and any other monsters in view gave it a wide berth. They supposed that monsters driven by instinct still knew when they were clearly outmatched. The two opted to do the same as they hopped down from their vantage point near the entrance of the valley.

    "If only I could be here myself, locating the Star would be that much easier." To put it bluntly, Mifuyu was their resident shard tracker. While her presence became nearly tangible, her ability to detect the shards had been completely dulled in the valley. Aine's patron could not be counted on.

    On one occasion, an attempt to initiate contact with them for assistance resulted in a disturbingly monotone approximation of Aine's own voice telling her to leave a message, followed by a beep. "The inner machinations of Edir's mind are an enigma," Mifuyu commented at the time, hinting to a history with them. "To try and understand them is to give up on whatever may remain of your sanity after having contracted them in the first place."

    Aine had felt perfectly sane. However, given that she had comfortably spent the last several months in the form of a winged feline rather than a human, she refrained from issuing a rebuttal to keep from having that pointed out to her.

    Their grievances with Edir aside, the residual energy of the first Gem Star obscured the shards of the newly fallen one. The warlocks were essentially hunting blind.

    To make it worse, the bottom of the Fallen Valley was covered in lush greenery and populated by fauna unseen anywhere else in the world, and very few who were capable of surviving were daring enough to venture in and catalogue it. This meant they had no idea as to the abilities of anything they passed. There were birds of prey more than twice Talia's length, often multiple pairs of wings and an amalgamation of body parts from several animals; horned scorpion-looking beasts that seemed to have exoskeletons tougher than steel; even animals they recognized were larger and more ferocious than was natural.

    So they didn't waste too much time in their search, they agreed to avoid conflict when they could—Talia's experience came in handy here. Finding alternative routes and avoiding detection were skills she had honed over the last decade and used here with outstanding results. Thanks to that, in addition to taking advantage of Aine's teleportation, they only engaged in combat once before the end of the day.

    The night was unfortunately just as unwelcoming, if not more so. Talia managed to locate an uninhabited cavern in the side of the valley; come moonrise, the more fearsome predators rose with it. The howling outside would have been enough to make any normal man an insomniac, and mere minutes after they sat for a break they were attacked by a trio of flying snakes.

    Already faint, the light rapidly dimmed as they retreated into the cave, until Talia could no longer see Aine next to her. Unlike her, the monsters after them almost certainly tracked their prey through other means.

    Something whistled through the air, and a pained scream filled the cave.

    Because also unlike her, the monsters weren't silent.

    Knocked off balance, the remaining snakes treaded the pitch black air ahead of Talia, the screech of the dying beast echoing off the walls.

    «One o'clock.»

    Another fell.

    Because just as they needed no light, neither did Aine.

    The feline marked the final target, and the assassin struck it down.

    Returning to the mouth of the cave, they made a point of properly masking their presence until morning. When they left at dawn to resume their search, the stone colossus that towered over the valley was nowhere to be seen.
     
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