Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

The Last Days of Free Mages

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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Edalene » Wed Feb 14, 2018 3:03 am

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As soon as Aeodan had her lay Aegeo down, she knew. Somehow, she felt as though there was a chamber inside of her that had blossomed, cracked open a new space inside of her - or perhaps made her soul bigger. Whatever her Gods-be-damned choice had brought, Edalene suddenly knew something more.

Aeodan was going.

And what's more, she couldn't stop him.

The burning, bleeding mage at her feet became a distant crackle, a fire on the horizon - smoke that concerns you, but leaves you enough time to gather your house and your loved ones. Aeodan, though, was the centre of the blaze. For the first time in their lives, Edalene was afraid of Aeodan. Afraid of the decisions he could suddenly make, without her, independent of her. His eyes were the same, but that was all.

But his words chased that fear away, and with it came a devastating wave. It was Ralaith and Vri bringing her faith and throwing it in her face; bitterness, sorrow, pain. Everything they held dominion over, as Edalene looked into her once-twin's eyes, the two that had brought her back to this world mocked her now. You came back to him, voices said in her mind, and now he leaves you for a smoke-stained bitch. Edalene gasped, Aeodan's face swimming behind her tears. They met each other in ashes and they rose again, without you. If you had never sacrificed her for false faith, he would still be yours.

But he drew her in. He was taller, now, and smelt different, but his heart beat the same, in a rhythm she remembered hearing clearly in a warm, wet space carved out for the perfect pair to come to fruition. The voices receded, and instead, she shuddered in her brother's arms. "Aeodan," she choked out. This may be the only chance she ever had with him. Somehow, she knew, that no matter what happened, she would die here on the shores, caught between one love and another, if even a single part of Aeodan suffered harm.

She wanted to scream. She wanted to tear the world in two, smite the guards with a single thought, rip a hole in the universe to go back to that womb where they had truly been safe and whole and together, but Aeodan was different. So different. He had changed, and Edalene had been left behind. Something felt different. Something felt out of joint. They had always been perfect complements of each other, always known what the other was thinking, doing, breathing, being, but now, for once, Edalene did not feel her brother.

But he had grown up. And she had not. If she screamed, begged, cried, what would she be proving? Aeodan would walk into the maw of the beast. Aeodan would be a man. No. For once, Edalene had to meet him.

Still, words were too hard. Instead, she grasped unfamiliar hair, and brought herself to unfamiliar lips, but it felt more right than anything. "Come back to me," she whispered, after kissing him with everything she had in her. She did not say 'I love you.' The words did not mean enough.

But she could not watch her soul walk into destruction. Closing her eyes, lest she lose it, sobbing, she summoned on the last of her strength, Arturius silently plodding beyond her. With a strength that belied her years, Edalene leant down. Enfused by strength and rage, Edalene managed to lift Aegeo into her arms and carry him upright. His firey blood burnt her skin, but she could not feel anything. She would not feel anything. To feel would be to break.

"He chose well," Edalene heard from the gruff Aegeo in her arms, and then the tears began to roll. Close to the skiff, now, Edalene couldn't even comprehend that the last time she was here she had begged for a false love to take her back. A feral Vhalo ran to Edalene, now only paces from the boat, walking silently with tears dripping down her cheeks. He took Aegeo's weight with her, and together, they brought him to the skiff. Only when Aegeo touched the skiff and was laid alongside an unconscious but still breathing Thomas did Edalene allow herself to break.

She fell to her knees and screamed a scream that could have broken the skies apart.
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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Caius Gawyne » Wed Feb 14, 2018 3:24 pm

Appropriate

None of this would matter in ninety-one days. In a season, he would be dead, that promise of a natural end written into every fiber of the mixed blood of his being.

Ninety one more days.

Caius wasn't sure he would make it, wasn't sure that his mind could remain sound enough or his heart could remain solid enough to contain all that his trials had been filled with—this trial and the fistful of trials beforehand that had brought so much unexpectedness crashing into his purposefully isolated, quiet, academic life.

Ninety one more days.

The weight of the bear crushed him and for a trill, he longed to let it, to be an unsung victim of the chaos that he had no way of entirely understanding. The creature slumped in second death, and he closed his eyes to relax, to not even bother to strain against the disgusting matted beast. Darcyanna would be alright—her shared secrets would die with him, after all. For that precious trill, he was ready, willing, and empty, but that dark moment was stolen from him as the bear moved and an Ashcloak breathed his name. He groaned and stood, tears stinging his eyes from smoke and desperation.

Tucking the dagger away and hefting his saber, the young Gawyne wiped the back of his hand across his aristocratic cheeks and glared at the scene that unfolded in all of its unimaginably horrifying glory. Never in his short, measured life could the northern noble have ever imagined the pages of old tomes he'd rebound and thumbed through, the stories and legends of centuries past, would be played out before him with himself as a character trapped within the vellum and ink. Never.

Aeodan in someone else's skin and his group of magical terrorists dragging the accused away were too fucking far away, Caius' sharp blue eyes churning darker in his frustration and confusion and hopelessness, the Ashcloak next to him shifting uneasily on his feet as the inexperienced Lord hesitated in his choices.

Fuck if he knew what the right side was from here.

Fuck if he knew anything other than this:

Ninety one more days.

Blood and shouting. Fire and ripples in reality he'd only heard of but never seen—the roar that erupted from the group of fleeing mages reverberated in his chest and threatened to steal the breath from his lungs. Tensing, he knew he had no choice but continue to face down the monsters until one of them killed him or everything ended. One, at this point, felt far more comforting than the other. He knew which one—

A hand grabbed him before he even managed to shoulder his way through the crowd, the Ashcloak slipping away ahead of him as he turned and sneered at the woman, his lips curling in confusion as she waylaid his plans. He was afraid, too, truth be told, but he knew that succumbing to it was useless.

Wild eyed for a broken breath, Caius had looked away for but a heartbeat to watch the gory scene one more time, to look for an opening, but the voice pulled his attentions back to the Woman as the world tilted on its twin-sunned axis and he found himself inexplicably tangled with the ember-eyed Stranger. Fear and emptiness faded with the din of the dying and the need for escape became a much more familiar, much more comforting carnal need that captivated the young Gawyne's attentions, the wave of self-loathing far weaker than it should have been, for the northern noble's physical comforts weren't unknown to himself, deep in the secret vaults of his mind.

Still, he whined at the uninhibited way his body betrayed him, following the queue of other betrayals for the young trial that had only just begun and was already falling apart. Looking away from the Stranger's touch, his eyes fluttered shut at her words, at her offer, at her admission of invested interest, her teeth against his skin eliciting a groan of wanting instead of indecision—

There was no choice here.

Warren, Patron of Life, forgive my decision. My short time for theirs surely means something. Ziell, Father of Peace, this all seems far too much to pay for peace, but because I can bear the cost, I will.

The least he could do was enjoy the price.

—opening his eyes again and tearing his gaze away from the mangled rampage, Caius ceased his horrified struggling, letting his weapon clatter to the icy cobblestones as he shifted his body with deviously well-practiced ease above the Immortal who taunted him, who threatened him, who promised him far more than he was capable of comprehending in the moment, far from ignorant of the compromising position he was willingly playing at, cheeks flushed and pulse quickening in the molten halls of his veins just at the pretending. The northern noble even dared allow his warm hands to wander, revulsion and curiosity feeling much the same,

"Fine." He hissed, once-blue irises having warmed to the color of amber, the sounds of death disappearing beneath the rapid candor of his heartbeat. There was nowhere else and nothing else, and Caius surrendered to the want he couldn't satisfy through study or sex, that couldn't be assuaged through art or accomplishment, "Have me—for them. Tell me how to stop that thing."

The Stranger grinned at him, an unimaginably wicked expression that was as alluring as it was terrible, her hands in the ever-unkempt mess of his hair and her stranger-still body just so beneath him while blood and death stained cobblestones. With a wanton sigh, Syora's kiss was the opposite of gentle, more teeth than lips as nails blazed a trail down the base of his skull, dragging over his neck and shoulder blades, leaving a warmth unlike any other crawling over his skin. Curling fingers into his coat to hold him still, to keep their bodies together for a few more ragged, needful breaths, the Stranger tugged her mouth away and leaned toward the young Gawyne's ear, whispering huskily,

"Such a Wise Boy Who Gets All He Wants. Go And Tell Him His Name, Lover. Go And Call Him Nolan. I Will Be Watching."

Caius inhaled sharply, wanting less of her words and more of her, more of something, anything else. Desperate and starving. But just as the last syllables warmed his skin, the Stranger was gone and the cold cobblestones were a terrible shock.

Ninety one more days.

The northern noble groaned, once again left empty and hungry, the sloshy, wet chill unwelcome and necessary. Staggering to his feet and snatching back up his weapon, Caius ran ink-stained, dirtied fingers over the blood that ran a lingering trail down his face and over his lips, the thunder of his pulse the only sound he chose to focus on in opposition to the gurgles and the screams. The Lord Arbiter cut a direct course through the crowd, shouldering his way past fleeing, terrified people and not making eye contact with those who wore ash-colored cloaks or blackened armor, ignoring the dead and dying he stepped over, ignoring the voice of his once-friend who wore the skin of a stranger, and ignoring the crackling of a portal and the roar of unsatisfied flames.

Raising his saber to part the crowds again and resting his free hand on DuKette's dagger still in his belt—just in case—the young Gawyne waded with an uncharacteristic sense of focus into the melee, not wanting to draw attention to himself but knowing he had to get close, as close as possible, to even speak to the laughing, growling, gurgling creature that had once been an aged, bespectacled man,

"Hey!" Caius shouted as the Sessfiend crushed the skull of a woman in its claws, unable to not hear the sound again of shattering bone or feel the heat of someone else's blood, "Over here, you fucking traitor."

The twisted creature wheezed a cackle and lunged toward the young Gawyne, tossing the body of its victim and slicing past another, the noble's eyes widening as the reality of his decision came crashing in with the closing of their distance. He heard the shouting of warnings, he saw the flash of steel as at least one Purifier began to turn toward his aid. He had but a moment, bloodied claws wanting his warm entrails to join the steaming evidences of failure that littered the cobblestones around the empty, roaring fire,

"Nolan—" Caius' voice wavered in a mix of hope and doubt, longing to trust the lascivious Immortal he'd bargained with more than just his body for, raising his saber and shifting his stance in preparation to attack the charging thing should his words ring empty, "Nolan, stop."

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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Plague » Mon Feb 19, 2018 5:24 pm

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Once, some Arcs ago, Caius had read a passage in the journal of a Moseke Knight, Demeer Castog. He had been charged with cataloging the drawn out battle with a brigand group called Blackbird's Men, named for their black-hearted leader. The passage was a small one, between two detailed descriptions of the destruction left behind by the bandits when they had marauded through a homestead in the steppes of Gawyne land.

"Early morn our horses spied the slaughter. It took Ser Henry, the stablemaster, to calm our frightened steeds and three took sprinting to the glade behind. We knew not their panic till we stepped closer. Fates preserve us, I bless their name we have not the acute nostrils of a horse. I have seen much of death in my time, quiet death that slinks and loud that crashes between steel. Never have I met a death as brazen here, swaddled in rot. Were a man to ask me now, I would tell him that I know the smell of evil. I cannot escape it."

The Sessfiend smelled of evil. Blood complimented its white fur, vibrant swathes of life ebbing and drying. Brain matter clung to the curves between thumb and pointer, quivering pink and bloody. Vertigo, the sister to disgust, whispered its treason into Caius' ear and sounds became at once too close and far away altogether. He had fainted before, he knew the darkening edges of his vision were as clear a herald as any other sign and as the creature bent over him, smiling all the while, he spoke.

No sooner had the words left his mouth than the grimace faltered on the Sessfiend's face. Its body jerked as Kayled buried his blade to its hilt through its abdomen, but there was no concern there, no care. It stared at Caius, agape, orange eyes a maelstrom of hatred...but.

For a moment? Yes. For a moment they calmed, human color bled through and Caius beheld the terrified eyes of the man inside the thing, twisting madly in its deep sockets. An ocean of pain, from horizon to horizon, could not properly voice the agony and horror of the man within the demon. Even with the drying blood of his victims still souring his breath, Nolan stared out of the monster he had become with such acute despair a sob hitched in Caius' throat, lodged there, and subsided.

He had never seen eyes so helpless, so mortified, so trapped and desperate.

With a roar, Dagget hobbled through the bloody chaos, drawing up a fallen mace and burying it as hard as he could into one grasping, clawed hand. Bones splintered and the orange hatred rose once more in glowing conflaguration to bury the man again. But this time the Sessfiend did not return to its slaughter, spinning on its foot it sent both Kayled and Dagget crashing into their peers before tugging out the Inquisitor's sword. Furiously it held it in both hands and with a vicious, bloody twist, snapped it clean in two, hurling both pieces to clatter on the cobblestone. Caius could see the angry weeping eye of its wound already twisting in on itself, but the beast was no longer content with its slaughter. Leaping upward, it buried claws into the side of one stone building and hoisted itself onto the roof. With incredible alacritiy, it vanished form sight and reappeared again on another roof, each time vanishing farther into the city. Up went the cries of pursuit, but Caius had little doubt it would prove fruitless. The creature was too fast, it would be over the wall before the guard knew to stop it...and pity the brave dead who stood between it.

All at once the energy bled out of him, his knees on the ground before he knew he had fallen. There was such blood on his clothes, soot and blood. Distantly, oh so distantly, he wondered how he must look, what they must think.

But there was no one to stare at him. The dead, in their twisted sculptures, stared unblinkingly into the sky. Blood rivers traced the spaces between cobblestones and the sun had already begun to fill the horror with light, draw it sharply into focus. Caius almost fell forward, his breath slow and the weight of what he had seen starting to clutch at his consciousness, down. Down. Down.

A hand caught him, an arm shrived in emerald. "Nae today, lad," DuKette murmured quietly, steadying the Lord Arbiter, "Not time tae sleep yet." Caius looked up at the crimson haired enigma, wiping dried blood away from his head wound and scowling at the chaos. "Sorcery," the mage hunter explained, "It twists about, yeh? Corrupts all it touches. Now we all know."

DuKette seemed to have regained his faculties and removed the knife from Caius, replacing it in his belt. The scholar noted that one of his small daggers still spit and glistened blacks and reds, trying to tug against the leather strap that held it to his vest. "Time tae help the livin," he said, grim, "And tae count the dead."

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"Brave Words, Boy, Brave Words."

The guards had crossed the short distance along the creaking dock toward Aeodan, weapons drawn and eyes wary. They had seen the pillar of flames not more than a break earlier and had debated making their way over. Between the loudest of them, Tali, and the most dogmatic, Aeodal, it had nearly come to blows. But the arrival of Aeodan had put a stop to their bickering and now the six of them approached the suspected mage cautiously, spear men toward the front and the rest drawing their blades.

The voice that spoke next drew all their eyes upward. Something about the tone, so jocular, or the voice, so resonate and deep that it thrummed through their bones. For a moment, Aeodan thought he saw a white eagle in the new light, feathers glistening like silver brighter than they had when the same eagle had led them to the Seekers but a night previous. But when he blinked, it was impossible. Instead of an eagle, a man crouched on the roof of the warehouse just above where Aeodan now stood. It took him a moment to recognize Daevus, the traveler who had inquired about Thomas when all this had begun. Not much had changed, and yet it took Aeodan longer than it should have to actually recognize the man. Something about him had shifted, something intangible. Light sew itself through the trinkets braided in his thick dreadlocks and that easy smile had found its way to his travel-worn face. He was vibrant, powerful, and completely at ease.

"That's him!" One of the guards, a blond man, hissed at his captain, pointing up, "The man we were told to apprehend! D...Dae...Sod it, forgot the name."

"Daevus, you drunkard," A short haired woman growled, smacking her hip hard against his to send him a step off balance, "Ally to a mage."

"Seems like we have two to bring in then," The captain confirmed, his eyes having never left Aeodan, "And if you all know what's best, you'll give us no struggle. I'm no priest of the Seven, but I'll witness your last breaths if you force it."

Aeodan had his hands up already, and with no additional well he wasn't about to give them any reason to take their attention off him. Daevus was a complication. Aeodan wanted no more of Thomas' friends wrapped up in this, but the fool had gone and brazenly thrown himself on the attention of the guards. No way out of it for him unless he turned tail. Either way, Aeodan was too exhausted to put up more than a token effort besides. His new body was still unfamiliar and his bones ached where he didn't know bones could ache before.

"A Fine Offer!" Daevus called down to the captain, "Devout In Faith And Duty. Struggle On, Mortal, Struggle On!" Laughing, the traveler hurled himself off the roof and landed nimbly in front of Aeodan. Despite himself, the scholar took a step back. Daevus seemed taller, scarred muscles rippling as he surged forward. More out of surprise than intent, the first of the spearmen thrust their weapon toward him. Daevus didn't miss a beat, leaning just so that the spear slid past his body with only an inch to spare. Daevus leveled an open palmed thrust out, sending the spearman sprawling to the ground as they tried to keep hold their weapon. As it clattered, Daevus bent forward, both calloused hands on the wood and thrust himself up into the air to avoid the second spear. Righting himself in mid air, he came down on the spear at an angle, snapping it and melting instantly into a roundhouse that dropped the second spearman in a stunned slump.

"Fates!" The captain snarled, brandishing his blade, "Some kind of damned acrobat!"

"Love Thy Body," Daevus answered, chuckling, "So Marvelous, So Whole, So Resilient. Why Limit Yourself, Mortal? Tools Left On The Table." His opponent didn't choose to answer, thrusting forward with his sword as the other four quickly surrounded the traveler. Almost giggling, he slapped the blade away, the back of his hand always finding the flat of it quicker than the captain could run him through and directing it away. Daevus was a dervish of dance and motion, sliding his legs out so far his groin was cradled on the wood and thrusting one hand into the ground again, lifting his sturdy body and spinning it with a flick of his wrist. Aeodan was floored. Never in his life had he seen such skilled martial arts. Daevus moved as though the world had no hold on him, as if it were all water and he, the graceful swimmer with all current at his command. Two were thrown off their feet, but the captain was quick and narrowly surged backward. Daevus concentrated on the captain, spinning his feet up and around, walking forward on his arms as his legs leaped and dipped in dizzying order. Clearly out of his element, the Captain could not allow more ground to be lost and tried to angle his sword down into that whirlwind of motion, stabbing at Daevus' head. Before the blade could touch his skin, a swarthy foot caught the captain's hand and smacked the sword away. The martial artist spun forward and delivered two sound blows to the captain which sent him crashing into a stack of old crates, bursting through them to roll slowly on the ground. Daevus retook his feet with a contented sigh, dusting off his hands.

He seemed to have overlooked the short haired woman, one who had not been downed. Sucking in a breath, she thrust her blade at the traveler's unprotected back, fast enough that Aeodan couldn't manage more than a half-yell, his voice joined by the torturous scream from Edalene. It was the screech that saved him, drawing the guard's attention for a moment that slowed her thrust. Daevus turned quickly and caught the blade between two hands, a spurt of crimson coloring her blade as he held it in place.

"Marvelous!" He growled, "Marvelous! What Grit! What Spirit! How Feisty These Rynmerens!" He snatched the sword away from her and spun it, now menacing her throat with the blood-streaked steel. She backed toward Aeodan, too afraid to swallow hard for how close the edge was to piercing her skin.

"P-Please," She started, "I-"

"Begging Is Beneath You," Daevus seemed disappointed, "Knights Are Noble, Yes? Grin Into Death. Laugh At It. Death Is Your Moment. You Have So Few Others. Let's Not Sully It. You Fought Well!" She gulped, the motion of her throat drawing a stitch of blood and tears. "I Envy That Fear," He said, a little quieter, but the smile never left his face, "I Do Not Begrudge You That. Rest, Then, Struggle Forward." Daevus brought the handle across her temple, dropping her to the dock.

Aeodan was breathing harshly, suddenly aware of how tired he was. He felt Edalene's sorrow twisting up within his gut.

"Brave, But Stupid." Daevus leveled a stare at the scholar and shook his head. Dropping the sword behind the guard, he wrapped a thick arm protectively around Aeodan's shoulder and steered him toward the boat. "Sacrifice, Sacrifice. You Mortals Love To Tote Your Lives Like Currency." He was almost carrying Aeodan, his feet dragging over the splintered wood as the larger man strode towards the skiff, "Noble For A Moment, Boy, But Then What? Plead A Second Chance From Vri? Bribe The Twins? Dead Is Dead, Boy, And Plenty Of Time For Rest When Your Bones Are Weary And A Good Enemy Slips One Past Your Guard." His voice vibrated in Aeodan's soul, like the voice of Vri, of Yvithia. Yes. This was not a mortal.

"Anyone Can Die, Aeodan," Daevus muttered, hoisting the man up easily and tossing him onto the boat beside Edalene, "A Real Hero Has The Stones To Live."

Edalene squeaked, her voice the raw-ragged thing of spent tears. Without words her hands found Aeodan's weary body and held it, pulled it close. Even had he the strength to resist, Aeodan did not. Instead he laid against her and remembered all the times he had laid his head against her breast before, all those times before their love was shared, known. Aegeo gurgled and Vhalo was shedding feathers for skin, trying his best to navigate the wound. He made small chirping noises, troubled sounds.

Thomas lay quietly, his face peaceful but badly bruised. This close Aeodan and Edalene could clearly see the passage of torture that had been written across his body. Fury ignited within Aeodan again and he remembered the sharp, snake-like face of the Inquisitor. Edalene turned his head away from Thomas, gently back into her embrace.

Daevus was busy untying the skiff, Inclement Weather, from the dock. He paused just long enough to reach around another stack of boxes to produce a burlap sack. Part of it wriggled in his hand, twisting turmoil, but it didn't seem to bother the god.

He was distracted, again, when the Captain regained consciousness and scrambled for his sword. Aeodan was staring up at the bleeding sky, fading fire in the clouds, and remembering Ninacky...her final moments. He couldn't bring himself to look at Aegeo's chances, not now. Together Edalene and he were embraced, entwined, and even in this strange body it felt right in her arms.

Too late Edalene and he saw the flash of steel, the captain swinging the blade at the back of Daveus' head.

Daevus was staring straight ahead, a wide grin on his dark face.

The sword bit shadow, sudden and roiling up from the ground. With a strangled cry, he fell backward, the sword clattering to the wood and bouncing into the gentle waves. The shadow, vaguely humanoid, ran long, clawed fingers down its uneven, ragged side and lurched forward, soundless as it drew itself fully up and wrapped those claws around the captain's throat.

He gurgled, the claws tickling his skin, drawing fine red lines.

"Unbecoming of a Knight to strike at a mans back," Malena chided, making her way around spools of rope and barrels of soot-black tar. "What reward have the Fates for such cowardly acts?

"Interrupted A Moment," Daevus muttered, turning on her with a hand at his hip, "I Liked His Spirit, No Give There. Do Me A Service And Let Him Live."

"You." Malena didn't seem pleased to see him, "If I had known it was you, Cassion, I'd have let the blade find your neck. Always fancied animating a dead deity."

Cassion laughed and Aeodan stared, agape, Edalene followed his eyes as well. Even Vhalo stopped his ministrations over Aegeo to peer suspiciously down the gangplank at the bare-backed figure. He was so unlike Ralaith, that was her first thought. Cassion laughed, booming, shaking his head. "His Life, Malena, If You Please."

"And why should I?" Tommy and Mara peeked over her shoulder, swaddled in cloth. Neither cried, they just looked own with infantile wonder, "He's an enemy and I don't recall you helping in any of this."

"You Wound Me," Cassion slapped a hand against his breast, "I Led The Twins To You, I Saved Brave Aeodan From Gutting Himself On The Dock. I Gathered All the Supplies Necessary For Your Journey. Honestly, I Did More Than I Should Have...This Isn't My Story."

"Thomas is your servant." Malena glared back, unyielding, "You should have for him."

"Not His Story Either," Cassion shrugged, "I'm Here For Them." He jerked a thumb back toward Aeodan and Edalene then, much quieter, "And Us."

"There is no us." Malena lifted a hand and the shadow released the captain. He fell, gasping, clutching at his throat as she walked over him and up the gangplank into the skiff. "But if you insist on haunting me, at least make yourself useful and get us going." She glanced around the deck, a small part of her rigid, authoritative expression cracking as she noted the condition of Aegeo...and the lack of Ninacky and Nolan. Edalene knew Malena better of the twins and she could see the terror, sorrow, and pain there, neatly snapped behind a mask of tranquility.

Everyone was broken and hurt, two of their number already gone. Malena had stayed behind, safe and ineffective.

Cassion watched her and a storm passed over his face, a moment or two of rage before it vanished and was replaced with a wolfish grin. "Cruel, Cruel. I love That In A Woman." Tommy put a fist in his mouth with as much vigor as he could muster, his tiny face scrunching around it with vicious intent. Mara, meanwhile, caught Marlena's hair and stuffed a strand unceremoniously into her mouth.

"Malena," Edalene was the first to speak, her voice so small and quiet, "I'm sor-" Neither she nor Aeodan were prepared for the speed at which Malena bent and enveloped them both. Suddenly the twins were held in strong, soft arms, a warmth so much different than the flash-burn of the pyre or Aegeo's burning wounds. Tears, impossible tears crawled from their tired eyes and both Edalene and Aeodan quietly sobbed.

They were not alone.

Malena slowly withdrew from them, laying a hand gently against each of their cheeks. "You did so much more than we would have expected. No apologies, no excuses. We did not lay our lives at your feet or chain them to your guilt. Each one of us knew the risk and were happy to pay it. I am...I am so happy you both made it out." She wiped a traitorous tear from the corner of her eye, "Gods be thanked for watching over you."

Cassion coughed, casting the last line off onto the dock and leaping aboard. Exasperation clouded Malena's face for a moment and she whirled on the god. She opened her mouth, her tongue already giving shape to her long and blistering scolding, but she sighed it out and shook her head. "We are to meet a merchant vessel out beyond the reef. Will you steer us there?"

"No." Cassion stepped up to the prow of the ship and looked down into the dark waves that spread out beneath them, "Your Contact Might Feel It More Profitable To Collect On Your Bounties Than On Your Favor. Instead I Have Other Designs." Swinging out over the sea, Cassion turned his hand palm down and let the blood drip out over the water. "A Favor For a Favor, Cousin. Take Us To The Black Dolphin."

A pale corona flared beneath the surface of the sea, strange ethereal light brimming up from the deaths around the small skiff. Cassion chuckled and swung back into the boat, bracing both hands at the prow.

"Fair.....Journeys.....Vagabond." The words were whispered in the lapping of waves, the sound of the water sliding along the skiff as it knifed through the water.

"Best Hold Tight." Cassion warned.

The sea rose above them suddenly, green-blue wall of foam and darkness towering over the skiff like the fin of some massive seabeast. Vhalo held Aegeo's shoulders down and Malena wrapped herself around the twins. Edalene reached out and pulled Thomas towards her, intent not to lose the scholar so soon after freeing him. The water swelled, twice the size of the ship, the peak drawing a shadow over the boat as it sailed beneath it.

"I love you," Aeodan said to her quietly, "I'll always come back to you."

"I love you too," Edalene whispered into his hair, "You'll never have to be without me."

And the wave crashed down on them all, swallowing the skiff into the sea.




Mod notes: Alright all! The crew of Narav's stolen vessel will be traveling swiftly beneath the sea in a tunnel of surging water. Don't fall off. Feel free to help Vhalo and Malena see to Aegeo's wounds as best they can, but Thomas isn't ready to wake yet. Edalene, feel free to check in that wriggling sack. You'll find your cat along with any supplies and keepsakes either she or Aeodan might have deigned important that were left at home. Cassion will be communing with U'Frek so no need to deal him in just yet.

Caius? We have clean up and tallying the dead.
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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Aeodan » Wed Feb 21, 2018 12:24 am



If I had known then, standing in the square, the havoc our choices would have caused in our home, I don't think I would have altered my course. The loss of life is regrettable, but we were in no situation to weigh good and evil in the face of the rising flames. Given the choice to do it over, I don't think I would have changed a thing, and our mission would have fared exactly as it had... Nolan would have been unleashed, Aegeo's cruel foresight releasing him in the necessity of desperation. We would have left Malena with her children. I would have approached that pyre from the front, and I would have faced off against the warrior from Hiladrith all the same. Nothing would have changed.

Except one thing. I would have taken that arrow for Ninacky. Had I seen its trajectory before I saw the shaft quivering in her throat, I would have thrown that weird and awkward body in front of it. I would have done something more than stare dumbly at it. Faced with those types of situations, I have found in my recollections that my inaction is life-altering, and given the opportunity, that is one I would correct. I promised to see her safely to share her Truth, and by Cassion, I failed that girl. I let her fire burn out before she had shared its glow with the man she loved, and would that I could rekindle her blaze so that she may spread it. But life if full of those little tragedies, and I call them little for a reason. Ninacky's death helped secure a future for the man she loved, and though it was a devastating loss, she had accomplished the goal of her life. Like me dying for Edalene, in the end, that's the way we choose to go. She had to give her life so that Aegeo, Edalene and I might escape with Thomas, to get him and ourselves to safety. Hers was a sacrifice, much more than any one of us deserved in that moment, and it is one that will be forever immortalized. Nobody dies to a Cassion-marked, because we live through the tales of our adventures, and Ninacky is as alive to me this trial as she was when I made her that promise. Still, looking back, that wasn't clear to me then. Nothing was.

Nothing but fire and blood.
- Aeodan Burnett, written in his memoirs arcs after the events of Vhalar 123 717


Aeodan was speechless, his dark eyes examining the ragtag crew, mutilated and bloody and bleeding fire, and he couldn't find the words. He wanted to help Vhalo with Aegeo, but he knew nothing of the body and even less of Defiance, and even if he could somehow miraculously attune himself to that domain, he was likely to be unsuccessful in coaxing the flames to remain in the gruff Defier's veins. He ran a bloodied hand over his stubble, always having been unable to grow any in his own skin, and examined the gore on his knuckles indifferently. It was like it wasn't him who had broken that guard's neck, or beaten the other into a lump of blood and viscera. Instead, it was this man whose face he wore, bearing hard resemblance both to himself and Vhalo. He wanted to look out into the water, the strange swirling tunnel of it around them, for a reflection, but he couldn't take his eyes from his hands.

He tried in vain to wipe the sticky, crusted blood from his knuckles. He spit on his hands, rubbing them on his tattered pants with little more success. He sighed, still feeling and hearing nothing. The ringing in his ears was growing, allowing with the sound of a deluge, a roaring waterfall made from the blood roaring through his veins. As much as he wanted to collapse in anguish and misery, perhaps his own blood had turned gone the path of the fiery plasma, searing his insides and cauterizing his body against the waves of emotional pain that were sure to follow. They had succeeded, they had escaped... But at what cost?

Before he knew what he was doing, he strode across the deck of the ship, lifting the twins gently from Malena as Edalene approached the woman. He did not know how he knew she would be drawn to Malena, but he felt it, and he wanted nothing more than to hold those two children. Perhaps it was their softness, the lightness of their bodies in direct contrast with his heart, heavy as stone. He looked at them both, sweet and small and perfect, and he wanted to smile. He wanted to let them light his heart up, but the only light he could see behind his eyes was that of Ninacky's body, lost to her destiny before she completed her mission.

He took the twins, one in each arm, to the side of the ship, sitting with his back against the soot-black barrels. He gently swayed them, looking down at them, and something inside him clicked. It all made sense to him, holding them there, that he wanted to hold them because they represented life and potential. The loss of Ninacky, her sacrifice, had paved the way for these two children to grow and have lives, to live them as heroes or villains or neither, and that struck a chord within Aeodan. The first tear that fell landed on Tommy's cheek, streaming down to run along his tiny earlobe. The boy twin stared at Aeodan, uncrying himself, frigid blue eyes trying to find the source of his tears quickly. He could see the babe trying to process the emotions that were sticking to his skin like a film, too close and too tight to shed. Tommy's blues met his browns, and they shared a moment, then Mara started to fuss.

Immediately, Aeodan shushed them, the rain of tears splattering on their soft skin and clothing. It didn't matter. The ride was wet and rough anyway, so that the tears were little more than warmer water, but still, Aeodan cried. He cried for Ninacky's sacrifice, his broken promise to her... He cried for Nolan, whose ailment was weaponized for them, against his will. He wept for Aegeo, whose blood was gushing out and turning to steam against the liquid walls of the tunnel in which they traveled. He cried for Thomas, whose torture was borne on his face and body, and he cried for Malena, having to raise her children in a world where men had to weep for the previous reasons. He stared down at the twins, alternating between their eyes, and he silently begged them for forgiveness. He begged them to never grow up to hate, because it was an addiction not easily shed.

And he did. He hated. He hated those bigots in Rynmere. He hated that Hiladrithan asshole. He hated the Ashcloaks and the King and his holy whore. He hated that Gawyne, the one he'd shared a meal and a nice afternoon with. He hated that they were on this forsaken boat. And he hated that fucking archer that shot Ninacky. The scenario replayed in his head, over and over in perfect clarity, fueling his tears and vitriol. He still clung to those children, like letting them go would see him from the deck of the Inclement Weather. They were the future, for whatever it would be, and he knew that their stories were being forged, here in the rising action of his own, their fates tied together by tragedy and fear and triumph.

Triumph. Is that really what that was? Dead citizens, people he and his sister had known growing up? A Rynmere whose fears about mages were just affirmed? Aeodan knew Thomas would have told them not to come if he had the chance. He knew that the Lord Inquisitor had counted on a Seeker rescue, and had turned the scene into the powder keg it needed to be in order to paint the mages in the shade of villainy. And Aeodan couldn't blame him. Thomas, one of the most gentle men he knew, held a literal god at bay to rescue them. His power was on a terrifying level. But there was always a choice, and Thomas had resided and taught in Rynmere for so many arcs before this incident. He had been a staple in the academic community, though his credentials were built on a lie, and he fought against the true magical villains. But the citizens neither knew about that, nor likely cared. Instead, they were all too happy to call him a criminal, to brand him in flame and torture as a shining example of the consequences of magic in the Kingdom. Even those who knew him had allowed him to be set ablaze for the grisly spectacle.

He knew Thomas would have played the martyr. There, in Cassion's shadow, Aeodan thought he understood the Professor's part in the story being told, but Aeodan wasn't ready to write him out. There was so much Thomas could teach him, and saving him had been the right course of action, hadn't it? Surely, for they were still alive. The choice was theirs, and they chose the right one.

But as he looked back towards the shore of Rynmere, or where the assumed it must be, he wondered if triumph was truly the correct word. They had become outlaws in their home, the place they had grown up. Aeodan would forever no longer be able to return to his home, to see his mother or father. He would never walk the paths that he and Eda had as children, and he could no longer take her to that apple orchard to lie under the stars with her. They had written a new story, one that took them from their homes forever, and he would have to find new places to take her, new places to make memories with her, new friends and family.

Like the mages surrounding him. The gruff Aegeo, Overstepped to save his father-figure and mentor. Vhalo, who gave Aeodan a new face, and Malena, whose undead creatures kept the vanguard of the Ashcloaks busy while they rescued Thomas. And Thomas himself, the man they had all risked their lives to save, the man whose very presence had inspired the twins to change their stories forever. In fact, Aeodan thought, he had likely inspired every single soul on that skiff to change their stories, to write their own sagas for the world to read. There was something in the eccentric professor's person that inspired those around him to their greatest, and Aeodan had no doubt that every mortal on that ship owed him something.

And perhaps the one Immortal, too. Aeodan's glassy stare broke from Tommy and Mara and moved to Cassion's back as he moved about, helping with what he could. The man's scars were prevalent and visible, and Aeodan wondered if any of those were acquired with the rotund professor still recovering from the rigours of keeping himself from burning alive. Aeodan wondered why Cassion would come to save Thomas if there were not some reason, and the curiosity burned in his chest, the first true emotion he felt since Ninacky's blaze. He watched intently as the man's dread-locked hair moved as he did, and he remembered the flowing and acrobatic style of his combat. The young twin found himself wondering where Cassion had picked that up. He found himself wishing he'd been there when he had.

He thirsted for adventure of his own.
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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Caius Gawyne » Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:41 pm

For the eternal expanse of one more heartbeat, Caius worried that the Stranger's promise had been yet another betrayal, yet another stone to crush him under its lie-filled weight on this trial of trials. Eyes wide, shifting irises a colorful sea of mixed emotions, the Sessfiend was deathly close to him. Too close. All of the gory details of its singular purpose were smeared in entrails on its once-human form and the northern noble had never before wanted to be closer to his natural end than he already felt. This death would be unnatural, should he receive it, painful and agonizing. Perhaps that was fitting. Perhaps it was better. Perhaps then, someone would remember his existence and use the word hero in the same sentence, even if he didn't deserve it. Even if he never would.

The beast had a name as if somewhere inside there was a man, Nolan, a man and a mage, another professor, if he recognized him in the blur of transformation and terror.

Did selling your soul to the Spark make it easier to give your whole self away to something even more disgusting?

No, he himself was now living proof that wasn't fucking true—

Now.

Suffocated by a stench unlike anything he'd ever experienced and never fully imagined in the twenty-odd arcs of his sheltered, well-bred life, it was in that same span of muscle memory inside the molten cavity of his chest that recognition flickered to life in the foul beast's eyes. His words reached something—someone—inside, and that pause was all the Lord Inquisitor needed to run it through, though all the young Gawyne saw was the helpless fear of the trapped soul within the twisted creature Nolan had become. Had he agreed to this? Had he agreed to becoming this beast so his magic-wielding terrorist friends could get away? Was this what the Seekers had wanted? Was this what Thomas had wanted? Was this what Aeodan had wanted? Was this really what Kayled had wanted? Was this the vested interest the Woman who he'd bargained with had taunted him with? The Crown, too?

Everything was sideways and for the second span of a single heartbeat, Caius wished desperately it was his pathetic, useless grey matter the screeching Sessfiend wore on its ravenous claws.

That would have solved everything.

Instead, he had to wait, still alive.

Ser Wine had spoken with such conviction—the King had made his decree that magic was vile, dangerous, and needed to be destroyed through the Kingdom. The young Gawyne hadn't had a breath, a single moment to process such a statement, having been dragged through a series of increasingly bloodier, more destructive revelations that threatened to keep him awake for the rest of his short, pre-determined life.

Humanity was burned away in Nolan's gaze when Dagget leapt in to attack the Sessfiend, and yet Caius found himself unable to leap immediately into the hopeless fray, crushed into stillness by the weight of all that had transpired around him—too many questions, too many lies, too much truth, too much blood. In less than a trial, everything he'd comfortably thought he knew had been eviscerated, immolated, destroyed.

He knew nothing—no, even that was a lie—he knew one thing. Only one:

Ninety one more days and none of this would fucking matter. Caius didn't know whether to praise the Seven or give thanks to Ziell, his Immortal grandparent whose lineage burdened him with the prophetic knowledge of his natural death in the first place.

Both.

Neither.

Staring glassy-eyed at the destruction wrought before him, smoldering and bleeding, what difference did it make? None.

Not entirely registering that the beast had fled—Had his words even mattered? Had Syora's promise been true? Had he made a difference at all?—Caius was unaware that once again his body had failed him, that he'd fallen to his knees on the bloodied, dirty cobblestones. Maybe if he just curled back up on them and pretended he was back in his bed, he'd wake up there. Maybe, just—

"Damn it." Caius hissed, DuKette's grasp tugging him back to the reality he did not want, had not asked for, and couldn't comprehend. Blinking hot tears that stung his eyes, he let the smaller, wounded man help him to his feet and take back his weapon, far too distracted to be curious about it now, about the tools of the mage hunting trade the red-headed man seemed to ply with so much efficiency and determination. He was reminded of the bear and for a moment, struggled with the nausea he'd become somewhat comfortable with, a rising tide.

Groaning, the exhausted noble found his footing only after shamelessly letting the shorter man bolster his lanky self for longer than he should have. A dirty, shaking hand curled into his unkempt hair as if it was a motion of comfort and habit instead of necessary—it was both,

"DuKette, do you really—sard it all, never mind." Caius swallowed his question into an exhale through clenched teeth, the man answering him with his firm statement about magic. Corruption was everywhere within the hearts of mortals, and it seemed as though magic was just another tool in the hands of those who would have done evil without it. Did he and the Lord Inquisitor really believe that the Spark of magic was all there was to blame in what had happened, in what was happening now? Had Kayled not set this trap? He had, but the mages had walked right into it.

If they hadn't, he would have to count the dead—it could've been just one. One!

Just Professor Terrance Thomas.

He'd even said so himself!

Now it was too many. That willing professor's life for too many.

Caius hoped those traitorous bastards that got away remembered the innocent lives they'd left in the wake of their freedom—scores of them—instead of the one it could have been. They weren't going to fucking honor them, that was for sure. The blood of too many flowed through the cracks in cobblestones and pooled with melted snow. The steam of the dead and dying mingled with soot and smoke. If this was a victory, if this was the price of safety and freedom, it wasn't worth paying. It was abundantly clear that the Lord Inquisitor had welcomed the collateral damage, having willingly set the trap for them, the aura of fear and suffering left in the wake of this mess fuel for his fires, wood for the pyre that still crackled and burned without a body. Nothing was made right here, and the northern noble wasn't sure anything could be made right so long as this was the only path before them.

Touching death wasn't new, having lost a brother arcs ago, but this was beyond anything normal. Disgusting, revolting, mind-numbing in the cold, the young Gawyne couldn't forget a face, a stain, a twisted form. No, he'd remember all of it, nauseated and exhausted, confused and angry, broken and betrayed.

He loathed the knowing, his insatiable need to seek the truth, buried though it was beneath hot embers and steaming entrails. He had to find it, to know it, to understand it. He didn't yet—it was far too unclear—and he hated himself for his ignorance,

May the Seven help them all find their rest, and may they one day forgive us so we can have ours.

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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Edalene » Wed Feb 21, 2018 7:07 pm

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The twins came together, moving as one towards Malena, the blonde woman standing with her twin children a lighthouse of safety for Edalene. She was surprised, then, when Aeodan took Tommy and Mara, and strode away without even a backwards glance.

"Aeodan," Edalene called helplessly, but Malena simply smiled sadly and put a hand on hers. Edalene could feel nothing through her link, and that scared her. It wasn't that she couldn't feel Aeodan; it was that Aeodan's mind was a clamour of emotions and devastation until the only overpowering sense was that white noise of an overwhelmed mind.

"Let him go," Malena said quietly, smiling gently at the younger woman. "He's been through so much. We all have. We must, each, dwell on it in our own ways." Edalene wanted to shake her head, protest, but words seemed to fail her, and instead she simply sagged against Malena's body. Her head came to rest against Malena's shoulder, and the older woman's arm came up around her shoulder. "How are you holding up?"

Edalene looked up in surprise, and Malena chuckled at the look on her face. "Maybe a pointless question, I know." Edalene shook her head. "How are you so calm? So strong? I feel like everyone is falling apart..." Edalene looked around, her eyes taking in a sleeping Thomas, Vhalo and Aegeo bent over one another, and Aeodan looking alone out into the tunnel of water. She was too tired to even marvel at this, Cassion and U'frek's favor.

"Calm?" asked Malena, laughing. "My dear, I am furious. I am so angry I could scream. But what would that do? Really? What would breaking down accomplish now?" Edalene breathed in, squaring her shoulders. Malena was right. It would do nothing to wail, to beg for justice, to plead with Aeodan to just look at her... It would do nothing to wake Thomas. To place the fire inside Aegeo again. To bring back Ninacky...

Guilt overwhelming her, she swallowed. "I just wish I could do something. Fight, or... or use magic in the ways that you do..." A barely formed idea swirled in her head, and it tumbled from her lips without thinking. "Malena, you could teach me what you know - help me, so that I can help them. I could learn what you have learned, and then, maybe, I could be use--"

"Hush." The word was gentle but yielded no room for argument. Edalene sagged in disappointment. "I am not saying no. I am saying I need time to think, and now is not the time to make decisions. You need to think about it too, Edalene," Malena murmured, her hand coming up to cup the twin's cheek. "It is no small thing." Malena breathed in, deeply. "I will do what I can for Aegeo, now."

Edalene watched the woman she had come to think of as a mentor - a guide - a mother - move over to Aegeo and crouch beside Vhalo. She couldn't go over there, witness nearly another death - and she couldn't go over to Aeodan. Something told her she would not be welcome in that moment. Her eyes caught on the struggling bag beside Cassion, and she could not help herself - she walked over and opened it.

"Liss!" she cried in delight as a plaintive mew came out. Her cat, her beloved cat she had left behind in Andaris even when they went to Viden all those seasons ago. With a grin and a sob, Edalene held the cat close to her chest, breathing in the scent of the poor scared cat's fur. "Oh, Liss, I've missed you so."
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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Plague » Thu Feb 22, 2018 4:41 pm

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Aegeo coughed weakly, seeming to swim back up to consciousness. He breathed around his wounds, shallow gasps and wheezes. The fire licking the corners of the ragged hole in his torso had faded to flickers and fitful sparks. Malena was leaning over him, smoothing the cold sweat from his forehead as Vhalo looked to her and shook his head.

“Spit on that scarred bitch,” Aegeo gasped, “Ran through my Xiur-fuckin torso.” Malena murmured, no words, just sounds, and traced around the torn edges, “Gone and killed myself, didn’t I?” Aegeo groaned and tried to prop himself up on his elbows but failed, there was no strength left in him, “Sod it, guess I’ll be seeing that Vri pissant and the fuck twins sooner than I’d like.” He closed his eyes and wheezed, “Promise me you’ll make it quick, yeah? Not going to lay here and suffer like a gods damned beached fish.”

“Shut up, Aegeo,” Malena answered him curtly, then turned to Vhalo, “What about if we soaked the bandages in sea water? That would offset the burning, wouldn’t it?”

“Uncharted waters,” Vhalo shrugged, hard to tell if he was making a joke, “Aegeo overstepped badly enough to make his blood fire itself, I can’t be sure of any medical approach here.” He ran a hand through his wispy beard, considering, “On a normal man, it might invite infection, but it’s all theory and guesswork with a body like Aegeo’s.”

“Damn it.” She held a hand out over the fitful flames still spitting from the wound, “If Thomas was awake, maybe we could-“

“I am.”

Every face save Cassion’s turned to where the rotund mage lay quietly on the deck. Thomas had opened his eyes, staring quietly up at the walls of water curled around the ship. No one was sure how long he’d been awake, but the professor still hadn’t moved.

“Thomas…” Malena trailed off and Aeodan almost rose sharply to step out to him, the motion stirred Mara fitfully and she started turning red, balling tiny fists impotently and waving them sideways. Aeodan settled and rocked her, but his gaze never left Thomas.

Thomas Theodore Terrance sat up, groaning a little under the weight of his exhaustion and injuries, laboriously standing on the deck. Almost all at once, Aegeo’s internal flames soared up through his wound and the mage coughed violently, Thomas held out a hand almost absently and the flames coiled back into the wound, multiplied, multiplied again and settled in a seething almost liquid of light. Aegeo breathed deep for perhaps the first time since he’d been wounded. “Bind the wounds,” The mage said simply, and Vhalo complied without question. Malena stood, stepping over Aegeo and past Edalene and Aeodan. She hovered there, unsure of what to do, before taking another step toward him. Her arms moved out, as if to embrace and neither of the twins could miss the ocean of longing and so many other things in her eyes. But Thomas held up a hand, stopping her short. “I’m not ready,” He said, but gently, his voice worn, “A few more bits, please. I need to process.”

“Awake At Last, Terrance?” Cassion leaned back from where he perched on the prow and grinned wide enough to show all his gleaming teeth, wolf-like, savage, “You Missed Quite The Adventure.”

“Cassion.” Thomas walked past Malena, the twins, Vhalo and Aegeo, striding right up to Cassion. The god loomed over the mage, but Thomas did not shrink beneath the stare. In a moment he had balled up a fist and reached up, delivering a solid punch to Cassion’s jaw. The god’s head snapped backward and he took one step toward the edge of the boat, as though he might topple, but caught himself. Turning his head down toward Thomas, Cassion grinned perhaps even fiercer, his voice a low thunder. “Will It Be You, Old Friend? Will You Strike Me Down?” They held their gaze for what seemed like a small eternity before Thomas settled back on his feet and glowered.

“I’m not giving you what you want, Daevus,” He emphasized the name, “I prayed you would stay your DAMN hand this time, but you didn’t find it in that heart you claim to have to listen, did you?”

“I Always Listen,” Cassion answered, raising an eyebrow, “But You Were Outvoted, Old Friend.” Cassion pointed behind Thomas, counting out the assembled one by one silently, his finger lingering on them for only a moment before it passed to the next, “Would You Fault Me For Enabling Such Stories, Such Tales? Blame Me, Mage, Draw Your Weapon And Slay Me, But Do Not Deny Me What I Am.” The god almost seemed to grow, towering over Terrance like a grey-black stormfront, spitting fury. “Dictate To Me My Role Again, Boy, And I Shall Test If You Are The One Myself.”

Thomas took a hesitant step backward, instinctive, but Cassion grinned and the spell was broken. He turned back to look out over the sea all around them. “It Would Take Too Long To Tell,” Cassion said without looking back, “I Have Placed It In Your Mind. Never Be So Quick To Set Down Your Wanderlust, Scholar.” A laugh, deep and booming, moving through all the assembled as a wave of energy, “We Have More Tales To Tell Yet.”

“My answer is still no,” Thomas said after a beat, sighing, “Choose another Champion, I don’t have what it takes to be you.”

“Others Have Said The Same.” Came the quiet answer, but the god did not turn, keeping his eyes forward toward the distant end of the tunnel.

Thomas did not respond, turning back to the others and kneeling down next to Aegeo. The wide-shouldered mage was breathing much easier now and Vhalo had bound his various wounds. The tormented flames in his eyes had died down to embers, but they still smoldered in his gaze. Brilliant glowing cracks in his skin had closed slightly, but they still lined his face like ashy charcoal drawn from his eyes down to his neck, spanning over his right shoulder and down his arm. “Misstepped,” Aegeo muttered, “But don’t expect an apology. Damn Audrae-pegged Inquistor set some sort of trap with Alchemy. Near killed me to hold it back.” An unsure, small smile flitted its away across his brutish face, “Worth it, Guide, every bit. Glad to see you up.”

Terrance was nodding as he slid his hand across the lines, lifting it back up and then clenching his fist. Aegeo grunted, flames suddenly alive in the glowing lines, his eyes forcing themselves into gouts of flame once more. “You’ve betrayed your fellow Seeker, Aegeo,” Thomas said softly, “You used Nolan like some necromancer’s thrall. You gave him back to Syroa and now you live while he suffers, perhaps already dead. Have you any possible defense?” Aegeo growled beneath Terrance’s magic, his body bucking and tensing as the fire raged within him. A single tear glittered in the edge of Thomas’ blackened eye, his cheek twitching with the force of how hard he was clenching his jaw. Aegeo reached up to grab Thomas’ outstretched hand, but Vhalo snatched it back with unexpected speed and strength, pinning it to the deck. The other Defier screamed, a barking, sharp thing and Tommy started to cry.

He held it for a few trills and then relaxed, the light dying down in Aegeo’s eyes as he fell back gasping on the deck. “No,” Thomas answered for him, “There is no possible excuse. You’ll answer to the Celestial Conclave in Quacia, let the council decide what to do with you.” Turning to Vhalo, Thomas nodded and the older mage released Aegeo. “You’ll accompany him and make our report. I’ll return to the Emean enclave with Malena to make mine. Rynmere is no longer safe for the Seekers, but the Coven will surely use the chaos to their advantage. We were unable to make contact with the Seers so we’ll have to rely on their faith in Rynalism to remain insulated from Ellasin’s temptations…at least for now.”

“Of course, Thomas,” Vhalo bowed his head respectfully, “Are you releasing us from the cell?”

“Hardly a cell left, really.” He put a gentle hand on Aegeo’s shoulder and stood, running a hand through his tangled, curly hair, “We cannot complete our mission at present and we’re outed as mages. I didn’t expect the Sacrasav to get involved, but if they’re looking to consolidate their faction on Rynmere, we may need to write it off entirely.”

“You believe they’ll succeed?”

“If your rescue was any indication of how sorcerers will take to being sniffed out, I think so, yes. Fear is their stock and trade.” Vhalo sighed and massaged one weathered hand, carefully popping each knuckle.

“Don’t be too hard on us, Warlock,” the old man said, hesitant but firm, “We might have escaped when we had the chance, Malena tried but…” He shrugged, “Aegeo is a difficult man to argue with, especially when he had Nolan and Ninacky on his side.”

“Ninacky…” Thomas drooped, his shoulders falling, “We’ll need to make a report of her passing as well. I’ll see that she’s named a Guide in the Accords.”

“Accolades for the dead,” Vhalo sighed, starting another wrap of bandages over Aegeo, “It won’t absolve us.”

“No, old friend, it never does.”

Malena had not moved from where she stood, eyes downcast and hidden behind a blond curtain of bedraggled hair. Thomas did not circle around to face her, simply leaned forward, nestling his forehead on her shoulder and sighing into the robe. “Ah, my Malena, my brave hawk, my flower, can you forgive me?”

Malena did not move her head, but Edalene marked the track of glistening tears that slipped down her face, through the maze of golden hair, to collect on her chin. “Thomas…I…” her voice hitched and she fell silent, swallowing hard to regain her composure. When she spoke again her voice trembled, but held firm, “We did what we had to, Thomas. The Seekers cannot afford to lose you, the cell could not afford to lose you, I…” She trailed off, clearing her throat, “I had to make a choice.”

“I could not fault you your heroism,” Thomas murmured quietly, “But I cannot forgive myself for inadvertently putting your children in danger. Unforgiveable. Inexcusable. Unthinkable.”

“My children?” Malena chuckled once, soft, her voice like a small bell, “Thomas, my children are stronger than you’d know. I would never put them in danger.”

“Of course not, my treasure, my rose, my faithful-“

“Please.” Malena whirled on him, hair thrown in cascades and looked down on the smaller man, her heart in her eyes and a twinkling trail of drying sorrow on her cheeks, “For just now, no more theatrics, no more words, just...” She swayed, the throes of passion warring with the cataclysm of emotions inside her. She fell upon him, her arms out and around him and her head buried into his chest, “Hold me, you godsdamn fool.”

Thomas obliged without a single syllable.

***********************************************************************************


“Abigail Avery.” Each word he spoke was punctuated with a low, moaning sob. “Sh-She was a baker. Th-th-three streets down, every morn, the sweetest sugarbuns you’ve ever…ever…” Manson Avery broke down again, sobbing ugly, loud cries into his cupped hands. Even under the bandages, the bruises had begun to spread to darken his blotchy red face. The young man was only sixteen Arcs, shaking with emotion. It had taken almost a break to convince him to stop clutching the blasted body of his mother. Abigail was unrecognizable in the face of the blast that had claimed her life, fully three quarters of her face was nothing more than blackened flesh and crushed bone.

Caius flexed his ink-stained fingers and tried to reach into himself for empathy. The last several breaks had been numbing. Above their heads, the Skyriders swooped and banked, looking for any signs of the escaped mages. The pyre still smoked, but most of it had been reduced to ash and rubble. Rynalism monks, grey-cloaked with the colored Andaris beads were already among the dead, cataloging them with meticulous accuracy before lifting them gently into the backs of funerary wagons. Laborers with buckets of sea water, were washing away the blood and the viscera left behind. A full 17 Order of the Mantis recruits had died in the resulting conflict. Second Swords, who units obliterated by the power of the mages. The remainder were stretched thin, speaking with the witnesses that remained.

Caius craned his neck to see Kayled knelt down beside a young woman, holding her against the titanic sobs that wracked her small body. Miriam Olaffy, he recognized her from when she’d barely hiccupped her name to a guard, she had lost her ten arc daughter, Tris, in the same attack that had claimed Manson’s mother. He didn’t envy the Lord Inquisitor, who had chosen to take the most bereaved personally. Inside, there was only numbness, rage, and exhaustion. All Caius wanted to do was unmake the day, step backwards to when he had been roused from his slumber and told Allan to sod off.

Allan, who was also dead.

Caius turned to look where he knew the young archer had fallen, still far enough away from where the priests had started to remain untouched. It had taken them some time to free Elizabet from her shackles of cobblestone and she was being treated by healers now. He could see Allan’s figure, still, and turned back to Manson glumly. No matter where he looked, only death would stare back.

“Thank you,” Caius prompted quietly, “And you saw who did it?”

“Y-Yes,” he tried to compose himself, lifting a grief-lined face from both hands, staring up at him, “I’m S-s-s-sorry my Lord, I-“

“Don’t apologize.” Caius said it automatically, feeling his gut twist. He didn’t want to be apologized to because this man had lost his mother in such a gruesome way. He couldn’t forgive that. He couldn’t fix it. “Just…please.”

Manson nodded, “It was a girl, my Lord, a girl with dark hair. Thin.”

“This woman?” Caius held up a sketch Ellyson had drawn of Edalene…Ellyson who had passed of her wounds, inflicted by the bear, just a two breaks ago.

No tears. Rage, maybe, but there were no more tears.

“Yes.” Manson nodded, “She threw something, my ma, she saw it too and she…and she…” He collapsed again into helpless heaving sobs and Caius gingerly reached out to lay a hand on his shoulder. He wasn’t equipped to deal with this, not in any way. It was almost as though he were outside himself, watching the chaos whirl around him and a stiff puppet of himself talk to the people in the aftermath. Gods, give him strength to feel what they feel, to not be overwhelmed by it all.

Like it or not, this was his world now. This ruin? This devastation? He hadn’t laid the plans but he certainly followed through with them. He was just as culpable as Kayled.

Warily he noted a procession of armor-clad Moseke Knights making their way through the chaos. The dead from Aegeo’s last fireblast had been removed some time ago, but he recognized at least one Knight among them as having been on hand when the dead had fallen. She had taken off her helmet and held it under a crook in her arm. He watched as they waited patiently for Kayled to finish with the young woman before approaching him. There was a brief, terse conversation and Kayled nodded, bowing his head. The woman cast another look around the square, scowled, and replaced the helmet on her head.

“Sh-She was innocent!” Manson moaned into his hands, “She was to be there on my sons Nameday, two trials, TWO TRIALS!” Caius was a prison around himself. Kayled strode straight toward him. Caius almost welcomed the interruption, standing up to meet him rather than remain here to helplessly watch this man fall to pieces. The Lord Inquistor’s face was grim, and one of his arms was tied up in a sling. The handle of his broken sword still protruded from his scabbard, suggesting that it might have been a keepsake rather than some requisitioned weapon. The snake-thin man was tired, and that exhaustion show on his face and the slow way he limped toward Caius. If there was doubt in him, Caius could not see it anymore. Instead the Inquisitor only looked sorrowful, looking out at a trap he had set for a prey too much for his preparations.

Ruin, thy name is Kayled Wine, Caius found himself inadvertently thinking.

“My Lord Gawyne,” Kayled began, starting to sweep into a bow.

“Sod off.” Caius growled, “No more of that. No bowing and scraping, no more of these pointless niceties. I’m covered in innocent blood, Kayled. Let’s dispense with formality.”

Wine eyed him warily and maybe with…respect? It might have been there, a grudging glimmer of it in his dark, weary eyes. “Very well,” Kayled agreed, “The King has summoned the leader of the Order of the Mantis to answer for what occurred here today.”

“What will you tell him?”

“What will we tell him,” Kayled corrected, “You are my Lord Arbiter.” Caius could feel his stomach trying to turn in on itself, over and over. He had never been called before the King before and now it would have to be to explain all this…madness. “It is unavoidable, I am afraid. I was hoping we could walk and talk on our way to the Castle.”

Another Purifier had taken Caius’ place and the printer nodded slowly.

“Splendid,” He did not say it in a way that suggested he felt the word he used, “I’ll need to collect my thoughts. Could you…” he trailed off, stepping carefully over a long puddle of coagulating blood, lingering a moment before continuing, “Could you give me your accounting of what occurred? I do not need the exact sequence, but your thoughts. Soon enough we will have to repeat the same to Our Majesty and the future of our organization hinges on presentation.” Kayled’s dark eyes bore into Caius, as though might burrow there and spread their own version of events, “As my Lord Arbiter,” Kayled began carefully as the two of them turned toward the Castle, “What would you say to him?”

***********************************************************************************


“Thank you, Aeodan,” Malena knelt down to take the two infants, both of them squirming in their swaddling and gnashing their toothless gums together, “They’re hungry.” She shrugged, but didn’t apologize, taking a seat toward the back of the boat and turning away from him so she could privately offer her children their nourishment. Embarrassed, Aeodan turned his back on her, blushing. The tears were drying now, small dirty tracks down his face, dry riverbeds of grief. He felt spent, but was still somehow standing, moving, alive. Each breath felt like he had cheated death, a little, walking from that terror intact.

Edalene played with her cat and the warmth of their reunion he could feel through their link. It warmed him, even a little, and brought a small measure of order to his frenzied thoughts. After Malena had let go, Thomas had stood on the other side of the skiff, staring into the water that swirled around them. Aegeo was blessedly asleep now, his huge chest rising and falling fitfully, but (as Vhalo had assured him twice) in no danger of suddenly succumbing to his wounds. Already the old man had approached him to remind Aeodan that when he was ready, Vhalo would return him to his old body. Strangely, Aeodan was starting to get used to the one he had. This body had seen so much more, in some ways, than his other ever did. It almost seemed distant to him, another life, another time. All of it was different now.

“Aeodan, Edalene.” Aeodan turned to see Thomas, finally turning away from his quiet reflection and waving them with him belowdeck. With some effort, the Professor slid down into the belly of the skiff, setting his back against the wall and waiting for the twins to join him.

Edalene had been sorting through the bag as her cat bit and nibbled at a piece of strike she had pulled free of her clothes for the creature. Somehow, it didn’t seem phased at the current turn of events at all, but stayed well away from the edge of the boat. Arturius lay with its head resting on both paws, enfolded around the Shirvain and watching the cat with quiet interest. Edalene had already pulled out books, old worn journals, Aeodan’s endless words he had written from the safety of his room. Some of her papers were here too, the things she’d written for university, even the credentialing paperwork for her classes. It seemed strange to her that Cassion would have known to pick all these up, but then and again, he was a god. Looking at him, Edalene wasn’t sure he really was one in some ways. He was so different from Ralaith, from Vri, from the Twins. All the gods she had seen and interacted with before had held themselves so differently. Revelation struck her all at once and she stared at the gods back, momentarily ceasing her exploration of the sack. She realized why he was different now, watching him, thinking of how he had spoken with Thomas. Cassion acted like a person, not a god. It wasn’t perfect, his cadence was off, his voice was all wrong, and he didn’t seem to present his emotions or the exact ‘feel’ of a man just right…but so much of his demeanor actually seemed to be a desperate pantomime of the humans around him.

Why? Why would he be so fascinated with that farce?

When Thomas spoke, she swung her head to listen, nodding at Aeodan and picking up Liss. The small creature purred, curling up in her arms almost immediately and the warmth that rolled out from its tiny body filled her with a measure of peace. Thomas was alive. Through great adversity, somehow, they had come out of this with Thomas intact, against all odds. Still…she hadn’t spoken to Thomas yet, neither she nor Aeodan had. Since waking, he hadn’t spoken to them till now and part of her was troubled as she followed Aeodan into the belly of the boat.

Down here was the room for a sailor, Narav’s rom. The wall was tacked with a map of Idalos, old and sea-worn, with small ink x’s drawn over the names of a few cities. All the places he had looked, she realized. Her eyes found a small stack of leather-bound books pushed against the bedding and she fished one up, opening the cover.

Journal of Narav, it read, Book 4

“I dedicate this part of my journey to Edalene,” it was written in his curving, Ne’haer script, the same way he had penned his letters, “She of crossroads and crisp pages. Edalene wrote storytelling into me, or maybe she just enhanced what was already there. We knew each other in the space of Cycles, whenever my father would visit Rynmere, and I often long for the easy days of reading on rooftops or in the boughs of trees. I brought darkness into her life, like so many others, and I cannot be sure if I’ll ever expunge it. In her honor, I dedicate this portion of my tale to her and the stories she would tell me. If there are kind gods, she will find happier worlds than this. If there are forgiving ones, maybe I will as well.” –Narav

She shut it, placing it on her lap, turmoil finding its way back into her heart. It slipped away as Aeodan put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. In the dark beneath the deck, Thomas was strange shapes in shadow. The twins could feel his eyes upon them as he took careful breaths. Silence seemed to wear on before he finally spoke.

“I am sorry.” He started.

“N-“ Aeodan was already trying to dismiss it when Thomas held out a hand, gentle but insistent, and Aeodan swallowed his retort.

“Let me finish, please. Give an old man his ramble, yes?” Edalene took Aeodan’s hand and squeezed it comfortingly, the young man sighing and nodding in the dark. “I am sorry,” Thomas began again, “My sparrows, my adventurers, my students. I had no intention to draw you into such dangerous events. After the Temple, my magic…well…” sighing, he put both hands together, “The elements betrayed me for a long time, I’m afraid, which led to my accusation as a mage. Perhaps I might have avoided this, applied for a portal to Viden or perhaps Scalvoris, but I vainly assumed I could find a way to control it and to continue my work.” Above them, the boat rocked and Cassion laughed, thundering. “I had hoped it would not come to this, that I might die without fight and deny those fearmongers their reason…all of these choices I made arrogantly, without consulting, without a thought to what it would mean for those I left behind. I am sorry for many things in my life, Aeodan, Edalene, a list you would tremble to read.” Thomas chuckled and it was the first Aeodan and Edalane had heard it since those many Cycles ago. “When you live a life like man, children, you will find regrets will follow you from journey to journey. We try to learn lessons as best we can, but sometimes…ah, but sometimes we are doomed to repeat our paths, our forever dance.”

Edalene lay a head against Aeodans. Yes, sometimes that was true. As cold as she made herself on the inside, that passionate, instinctive, violent flame whenever Aeodan was in trouble would continue to burn through her. Never. She would never let Aeodan down. She would never let him go again.

“Our paths are bound now, I’m afraid. You cannot return home to Rynmere, nor do you have another place to go. I am responsible for you now.”

“With due respect, Professor,” Edalene piped up, “We’re adults. We’re responsible for eachother.”

Thomas laughed and Aeodan couldn’t keep himself from a smile, it was such a comforting sound, “Ah, my flower, so defiant, so wise…ah, you are a young spitfire Edalene and you’ll keep your brother on his toes for many an Arc more, I’d wager.” Thomas sighed and leaned back against the wall. They could hear his smile fade, smoke escaping from a fire. “I will find resources for you both, letters of recommendation from me should secure anything you need in Scalvoris or Viden. I’m bound to make my report on these events in Ne’hear, but we may meet again afterwards…as soon as I realign my place in the world.” Scooting forward, the mage put out his hands and took both the twins own. His grip was so hot, almost uncomfortable, but his grip was strong. “I wish you had not been dragged into this, but I am so proud of your bravery. You stood against tyranny, terror, hatred and fought for what you believed in. If I had children I would hope they…” he trailed off a bit, unexpectedly sad in that moment, “I would hope they might be just like the two of you.”

Aeodan and Edalene’s heart swelled, how could they tell him that they already considered him their father…not by blood but by deed, by choice?

“So much has happened,” Thomas said quietly, “Please, I want you to tell me your thoughts. If our journey has not ended than the truth at the monolith holds true, our pact holds true. Be honest and speak your truths.” They could hear the earnestness in his voice, the swell of emotion there, “Please.”


***********************************************************************************


Darkness, swallowing, consuming.

Edalene’s face, contorted in a hundred different emotions. It spun away into shadow, like everything else.

Allan lay somewhere between the living and the dead. His body was empty, a smoking ruin on the cold stone and his soul? Who knew where his soul was. Part of him was terrified that this darkness was all there was, just an empty void where he floated from place to place. Perhaps all the souls were down here, drifting like him, and if he swam far enough or fast enough he might find Godryn in all this shadow…

No. Not Godryn, not the shell that sorrow had carved him into, but the real Godryn, the Knight that had captured the love of his mother. Maybe they were both down here and he could find them. Together, perhaps, he could enter into the Eternal Kingdom happy. Perhaps he had never earned the right to hold a sword as his father did, but the Fates may still look kindly upon him, could they not? He had slain an enemy of the Kingdom, surely. He did not see her fall, but the arrow had flown true and lodged in her neck.

So young.

There was guilt there, perhaps he should have tried to aim at someone else. The instinct had been automatic. Gods. Gods. Ziell help him, he had tried. Edalene standing beneath him. Edalene hurling exploding magic into innocent faces. Edalene curled up in the sun, a book open on her lap. Edalene covered in blood charging toward the center of the pyre. Edalene, honeysuckle sweet, the faint aroma of daffodils, how she always kissed him thrice when she had kissed him. Once was the beginning, the intro to all stories, twice was the middle and the whole point, and third to end it, wrap it up with a soft signature. Edalene standing side by side with murderous mages. Edalene, her face a cracked painting of tears when she told him goodbye.

Edalene.

Edalene.

Maybe he could be forgiven his leniency, just for a moment. Just for her. Surely the Fates had loved before, surely the gods had loved. He loved her and no other woman since had filled the silence she had left behind.

You are my author, he should have told her, you write the story of my joy.

So many unsaid things. So…perhaps yes, perhaps he would be ok dying for her. Perhaps he would be forgiven for wanting her to escape…and if she didn’t?

Perhaps he could find her down here as well, together they could walk into the Eternal Kingdom.

Perhaps…

Perhaps…

“Poor Boy, Fallen, Smote, Love Has Made Thee Soft.”

Who?

“Ask Me Not My Name, You Will Know Me By My Light.”

There was a light in the darkness, a red baleful glow, burning crimson that washed over him, that was sound in the empty of this place. All the light emanated from a single point, a bobbing prism. No. It was being held by an old iron ring. Not just a light. Not just a prism.

A Lantern.

“Speak Not My Name. My Cousin Comes For Thee And We Must Speak Quickly.”

Oh. Well, that makes sense. Refuse Vri and the Eternal Kingdom shall ope-

“Enough Of Your Prayer. Thy Arrow Was The Only Weapon That Felled A Mage This Day. The Sparked Ones Escaped Thy Justice.”

Anger. Sudden, flaring but-….Edalene, at least she…

“In The Company Of Unwitting Wolves, Swayed To Ruin And The Path Of The Spark.”

No. She would never. Edalene was intelligent, she was free-willed, she would never take such-

“Silence, Boy. Near Death Makes Strange Bedfellows Of Intellects. The Seekers Continue And Their Quest Is Treason To All Idalos. They Would Bring Darkness And War To Even The Heavens.”

The heavens?

“They Seek, Foolishly, To Revive A God Long Left Buried. Tragedy Moves Them But They Do Not Consider The Consequences Of Meddling.”

So what…what would you ask of me?

“I Say, Perhaps, Thy Journey In Flesh Has Not Ended. I Say, Child, Thou Shalt Rise And Embrace Thy Duty. I Shall Outfit Thee With The Weapons To Cut At The Heart Of Magic, And I Shall Lead Thee And Others To Secrets Long Forgotten, To Cut The Spark Of Magic From The Soul Of The Cursed. To Save Them.”

What secret?

And she told him.

Is…Is that possible?

“Yes, Child.”

But why me? Why not Ser Wine or Lord Caius or-

“I Have Chosen Thee, For Destiny Finds Favor With Thy Journey. Thou Art Connected To Thine Beloved And By Cassion’s Own Interference, Bound To Find Her Once More.”

Edalene. To look upon her, to maybe explain the words he could not speak before…to finally-

“Doth Thee Accept?”

The lantern shook in the darkness, the light bleeding out, ruptured, and flowing out across him. Pain was distant but he could feel it on the other end of the darkness, the pain he might return to should he say yes. But…also Edalene.

I accept.

“Then Rise, Allan, Son Of Godryn, Rise And Asky Thy Love This One Question Next Thee Sees Her.”

I will ask so many questions.

“But Thou Shalt Ask One Of Mine.”

Yes. Yes my Lady, what shall I ask?

“Ask Her Who Killed Thy Father.”

***********************************************************************************


Mason Joyll leaned reverently over the fallen Purifier, pulling his hands up across his chest. “May the Seven welcome you, loyal guardian, into their Eternal Kingdom.” The charred and blackened armor curled away from the wound that spread across the dead mans chest, a direct hit from one of those infernal magical weapons. Mason turned away from the corpse to wave over the funerary wagon. By the armor and the weapon, the man was a bowman. Surely one of the others would be able to identify his name. Reaching over to take up the bow, Mason turned it over in his hand. Witnesses said one of the mages was felled by an arrow, perhaps this had been the bow to do it. Nodding he turned to place it on the chest of the corpse but fell back, a scream curdling in his throat.

The dead man was staring up at him, blue eyes sharp and narrowed in pain. Mason tried to scramble away backward, but the Purifier’s hand shot out to clasp onto his leg, vice-tight, blackened. Before Mason’s terrified eyes he saw flesh re-knit itself across his body, leaving hideous scars where his flesh had twisted and burned. The man hissed under the pain of the revival and finally released Mason, panting and curling around himself. Mason immediately drew his ceremonial mace, blessed by the oils of the Seven and raised it high. “Magic!” He hissed, bringing it down swiftly.

The blonde man caught the mace handle inches from his own head and pushed the monk away from him, dragging himself to his hands and knees.

“No!” He snarled, caught his breath and spoke again, “No. No foul sorcery. The Lantern. I saw a Lantern. The Lady of the Lantern brought me back.”

“Fam-“ Mason started to say, but could not finish the name as the man clamped a strong hand over his mouth.

“Shhh!” the man hissed at him, his eyes darting around the battlefield, a slight tinge of red beneath the bright blue, “Her black fingered cousin stalks amongst the dead. I cannot let slip she was here. I have been chosen to save our Holy Kingdom, to rid it of mages once and for all.”

Perhaps it was in how he said it, or the conviction in his eyes, but Mason relaxed his grip as the blonde released him, slowly standing and massaging where the young Purifier had grabbed him. “What…What is your name?” Mason asked.

“Allan,” the Purifier smiled fiercely, blue eyes blazing, “Allan, Son of Godryn.”
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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Aeodan » Fri Feb 23, 2018 2:11 am



Aeodan could remember every action he'd ever taken, every word he'd ever said or read, and in that moment, nothing would come to his mind. He stared blankly at his chosen mentor, at the man he'd come to care for like a father, a man he'd risked everything to save, and he had no thoughts. None, except for the promise that he made.

Tears rimmed eyes that were his, and fell down cheeks that weren't. Ninacky's face clouded his mind, swelling to encompass everything in his vision. He gritted his teeth to keep from sobbing, shouldering the responsibility of the trial silently though his emotions were a maelstrom. He knew Edalene could feel them, each and every one like a strummed chord, humming from him with an intensity he couldn't control.

He promised.

And yet, here he stood, below deck on a ship stolen from his love's ex-lover, crewed by branded terrorists and a fucking Immortal. He stared straight ahead, maintaining composure against the storm that raged inside him, listening to his mentor speak about journeys and paths, choices and standing up for what one believed in. And in that trill, he didn't hear any of it. He heard the pounding of his blood in his ears, and he felt the thump of his heart, three beats at a time, beating its tattoo into the thin bones of his ribcage.

Ni-nack-y. Ni-nack-y. Ni-nack-y.

His guilt nearly consumed him, threatened to ignite him in that trill as she had her in own final few. Aeodan's set jaw would clench no hard, lest he shatter the teeth below, but he held his composure. He had to remain strong, because Edalene needed that. He had to remain the sentinel, because his vigilance would ensure Edalene's safety, but there was no stopping the telltale beating of his own heart, slamming against him to etch his failure into his very bones.

Ni-nack-y. Ni-nack-y. Ni-nack-y.

Thomas asked to hear their thoughts, and Aeodan paused, drawing a watery breath through a throat set against opening. He feared that he'd lost his voice, that somewhere in the etheric depths of Envoy's home, his very mode of communication floated, lost and alone, charred to a cinder from the vitriol in his throat. But he swallowed, quelling the fire burning in him, and spoke.

"She loved you," came the quiet reply, softer than it should have been for the noise of the boat. He knew that it reached the professor's ears, though, because his soft eyes fell on the boy's new face. How unfamiliar Aeodan must have seemed to him, how strange. Or perhaps not, for Thomas' gaze did not falter, nor did it change. He stared into Aeodan's eyes, and the younger twin, now appearing the older, took strength in that solidity.

"Ninacky. She loved you. In the warehouse, we shared a dream, one that will be forever seared into my memory until my final breath. We stood in a burning Rynmere, with a figure I believe to be you burned at the stake, and she told me that she envied me. Me, an invalid youth whose only claim to fame is a dusty fucking torso with some runes carved into it, she envied. She told me that what Edalene and I have is rare, and it's worth fighting for. She told me that she burned for that, that she yearned for that, that her craving brought nearer her eruption every single time she stood in your presence. Hers was a love that she couldn't expect you to return, but one that she couldn't, nor wouldn't, exchange for another. As I cannot, nor would I, for Edalene. She came to your rescue out of love, as each of us did, but more so than any of us. She was but a girl, Thomas," he said, the emotion cracking his voice. He squeezed Edalene against him, craving isolation some but the solace of her embrace more.

Aeodan's jaw set again as he choked back his tears from the teetering edge of terrifying outburst, locked down deep inside of him. His guilt, his grief... The blame he laid at the feet of every citizen of the festering kingdom he once called home. Kayled Wine. Caius Gawyne. DuKette the Sacrasav. And a part of him blamed the Seekers too. But mostly, he blamed himself.

"I made her a promise, that she would live to see the trial it would be she telling her Truth, not me mine. I promised her, in the burning dreamscape of her mind, in a rundown warehouse surrounded by mages who love you, that she would be able to profess herself before you, to throw herself at your mercy as I did at Edalene's in our camp before the Temple. I promised her that she would be able to do so, and I broke that promise. I watched her throat open, in stunning clarity, every tenth of a trill as the arrowhead slid through it like so much cloth. I knew then that my shame and regret would be standing here before you, unscathed and well, while she was hurled into the enemies at our forefront," Aeodan gasped, his breaths coming in ragged and shallow bursts. He clenched the fist not holding Edalene, steeling himself to the misery that threated to pour over him like a tidal wave.

"I know it was her time. Her story had come to an end, dreadfully short and unfinished like a child's horror tale, and yet I don't care. I don't give a damn about her journey, or Vri's payment, or Famula's fucking Lantern. He could have saved her. He saved me. Why couldn't it have been her? Why couldn't it have been her?" The question was croaked, the tears steaming a stranger's face. His eyes went up through the planks of the wood, and he knew where Cassion was on the deck. He need not see him to feel his presence, alien and foreign, where it lingered on the wooden deck of the Inclement Weather.

"Every single one of us knew our choice would lead to ruin at one point or another, that our lives would forever be altered. And I knew, seeing you strapped to that pyre, resigned to die for a cause you will champion more than any Immortal that may grasp your devotion... I knew that we had made the right choice. Because while you were willing to die for us, we weren't willing to let you. In Farafan's temple, we weren't willing to let you perish, even if it meant the three of us died together. What a strange jaunt through Cassion's eternal journey that would have been, the three of us in death, but we couldn't allow it. Battered, scarred, cut and resurrected, Thomas, we chose you. Malena chose you, releasing undead things to stave off your murderers. Aegeo chose you, sacrificing his very lifeforce to the elements to see you released from that wicked fate. Vhalo chose you, choosing to sustain injury flying into flame to drag you from the bowels of your martyrdom. Nolan chose you, sacrificing his humanity unwillingly to allow us time to escape. Ninacky--" His voice broke, sounding weaker now than it ever had.

"Ninacky chose you, and she paid the truest price for your survival. Edalene and I chose you, Thomas, because you're our friend. We chose you because you are our mentor. I chose you because you showed me that some journeys are worth beginning, and I will be damned by every gods-fucked Immortal on this wretched planet before I see you die with enough breath in my lungs to stop it from happening. You are more than just a guide to us. More than just a professor, or a friend. You are a father to us, showing us guidance through care and action, and more of one than any blood Edalene and I have ever had." He paused, the burning silhouette of Ninacky's final moment in his pupils for just a moment.

"Just like that night before the fire, eating stew, our fates are bound, and thus you will have my Truth," came Aeodan's reply, now again barely above a whisper.

"Every trial and tribulation, every danger and peril, every lost soul and broken promise we made in our attempts to save you were worth it. We knew the risks, and we chose to take them, because your presence has inspired in us the will to be who we are, who we really are. More than just a teacher, a friend, or a father, you have made us, each of us, into what we are. I am terrified, and battered, and have never been more unsure of my purpose in my entire life, but I know that I wouldn't want to be any of those things outside the company on this fates-fucked raft. Cassion saved me, and I'll be damned if it wasn't to do something great with this life that you have shown me I can have," Aeodan finished, eyes defiant in the face of the onset of his grief. Ninacky's image still burned in his mind, but finally, the flesh-and-blood forms of Edalene and Thomas were there, a welcome reprieve from the anguish of his lie.

"Come what may, you are family. And that is not a loyalty I take lightly."

Ni-nack-y. Ni-nack-y. Ni-nack-y. She beat in him, and he would live with her in mind forever. But he was alive, and they had succeeded. For whatever it was worth that trial.

They succeeded.
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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Caius Gawyne » Sat Feb 24, 2018 10:57 am

We.

The word soured the sooty, bloodstained air between them and Caius resisted the urge to turn and slink off the opposite way, pale irises studying the Lord Inquisitor in the breath that he held onto tightly, lungs burning, heart a smoldering ember in the narrow confines of his chest. The Lord Inquisitor had been injured, but the young Gawyne had not—not physically, anyway—save for scrapes and bruises and clothing so ruined, it belonged on the pyre before he even went home.

To explain all this madness.

To hear the other man say it out loud, to call what had happened, what sputtered and smoked and groaned and bled behind them what it really was—madness! Fucking madness!—caused the northern noble to exhale through grit teeth the breath that he'd held so long he was dizzy, shoulders sagging. Fingers stained with the blood of strangers were listless over the dirtied buttons of his vest, searching for even the faintest hint of cleanliness. Caius was in no state to see Darcyanna, let alone King Cassander himself.

His body moved by muscle memory, so exhausted, so drained, so empty, and he walked beside Ser Kayled Wine despite how so much of him screamed to turn around and stalk toward home, to tell the man and his mission to fuck off, and to wash his hands—bogs, no, his whole self—of this sordid mess.

But he couldn't.

No, for now he knew two things for certain: one, the trial, bit, and trill of his natural death; and two, that someone had to strive to rise above this insanity and fear to be the voice of reason, that someone had to sift through the ashes to find the truth in what was happening, and that someone had to be burdened with knowing the struggle that had to be survived to get there. Caius felt compelled to become that someone from the moment he laid eyes on Aeodan Burnett in another man's skin, the moment he realized he knew nothing—not of his friend, not of himself, and certainly not of magic—and he couldn't live in ignorance for much longer—not just because he knew he was dying.

The price of knowledge was just so Fates-be-damned expensive.

"Fuck y—" The young Gawyne barely stopped himself, the emotions of strangers he'd been drowned in, the blood of innocents he'd been washed in, and the sleep he'd been abandoned by threatening his tenuous hold on civility he wasn't known for on even the most banal of days. Caius groaned instead, not knowing what to do with his dirty hands,

"My account? I don't think you'll like to hear it, Lord Inquisitor, but if you want me as your judge and voice to the people, you'd best sarding listen to my opinion."

Leaving the mess behind them at a slower pace for the sake of the other man, the northern noble's wandering fingers found some soft, squishy bit of something gross to flick off of the once brilliantly deep purple of his brocade vest with a scowl, "While your intentions of outing other mages for a solid show of authority to the people of Rynmere and correct assumptions that they'd fall in step with said plans began well enough, cleverly disguising a ploy to lure more of the mages from hiding in support of their comrade, I believe you both underestimated the creatures you were baiting as well as had no fucking clue what would happen once you got what you wanted. In short, the life of one man was wasted on the lives of far too many innocents just because you weren't prepared for the shitstorm of power that those mages wrought on us all. None of us were. For Fate's sake, you took too great a risk with the lives of our Kingdom. That said, if any of those men and women wanted for one moment to claim that they were anything but sick, twisted monsters, I wouldn't believe them for a fucking heartbeat. If you wanted to prove magic is dangerous and mages are evil, you sarding well succeeded, but the price you paid for it was too high—"

It could have been higher, and that still-raw, devious memory immediately stopped Caius short, tongue against his teeth as he swallowed his words and looked away from Kayled. He had made the right choice in that moment, hadn't he? Not that what Syora had offered him was any more of a choice than what the Lord Inquisitor had made with his ambush—he couldn't have let more people die like that. And he didn't.

The young Gawyne bit his lip, not looking back at the other man who'd made him more than just a casual observer but a culpable participant, who'd bloodied his hands and stained his soul with darkness. Confused, angry, and exhausted, he couldn't even say who was right anymore—who claimed to be the one on the righteous path and left behind them only death?

Ah, fuck, both sides had.

No one was right here and it fucking hurt.

Caius sighed. There was so much he wanted to ask, so much his insatiable mind hungered to know like a starved animal. But he was far too exhausted to process it all. He longed to tell the rest of what he knew, to confess his role and speak of his choices made from between the thighs of an Immortal to someone—to anyone—but he was terrified of the consequences here and now. Irises darkened from a sharp blue to a stormy grey, and he turned his gaze back on the Lord Inquisitor,

"Kayled, I don't know what to say. Honesty seems in our best interest, for the sake of the people, even if it means admitting failure. The current truth of magic's vile influence is forever written as the epithets of those who died to-trial; that much is clear, I think. I'm still not sure ... But how many lives could have been saved had Professor Thomas been executed in private? Had the other mages not been trapped into fighting like caged animals for their compatriot? I don't know. I can't see clearly. I don't know enough about all of this that you've suddenly shoved me into the middle of, Ser, to make fair judgements in this moment. If the King wanted proof of the legitimacy of his decree, he fucking has it, but this was a mistake and a terrible way to get it."

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Trial By Fire (Aeodan, Edalene, PM to join)

Postby Edalene » Mon Feb 26, 2018 11:59 pm

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"Aeodan," she murmured in the silence that followed Thomas' words. His grief rose like a maelstrom, roiling inside of him, spilling out and over his lids. She couldn't help herself; Edalene reached out and took his hand in hers. For all his desire to have space, be distant, there was no part of Edalene that could let her brother weep alone.

Before, at the obelisk, Edalene had gone first. She had cut herself first, bled first. She had offered her Truth to the gods and to Thomas first. But now, something had changed. Aeodan had changed, and Edalene, in a sense, had been left behind. She had not changed. Though, before, seeing the dedication in Narav's journal - she had felt nothing. Perhaps it was that she had nothing left to give, no space in her heart for a boy she had once loved, too full of old gods and death, but perhaps that was enough. Perhaps it was the first cut from her past that would allow her to leave it behind. Edalene stayed silent, holding Aeodan's hand, knowing that in this new world, he would speak first.

But the horror of what Aeodan said crashed over her. When they had awoken after her walk with Ralaith, Aeodan had said he had had a dream. How was she to know it was shared with Ninacky? Had Ralaith known, when he told her sadly that she must let someone die? If she had known, would she have thrown the well before Allan had shot? Bile rose in her throat and tears came to her eyes, but Aeodan pulled her against him, holding her there. Part of her wanted to struggle, to run. She had no right to be held. She had let Ninacky die. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she sagged against this strange and unfamiliar body, but she did not speak, she could not move.

She was a murderer.

Again.

When had Aeodan become so poignant, so full of strength? How had she missed this? Edalene had been her brother's protector her entire life, and now, Aeodan's soul trapped in the body of a man much older, he didn't need her any more. Not in the same way. They were still two halves perfectly fit together, but somehow, their roles had changed. Now, Edalene was the weakling, the one crumbling and needing help. She shook and turned her face into his chest, but he even smelled different now. The eyes were the same yes, but this did not feel like her brother.

She couldn't listen to Aeodan, but she knew she must. Through all of this, Edalene had no idea that Ninacky and Aeodan had formed such a bond. With another revolt of her stomach, Edalene thought of Nolan - surely captured, or dead by now. Not even her bond with the professor could rival this connection formed in dreams and fire between her brother and the Aukari. And she had blindly followed Ralaith's words, leading to a destruction of a part of Aeodan's heart that she knew would never be the same.

There was silence, when Aeodan spoke, but she could hear the thump of his heart. Cursing her dead and cold one, lying useless in her chest, she wondered if that was what had allowed her to let Ninacky die. How she wished she could change her decision...

But she knew she wouldn't. Ralaith had told her. History would be forever altered, and she had to believe, that Ralaith with his long sight knew that this was the best option. The only option. Sympathy, now, would hopefully rise in her home country that she would never again see. They would be fugitives, never to return. Their parents would be scorned, lose their homes. In a desperate attempt to rescue one man, they had destroyed so much.

But what a man he was.

Edalene cleared her throat of tears, but she did not move, still clinging to Aeodan's shirt with a desperation that belied how weak she was in this moment. Her throat felt dry. What could she say? She could not tell them now that she had let Ninacky die. She knew she would have to, that she needed to tell Aeodan first, but now, in the quiet mournfulness of their success, she could not reveal how she had betrayed her family.

Her eyes flickered to Malena where she bent over Aegeo, but the older woman was still focused on the foulmouthed man. "I do not have words," she began, her voice a hoarse whisper. "Not like Aeodan does. I ... did terrible things for you, Thomas. Things I will never forgive myself for. Things I will see in my dreams for the rest of my life. Things I can't even..." She shuddered, and trailed off.

"Did you know this ship belonged to my first love?" Her tone was casual. "When Vri brought me back, I was told that to bring Farafan peace, I would have to sacrifice him. He's in jail now, but..." Edalene trailed off, shrugging. When he spoke next, her voice was cold.

"I would slaughter him a hundred times over if it meant I could bring back Ninacky for you."

She opened her mouth to speak again, but tears overtook her, and she began to sob. It was a wretched noise, and shamed by the volatility of the emotion, Edalene turned and hid her face in Aeodan's chest, weeping for who they had gained, who they had lost, and who she had killed.
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