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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