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Lumi says...

Chapter 3: Knowledge Yet Composed
Lucid Danger

It had been beyond three weeks--yet not quite a month--since Valon had motioned to back away from Howlengale. It was, as he saw it, the best for Ziafar, the best for him, and now the best for Tynan and his fellows in arms. It hurt him, however, when his gaze fell between Astrid and Zoey where his brother would loyally stand their guard, only to find blank space. It was for that reason that he had, for the most part, cancelled their office hours in Espergale for the week, leaving Valon and Ziafar to complete their visa work.

Still, his was being barred at the final level: Trustees of Mana Wielders. This attempt was different, however; and their hearing this day was to explain the phenomenon in Silverlake. All the same, restlessness had overcome the two elves, and Valon's first offer of a change of pace: "Let's spar, Ziafar," landed them in the chambers below the Marbletree amongst Valon's training equipment.

"How much is your mana still elevated," asked Ziafar, tying his hair behind his head.

"Eighty-five percent. And I heard you tell Astrid this morning you're retaining 88%. I envy your pace."

"I imagine I have the lapis to thank," he admitted, "though there's no telling after that brute-witch's torture."

"I suppose we're wasting time, losing more mana now. We need to be sharp for the trial today."

Ziafar smirked and took a stance. "For the trial." He nodded.

Chapter 3A: He Fights Like A Wildfire And Talks Like One, Too

It wasn’t lost on Valon that, as of three weeks ago, he’d been business partners and sparring partners with a true murderer; however, despite his politeness towards the issue (meaning Ziafar’s), neither had spoken of the incident since that morning on the edge of Howlengale. Only Valon’s stolen blade still told the tale, and to inquirers, he had passed it off as the blood of the primal god slain for their interest.

He was bent low, blades pulled unsheathed and ready at the cross. He dove into Ziafar’s frame and elicited flames about his body and blades, slicing immediately, only to meet empty air as the elf teleported away. Valon traced the scent and threw a blade towards the boxing ball, piercing Ziafar’s staff in a near-clean sunder.

“Point,” they confessed together. His blade was tossed back. Ziafar seemed to almost chuckle. “You know, your riposte game has gotten quite fierce, Valon! Almost as though you’re fighting for someone these days!”

“Quit the trash talk or I take lead again, bookkeeper.”

The smile vanished from Ziafar’s face. “I already have.” He pointed behind Valon, to a minefield of arcane bombs; and when Valon turned back, he was surrounded.

“Well damn, Ziafar…”

“Let me just read you off the budget reports while I have a captive you see, our expenditure to the Tomato Jungle was, low! But our trip to Howlengale was unaffordable and unforgivable. Displeased to say it, sir, but we’re broke, and I suggest we take up small jobs for quite some time before we go chasing gods again.” Ziafar looked up to find a missing Valon, who tapped him on the shoulder. “Well, hello. How’d you get back there?”

“My girlfriend’s a faerie,” he cut.


Zoey, sitting with Astrid for tea at a bistro, suddenly sneezed. “Ah!”

“Bless you,” remarked Astrid.


“I’ve learned a few tricks from her.”


Zoey sneezed twice more, this time into her puffed sleeve.

“Perhaps you’re allergic to the tea, dear.”


Ziafar’s eyes went wide as Valon shoved him into the arcane minefield he’d created for his foe, though quickly dispelled. Quickly on the assault, Valon crossed his sabers and let loose a radial explosion about the training room for a sure hit. Ziafar scrambled to his feet and held his staff out to nullify the blast before the smoke rose.

...and when it cleared, both were on their knees, tapped for mana, but undamaged. Valon ambled over to sit by Ziafar against the wall where they clasped their knuckles in camaraderie, then melted against the wall. Valon tied his hair back into a ponytail and unfastened his shirt. Ziafar elicited a cooling vapor from his staff to soak up the loose arcana in the room, fire and all, and the temperature dropped immensely.

“How long until the hearing, anyway?”

“I told Astrid and Zoey to meet us at the courthouse at 4 o’clock.”

“And it is currently…?”

“Time for us to get cleaned up, as we both smell like soot.”

It was not long before Valon was in his private chambers, soaking in a scalding bath of manatide they’d brought home from Silverlake. His mind wandered and ambled around his home, watching its winter’s grasp release into the natural spring waiting for it all along. He remembered that spring, and had left Howlengale long before the great Blizzard of Bellatrix took hold. The great northern pines. The needles underfoot. And all the beautiful days of training in the sun in the high fortress that was home. The unclaimable castle. And always flowing with eternal mana.

What a dream to dream that Espergale would’ve been given the same relief--but no. Their cynicism was the same. The drought, the same. And no sign of a primal god responsible.

A knock came at the door.

“Yes, Ziafar?”

The elf walked in dressed in his highest fashion. “If you do not soon don your garments, we will be late for our hearing and likely lose our chance to leave the droughtlands…though we’re nearly certainly entering others…

Valon stood and donned his robe, taking note that his clock had ceased its function midways through his bath. Thumb raised beneath the candle that kept it running, he lit a jet of flame that corrected its time and pace. Then he peered out the Marbletree’s window to see Zoey and Astrid veering nearer to the door. “Why don’t you go with Astrid and Zoey? Take them to the courthouse while I come behind. I hate making you three late.”

Ziafar nodded and bowed, vanishing from the hallway with a spattering of stardust.

Valon ambled to his room and let his head dangle to the side as he peered at his Fire Knight garb. His best dress. Then, the alternative, the Starweave Coat, Leggings, and Tricorne. He equipped the gear picked up in the crumbling halls of The Rivenhold and donned it, and suddenly felt his power rise, eyes wide. Everyone who’d been there...they’d all taken a set of armor from the halls of the hold. Were they all missing out on this power?

He sheathed his swords and adjusted his hat, tugging finally on his matrix cube that aligned with a manalyth near the courthouse...if it were still active. In seconds, his body, mind, and spirit had translocated to meet with his friends, who greeted him with happy nods and inquisitive stares.

Zoey hugged him over-long, feeling the softness of his new armor. “This is luxurious, Valon. Why choose to premier it today?”

He smiled at everyone. “I think we’ll find out during the demonstrative hearing, yeah?”

“I’m certain we will, yes.”

Astrid shrugged. “It’s not like I’ve ever gotten anywhere bad by trusting your instincts,” she teased. “Just you.” A wink.

A young dark-skinned woman exited the courthouse and looked at her clipboard, calling over the crowd gathered outside. “Hearing Ein-82 Gamma; That of Valon Belassan. All may proceed to the Dominion of the Pontifex.”

Ziafar gathered his texts and notes and nodded. “Let’s hop to it, then. No one is to keep the Pontifex or Aerie Calloway waiting.”

The others nodded and followed through to the enormous building of marble.
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

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Rydia says...

Chapter 3B: The Eye of the Storm

To suffer the absence of a friend was hard but to have that friend absent while dealing with one's self identity was harder still. In the aftermath of Silverlake, Astrid had been able to lose herself in lending her healing to those dragoons who had survived and just being able to help had been a huge relief. But now they were gone, along with Tynan and Fyfa, and that gaping hole had left too much time to dwell on other things.

Most especially she thought about the dead, about how she'd held their emptiness in her hands, even after Ziafar and Zoey had crushed Bellatrix beneath the pillar. The living had been easy to let go, what small proportion of them there were who'd survived both Bellatrix's ill treatment and the wounds afforded by her own comrades. The dead though, she held them still, or mentally at least. It would have been so easy to bring them all home, to see the smiles on their family's faces as she paraded ghosts through the streets. And everyone got to come back home.

Except when they didn't. They were dead and you couldn't - shouldn't - hold the dead beyond their time. So she hadn't really held them, she'd put them and the book away, forever, but if that was the case, why wouldn't they leave her alone? Why did it feel like she'd had the power to fix things and failed to used it. Chosen not to use it? Society believed that no good could come of necromancy but what if there were other pages in the book, some to take away but some to give back? Had she failed because it was easier and safer to believe a lie than to search for the truth?

Of course, even in the middle of drowning, Astrid couldn't help but notice that something was up with the boys.

"Have you tried asking him what's wrong?" Astrid took a sip of her tea as Zoey stirred her own cup, more content to make miniature whirlpools than be calmed by its contents.

"What makes you think something's wrong? Besides, Valon doesn't do those kinds of conversations," Zoey said.

"Well I could ask him-"

"No!" Zoey's retort was immediate and she toppled her cup from the table but somehow caught it, mid-flight, with all the tea inside. "I meant that we haven't had the time. Of course we have those conversations but I'm sure he doesn't want to talk to you about it."

Astrid tried very hard not to roll her eyes. It was adorable, really, that the faerie thought she'd be any sort of threat where Valon was concerned. If she had time for romance it certainly wouldn't be with that loud and obnoxious (though admittedly well meaning) fool. His brother on the other hand... was going to end up with Fyfa. Yep that was why Astrid would remain single forever.


The Dominion of the Pontifex was a beautiful building, though its magnificence was somewhat undermined by the cells held under the courthouse. Of course, a normal person couldn't feel them but with the lingering effects of Silverlake's mana boost, Astrid could easily sense the hollowed out rooms below, as well as the faint scuttling of rats and bugs. If anything went wrong today, that was where she'd be spending the night.

Of course, she'd have to be terribly unlucky for anything incriminating to come up during the hearing since only her friends remembered enough to stand witness and since it was actually Valon who was the focus of this hearing, and since they were her friends and wouldn't, of course, accidentally mention anything about a certain illegal book. Unless of course they were fools.

Sometimes Astrid wished she had different friends.

"Let the record show that we are now commencing Hearing Ein-82 Gamma; That of Valon Belassan. This hearing today will establish those events which recently took place in Silverlake. First, Valon Belassan, will you please tell us in your own words what happened from the moment you arrived. I will remind you that you are pledged to retell these events faithfully or suffer eternally in the pits of fire."

"They have literal pits," Valon said as an aside to the group. "Maybe you'll get to see them before we leave."

"I really hope not," Astrid muttered under her breath.

"Well, Ladies and Gentlemen. Where to start?" Valon adjusted his hat and drew the room's attention to his unusual choice of dress for the day's event. If he hadn't been so intent on being an adventurer and womanizer, Valon would have made an excellent showman.

"We arrived in Silverlake to find that the dragoons were not only dead but that they were also undead and in the control of one necromancer, Bellatrix, who was also muy loca-"

"-He means crazy," Ziafar interrupted helpfully as he tried to indicate to Valon that he really should be reading from the top-most sheet of notes he had brought with them.

"That too," Valon agreed. "So after we got thrown into the cell-"

"What cell?" the presiding speaker asked before Valon could get too far off track.

"The cell, or a cell. I suppose there might have been more, but I only really saw the one." Valon scratched his head slightly, which seemed to Astrid another ruse to draw more attention to his hat. Astrid very carefully and not so subtly kicked the back of his leg to get him back on track. "Oh, did I not say it was the necromancer's cell? She put us there after Ziafar was too loud and got us noticed."

Astrid signaled to Ziafar that she was going to need a piece of his note paper and a pen and quickly scrawled a message to Valon. Of course, expecting that the piece of paper would be demanded as evidence, she had to make her message rather more cryptic than she might have liked. She passed it very openly to the elf, as if it were of only minor importance.

Valon took one look and then turned and winked at her.

She was definitely doomed.
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Sheyren says...

Chapter 3C: A Trial With... Style?

“So what occurred after you were imprisoned,” one of the other speakers asked. Each of the speakers looked to Valon intently, who had his eyes on Zoey, Ziafar, and Astrid.

“Well,’ he started. “We took care of the guards by the cell and-”

“Please elaborate on ‘took care of’,” the primary speaker interrupted in their slow, monotone voice. Them drawling on made Zoey want to rip her hair out, but she kept calm as best she could for as long as she could. “Did you simply render them unconscious, or was there death involved with this escape?”

Finally Zoey, sick of the ridiculous questioning, stood up. “We killed them! What else would we do? We were imprisoned, and they wouldn’t be ‘simply rendered unconscious’! It was either their lives or ours, so we made the decision to break out. It was my choice, so if you’re-”

“Please sit down. I was not addressing you, Zoey.” The speaker said her name with such contempt that Zoey realized he must have something against her, some backstory. His face wasn’t quite visible in the light, so she tried to think back to his voice, his previous statements, anything that would let her figure out his identity. And then it clicked.


“I will try you another day, you can be sure of it. I’ve been preparing my evidence for years. But that day is not today. Seat yourself.”

His commanding seemed to control her, and she sat down without further argument. “Zoey speaks the truth. We did kill them,” Valon said, but Zoey wasn’t entirely focused on it anymore. How is he here? Why didn’t he tip me off sooner? The trial continued, but she was preoccupied staring in confusion at the primary speaker. Astrid leaned over to Zoey and whispered into her ear.

“Friend of yours?” she asked quietly. Zoey did not respond.

“...And then we confronted Bellatrix on the top of the fort. Tynan held her at bay while myself, Astrid, and Fyfa held back the army of advancing dragoons. Zoey and Zi-” Valon continued, only to be once again interrupted.

“Three people held off an army? You expect us to believe that?”

“We’re good fighters,” Valon offered. The judges didn’t buy into it.

The primary speaker spoke once again. “Was there foul play involved?”

Valon hesitated, and his lack of smooth, quick responses jerked Zoey back into reality. She realized that Valon had been backed into a wall, and that if someone didn’t pull out a great distraction, he and probably Astrid would be in trouble. Astrid couldn’t do it, because then it would be obvious she was making a distraction intentionally, and Ziafar looked just as nervous as Valon. Zoey sighed and stood up.

“These questions are ridiculous. Valon made the choices were right in the specific instances, and he ended up saving us and probably you! Hell, you should be on your knees thanking him!”

“Zoey, sit.”

She remained standing. Finally, two guards rushed into the room and reached for her, but rather than grab her, they made contact with silver dust. On the balcony where the speakers resided, a cloud of dust exploded, and Zoey was at the center. She lunged forward and grabbed the main speaker by the throat, ignoring her companions’ calls to stop. He looked her in the eyes and grinned, and she released him from her grasp. Shock crossed her face, and she hurriedly stepped back.

Meanwhile, the other speakers were cautiously backing away. The guards searched for a fast way to get to the balcony, but eventually gave up and went towards the long spiral staircase. “You aren’t supposed to be here.” Zoey said, despite having already identified the person. Confirmation made the situation increasingly more tense. “You aren’t supposed to be alive.”

“And yet here I am,” he said, smiling devilishly. The guards reached the landing and crossed over, grabbing her by the arm. She didn’t resist as they dragged her into a dirty cell just beside the trial room. I had two windows, one which looked into the court, and the other looked outside. Zoey sat on the small cot under the window looking outside. She glanced out it with hollow eyes. In the sky, the clouds were still parting, and little flakes of snow drifted down, despite the blizzard parting. A snowflake flew through the window, riding a gust of wind, and landed on her leg. She looked at it, glared, and it exploded in a small burst of silver dust.

Through the other window, the trial continued. Her distraction seemed to have worked – the speakers had forgotten their previous inquiry and moved onto the actual slaying of Bellatrix. Valon explained it, but once again Zoey had lost interest. Her focus was on figuring out how that man lived. She was there that day, at his burial. She saw the body in the casket, and unless that was a fake body, he was an undead. He retained his sanity, so the latter was highly unlikely. Her questions went unanswered.

She felt a tickle on her leg, and looked down to see a mud-brown beetle crawling up it. Normally she wasn’t a fan of bugs, as evidenced by the Great Centipede Incident, last year. However, at this moment in time she could not care less about it. Effortlessly, she flicked it off her leg and stamped her foot on it. A satisfying crunch, and it was dead.

The courtroom was silent now. Zoey realized that Valon’s retelling of the story must be over, and the judges were likely consulting each other about what to do next. Minutes turned to hours, and hours to days, but when Zoey looked outside at the half-covered sun, she realized it had barely been ten minutes. Finally, the guards let her out of the cell and led her back to the courtroom, and she let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She was seated between Astrid and Valon in the massive dome-shaped court house. If she wasn’t so shocked and nervous, she would have felt triumphant that she got between those two.

After what seemed to be too long, he turned away from his huddle of judges and approached the pedestal where the sentence would be announced. He opened his mouth, looking directly a Zoey and at no one else, and spoke.

“The council has reached a decision.”
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Lumi says...

3D: Dig Your Nails Into It

"The Council has reached a decision."

Valon, seated between Zoey and Ziafar, stared narrow-eyed at the man, passing a final note across the table to Astrid.
This was not a trial. It was a warm hand-bath
before Guelan could get us away from Esprgl.

Astrid read the note over as the council members began discussing other cases that had been heard throughout the day, most being spoken minutes by Aerie Calloway--which meant this hearing was being Councilled for Valon's sake alone. Astrid wrote back.
I cannot give up hope for this place, no matter
how much they self-destruct. My life's calling is to heal,
is it not? Besides, wherever we may go, we will be needed.

Valon read this and nodded.

"Will Valon Balessan please stand up?"

Several men dressed in crimson garbs stood, eliciting a giggle from the crowd. Guelan cleared his throat with no amusement. "Will the real Valon Balessan please stand up?" He stood and approached the pedestal of testimony for his sentencing. "We of the council, after being presented with the recount of your illegal--" Valon cast his head away from Ziafar, "--journey to Silverlake where you cost the lives of dozens of innocent soldiers, as well as what is to be believed as a well-worshiped being, we are heavily convinced of the evidence of your criminality, lest we refer to your past. Originally, this hearing was to determine the location of a missing person, reported upon the day of your illegal departure, but your words illucidated much more."

Valon's fists balled on the podium, leaving streaks in the glass that would never be undone. His breath was ragged.

"You and--"


"--your comrades are--"

He leapt for the podium with sword drawn, but was yanked back by a whip cased in lightning, eliciting a fierce wail from the depths of his gut. He fought against it and moved forward on his knees, fire around him.

"To be sentenced to--"

He reached the judge's bench as guards came to restrain him, placing needles down his spine to eliminate his mana. With a blast, however, they were scattered.

"Life in the Praetorian Penal Colony."

"Lii-i-i-ke h-hell I'll l-let y-you t-take them!!" Valon was in tears as the electricity ran over his muscles, nearly crunching them into bits between cramps and shocks.

Guelan stood and gripped him by the collar. "You are right, Monsieur Baslessan." He leaned in. "It is hell." A blast of thunder sent Valon back against a wall where a set of handcuffs were waiting for him.

Guelan turned to the other three. "You three are free to collect your things before the airship leaves from The Left Wing of Her Dominion at midnight exactly. If you are truant, your treatment will be much like that of Monsieur Balessan. Should I have any reason to doubt yourselves as upstanding outlaws in need of surveillance in this eleventh hour?"

The three swore to their peaceful agreement, even if Zoey took some persuading.

"Sentinel Reinhart, please escort Balessan to The Marbletree for his beloved material goods."


The sentinel was smart enough to remain outside of The Marbletree while Ziafar and Valon gathered their things. Valon figured even handcuffed he had a power advantage of five to ten gales on the man. Hell, he'd even worked with Reinhart before on small jobs. Ziafar had quickly packed his bags, including potions enough for an army supply shop; and was huddled over a bench in the corner whispering to himself as he worked on something furiously.

"What is that?" Valon droned, admitting to at least one person that he was nearly dead inside--but not over this. Not over his exile.

"The lapis, Valon. If they learn of its power, they will confiscate it, and I need to find a way to hide it."

"...your teleportation could be vital."

"It already is! We're headed for danger and imminent death if we don't have trump cards!"

"Can I do something to it? Nothing major."

Ziafar clearly distrusted him still. Their moment in Howlengale had passed, and the revelation that Valon had implicitly placed his name on his own watchlist had taken out half the planks remaining in their bridge, for sure, but all the same, he handed the madman the lapis.

And Valon cracked it against his blade, chipping the tip off, a cent by a cent. "In all the seven hells, Valon!"

"You can hit me upstairs." And he vanished into his chambers for only a moment alone as Ziafar appeared in his face, their noses touching by the brims. They both took steps back.

"I can't well enough forge jewelry of it, Valon."

"You can't. But no one is uncouth enough to question an Arcanist with blue fingernails."

Ziafar shook his head, already imagining the procedure, but Valon caught his hand in his chains and bit down, on his knees, ripping the nail of his middle finger from its bed. Blood spilled onto Valon's lips and onto the floor, staining wood and teeth. With Ziafar's breath caught in his chest, Valon dropped the nail to the ground and pressed his nose to the backside of Ziafar's palm. He repeated this as tears began steaming his eyes, guilt in his chest chaining his lungs.

With the lapis sliced into slits the size and shape of fingernails, Valon inserted them one by one as Ziafar gripped onto Valon for consolation, for hatred, for a person being there, no matter how damned he was. And when both could hardly breathe through emotion and pain, Valon's ragged voice broke the silence. "I'm sorry for the pain, my friend. I'm sorry."
"For all of it."
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

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TheSilverFox says...

3E: Somewhere in the Quiet Room

"I can carry these for you, let me -"


"Please, I can carry them, if you would -"


"I had to do it, I had to -"

"You know what?" said Ziafar, wheeling around to stare down Valon as they stood in the washroom, anger flashing in his eyes. "You did."

Ziafar looked away, wiping the blood from his hands with a wet towel and admiring the sparkling new fingernails. His breathing was still furious, heart still cold; and he did not want to see Valon's face, because he knew it would be a reflection of his own. So, as Valon cowered ever so slightly, Ziafar focused on the towel, now soaked in blood. "I need to pay someone a visit. Carry my bags."

Valon's voice was a whisper now. "What am I going to do about Reinhart?"

"Tell them that I need to write a message for whomever will confiscate this home - as I believe someone will. If they are impatient, they can send another guard to watch this place. I will be back soon." Ziafar walked over to the other room, evading the blood and pieces of lapis that still littered on the ground. He felt pity for the poor soul who would have to clean it up, but that was just a sliver compared to his anger and sadness, fighting for his heart. He snatched up a few of the bags and tossed them weakly towards Valon, who gingerly caught them (an impressive feat for a man in handcuffs) and set them upon the floor.

Ziafar had hoped one of them would explode, maybe take out this entire tree. If only he was worse at his safety procedures.

"Who do you want to see?" said Valon in a voice that sounded like it would not be surprised by the answer.

"You sent me her murderer. I believe you are familiar with her." Ziafar swung upon a closet door and threw out the clothes within.

Valon ran up and snatched the clothes, falling onto his knees to pick some of them up and place them in the bags he'd scattered about the room before the incident. '"Couldn't you see her at any time? I just, I need -"

"Find someone else," barked Ziafar as he stepped inside of the closet and closed the door. "I will be back. I have no other choice."

He concentrated in the darkness, closing his eyes. A faint blue glow emanated through his eyelids, and he placed his fists together.


It was abandoned. Nobody else had visited since she had been buried. Nobody else had cared. She had been so quiet, so insignificant. They had all focused on Ziafar in that trial, never her; it had been his rise to power, not her fall into heavenly grace. He hated it then, and he hated it now.

The mausoleum smelled old. Ziafar had hoped for some faint smell of death or decay, anything to remind him that some trace of her still lived in this cold room. But there was nothing, nothing but eternity leering at him from all directions, leaping between the shadows produced by his glowing fingers. Had it really been that long? Anger withered, making way for a parade of solemnity.

He stepped forward, rubbing the back of his hand against the smooth marble floors. There was her black stone coffin, atop a small pedestal. Her name was chiseled into the rock, and he could read it faintly in the light. Beneath that was merely "I want only to think of today." She had written it in the halls once, he remembered - she had been reprimanded, but it had been the first time he knew of her.

Ziafar kneeled before the coffin, setting his hands on the floor and feeling how the cold nipped at his new fingernails. "He tore them off," he explained, voice too loud.

"I hate him. He knew this was illegal, he knew that the Pontifex was watching, he knew he could not escape. And, not only did he come, he pointed a finger at himself." Still too loud; his voice softened to a whisper.

"He stopped me from figuring out this folly by placing your killer in my sights. He knew that I would take the bait. Revanii is dead, my love, and this does not sate me. I should have known it would not, as you are still gone, but rage does not allow for thought."

Now but a faint, almost unhearable sound. "This will be the last I see of you. I must follow him, because I have no other choice. My fingers still scream, and my body begs that I stop, but I have no other choice. He is one of the few left in this world who knows about me, and cares about me, in his confusing little way. He came to aid his family, at the cost of all else; if he feels that way about his friends, then I will be fine. He may choose to tear my eyes out, and my ears, and my arms, and my legs, and replace them with fire and brimstone and marble, but he will not kill me, unless the entire world counted on it. For that, I will ultimately be fine."

Ziafar stood up. "You hardly knew me. We talked little, and usually in passing. I am sorry for that, as I am sorry for everything else. I snubbed you, because I wanted to walk towards power. I wish I had thought better. I am still striving for it, so perhaps I have not learned. Yet, I still care for them, and they for me, and I hope to do better this time."

A tear slipped onto the floor. He bent over to rub his hand against the coffin, so that some flecks of dried blood clung to it. "I only want to think of now, my love. I want only to think of today, and be in this endless moment with you. But, while I yet live, my heart will not let me stay. I suppose I am selfish. Though, would you rather watch me die here, or die in the wide world, fighting for whatever shreds of life I can find?"

"Thank you for the time, such as it was." Painting a crude rose, he stood back to look at his handiwork. Nodding, he closed his eyes, concentrated, and placed his fists together.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.

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Sheyren says...

Chapter 3F: Like Animals

“Zoey, my dearest fae. How are you today?” Guelan asked, standing at the window of his office, watching the sun set. “Well, tonight, I guess.”

“I’ve been told I’m to live out the rest of my days in an inescapable penal colony. What’s better is an old friend delivered my sentence. I could be better. How about you?” Zoey sarcastically responded from the doorway, watching him carefully.

“’Old friend.’ Interesting choice of words. I thought you surrendered our friendship back when you murdered my fiance. You learn something new everyday.”

Zoey snarled, grimacing visibly. “For the last goddamn time, I didn’t kill Zieta. She was my sister, and I loved her too. Unlike you, who I happened to not see that night until after she was killed.”

Guelan turned and sat at the chair before his desk. “So you’re still telling yourself that lie? Zoey, I didn’t kill her. You didn’t see me that night because I was out purchasing flowers for the wedding. The wedding which was going to be the next day.”

“And yet you never came home with the flowers.”

“I couldn’t buy them, since I left my pouch of gold at home. I was returning to retrieve it, when I found her.”

“This is going nowhere. We’ve gone through this argument numerous times, and it still ends the same. You think I did it, and I know you did it,” Zoey said, reaching slowly towards her boot. Guelan had gone back to looking out the window, watching the sunset light the sky on fire. From inside the boot, she slid out a wicked silver dagger. It had a terrifying curve, great for quick flick of the wrist. Perfect for the neck.

She dashed forward, silently, and pushed off the desk, leaping into the air with a cloud of silver dust. Swiftly, upon landing, the knife was wrapped around Guelan’s neck. “Go ahead. Kill me. Slit my throat right now. Nothing will change, and besides, I’ve imprisoned you. I can die now without regret.”

“Maybe I will kill you. It’ll be satisfying for me, at least. I can go to prison somewhat happy with the way things turned out,” Zoey said darkly, pressing the knife further up against his neck.

“By killing me, you will only prove to me that you are a monster capable of having murdered Zieta. In other words, I can even die knowing I was right. Not that I have any doubts,” said Guelan, smiling.

Zoey jumped back, looking down at the knife, and then up at Guelan’s unchanging smile. “Damn you,” she said finally, after a long moment of hesitation. Without taking her eyes off of him, she put the knife back into her boot. “So, I suppose you’ll be personally escorting me to the prisoner transport ship on the docks?”

“Yes, I shall. If you don’t have anyone else to say goodbye to-”

“I don’t.”

“-then we can get going.” Guelan said, slowly approaching his desk, hands behind his back. He stopped in front of it and opened a draw. Inside were various metal tools; spiked rods, maces, nails and hammers, among other things. He lifted one of the rods and held it between his hands. Slowly, the metal turned a smoldering shade of red, and when he decided it was satisfying, he made his way across the office to Zoey.

“Heat magic? Looks like you’ve learned something new,” Zoey said, ignoring the inevitable.

“I’m not great at it, and this is about all I can use it for,” he replied, grabbing Zoey’s arm before she could react. With a tight grip, he spread her hand flat and touched the hot rod to it. Slowly dragging it through her skin, she winced at the scorching heat and searing pain. Finally, after an eternity of pain, he lifted the tool, revealing a branded ‘G’. “Now you’ll never forget the name of the man who’s life you ruined, and then who ruined yours, even after an eternity on that foresaken penal colony.”

Zoey instinctively rubbed her hand, trying to erase the blemish, but obviously to no avail. Finally she gave up, lowering her weakened hand, and placing the other in her jacket pocket. Guelan led her out of the office, and together they descended the stairwell to the bottom of the tower. Outside, the sun had long set, and a perfect half moon shone in the sky. Zoey smiled up at it, knowing that if Valon—no, he had a plan—wanted to execute an escape plan tonight, her powers would be at maximum potential.

“Guelan,” she spoke up, breaking the silence of the night. He continued to walk towards the docks. “Tell me, what happened to you? I was there that day, at the funeral. You hung yourself after killing Zieta. How did you end up here?”

“I faked my own death. You don’t need to know why. Anyway, this is where I leave you to walk the rest of the distance. It isn’t far, and I have guards hidden everywhere, so don’t even try to escape. If you’ll excuse me, I have business to attend to.” He turned and walked, and Zoey stood, surprised by his sudden departure. Hesitantly, she continued her journey to the docks, airship visible in the distance.
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Lumi says...

Chapter 3G: The First Summoner

Valon, chained by the wrists and ankles and led by Reinhart, came upon the airship at the final hour and demanded of the guard--whom he admired as a former business partner--to allow him a final use of the restroom before boarding. As others approached, Reinhart led him inside to a meager bucket; and while Valon maladjusted his groin armor and leggings, he whispered to Reinhart.

"I left a missive in my chambers of the Marbletree for my brother, as well as a hefty sum of coin for your getting it to him with haste."

Reinhart nodded as the piss stream sounded off. "I don't know how you'll get out of this one, Balessan...but I hope to hell you do."

Valon made a small jump to readjust himself and his armor, and then nodded. "You'll never see the man before you again, I promise you that."

Returning to the docks, Reinhart laid a hand on Valon's back and gave him a slight boost of mana, restoring his health and stamina.

He stopped before boarding the ship so the guard could take his weapons, tools, and heavier armor from him, leaving him in cloth garbs similar to Ziafar, who approached behind him. While disrobing from his armor, he took a look at the ship--enormous and winged with balloons above deck and wings outstretched as a wyvern's would be. On the helm of the ship was a grand steel draconic figurehead, and sails raised high above the balloons keeping it aloft. Valon boarded to stand beside Zoey, whom he kissed on the forehead.

Ziafar followed him onto the ship, followed by Astrid, both watching their weapons being sealed in an aetherial containment bay in the center of the deck.

"She's gorgeous, isn't she?" All four turned to follow the voice, from the aetherial chamber to the wings to the loading board.


"The newest and grandest airship in her majesty's airforce. And you lot are her maiden voyage."

Valon shook his head. "Why send a military vessel for prisoner transfer? That's a waste of resources, you absolute bitch in a trenchcoat."

Guelan shook his head as well. "What else would be necessary to transport Valon Balessan and his crew of murderous hags and failure of a murderer wizard?"

Ziafar looked glum, suddenly, instead of furious. "Your implies..."

The ship took flight and Guelan grinned. "The bastard yet lives! According to reports, you common idiots threw his body off a shallow edge into a healing spring!" A cackle. "If only you'd had the manhood to use your own magic and," a cackle, "I don't know?! Render him to dust?!"

Astrid stomped her foot on the deck--a calming wave brought down the hostility. "I am tired of this rabble! I am tired of circular games and verbal backstabbing! And I must know one thing... Councilman, why are you aboard this vessel?

"Because as despicable as you all are," he growled, "two of you have things I need." He held out a hand and, with a force of gravity, brought Astrid into his arms. She fought against it, and as the others dove to defend her, he blew them back where chains wrapped around them as snakes.

He sucked on his teeth a bit before looking Astrid over, knowing it had already been taken from her. "You hide it so well in Espergale, my darling...I've even been to your clinic regularly and never guessed a thing amiss." He squeezed tighter. "But your power over the undead, it must be...quite impressive for you to possess such a powerful relic." He grinned and let her go as he approached a box. "Let's see how you like your gift from me..."

And from this box, this crate of wood, enchanted to block arcane sense, unfurls the corpse of Astrid's former instructor in life and death: GREGOR.

Astrid, horrified, grasps for her book of the dead. In fact, everyone reaches for their weapons; but to no avail. Guelan lets out a cackle as he stands before the crew with arms open. "And just like that, you've met your match." He takes a moment to ponder. "I honestly don't see how Bellatrix had problems with all of you..."

Above the groaning and creaking of Gregor, Ziafar pieced together his words in his specificity. "You! I knew there was no way a being such as Bellatrix could exist in this world on her own volition and power! You helped summon her to this realm!"

Guelan's smirk melted into rage. "And with perfect reasoning! Without limitations on how mankind wields magic, the barrier between our world and the world of the dark gods will be completely erased!"

"And you believe that by thinning that barrier, you will save our world?!"

"My associates and I shall save this world if it requires summoning a thousand primal gods to stop mankind!"

Valon interrupted Ziafar, blasting fire into Guelan's face.

Ziafar went on. "You would turn this world into a playground of idols!"

Astrid slowly stepped towards Gregor.

A flurry of magic missiles clashed into Valon as he attempted to dodge. Zoey jumped behind Guelan to give a volley of punches and knee-drops.

Guelan unsheathed his scythe and gave a mighty circular blow around him to knock the two back. Valon rushed forward to dive with fire on his heel, crashed into Guelan's shoulder. Zoey saw Astrid approaching the corpse and ran to tackle her, getting chained up by the midsection of Guelan's scythe. Instead, she let of a blast of fae energy to knock her back to the edge of the deck near the dragon's head.

Guelan struggled against Valon and Zoey until he heard a crash from within the Aetherial Chamber: Ziafar had retrieved his staff by means Guelan did not understand. Wide-eyed, he untangled himself from the two brawlers.

"How did you--"

"A failure of a magician never reveals his secrets." A wink. Valon's and Zoey's weapons returned to them in a blink, and then Astrid's.

"Priorities, everyone. We're not a unit as long as Astrid is enthralled.

"NO!" she shouted, and threw her weapons down. Another calming wave blew out over the ship. "I must speak to him. Deal with Guelan...and I will handle...these remnants."
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

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Rydia says...

Chapter 3H: A Father Holds his Daughter's Hand for a short While...

Life in the Praetorian Penal Colony. It wasn't just unfair, it was unjust. It was just too unjust for Astrid to even be able to process the full ramifications of it but she had found one tiny yet somehow blazingly significant consolation: Tynan was gone and he had Fyfa with him. It was almost funny to think that, before the trial, it had been the final hammer blow to her pain, to not have Tynan to quietly rely on and to know that Valon might have accidentally set his brother up with another girl. The blind idiot. And her the dumb fool, for never saying anything. But now it was the only hope for their small, imprisoned group, that some part of them - arguably their best part - would live free.

As she was led to the ship, Astrid held her head high and steeled herself for what was to come. They would take her weapons, yes, but she had never wanted to fight anyway. They might leave her some healing supplies, certainly there would be those at the colony who would welcome her skills and while she was sad to leave her little clinic behind, she had lived a remote and immaterial life. Or so she told herself.

Then there was the book; she didn't have the mana to put it back into the in-between where she'd hid it before so they'd take that too. She could only hope that the fools would not know what it was that they took, she hoped even that they might lock it up somewhere on the colony with her. If ever there was a thing which deserved to be banished, it was that book; the source of so much misery in this world.

So as she boarded the ship and they took away her weapons, medicines and the book, she still felt strong, more resolute than defiant, but what she hadn't prepared for was Guelan and... Gregor.

The summoned spirit groaned as it took its first, unsteady steps away from the crate, like a child learning to walk for the first time. It - he - was pale but bloodied, still wearing the rags of the clothes that he'd died in a decade ago. His head sat mercifully on his shoulders, as if it had forgotten that in life it had been parted from them, but the red ringing his neck did not allow Astrid to forget.

Ziafar returned her weapons to her - the sabre and the book. Valon stepped forward and said something typically Valon-like which seemed to suggest she needed bringing to her senses and made Astrid realise she had in fact said nothing since being dragged from the group by Guelan. She had felt nothing but this building pressure and could see nothing but the ghost which lurched toward her now, and she toward it, pulled inevitably closer to a man she'd clung to all her life.

But she had to think of her friends as well. As a child she had failed to protect this man, had delivered to him a death that shouldn't have been his, but if she let his ghost do anything to her friends then she would have learned nothing. An adult now, this was hers to mend.

"NO!" Astrid shouted, and threw her weapons down. She soothed the unease in her heart and dispelled it in a breath. "I must speak to him. Deal with Guelan...and I will handle...these remnants."

Guelan barked out a laugh and swept his scythe at Valon's legs as he blasted another wave of energy in Ziafar's direction which threw him against the railings of the air ship, and almost overboard. The wizard clung to the rails and clambered back over as Zoey ran quickly to help Valon up.

Guelan tutted and shook his head. "I'm insulted that you think any of you can 'handle' me." He threw his arm out and sent both Valon and Zoey to the same side of the ship as Ziafar, who grabbed the fire mage to keep him from going overboard. The fae landed with her feet against the railings and her arms gripping them, as if ready to launch herself straight back. Guelan kept his arm raised and the force remained, pushing them ever harder against the side of the ship.

Astrid hesitated, her attention drawn from the corpse as she realised her friends' dire need and in that moment, it reached her. Cold, rough hands grabbed her wrists and the spectre pushed her back against the dragon's head at the edge of the deck. Astrid felt his breath, cold and ragged against her neck as the weight of his body held her trapped against the figurehead.

Guelan stooped to lift the book from the deck, the pressure from his magic finally easing.

"Don't let him take the book!" Astrid screamed.

"I came here for two things," Guelan said softly. "This is the first." He held the book up and lovingly caressed its spine. Zoey launched herself, knives glinting, at Guelan at the first possible chance but he used his scythe to fend off the attack. Valon blasted a bolt of fire toward the book and it seemed to absorb it.

"Blast him, not the book! Don't you think if something so powerful could be easily destroyed, it would be already?" Ziafar scolded. He lifted his staff and teleported to a space behind Guelan and to the left of Zoey so their adversary's attention would be divided.

"Now. I'll take the second thing." Guelan took a step forward, toward his second goal.

At the helm of the ship, Astrid pushed against Gregor's shoulders but the dead healer stood firm. There was a strength to him and a meanness in his eye that had never existed in life.

"This isn't you. It's not who you are!" Astrid cried. "Gregor, listen to my voice. Let me free you from whoever's will it is which binds you here."

The spectre smiled, a hard, cold smile. "You are what binds me. I can only leave once I have taken your life so yes, in a way you will free me."

The corpse closed his hands on Astrid's neck, preventing any further attempts to talk him out of it. But he was a spirit and Astrid had been communing with spirits all her life and there were more ways than one to talk to the dead.

Astrid focused on Gregor's spiritual energy and pushed her way into his head where she knew he would be fighting the necromancer who had called him back. She knew vaguely that if her body grew too weak, she might not be able to return to it, but she owed it to Gregor to save him.

...But He Holds Her Heart Forever
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TheSilverFox says...

Chapter 3I: Vs. Guelan

Today was going exactly as Ziafar had expected.

Not even his enemy being alive completely surprised him; he'd hardly known the town, much less what was beyond the cliffs. And yet, somehow, Ziafar wasn't filled with the urge to murder again. That pathetic creature Ziafar had once called a friend had learned his lesson - Revan would, if he knew what was best for him, move as far away from the vestiges of civilization as possible. Ziafar had proved a point, and that's what mattered.

That did not stop the indomitable rage from roaring past his heart. Ziafar had been told it was unwise to shoot the messenger, but he held Guelan with such little contempt that it looked like crushing him would not only a wonderful way to burn off some energy, but a moral imperative.

"He's trying to snuff out our healer!" Valon said, gesturing to where Astrid was being strangled by the ghost of her mentor.

"Is Guelan responsible for this?" Ziafar barked back in response, pointing to where the madman was still stroking his book, dodging fire and knives.

Valon cocked his head to the side, squinting and shaking his head. "What do you think?"

"Fine," grumbled Ziafar, teleporting to keep up with Valon as the latter ran circles around Guelan. "A better question is this - how well is it distracting him?"

Valon watched Guelan for a short while longer (before Guelan swiftly dodged the knife-wielding blur that was Zoey). "Not enough to weaken his grip on that book."

Ziafar scowled. "I can help with that."

Standing in front of Guelan, Ziafar took a deep breath. "You could've had what you wanted when we were docked, as much control as you've had, so why strive for them now? Do you have something planned for Praetoria, I wonder?"

There was a deep laugh. Guelan shot under Zoey again (and Valon, to her consternation, pulled her away afterwards) and addressed Ziafar when rising up, no longer stroking the book. "What charming magic of yours, failed killer. You've done better than anyone else has. I should like to take it for myself; I would love the power."

The wild stare, the affection for the Book of the Dead - Guelan had to be power mad, Ziafar reasoned. The former had spent his time in his world of idols and let it poison him, filling his little shriveled heart with dreams of revenge and control. It was a bit too much like looking in a mirror, even if the other side was far darker. In any case, Ziafar couldn't reason with him. The most he could do was to try and get an answer. "Your magic, I should think, is more interesting. You are a summoner, I remember. What abomination lies in the depths of Praetoria that you should want to summon?"

"I should like to transform," Guelan said, watching Ziafar with menacing eyes. "Myself, the gods, the world - anything to bring about the changes I want. Cast aside your blindness, wizard, and see the light of fire!"

"I don't deal with any madman other than Valon," Ziafar said, taking a battle stance and ignoring a cry of indignation. "I'll see to it you only summon your own death!"

Ziafar vanished in a flash, popping up behind Guelan. Grabbing the surprised man by the arms, Ziafar teleported the both of them towards the tall roof of the ship, allowing them to plummet. Book in hand, Guelan tried to pull himself around and bash Ziafar over the head with it, but both had almost reached the floor. Guelan yelled in terror as they came within inches of the ground.

"Enjoying this?" Ziafar said as he teleported them back to the roof again, causing them to plummet faster than they had before. Guelan succeeded in yanking himself around to face Ziafar, face a tapestry of rage. He tried to aim his fists at Ziafar's head, blocked by Ziafar's grip on his elbows. They teleported again.

"It's mine!" Guelan shrieked, slamming the Book of the Dead on Ziafar's right arm. It was effective enough for Ziafar to withdraw his hand, punching Guelan in the face as they teleported once more. Normally, the sight of a man's nose bleeding in the equivalent of a free-fall would have been funny, but Guelan was already attempting to strike Ziafar's left arm with the book.

However, Guelan desisted - he had an evil smile playing on his face. By the next teleport, he shoved the book into the shirt, reaching out with the newly freed hand for the arm that still held a death grip on him. Ziafar realized what was happening too late, reaching out to snatch the approaching hand, only to catch air instead. "You thought you were clever?" Guelan said, laughing as he grabbed one of Ziafar's lapis fingernails. "I can make it my game."

Valon shouted from somewhere below, "Whatever you're doing, you better do it fast, because we can't pull Gregor away from Astrid!"

Ziafar looked down, seeing the blurs of his friends and the ghost passing by countless times. He was in the midst of coming up with a plan when he felt a sharp pain that caused him to scream. Wheeling around, he found Guelan holding one of the lapis fingernails malevolently, raising it like a miniature dagger. "What joy!" Guelan said, looking at the bloody leftovers of the fingernail's holding spot. "Isn't it such a good thing I can control the dead?"

The pain arched through the unlucky finger, spreading to its compatriots. Ziafar was able to grab Guelan's neck with his spare hand in the seconds before he had to wrench the other hand free. Guelan responded swiftly, aiming the fingernail for Ziafar's face. Ziafar dodged handily, shaking his controlled hand to stop it from twitching uncomfortably. That attack, he felt in the corner of his mind that still worked (and wasn't at all bothered by the blur of his surroundings), was meaningless - the fingernail could hardly do any damage. However, it was clearly a feint, and Ziafar had to worry about fighting himself. He felt that might be a losing battle, especially with the way that the resistance was crawling up his arm.

"Gregor might be letting go?" Valon said uncertainly. "Either way, I think he's too busy trying to kill you, so keep up the good work!"

"Lovely!" Ziafar replied angrily, avoiding another strike to the face. "So glad to have the compliment!"

This was taking too long. If Guelan's control really was slipping, then Ziafar may as well take it to the next level. It put the Book of the Dead at risk, certainly, but Ziafar almost certainly preferred living than dying and falling under those wretched spells. If the book were to be lost to the sea, good riddance; better than to be a made ghost and try to kill his friends. Besides, as long as his group still had their healer, they were fine. Hence, Ziafar spotted the vague blueness that defined the sea, and teleported out to it.

Wind whirled through his hair, drowning out all noises, as Ziafar shot towards the ocean at terminal velocity. His grip on Guelan's neck, ineffective as it was, remained secure, and Guelan's horrified expression said all that Ziafar wanted to know. The working hand shot down into Guelan's shirt, searching for the book. Ziafar could feel his other arm convulsing, gradually reaching for his neck. Guelan howled with rage and swung down with the fingernail, stabbing at Ziafar's useful arm. Not effective enough, though it left a few bleeding holes.

The book shot out of the bottom of Guelan's shirt, plummeting towards the sea, which was now rapidly rising up to embrace them. They both watched its descent with a good degree of interest, then turning their heads to stare at each other. Guelan fumed, and Ziafar smiled. "Have a nice swim; you'll find it very relaxing," Ziafar said calmly, feeling the tingle in his arm dissipate. He instinctively used it to uppercut Guelan, finishing with a kick to the chest before teleporting away.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.

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soundofmind says...

3J: Just a Hop, Skip, and a Boat Ride Away

The Swordsmen Three: A Cautionary Tale On Mercy
by James Alineau Phiric

LARREL'S SCREAM rose up as a piercing cry in the peaceful quiet of the open countryside, and horrified sobbing ensued quickly after, swallowing up her voice. James, hearing the shrill noise down the hall, had immediately risen to his feet and was sprinting to the training arena with his heart racing. As he threw open the double doors, he froze in the face of the image before him: Larrel, his little sister, standing over the fallen body of Aymar, whose severed head lay several feet from the rest of him.

Larrel kneeled beside the body, hands over her tearful eyes as she tried and failed not to stare at the ever growing pool of blood and the now dull stare of Aymar's lifeless eyes.

"" She stuttered, trying to control her quivering lips.

James, his body stiff and his voice exuding a steadiness contrastingly cool to her panicked words, stepped forward and looked her in the eyes. "What happened?"

Larrel swallowed a sob, and set her shaking hands below her chin. "W-we... it was just... a d-duel it w-wasn't supposed to... I didn't... I didn't mean to -" her voice caught once again in her throat and she had to swallow once more, trying to put on the brace face she knew she ought to for her brother. Her voice fell to a harsh whisper. "I... I... killed him. It was an accident."

James's face took on a sickly pallor as Larrel's guilt ridden eyes stared into his own. She was desperate. He knew she was pleading... behind the storm of her watery blue eyes she was quietly asking him for help but didn't know how. She was overwhelmed and in shock, and James knew that if they tarried much longer, a third party would soon arrive after hearing her scream and his little sister would be doomed to condemnation. There was no one else on the premises but he and she. The evidence would either point to him or her, and with her... blood on her hands, and tears in her eyes, holding the sword that killed him...

"Get out of here," James finally commanded, his hands forming a fist at his side.

Larrel stared up at him, her hands finally ceasing from their shaking. "...No. No! I-"

James walked up to her, and yanked her up off the ground. "Tell no one. Run home. Wash your hands of his blood. Forget you ever came here today, and for gods sakes, do it quietly."

Larrel hesitated, both reluctant and fearful for herself and her brother. "Jame-"

"Go!" He yelled, dragging her to the door and pushing her out. With one last look back, Larrel finally gave in. She fled - running as fast as her feet would carry her, trying not to trip over her own feet as tears flooded her eyes and skewed her vision.

James, looking down at Aymar, knelt beside his fallen figure. He picked up Larrel's sword, flicking some of Aymar's blood on his garments in a pattern most believable for what would have followed a decapitating blow of that magnitude. He could hear footsteps approaching down the hall, and under his breath, muttered a few words for the dead.

"You did not deserve such a death, Aymar," he whispered. "Forgive me - that my sister will hopefully live on to rise above her wrongs, as I pay the price for hers."

James looked up to see a man - a neighboring farmer -standing in the doorway, his eyes wide with shock.

"James... what have you done?"

James looked down at the boy's head, a sickly feeling swirling in his stomach.

"Just as it seems," he replied.

James erased the last line. With a low grumble he took in a long breath and let out an equally long sigh. He could never remember what he actually said in reply. He shook his head as he slammed his journal shut, and tucked it away with his quill in a hidden corner of the cave.

However as he got up, he stopped himself, and looked back. No... there was one more thing he needed to write down. He had to immortalize it in words on a page. He pulled the journal back out and flipped back to the page. Leaving a few lines of space between where he left off and where he began. He wrote again.

I didn't and do not regret sparing my sister's future for my own. She deserves a second chance. My only regret is that Aymar's bright young life was snuffed out far too early.

There. Now he was done. That bit, however, would be reserved for himself, not the story - though the line between the two was always blurred in autobiographical pieces. He again stashed the journal in its safe place, letting out a wistful sigh. He looked about his belongings, and carefully, went about the tedious task of concealing them in the depths of the cave. It involved a lot of rearranging boulders and rocks, and strategically placing moss beds atop open areas. Always, he had to make it convincing. And always, he had to make it look the same as before he came there - for never did he trust that no one would come in his cave and try to steal from him. Of course, if they were really desperate, they would likely tear the cave apart. But now that he was done... it really did look like just an empty cave. Apart from seeing him enter and exit it no one had any reason to believe it was otherwise.

With nothing but his swords on either side, and his body fully armored, he proceeded out towards the beach. Long had been the days that he pondered upon this plan of his to escape this gods forsaken island, and though he had considered all of the risks, at this point... he had little to lose. Even if someone were by chance to find his journal, it would've likely been some criminal who would not appreciate it for what little it was worth. He had no chance of leaving a legacy beyond the one that would live on in his sister.

So he might as well try this, even just this once - that was, if he got out of it one way or the other. He would either end up on the Broken Coast, in the belly of a beast, or at the bottom of the ocean. Those, or back to the pits of hell. Of those options only one was favorable and only two meant survival. But hell if he didn't try.

He proceeded to a small gulf, finally reaching the beach's edge. He knew it wouldn't take much to antagonize the kelpin. His eyes scanned the abandoned beach before he stepped a foot in the water, and tossed a few large stones in there for good measure.

"GIVE ME A RIDE OFF THIS BLOODY ISLAND!" He yelled out to the waters.

He waited a few moments, before he saw a stirring beneath the surface. A shadow lurked under the water, and from a distance he could see it approaching slowly. James, not looking to tame the beast, continued to antagonize it, this time running back on the beach, grabbing a sizable boulder, and launching it into the water, not far from what either was the kelpin's face or tail. He had no way of knowing. But what he was hoping was that, at least, it understood that he was announcing himself as its next meal. It always seemed to eagerly leap for the opportunity to swallow up anyone who dared swim in its waters.

The boulder splashing in the water seemed to do the trick. Turns out it was its face (though it was made of kelp, so even so he could scarcely tell, if it wasn't for the open mouth and the hiss-like roar). The kelpin, its head now revealed, seemed to catch direct sight of James on the shore.

James took a good few steps into the water.

The kelpin locked its sights on him, and shot towards him, its body weaving through the water.

James wielded one of his claymores, ready. He waited for the creature to come to him, and as its open mouth emerged in front of him with a burst of waves and water, and descended upon him, he positioned himself to strike.


He lodged his claymore into the creature's jaw, propping it's mouth open. He then, with a heave, used his secured hold to promptly pull himself atop the kelpin's head. With his other sword, he lodged it in a place he assumed wouldn't have any immediately-incapacitating vitals, and pulled the other sword out of its mouth, and pierced it alongside the other.

"Now here's to hoping that pain is a good motivator for you to move forward, and not dunk me underwa-"

Aaaaand it was underwater. James held his breath, completely panicked, but his expression looked mostly bored and annoyed with the kelpin's behavior as opposed to worried. If there was a pro to this situation, it was that the kelpin was at least going in the right direction at an ungodly speed. If there were any cons (there were), it was that James was struggling to hold on for dear life against the combined quick movement of the kelpin and the water pressure.

He yanked down on his two swords, sending them deeper into the creature's head. It's head reared up, and the kelpin shot up to the surface. James gasped in great relief, but the relief was short lived.

In the sky, he spotted a gigantic airship headed the back towards the island, and the knew that could only mean one thing. New arrivals. He noted, however, that it was still a considerable distance away. And as soon as he made such an observation, the kelpin seemed to come up with the brilliant idea to fling its head forward and throw it back with force.

James, who was once attached to the creature by the means of his two swords stabbed in its head, was flying through the air. Then he was skipping across the surface of the water. And then, the skips stopped when he finally began to sink.

Aggravated and disappointed, but not surprised, he fumbled to secure his swords to himself before struggling to swim to shore with all the weight on him. Fortunately, he'd landed in shallow enough waters that the swim to shore wasn't mortally lengthy - but it was just long enough to be nearly unbearable. As he flopped onto the beach in exhaustion, sputtering up sea water, he stared up at the sky, watching the airship slowly, and gradually, grow ever larger.

"I hope they enjoy it here," he muttered bitterly.
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Lumi says...

Chapter 3K: What Goes Up Must Come Down In Flames

A light snow dusted cobblestones, a red glow of a manaswill bar barely illuminating the letters on the page one man handed to another--both in armor, one holding the reins of a gryphon.

"And you're sure the funds are above board?" asked a man in a gruff voice.

"A' would not be here if not, sir."

A woman in heavy-clad armor emerged from the bar, crossing her arms as she looked between the two. "What's all this, then? Taking alley jobs to keep the tap on?"

One of the hooded men turned to the woman and dropped his coat to his shoulders. "It would seem, second lieutenant, that our intel has proven correct."

She tightened the laces of her coat about her armor. "We can't well have that, now can we?"

The armored man clasped his sword's hilt. "Any military motion could bring about war between our nations. Tensions are high enough."

The woman nodded. "We will speak to the Lord Commander in the morning."



"Maybe...maybe he--"

"ABSOLUTELY NOT!" Valon scurried from one end of the ship to the other, hobbling over ropes and a wicked scythe that dissolved into black mana as it jangled under his feet. "ZIAFAR!"

"Oy," someone moaned from the steps leading belowdeck. "From this day," grumbled Ziafar, "my deathbed would be too soon an encounter with air upon my face."

Valon lifted him, steadied him, and then released a heavy breath, letting his worries vanish. "I hate to do this to you, but you should best stay here, or belowdeck. We have yet to rid ourselves of our ghastly guest."

"As lovely as that sounds, someone has to take care of the rest of the ship's crew ere we make footfalls in Praetoria...lest you wish to be imprisoned?"

Valon hesitated a moment, a large hole in his plan becoming gloriously obvious. "Carry on," he ordered, and retained his skate around the ship back to Astrid, Zoey, and Gregor. Seeing the two locked under his pressure, he drew his blades.

Astrid called out! "Valon! Zoey! You must not bring him to harm!" With teeth bore and ground, she spoke to him in an archaic tongue, though to Valon and Zoey, it was as plain as Elven.

"Mea Mentoris, vocate ad me quod usque homo sit in te. Attendite me, cum animus tuus. Ut liberemini de tenebris vos potest liberavit vos de vestras!"
(My mentor, I call out to that which is still human in you. Hearken to me with your soul. The darkness may be delivered from you, you may be liberated from your afflictions.)

And Gregor, the spector with the overwhelming power and pressure over them all, returned in the same language.

"Non est passus hominem crucient ante vos videtis misericordiae! Ut animam meam decem milia a peccatis meis, non est nisi una via, puella. Illum oportet crescere me autem in corde."
(The being you see before you has undergone torment unimaginable! To save me from my ten thousand sins, there is but one way, girl. I must become one with your heart.)

Astrid slowly touched her breast over her beating heart and stepped forward.

"I offer myself as a temple, oracle of nature and the grave."

"Eight hundred years of sun shall this rob of you, earthbinder. Are we in accord?"

Valon thought swiftly upon this. Upon life without Astrid to guide him ever so sternly. Eight hundred years was nearly ten percent of an elf's life, and--no! "I barter three hundred years of my life to lessen her penance!" Upon this, Valon threw himself into the bargaining line beside Astrid.

"You are foolhardy, Balessan, for you know not how long fate has granted you; nor may you know 'til the day cometh. Twelve-hundred years hath thee tasted the soil of this realm, and I ask of thee: is perchance twelve-hundred enough for thy greed?"

Valon grasped Astrid's hand, nodding. "If it were to bring the blade of fate in poor aim of my comrades, I would gladly offer this."

Zoey stepped into the air of pressure. "I am a youngling who yet fears the serpents of the underworld, though I will lay two hundred years bare for this wondrous soul."

The three looked between one another before nodding, Astrid's eyes welling with tears.

She spoke. "I bid you, come." Upon the moment, Gregor's incorporeal form vanished, replaced by a resplindent black gem. With a pulsation of dark magics, Astrid was blown against the port of the ship, where the black diamond came above her to gather wind--before charging into her breastbone, embedded as a permanent seal of the bargain; yet two shards remained--one small red and one small pink that paled in size to Astrid's.

Valon stepped back before the gem assaulted him, ingraining in the back of his hand, fire-red, pulsating with power.

Zoey looked the crystal dead in the non-eyes as it hovered carefully into her forehead, above and between her eyes--perfectly centered.

There came a ring about the deck, rousing the three.

Astrid let out a long breath. "I know we all feel more power for this, but remember that these are curses upon our bodies."

Valon nodded. "I'm glad you're safe."

Zoey, not to be left out, pointed at her. "You really worried me there! None such luck dying on us, you hear? Ghosts or no ghosts!"

Valon peered out over the railing of the ship, seeing The Isle of Lost Heroes. "Ziafar. We have to get Ziafar."

"Why the rush? You seemed content enough to leave him be."

"Because Gregor left us a parting gift," as he pointed above, to the sails, to the manafuel balloons ablaze in black flame.

"Eeeeeeeveryone needs to fetch their gear this instant," called a Ziafaran voice in a rush. We'll say it was sped up 1.5x. "The crew belowdeck felt the drop in altitude and all bailed and left me to my death, so I can just imagine what--IN THE NAME OF SAINT DIABLO THE SIXTH IS THIS FRESH HELL?!"

Valon grabbed his armor and began hurling it on, boot by glove by codpiece. "We're preparing for a crash landing! And you're going to be our parachute!"


LORD COMMANDER: I'm certain, if we take movements, you two know what this will mean for the wary peace treaty between Howlengale and Espergale.

HELMETED WOMAN: We believe our investigative forces and firsthand intel are more than enough proof that The Pontifex is working against treatises as ours.

ARMORED MAN: Perchance a quick blow to a crippled military force will put the governing seat in her place. That is, after all, the plan.

LORD COMMANDER: And I'm to understand one of you has a personal vendetta against the Justice of Espergale, is that correct?

HELMETED WOMAN: ... ... ...

ARMORED MAN: ... ... ...

LORD COMMANDER: Only truth shall be accepted here, my comrades.

The armored man removed his helm,
cold smoke billowing out with his breath.

TYNAN: They took my family away from me, Lord Commander.
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

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Sheyren says...

Chapter 3L: That Which Leaves an Impact

“Everyone hold hands!” Valon hurriedly ordered as he reached for Zoey’s hand. She took it with haste in her left hand, gripping Ziafar’s with her right. Astrid connected Valon and Ziafar, and together they formed a circle of ragged, beat-up prisoners on the deck of a flaming airship. Moving as one entity, they shuffled to the edge of the deck, and glanced over. The fall was probably a hundred feet or so, and it made Zoey’s stomach churn.

“This is not how I anticipated the ship’s landing would go,” Ziafar said dryly, glancing at his lapis-tipped fingers. “I suppose I’m to teleport us down? Because that’s too far of a distance to traverse with these little stones. We need a bigger teleporter.”

“Or a smaller distance,” Astrid acknowledged, only to be met with a collective groan from Zoey and Ziafar, and a smirk from Valon.

“Valon, this is a really bad idea. If Ziafar screws this up--which, no offense,” Zoey stated, looking hesitantly at Ziafar, “is entirely likely—then we end up as stains on the shore of the closest thing to hell on Earth.”

“He had no difficulty teleporting Guelan for an hour, so I’m sure he’ll be just fine.” Valon gave Zoey that smile which would normally reassure her, and make her worries disappear. However, he was asking she leap from a height she was dizzy just thinking about, and a smile wasn’t enough. What was enough, apparently, was simply jumping, without waiting for approval. The latter was exactly what Valon did, dragging the others with him.

The ground was rapidly approaching them, despite the literal opposite occurring. As they closed the gap between their splatter-target, it seemed like an eternity passed. A hundred feet was a lot when you were falling its distance in a skydiver-esque circle, from the deck of a fireball with sails. But inevitably, the ground caught up with them, and as they approached roughly the twenty foot mark, Valon shouted to Ziafar.

“Now should be good!” He yelled, signaling with his hands for Ziafar to teleport them. Ziafar naturally and hastily complied, and suddenly they were gone.

Then, suddenly again, they were not gone, but were also not in the air falling. Instead, they were sitting on the coast, staring at nothing in particular, jaws hitting the ground. “Holy fuuuuuaeries, that worked,” Zoey said, snapping out of the trance survival caused, and spreading herself on the sandy shore.

Ziafar let out a heavy breath and stood up, watching the cloudy gray sky as a smoking airship soared through it. “If we weren’t now imprisoned on a penal colony, then I would share that story at the next bar we’d stop at.”

“I’m quite surprised that worked,” Valon commented.

Zoey turned to him, eyes wide. “You made us go through that, with a plan you weren’t even sure would work?”

Valon had no response, but Ziafar happily butted in. “Zoey, I’ve known Valon for longer than I like to admit, and through out travels together, I’ve learned one thing. You can never trust that Valon knows what he’s doing. It’s an unhealthy assumption.”

Astrid said nothing, just looked around at her companions. As she stopped at Valon, her eyes dwelled on his bejewled hand, before moving on to Zoey. She didn’t look Zoey in the eye, but rather between them, at the pink crystal lodged there. Astrid’s eyes were not relieved, nor sad, but some odd place in the middle. Regretful? Worried?

The group fell silent as snow began to fall from the sky. A flake landed on Zoey’s tongue, as she extended it into the cold air. The action flung her into a past she had decided would not get the better of her, but had continued to do so anyway.


“Zieta, what’s this? Why’s it so cold?” A much younger Zoey asked, looking at the sister holding her hand and leading her on through the woods of barren, icy trees. A blinding white moon shone in the sky above, casting light down on the sparkling crystals floating through the air.

“It’s snow. Little bits of water that freeze, and fall to the world below,” Zieta responded, sticking out her tongue and watching a bit of snow land on it, instantly melting. “If you catch a snowflake with your tongue, they say it’s good luck.”

Zoey tried to stick out her tongue, but the drastic shift in temperature was too much. She immediately shoved it back into her mouth, having caught no snowflakes. Even then, she was bad luck.

Zieta smiled, picking up the pace and dragging Zoey along with her. The forest opened up just ahead, but Zoey could not see what it was Zieta was rushing towards. “I’m really not supposed to have let you out of the cave,” Zieta started. “But it’s Freeze Over Day, and you absolutely need to see the celebration.”

The two sisters stopped at the edge of the forest, which opened into the high bank of a lake. The cold had frozen the lake over solid, and a line of faeries circled the shoreline. They all seemed to be within the fairy tribal cluster the Faydens had aligned themselves with, Zoey noticed upon closer investigation. A woman—Zoey’s mother? It was unclear, Zoey, had not seen her enough--was walking out onto the icy surface, a trail of silver dust glittering behind her.

And then she started dancing. Twirls, leaps, flips. All the while, silver sparkles fluttered about, accenting her every movement. Zoey watched in awe, wishing her mother had been there every time Zoey had tried to dance, alone in the cavern, to offer support. The spectators around the lake were just as entranced, and behind them massive blue flames blinked to life. The glow they reflected onto the lake, and onto her mother, astounded Zoey further. She began to walk forward, wanting to join the spectators, but Zieta grabbed the collar of her fur coat and pulled her back.

“You can’t be more than a spectator. You aren’t even allowed to be out of the cave. I’m sorry,” Zieta said as she noticed depression in Zoey’s face. “Look, tomorrow, I’ll visit. I’ll sneak away from training and come-”


“-to the cave over there. It looks like the best bet for shelter, which we’ll need if this snow picks up,” Valon suggested, bringing Zoey back to present. He was pointing to a cavern jutting from the cliffs beside the sea, which Zoey squinted to see in the growing darkness. None had oppositions, and together they trekked through the snowstorm, towards the cavern.

The cave was devoid of people, but was not uninhabited. A desk with a closed book was in the back, as well as an empty chest in the corner. Astrid stepped forward and opened the book, thumbing through the pages, while Ziafar and Valon worked on lighting the torches lodged in the wall’s cracks. Zoey stood in the doorway, looking out for the resident of the cave.

“We can’t very well sleep in here,” Ziafar noted. “We don’t know when the owner will return, and if he’s hostile or not.”

“Could be a ‘she’. Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Valon added.

“No, it’s a ‘he’,” Astrid affirmed. “James Alineau Phiric, the book says. He’s the one who wrote this thing. That’s about the only relevant information I can pull from this.”

“Does the book happen to say if James is a big guy with two broadswords?” Zoey asked pointedly from her lookout post.

“Um, no. Why?”

“Because a big guy with two broadswords is running towards us, and he doesn’t look too happy.”

“Is it James?” Ziafar asked as he successfully lit all of the torches with Valon.

“Oh, I don’t know, lemme read his name tag,” she replied sarcastically. “How the hell would I know if he’s James. Hey! Are you James?! I don’t think he can hear me… Oh wait, he’s drawing his swords. I think he heard me, and he doesn’t seem to be any happier now. I think he’s hostile, but the swords could be a proposal of friendship. I’m not sure,” she droned on, as he closed the gap between them. “I’m gonna go take care of him. If you hear me losing, characterized by screaming and cries for help, just maybe come out and help? Cool.” Without waiting for a response, she drew her knives and rushed out into the snowstorm, to confront the charging brute.
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Rydia says...

Chapter 3M: What we Give is Worse than What we Take

Astrid let out a soft sigh and tucked the small diary into the folds of her belt as she moved to stand with the others.

"Maybe we should stop her," Astrid suggested, watching after Zoey with a feeling of apprehension which was greater than the moment called for. Certainly the small girl facing off against the big brute was a cause for concern - for the big brute anyway - but it wasn't that. Since Valon and Zoey had taken on Gregor's burden with her, she couldn't look at either of them without a feeling of wrongfulness. None of them could know the full truth of the sacrifice they had made but it pained her that they had suffered such a loss in her stead.

"You want to try stopping that?" Valon asked with a lop sided smile.

"His aura's not bad." Astrid crossed her arms and stared her two friends down. Valon's smile slipped a little.

"He's sentenced to life in the Praetorian Penal Colony, how can he not be bad?" Ziafar demanded.

"Yeah, we're the only ones wrongfully imprisoned here," Valon added, perhaps being intentionally ironic.

Astrid turned to the entrance of the cave again and watched as her friend's knives clashed with the man's claymores again and again. Zoey definitely had the speed and magic advantage but there was something very steely and solid about the stranger who seemed able to keep a solid footing even in the deepening snow. There was a rage in his eyes as he launched his attacks, probably assuming too that they could be nothing but bad people if they were here in this blighted place.

"Am I ever wrong about an aura?" Astrid asked. The boys shared a look.

"Well, from what I knew you'd not been able to get a clear read on an aura since the dry spell," Valon pitched.

"And you're friends with Valon," Ziafar added.

Astrid waved a hand in front of her and felt a small smile prick her lips as Valon scowled at their wizened friend.

"There's a whole grey area reserved just for Valon but I'm telling you, this guy's not bad." She rested a hand on her breastbone, covering the black gem embedded there which had heightened her senses. "I'm not saying he's a saint but I think we should stop our faerie friend from turning him into a pinata."

Astrid strode out into the snow, leading the boys into the confrontation. The flakes landed softly around the sparring pair and Astrid couldn't help but feel that they were like those flakes, falling infinitely through the sky, not knowing how long or short their own fall would be, only that they would eventually meet the ground. And sometimes the natural forces boosted a flake here or there, the wind swirling them into the air in great gusts. But some fell quickly. Some were fleeting - paths hard to trace and then lost in the great dunes o the ground. Only the presence of her friends kept her steps from faltering.

"She'd say that even if his soul was black as night. I mean, she stopped us from killing the murderous ghost, right?"

"Definitely. She never let's us kill anything; let's keep our guard up."

"Zoey!" Astrid called, stopping a safe distance from the fight. "We'd like to try talking now."

"What?" Zoey shouted over the ring of metal."I landed a few blows so I'm not sure he's feeling friendly."

Astrid pulled the diary from her belt and held it aloft and then extended it toward the stranger. "We didn't mean to intrude. Our ship crashed nearby and we had no choice but to seek shelter. Here, we meant no disrespect."
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soundofmind says...

Chapter 3N: Help Us Prove Our Innocence

James pulled back from Zoey, who stood down at the words from Astrid. He kept his grip on his sword and his guard up, and stared at the diary extended in Astrid's hands. While his expression was already that of an angry countenance, his look only intensified as seeing his personal life's work in the hands of a stranger. That did however, explain how they knew his name. They must've looked through it to some degree.

His fiery eyes looked back up at her, and then at the rest of her supposed friends, now behind her, who'd made shelter from the snowstorm in his cave.

"Your ship?" he questioned. "You mean to say you were on the airship that crashed?"

Astrid and Zoey shared an exhange of glances before Valon piped up.

"It was an unfortunate turn of events, but we managed to survive the rocky landing," he explained.

James raised a critical brow. "And I suppose that makes you... new here, then."

"Well we're not exactly visiting here for the sightseeing," Zoey joked with a smirk.

James looked over at Zoey, showing no signs of amusement. They were there by accident, then. Or at the very least, they'd arrived in a manner they didn't plan on. He had no idea what happened to cause the ship to combust into flames and fall out of the sky. He had no idea how they would've survived the crash in the manner that they all had - all in one piece, and apparently uninjured. But he had watched the giant pillar of smoke following the descending airship, as it came closer and closer - followed it, even - watching as it crashed into the side of the island, half in the water, half on land, threatening to set the forest ablaze if it had been any other season. If it hadn't been so wet with snow...

James sheathed a sword and ripped his notebook from Astrid's hands.

"Show me the back of your hands. All of you."

"Excuse me?" Zoey retorted.

"What for?" Ziafar replied.

"On this island, there are three types of people," James explained, tucking his diary away in his belt. "There are the Skullfists, named after a woman, Malwanis, who runs most of the island. Anyone else either becomes one of them or is killed by their hand. I am one of the few surviving exceptions. Skullfists all bear a mark. A brand, of a skull - not to be outdone in their cliches - on the back of their hand when they are converted."

The four all looked at each other as they considered his request, and Astrid stepped forward first, turning her palms down and showing the lack of said mark on her hands. Valon and Ziafar held their hands up from where they stood, and Zoey lifted hers, with her daggers still in hand, sighing.

"See? No skulls," Valon replied. "Skull free."

James narrowed his eyes at them. If they really had just landed on the island, there was a chance they hadn't run into the Skullfists yet. They did, however, know his name - which he wasn't sure he should so quickly contribute to them having his notebook in their hands. There was the chance they were lying - there was always that chance. But from the looks on their faces, he cold tell that they didn't trust him either. Which was fair.

"So it seems," he finally said after a bout of silence.

He could feel the wind pick up and the falling snow around them begin to swirl and increase. He sheathed his other claymore, and looked to the one who'd approached him with intentions of peace, unlike the woman who'd attacked him.

"Get inside the cave," he finally said. "Tell me all of your names, and just exactly how and why you're here."


"So what's with the two claymores?" Valon asked, his tone light.

The group sat further in the cave, away from the howling winds and the steady flow of snow from the sky. Though the atmosphere among them was tense, and it was clear they were not particularly welcome guests in James's cave, some of the tension had seemed to lift now that their situation had been briefly explained.

The tension, however, returned as conversation trickled down into an awkward silence, and was felt again at Valon's question, that broke it. James's eyes slowly drifted to Valon.

"They're mine," he replied simply, ignoring the implications of his question for what he might've actually been asking.

"That's not-" Zoey began.

"So now you know how we got here and why," Ziafar swooped in. "What did you do to end up here?"

"I was convicted for manslaughter. Sent here shortly afterward," he replied briefly. "It's been about a year, now."

James noticed the awkward silence that seemed to fall upon the group at the mention of manslaughter. What he did not know was that with one word, suddenly Astrid's defense of his aura not being bad was beginning to sound less convincing, despite their current 'friendly' terms. Though they didn't have the details of his crime, murder was certainly nothing to take lightly, and he could imagine what assumptions they were drawing regarding his character. But he remained silent, letting them ponder upon it themselves. Judging by their reaction, he figured he could logically conclude that they hadn't yet read much of his book, if any at all.

He looked out of the cave at the white landscape and the dark and dull sky. If it was going to be like this for the entire time they waited out the storm, it was going to feel much longer than it actually was.
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Lumi says...

Chapter 3O: That Which Is Birthed In The Dark

The Lord Commander's chambers roared with fire and bluster from the blizzard outside his windows, nearly boarded shut to keep the heat in. On his desk were stacks of papers resembling the mountains of Silverlake, and it made him yearn momentarily for a quiet station out in the river-sewn passages of the Druidic Foothills to the south, in the taiga.

From his stupor was the Lord Commander rattled as his chamber door burst forward to the visage of his assistant.

"Lord Carevienne, word has reached the skywatchers that the Gryphon Riders have landed safely. Shall I relay their objectives?"

"I wouldn't have you rob me of the pleasure of seeing to them myself, no. It is not each day one has a chance to speak to a legend." He rose from his seat and donned a formal coat displaying his rank and lapels. "No blizzard would keep me from greeting Larr--"

Glass burst forth throughout the barracks; snow rushed in and ice formed swiftly on the floors and rafters. From the entryway came three young women: two holding a man in a black cowl, and the other wrangling the body of Bellatrix.

"Lord Commander," grunted Larrel, the woman wrestling with Bellatrix, "I wished for you to witness the demon plaguing your lands, and at the hands of this summoner."

"Why have you brought her to the city, in God's name?!"

Larrel dropped the chained eikon and stepped over her, pressing her boot to the demon's skull. "So that you may know that you have found your solution." A lurch of her foot and Bellatrix burst into ice and whisps of vapor, leaving a frozen skeleton of composite, mismatched bones on the floor.

The two other women dropped their summoner to the floor, one drawing her bow to the inch before his neck. "We tried interrogating him, but as long as he could speak, he could summon that witch to this realm..." She clicked her teeth. "And we couldn't have that, now could we?" She lowered her bow and dropped a length of meat onto his back--bloody and dismembered--his tongue.

"Into your custody, Lord Commander," said the third, blue-haired woman. Raising her staff, she issued the snow out of the barracks and froze over the windows with a simple spell. "We received our orders from Marshall Balessan before entering. We shall return once the Druidic Wilds have been liberated from the Espergali Regime."

Carevienne nodded briskly. "And should you encounter more of these fiends?"

The women were already turned to leave. Larrel turned back. "You only get the tongue once, my lord."


The others had been at their welcome wagon for hours, and, despite how warm it may've been by the fire James had stoked for the ladies; and despite how well Ziafar was acting as a diplomat to their fated bedfellow, Valon found it wiser to keep to himself.

Before dusk, he'd wandered out of the other end of the cave and into the snow, ensuring to take one of James' cloaks to cover his trail of bootprints behind him. He hadn't cared to listen to much of James' story--but he could gather that the man simply had no food to keep his unwelcome company alive, and for that reason Valon had hence found himself in the forest with his sword in the heart of a stag, grateful for his outmatched speed. As the deer gazed, blinking, at his assassin, Valon was remiss not to have Guelan's body to show for their kill.

In the cold of winter, it is easy for one's paranoia to crawl into one's bed.

He dragged the deer back to the cavern, eyes cast up to see ruined castle walls atop a vicious slope. Men patrolled the gates, and beyond the walls was a bi-level mansion of decrepit nature with lights flickering in the windows.

Into the cave, Valon received a cold welcome as silent as his departure--until Ziafar noted the snow coating his hair, face, and clothes.

"You'll get frostbite if you don't change your garbs," he noted.

"Or dry them," countered James. "I have nothing to lend you, though you were gone for one hour and nineteen minutes. Despite the blizzard, I imagine you were in the forest, and thus your underclothes should be dry."

Zoey giggled at the notion as Valon began to remove layers of armor. "Just light yourself on fire, dearest. I'll butcher your forest friend."

As he sat cross-legged around the fire (drawing flames to surround his body in a desperate attempt to stave off the cold that was lower in the cave) he spoke to James for the first time. "The manor on the center has a weakness you have yet to take advantage of."

James huffed, stoking the fire. "And what is that, brooding nudie?"

"You've never had an arcanist teleport you past the sentry." Valon took a cup of rice wine from Astrid and downed a sip, then a second. "What do you want your symbol to be on their hands? Because tomorrow, James, you're going to be King of the Isle."
I am a forest fire and an ocean, and I will burn you just as much
as I will drown everything you have inside.
-Shinji Moon

I am the property of Rydia, please return me to her ship.

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one.
— Leo J. Burke