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Aether's Heart



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Mon Jul 01, 2019 8:05 am
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Omni says...



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To the south of Synilas lies a kingdom of shifting sands in the center of a large continent. Once a great and powerful empire that was the center of a sprawling civilization that touched the very sun itself. One day, in the distant past, much of it disappeared into the sands, lost to the world forever.

That is, until now.

On the edge of the today's world, a giant chasm has opened into the sand. From that chasm, ancient warriors of sand and gold march out, under orders from a god-queen long dead.

Cities are rising from the dunes where there have been none for generations. People are mysteriously coming home after getting lost in the sands for decades.

At the center of all this is a standing prophecy from the god-queen, requiring her heart be returned to her.

Journey to the edge of the world, beneath stone and sand and magic, to find Aether's Heart.

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In the ancient prophecy, certain roles must play a part in recovering the Aether's Heart. Uncovered by ancient magical texts, these are the roles:

  • The Imbued - A teenager who knows nothing about dragons becomes imbued by a hatchling.
  • The Seer - Historian that cannot read regular texts; but can read magical texts imbued in between the lines.
  • The Spear - A ranger who doesn't use actual arrows, relying on the elements.
  • The Judge - A healer who can only heal by hurting others.
  • The Forsaken - A homeless, wandering paladin who is respected by nobody.


Spoiler! :
For help with Powers, visit the Magic Section of the Universe. What is the Universe?
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Aether's Heart is a part of The Universe, alternatively known as YWU, a collaborative writing universe


Spoiler! :
  • Synilas
    • The Harbor of Civilization
        Synilas is the economic center of the Universe, striving to create a thriving and diverse culture that melds multiple different races and factions together. They have created a harbor from harsh magics and easy starvation, holding a delicate balance between their struggling neighbor to the north, Asturia, and their power-hungry neighbors to the west, the Draconis Council.
    • Synua
        Synilas' Capitol, Synua, is located where a river pours into an ocean. It sits on high plains that cascade onto soft beaches, and it takes advantage of the lush amount of resources in its land. Many people of many different exotic and far away lands have flocked to Synua for safe haven and the opportunity to pursue their technology in a place safe from flagrant uses of destructive magic.
    • The Pillars of Strength
        Synua is surrounded by several large towers, called The Pillars of Strength. These Pillars of Strength each house a large Primal Crystal that attracts and stores magic. Magic within the city is hard to create, even by the most adept magicians. Because of this, Synua has become a haven for magic-protesters and nonbelievers. While no official law exists forbidding magic within Synua's walls, law enforcement within the city has been seen multiple times turning a blind eye as Idora, the city's mob, snuffs out magic users.
    • Idora Family
        Idora is Synua's ruling mob family, and the main rival to Astyr's mob family, the Adonis family, who are are frequent magic users. Many generations ago, the Idora Family was driven out of Asturia altogether by the Adonis family. They retreated to the safety of Synua's Pillars of Strength, where they rebuilt. They have fostered and cultivated the disdain and fear-mongering against magic users to create a iron grip on Synila's capitol city. Besides their insidious attitude against magic users, Idora have not made any other major moves or claims of power against the local government or Adonis.
    • Astyra-Synua River
        The Astyra-Synua River is the only river that spans through the continent and both Asturia and Synilas, being one of the only valuable resources that both countries rely on. It allows the cold climate and freshwater fish of the northern lake to run through it and provides a necessary connection to the ocean, where larger fishing ships hunt for giant saltwater fish and shellfish. The river also provides the most precious resource for desert-ridden Synalis: an abundant freshwater source. Rivers spreading from Draconis lake are saltwater. From the Astyra-Synua River, the capitol city of Synua houses an impressive network of aqueducts that spread water to its southern cities.
    • The border city of Nila
        The border city of Nila acts as both a trading post between the two countries and a first defense against any of the more hostile forces that wander in from the East, from unknown territories. Synilas has had a peaceful relationship with Asturia within the past few generations, as the larger country relies more and more on Synilas' bountiful and rare resources they collect from the deserts in the south. However, Nila stands as a monument to the battles of old, as ancient keeps stand still on the high cliffs overlooking the river and remnants of warships litter the deep. Although the keeps lay vacant, there are rumors that ghosts roam the halls, restless for the cries of another war.
    • The Draconis River Cities: Senah
        Senah is the second smallest, and is often marked as a stopping point to "The Blessed Lands" otherwise known as the Council Land. Centuries ago, Senah was one of many birthplaces of dragons, and the remains of their ivory nests are both a popular attraction with religious tourists and a source of income for the city. The Council has, for years, attempted to take control of Senah, but a recent support of national troops has kept Senah in control of the city. Currently, Senah is in lock-down, with protests from Blessed Followers causing agitation within the city. There are rumors that both The Council and Synilas are gearing up for a large scale conflict within the city, as it is too valuable to both countries to stay in either one.
    • The Draconis River Cities: Yse
        Yse is the largest of the River cities, and acts as a mining capitol for Synilas. The city itself is split in three tiers, all hanging haphazardly in between a cavern, split open centuries ago in a long forgotten war in a long forgotten past. In this cavern are numerous rare and valuable minerals. The three tiers are ruled by separate barons, each claiming themselves as the one true leader of Yse and the others as false nobles come to seek their riches. Synua lets them play their little game, as long as a sizable enough amount of exports head their way. Each tier has a different way of living, different cultures, and different poverty levels. Interaction between tiers are kept to a minimum, besides the occasional "Grand Rebellion" in which one baron attempts to seize power from another, while claiming no part with it and naming it as a simple rebellion.
    • The Draconis River Cities: Syna
        Syna is the second largest city, and holds a loose control over its smaller cousin, Nua Port, as a temporary local government over the port-town. Syna itself is a sanctuary of magic users as, a few years ago, they had a mass exodus from Synua to prevent prosecution and further death. As such, Syna represents a hopeful and oppressed side of Synilas that is often shoved under the rug. It was fashioned akin to ancient magical elven havens in a time period where a mass exodus happened to elves and magic users. Syna is unknown to The Council, and it is kept that way, as they would want to seek control of it immediately.
    • The Draconis River Cities: Nua Port
        Nua Port is the second port in Synilas, and the second largest port on the Draconis River. However, Nua Port has become a ghost town in recent years. No one really knows why, but Synua refuses to deal with it, instead forcing Syna to claim leadership over it, citing the latter city is far better suited as it is closest. A fraction of Nua's population remains, and recently people have been getting ill for an unknown reason. Ships have been told to redirect to Synua Port and steer away from Nua, but one ship remains...
    • Essa
        Essa sits on the edge of a small oasis to the south, overlooking a vast sea of sand, in the Mirasma Desert. Essa is no normal village, though. It acts as the last bastion for those willing to risk the ever-changing sand dunes for the thrill of adventure or treasure. It also acts as the last stopping point for Blessed Followers risking the much more dangerous trek to the southern edge of Draconis Lake, where it's rumored that dragons still nest. It also acts as the watchtower and first defense of Synilas from southern threats that citizens of Synilas in general are unaware of. No one lives in Essa by chance, and most are not what they seem.
  • Shurima
    • Forgotten Civilization of the Gods
        Shurima is the ancient civilization of the High Gods. Not much is known about it besides some forgotten, long thought mythological, texts mentioning how it spanned from ocean to ocean. It had fallen long ago, lost to the ever-changing sands, until recently.
    • The Hordes of Sand
        Faceless armies have appeared out of the sand in hordes, marching their way slowly to the edge of civilization. Scouts outside of Essa have already reported them in the hundreds marching to the Draconis mountains. So far, they have not attacked anyone when scouts have gone near. They seem to be of one mind, with one goal. What their goal is, no one knows.
    • Lost Cities
        Scouts of Essa, the Draconis River Cities, and The Council have all reported glittering cities on the horizon. Upon closer inspection, the cities disappear. It has become so commonplace that local citizens have created a name for them: Mirage Cities. They never stay in the same place, and cartographers who have been charting their locations, have noted them moving further and further inland.
    • Welcome Home, Stranger
        The Draconis River Cities have been reporting to Essa and Synua that relatives, thought long lost to the sand, have returned. The only problem? They haven't aged a day from the moment they disappeared into the sand dunes of Mirasma Desert, and there's something... off about them.
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Last edited by Omni on Thu Oct 21, 2021 1:37 am, edited 4 times in total.
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80 Days B.N.D


Railyn lifted his pickaxe and struck the soft rock again, moving to an internal rhythm he developed long ago. The heat from the mechanical contraption above him that was far too complicated for him to comprehend softened the rock enough for him to break through to the valuable minerals hidden within.

He paused a moment to wipe his brow. Where he got rid of sweat, grease and grime replaced it. It wasn't an ideal situation, but at least the latter didn't get into his eyes as often.

He heard the all-too-familiar "Back to work!" from the supervisor, and dipped his head in the customary Synilas response of acknowledgement to a superior. And there were so many superiors to Railyn in Yse, his hometown. In his eighteen years of life, he had never figured out how to rise through the ranks of the miner's guild, but he knew it was to buddy up to his leader, Baroness Guiless, a despicable woman who didn’t care too much for the people who built her empire for her. He wondered how the other barons were, but he suspected they were fairly much the same. He shook the thoughts out of his mind and set his pickaxe aside. He knelt down and brushed the broken rock and soot away with his gloves. The dark stone gave way to a glowing green mineral, and the sudden transition of light and color caused him to blink a few times to adjust. Even after years of working, he still had never gotten used to that, nor had that first initial sight never stopped amazing him. He gasped and carefully brushed away the debris around the mineral and gingerly picked it up.

Railyn stood up and whistled to the supervisor, who looked over and nodded. After a moment, a robotic flying contraption whizzed close to him, hovering and bumbling around him. Railyn stepped back instinctively, but the machine just flew closer. He still hadn’t gotten used to the new Hextech machines that came from Synua to dig even deeper into the Draconis mountains. He didn’t trust them, but work was work, and he was one of the lucky few to keep their jobs. He opened up a basket on the bottom of the flying machine, where a pillow rested, and set the mineral down. The machine dinged and chimed and a flurry of whistles above him roared and echoed through the mines to the upper levels. This was a decent day’s work, and if he was lucky, his supervisor would give him the rest of the day off to recover and recuperate.

Railyn doubted he would end up that lucky, but he had hope.

He took off his mining gloves, stuffing them in his pocket, and picked up his pickaxe. He mustered up as much charisma as he thought was possible, and swaggered his way to his supervisor, who had his back to Railyn.

Looking back at it, Railyn had hoped that the supervisor kept his back turned the entire time, because as soon as his supervisor turned to see him, Railyn tripped on a sharp rock that he didn’t notice, and fell, in what seemed to be such a slow amount of time in his mind, and all of his regrets came flooding to the forefront of his mind. While his mind was freaking out about the time he attempted to ask out a girl when he was ten by sending her friend a note, his body attempted to make up for his foolishness by holding his hands out to catch his fall. Unfortunately, they were his bare hands, and the rocks down in the Yse Mines were sharp, painful, and unforgiving to human hands. He landed on dirt, grime, and rock, splitting his palms open, and in the midst of the chaos, his mind blanked on all of his previous thoughts, and of all the places, went to that fateful night.

Streaks of sleek black hair and messy hair whizzed by as kids ran through the deep underbelly of Yse’s middle market.

They had done something they would for sure get reprimanded for if they were caught by the Baron Guards.

They snuck into a slim wedge between two buildings that was hidden from the street, a place that only they knew, and uncovered their faces, pure, adulterated childish grins on their faces.

They had taken something from the ines.

The one with the sleek black hair took off his cloak. He was taller than the messy haired boy, looked older, too. He had a blanket around something in his hands.

The younger one took off his cloak as well. He snuck in closer to the covered item, giddy from excitement.

“Let me see it!” He said, his voice high and boyish.

“Shhh! You’ll get us caught.” He warned, but his face betrayed his words, as it was just as excited as the other boy’s. He carefully unveiled a glowing emerald orb that was larger than his whole torso. It pulsed color and light in a slow and gentle rhythm, and when the younger boy hesitantly touched it, slight warmth emanated from it.

“It’s an egg,” the older boy whispered.


Dong.

Dong.

Dong.

Railyn’s vision slingshotted back to the present, where he face deep in gunk, and he groaned. He unsteadily stood, and brushed himself off. The supervisor glared at him with a mixture of disgust, annoyance, and was that a hint of worry? Oh, nope, it was humor, as he busted out laughing just a moment later. “Did, did you see yourself?” He mustered out between chuckles and intakes of air. “You just faceplanted in some runic dust.”

Railyn sighed and looked down at his hands. They were bloody and stuffing from being in direct contact with runic dust. His pants were smeared with the same blood from his hands. He blinked twice. “Did- did you hear bells ringing?”

“What? Maybe you hit your head as well as your hands.” The supervisor pulled Railyn’s head down and scanned his head. “Nope, no blood under that tangled mop.”

Railyn chuckled nervously. “Yeah, I guess I did hit my head. Maybe knocked something around.”

The supervisor’s smiled vanished. “All right, all right. Fun’s over. Go get those damned hands checked before they swell and I have to hear about it, and then you’ll have to hear about it.”

Railyn bowed and left to the pulley elevator. He wasn’t planning to go the medic at all.

It was time to go back and visit his hidey hole from all those years ago, Railyn thought.
Last edited by Omni on Sun Jan 26, 2020 9:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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AlyTheBookworm says...



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80 Days B.N.D


Tyri leaned against her staff and took in her surroundings. Though she couldn’t see the crowds, the buzz of life around her was almost palpable. Shouts, laughter, song, conversation, the rustle of clothing and the clinking of buckles, weapons, and jewelry as people passed by… The mingling smells of leather, smoke, spices, and metal… The city of Yse was full of life, and Tyri drank it all in.

Until someone barreled past her, almost knocking her down.

“Out of the way!” the man barked.

Tyri righted herself, using her staff to regain her balance. Whoops. Well, that was my fault. Probably shouldn’t be standing here gawking in the middle of a busy street.

A blind girl, obviously on her own and new to the city, standing awestruck and gaping at her surroundings like an idiot…

Tyri berated herself for drawing attention and put her head down, hefting her pack and starting down the street again. The last thing she needed was for a cutpurse to decide she’d make an easy target. She’d gotten herself into trouble multiple times over the past few months due to similar blunders and didn’t intend to make the same mistake again.

As she walked, she awakened her Primal Sense, bringing to mind the hours upon hours spent training with her mother in Syna. With a little concentration, she began to sense the people, buildings, and objects around her in her mind. Fuzzy, faceless figures moved through her sphere of “sight”, cloaks trailing behind them like mist.

Using the ability, Tyri wove her way through the crowd.

Primal Sense, her mother had said. It’s a form of magic unlike anything you’ve used in the past. It’s not like the spellcasting you’re familiar with… For one, it’s much more dangerous. It’s difficult to master and even more difficult to teach, but if you’re willing to learn I will train you.

The skill was a poor substitute for sight, but it had allowed Tyri to pursue her dream of travelling Synilas. And, at the moment, it kept her from bumping into buildings and making a fool of herself.

As Tyri walked, her focus wavered. Craning her head to listen to interesting sounds or catch the scent of baking bread, she found herself eager to explore. The mining capital of Yse and its three tiers had always fascinated Tyri, and now the writings scrawled in the tea-stained pages of her history books had come to life and stood before her.

But first things first. It’ll be night soon. I should look for an inn.

She approached a stall on the side of the street, intending to ask for directions.

“Excuse me?”

She sensed movement behind the stall, and the vendor appeared moments later.

“Ah! A customer!” he said cheerfully. “Good evening traveler! How can I help you? We offer all kinds of magical artifacts.”

"Actually, I-“

“How about this amulet? It’s inscribed with a rune for protection against jinxes. Try it on, I insist!”

Before Tyri could reply, the object was pushed into her hand. As it touched her bare skin, she suddenly felt… something. A warmth, emanating from the amulet. Looking down, she nearly dropped it in shock. She could see the rune. There, in the emptiness that had surrounded her since the day she’d lost her sight three years ago, were the lines and curves of a magic rune, glowing a brilliant white.

What is this magic that allows me to see?

The tolling of distant bells pulled her from her surprise, and she quickly handed the glowing amulet back.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t intending to buy anything. I just wanted to ask-”

As she lifted her head, she recoiled in shock once again. The vendor was shrouded in a glowing aura. Unlike with Primal Sense, which provided something that was more a fuzzy sensation than real sight, she now clearly saw the vendor’s outline directly in front of her.

Tyri glanced around and found that the street was now crowded with glowing figures. An old man and his granddaughter browsed the stall to her right, and she noticed that while the man’s aura was faint, the child’s was stronger and brighter even than that of the rune.

Tyri rubbed her eyes and slowly uncovered them. The visions were gone. They had disappeared as quickly as they’d come, and the world had become shadowy and indistinct once more.

“Miss? You alright?”

The vendor’s voice called from behind her, and Tyri realized she’d stepped out into the street.

“Y-yes. I’m fine, thank-you.”

She turned back to the man, tightly gripping her staff.

“Sir, could I hold that amulet again?”

He held out the amulet and dropped it in her open hand. She turned it over in her hands, feeling the smooth surface, the grooves of the rune carved into it, and its weight in her palm. Rubbing her eyes with one hand, she clutched the amulet in the other.

When it was clear the phenomenon wouldn’t repeat itself, Tyri returned the amulet.

“Did you hear those bells?”

“Bells?” The man sounded confused.

“I… I heard bells tolling,” Tyri said, feeling shaken. “They were distant, but loud.”

“Eh, I heard nothing. But what about the amulet? Do you like it?”

“I’m sorry. It’s nice, but I don’t think I could afford it.”

The vendor’s tone of voice abruptly switched from friendly to annoyed. “Then don’t waste my time with pointless question! Bells… Ugh.”

Tyri left the stall and asked another street vendor selling fruit for directions to the nearest inn. After thanking the woman, she hurried down the street.

She arrived at the inn and paid for a room. After eating a bland meal of bread and soup, she headed upstairs to her room, locked the door, and laid down on the narrow pallet. She finally let her focus slip, and the fuzzy sensations of Primal Sense faded away, leaving her in an empty void without light or even darkness.

As Tyri drifted off to sleep, the odd experience replayed in her mind, vivid and bright. She’d been so surprised in that moment that she hadn’t noticed until now how beautiful the vision had been.
  





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80 Days B.N.D


It was a sunny morning, and Belxibis was already tired, but homeless smugglers didn't get to sleep in. Not when they had cryptic directions from a client to follow that led them into the forest, far away from civilization, where all the trees looked the same.

Bel stood under a canopy of trees and sighed. He looked up through the overlapping branches at the yellow-orange hue of the sky started fading into blue, and the birds above started chittering, and trees shielded him just enough from the light so that he was not overwhelmed by it. 

The trees out here were tall and bushy, like the wild sisters of the ones that grew in gardens, normally trimmed back and tamed. But these ones were dressed proudly in vines and moss and leaves crowded while their arms tangled together like they were imagining what it might be like to be a wall of vines themselves. 

Lilith had told him to meet her at the pond where the frogs croaked all day. While it sounded poetic at the time, it was nonspecific, and Belxibis was starting to wonder if this forest even had any ponds or frogs. 

He wouldn't have been surprised if it was all a joke.

Sure, send the big blue tiefling off into the forest on a wild goose chase to waste his time. It wasn't like Belxibis had better things to do, like meet other clients who actually wanted what he sold, and actually paid him, and didn't give him riddles by way of a meeting place. 

Of course, Belxibis still continued his search. 

He bowed his head out from under the low-hanging trees and continued to walk the forest, wishing his staff could be useful for finding dull, normal, non-magical things like toads or frogs for once. But for now, it simply served as a walking stick, and occasionally, assisted in pushing dangling branches and vines out of the way. Those always seemed to catch onto his horns the moment he stopped paying attention, so by now, it was a habit. Lifting his staff, and waving it in front of him just to be sure. Like a cat's whiskers, telling him if he would fit through a passage.

The sun had drifted slowly up into the sky by the time he finally heard the faint croaking of frogs.

"This better be it," he whispered to himself.

He scanned the forest around him, and upon seeing no one was around, he started to whistle a simple tune, almost matching pitch with the frogs as he followed their croaks. As he drew nearer, he could hear other bugs started joining in on the song with creaking and humming. 

Finally, he saw it up ahead. The forest parted like it made way to welcome visitors to the little well of stagnant water. He slowed and started searching the thick grasses that lined it, and the area around the pond. 

He wasn't late. Lilith said mid-morning, and it was mid-morning. He was grateful he found it in time, and he didn't mind if he had to wait. He just hoped she showed up. 

As he walked to the edge of the pond and looked in, he saw the head of a frog slip under the water, and another one leap into the grass, running away. There was one, though, sitting calmly on a rock and soaking up the morning sun.

He wanted to catch it.

He bent down slowly, making sure his armor wouldn't clink too loudly as to scare it, and then very carefully reached out his hand. Slowly... slowly... hovering over the frog's shoulders.

The frog appeared curious when his shining silver gauntlet appeared in front of it, and it looked like, given some time and patience, the frog might hop in. 

"I don't suppose tieflings eat frogs, now, do they?" 

Lilith's voice appeared behind him with little announcement, but it sang a sour-sweet tune. With neither flinching nor jumping, he slowly got to his feet and turned around to see her. For someone so committed to cryptic secrecy, it was no surprise she was light on her feet. Or that she might've used a spell to conceal her presence until now. He wasn't sure which. Maybe both.

He smiled sweetly for Lilith and laughed. It was a very practiced reaction.

"Good morning Lilith. I have the Vial of Stardust for you," he said.

He towered over her by at least a foot, not including his horns, which reached a few more inches into the sky out from his forehead.

For someone meeting in the middle of the forest, she looked a bit overdressed. She had a traveling cloak and a small leather sack on her back, but her dark velvet dress looked like it would be doomed to snag on something, and from there it's resale value would only plummet. 

Oh well, that was none of his concern.

Lilith looked up at him, eyes lingering on his horns. "Well, no need to waste time. Bring it out, then. Show me," she said.

Bel nodded, and slipped his large pack off his shoulders, plopping it on the ground in front of him. 

He kneeled beside his bag, set his staff on the ground, and unbuckled the flap, and reached in to pull out the Vial of Stardust.

As Bel presented it, he couldn't help but have the feeling that he did something wrong. Lilith looked disappointed.

"That's it?" she said.

"It's what you asked for," Bel replied.

"That's not nearly enough," Lilith retorted.

"Well, times are hard, and finding stardust is hard. This is what I've got," Bel said.

Lilith frowned with her hands on her hips. 

"I don't care about hard," she said, narrowing her eyes at him. "I just want what I asked for."

Bel blinked. He did get what she asked for. She never said she wanted a lot. Either something had changed on her end, he misunderstood, or she had been to unclear with her expectations from the start. Either way, he had what he had. He couldn't magically multiply it. But maybe he could remedy the situation another way.

"Alright," Bel said, putting up one hand in an earnest gesture. "How about this. I don't have more stardust, but I have plenty of other things you might be interested in that are very similar or of equal value."

Lilith's frown deepened, but Bel reached into his bag anyway, pulling out a tuft of lion's mane. Useful for the Elixr of Lion's Roar.

"How about this?"

Lilith turned her nose up at it.

"Okay, how about this?"

A Potion of Bloodlust. She still didn't look impressed. He kept fishing.

"This?"

A bottle of elven tears.

"No," she said adamantly.

"This? This? This?"

At this point, he was amassing a pile outside of his bag, and he could tell Lilith wasn't amused by his efforts. He pulled out one last thing. It was a bracelet with a rune-carved stone. When the user attuned to it the bracelet would make it so anything their hand touched left no prints. He lifted it up with an earnest smile.

"How about this?"

And then, he heard a bell toll. For a second, he thought he saw a flash of light. Orange? Like the sun had shone in his eyes, somehow, without blinding him.

His eyes fluttered, and he shook his head a little.

"Wait, what?" Lilith sputtered.

"What?" Bel echoed.

"What was that?" Lilith asked, squinting and looking at him more closely.

"The bells?" Bel asked.

"The--" Lilith's face contorted in frustrated confusion and she shook her head. "No! The- your eyes--"

Bel looked up at her, genuinely clueless.

If she meant that his eyes were inhuman, he would've thought she'd have noticed already. Yeah. He had no irises or pupils as humans did. Just golden orbs that creeped people out. He knew that already. He really didn't need to hear it again.

An awkward silence followed, and Lilith looked like she was mulling over something in her head. Bel decided to cut the tension.

"Alright," he said, starting to pack his things back up. "Obviously, you don't want anything besides the stardust, so how about I just get you more of it. If you want to come with me, we should be able to find it within the day. I'll have to backtrack, but my staff should help us get there quickly."

Lilith folded her arms and sighed, watching him with a critical gaze as he slung his pack back over his shoulders, picked his staff back up, and secured the straps over his armor.

"Fine," Lilith snapped. "But this better be worth my time."

Belxibis smiled down at her and gestured with his staff for her to start walking first.

"You won't have to worry about that, Ms. Lilith. I can assure you, I am not in the business of wasting time."

Image


The stone on Bel's staff was starting to pulse faster, and Lilith was starting to walk slower. He imagined she didn't often go on long walks through the forest.

"That thing is anxiety-inducing," Lilith muttered, looking to the staff.

"You think so?" Bel said. "I find it rather endearing."

Lilith rolled her eyes. "I imagine you find a lot of unsavory things endearing."

Bel took in a slow breath and was glad when he spotted the cave in the distance as a convenient distraction.

"Ah. There it is," he said, pointing with the tip of his still pulsing staff. "In the depths of that cave, there is a meteorite that crashed and was buried some who-knows-how-many eons ago. If I dig back in to find it, we may just find more stardust. After crawling through many spiderwebs and kicking away various critters, of course."

Lilith's lips were curled up in disgust.

"I am not doing that," she said. "That's what I'm paying you for."

Bel nodded with understanding. "Yes. Of course."

Their pace came to a brief stop as the two of them looked on at the cave in the distance. The cave opening wasn't very tall, so Belxibis already knew he'd have to go in on all fours. He already did that yesterday, but he supposed he'd have to do it again. As Lilith said, she was paying him, and it was part of the job.

"Well, get going then," Lilith urged.

"Yes," Bel said, taking a step forward. "I'll be just a--"

Another bell tolled, and this one thundered throughout his skull like a gong.

With no further warning, Belxibis collapsed to the ground.
Last edited by soundofmind on Wed Jan 27, 2021 5:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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80 Days B.N.D


Paimon took a fistfull of leaves from her pocket and scattered them onto the table. “That’ll be twenty gold pieces,” she said.

The apothecary bent over the shop counter, adjusting his eyepiece. He daintily picked up each leaf, examining the reddish-orange glow from the veins. He huffed, sending his balding hair shooting up.

“Well, a deal is a deal,” he said. “I’ll also take some root of riander while you’re here.”

Paimon loosened another pouch from her belt and dumped its contents onto the table. “I nearly lost an arm getting these,” she said. “Bravery might not up the price, but demand sure does.” She beamed, turning the roots over for inspection.

The apothecary checked them for a second before sighing. “It’s all top-quality. I’ll go get your payment, then.” He walked around the wood counter and disappeared into the back room.

“Thanks for supporting small business!” Paimon called after him. Chuckling a bit, she leaned on the counter. The apothecary’s shop was a dense, cluttered room, with sloppily labeled items decking the walls. The windows were shuttered to protect the concoctions from the morning sun, and the cheap indoor lanterns conferred a mucous glow onto the wood. Paimon enjoyed the molded-over atmosphere, the faint smell of potions forming a slow, eternal haze.

“You seem kinda down,” she said to the apothecary when he returned.

“Yes, well, ingredients are expensive,” he lamented, and Paimon scratched the back of her head, grinning guiltily.

But it’s not just that,” the apothecary continued, gesturing to a gallon jar of greenish liquid. “There’s been a bout of bluecough round lately. I’m burning every resource just to try and keep up.”

“Hm.” Paimon folded her arms and pretended not to hear.

“But oh, well. I suppose even alchemy must obey nature’s will.” The apothecary took out a handkerchief and dabbed a bead of sweat from his forehead. He looked exhausted, as though his body had been pushed without regulation.

Paimon swiped her necessities off of the table and stashed them in her belt. Many of the coins were left on the table, to which she made a dismissive gesture.

“To be clear, that’s just a loyalty discount,” she said as the apothecary gathered the money.

The apothecary chuckled. “But of course. And thank you.”

“That’s not it!” Paimon said, brandishing her words and money sack. “Just remember the generosity of Paimon Fel, okay? Have a nice day, then.” She strode out of the apothecary shop determined not to regret a thing.

Outside, the sun was searing up from the east, dying blue shadows across the backs of buildings. Syna was not a place that woke lightly, and people were already beginning to head off to work, a rising tide of laborers and artisans. Paimon skipped lightly past them, not bothering to read their expressions. The faces in a town weren’t so much important as the atmosphere. Their lives blended into the bubbles that Paimon skated across in life. She was the dealer of catharsis; for most, that was all they needed.

The morning bazaar was teeming with wares. Tinkers scuttled to their stations, carefully placing down items of mechanical and magical interest. Paimon could see their gears turning, magic circles revolving around one another, apertures squinting at the throng of customers lining up in anticipation.

The farmers, having the easiest merchandise to move, were already set up in their stalls and extolling the health benefits of fresh rutabagas. The people of Syna loved to chat up how revitalizing they were. Paimon had read something of the “placebo effect” in the past; she had also seen something of the icebox from which a farmer pulled the “fresh” produce. It didn’t matter to her, as long as the rutabagas were a happymaker among the people.

She and her fellow vendor were among those “happymakers,” though of a different ilk. Paimon stepped into her usual alley and was immediately confronted by a grey-bearded man in a cowl.

“Before you lies ruin,” the hooded man said, wielding a glowing crystal ball. “Unimaginable sorrow, if you do not turn from your current path. This fate may be avoided with an offering of sustenance.”

Paimon sighed. “I’m not buying you lunch, Mogul. Though I do have enough to get something good for myself.”

A smile perked up from behind the beard, dislodging it slightly. “Oh, is that so?”

Paimon nodded, licking her fingers as she counted off options. “Mm, maybe a link of sausages, or sweetmeats? Though the pies smelled really good this morning.”

“You’re a horrible, horrible person, and fate is going to wallop you for it.” Mogul shook his head, readjusting the beard. Beneath the fake bristles was the clean chin of a twenty-something-year-old swindler, who’d taken up residence in this alley as a fortune-teller. He wasn’t Paimon’s friend so much as an acquainted contact, one she trusted to share the going-ons of Syna.

“So, I was right about the bluecough, wasn’t I?” Mogul asked, his eyes keen with wisdom.

Paimon shrugged. “Yeah, and I made good bank. Thank you for the tip.”

It helps me too.” Mogul shuffled in his long robe back to his table, placing his crystal ball on the pedestal. “I’ve told quite a few people that their ailments will pass. Hopefully with your supplies, they will.”

“Are you ever going to make a real prediction?”

“If I could, I’d make a fortune.” Mogul giggled for a second before resuming his wizardly air. “But all I can do is try to guide them towards the future they want.”

Paimon smirked. “You’re a little young to be dealing advice.”

“You’re a little young to be dealing sunweed. Don’t criticize my method.”

Paimon reached into her cloak and pulled out a red sling. “I’m gonna pitch that crystal ball over the moon, you know that?”

Mogul put his hands up, the beard conveying a mystic sense of calm. “Look, the only fortune I give is one of success. I advise people towards it, but I must say it’s difficult for them to reach that future with you hawking your snake oils further down the alley.”

“It’s the same lie, essentially.” Paimon said, flicking her hand towards him. “You’re just mad because I get paid more.

“I just want what’s best for their lives,” Mogul said calmly.

“And I want them to enjoy those lives,” Paimon replied.

“But I provide answers,” Mogul stressed.

“And sometimes the answer is smoking sunweed, Mogul. People need to unwind too.” Paimon smiled and leaned her back to the wall, watching the bazaar fill up. “Mind telling my fortune, though?” she asked without looking.

“The heavy toll exacts a trial of forgiveness.”

“Pssh. You saying I need forgiveness?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

Paimon shook her head in mock awe, looked down, and froze. There was a stone lying in front of her, the same color as the dirt. In fact, it was the dirt, formed of it in a perfect sphere. There was a rune printed onto it, glowing faintly in the daytime shade. And it was so familiar, this ghost of her past. The rune sphere had haunted her for eleven years. It would form out of a river stream, out of a cooking fire, or an oak log, and always with the rune facing her, the crossed slashes looking so much like an eye.

She set her shoe next to it and tapped it. The attribute of the earth remained solid in the sphere. Gently so Mogul wouldn’t notice, she nudged it away, out of sight and out of heart. Even if just for a moment, the sphere would disappear from her life. Disappear it did, just around the corner.

Paimon bit her tongue. If she looked around that corner, there was no telling whether it would still be there, it being a ghost.

“Getting cold feet?” She turned to see Mogul watching intently. “Scared of getting arrested for your wares, maybe. You should become an honest liar, like me,” he said, grinning cheekily.

Mogul’s words were often a salve, but this one did nothing to ease her. She wished she had something to calm her nerves. There was some sunweed in her bag, but no way to smoke it. She needed a-

Bong. Bong, Bong. Bong, Bong.

Paimon nearly jumped at the bell ringing through the alleyways and streets. The tolling seemed to resonate down to her bones, and she grit her teeth. It seemed a little early for the church to be sounding its steeple, though. Then it struck her. “Heavy toll. Toll, like a bell. Very funny.”

“Did you say something?” Mogul asked.

Between the sphere and Mogul’s nonchalance, Paimon was eager to get moving. “Maybe I’ll check out that trial of forgiveness, then. Or get a pie. Anything to get away from you.” She stuck out her tongue moodily.

Mogul leaned his beard on his hand. “Don’t go too far, now.”

But Paimon intended too, moving brusquely through the crowd. The bustling city rose up high above her, laundry hanging from lines across the windows of tall, rickety houses. Old-fashioned shingling had shrugged off the weather near the Draconis River for years. Even with the city’s growth, it never lost its intimacy.

Above the buildings in the distance was the church steeple, where hung a large bronze bell. The bell was rung each day to signal the hour, and as Paimon watched, it began to rotate in a mighty sweep.
Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong.
Paimon stopped short. It couldn’t possibly have been an hour since she’d heard the sound from the alleyway. But if the bells were tolling the hour just now, what had it been before?

She reached the steps, intent on running up them and getting answers. But her progress was halted early by a hand on her cloak. Paimon looked down and saw an old man in rags, his eyes weary and desperate.

The veins were popping out on his neck, and his face was flushed from the lack of air to his lungs. Paimon had seen the symptoms of bluecough before, and this old man was no better or worse than the thousand victims in the city of Syna.

Paimon grinned and shook his hand. “Hi! Are you here to see a doctor?”

The old man shook his head. He opened his mouth, and nothing but a dry wheeze escaped. Paimon estimated that the bluecough had just recently taken his voice. His hands grasped at her cloak, and she fought them away.

“I don’t have a cure, old man,” she said. During the time in which she’d spoken, her smile had dried thin as paint. “You need to get to a doctor.”

The old man spread his hands about himself, as if to sadly say, I would if I could. His mouth still hung half-open, moans lifting from his throat as if from a grave.

He wasn’t trying to grab her anymore, but his presence was unbearable. Paimon’s hand dipped into her herb pouch, coming up with ten hard, black seeds. She presented them forward. “These will ease the pain. That’s all they can do, though.”

The old man didn’t listen, and scarfed down the seeds. He leaned back on the steps, the rasp lifting from his breath. His eyes registered nothingness in the calmest manner.

Paimon watched him drift off, and when he was asleep, ran up the steps and banged on the church door. She turned back to the man and hesitated for a moment, then, at the sound of approaching footsteps, leapt from the stairs and back into the crowded street. All the while, she was trying to figure out what she was feeling.

It was a stupid mood, she decided. This whole day had put her into a stupid mood. She needed some relaxation time. She needed a vacation, somewhere ridiculously sunny. An idyllic mirage far from this trading town.

She nearly tripped on the ghost as she stepped over it. The rune sphere was made of clay this time, popped out of a brick building next to her. Paimon placed it in her sling, and, whirling twice for good luck, launched it over the horizon.
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80 Days B.N.D


Railyn made it a sizable distance away from the mine-shaft he worked in before deciding he was far enough away to not raise any eyebrows from his supervisors where he diverted from the main walk-ways. Now to just avoid the Baron Guards.

He took off his maroon scarf and wrapped his hands with it in such a fashion that it looked as if he was carrying something, all the while concealing the injury. The Primal Dust was embedding itself into his skin, and he was noticing some swelling.

He took a left off the main road to a rickety and narrow walkway (well, more rickety and narrow, as that was a common occurrence in Yse) that spiraled and rose to the higher echelons of the tier he lived in. These higher walkways often ended in unreachable areas and crawlspaces. Still, there were enough shops there that it justified Railyn going up there-- at least partially. If the Baron Guards were particularly nosy and stopped him to ask too many questions, he would probably break immediately. He hoped things would go smoothly.

Right now his hands were hurting or in pain at all. In fact, he could barely feel any difference. However, he knew things were different when dealing with Runic materials. Something like this, a minor wound, could easily go south. He heard stories from the other miners about Runic Dust wounds that crystallized the area around it or gave the victim a magic infection or caused them to go crazy. Then again, the miners were known for their tall tales and imaginative storytelling-- often insofar as to devolve into name calling and other chatter that Railyn could probably never repeat without second hand embarrassment or busting out in laughter. Still, Railyn couldn't help but feel a shiver of... something run down his spine. He didn't know if it was fear, or anticipation or something coming from the Runic Dust in his hands. He just ironed his will and continued his walk upwards.

A Baron Guard rounded a corner, walking in his direction and Railyn stiffened up. Keep calm, don't make yourself suspicious. He reminded himself, and had to repeat it in his mind. He forced himself to keep walking. His legs were stiff as a part of his brain battled the part forcing him forward. He could just imagine how he looked to the guard; like an automaton surging forward. The image caused a small bubble of laughter to burst from him. Luckily, the Baron Guard was looking down at a clipboard-- at least, until Railyn made a fool out of himself by laughing and attracting attention to himself. The guard glanced up and raised an eyebrow, but didn't stop Railyn, instead just passing by. Crisis averted. Railyn blew out a sigh of relief he didn't know he was holding.

Railyn felt an anticipation building as he reached the upper echelon of the buildings. To the vast majority of people in Yse, this ceiling was the end of their world in Yse, and unless they venture outside the city on caravans, this was the end of their world quite literally. The Barons and their loyal guards made quite sure of that. Even outsiders knew little of the truth.

But Railyn knew, and knew too much. Usually those who knew what he knew were appointed as Baron Guards if they were compliant or forced into the dark corners of Yse if they weren't but still useful to society. If they were neither of those... well, Railyn supposed they all ended up in the same place Ryun did. Missing, gone, disappeared. Never to be seen again.

Railyn reached a large plaza that arched around a giant stone pillar carved from a mountain long ago carved away, which supported all three tiers of Yse. This plaza was the final area of Yse and the last stopping place before Railyn's and Ryun's old hiding place. It was almost always vacant because there was basically no reason to be so high in the city. At least, almost always.

At the pavilion, at least a dozen Baron Guards were patrolling, on alert, or just lounging around. Railyn barged onto the pavilion, gasped, and immediately stepped back into the shadows. Unfortunately for Railyn, he was never the most sneaky of people, and a Baron Guard who happened to be close to him walked by. Railyn froze, and he hoped that the shadows were enough to cover him. The Guard walked by, and Railyn breathed out a sigh of relief. The steps stopped, and Railyn's heart jumped out of his chest.

"Halt!"

The dreaded words.

Railyn sprinted through the pavilion, attracting the attention of the entire squadron of Baron Guards. At the same moment, the ceiling of the pavilion collapsed in dust, dirt, and grime. Roars echoed from the now-open cavern. It was a Grand Rebellion from the city tier above them. That was why the Baron Guards were there. Railyn didn't have much energy or time to invest anymore into that thought as he ran from the two Baron Guards chasing him. He dodged a rebel, narrowly avoiding their torch, and slipped into a smaller corridor. He heard the Guards shouting their usual commands at him, but they were becoming more distant as their armor made it more difficult for them to navigate the corridors. If Railyn stopped now and let himself be caught, he would be used as a scapegoat for the Grand Rebellion, just because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, if the reason for him actually being up there was brought into question, he would be gone for completely different reasons. However, he was in his element now. Memories and instincts from his childhood came flooding back. The Baron Guards didn't know these walls nearly as well as Railyn. Admittedly, he was larger than he used to be, and some areas were blocked off from natural degradation, but he was still making it through far better than the Guards. In fact, he no longer heard them, but even then he still took the long way navigating the corridors, wrapping around his hiding spot and away at times. But, as the walls widened again and the paths got more and more familiar, Railyn slowed down to a trot, and then a walk.

Eventually, he found the entrance, and emotions flooded back that he had long ago suppressed. Instinctively, almost hopefully, he shouted Ryun's name. Perhaps Ryun had felt the same pull as he had.

Silence.

He should have known better. He should have. But he still felt a twinge of pain for his long lost friend. He slowly entered their getaway from reality and took a moment to reabsorb everything there, their old headquarters. It was a small space to most people, a part overlooked by the Barons when they split Yse into three tiers. It hugged the border between Yse's upper two tiers. *more descriptions*

Railyn's eyes veered to a bundle of blankets and broken planks, and he gasped inadvertently. Though there was no reason to assume otherwise, Railyn was surprised to see that it hadn't changed at all since they were there last. His hands hurt, and were majorly swollen, but he still managed to caress it.

Dong. Dong. Dong. Dong. Dong.

Railyn's head screamed in pain, and felt like it was splitting open. His vision whited out, and he heard a large CRACK! After the pain subsided, he opened his eyes to find himself in a completely different place. He looked around at a dim room and five other people in the same position as he.

Railyn tried to move, but what seemed to be a large, living scroll was wrapped around his body, tangling his limbs and keeping him rooted in place.His eyes adjusted to the warm light of a roaring fire in front of him. The living scroll entangling him sprawled all the way to the flames, and its end was alight, and the fire-turned-purple spread to the withered paper. He glanced around and noticed several more scrolls sprouting from the blazing fire. He counted five more, and only just noticed that the five other people were trapped at the end of those scrolls, just like he was. The others noticed him much around the same time as he noticed them. He opened his mouth to speak, to scream, to call for help, something, when a large door burst open with bravado and much creaking. "It worked!" A gravely, crackly voice sounded from the vacancy of the door, and a weathered old man hobbled in, looking at them in awe as he straightened his worn and war-torn robe, removing much dust but just smearing what looked like fresh blood further down his clothes. He was breathless. "It worked! Well, mostly," he muttered, pointing to a vacant seventh spot next to Railyn. "All according to plan, all according to plan," he said to himself. Railyn tried to speak, but the old man seemed to realize they were there and interrupted him. "There's not much time I'm afraid. I really cannot explain everything to you six, but you are important, and you are connected." He hesitated, and scrambled to a desk in the corner.

"You are all part of a prophecy." He muttered as he raised an old scroll, half torn. He glanced at the living scrolls, where the purple fire had reached halfway to Railyn and the others. "Oh, my the time keeps escaping me." He set the scroll down on the desk. "The bells you all have been hearing were no coincidence. It was an unfortunate by-product of this conjuring spell to gather you all here. I cannot tell you where I am, but you will know. We need your help. The world needs your help. You are all either in Yse or Syna. Find each other, however you must." The ceiling shook, and he glance around nervously. With a flick of his finger, the large door slammed shut. "You will find out that you have special powers in the upcoming nights. Find each other. Flee Synilas. Survive. They do not take kindly to magical fol--"

The purple flamed reach Railyn's feet and engulfed him immediately. The pain was similar to before, but somehow he was more used to it this time. His eyes were clenched shut, but he hear noise, like a large cat purring. He opened his eyes hesitantly to the sight of a dragon.
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80 Days B.N.D


Elidyr carefully picked his way down the path just outside of Syna, Lady flaring her wings whenever he accidentally jostled her. He could see the gates just up ahead and hoped they'd let him in. He'd heard about the outbreak of bluecough and figured he'd probably be able to help, being a healer. That wasn't a guarantee that they'd even let him in.

Oh, stop fussing!

He flinched. "Lady," Eli hissed, glanced towards her as she cocked her head and meet his gaze. As he watched, she blinked. "A little warning, please. I'm still not quite used to the mind-talking."

Lady snorted. It's called telepathy, Father.

Eli frowned at her and she just flared her wings again as they came to a halt just outside the gates. Not. Helping. He grunted and turned to face the gates. Which were open. Wide. Open. Eli sighed and shook his head. "They never learn..."

Always quarantine an outbreak of any illness, Lady quoted in a snotty voice that was very reminiscent of Elidyr's lecturer from the Academy. She quickly switched back to normal; It is a sensible idea.

I know, Eli told her with a sigh and squared his shoulders. He marched through the open gates and immediately side-stepped the large wagon that was headed out. "That's not a good idea..."

The driver just shot him a dark look and urged the two poor horses pulling it to move faster. Before long, the wagon was bouncing well out of sight. Eli watched it go for a moment then turned to head off down the street into town. He needed to find somewhere--or someone--or some way to help.

The streets were still bustling with a lot of people, and a lot of merchants or travelers, despite being so early. And that just upset Eli even more. They really should have been quarantining the entire damned city! If there really was a bluecough outbreak, then letting people come and go as they were would just spread it. Elidyr couldn't help thinking of all the things the Academy medics would be doing to stop the spread, and despaired that Synilas weren't as advanced as the Empire in that respect. He was honestly going to have words with the city's doctors and healers if he got the chance. They were going to get their entire nation sick if they kept it up.

He rounded a corner and stopped short at the sight--and sound--of a very, very busy marketplace. There was a couple of inns--which he would definitely want to visit later--and a rather crumpled-looking tavern, an apothecary's--that someone was just leaving--and what appeared to be a bookstore right next to it with a sign that announced a healer's ward just further down from that. He glanced towards all the farmer's stall, at the Jeweler's across the way, at the blacksmith's just next to it and then back to the apothecary and the healer's ward. Further away, he could see a tall, slanted roof--a church. Or temple, depending of the person.

"Well, Lady," he said, glanced about to see many people coughing and moving much more slowly than others. "I think we're in the right place."

Of course we are, Father. With that, she launched herself off his shoulder and flapped up onto the apothecary's swinging sign, where she proceeded to stretch out her wings and bask in the growing sunlight, head tilted up til her face was to the rising sun.

Elidyr smiled slightly and shook his head, then made his way down the street towards the healer's ward. He'd just passed under the sign that Lady was perched on when he heard it.

Dong.

Dooonggggg.

Dooooonnggggg.

DOOOONNNNGGGGG.


He stumbled into the wall beside the apothecary's door, clutching his head. Through the ringing in his head, he heard Lady's wings as she fluttered them and glided down onto his shoulder, claws digging into his collarbone and shoulder-blade through his layers of clothing.

It took a moment before he realised she was trying to talk to him. Father? Father?!

"I'm alright, Lady," he muttered, leaning heavily on the wall and slowly lowering his hands. He cast a glance about, but no one had seemed to notice him--or the bells, the echo of which seemed to reverberate through his very core. Elidyr glanced towards where Lady was perched on his right shoulder and frowned. "Did you hear the bells, too?"

Lady blinked slowly at him. What bells?

"Nevermind," Elidyr hissed and pushed off the wall. He could wonder about the bells later. For now, he needed to go offer his help with the sickness spreading through Syna. The sooner, the better, because if they kept up the lack of, well, anything, then they were going to have a proper plague on their hands.

He tried to shake off the echo of bells tolling and headed off down the street again, stepping over a rather large hole in the cobblestones. He paused at the mouth to an alley, glancing down it to see a bundle of dirty clothes and blankets curled up behind a shabby-looking cloth--with several objects on it--laid out on the ground. Elidyr hesitated, glancing towards the healer's ward sign and then back down the alley. The bundle coughed, violently, and his mind was made up. Eli turned and headed down the alley, barely sparing the cloth a glance before he reached the bundle's side and crouched down beside them.

"Hey," he said softly, gently laying a hand on what seemed to be their arm. "You okay?"

The bundle coughed a bit more and shook its head. Elidyr tried to peer beneath the blanket that had been pulled over what seemed to be their hand, but all he could see was long, tangled dark hair.

"Bluecough?" he asked and the bundle nodded. Eli hummed and glanced about. "Let me guess, couldn't afford the healers?" Again, they nodded and the coughing grew even worse. Eli sighed. "You must be pretty bad if you can't talk to me..."

"Can.... Hurts..."

Eli winced at how raw and hoarse the poor bundle's voice sounded, but at least he sort of had an idea of their gender now. "Don't talk, sweetie. I can help you, okay? But it's gonna hurt... You good with that?"

For a long moment, the bundle was silent and unmoving and then they nodded. Eli blew out a breath and then shifted to kneel in front of them. A dirty, feminine face peered back at him from the shadows beneath the blanket with bright eyes. There was a rash across one cheek and about her mouth and nose, but she seemed okay otherwise.

Eli nodded to her. "Ready?" he asked and she nodded back. "I'm sorry."

With that, he leaned forward to press a hand against the base of her throat and closed his eyes, trying to concentrate. Distantly, he felt Lady hop off his shoulder with a tiny meow. He filed it away for later, knowing that Lady wouldn't go far. Without Lady to worry about, he turned his attention to the sickness infecting the poor girl's lungs. It lit up a sickly blue-grey in his magical senses and Eli dove towards it with his healing magic.

As he started to burn away the sickness in her lungs, he felt his own begin to burn, felt his breath getting shorter and shorter. Distantly, he could hear her crying out hoarsely in pain, but he had to at least give her a chance. She was..so so ill. The bluecough was practically coating her lungs, slinking into gaps and spaces that Elidyr hadn't thought it could get into, and then it had started creeping up into her throat. No wonder she'd not been able to speak very well, no wonder it hurt. As he noticed that, he felt his own throat begin to burn and cried out, ripping himself back away from her.

He tripped over something in his haste to pull away, and opened his eyes right as he landed on his ass. Lady darted away with a hiss. Elidyr ignored her, unable to look away from the girl opposite him. She looked a little better, less pale, and the rash on her face didn't look as bad. He could feel the itching and burning across his own, though, so he knew he'd taken some of it into himself. After all, that was how his healing tended to work.

She opened her mouth to say something, but instead of hearing her, Eli heard the echo of the bells tolling again. They were much louder this time, and he cringed, slapping his hands over his ears as he scrambled backwards. Eli cried out in pain, feeling like his head was splitting open, but his voice was too hoarse to be very loud, and then there was a loud CRACK.

Image


Elidyr woke to the feeling of someone gently slapping his face and a certain cat yelling loudly in his head. He groaned and slit his eyes against the light. The young girl--the one he'd healed in the alley--was leaning over him, looking worried. The images of purple fire and living scrolls, of a little old man, of something shaking....bells ringing--they all lingered. He frowned and pushed up onto his elbows.

"What happened?" he managed hoarsely, letting the girl help him sit up. Lady danced into view, meowing worriedly. He offered the little winged cat a small smile. "Hush, Lady. I'm okay."

"You, uh....you healed me and passed out?"

Elidyr winced. "That...occasionally...happens... My apologies."

Father! Father is okay! Lady launched herself into his arms, causing the girl to squeak and back off. You were asleep for a long time!

He glanced sharply to the girl. "How long was I out?"

She winced and glanced away, her body language worried. It was only then that he noticed they were no longer in the alley, but in the healer's ward. He froze, glancing about, but no one had noticed he was awake yet, let alone the girl sitting on the edge of his bed.

"Most of the day," said a voice from behind him. Elidyr twisted to see a healer--a handsome, older man--on the other side of the bed, one he hadn't noticed before. "So nice of you to tend to the girl for us. She assured us you could, ahem...pay..."

Elidyr watched the older man warily for a moment, squinting at him in suspicion. After a long moment, he relaxed back into the bed and threw an arm over his eyes, jostling Lady--who complained by meowed and darting off. "How much?"

"A donation, please."

He sighed and lifted his arm just enough to see Lady sitting on his chest. "Lady, would you?" he asked and the cat hopped off his chest and into the girl's lap. "Thank you." He sat up--slowly--and fished around in his pockets for some money or maybe herbs... He frowned, finding at least one of his pockets empty. In the other, he found a scrap of scroll and a couple of coins. He tossed one of the gold ones at the healer, who caught it quickly, snatching it out of midair. "That work?"

The man offered him a wide smile. "Perfectly," he said and pocketed the coin. "And if you wish to offer your services while you're here, we won't stop you. We do have a bit of a... problem at the moment."

"The bluecough?" Elidyr snorted and shifted so he was sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to the girl. "Speaking of that, you do realise if you don't quarantine the city, you'll have a plague on your hands? Across the kingdom and possibly into others?"

The healer lifted one shoulder. "We advised the one who rules this city, but they didn't seem to care."

"Right," he grunted and pushed up onto his feet. "Well then, I'll be off."

"But--"

"But nothing." Elidyr shot him a glare then turned to gesture at the girl. "We're leaving. Syna's ruler can figure out their own problems--without my help."

With that, he turned and started around the end of the bed, snagging his bag off the foot of it as he went. He didn't trust any of the healers, not if their attitude to such stupidity over a potential plague was to shrug and say they did their best. Besides, he had a lot more to think about. Like the prophecy the old man had spoken of. Just who was he supposed to find in Syna? And why was he supposed to run? Who was hunting them?

Once outside, Elidyr turned to the girl, who held Lady in her arms. "My apologies, but I can't stay and you can't come with me."

She sighed and lowered her gaze to the ground, blushing slightly. She didn't look as dirty as she'd been earlier, either. Eli frowned, but let it go. If she'd taken something of his just to get a bath, then he wasn't going to complain. She'd not get bluecough again, not so soon. It would hopefully take a few months, maybe years. It'd linger with him, though.

"That's alright," she said and raised her head. "I couldn't leave you just laying in the alley, not after what you'd done for me."

Elidyr offered her a kind smile. "Seeing you feel better was worth it."

"Even though it hurt, quite a bit."

He winced. "Sorry about that, it's a side-effect of my magic, and one that's always been there--"

"You don't have to explain!"

Lady launched herself out of the girl's arms and over to him, perhaps sensing where the conversation was going. "I... Alright, then. Goodbye....miss?"

"Sera. It's Sera."

Elidyr inclined his head. "Elidyr," he said, "Elidyr...var Ardys." He bowed. "Pleasure to heal you, Miss Sera."

Sera giggled a goodbye and darted away, back towards her alley, leaving Eli to stand there staring after her. He turned to look up at the church as the bells in its tower tolled, reminding him of the vision he had and of the prophecy the old man had mentioned. What was he supposed to do now? Just wait?

He sighed and made his way towards the church.
"With friends like you, who needs a medical license?" - Paimon, Aether's Heart


“It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” - Grace Hopper.
  





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Chaser says...



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80 Days B.N.D


The old man shook with the force of his missive. "You will find out that you have special powers in the upcoming nights. Find each other. Flee Synilas. Survive. They do not take kindly to magical fol--"

Purple flames clawed their way up Paimon’s torso, subsuming her head in hot hazy magic. Paimon kept her eyes wide open, and saw the room shift and burn away, turning inside out itself as the fire patterned itself the surface of her eyes. It shifted and grew until it felt like it was cleaving her in two, and Paimon thrashed as violet dimensions upturned.

Her fist flew down and struck clay shingles. Paimon’s eyes focused on the light blue sky. She lay flat on her back atop a roof. She’d scratched her hand on the masonwork when she hit.

Paimon turned over and looked on the pipe clutched in her other hand. The sunweed was still glowing softly. “What the hell did that guy sell me?” she marveled aloud.

Still, the pipe was a worthy purchase. It was a long, serpentine item, with the payload nestled in the jaws of a dragon, complete with ceramic whiskers. Even if it had cost her the day’s profits, and a bit of her sunweed store, and however much effort it took to get up on this roof - she hardly remembered doing it - she’d given herself some premium rest and relaxation. She couldn’t wait to see the look on Mogul’s face when she strolled up and offered a hit.

“Hey!” Paimon looked down to see an old man peering up at her from beneath a brimmed leather hat. “Get out of here, you,” he snarled. He had a brick in his hand, poised to throw.

Paimon pushed herself to her feet and dusted herself off. “Alright, alright,” she muttered as the old man continued pouring out insults. She slid to the edge of the roof and shimmied down the stone wall, landing awkwardly in front of the street. She stumbled for a moment, before catching herself, spreading her hands wide to the man. “See? I’m gone.”

The old man grumbled something else, and noncommittally lobbed the brick at her feet. He huffed past her and into the house, slamming the door.

Paimon took the last drag of her pipe and let it burn out. This wasn’t the first rooftop eviction she’d faced, and damned if it’d be her last. She stowed the pipe in her bag, the bag under her cloak, and most of her body with it. A wry smirk spread on her face, and her conical form fluttered as she took off, looking for new prospects all around.

The bells tolled the hour. Paimon raised her head at the familiar sound.
“It’s not a bong, it’s a pipe,” she said to herself, then chuckled. “That’s stupid. That’s so stupid. Ooh.”

She smiled to the high heavens. “Find the others. Collect them all. We’re in grave danger!”

Syna’s streets ran twisting up and down like a corkscrew spiderweb. Magic users were known for their inscrutable minds, so Paimon thought they must have been writing in cursive with the city streets. It was the late afternoon now, and people had begun to move about, some from their work to home, some from their work to more work. They looked upon Paimon and frowned for a moment, before shaking their heads. It’s easy to be happy when you’re that helpless, they thought. She’s content to be a bum.

You’re right, Paimon thought. Not gonna stop me, though. Because when people convinced themselves not to be happy, they were just going to be preyed upon. Guilt too, was overrated.

The sphere popped perfectly out of the cobbled street, as Paimon’s foot fell directly on top of it. Suddenly the ground burst beneath her, the stones impacting and shattering like teeth crowded together by a new growth. Paimon’s vision was overrun by the seal on the stone, crossed slashes looking so much like an eye, or an open head wound.

The stones that pushed up now crumbled to dust. Paimon was left with her foot raised above a pothole of crushed stone. The people passing by had heard the resounding crunch, or seen the gravel shoot skyward from her feet, and were now looking directly at her. Their jaws hung open.

Paimon spread her hands weakly. “Ta-da.” Pivoting on her other foot, she hightailed it down an alley before anyone could say anything else. She headed for the church.

“Sanctuary, sanctuary,” she sang beneath her breath, though taking refuge in a church probably wouldn’t protect her from the law. Better to just hide there and make things easier for everyone.

The church loomed up before her, a distinctive slate grey, a circular stained-glass window depicting something or other high power. The bell hung in its same spot, waiting to be rung again. The stone stairs were wide and tapered up to a humble wooden door, a simple entrance to the holy something-or-other. They were also empty. The old man must have gotten treatment. If not that, a home to rest. Something.

“Get out of the way!”

Paimon hopped aside, looking in confusion as two men in heavy coats barreled past, carrying between them an animal-skin stretched on a wooden frame. On that skin lay a woman, staring up at the sky, her mouth frothing with spittle.

The door opened inwards, the priest standing at the door, covering his mouth with his robe as the woman was carried past. His aging face was grim with fright. As the priest went to shut the door, his eyes met Paimon’s. “You’d best stay away for your health, child,” he said. “There’s more where she came from. So many more.”

The door closed. Paimon was left standing in the road in front of the church. Groans escaped through the wooden door.

Her bag felt helplessly light. She’d sold all of her ingredients for hybroth potion. She stood there until she felt like she’d snap in two, like her cheap flea-market pipe.

Mrrrow.”

Paimon looked down. A blue-grey cat with wings folded to its back brushed lithely past her leg and headed for the step. It hopped up to the door and looked around, searching for a way in.

“Pspspspspspsss,” Paimon said, beckoning with her fingers. “Hey, hey. Kitty. C’mere.”

The cat looked at her, and Paimon could swear it rolled its eyes. It hopped off the step and walked around her. She stretched out to pet it as it passed, before losing her balance and toppling over. She landed on her back, splaying out on the street.

“Puah.” Paimon reached backward for the cat; her hand wrapped around someone’s ankle. She looked up.

Standing over her was a man dressed as an angel. His robes flowed around him, rippling a shadow into the twilight. His face was a bit darkened but somehow, Paimon could see his eyes shining.

“Hello, kitty,” Paimon said. “You looking for some medicine?”

“I don’t need to buy anything,” the man said, almost reflexively. He smiled awkwardly, then shook his leg.

“That’s fair. I’m out of hybroth potion anyways.” Paimon released his ankle, rolled over, and stood up. “I could offer you some peoda seeds. Wouldn’t cure you. Might just help with the opposite, in fact.”

She circled around him, getting a better look at his face. As he turned to the light, she could see the rashes trailing down his neck. “You really ought to see someone,” she added. “The apothecary on Razel Main should have some curatives.”

The man shook his head. “I’ll be fine.” The cat leapt onto his shoulder, and he petted her absentmindedly as he looked at the church. “The cures should go to the people who need them.”

“Except no one short of the Idora family could afford that much cure,” Paimon said. “This outbreak is really unprofitable. I mean, unfortunate.”

She waved her hands around, smiling. The man leaned forward, raised an eyebrow. “But you’ve got a way of selling hybroth?”

“It’s what I do. Paimon Fel, freelance apothecary,” she said, jabbing a thumb to her chest.

“Elidyr var Ardys,” the man replied.

“And I used to have a supply, but it’s all run out now,” Paimon continued. “Hybroth, by the way, is just pell leaves and root of riander, ground up and dissolved. I tell everyone that, but the method to getting them is secret.”

Elidyr glanced at the church. “Too secret for this?”

A low moan sounded from inside the church, whirring pain from a torn-up throat. Paimon cringed.

“I’m just maintaining my business,” she huffed. “At least my prices haven’t gone up. You look around and you see clinics marked up double, triple. The nerve of some people.” She withdrew the pipe from her bag, packed in a bit of sunweed.

Elidyr stared at her through the smoke as she exhaled. “If it’s money you need, I could--” he stopped, amended, “--I might be able to get it to you.”

“Well, it’s not really the money either, it’s just, I, damn it.” Paimon thrashed her hair with her free hand. “Why’re you doing this, anyway?”

The orange light caught in Elidyr’s eyes, glowing up his face. “I don’t want to just wait around while people die.”

“That’s so freakin’ noble. You remind me so much,” Paimon groaned, looked skyward and slapped a palm to her forehead. “Alright.”

“Alright?”

“I’ll get the ingredients.” She held up a finger. “If you come with me to help collect them. And,” she added, and smiled at Elidyr’s shoulder, “I get to pet the cat.”

Elidyr and the cat looked at each other. Paimon could have sworn that they were battling it out in stares. Elidyr’s gaze remained tender, but strong, and eventually the cat’s head drooped. Elidyr turned to Paimon.

“Her name is Lady,” he said. “And she says you’d better hold up your part of the deal.”

“I definitely will,” Paimon said, and reached up to pet Lady. “My dear dealer apprentices.”

Image



Elidyr peered out of the alley, looking around for the watchmen in the night. When he saw nothing, he looked again. “Are you done?” he asked.

“Shh, this is a character moment,” Paimon said, further down the alley in the darkness. She was holding her cloak open to display her wares. “It builds character.”

“A drug deal builds character?”

“Builds your patience,” Paimon called back, then looked forward, “And mine. Are you gonna pick an ingredient, kid?”

“I’ll pick soon,” retorted the client. “You can’t afford to rush me.” He was a young man with blond hair, a stiffly upturned nose and lip. His gaze flitted to every part of the alley, taking in Paimon as a source of unbridled danger. Eventually, he pointed to a bundle grains by her breast pocket.

“Buckflower,” Paimon said, handing over the bundle, “a smooth and pleasant ride. That’ll be seventy Gildar.”

The client sniffed and reached into his coat pocket. “I’m overpaying for this, so you’d better be grateful.” He withdrew a belt buckle from his pocket. It glinted in the faint streetlight, the clasp set into a small medallion with an octahedral sapphire into silver metal.

“It’s a Hextech gem,” he said, dropping it into Paimon’s hand as she passed the herbs. “You’d activate it by twisting the stone.”

“Is that so.” Paimon weighed the buckle in her palm. She glanced over at Elidyr. “You can heal me if this thing explodes, right?”

Elidyr shifted his feet. “Maybe. Just hurry up, please.”

“Some things can’t be rushed,” Paimon said, uncoupling her belt. She held her pants up with one hand as she fastened the new buckle, trying to ignore the revolted stare of the client. Soon enough she had the new belt buckle shining around her waist. She grabbed the sapphire in the center, trying to loosen it. “Okay, so I just twist it, this way.”

Suddenly her body jumped inward, sucking most of her with it. Paimon staggered, looked down, and saw her body compressed to centimeters wide. “Whoa.”

The client nodded. “It’s a corset. Though I think you twisted it a little too far.”

“This is cool. This is really cool,” Paimon said. Her spine had become thinner than a pole, the rest of her body sucked inwards towards it. She jumped up and down, feeling the weight of her entire body, but the near vanishing of her torso and chest.

Elidyr looked a little pale. “You shouldn’t play around with magic like that.”

“Oh, but this isn’t magic,” Paimon said, rippling her body like a wire. “It’s just diet and exercise, with a side helping of good ol’ prayer.”

The client seemed annoyed. “Is that fine?” he asked. “Good. I’ll be off now. Don’t follow me.” With that, he spun on his heel and disappeared down the alleyway.

“He seemed pretty eager to get that off of his hands,” Elidyr noted. “You don’t think he-”

“Kids steal from their parents when they think they wouldn’t notice them.” Paimon waved her hand. “What people want to do with their money isn’t up to me. It’s what they’re feeling that really matters.”

She patted the belt buckle. “And right now, I feel pretty amazing. Let’s find a place to sleep, and we can head out first thing tomorrow.”

Elidyr nodded. “We’ll have to find transport too. It might take a while.”

“All of that is fine and good!” Paimon said, twisting herself into a rail-thin spear. “No use discussing it any further. Let’s go save Syna!”

Image


“And that’s when I realized that hey, this guy’s not old at all! He just dresses that way to be fashionable,” Paimon said, poking out from the top of her barrel. “And that’s how I met Mogul.”

“I see.” Elidyr had popped the top off of his own barrel, and was shifting around uncomfortably. Lady jumped out to sit on the side of the wagon.

The driver of the wagon, a middle-aged man with a straw-woven hat, held the reins in one hand and turned around to look at them. “We should be clear of the checkpoints now. Just don’t look suspicious, and we should be fine.”

“Yeah.” Paimon jumped around in her barrel to face the strawhat. “Who’d have thought they’d implement a quarantine today of all days? Lucky us, being quick on the uptake.”

She jumped back around to face Elidyr. “Speaking of uptake, I won’t catch that cough from you, will I?”

Elidyr grimaced and shook his head. “I hope not. But I’d like to avoid crowds if we could.”

“Then you’ll be right at home in Serion, sir.” The strawhat pressed a sackcloth to his mouth and breathed through it. “Small place, quaint. Good air,” he added, before turning back to the road ahead. The horse hauled the wagon at an even trot.

“We should be able to collect the root and leaves by midday, then sneak back into Syna at night,” Paimon said. “Shouldn’t be too hard. We might want to hire muscle, though. Just in case.”

“Just in case what?”

“Trade secret.” Paimon brought her hands up and made an x. “Until then, it’s just you and me in these barrels, barrel buddy.”

Elidyr smiled slightly, then shifted his shoulders. “I’m getting out.”

“But barrel buddies!”

The wagon rolled through the hills away from Syna, getting further from the river and towards the forest that corralled the plain. Paimon fell over halfway through and stayed that way until the wagon stopped, and she rolled forward to be stopped by Elidyr’s foot.

“Serion Village,” the driver told them, and tipped his strawhat. He accepted their coins from Elidyr with a guarded grip, washing them with water from his canteen before pocketing them. Paimon popped out of the barrel and onto the ground as he thanked them for their patronage, then turned his wagon around and left them standing on the dirt path.

Up ahead, the village lay nestled into the side of the forest, half-in-half-out of the trees’ shade. Newer houses seemed to be built deeper into the trees, while old stumps surrounded the outermost houses. Each house was made of that wood, somewhat uniform, but the oldest ones appeared to be cracked and wearing.

Paimon pointed into the trees. “We’re headed deeper in, but let’s stop through town first.”

Elidyr nodded in agreement, and Lady hopped up onto his shoulder as they set off. It was midday, and children raced between the houses, hopping up onto them and jumping off, pretending to fly. Their parents stood on their porches, gazing after them fondly, before noticing the approaching figures.

Paimon’s dirty brown cloak fluttered around her, the belt buckle shimmering proudly. Elidyr leaned forward a bit, dressed unassumingly enough, but the winged cat on his shoulder cast a bit of suspicion. They saw a mother gesture hurriedly to her children, calling them indoors before the strange people rolled through town.

“I don’t think they like us,” Paimon said as the doors shut. “That's sad.”

They walked through the stumps to the treeline, where a father was pulling at his daughter, trying to move her away. The little girl was pointing up a tree, where a colorful shape was climbing upwards.

“Your cat’s a real charmer, isn’t he?" came a shout from the leaves. A hiss followed soon after. Paimon and Elidyr walked over and looked up.

A big, blue, tiefling man was clambering up the tree trunk, moving out onto the branches. There were leaves and twigs nestled in his dark blue hair, and his silver armor scuffed against the bark as he moved. A big traveler’s pack sat at the bottom of the tree, along with a sword and a staff. In front of him was a small tabby cat, hissing and swiping at him.

Elidyr and Lady looked at each other, then Lady pounced up and into the tree. The man seemed to be having trouble moving. One of his long horns had gotten caught on a branch. “Having a really hard time believing this is a better idea than just lifting you up into the tree," the tiefling singsonged. The little branch holding his horn snapped with a tug of his head. The cat skittered further away from him, and he sighed.

The father, looking away from the tree in horror, seeing Paimon standing next to him, gave up on moving his daughter and instead stood between them defensively. Paimon shrugged. “You, uh, you need help up there?” she called.

“The only one who needs help up here,” the man called back. “Is this cat.”

As he reached out for the feline, the branch beneath him began to shudder, and he froze.

Paimon raised an eyebrow. “That branch treating you well?”

“Not very.” The man set his lips in a line, hunkered down close to the branch, and inched forward. The tabby seemed ready to pounce before Lady appeared next to him. They looked at each other for one second, before Lady pointed with her paw down at Elidyr. Paimon noticed that Eli had taken a wide catching stance.

The two cats seemed to have a back-and-forth, with the tabby digging his claws into the bark as he looked down.

The armored man behind them shifted backward. There was a small crack, and the branch tilted down.

The tabby lost his nerve and jumped, flailing, towards Elidyr. The healer bunched his robes up and caught the cat, bringing it close to his chest in a bundle. He held out, and looked relieved as the cat sat up, shook its fur out, and leapt to the ground.

“Tabby!” said the little girl, scooping the cat up and hugging it to her face. The father stood by in relief, though he still looked very wary of the tiefling man in the tree.

“Thank the gods,” said the man in the tree. “I’ll be right down there, then.” He tried to back up from the already snapping branch, and his horns caught on a cluster of leaves. From the look Lady gave him, Paimon learned that cats were capable of pity, and from the dead-eyed look on the tiefling guy’s face, he wasn’t thrilled will his situation either.

The father walked up to Elidyr and bowed. “Thank you, really. Lettie, what do you say?”

Lettie beamed up at Elidyr. “Thank you very much, Mr. Blue!”

The father chuckled a bit. “She likes nicknames,” he explained, and extended a hand. In all the bluster, he hadn’t noticed Elidyr’s bluecough rashes. “My name’s Tristram. And you?”

“Elidyr var Ardys.” Elidyr started to extend his hand, but saw the rashes and took it back, stepping back a pace.

“And I’m Paimon,” Paimon said, stepping in and grabbing Tristram’s hand, shaking it up and down. “But you’ve seen me before. At a distance.”

“Yes, I have.” Tristram withdrew his hand and looked at her warily. “Sorry, you just seemed a bit...conspicuous before.”

“Entirely fair,” Paimon replied. “But we could still establish good relations. And trade.” Her eyes glinted on the last word.

Tristram chuckled again, but less sincerely. “Maybe. Maybe. Lettie,” he said, “let’s go inside for lunch now.”

“Okay!” Lettie said, cradling Tabby to the point of smothering. “Bye bye, Mr. Blue! Mr. Horns! Ms. Muddy!” Elidyr nodded and smiled as Lady hopped down to his shoulder, and the father and daughter left, rescued cat in tow.

“She was a bit meaner with that last name, huh?” Paimon remarked, scratching her cheek. She turned to Mr. Horns in the tree. “Hey, you want a job when you get down?”

“Depends on the job, miss,” Mr. Horns replied, finally managing to free his horns from his leafy crown. With his head finally free, he let himself slide around the branch, so he was hanging off it like a sloth. He unhooked his legs from the branch and let them hang down before letting go and dropping to the ground with a thunk of his armor. "How can I help you?"

“We're gathering a cure," Elidyr said immediately. "Trying to stop the bluecough outbreak in Syna."

“For free, I might add," Paimon said. "This guy can be very convincing."

Mr. Horns brushed a leaf off his shoulder and belted his sword again at his side. "Sounds like a very noble endeavor," he said, bending down to then swing his pack upon his back. "The bluecough is a nasty disease. What’s your plan to cure it?"

"Essential oils," Paimon replied, grinning. "And hybroth potion is the most essential of them all. We came out here to gather brewing materials, but an extra set of eyes and muscles would help. You've got those things, don't you, Mr...?"

"Belxibis."

"Then Mr. Belxibis, let's get this root."

Image



“Then I said, that’s not a tiger, that’s a flame-dancer in tiger-skin pants!” Paimon said. “And that’s how I found out about Mogul’s night job.”

Belxibis laughed, moving a branch back and away from their heads. They were traipsing over roots and between vines, Paimon slipping through as the others stumbled behind.

Elidyr ducked his head a little as Belxibis held the branch so he could pass. “So, could you tell us why you brought us both here?”

“Oh, yeah. That.” Paimon brushed her way through some vines and glanced at them. “Well, root of riander only grows in very old trees, most of which have been picked to extinction or killed by natural causes. Some trees, though, can be given magical life. This gives you an infinite supply of roots, if you can take them.”

Belxibis frowned. “If we can take them?”

Paimon grinned. “I did say that these trees were given life. And they have a lot of it. And they don’t like having their roots picked at.”

Elidyr paled. “Oh.”

“So the plan is this,” Paimon said. “Bel, mind if I call you Bel, draw its attention and try not to get hit. If you do, Elidyr should heal you. Elidyr, also don’t get hit. I’ll move in, not get hit, and dig out enough roots to make more cure. Seven or eight juicy ones should do.”

She turned around and saw their shocked faces. “You know, I did this by myself a week ago. And we’re already cutting it close by taking this many roots. I don’t want to risk killing the tree, even if it does give us the amount of root we need.”

“Well,” Elidyr started, but stopped. “No. This should be enough. If this is the best way to get the cure, we’ll try it.”

“Thank you.” Paimon looked to Belxibis. “When you’re ready, bust through that curtain of vines. It’s in that clearing. Elidyr will flank left, I’ll cut right. Have you got this?”

Belxibis nodded and smiled. “Just leave it to me.”

Winds shifted through the forest, shifting Belxibis' tail back and forth. Paimon had the sensation of safety drift around her.

She pointed forward. “Let’s get that root.”

The three of them charged forward, breaking through the vines to the light in the clearing beyond. They stopped in their tracks. The clearing was silent. The tree’s bark had twisted and cracked, some magical expression of agony. It lay on its side, pulled up from the ground.

“No way,” Paimon murmured, rushing over to the tree trunk. “No way.” The stump had been uprooted, a large hole in the ground where it should have been. The tree trunk had been cut clean, countless rings showing in the wood. She knelt by it, feeling the ancient weight of its death.

Paimon looked up at Bel and Elidyr helplessly. “They’re all gone.”

Belxibis sighed. “Someone else must be making the cure...”

“I don’t think they are,” Elidyr said. “Otherwise the outbreak wouldn’t have gotten to this stage.”

“No, no, no,” Paimon said, standing up. “I was here a week ago, when the bluecough was rising. The riander root is definitely making the cure.” Her eyes met Elidyr’s, and understanding flashed between them.

Belxibis frowned. “Well, I mean, if the person who did this isn’t giving out the cure, then--” he cut off, realization dawning, “--they’re not planning to give out the cure.”

“They’re hoarding it,” Elidyr agreed. “And letting the poor die.”

Paimon sat heavily on the trunk of the tree. She patted the bark for a second, and sighed. Her dragon pipe lit up with smoke and ash. She puffed it once, then blew a thin trail of smoke straight up, until her lungs were empty. She breathed deep once more, and smiled. “I’m having a bad day.”
Last edited by Chaser on Thu Aug 06, 2020 11:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  





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Omni says...



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80 Days B.N.D


"Okay, breathe, breathe." Railyn muttered, pacing in the tiny space that was available in the headquarters. "You're totally fine! You are... totally fine!"

The tiny dragon's tail flicked off a piece of what was actually an egg --its egg!-- and yawned, revealing its long, forked tongue, and tiny, sharp, teeth in long lines. Its ears flicked and it turned around, charging and chomping at an eggshell piece, swallowing it whole.

Railyn shook his head. "Stop getting distracted by the dragon that just hatched but it's okay. We need to go..." He raised his hands, and gasped in shock. They were no longer puffy and swollen, but what looked like burnt, etched down his forearms to almost his elbows. He traces the darkened lines, which had some kind of rhyme and reason to them that he couldn't quite understand. They didn't hurt, but they were overly sensitive; as he moved his arms around he could almost feel the air parting around him. "Okay, this is fine. This is... fine. This is totally crazy!"

The dragon tilted its head at Railyn and chirped at him.

"I... I don't even know what you're saying, if you're saying anything."

The dragon whined softly. It waddled to the edge of the table and pawed at Railyn.

"I would've never thought dragons could be cute." Railyn said. "You are adorable, but I--- I need to get out of here." Railyn bent down and picked up Ryun's scarf. It, too, changed, with markings all over it. He spun it and wrapped it around his neck. Railyn headed towards the entrance of his and Ryun's secret base, but stopped. He turned around, somewhat awkwardly, to the dragon, who was still sitting at the edge of the table patiently, its head crooked and its pale red eyes staring intently at Railyn. "Just, stay, okay?" He lowered his voice while rubbing his temples, "I'll have to figure out what to do with you later."

Railyn quickly ducked out before he could be swayed by the dragon's pining. With full use of his hands again, he could manuevor far better through the cramped cracks and crawlways than before. He wondered what happened to those Baron Guards who were chasing him. Well, he thought, he would find out soon.

The walkways widened out and Railyn slowed down, catching his breath. He focused on paying attention to any noise coming from the pavilion. He heard nothing, but he still wasn't convinced.

He rounded a corner and saw movement coming from the pavilion and backed up suddenly. His ankles hit something and he looked down to see pale red eyes careening up at him. The tiny dragon chirped at him and pawed at his leg. He groaned, his head splitting suddenly. "You-- go back to your shell."

The dragon barked at him, a light but loud noise. "No, no, shhhhh." Railyn bent down, turning back to the pavilion. Thankfully, nothing came close to them. "I can't just have you following me into Yse, little buddy. You'll get capture immediately." The dragon just blinked at him. Railyn groaned. He pointed back they way they came from. "You need to go back." It sat its hind legs down, in seeming stubbornness. "What am I going to do with you?" Railyn muttered. The dragon, resolute in its stubbornness, waddled up to him and climbed up his leg, scratching his bare skin ever so gently as it reached his stomach. Railyn wanted to tell the dragon to stop, wanted to pick it up and march it back to the secret base, but honestly he didn't know if he could touch the baby dragon. Part of him thought something ludicrous like he would get smited from the heavens if he laid a finger on it.

So, he let the dragon find its way to his scarf, hanging loosely around his neck, and climb its way into its folds. It fit in there snugly, and it was surprisingly light for something so large. It fumbled around in his scarf, making itself comfortable, before looking up at Railyn with its large, inquisitive eyes. It was like it was telling him "Okay, I'm ready."

Railyn sighed, hiding a smile. "Fine, I suppose that works." He looked up, no longer distracted by the dragon. He felt his headache coming back in full force. Perhaps it was a side effect of the spell. "I need to get you out of Yse, buddy. You'll get smothered here." He inched out into the pavilion. "We all get smothered here."

The aftermath of the Great Rebellion was evident everywhere in the open square. Rubble were strewn about all over the place, at some areas it being larger than Railyn himself. Burning piles of debris still lingered, and smoke smothered the ceiling. From what Railyn could see, the breakthrough of the upper tier had already been sealed. When the Barons wanted things done, they were efficient and ruthless, and quick to leave no trail or evidence. Other than that, there was no Baron Guards to be seen; they must have dispersed quickly afterwards. Railyn always wondered why these rebellions happened. He would never find out though, because the Barons left no witnesses.

Except, of course, him.

Again.

Boy, he really needed to get out of Yse.

He glance down at the baby dragon nestled up to his chest. "Don't worry, buddy, you're gonna get out of here and I'm gonna find your parents... or something." He wrapped up a portion of the scarf to hide the dragon from anyone's vision. Unfortunately, that included his own.

He followed the long maze back down to the normal reaches of civilization in the Middle Tier of Yse. So far, everything seemed normal enough; there were no Baron Guards to be seen, which seemed like cruel irony to the unusual amount he encountered getting up to the hiding place. Of course, when he had a literal dragon, no one cared. However, when he reached one of the main channels within the city, he realized that the spell had kept him out longer than he realized; it was the beginning of the next day, which means work had started and he was late. If any other signs were urging him to leave the city, this was just the gem on top to seal the mine shut. The Baron Guards would have no doubt searched his home and realized he wasn't there and he would be slated as a Grand Rebel, sentenced to immediate death on sight.

Railyn used a back sleeve of his scarf to cover the top of his head. The dragon chirruped in his folds, and he shushed it gently. "It's all right, we're just gonna have to be a little more careful. By the way, I'm gonna need to get you a name, aren't I?"

The dragon purred its assent.

Railyn stepped out into the crowd.

Instantly, the sea of bodies swept him down its current, moving him further from his house. He shoved his way through the thicket onto the other makeshift lane that directed back to his home. He kept his head low --a surprisingly hard thing to do for someone his height, but at least his mess of hair was kept tucked underneath his scarf-- and tried to take up as little room as possible as he swerved through the slow moving crowd. He caught glimpses of conversations that were mostly meaningless. People had the same insufferable problems as he did in the city where nothing happens and no one comes and goes. Even in the prison hold of Yse, one of the only things that surfaced and wiggled its way through the thick walls were rumors, and those spread like wildfire.

"Did you hear that bluecough is spreading through Asturia?" A large lady blocked the flow of traffic Railyn was trying to maneuver, as she half shouted, half spoke to the man on her right.

He shook his head vehemently. "I heard that it was spreading all the way into Synua, and that the Magic Council are very concerned about how fast it will spread if they can't use magic to stop it."

"Hmmph, serves that council right, those filthy River Bleeders." She spat on the ground in front of her. "They'll spread whatever nasty rumor they can about Synua before they'll do anything to help. You shouldn't believe anything that come from their mouths."

The man scoffed. "Did you hear about Arryn's old cousin? The one who fell through the cracks..." Railyn's focus broke from their particular conversation, as intriguing as it was, as he saw Baron Guards filing into the crowd of people. Only they could get the traffic to move any considerable amount, like an apex predator lackadaisically flowing against the current of prey, waiting for the right moment to strike on an unsuspecting victim. One move, and the prey finds itself singled out, alone... bait, for the rest of the prey to survive. This stuff happens naturally, Railyn thought, almost subconsciously. He saw fish in the clear crystal waters do so, in order to survive. He rubbed his temple. He couldn't risk pushing past the noisy pair in front of him; that would cause too much commotion and attract attention to him. Better yet he just wait this one out.

The chatterboxes neared the Baron Guards, who were of course walking in between the flows of people. A couple of them had stopped people from the crowd to check identification. Two more were looking his way. He had to think fast. There was no cracks for him to leave the flow, and he would be fairly obvious if any of those Guards had seen him at the Grand Rebellion.

The Grand Rebellion...

Railyn tapped the shoulder of the gossip in front of him. Before she could acknowledge the obvious breach of her personal space --an absolute ironic thought-- Railyn put his head close to hers. "I just hate how these Baron Guards are trying to find Grand Rebels just by picking people out of a crowd." He paused, and then added. "It's despicable," to top it off.

The woman look affronted for a moment, and his heart caught in his throat, pounding against his Aether's Apple.

"Exactly!" She exclaimed.

The bait has been thrown. Now he waits.

"The people going to work on time, doing their due diligence? Those are not your Rebels, Baronness. Like, would I rebel? No! You wouldn't, even poor Adam over here," the lady prodded the man next to her, "he probably would but doesn't have the brains to do so, poor thing."

Railyn nodded enthusiastically. "It's a smokescreen, I tell you." They were nearing the Baron Guards, and he could see her getting excited, inching closer and closer to the trap.

She huffed. “I know. And look at those poor things. Why, I—”

Hook, line, and sinker.

The robust woman clambered over to Baron Guards, shouting nonsense at them. The man, Adam, trailed behind her, trying to calm her down, but it was too late, she was causing a scene that halted all progress the Baron Guards were trying to make. Railyn slipped past them, without a glance back.

His headache wasn't a problem anymore as he hurried past the blockage. His chest hurt from the pain of lying to that lady and her friend. She was the one who took the sacrifice for him. She probably didn't even know what would happen to her now that she had the audacity to confront not one, but multiple Baron Guards, spurred on by a nobody who was long gone. Doubtless she would never be heard from again by those who called her friend or, even worse, family. His heart fell to his stomach. He knew too well the repercussions of being too noticeable.

But none of that mattered anymore. If he was caught, he would be killed, no matter who he dragged down with him. All that mattered, he thought as he broke off from the mainstream, was getting out of Yse. He didn't, no, couldn't, think about himself anymore, because the tiny, cold yet warm being in the folds of his scarf depended on him... even if he would get smited by touching it or something.

Railyn took the heft trek up several flights of rickety stairs to his cramped home. As he rounded the corner to his end of the hall, he stopped and reversed quickly, cowering behind the corner. After a moment, when his breathing had calmed down, he glanced back at his destroyed front door.

Honestly, he had heard stories about how Baron Guards came in the middle of the night, but he shrugged them off as just that: stories. But, seeing the battered shards of mildewed wood sent him spiraling. No, it was no matter. He was leaving anyway. It was better that they came through first, so he had a bit of time to pack what he needed.

He pushed through his anxiety and walked into his home, not stopping at the door, not giving much of a thought to the ransacked condition of his place. He wasn't a very sentimental person, anyway. He grabbed a sack and shoved a few pieces of clothing in. He scanned his bedroom for one of the only things he truly kept for memories' sake: a small wooden contraption that clacked when you spun it on the top and the bottom. It was a child's toy, but it was given to him, so long ago, by Ryun. It was supposed to represent the duality of metal and earth, or so Ryun told him long ago. If you spun it fast enough, both sides would spin in sync. Railyn often used it to calm his nerves.

He flung open the cabinets by his bed. Not there. He threw open his closet, searching through the various knick knacks he kept in there. Nothing. He noticed something underneath the bed. Scrambling to the floor, he peered down... and there it was. Not where he had left it, but, nothing was where he left it. He picked it up.

It was broken.

Almost perfectly, it had split, with the top half in his hand, and the bottom half... gone. He checked the underside of his bed again. There was nothing down there. Exasperated, he struggled to his feet. He couldn't waste anymore time searching for the rest.

The dragon poked its head out from the scarf and trilled. Railyn sighed. "We're getting out of here... Onyx? No, that's a sucky name." He covered the dragon back up and rushed back out the hall, down the stairs two at a time. He slowed down to a trot as he reached the entrance of the building, which looked down on the main roadway of people. He glance around... and noticed the same large woman he used as bait earlier. She was talking heatedly with a Baron Guard. She looked in Railyn's direction, and pointed, and all three of them, the Guard, the lady, and Railyn, locked eyes. Railyn could almost hear her say, "That's him! That's the disgusting liar! That's the Grand Rebel!"

"Shoot. Time to leave." Railyn muttered, and hopped over the balcony railing to the landing below. The poor wood didn't support his weight, though, and he fell through it into the stream of people below, making such a fool of himself and of course attracting attention from every Baron Guard around. He picked himself off the ground and looked back at the Baron Guard, who was now walking in his direction. Not even running, or even a leisurely trot, but a casual walk! Did they have that little faith in him escaping?

Something inside Railyn jumped at the thought, like he was a little kid again. Boy, they were mistaken. He knew this city better than anyone, and he was about to prove it.

"Stop him!" Somebody howled into the crowd. Railyn bolted through the crowd, bumping into a few passerbys as he rushed into an alleyway. However, no one tried to actually stop him. He smiled as he ran, of course no one would actually do something to stop him. Baron Guards had influence, but laziness and apatheticness had more.

Railyn tumbled as his foot hit a rock that sprouted above the ground. He merged his tumble into a roll and managed to make it into an alleyway. This one snaked through, almost to the heart of the city, which is ironically the exact opposite place of where he wanted to go. However, it did intersect with a small hole-in-the-wall entrance to a wooden walkway through a makeshift second floor of buildings, hanging precariously by steel beams pinned to ceilings and hanging stone pillars. It allowed for more expansion in the small confines of the inner city, but, more importantly for Railyn, it allowed for easy access to almost all parts of the city with a small amount of climbing and maneuvering.

Railyn jogged down the paved stone alleyway, scanning the walls of the two buildings on either side for any notable indention. A couple of guards found their way into the alley, their clanking of armor and shouting was evident enough of his time constraint. He didn't find anything extremely useful for him to rely on, so he had to risk it.

Railyn ran to the end of the alleyway and launched himself up a garbage can and positioned his right foot on a stone brick that jutted out of the right wall. Using his momentum, he hopped from one side of the wall to the other side. The narrow width of the alleyway allowed him to climb it fairly easily. He slipped, but managed to redirect his fall to land on a balcony of a rickety house.

The Baron Guards looked up at him almost confused, helpless as to where to go, until one who looked like a commander or something barked orders at them. They split up, two running down the alleyway to him and the others backing off, no doubt to try and corner him. Railyn brushed himself off and swung himself through the bars of the balcony to land on one higher up. The further away he was from the ground troops, the better.

Railyn looked above him. Roofs, and yet other walkways. What is it with this city and walkways and levels, Railyn thought. He knelt down and launched himself, barely managing to grab onto a ledge with one free hand. He swung for a bit before leveraging himself to grab a better hold with his other hand. Groaning, he heaved himself up. "Boy, I could lose some weight," he managed out. A chirp squeaked from his scarf, and he rolled onto the roof, gasping for air. "Oh... yeah. You're really... heavy for being so... small." He said. The dragon trilled, either in agreement or in astonishment.

Railyn scrambled to his feet.

"Halt!" he heard from below, and that shook him back into reality. He jumped from one roof to the next, stumbling into a roll. He looked to the east --or at least, what he thought was the east-- and ran that way. From what he remembered of his early mining days, back when he was more shipping than actual mining, everything he took always went east. There had to be a way out of the city there, and if anything left the city, they left it there.

Railyn jumped from roof to roof as the shingles slanted downward, making way for a more substantial walkway as the houses got shorter and wider and transitioned to businesses that operated on the layer's outer edge. The walkways shifted from weak wooden to metal beams that supported air ventilation systems that led to who knows where, but looking back on it, Railyn realized they were probably shipping air in front outside the city. How no one managed to realize this, Railyn couldn't understand. Many people were born here, lived their lives here, and died peacefully in their sleep or in the mines here.

Railyn didn't want to suffer the same fate, and, glancing down at the being in his scarf. The living, breathing, magical being that had been just sitting there, waiting for him for so long. He didn't want this pure creature to suffer this fate, either.

The running on uneven roof shingles turned into running on fairly even ground as houses morphed into factories. The air got hotter, but that was what Railyn was used to. It was his environment, and his gait became easier. He glanced back, and noticed no one was following him. He outpaced the guards, of course. He slowed down and managed to catch his breath and pace himself.

The dragon nosed its head out of Railyn's scarf, and chirped up at him. "Don't worry, we're gonna get you out of here, Corrick, nope, not it." The dragon chirped and snuggled back into the folds.

"Stop right there!" Four guards climbed onto the pipeline. They unstashed weapons, and one of them had a staff, who stepped forward. "Give yourself up, and we'll take you in quietly. We'd like to ask you some questions." She offered a disarming hand.

Railyn backed away. "I didn't start that Grand Rebellion," he shouted.

The Baron Guards inched forward as hey backed away. He glanced behind him, and noticed more guards climbing up behind him. "We never said you did. We just want to ask some questions, and then you can go home, we can all go home."

A crowd had started amassing underneath them, pointing and whispering. What if he was a filthy Grand Rebel? Who lived near him? Who was his family? Who would be associated with him? A spectacle, in all things, interested the citizens of Yse the most and kept them entertained. And what better entertainment than a Grand Rebellion? Wait...

Railyn yelled at the top of his lungs. "No, you don't want to ask me questions! You want to kill me!" He gestured wildly. "You want to kill all of us! Who's next?" He pointed to a portly man down below. "Him? Do you actually think I'm actually a Grand Rebel? You're just turning us against each other until there's no one left!"

The mage Baron Guard set down her staff. "Listen, I think you may have breathed in some toxic gas from the mines. There was an explosion this morning. We need to get you to the hospice right now."

There was a murmur of agreement among the crowd below. "I think I heard my cousin from the mines mentioning that..." someone said, and consensus quickly spread.

"There's a possibility that you could have been experiencing some things... out of the ordinary," the mage said. "We just want to keep the peace."

"Keep the peace? Keep the peace? You call yourself peacekeepers! But the only things you do is steal friends and family from their beds at night. Who here has lost someone randomly, never to hear from them again?" Railyn asked the audience below. The talking quietened down and peopled loitered about, suddenly no more an onlooker to the action. Railyn shifted his attention back to the Baron Guards. "I lost my life, my best friend." Railyn choked back the words he really wanted to say. "I- I was just a child."

"Yeah! I lost my husband!" someone from the crowd.

"I lost my best friend--"

"--My neighbor--"

"--My hairdresser--"

"--My sister!"

Shouts of all kinds rung through the air as the crowds below the pipe walkline became more and more agitated. The Baron Guards glanced at each other, sensing the rising tension.

"Let's talk somewhere private, please." The mage guard said in a rushed tone. She flicked a finger to the other guards, and they dispersed down to the crowd, corralling them away from the pipeline.

Railyn saw his opportunity slipping from his reaches. Sweat dropped off his brows onto his silk scarf. "I will never, never come with you all. Not again." He stepped forward. "Get out of my way, please, or I'll hurt you." He hoped she couldn't tell he was absolutely and utterly bluffing.

"You don't want to do this, sir. Let me help you find your friend." She sounded sincere, oh so sincere. "Trust me, we will be able to find him, somewhere."

Railyn stumbled in his thoughts. He wanted to trust her, so badly. He wanted everything to go back to when things were right, and free, again. He wanted to be free again.

But he couldn't do that in Yse. Not anymore.

Railyn rushed forward, and the mage flicked her wrist, her staff jumping up to her hand. A simple twist, a force of magic shuddered the buildings in front of her and a blast of light filled Railyn's vision. He raised his arms to cover his face, and suddenly everything stopped, and everything became so clear.

Something slowed in him, and the blast seemed to bend to his will, and he spread his arms, letting the energy redirect from his arms to everywhere in front of him.

As quickly as it went, the feeling dispersed, and the energy blast knocked the Baron mage from the walkway, destroying everything in its path. But it didn't stop, it didn't die down. The blast impacted with the cavernous wall of Yse, obliterating it completely.

Light flooded in, a beam so intense that Railyn had to cover his eyes once again. His arms were scratched and etched in a pattern that seemed not random, or like it was intentional, and they were surrounded by burns on his arms. The baby dragon poked its head out and curled around his forearm, looking past him. Railyn followed his gaze to the light. No, not light.

"Sunlight."
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soundofmind says...



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80 Days B.N.D


Fire, scrolls, vapor, and smoke danced around his head like a haunting memory.

He'd known something was wrong when he'd heard the ringing of church bells in the middle of the forest, beyond the borders of any city. No one carried clanging cymbals or built bell-towers in the middle of nowhere, and that was exactly where he'd been. Off the beaten path, somewhere between the road and wilderness where he'd collapsed to the ground gracelessly, with the thunk of his armor and his heavy travel pack on the forest floor.

There was something about having a prophecy and purported importance thrust upon him that felt like a severe violation of his will. He did not ask to be chosen, and he did not ask to be some all-powerful world-saving hero, or whatever the old man wanted them to be. The world had given him nothing, and he didn't have anything to give back to it that could save it from whatever ill-fated doom awaited them all. He doubted the others in the fire filled room had any more of an idea of what to do than he did, and he was pretty sure, just like everyone else in his life, they'd want nothing to do with him once they saw him.

And, well, if that dream, vision, summoning - whatever it was - was some sort of shared experience, then they already had hadn't they?

So it was decided then. He'd just forget about the fever dream and move on. No more bells.

A headache wrapped around his skull and pushed persistently between his horns, like a knot. He groaned as he attempted to roll over, before quickly realizing he was stuck on his side. His pack was behind him, and his arm was pinned between it and the ground. It was numb, and it was starting to hurt.

Bel's eyes fluttered open.

A yelp pierced his ears and he quickly shut them again with a cringe.

"The hell?"

He opened his eyes again, letting them adjust to the light of the setting sun. Standing in front of him, and over him (only because he was prone) was a little human girl staring at him with big, wide eyes. Bel's face contorted in confusion as the girl yelped again and skittered away a few feet.

She hid half-way behind a small shrub and stuck her head out.

"Are you dead?"

Belxibis blinked slowly. "I mean, I don't think so," he answered quietly.

She seemed skittish. Though his arm was dying and begging for circulation he feared any sort of sudden movement would send her screaming, and if she was lost, the last thing she needed was to go running off into the forest alone and terrified. If she yelped at him opening his eyes he didn't know what she'd do when he stood up. He also had no idea how long this kid had been watching him.

The girl nodded slowly with understanding, her eyes transfixed on what he assumed were his horns. She certainly wasn't daring to look him in the eyes.

"What are you?"

Bel blinked again. If she didn't know what a tiefling was he wasn't sure how to begin explain--

"Can you do magic? Are you evil? What’s that staff do? Why do you have so much armor? Are you a knight? Can you fight? Do you fight with your horns? Oh! Can I hold your sword?"

Bel's eyes went wide, and his left eye twitched.

"Where are your parents?"

Curiosity shifted to terror once again in a moment, and the girl ducked behind the shrub again.

"...Around," she mumbled, with no subtlety. Maybe her parents were around, but the guilt in her voice already confirmed what Belxibis had assumed - her parents didn't know she was here. No parent in their right mind would let their child run off into the woods and exchange words with a stranger, nevermind a stranger who was a tiefling.

"Alright. Well, I'm sure they're worried about you, so how about you--"

The little girl was, evidently, not interested in listening to reason. She jumped out from behind the shrub and made a beeline for his staff, which had fallen beside him.

"Hey!"

His not-numb arm shot out to grab the top of the staff as she grabbed the base, and what followed was a very sad game of tug-of-war. It was only sad, really, because the little girl was making no progress at all, though she really was giving it her best effort.

Belxibis sighed, and finally decided to sit up, which elicited another groan from him and another yelp from the girl. This time though, she didn't flee. She seemed to really want to hold his staff. If he knew he could trust her with magical items, he might let her, but as it stood, he didn't trust her at all. Not as long as she kept trying to steal things.

His left arm stung with a million pins and needles as blood began to flow through it again, and once Belxibis was upright, he realized just how uncomfortable of a position he'd been lying on the ground in, because his neck and his back ached terribly. The knots he could feel in his shoulders were probably already there, but the awful "sleep" made them all the more prevalent, and he was pretty sure he was getting a new one just from this kid, who was still tugging at his staff, though with less and less energy each time. She looked close to giving up. Hopefully.

"Look, kid, it really would be best that you find your parents," he said. "Didn't they ever tell you not to talk to strangers?"

The girl finally relented with an overly dramatic groan, plopping down on the ground in defeat. She hung her head low for a moment in silence before it sprung back up and her face seemed filled with new life and determination.

"How tall are you?"

Belxibis couldn't help it anymore. He laughed.

"No! No!" the girl chided. "I need a ladder. Or a tall person. Can you climb?"

Bel chuckled, pulling his staff a little closer to himself and out of the girl's reach.

"What exactly is it that you're trying to reach that you need to enlist my help?"

The little girl stared into his eyes.

"Tabby."

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“I’m having a bad day," Paimon muttered.

Belxibis stared blankly at the stump and sighed.

"That makes two of us."

Eli stifled a cough beside him. He looked at the man and the rash on his face.

"Three of us."
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AlyTheBookworm says...



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80 Days B.N.D


Tyri came to with a splitting headache. Gritting her teeth against the sharp stabs of pain at her temples, she pulled herself up into a sitting position. Her limbs were still tangled in twisted blankets and bedsheets, and her skin was covered in a cold sweat.

Nothingness had swallowed her whole, and now it surrounded her on all sides, enveloping her in its hollow, chilly silence.

Confused and afraid, she immediately grasped for the surrogate sight provided by Primal Sense, but it was impossible to focus through the pain.

Tyri was blind again. Helpless.

Panic took over her thoughts, each breath coming in short gasps. She reached out into empty space and fumbled for the bedpost until she felt it under her fingers, then clung to it like it was a piece of driftwood in the ocean of nothing that had engulfed her. She waited, heart pounding, for the pain and panic to subside.

It seemed to take an eternity, but eventually the headache faded away. Her sudden and irrational bout of fear went with it, leaving only a faint sense of foolishness at the overreaction.

With a deep exhale, Tyri composed herself and the world was reformed around her. Primal Sense created a sphere of perception that spread out around the bed and brought the familiar items and landmarks of the bedroom into being. The fuzzy impressions of a table and a stool, the lumps of her woven sandals on the floor, the vague sense of her pack placed by the locked door that led to the inn's main hallway…

She sighed with relief, then slipped out of the cot. The rough grain of the wooden floorboards under her feet felt like an anchor, the comforting sensation reminding her of what and where she was.

Tyri had learned how to live without her sight, but blindness still felt like a curse at times.

When she had calmed down completely, she remembered the strange dream that had accompanied that horrible headache. The dream that had felt entirely too real. She'd been wrapped in what felt like vellum, an uncomfortable blazing heat at her feet, trapped and unable to move. She'd sensed six other people, five trapped with her and one that entered the room later. The old man who entered later had said something about bells tolling, and a prophecy, and a quest to save the world.

Tyri had been too surprised and disoriented to understand most of what he said, but she did remember that he'd instructed them to find each other. Then to flee Synilas.

The memory didn’t fade as dreams usually did, but stayed crisp and clear as she considered it. After washing her sweaty face and hands in a basin of water at one corner of the room, pulling on her dress, vest, and leggings, and finally braiding her hair, she grabbed her staff and pack and exited the room. She told herself that it had only been a dream.

But it hadn't felt like one.

Tyri had lost her sight late enough in life that her dreams were still mostly visual. Odd as it was, she never used Primal Sense in them. She either had sight as she had when she was young, or the dream was built solely on sounds and sensations.

That was why it was so strange that she'd been using Primal Sense in the dream she’d had that morning. As if she'd actually been awake…

Tyri shrugged it off and headed for the main hall of the inn. Either way, I can't think about this on an empty stomach.

The dining hall carried a grimmer and more subdued atmosphere than that of the evening before, with clusters of patrons spread around the room eating in silence or having muttered conversations amongst themselves. Tyri might have wondered at the change in mood if her thoughts weren’t already occupied.

Breakfast was porridge, bland but hot and filling. Tyri ate quickly, hoping to explore more of Yse before the day was gone, but idle thoughts about the strange dream kept intruding on those daydreams. The urgency in the old man's voice. The thrill of a mission.

A potential adventure.

Even as she shook her head at her own foolishness, a smile tugged at her mouth at the thought. Childhood dreams of being a hero like the characters in her storybooks came to mind, along with the bittersweet nostalgia that typically accompanied any memories of the time before the illness had shattered them.

But here she was anyways, traveling the world in spite of it. So maybe those dreams didn’t need to be a thing of the past. After mulling it over, she conceded that it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye out for the other magic-users. She doubted anything would come of it, but it was worth looking into.

Tyri had paid for the room and meal earlier, so she gathered her things and left as soon as she'd finished the food. She noticed minutes after leaving the building that something had changed since her arrival in Yse’s upper tier. There was an edge of tension to everyone she passed on the street, which struck her as odd. Everything, from the warm sunlight on her skin to the light breeze playing with her hair, spoke of a beautiful day.

But there was something bitter in the air, an acrid odor that made her uneasy. Smoke?

Keeping her head down, she pushed her way through the restless crowds and headed to the market with the intent of buying new shoes. Her woven sandals had served her well for the past few months of travel, but she doubted they'd last another week.

As she walked, she found herself enjoying the novelty of the narrow walkways that hung over the caverns, how some swung in the wind from ropes and others were sturdier platforms that interconnected and held lifts that ran from tier to tier. It was a system unique to Yse- another textbook passage come to life in front of her.

It took nearly half an hour of wandering before Tyri found the cobbler's shop, but the fact that it had been carved straight out of the side of the caverns was intriguing enough to make her forget the trouble of finding it. A few minutes of browsing turned up a suitable pair of leather boots, and she pointed them out to the shopkeeper.

As the man placed the boots on the counter, Tyri smiled politely at the fuzzy shape of his face and passed over the thirty gildar.

"Beautiful day, isn't it?"

The cobbler didn't answer immediately, and Tyri wished she could see his expression. She could make out a nod or a shake of the head, but anything more subtle than that was lost on her. Perhaps recognizing the blindness in her clouded eyes, he finally responded in a sour tone.

“Might be, if it weren’t for the Grand Rebels stirring up trouble again in the lower tier. Suppose you wouldn’t know anything about that, though. Anyone could see you’re not from Yse.”

A jab of unease ran through her, and her smile faded into a concerned frown. “There’s been another Grand Rebellion, then?”

She remembered learning about the Grand Rebellions of Yse in her studies years ago. Over the past several decades, the frequent conflicts between the upper and lower tiers of Yse, driven by the barons’ tireless struggles for power, had continued to divide and isolate the three tiers from one another.

Tyri remembered reading various scholars’ thoughts on the interesting effects of the Rebellions on Yse’s subcultures and ways of life. Then, she’d been reading about something that seemed distant and abstract. It almost hadn’t been real- just words on a page. The rebellions’ resulting damage and casualties had only been numbers, vague statistics.

But here she was in Yse, several years later. And it was all very real and solid around her. What a strange realization to have.

“Yeah, there’s been a Grand Rebellion,” the cobbler said. His tone softened slightly, losing some of its vitriol. “My advice to you; don’t stick around for long. Anyone who stands out in a crowd runs the risk of becoming a suspect- a potential Grand Rebel- and taken in for ‘questioning’.”

“And no offense, but you’re very obviously an outsider here. A little blind waif like you shouldn’t be traveling alone.”

The last comment made Tyri freeze. She felt her mouth harden into a thin line, and her face heated up. She bowed her head. “Thank you for the advice, sir. But I can look out for myself.”

She stuffed her purchased boots into her pack and swiftly exited the shop with a bitter taste in her mouth. She hated to agree with the man after that unflattering description, but she soon had the sinking realization that he was right. With a Rebellion going on, it was probably best she leave the city. Time to move on again.

Now that she knew what was going on, the signs around her of the recent conflict seemed obvious- and what happened next confirmed it for her.

The crowds shifted around Tyri, pressing up against the sides of the road and drawing Tyri along with them. She found herself crammed between the tightly-packed bodies of a tide of taller men and women, her ears full of indecipherable chatter, a hundred conversations overlapping. It was intensely uncomfortable, the noise and the heat and the closeness of strangers against her. She tried to push her way out and make her way back to the center of the street, but someone grabbed her arm and held her back.

“What are you doing, girl? Don’t you see the soldiers?”

Hesitating, Tyri stopped and listened over the murmur of the crowd. Metal clinked and jangled- it sounded like swinging chains- and there were the sounds of some kind of procession, dozens of tired feet dragging on the ground and scuffing up dirt. Authoritative voices shouted orders and reprimands over the din of a hundred angry voices as the crowd began to jeer and yell.

“Who are they? What’s going on?” she asked.

“You don’t already know? The guards arrested them for suspected complicity in the rebellion.”

“Grand Rebels got what they deserved,” another voice added somewhere nearby, full of dark satisfaction.

Her mind took these details and filled in the rest of the picture. Soldiers with a procession of shackled prisoners- the suspected rebels. Likely being taken to prison.

Tyri felt sick. She squirmed her way out of the crowd, pushing and jostling her way until she found a clear spot where she could breathe.

Primal Sense hadn’t been much help among such a large crowd, leaving her with only a jumble of confused sensations and muddled, overlapping forms without detail. But now that she stood apart from them, her surroundings came into clearer focus and she sensed the fuzzy outlines of the soldiers and a line of prisoners marching down the thoroughfare.

Several of the onlookers had begun to throw rocks, and a captive cried out. He fell to his hands and knees on the street, bringing the entire procession to an abrupt halt. A soldier appeared and landed a kick in the fallen man’s side with a loud curse. Shaking, the prisoner picked himself up and lurched back into place, allowing the slow march to continue.

Tyri felt her heart wrench with pity, followed by a flare of sudden anger at the crowd, the soldiers, and Yse itself. Even if some of the captives were Grand Rebels- rather than poor fools who’d been arrested for being at the wrong place at the wrong time as she suspected- no one deserved the harsh treatment and humiliation she’d witnessed.

She approached a figure standing off to the side and tapped their shoulder.

“Excuse me. What will happen to those prisoners?”

The woman only half-turned around, and seemed to lose all interest in Tyri after a first glance. Her answer was terse. “They’re to be hanged.”

Tyri felt a chill. But before she could respond or question her further, the woman had disappeared into the faceless throng where Tyri couldn’t distinguish any one person from another.

Move on. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t help, and if you try, you’ll only fail them.

She balled her fist at her side, clutching her staff in the other. Perhaps she was blind, but that didn’t mean she was helpless. There had to be something…

Then she sensed something different.

It was a rising tension, a trembling of the earth beneath her feet. She turned around… and saw something. A glowing mass, a kind of blindingly bright aura spreading out from a single point somewhere behind the cavern wall. Tyri saw it for only a stunned split second before the side of the cavern exploded and falling rocks thundered down into the street of Yse’s upper tier.

“Diaphulassa!”

Tyri immediately ducked down, raised her staff above her head, and shouted the spell. She couldn’t hear her own voice over the din of crashing stone and screams, but the shield charm seemed to have worked. She was alive, and evidently un-crushed and still in one whole piece.

Blood pounding in her ears, she straightened up and struggled to gain focus again. The adrenaline rush was making her jittery, causing her whole body to tremble. Her hands were shaking. That nervous energy made her want to run, to find the unseen enemy and fight, to do something- anything other than stand still, really.

Instead of following those impulses, she closed her eyes and breathed. She tried to compose herself and concentrate through the noise. Primal Sense wouldn’t be of any help to her otherwise.

It was difficult, but eventually she managed to slow her breathing and calm down. The world came into being, and she could sense her surroundings again.

The thoroughfare had dissolved into complete chaos. Jagged sections of the rockface had fractured in the explosion and broken off from the cavern wall to tumble down into the street, crushing several buildings into mounds of shattered wood, glass, and stone. The crowd had scattered, each person running in a different direction like so many ants fleeing raindrops. Panicked shouts and screams filled the air, and it seemed that no one knew what exactly was going on.

Tyri considered her options. She couldn’t join the others fleeing the unseen threat. There would undoubtedly be people wounded and trapped by the rubble who would need her help.

The captives.

She’d wanted to help them. Now she had her chance. The explosion had created the perfect distraction- and now the soldiers guarding the prisoners had scattered along with the crowd. Leaving the shackled men and women to be crushed by falling rocks.

Tyri ran towards the broken procession, shaking her head in disgust.

Nearby, a blurred figure in chains struggled to free themselves from under a fallen pillar. Tyri approached them and raised her staff.

Kouphizei,” she murmured.

She leaned down and helped the man pull himself out from underneath the pillar, which was now much lighter than it had been originally thanks to the charm’s effect. He leaned against her, and she helped him to his feet. After unlocking his manacles with the handy oukleo charm she’d learned somewhere along her travels, she flashed him a gentle smile that was a great deal lighter and more carefree than anything she was feeling at the moment.

“You’ll be fine now. Should probably get far away from this place, though.”

The man didn’t need any persuasion. He limped away down the street, gradually fading into a distant, fuzzy smear before exiting Tyri’s sphere of perception entirely.

Tyri headed to the next group of prisoners and freed them in a similar fashion, with plenty of friendly smiles and words of encouragement that she wasn’t sure any of them were able to register in their panic. She’d aided less than a dozen in their escape when she noticed the magic beginning to take its toll on her. Her hands were trembling, and a cold sweat had broken out along her arms and the back of her neck. Primal Sense was becoming more difficult to concentrate on, causing everything to flicker and slip in and out of focus around her.

Of course, that’s when the soldiers decided to return and retrieve the prisoners they’d left behind. Only to find a heap of empty shackles and, standing among them, one sickly-looking girl on the verge of throwing up or passing out. Perhaps both.

Just my luck.

She briefly considered coming up with a story to explain her innocence, but… she was an absolutely horrible liar.

“Well. Better stick to what I’m good at,” she muttered to herself. She flashed a weak grin at the line of approaching soldiers and whispered the spell under her breath.

“Ktizo homichle.”

Tyri couldn’t see the effects of the glamour take place, but she faintly sensed the cloud of fog she’d summoned roll up from the ground. The soldiers paused, glancing at each other in what Tyri hoped was confusion and apprehension. Then they starting walking towards her magical fog bank, weapons bristling, which wasn’t the response she’d had in mind.

A pounding headache began to come on from the effort of creating the mist glamour, but Tyri forced herself to run anyways, using the illusionary clouds to cover her escape.

In the minutes that followed, she was able to stagger off behind some damaged buildings and hide in a sheltered alcove that was, coincidentally, right next to the gaping hole left in the cavern wall after the explosion. Her last thought before huddling down and closing her eyes was, I hope nothing comes out of this hole and eats me.

Image


Tyri woke an indefinite amount of time later to something poking her arm. She’d curled up in a ball, her arms wrapped around her legs with one hand still clutching her staff. Her whole body felt tired and achy, all-around horrible, and a bit of a headache still lingered. With a groan, she batted a hand at the small creature that had nudged her awake.

It seemed like.. a stray cat? She wasn’t sure. At the moment, it was hard to bring Primal Sense into focus, making everything seemed blurry and uncertain.

Her hand brushed the cat and Tyri recoiled, jerking her hand back in shock. She’d felt something hard and cold and smooth. Little bumps and ridges that covered the animal’s skin like scales.

“Oh. You’re not a cat, are you?” she laughed nervously.

Another presence came near, and Tyri tried to stand, holding her staff up defensively. Her legs wobbled in protest, and she nearly fell over.

“Hey!” a voice hissed. “Why’d you run off like that?”

The scaled creature butted its small head against Tyri’s legs again. As she tried not to stumble over her own feet and fall over, the figure appeared at the entrance to the alcove and froze.

“Uh… hello.”
  





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ScarlettFire says...



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80 Days B.N.D


"Three of us."

Eli couldn't stop the next
cough even as he nodded towards the blue tiefling's--Bel's--comment. Ugh, healing sucked sometimes. But also, he wouldn't give it up for anything in the world. He just wished it didn't hurt so damn much...

"So, what next?" he asked, and quickly smothered another cough. And that was the downside to healing magic; he would always take on the person's injuries or hurts--or in this case, the sickness--that they were suffering from.

Bel looked down to Paimon, his tail flicking around his legs. "You don't happen to know where another tree might be, would you?"

"What? Like this one?" Paimon patted the log she sat on.

"Yes, like that one," Eli muttered and rubbed at his face. His attention drifted for a second and he had to yank it back to the big blue tiefling and Paimon. Lady flicked the back of his head with an extended wing.

Pay attention, Father! They're discussing this oh-so-important cure tree root thing.

I'm trying to, Lady!

Try harder! With that, she huffed out a breath and hopped off his shoulder onto Paimon's, then curled around and over her head to jump up onto Bel's shoulder. He watched with growing jealousy as she stretched up on her hind legs, wings flared, and began to smooch at the base of Bel's horn.

"Traitor," he muttered, glaring at Lady's flared wings and swaying tail.

Bel looked a little stiff as Lady rubbed her face against Bel's ear, but he lifted his hand to scratch under Ladys chin and smiled. Lady began purring and Eli's expression soured further. The little brat was such a traitor. How dare she like the tiefling more than him!

"I have no idea," Paimon muttered, taking another puff on her pipe. "That was the only one in the area that I was aware of."

"Well, it's not like we were headed back, were we?" Eli asked, crossing his arms and trying to resist the urge to scratch at the rashes on his neck and wrist.

Bel's golden eyes flicked from Eli's hands to his face. "You need medicine too, don't you."

It sounded like it was supposed to be a question, but it came out like a statement. Eli waved him off almost dismissively. "No, I don't." He shrugged. "I'm a healer, we always heal fast. This?" He lifted his hand and shook the sleeve of his robe down to show them the extent of the rashes--they extended halfway down his forearm. "This should be gone in a few days."

"Ah. Didn't know you were a healer," the tiefling replied, still petting Lady, who was still smooching up to his ear and horn, purring quite loudly now. Eli shot her a glare.

"I thought the healer robes would be a dead give away," he drawled sarcasticly.

"Alright! We, uh, should probably get moving," Paimon interjected cheerily, hopping down off the tree's dead trunk. "Since, you know, the roots ain't here anymore."

"If we want to keep looking for this type of root," said Bel. "Then I might be able to help with that. If you think there might be another like this in the area." He kept petting Lady with one hand while he lifted his staff a little in the other.

"Oooh, that is a brillant idea, Bel!"

Eli scoffed and half-turned away from Paimon and Bel, sighing heavily through his nose. Healing that girl was worth it, but dealing with her advanced stage of infection? That was not fun. And now Lady had sort of abandoned him for the big blue tiefling. Traitorous little cat...

Bel grinned at Paimon's enthusiasm, and a shy grin spread on his face before he nodded in full confidence. The blue and purple stone at the top of his staff glowed faintly, and he tapped the bottom against the forest floor.

"It'll start pulsing if we get close to it," he explained. "Doesn't look like there's any nearby, but we can start walking."

Paimon gave a short round of applause as she started forward, deeper into the forest.

Eli heaved another sigh and turned to follow, watching Lady as she hopped up onto Bel's head and settled into a comfortable sitting positon between his horns. Cats. He shook his head and ducked the branch that Bel failed to hold back for him, grumbling a little. Eli still head a headache from all the prophecy-bells-fire magic bullshit and he really, really didn't want to deal with any save-the-world prophecy crap in the first place.

Speaking of prophecy bullshit...

He squinted at both Bel and Paimon. Now that he thought about it, weren't these two in that...room when he heard the bells and did the weird vision-magic stuff? Yeah, yeah, they were. Crap... He was already mixed up in the prophecy bullshit, wasn't it?

"Hey, um... Bel? Paimon?" he asked, wincing when a branch caught him in the face as he hurried to catch up to him. They turned towards him slowly, frowning. Well, Paimon was frowning. Bel's expression was a little harder to read. "Did...either of you guys hear, like, bells and have a really funky little trip to some room full of fire and scrolls?"

Paimon's eyebrows knotted together. "Wait, that was real?"

"Uh, I think so? Maybe?" Eli shrugged. "I'm...not entirely sure, to be honest..."

Paimon gazed at her pipe ruefully. "If it was real, this sunweed isn't nearly as good as I thought."

"If both of you remember it too, then yes. It was real," Bel said, his expression sober. "I remember seeing the two of you, and there was another human girl, and a boy... and the old man."

Eli grimaced, gingerly touching the tiny cut on his cheek. "Oh, the old man. He was kind of...weird, wasn't he?"

"Weird, yes. And full of conviction," Bel answered.

"He was raving about something, something, end of the world and save if before it explodes, I think," Paimon paraphrased very loosely.

"Sounds about right," Eli muttered, lowering his hand a little to scratch at the rash on his neck. "Did he even give us, like...a timeline for this end-of-the-world prophecy thing or what? Because I'm having a little trouble...recalling exactly what he said."

"He didn't really give us a timeline. He just said we're all part of a prophecy and we need to find each other and flee Synilas," Bel said, looking down at the stone on his staff. It was still glowing a steady dull light. "Apparently the others are in Yse, unless you missed them in Syna, which is where I'm assuming you two came from, with the bluecough cure plan and everything."

"Hmm... Yeah, we came from Syna..." He frowned and yanked his hand away from his neck, tilting his head a little and ducking under another branch. "Yse, you say? Then I guess we can either....find the roots and go back to Syna..." Eli trailed off and glanced at the others, shrugging. "Or head towards Yse and find the other two?"

Paimon and Bel glanced at each other, sharing the same questioning look. Eli had a feeling he knew what they were thinking, and he kind of agreed. It wasn't like they had anything else worth doing and, well, they couldn't just go around overthrowing town mayors, could they? That would probably cause way too much political upheavel, and Eli had had more than enough of politics thanks to his family.

"The old guy didn't say anything else useful, did he?" Paimon asked.

Bel looked down at the ground. "Well... he also mentioned we'd be getting 'special powers' over the next few nights." He paused. "Whatever that means."

"Huh," Eli muttered, "more magic. Yay."

"Hey, maybe one of your new special powers will cure the bluecough," Paimon suggested with a dry sort of optimism. "And we won't need more roots."

Eli snorted. "That's a pipe dream, Paimon."

Paimon smirked and raised her pipe, giving it another puff. He chuckled and shook his head, gaze straying back to Lady who was still happily perched on Bel's head, between his horns. She was really enjoying being higher up than his shoulder, wasn't she?

"So, Bel," he began, eyeing the taller man up and down. "Big blue tiefling guy, what is it that you do? I'm a healer. Paimon deals drugs. You have to have a profession, right?"

Bel smiled and bowed his head in the slightest nod. It was obvious that he was trying not to disturb the cat on his head. "Runic smuggler, at your service."

Eli laughed. "I'm surrounded by criminals, dear goddess!"

"Hey, we're not murderers, you know," Paimon quipped.

"Well, true," he conceded, still chuckling. "But you sell drugs, Paimon, and big blue over there is a smuggler of, apparently, forbidden magical objects and ingredients, so." Eli shrugged, grinning slightly. "Still criminals."

Bel shrugged with one shoulder. "Gotta make a living somehow."

"Pay the bills," Paimon added with a shrug. "You know, the usual."

He laughed again and shook his head. "You are both shameless..."

Image


It turned out that they weren't...actually that far off the main road and stumbled upon it quite by accident. Eli sighed and glanced up and down the road then over at Bel and Paimon. Lady had perked up a little, her eyes tilted forwards as if she could hear something that they couldn't.

"Well," Eli said with a shrug. "I guess we went 'round in a circle, huh?"

"I'd wager to say it was more of an oval," Paimon said with a grin.

He waved a hand. "Pfft, semantics," he muttered, eyes drawn to Bel's staff. The pulse was glowing a bit...faster now. "Or technicalities. Whatever...you want....to call it..." He trailed off as the glow grew bright and frantic, and blinked. "Uh, Bel?"

"Yeah?"

"Your, uh, staff... It's pulsing?"

"I know," Bel said, moving forward with more deliberate steps, eyes flicking back to his staff. His eyes narrowed with a focused gaze as he walked straight into a bush off the side of the road. His staff was blinking like some kind of dying star, and as Bel knelt down, the light went out entirely. They could hear Bel digging around the bush, breaking through a few leafy branches in the proces. When he got up, it looked like he was hiding something behind his back.

He turned to them with a satisfied little smirk on his face and then strode back towards them, making the reveal. Bel pulled a small piece of what definitely looked like a tree root from behind his back and tossed it up in the air, catching it.

"Look what I found," he said.

Eli laughed, delighted, and hurried forwards to snatch it out of Bel's hand, holding it up for inspection. "Oh, it must have fallen out of their bag or something on their way through here!" he exclaimed, turning it over in his hands. "And this is some quality riander root, too! Damn, this is worth...shit...hundreds of gildar!"

Paimon reached for the root, starry-eyed. "Ohhhh, you beauty! Come to Paimy, baby!"

"Well, don't everybody thank me at once," Bel teased.

"Thank yoooou, Bellybuddy," Paimon singsonged, grinning widely. "This is a great find!"

"And there's more than enough to treat me," Eli said, smiling at Bel. "We can sell any left overs at the next town or village, too. Thank you so much, Bel."

Bel smiled widely, revealing his sharper-than-your-average-human's teeth. "Not a problem."

"Let's make some cure and get going, then," Paimon said, still a little starry-eyed. "Don't we have peeps to find in Yse?"

"We do," Eli murmured softly, eyes on the riander root. "So, Paimon, what else do we need for the cure? I think I might have everything in my bag but I wanted to double-check before we get brewing... I also want to head back to that village for the night." He glanced up at the darkening sky. "It's getting kind of late and I'd rather not be on the road in the middle of the night."

Paimon's gaze shifted around, her hands covering her pockets. "Mmh, Elidyr, buddy, I think you're right."

"I usually am," he said with a chuckle, glancing towards Paimon, then Bel. "Unfortunately, it's not enough for Syna... Hmm..."

"And," Paimon added, frowning, "we'd probably never make it back into town now..."

"Then..."

"What about that village we were just at?" Bel suggested, and Eli glanced towards him. Lady tilted her head and hopped back down onto Eli's shoulder, purring softly. "If it's not enough for Syna, why not give it to that village?"

Eli squinted at him. "Are you sure you're a tiefling?"

"Yes?" Bel gave him a teasing look. His tail curled and flicked around his legs in a playful manner. "Why so unsure all of a sudden?"

"I mean, you do still have the horns, right?" he asked, smirking a little. "They're not, like...an illusion or something, are they?"

Bel laughed. "Why don't you ask the cat? She spent enough time leaning on them to know whether they're real or not."

Eli blinked and turned his head to eye Lady from the corner of his eyes. "Lady?"

Definitely a tiefling, Father, she said dryly, whiskers twitching in apparent amusement. Those horns were surprisingly comfortable to lean against, you know.

He snorted and rolled his eyes. "She says they're real...and that you're 'definitely a tiefling'." He smirked a little wider. "By the way, they're surprisingly comfortable."

Bel leaned forward, bringing his face a little closer to the cat's. "And you are quite heavy," he said with a mischievous smile.

Lady sniffed delicately. I am not that heavy!

Eli snickered and watched as Bel laughed, reaching out to pet Lady behind the ears. "Oh, shh, I'm only teasing," the tiefling said. "You weigh as much as a feather."

And now he is calling me weightless! I don't know whether to scratch his eyes out or purr loudly, Father!

I suggest the purring, he told her, smiling fondly at the way she was tilting her head into the touch. I don't think he'd appreciate being scratched right now, Lady.

Hmph, she muttered, but she did, indeed, start purring loudly.

"I think she likes you, Bel."

Bel rubbed beneath her chin with a big grin. "I like her, too."

Paimon cleared her throat, dragging their attention away from Lady and back to her. "So," she said, waving a hand up and down the road. "Shouldn't we, like, get off the road or something? Before a patrol of some sort comes along and catches us?"

Eli sighed and pointed back towards the village. "She has a point. Shall we?"

"Let's go," Bel agreed, nodding towards the side of the road. With that, they were off back through the forest towards the village.
"With friends like you, who needs a medical license?" - Paimon, Aether's Heart


“It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” - Grace Hopper.
  





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soundofmind says...



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79 Days B.N.D


"We're lost," Eli groaned, trudging behind Paimon with dragging feet. Lady was on his shoulders and sent a glance back at Bel, twitching her wings. She looked like she was getting restless.

Paimon stopped, pointing at a tree up ahead with the confidence of a seasoned traveler.

"I remember this tree," she declared.

Eli didn't slow down quite fast enough and bumped into Paimon, causing her pointed finger to waver and Lady to flutter off of him, gliding over to Bel's head.

Bel honestly wasn't sure how he felt about being treated like a tree. He knew Lady was just a cat, and at the end of the day it didn't really matter that much, but he just didn't want Lady thinking sitting on his head gave her permission to do things like sleep on his face, which she had done the night before. Breathing was something he liked to do, and cat fur blocking his nostrils kind of got in the way of that.

Bel glanced at the trees around them. It was the middle of the day, the sun was high, and the skies were clear. They had some time to course correct, if they could just figure out where Paimon had led them and fix things. Maybe letting Paimon lead the way hadn't been the best idea.

Eli was muttering again. "Did anyone bring a map?"

Bel's eyes lit up, and he grabbed for his hip, digging a folded up piece of paper out of one of his many pouches. "I've got a map," he said, which seemed to elicit immediate relief from Eli and mild interest from Paimon. He felt confident as he pulled it out, happy that they were happy he was being helpful, but as he started unfolding it, and both Eli and Paimon drew to either side of him to look over his shoulders at it, suddenly he felt very, very self conscious.

They didn't notice as his tail wrapped around his legs.

The map was hand-drawn, and a little inexact, but it was functional. He never thought to waste money on a big professionally drawn map that he was only going to write all over and fold up a million times, so he made one himself, and it worked for his needs. But no one else had ever really looked at it besides himself, and though it was only a map, and not some secret letter, he knew it probably wasn't what they were expecting.

"I don't recognize any of these cities," Paimon said. "What's the square one?"

Bel laughed a little. "Oh. They're not cities, actually. This is a map of my clients."

The look Eli gave him was downright scathing. "You have a map," he said slowly, gaze narrowing, "of your clients...? And I thought this was going to be a real map!" He sniffed and stalked off a few feet, mumbling to himself under his breath. Bel sighed.

Paimon nudged Bel with her elbow. "Maybe bluecough is just the secondary symptom of the stick up his ass. Don't worry, with your map and my navigation skills, we'll find our way." She tilted her head and gave a carefree grin.

Bel snorted and looked back down at his map, trying to place where they were. The last client he'd just visited was Lillith (the star symbol on the map) - and he knew Vahan (the wobbly circle) was close to Yse... he figured they were somewhere in the middle. Sure, it was an approximate guess, but they were going in the right direction, at least. Bel didn't have cities marked down but he did have most of the major roads, and quite a few little ones only a few people knew about, and it looked like they weren't far off. They were just getting frustrated because anything off of the main roads tended to look the same. It was just trees and grass and rocks.

"The river should be this way," he said, pointing to the left. East. "Which we just need to keep following and it'll lead us straight to Yse. Once we hit the water we won't need to worry so much about a map, we can just let the river lead us."

"Perfect!" Paimon said, clapping a hand on his back. Well, more his backpack than anything. But he understood the sentiment. It was strange, though. Human people especially didn't normally get so comfortable with him.

He wondered if this was how humans felt all the time - generally accepted, with nothing strange thought of them at all. They were just there.

Maybe Paimon and Eli knew other tieflings or Fey'ri. That might explain why they didn't seem too concerned about his presence. Or maybe it was because of the prophecy, and him being a part of it made him more trustworthy by association. If some human man said he was important for saving the world, then they were required to tolerate him, right?

"So, are we less lost now?" Eli asked, rejoining the pair and glancing between them meaningfully.

"Yes, less lost," Bel confirmed, folding up the map before anyone could stare at it for too long. "I know where to go, now."

As he stepped through the trees to the left, he could see Lady's tail drop in front of his eyes, swaying. He laughed and poked it with the tip of his staff.

Hey! That's my tail!

Bel's eyes widened. He didn't the know the cat could talk. And in his mind?

"Of course it is," he retorted. "I know that. It's just in the way. I need to see."

"Seriously?" Eli grumbled from behind him just as Lady let out a soft noise of apology.

Sorry! she said and yanked it back up and out of the way. Better?

"Now you're speaking telepathically to him, too!" Eli sounded furious. "Traitorous damn cat!"

"Wait, the cat can talk?" Paimon asked, looking over at them in confusion.

"Apparently, she can," Bel confirmed.

"Of course she can talk!" Eli hissed, sounding even more furious. "She's a magical creature. Have you two seriously never seen a magical creature before?"

Bel turned his head to look back at Eli, slowly, meeting his eyes with his eyebrows raised.

"Are you going to be alright, Eli?"

Eli huffed and raised his eyebrows, smiling weakly. "What makes you ask me that?"

Bel smiled. "You seem stressed."

"Oh? I'm not stressed." He laughed a little... tensely. "Not at all..."

Paimon walked between them, giving Bel a look. "That's what stressed people say."

"I am not stressed, Paimon."

He's jealous, actually, Lady said smoothly, sending him a smug look from the top of Bel's head.

Oh.

Bel craned his eyes up at Lady, then he looked back at Eli.

"Lady!" Eli hissed, sounding betrayed.

What? It's true!

Jealous over a cat's affection? Bel had never been anyone's favorite, not even a cat's. At least, not up until this point.

Besides, Lady said, with what sounded like a snobby sniff. He's taller. So it was all about height, then. Some part in Bel couldn't help but feel disappointed.

"LADY!"

"Man, I really wish I knew what that cat was saying," Paimon said wistfully. "I bet they must be pretty good insults to get under his skin like that."

Bel looked over at her. "Something like that."

"She said she likes Bel better," Eli muttered sourly, crossing his arms and pouting, "because he's taller..."

Bel slowed his steps so he was beside Eli, and gave Eli a pat on the shoulder.

"I may have height, but with you she has history, and that is something I cannot replace. Give her some time. She'll come back around." He gave Eli a big grin, and patted his shoulder again for good measure.

"Thanks for the reassurance, Bel," he murmured, offering Bel a tired smile. "It helps, a lot."

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Belxibis was right. They did find their way back to the river, and they were walking in the right direction.

The way beside the river was rather easy. There was no road, but there were many footpaths, either trodden by travelers or deer passing through. They made good time, finding their way back towards the main road while the sun was still above, with at least an hour or so of sunlight to spare.

Belxibis found himself at the head of their trio, pushing through the trees and ducking branches the others probably didn't have to. The trees were fairly tall by the waterside, and they stretched up to the heavens like spindly little fingers. The sky was clear, aside from a few wispy clouds, like threadbare ghosts around the sun. It was getting consistently warmer before nightfall, and Belxibis was starting to sweat underneath all of his armored layers.

Mind you, he was used to wearing it all the time. That, of course, didn't mean that the discomfort went unnoticed, just ignored.

Paimon skipped up beside him, her muddy cloak fluttering and bouncing behind her. Bel admired how she seemed to always keep a free-flowing, cheerful spirit about her. Especially when she'd had such a bad day prior.

"So what exactly is your staff for?" she asked. "Finding riander root?"

"That," he said. "And other things." He glanced back at Eli. Lady had returned to him for the meantime, resting on his shoulder. "Namely finding the things my clients request of me."

Paimon's brows raised, and she looked at his staff with a scheming look in her eyes.

"Oh, that's lovely!" she said, but the way she said it, it sounded like she wanted it. Bel smirked.

"Well, after we get to Yse--"

"Oh!" Paimon exclaimed, running ahead of them. "The road! The road!"

Conversation abandoned, Bel rushed to follow, but he kept quiet. He could hear murmuring up ahead beyond the trees, and he didn't know if it was good or bad. Eli followed close behind, and the three of them huddled together in the cover of the trees, looking out onto the main road.

Well, that was interesting.

A large group of people was gathered on the main road, moving away from Yse at a snail's pace. The group numbered only a dozen or so, but it was big enough that they were spilling out into the forest beside the road, like a pill too big to swallow. It was obvious they had never traveled on a path before, as they were making so much noise, even a deaf hunter could find them. Bel crouched down behind a bush and squinted, trying to get a better look at them to figure out who they were, and what they were up to. Many of the people looked tired, some flustered, but most of them ill-prepared for a journey. A few looked dirty, and a few were wounded - though the issues looked minor.

Bel glanced at Eli and Paimon before putting a finger to his lips and inching forward to get a better look. The group looked like the kind of people fleeing a city in a hurry.

"Refugees," he said, hushed.

"Where do you think they're from?" Paimon asked.

"Yse, maybe?" Eli offered.

He stayed low and ducked down behind a rock, wishing his horns weren't so tall that it felt so impossible to look over the edge of anything without them standing up like little markers that said: "I'm here!"

Thankfully, though, it didn't look like anyone had noticed, and they'd been quiet enough not to draw any attention to themselves - at least, so far.

Paimon and Eli had snuck up beside him, joining him in his new hiding spot.

"The other two from the dream," Eli whispered. "They could be there."

Bel squinted, scanning the faces. He didn't recognize anyone.

"What about those guys?" Paimon whispered, pointing as subtly as one could point with her finger to a group of people in hoods, who definitely weren't among the refugees.

Bel's hand went to his sword at his side as he watched what were clearly thieves jump on the refugees with greedy hands, snatching for the sacks and the bags of the vulnerable. The people had only begun to stir as Bel started to rise to his feet, and a whistle sounded. Paimon pulled at his arm and Bel ducked back down, frowning.

The whistle rang out, high pitched and piercing. Lady started to mutter something incomprehensible in his head and she fluttered her wings, and smothered her face in Eli's robes. The three watched as armored soldiers rode up around the group, like they were rounding them up, and drove off the thieves with little force. Their very presence there seemed to be enough to send the thieves running.

The refugees, however, didn't look too happy about being rescued. Their chatter started to evolve into a worried panic, but all of them looked to frozen or afraid to do much of anything.

The soldiers circled them, riding on large, two-legged birds that had big, unblinking eyes. Belxibis found them a little unsettling.

"Calm down. Don't worry, civilians," - which always did wonders to inspire trust - "We're from Synua. We're here to escort you home and ensure that you make it there safely."

Escort. Sure. This didn't sound like that kind of situation.

"Maybe we should go..." Paimon suggested in a hushed whisper.

Eli nodded in agreement, but as the three of them turned around, they found themselves face to face with three big beaks, and a mage soldier parting between the birds, snapping cuffs on Eli without announcement. Paimon was grabbed next, and Bel looked with dread as another soldier came up to him and grabbed his him by his gauntlet.

The human soldier looked up at him in disgust, but Belxibis could see fear behind his eyes. There was always a little fear mixed in.

"I didn't know there were tieflings in Yse," the Synulan soldier muttered.

"You lot, are coming with us," the other soldier explained, much like an order.

"To Yse?" Paimon asked.

A stiff nod.

Paimon smiled as the cuffs were tightened. "Perfect!"

Image


They had been walking for a while.

"Someone please tell me how this is any better than being lost in the forest," Eli whined, pitiably.

"Hey!" Paimon piped up. "Look at the bright side, sourpuss, at least we're headed to Yse! That was the plan anyways!"

Belxibis was quiet, caught in the motion of the crowd, moving around them. He could feel the flow of their feet. A slow, slothly pace, trudging forward at the guidance of the soldiers ahead and behind them, and walking on the sides of the road as if to herd them in like sheep.

He couldn't imagine staying in chains like this, but even if he escaped, he didn't know if the rest of the refugees would make it free. And that was if they did escape. If they didn't... well, he didn't really want to think about that. Bel's tail hung low.

The sun was close to setting, and the sky was getting darker. A warm orange spread along the horizon when the sun dipped behind the distant mountains, and Bel couldn't believe it had already been a day.

Paimon was saying something behind him to Eli, but Bel wasn't really paying attention. There were thoughts he couldn't seem to form in his head, so he was just sitting there - well, standing there, walking - with the emptiness.

He felt so naked without his staff. He hadn't realized how attached he was to it until it was confiscated from him.

He sighed, kicking at the dirt.

Then he felt something land on him.

At first, he thought it was Lady - but Lady had never nibbled at his ears, or his horns. And she had never been so heavy. Gods, was it heavy. He shook his head, rubbing his ear against his armor to itch it, but the weight only shifted to the top of his head and grabbed his horns.

The emerald green face of a dragon hatchling dropped down in front of him, tilting its head in greeting before it hung forward, dangling from his horns.

That hurt.

"Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" he fussed, pinching his eyes shut as he shook his head and tried to swipe at it with his cuffed hands. Evidently, closing his eyes made his aim horrible. That, or the dragon was holding on very tight - because it didn't budge, and instead licked his face. Its tongue caught on one of his eyelids and practically pried it open. He shook his head again and snapped his eye shut. Then the dragon tongue licked his lips and he spat, sputtering.

Finally, the dragon leaped down from his head and into his arms instead, leaving Belxibis's horns aching. The dragon looked up at him as if to smile, and then wrapped around his cuffs and burned through them.

The dragon curled its tail around his wrist, perched on his freed hand.

"Where is your owner?" Bel asked, but received no answer. The dragon fluttered off to the others, wasting no time climbing on their heads before it burned through their cuffs as well, jumping from person to person to free them.

It was a good thing it was dark, otherwise, Belxibis was afraid the soldiers would notice the little creature running around.

Well, okay. Maybe the dragon didn't get noticed, but Belxibis being out of his cuffs did.

"Hey!" a soldier shouted. "How'd you get free?"

The soldier was already riding towards him, pushing through the others around him. Another soldier was alerted, and close behind.

Bel lifted up his hands with a weak laugh.

"My hands slipped out," he joked. The soldier didn't think it was funny.

It was at about that moment that the guards started realizing many of the prisoners had escaped, and they started brandishing their weapons, pointing into the group.

Belxibis braced himself as the mounted soldier came riding towards him. They'd taken his sword, his chain, and his staff - and all three of them were on a different bird being ridden on the other side of the crowd. He'd have to work with his hands and get creative until he could get his weapons.

He ducked the soldier's sword as it swung through the air and pushed himself forward, between the guard and the dragon, who was still working hard to free everyone. He couldn't see the other guards. They were somewhere in front. He needed to buy that little dragon some time.

When the sword came at him again he sidestepped and hit it at the palm with his armored fist. The guard lost their grip and dropped the weapon, and Bel was about to reach down to pick it up when the other guard came at him with an axe, slashing it wildly, with the confidence of someone who never held an axe before but was determined to ham it up. Bel smirked.

He dodged a swing of the axe, backing up ever so slightly before taking the opening and ramming forward into the guard's chest. He could hear the guard let out an audible "oof" before they fell forward (well, backward, for the guard) together. The axe flew out of the soldier's hands, and Bel's full weight hit the soldier when they hit the dirt. The soldier let out a breathless wheeze while Bel began to push himself back up.

Oop - maybe a little too soon. A sword came down, barely scraping his horn. Bel dodged out of the way before springing back up.

There was another guard - because of course there was another guard - with a sword, but this one actually seemed trained. They knew what they were doing with it, and he dodged again, but as he spun to the side, someone's feet met the back of his knees, and he stumbled to the ground backwards, landing on his back with a thump. All at once, the three soldiers converged upon him, and the skilled swordsman stepped forward, raising his blade, ready to strike.

Bel heard a panicked meow and the squeal of a child. He couldn't give up so easy.

As the blade came down upon him, something powerful overtook him. An energy, coursing through him, and a fury, burning deep within his chest. Raging defiance. Refusal to accept his fate, and the fates of the others, if he laid down and took it.

His golden eyes turned a glowing, vibrant orange.

His hands flew up and he grabbed the sword, snapping it over his knee. It felt like snapping a toothpick. The blade shattered to the ground in a million little pieces, and at this point, there was a bit of a commotion.

The other guards out front were riding back towards them.

Bel stood up and grabbed the collar of the now swordless soldier, punched him square in the face, and then drop-kicked him out into the forest. The soldier's body flew through the air like a rag-doll, folding around a tree as it hit, before sliding limply to the forest floor.

The second guard was still gasping on the ground for air. Bel took one long step over to him and gave him a solid punch in the gut.

Bones cracked under his fist, like wood crackling in a fire. He grabbed the third guard before they could flee, almost ripping the hem of their shirt as he dragged them and threw them to the ground beside their comrade. They got a healthy dose of foot-to-the-face.

Bel had never felt so alive in a fight. Adrenaline was coursing through him like a drug, and he felt stronger than he'd ever felt before.

But as he stood over the fallen guards, four more appeared, each on their mounts, with spears in hand. In unison, they all pointed the tips of their spears at him and Bel laughed deep in his chest.

He started to spin, shuffling on his feet. One spear would come at him - and he would grab for it, but it would narrowly slip away from his fingers. At the same time another would stab him in the back, finding the gaps in his armor and digging deep. Again, and again, he reached, failed, and was hit, but he felt none of it. Each hit only added to the burning rage, causing his heart to race. He growled in frustration, tired of getting nothing but empty hands as he reached for the spearheads getting jabbed it him.

Finally, he got one. His lips spread into a devilish smile, and he pulled with all his might. The soldier on their mount let out a startled yelp as they were yanked off and pulled in, but Bel realized it wasn't just the one. An orange aura radiated out from him and pulled the other three, sucking them in like a current, and they all collapsed in a circle around him.

He grabbed one of the soldiers, ready to strike, but all of a sudden - in a moment - all of his energy vanished. A ten ton wave of fatigue hit him and he groaned, suddenly feeling the sting of the jabs from the spears, digging into his back and his side.

And of course, all of the soldiers were on top of him.

He tried to push them off, but they were far more organized as they worked together to recover. A soldier appeared standing over him with their spear at ready, pointed at his face.

Bel was bracing himself to block the blow when a rock burst out of the soldier's chest, through the armor and all. The guard's face went pale, and he fell to the ground.

Paimon walked up from behind him and held out a hand to Bel, giving him a little grin, with a little bit of admiration in her eyes, but also something else... deep in the back.

Bel's head was spinning. He... he couldn't remember what happened. He was fighting, and he was cornered, and he 'woke up' with a bunch of soldiers on him, but not like how he remembered it before.

Whatever glowing orange that had been in his vision faded. He tried reaching for his sword that wasn't there. That was right. He didn't have it. Then what in the gods had he been fighting with, then?

And then Eli was there, Bel's staff in hand. He soundly took out the three guards with practiced ease before spinning to toss Bel's staff to him and then he spun back round to face the guards who were slowly getting to their feet. He flung out a hand and snapped out a word. Eli's silver staff came hurtling towards him and he caught it easily before launching into another attack. He took out one soldier's feet and then smashed him in the face with one end of the staff. Another got a solid hit to the gut and went down gasping. And the third... The third took one look at Eli then turned and tried to make a run for it. Paimon was in the way, and took care of him. Something like stone shattered up from the ground and the soldier ended up on the dirt, unconscious.

When Eli was done, he turned back and gave Bel a sheepish grin, panting slightly and kind of sweaty. Bel stared back up at him with wide eyes as Lady glided in out of no where and landed lightly on his shoulder, looking a little ruffled but no worse for wear.

"I thought... you said you were a healer?" Bel asked. His vision was still fuzzy, and his head reeling.

Eli shrugged and planted one end of his silver staff on the ground. "Yeah, I am." He smirked. "In the army."

Ah.

"The show-off army," Paimon muttered, which Bel barely registered.

Lady fluttered her wings and Eli went pale, gaze darting to Bel's side. Then he rushed over, stopping beside Bel and reaching out to press against his wound. "Ah, shit! You're bleeding bad... Let me heal you?" He winced and cast Paimon a look. "Uh...it's gonna hurt like hell, though... So, fair warning?"

Bel stared out at the refugees. There were more guards.

"Quickly," he said.

"Don't be surprised if I, like, pass out afterwards, alright?" Eli glanced up at Bel's face, frowning slightly.

"I'll carry," was his very short, half-of-a-sentence reply.

Eli nodded and then leaned in closer. Lady hopped off his shoulder and glided over towards wherever Paimon was. Bel didn't bother to keep track as Eli began healing him. It burned. A lot.

"I'll...just...kind of, close the wounds?" Eli muttered as he worked, and goddamn it hurt like a bitch. "So you can keep fighting... Just don't get me killed while I'm unconscious, please."

Paimon stood by, or at least, Bel was pretty sure she was around. Eli hadn't lied when he said it would hurt, and Bel just tried to focus on standing, staying quiet, and trying to find his sword among the roaming birds that had lost their mounts. The sun had finally hidden itself behind the mountains, and the sky was turning a deep blue as the stars came out with the moon. He'd seen the night sky a million times, but it was still pretty, and it was a nice distraction.

Bel couldn't exactly tell if the bleeding stopped, but he'd been wounded before. He was starting to feel more... "stable."

It was about at that point that Eli collapsed.

"You think he did that all the time in the army?" Paimon asked.

Bel wanted to laugh, but it kind of hurt to. He huffed through his nose and bent down to pick up Eli, who thankfully wasn't that heavy. It probably helped that Eli was just wearing a bunch of flowy robes, and not heavy armor or anything.

Bel was glad that he took the hits instead of Eli. Eli looked okay, aside from being unconscious.

He looked up, back at the refugees. He could see the guards breaking off and beginning to herd them together and encircle them. He tried counting the guards.

"Six of them," he said, with certainty.

"One for each of us!" Paimon said.

Wait, what? That didn't add up. Maybe Bel's head wasn't as clear as he thought.

Paimon looked over at Bel, with Lady sitting on her shoulder. She leaned in and whispered to him, like it was an aside.

"There's three of them," she said, like she was trying to help him out or something. It was just the two of them, but it made Bel smile.

"So," she said. "Can you go orange again?"

Bel blinked. Is that what he'd done?

"I... I'm so tired," he said wearily. That, and he was carrying Eli. What was he supposed to do, leave the guy on the ground? Maybe?

He let Eli's legs down for a second, basically hugging Eli to his body as he tucked his staff in his belt. He needed something sharp, so he picked a sword off the ground.

Not that one. That one was broken - not that he remembered that happening. He grabbed a different sword beside it. It wasn't his, but it would do.

Paimon and Bel looked to each other and nodded, starting towards the other guards, but then they saw the dragon pop up out of the crowd. It flew with a twirl of its tail and landed on one of the guard's heads, pulling at their hair and growling.

If Bel didn't know it was a dragon, it might've been cute.

The guard toppled off of their mount with the dragon scrawling around their face.

A man came out of the crowd - well, a boy, really - and grabbed a guard's armor while smacking their bird's behind. The bird's head shot up and it let out an ungodly squawk before darting off into the forest. Without the guard.

A woman with smoky eyes followed out behind the boy with a staff lifted as she spoke something that sounded like nonsense. Some kind of magic, probably, if he had to guess. But apparently powerful magic. The ground beneath the other guards turned to quicksand, and both the guards on the ground sunk down to their waists. Their mounts fled with the other bird who went running.

Well, it looked like Bel didn't have to fight more after all. He dropped the borrowed sword and looked around at the remaining birds, praying the one with his stuff on it was still around, and thank the stars, he was lucky. It was standing idly off the side of the road near the refugees.

Bel scooped up Eli's legs before trotting over to the bird. He dropped Eli's legs one more time to snatch his sword with a relieved smile. Once it was back on his waist, Eli was back in his arms and he turned around to find Paimon. She was grabbing her things (and Eli's as well). She looked over to Bel and lifted all of the things in her arms with a smile. Mirroring the gesture, Bel lifted Eli and smiled back.

Bel's eyes caught on the dragon, who was gliding through the air again. The little dragon landed on the arm of the boy who'd scared one of the birds.

The fellow took one look at him, and one look at Paimon as she came to his side.

"You three don't look like Yse folk," he said.

"We're not!" Paimon said with a little more cheer than felt... natural.

"Well, is everyone okay?"

"S'alright," Eli groaned, shifting in Bel's arms, though he refused to open his eyes. "Ugh...sometimes I hate healing..."

"What?" the boy looked confused.

Eli lifted a hand and waved half heartedly. "We'll live."

"I, for the record, am dandy," Paimon answered.

Bel looked down at Eli. He looked... half awake, maybe. Pale, too.

"Well, we won't keep you," the boy said. "Feel free to take one of the mounts to wherever you're going."

The woman with the staff walked up beside him. Now that she was closer, Bel could tell that she was blind. "We'll escort these people the rest of the way," she said, already starting to round them up with a wave of her staff.

Bel noticed though that the refugees, at least, apart from the blind woman and the boy, were giving him wary looks.

Well, wary was a bit of an understatement. They looked terrified. They didn't look like they wanted to come near him.

At that moment, Bel felt the very familiar feeling he'd known all his life spring back up like a wall between him and the humans in front of him. Alienation. They looked at him like he was a monster, and if his "orange mode" had done anything to prove what they'd probably already assumed of him at first, he wasn't sure he could blame them. He didn't know what he'd done, but judging from the fallen bodies of soldiers around them and the state they looked to be in, he probably was a monster.

Was this the power that old man was talking about?

Bel felt a sinking in his chest. He wasn't sure if he wanted it.

Bel watched as the blind woman and the boy turned to leave, but the dragon jumped off the boy's shoulder and glided over to Bel. It landed on his shoulder, nearly causing Bel to lose his balance. Damn, that thing was heavy. Bel steadied himself and made sure he didn't jostle Eli too much.

The little dragon purred and nestled in the crook of his neck.

At least the dragon didn't seem to think he was a monster. He didn't know how much of a compliment that was, but he was going to take it.

"Hey, come on Ivern," the boy chided.

The dragon wasn't listening. It kept snuggling with Bel's ear.

As the boy came closer, Bel found his brain finally kicking into gear. The boy. The blind woman. He recognized them.

"You guys," he said. "You were in the dream, right? The prophecy?"

In unison, Paimon and Eli scoffed. Bel frowned.

"I was just quoting the old man," he said defensively. "Don't get mad at me."

The woman turned in Bel's direction. "Your aura is... oddly familiar."

Bel blinked. It was then that he remembered she was blind. A blue tiefling wouldn't stand out in a dream, but an aura might. He didn't know what made his aura so special, though.

The dragon's owner looked back at the blind woman, then back at him and the dragon on his shoulder.

"Well, that was easier than I thought it was gonna be," the boy said.

"You took the words right out of my mouth!" Paimon declared.

"Well, I'm Railyn! It's nice to actually meet you all." He let out a sigh. "And this one," he walked over to Bel and tugged the dragon from his shoulder. Bel could hear Ivern's claws scrape against his metal in protest. "This one," Railyn said while catching his breath, "is Ivern. The name's pending." Ivern chirped at him and climbed into a fold of his clothes at his chest.

"I'm Tyri Vidal," Tyri smiled. "I would give a more lengthy introduction, but I think the refugees need me more at the moment." With that, she bowed out.

Paimon, pausing a moment to watch the woman leave, quickly pointed to the three of them. "Paimon. Eli. Bel. Tyri!" she called out. "Where will the refugees go?"

Tyri paused in her steps, turning back. "To Nua Port, so they can safely leave Synilas."

Everyone looked at each other. Leave Synilas. That was what they were supposed to be doing, wasn't it?

Ahem. Lady cleared her throat in Bel's brain. You forgot to introduce me, she huffed, clearly offended. To save her pride, she added, you just saved the best for last.

Bel blinked.

"The cat is named Lady," he said.

"Oh... uh. Okay," Railyn laughed.

"Nice to meet you?" Tyri said.

"So you say," Eli muttered dryly. "I'd rather I didn't end up in cuffs along the way." He shifted a little more. "I am so glad I have those anti-mage cuffs off me, so thank your dragon for me, please."

Railyn looked down at the dragon now curled up in his clothes and smiled. Ivern chirped.

"I think that means you're welcome!" Paimon smiled.

Eli grinned and then twisted to look up at Bel. "Uh, you're carrying me..."

Bel raised an eyebrow. "Would you rather I have left you on the ground?"

"No." He smirked and fluttered his eyes at him. "My hero..."

Bel's eyebrows pinched upward. "I think you're okay, now," he said.

And then he promptly dropped Eli on the ground.

"Hey!"
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

  





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80 Days B.N.D


The explosion had made a far larger dent in Yse than Railyn first thought, and, well, the idea of a dent was a bit of an understatement. It was an explosion that made a huge cavity in the side of Yse, exposing all three of the cities underneath.

Tyri was leading the way through the rubble with Railyn and some other survivors from the rubble. Railyn noticed the handcuffs that were shackled around some of the survivors, but he felt no regret from them escaping. That was almost him, and he assumed their charges were just as frivolous as his was. Out of all of them escaping, Railyn assumed he was the only true criminal here, with the small dragon nested within the folds of his scarf.

Railyn scrambled his way down the rubble to Tyri, which was quite easy considering his agility. Now that he had made his way next to her, he realized she was also blind, with her cloudy eyes. Why was she leading the way, he asked himself. But, no matter, she was scaling the side of Yse better than most everyone else.

The light was shining through cracks in the mountains, but Railyn couldn't see its source. Whatever it was, it was powerful enough to create shadows out of mountains and coat everything in warmth, not just light.

"Tyri," Railyn said, nudging her, "what is the source of this light? What kind of energy does it use? It must be Hextech or Primal in source, right?"

Tyri smiled. "You're talking about the sun."

"What's 'The Sun'?"

Tyri let out a chuckle at that question. "I think that question has plagued many a scholar over the centuries. For me? It's a source of light and life, the source. It leaves us every night, just so we don't take it for granted."

"I thought the source of life was the River? Is the Sun the River?"

"Maybe. I have to say I don't have the answer to that."

Railyn reached his hand up to the sky, trying to feel the light, if only a touch from the Sun. At the very top, his fingertips cradled light, and the immediate warmth reached his very soul. But then it disappeared as soon as it came. Railyn's dragon climbed up his arm and perched on his wrist, licking at the light. Railyn could only hold him for a moment before the weight became too much.

"The Sun, it's leaving," Railyn muttered.

"It still has a few hours before it disappears completely for the night. It's just our location that's causing it to hide early," Tyri said.

"I want to get a look at the Sun before it leaves for the night. Who knows when I'll get to see it again." Railyn turned Tyri to him. "Can you guide me to The Sun?"

Tyri shrugged. "I'm sure we can get to the top of Yse fairly easily, if that's what you'd like."

"Let's go!"

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Tyri and Railyn broke off from the rest of the group a few minutes ago, with Tyri pointing out the direction of the main road to them. They finally managed to make it to a dirt path, with one direction heading around a bend, and another one heading directly into a mountain. Normally it would be a dead end, but, much to Railyn's dismay, Tyri pointed out that the road actually led into Yse, but only the Upper Tier, which held most of the rich patrons of Synilas. The idea that they let only the rich access to escaping the city, and none of the other tiers of Yse, infuriated Railyn more than anything had in years. He was glad he blew a huge crater into Yse. Maybe that will crumble the hierarchy and free Yse.

Now, Railyn and Tyri were on a path to the top of Yse, above any of the tiers inside. It was less of a path, Railyn thought, and more of a cliff that was somewhat scaleable. Yse was, from the outside, just like any of the other mountains in the region.

As Railyn scaled a large boulder, he stood up to catch his breath. Even though he was worn out, the air stung against his open skin, and he shivered. "Is the air always this cool?" and he realized he could actually breath through his nose. "Does the air always smell like this?" He asked, but before Tyri could answer, he sneezed. "Oh gosh, and why is the air... spicy?"

Railyn sneezed again, but breathed out slowly, regaining his composure.

"That's called allergies," Tyri said. "It's your body thinking the things in the air is attacking your body, so it forces them out of your body. Hence, sneezing."

"Huh." Railyn looked around. "There's things in the air?"

Tyri chuckled. "Let's just keep going. We're almost there."

Railyn clambered up another rock, and the area leveled out. Railyn brushed himself off, and pulled his scarf off. His dragon slithered up to his shoulder. He took a breath, feeling the warmth, He saw a small circlet made of thorns nestled in between two rocks, and he picked it up, investigating it. Rotted vines wrapped around each other in tight spirals, with no end and no beginning. It was small, not large enough for his head, but Railyn thought it felt... important. And so he stashed it in his rucksack

Then he noticed blistering light next next to him. He sidestepped, and warmth blinded him. Raising a hand, he noticed something so intense on the horizon, he couldn't even look at it directly. "The Sun," he whispered. "It's breathtaking, seeing it for the first time. Does it always look like this?"

"I wouldn't know." Tyri said.

"Oh. Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't even realize."

"No, it's all right. It's just been so longer, I don't remember how the Sun looks like."

The air between them became thick with awkwardness. Railyn coughed. "It's so quiet."

Tyri smiled. "If you listen, you'll hear so much more."

Railyn took that as a notion to stop talking. And so he stood still, closed his eyes, and listened, letting the warmth of The Sun wash over him. The wind whistled by his ears, and he heard birds chirping in the forest below the mountains. He breathed in, and something buzzed at the edge of his... ear? No, not his ear, his mind. His head ticked.

"I was wondering when you would hear it."

Railyn couldn't say anything because the buzz overtook his thoughts, getting louder and louder, almost as if acknowledging it made it burst into his mind.

Railyn felt a nudge at his neck, and he glanced down at the tiny dragon looking intensely into his eyes. As they locked eyes, it was as if a flood rushed into his mind, but the flood was the dragon. The flood was...

"Ivern?" The dragon jumped off his shoulder, gliding and panting in glee, and Railyn felt that glee, pure and unadulterated, in his mind.

"So Ivern is his name?" Tyri asked.

"Wait, what? No, that's not his name."

Ivern rammed into him and almost knocked him over. "Well, why did you say that?" Tyri asked.

"I am not calling you Ivern." Ivern growled and pouted at him. "Can you hear this guy?" He asked Tyri.

"No, but I could feel him trying to contact you. It's been pretty obvious since we met."

Railyn glanced at the Sun falling over the mountains, sinking itself to leave them for the night. He sighed and put his scarf back on, and Ivern almost immediately nestled himself within.

"Okay, let's get to Syna. And, Tyri?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you for showing me The Sun."

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They followed the main path for about thirty minutes when Railyn noticed the group of refugees they escorted out of Yse meandering across the path. Railyn raised his arm in greeting, but Tyri grabbed his arm and tugged him off the main path. Railyn shot her a questioning look, but she shook her head, saying nothing until they were further in the brush, and Railyn could barely see the path anymore. Tyri let out a small whisper, "I can feel a lot of footsteps coming."

"That's the refugees," Railyn said.

"No, I feel them, of course, but I feel a ton of... someones coming to them. It doesn't sound good."

Railyn guided Tyri along the brush, making sure the prickly parts whacked him and not Tyri. Ivern flew past, and Railyn could barely see his silhouette, and he was looking out for him. They got close to the refugees, which weren't too hard because, as a group, they were moving rather slow. Railyn and Tyri inched closer, as close as they could under the brush, and they could see more of the road.

Railyn could finally hear the hoof-beats of a lot of beasts charging to the refugees. Finally, they came into sight under the night sky. Some light shone from a tiny sun in the sky, and Railyn stored that information in his mind to ask Tyri later.

Several large bird like beasts with armored men on their backs stomped into view and quickly surrounded the refugees. One of the armored people, a man with a plume of feathers on his helmet, spoke up. "Do not worry, everyone. We know you are hungry, tired, and scared. It'll be okay. We'll get you home and you can get food and rest there."

Then in one fell swoop, handcuffs were attached to all of the refugees with some kind of magic. Railyn shuddered, he had rarely ever seen magic happen in Yse, and the last time he did, a whole crevasse was blown into the side of a mountain. Magic didn't exactly excite him, but something like this, this terrified him.

"We have to stop them." Railyn said. "They can't be put in cuffs again. They're going to take them right back to the Baron's clutches."

Tyri nodded, her face grim. She muttered something, and fog sprouted out of her staff, billowing onto the road. Ivern left off of a nearby branch and into the fog, and Railyn followed him into the thick of it, careful to avoid the birds.

He could see Ivern's fire breath burning through the cuffs, and Railyn soothed the man and kept him from screaming. "It's all right, you just need to get off the road," Railyn whispered. The man seemed to absorb what he was saying, because he disappeared into the fog. Railyn repeated that to the other prisoners and managed to escape back to Tyri. They made it a sizable distance away from the scene before Tyri dropped the fog, and it dispersed naturally. She slumped a bit. "Those were Synua troops. I heard about their riders. They're hunters."

"So, Synua's hunting down Yse refugees."

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79 Days B.N.D


Railyn stole one of the packs from the Synua guards that didn't survive freeing the refugees they were trying to take. In the pack he found some rations, about three days' worth, about 50 Gildar, which would have lasted that guard until he returned to Synua. Railyn tossed out some worn clothes that wouldn't fit him anyway, and a faded picture of some man. Perhaps it was someone at home, waiting for that guard to come back, and they never would. Railyn tossed the picture aside, and he hardened himself from his feelings. Railyn stuffed what was in his pockets into the sack, just some Gildar that he had been saving up for something special, but had never really found the purpose. Railyn found the crown of vines and thorns in his makeshift rucksack, and stuffed both into the far better guard's sack. Railyn also felt the broken makeshift toy that Ryun gifted him so long ago in the folds of his vest, and he stuffed that into the pack. Railyn normally wasn't much of a sentimental person, but he was starting to regret not saving more things, now that he left Yse. He never figured that he would ever leave Yse, so keeping things to remember the good times there didn't seem important at the time. Now, though, Railyn felt a bit lost, especially having to rely on strangers to teach him the ways of the world outside of Yse.

Belxibis, or Bel as the group called him, stomped back up to the main road, where the group and their birds were, his back arched and his breath heavy. Railyn avoided staring at Belxibis for too long, acting like he was busy in his now-stuffed pack. Speaking of having to rely on strangers, one of the group was a Tiefling. Railyn watched him crush some of the guards like they were twigs earlier, and he seemed like a completely different person than he was now. Well, Belxibis did just return from dumping the bodies, the bodies that had lives and families and now they had neither. Railyn gulped, and he felt concern flooding into his mind. Ivern nudged his hand, curling up in his rucksack and staring at him. Railyn feigned a smile. "I'm okay, buddy," he whispered. Ivern let out a purr that rumbled Railyn's hand and jumped up the bird's back, startling the creature, and launched off of it, right into Elidyr's flying cat, who let Ivern almost reach her before she launched into the air herself. Elidyr swatted at the two flying creatures circling his head, and sauntered up to Railyn.

Elidyr coughed to get Railyn's attention (although Railyn already noticed him walking up) and spoke, "Looks like our pets like each other."

"Yeah," Railyn agreed.

"How did you manage to get a pet dragon?"

"It's... a long story." Railyn snapped his rucksack closed. "So, how did you meet the other two?" he asked, pointing a finger at Belxibis and Paimon, who were chatting with each other by their birds.

"It's a long story." Elidyr let out a small scoff. "Also, I don't like retelling stories."

Railyn couldn't help but let a smile appear on his face for a moment, Elidyr had him there.

Tyri rejoined their small pack, dusting off her hands. "I was able to direct the refugees to a smaller path, around the mountains. It'll take them a bit longer, but they'll be safe."

"What about us?" Paimon asked, "I'd like to be safe, too."

"These birds are fast enough to get us past Syna in less than a day. After that, I doubt Synua troops will care." Tyri said.

"Wait, what? Where are we going? All these names sound the same to me."

"We'd be better off going around Syna." Belxibis piped up.

"Oh, we'll be fine. Synua troops don't go into Syna."

"Oh, it's not the troops. There's a bout of bluecough going around in Syna. Can't really complete this big ol' destined prophecy if we get sick and die." Paimon said, picking at something in her teeth.

"So we skip Synua?" Railyn asked.

"Syna," Belxibis corrected.

"We're not even going to Synua, we're no where near Synua. Didn't you pay attention?" Elidyr said.

Lady and Ivern crashed through the makeshift campfire they made while rounding up the guards, scattering ash everywhere. Lady jumped up onto Belxibis' horns, hissing at Ivern. In response, Ivern pounced onto Belxibis' shoulder and swiped at Lady.

"Ivern, come here." Railyn said, sternly.

Ivern glanced at him, confusion in his eyes, then looked back at Lady and Belxibis, then back to Railyn. Reluctantly, Ivern flew back to Railyn and went straight into his scarf.

"Well, that ticks one thing off of our list before we leave." Paimon flipped a saddle onto her
bird's back. "The more time we spend just standing here, the more likely troops will find us. I'd rather not stay here and find out."

"We can stop overnight at the village outside of Syna. It'll be easier to stay undetected there." Elidyr said.

"Oh, what's the name of that village? Synu?"

"Actually, it's Serion," Belixibis said. Railyn rolled his eyes and launched himself up onto the back of the bird.

Image


78 Days B.N.D


The ride to Serion was quick and terribly silent. Railyn was still absorbed in his own thoughts, so he volunteered to take up the rear, and Ivern could only stay cooped up in his scarf for so long before stretching his wings, and stretching his wings meant chasing Lady around at the front of the pack. Elidyr was ahead of him, and he didn't seem to talk all that much, which made Railyn feel even more isolated.

Ivern flew over to and landed on Railyn's shoulder, fear and danger in his mind. "What's wrong, buddy? You got a bad swipe from Lady?"

The path opened up more, and Railyn smelt smoke. This smoke was different than what he usually smelt down in the mines, but it had the same base. Something was on fire. Railyn caught up to Elidyr. "Something's wrong."

At that point, they reached the modest gates that opened up to Serion, but they were fallen onto the floor, and the town of Serion was ablaze.
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78 Days B.N.D


"Come on," Paimon said. She was hopping off of her bird, bracing a single foot to hit the ground, launching into a keeling run. Smoke was pouring out of the houses, the log structures made hazy by thin wreaths of flame. "Come on!"

The others were behind her, running through the blazing village. It seemed only a few hours ago when the village was a sleepy lumber yard, when they had all come here with the cure. A roof collapsed near her, sending up a cloud of sparks and a hot snap of ash. For a vagabond like Paimon, the sound of a crackling hearth was often home; now it surrounded her, multiplied into an overwhelming uproar. She held her nose and peeked through the windows of the houses; the grey haze flew into her eyes, making them sting.

Behind her, Tyri was stumbling, holding a hand out against the heat of the blaze. "It's," she stuttered in disbelief, "It's all burning!"

"Hey!" Paimon dashed over and grabbed her hand. "You've got magic, right? Try to get some water from that River thing!"

Tyri's shock turned to confusion, and she started, "It's not an actual river-"

"Just do something!" Paimon was already running away, weaving between the houses, as if maybe the next one wouldn't be ablaze, maybe there would be someone crying out to be saved. She nearly ran into Bel's back, halting in a few paces. "Bel, come on! We have to do something." But her voice died out as she followed his gaze upwards.

The tree's branches formed a chalice of flames, as if a trophy of the fire's devastation. It stretched high into the sky, withering its limbs pitch-black. This was the tree that had trapped Bel's horns just a few days ago, the tree from which they'd rescued dear Tabby. Burning leaves fell from the branches, tossed about by the waves of heat. Paimon stamped them out as they landed, but even then, it wasn't working. "I have to do something," she murmured.

Bel looked down at Paimon and shook his head, as if from a trance. "Let's go."

They dashed back toward the houses. If there were any survivors at all, there was no time to lose. Beneath the warm, noxious, woodsmoke, there was another scent, of something almost metal, like melting coins. Paimon's nostrils were filling with smoke when Bel grabbed her cloak and pointed to where Elidyr was dragging a man out of one of the cabins. "There!"

They rushed across the grass and each took a limb, hauling the man onto the dry grass. Lady was hovering around Elidyr's shoulder, watching the house for any movement. Paimon kept a watchful eye on the fire. It could easily spread and surround them, or worse, catch the treeline and start a forest fire. Elidyr knelt and placed a hand on the man's chest. His eyes widened.

"Is he breathing?" Paimon asked.

Elidyr grit his teeth and shook his head.

Bel looked down at the body grimly. "We're too late."

Elidyr shook his head. "No. We weren't too late." He lifted his hand, and a crimson bloodstain glowed in the firelight. Elidyr's eyes mixed panic and grief as he said, "This man was murdered before the fire."

The world shook from the ground up, rattling Paimon where she stood. "Were they all stabbed?" she asked.

"Most of them were too charred to tell, but I think they were," Eli replied. Paimon caught a whiff of melting coins, and realized what the scent was: blood vapor. Elidyr nodded at Lady, then looked at Paimon. "Lady says that the fire was probably just a cover-up."

"We didn't see smoke on the horizon," Paimon remembered. "Serion must have been torched just before we arrived."

"Which means that there could still be survivors," Bel finished. "There has to be somebody!"

If it could be true, it needed to be true. Paimon knew well the feeling of hope. Like a tab of buckflower, even the tiniest bit was enough to launch you into a world of dreams. Framed by the flames, they split among the rows of homes, shouting through the smoke and fire, which thickened above them with every passing second. No one responded. Bel began tearing through the fire-weakened doors with his longsword, desperation growing on his face. Paimon circled around the town, making sure that they'd seen every house. She ran straight into Railyn as she turned the corner.

"Whoa!" Paimon thrust her arms out, steadying Railyn as he staggered back. "Careful. Did you find anybody?"

The man from Yse - a boy, really - shook his head, out of breath. "No. Found bird tracks, not ours." He doubled over, coughing as smoke flew in with each gasp. Paimon supposed today couldn't have been easy on his lungs. "Followed them to the main road. Think - it was the Synua guards."

"We can talk about that later," Paimon insisted. "Focus on finding anybody who's left. A survivor will tell us everything we need."

Railyn nodded. "One more thing," he said, reaching into his scarf. "Ivern found this under a pile of ash." He withdrew a singed piece of fabric, one that might have belonged to a scarf or lapel. It looked a little expensive, but the most interesting feature was that from the burned end outwards, there appeared to be a long insignia pattern, printed in a shiny black ink. It intersected and twisted like veins before disappearing towards the unburned end. Paimon examined it, unsure of what she was seeing.

"It was near the tracks," Railyn said. "Don't know what this marking is, though." In her mind's eye, Paimon could see the cloth catching fire as the assailants rode away, followed by them panicking and tossing it to the ground, not knowing that the ash from the burning village would smother the flame. The markings looked familiar, like she'd seen them on a decoration somewhere.

"Show everyone later," Paimon said, annoyed with herself for getting distracted. "Hey, Tyri, can you put the fire out?" She called across the street to Tyri, who was scanning the area with a pale look on her face.

Paimon and Railyn dashed over quickly, and Paimon repeated the question. "Not much," replied Tyri. "But -- you need to listen. I can feel people's life auras with Primal Sense. And I -- I don't think anybody is alive here."

Paimon stopped, looking at Tyri in disbelief. There was a long, slow breath. She scoffed. "Some help your magic is."

Tyri recoiled as if burned. "What?"

"I said, that 'magic' is worthless!" Paimon snapped. "What are we supposed to do, just give up and let them burn? Maybe the life auras are weak because these people are dying! Can't you sense that?" The fire raged around them, fumes rolling into the sky. Down the path, Bel smashed through another door, looking desperately inside.

Railyn stepped between them nervously. Tyri still hadn't said anything. Paimon looked up and saw a sphere of flame emerging from the housefire. She remembered that stone, this feeling, this gnarl in her gut that magic had twisted in.

She turned away, hiding her face. "Split up and search again. If magic won't save people, then use your head." She ran down the path without saying another word. Dimly, she heard Railyn call out to her, but she didn't slow down. She didn't have time to slow down and act as a team. There had to be somebody alive. If she let them die here, it would be her fault again, wouldn't it?

"Poppy seeds for pain," she murmured, peering into the smoke. "Thyme for shock." It was a mantra from schooling days that had caused her, back then, just as much stress. Why she remembered it now, she could not say. "Tighten the tourniquet if the arteries lose blood," she continued. "At least an inch less than the circumference of the limb." Even walking in the street was enough to make her head spin now. She peered into homes immersed in flame; she set eyes on burning corpses. "Give the patient something to bite instead of their tongue."

Another house collapsed under the weight of burning wood. Paimon leapt out of the way as it smashed to the ground. "Do all that you can to ensure the patient's survival," she said. Studying to become a doctor had not been her first choice. But without magic, it was all she could do. Even then, she couldn't do it in the end. "Do no harm," she finished, choking on smoke and memory. "Is anyone out there?" Her scream died beneath the roaring waves of woodflame.

She stood and waited for what seemed like ages. Then, when the smell of blood was too much to bear, she heard a mewling cry from the house right next to her.

"Tabby," she breathed, her voice rising with excitement. "It's Tabby!" It didn't matter whether Tabby was human or not; she was going to save that cat. She called out, "Everyone, over here!" But the crackling fire rolled over the words, and she couldn't be sure if anyone heard her.

Another meow came from inside the house. Paimon clawed at the pieces of wood that blocked the doorframe. "I'm coming, Tabby!" The logs were hot and heavy, burning her hands as she shoved them aside. Part of the roof had collapsed, and what had fallen was catching fire even faster. Paimon grunted as her hands slipped, the beams crashing to the ground in a pile. There was little space to crawl around the wreckage, and what was left of the house looked ready to collapse.

Tabby meowed again, sounding more helpless each time. Paimon slammed the heel of her palm against the wood, looking down in frustration. Nobody seemed to be coming. From the blackened wood of the floor, she saw the rune sphere emerge. Perfect if she wanted to blow up the entire house. Paimon blinked back tears of frustration. The stone was her personal curse of magic.

"I don't know what you want from me," Paimon begged. Ashes fell across her head. "I just need your help. Please." Then, on a whim, she added: "I'm sorry."

The stone glowed. It bulged oddly, and Paimon wondered if it was going to explode right here, taking the house with it. But it kept bulging, kept growing, shaping upwards, until it stood as tall as Paimon herself. It was the shape of a man, turned away from her, his back braced against the collapsed beams and holding them upright. His entire body was charcoal, with embers pulsing like veins as he strained against the weight.

"I don't know what you are," Paimon wondered out loud, "but don't move." As the golem lifted the beams above his head, she ducked under and moved deeper into the house.

The cabin was small, hosting a few long rooms centered around the hearth. Some charcoal drawings hung on the walls, now burned beyond recognition. Even the stones of the fireplace looked like they'd crumble to the touch. Paimon stepped over the burning rubble, calling out for Tabby.

There was no reply. Paimon had nearly scoured the place when Tabby burst out of a cupboard, wailing for anyone around. He was leaping around the flames, wary of any stray sparks that could ignite his fur.

"Tabby!" Paimon shouted joyfully. She dashed over and scooped him up. "You have no idea how happy I am to--" No sooner had she opened her mouth than Tabby's claws had raked across her face; the cat yowled and twisted out of her grip. He landed back on the ground and dashed back to the cupboard, rebuking Paimon with a mew.

"What are you doing?" Paimon moved closer, and Tabby darted into the cupboard. When she peered in, she saw his eyes gleaming out at her. Right next to him was a wet bundle of clothes, shaking a bit and barely breathing.

Paimon gasped. "Someone's here!" she screamed, but she couldn't be sure if anyone heard. In any case, she had to get them out. She brushed aside the burning wood and carefully reached into the cupboard. As she did, the bundle shifted and coughed weakly.

"Ms. Muddy?"

Paimon's eyes welled with tears. "Yeah, it's me, kid," she said. "Ms. Muddy." She undid the clasp of her cloak, pouring water on it to deter the fire. She reached in and grabbed the kid -- Lettie, her father had called her -- and swept her into the cloak. As she did, Tabby scampered out and up and onto her shoulder. Clutching Lettie tight to her chest, Paimon stood up and ran out of the room, heading for the door. Her footfalls were wild and rash, and as she ran, the house began to crumble from the impact. The ceiling beams shuddered, splintering above her. She was almost to the door.

As Paimon came to the doorframe, where the golem held up the collapsed beams, she heard distant shouting. Were other people coming? She felt the exhaustion of the heat sweep over her.

They were almost out. They were almost safe. And then the golem lifted his face, and looked Paimon directly in the eye.

A scream erupted from nowhere, a lightning-strike terror that overtook Paimon whole. She stumbled and fell backwards, clutching Lettie to her chest for dear life. The golem just stopped and looked at her, and his face -- no, his entire body was too familiar. Paimon knew know what the curse had done.

"I'm sorry," she stuttered, barely able to draw breath. The golem wasn't doing anything, just looking at her. There was a large ember lodged in its head, glowing like a fresh wound. Paimon was gasping for air, and tears were streaming down her face. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Didn't me." The rest was lost in the smoke and tears; she could no longer breathe.

The golem regarded her for a second more, as if to judge who she had become; then it vanished, and the ceiling beams fell once again, blocking the exit. Paimon was surrounded by a sea of searing flames. The house groaned and splintered under the weight of its own destruction. It began to fall.

Paimon could see a fractured beam falling, as if in slow motion, down towards her - and then two hands shot out of the fire and caught it with a grunt. Belxibis was there, standing over her and tossing the beam to the side, and his eyes were glowing again, and the rest of him had taken on a blazing orange hue, as if the fire merely brushed against him. Whether it was the flames making everything look that way or some kind of magic, it didn't really matter.

Paimon felt her wet face smile. "You gotta be kidding me, Bellybuddy."

Belxibis reached down and picked up Paimon -- cradling her, Lettie, and the cat in his arms. The flames danced around his feet and tail, but the tiefling seemed unaffected.

He leaned over them, horns pointed forward as he rushed forward through the rubble, taking hits on his back and shoulders before kicking down a supporting wall and busting out into the open air. Not that the air outside the building was any less full of ash and smoke. Paimon felt a shower of splinters wash over them, a hot, pelting rain that Belxibis charged head-on through.

Belxibis kept running, holding the bundle of survivors close.

He didn't stop until they were outside of the village, where the others seemed to be running close behind, each of them coughing. If they hadn't just run out of a fire it would've sounded like everyone had bluecough.

Bel set Paimon down on the forest floor gently, propping her up carefully against a tree. His gaze was fixed on the bundle in her arms.

Paimon coughed, bucking forward and hacking into her sleeve. Elidyr caught her and braced her gently, watching the smoke clear from her lungs. Slowly, Paimon's eyes began unwatering, her voice recomposing. "I've got to hand it to you, Bel," she rasped. "That prophecy is working overtime for you."

Bel nodded slightly, as if he'd barely heard her. His brow was furrowed, accentuated by the angle of his horns. He had unfurled Paimon's cloak, though his body blocked her view of Lettie. The others had all caught up now, and they were gazing at them with similar expressions.

"Well, we made it out," Paimon said, and began coughing again. When she finished coughing, she realized that she wasn't the only one. Lettie was coughing too, but it was getting worse. It was bloodier, gasping for air. Paimon leaned around Bel, trying to see what was happening.

Lettie's lips were blue. The rashes had spread up her throat, covering her veins in azure and purple. As they all watched, she started coughing again, her mouth filling with blood from her lungs.

Bel had his arms retracted back, his hands spread, helpless. "She's -- She's--"

"She's got bluecough," Elidyr said, staring at the blood. "And I don't know if I can save her."
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  








"And what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland