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In The Wake of A Calamity

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Sun Jan 05, 2020 1:04 pm
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soundofmind says...


a @soundofmind storybook

Being part of a mage guild has been pretty standard as long as the North Point Guild has been established. You eat, you sleep, you go on missions, you learn and you teach magic, and you send your pupils out into the world as fully equipped mages, monster hunters, adventurers, and hired hands who are loyal and ready to defend their people. 

But change is coming. From the south and the ends of the earth, strange magic is stirring, and the earth is beginning to shake... in more ways than one.

The Northern Guild is nestled in the mountains, a little separated from society, and you've seen the peaks starting to crumble, and nearby lakes become polluted with a sickly, purple glow. Tensions are rising in your midst and rumors of fleeing to the plains for safety are sounding less and less like rumors and more and more like plans.

Until you get a knock on the door. 

It's been five months since a massive landslide blocked the only road down the mountain, and all other ways out are much harder, much longer, and much more dangerous for even the most capable of young travelers. You've been preparing a team to go seek out help while others are still chipping away at the blockade, trying to dig a way out. To say visitors are unexpected is an understatement.

But this isn't just any visitor. It's a messenger, and they come with a warning.

War is coming.

The catastrophes you've experienced in the mountains are not isolated. They've been happening all over the earth, and it's apparent that they are fueled by magic. Humans are struggling for survival, and they're looking for someone to blame. They believe the mages have angered the magic that lives deep within the heart of the planet Nye. And they're coming to make things right and cleanse the world of its sinners.

There is an army of mage hunters coming for you, and you've little time to waste.

You are a part of the team that was originally tasked to seek help from nearby towns. But now your task is to scout and get as much information on your new enemies before it’s too late.


[ Cast ]
The Messenger - Jay, written by @soundofmind
The Leader - Thea, written by @AvantCoffee
The Brawn - Elani, written by @Chaser / created by @Featherstone
The Stealth - Runi, written by @Magebird
The Survivalist - Han, written by @Lael
The Healer - Velalis, written by @ScarlettFire

Spoiler! :
Last edited by soundofmind on Sat Feb 12, 2022 10:53 am, edited 3 times in total.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Sun Feb 16, 2020 3:46 am
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soundofmind says...


Chapter One: RUMORS OF WAR

Jay Mournsky

Tucked away into the side of a mountain, the five-story guild stood shadowed in darkness. The lower half of its stone and rock walls were carved out of the face of the mountain, overlooking a steep tree-spotted slope. Near the second level of the building, there was a large path cut out of the rock like a shelf, leading to an archway that led into the building. But not far from the entrance, an impassable mound of dirt and rock obscured the path, piled so high it looked like whatever ledge had once been had been swallowed by the mountain.

That was about all Jay could make out in the dead of night, with only the moonlight to guide him. A biting breeze kept pushing him from behind, piercing right through his clothes and sending a chill down his spine. He was trying to climb on the face of the mountain by himself, with no supports, and no ropes, no safety nets. All paths leading to the guild were narrow and lacked any sort of railing to keep from falling to your death.

That said, Jay was pretty proud of himself for getting this far. Terrified out of his mind, yes, but he hadn't fallen, and that was the most important thing.

He'd already run through all of the complaints in his mind by this point. He'd spent the whole day making his way through the mountains, going the long way around to find another way to the guild that had been cut off from the rest of the world by the massive landslide. He'd already questioned the air, asking why on earth anyone would build a home this far up in the mountains in the first place. He'd already cursed the gods for making rocks so slippery, and sharp, and uninviting. He'd already groaned about how cold it was and how tiring climbing was.

Now he was just trying to stay alive. It was beyond problem-solving. He just wanted to get to the guild already, so he could collapse on their front door and forget about everything for a few minutes before everything was turned on its head. For them, at least.

He took a few deep breaths, pausing on the cliff-face, looking down.

He'd looked down so many times, it wasn't affecting him anymore. It was like looking down through the eyes of someone else.

A few feet down, there was a little shelf of rock jutting out from the mountain. But it wasn't very long, and it was too far down, and too much work to risk jumping to it. So he decided to stay where he was - grabbing holds with his hands and slowly side-stepping across the narrow path as he practically hugged the mountain.

As he drew closer to the guild, he could see two of the windows faintly lit, probably by the small candle of a lamp. It was enticing; the thought of being indoors, where there was fire, and wood to feed the fire, and warmth, and blankets, and probably food too... oh, he was drooling. That was pathetic. But he didn't bother to wipe his mouth, because that would mean letting go of the mountain, and falling because he had to wipe drool from his mouth would be a painfully pitiful way to die.

He sucked it in through his teeth instead, keeping his eyes on his feet and hands, testing each rock before putting his full weight on it. Finding a rhythm again. One, two, three, grab. One, two, three, step.

He couldn't tell how much time passed when he suddenly found himself right beside the wall of the building. His entire body shuddered. With fear? With excitement? Dread? Relief? He had no idea. But he had arrived.

With a heave, he pulled himself up over a ledge onto the open area around the second floor. Upon closer inspection, with his face flat against the earth, he realized it was paved. Oh, sweet, sweet human civilization. The feeling of smooth rock intentionally placed on the ground for the purpose of making walking easier, and less painstaking. Why on earth couldn't they have done that all around the place, huh?

As he stood up on the paved ground he let out a loud, gratuitous sigh, letting his chest and shoulders rise and fall as he slouched forward in exhaustion.

But this was not the end for him. It would not be enough to just merely arrive. He was going to have to talk to them - and he could hear it too. Stirring, inside the building. Light chatter. Someone had seen him. Maybe smelt him. Felt him. He wouldn't put any of it past a guild full of mages, and, at least one master.

Footsteps made their way towards the entrance - which he could now see as two grand double-doors with metal rings for handles, elevated on a small wooden porch under the archway. He only straightened up slightly, holding his arms loosely at his sides, his hands dangling as loose claws, sore beyond belief from having to hold himself upright for fear of falling.

The doors opened, and a woman holding a lantern poked her head out. It took her half a second to spot him at the edge of the building by the wall, her head snapping to him like a wolf to its prey. Or just a guild member to an unexpected visitor. They had no reason to think he'd come for an unrighteous reason. They also had no reason to believe he came for an honorable one either.

He was just... there.

As the woman held the lantern a little higher, he could make out the details of her face. She was old. Her curly dark hair was greying, and the skin of her cheeks was a little sunken, but she looked like she had a lot of life left in her.

She narrowed her eyes at him, and a head poked out from behind her. Another woman, this one a head taller, with fairer skin, and a curly bob of hair.

"You must have gone through a lot of trouble to get here," the older woman said, her voice low like she didn't want to wake anyone.

Jay blinked slowly, taking in both of their appearances. The older one had to be the guild leader. Master Lynn. The younger had to have woken her up. She seemed a bit sleepy, still.

"Tell me something I don't know," Jay replied, ambling forward on tired bare feet.

Lynn's eyebrows rose in mild disapproval at his answer. She probably wasn't used to that kind of snide response. Not that he cared.

"Who are you?"

Jay stepped up onto the porch.


Another narrowed gaze.

"Did you come all this way to play cryptic?"

Jay laughed mirthlessly, with a dead expression. "No. I came to deliver a message, and it's really important, so maybe don't shoot the messenger." He put a hand on his chest and dipped his head. "Because I don't think there's anyone else who's coming to let you know before it's too late."

Jay was aware that his tone was far too light for the news he bore, but he felt a rising tension in the air as the eyes of Master Lynn and her student pierced through him like daggers, watching him with a wide-eyed anticipation, still with the blissful innocence and unawareness of those who had been cut off from the world at such a pivotal moment in current history. So ignorant of what was coming for them. So unprepared. And he could only fix one of those things.

He stood in silence for a moment, locking eyes with Idina before she snapped.

"Well, out with it then! What is it?"

"Ah-" somehow, he hadn't thought this through. Somehow, he thought it would be easier. But now that he was looking the guild master in the face, guilt twisted around his heart like a bed of thorns. His voice came out hushed and hollow.

"The - the huge landslide that blocked off your only road. Crazy stuff like that's been happening all over the earth. Volcanoes erupting, rivers flooding, and strange, magical goop oozing from the ground. No one knows what's going on, but humans have become convinced it's our fault. The guilds - and us using magic. They think it's because we angered the magic that lives in the heart of Nye.

"So...there's an army coming to attack your guild by tomorrow, probably midday, I can't know for sure. The other four guilds were already hit five months ago, and the bloodshed was like nothing I've ever seen before. Mages are getting slaughtered by a non-magical army armed with poison and drug-laced weapons. I don't know anything about medicine making and that kind of stuff, but it's... fast-acting and terrifying.

"So I came to warn you. To run, somehow, before it's too late."
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Tue Mar 17, 2020 1:49 pm
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AvantCoffee says...

Thea Forenode

Thea, foggy minded after staying up through the night, felt this stranger’s words creeping over her as if he had trailed the icy winds with him out of the jagged cliff backdrop, and all the black night beyond the guild turned ominous against them. This was beyond anything she had been prepared to comprehend from this brusque man—Jay, he had said he was. Her eyes stared frozen on him, trying to make sense of his appearance as if that would better explain what had come out of his mouth. His dark hair, dark skin, short stature. The beginnings of fear gripped her insides, but she knew better than to feed it.

He could be untrustworthy, maybe with a secret agenda. How could that much violence break out five months ago without them hearing of it until now? The other guilds were strong, even if humans did turn against them. What Jay described was so unlikely in Thea’s mind. But her belief wavered when Idina spoke in front of her:

“If what you say is true... we are indeed in a dire situation.” The reply Idina gave was slow, as if each phrase were a plan forming.

Thea stiffened in response.

Moments before she had stood with Idina by the communal area, and before that she had watched over a couple of younger guild members as they snuck in extra magic practice when they weren’t allowed. Where were those moments now in the scheme of what this news meant, if it was true? They already seemed far away and threatened to be lost.

Thea sensed now was not the time to voice her opinions, and was proven right when Idina turned away from Jay to look at her sharply. “We will head to the meeting room. I will wake up some others,” Idina told her, before turning back to Jay. “Jay, you will follow Thea inside. And I wouldn’t try anything if I were you.” A glint appeared in Idina‘s wrinkle-framed eyes. “Thea is one of our strongest mages, and perfectly capable of keeping you out of trouble.”

But Jay looked exhausted and fed up, like it had taken most of his lifeforce to climb the mountain and he was now ready to drop into bed for eternity. Thea and Jay exchanged glances across the few metres between them, unhostile, but also unprepared to give out friendliness. Thea didn’t react to Idina‘s compliment about her, and neither did Jay. She saw his eyes dart to her missing lower right leg, as she had grown used to people doing.

As Idina walked back towards the grand double doors of the guild entrance, the lantern she carried swung light and shadow over the two of them left standing. The air was colder outside the guild, unbuffered by the building walls, but it still touched the uncovered skin of Thea’s face and hands with a resonance she had come to sense in her years as an air mage. No matter how icy, it would not betray her.

Thea looked straight at Jay, feeling more awake since hearing his warning message. “Come with me. I’d guess you wouldn’t want to be stuck out here anyway,” she said, glancing over the far-right edge of the building where he’d been laying flat moments before, no doubt uncomfortable. As always, Thea felt her fear of climbing rise in her chest at the thought.

“Ha, funny,” Jay retorted, but paced restlessly as they walked over the porch and out of the way of the open door clanking heavily shut behind them.


At first, Jay and Thea were alone in the meeting room, waiting for Idina to return with the others. They had followed stone hallways and descending staircases to the ground, where Thea had led them under moonlight to a sturdy building near the centre of North Point. The meeting room they had arrived in on the third and topmost floor was large yet inviting, with a simmering fireplace, large table, and wooden casement windows trapping the heat inside. Thea knew this room as she knew every area of the guild from growing up within its boundary, yet the journey across the paths to get here had been eerily quiet, even for this late at night.

Because of the landslide, everything had become emptier, less lively, without the usual travellers coming in and out. Supplies were suffering. And now the news of an army coming to attack them tomorrow.

Thea let the worry she’d been feeling show on her face when she knew Jay’s back was turned from her. She’d been holding the concern in, as all the guild members had. Even Runi had lost some of her enthusiasm in the last five months. The guild was so separate from other civilised places, way up in the mountains. Where could they flee to now? How could they defend their home with so few supplies at hand?

They would. They would have to. If the message was true.

Meanwhile, Jay seemed grateful to be indoors with a fire, and took it upon himself to stoke the embers with the small stack of wood beside it.

Thea blinked at him, but decided it wasn’t worth commenting on. They would need the fire anyway.

“Do you have any food?” Jay asked suddenly, looking up at where she stood.

His curtness so far had been affronting, but Thea replied calmly, “Idina might have something downstairs, but I’m not leaving you on your own. The others should come soon.”

The building also served as the guild master’s dwelling and hub for all important guild decisions. There was a small kitchen in Idina’s living space.

Jay nodded, surprisingly understanding, and stared into the fire.

Thea was about to ask him about where he was originally from when Idina arrived in the room, trailing a group of four other familiar faces.

“Thea! You’re here!” said Runi loudly, grinning over the others walking through the entryway. Her dark purple hair was a mess from being asleep.

Han moved in quietly, followed by a yawning Ani and the piercing-eyed harpy, Vela—the latter of which looked ready to curse someone for waking her up in the middle of the night. They reminded Thea of her own drowsiness from staying awake, but Thea still smiled back at Runi and acknowledged them all entering.

Idina had brought the rest of the scouting team.

“What’s goin’ on, ay?” said Ani, looking around from almost half of Thea’s height. “Where’s this messenger lad you were mentionin', Idin—Ah, that’d be ‘im.”

All eyes fixed themselves on Jay crouching by the fire, who looked back at the gazes with a tiresome expression.

Idina had moved further into the room with intention, which Han and Vela had already seemed to notice by the time Thea and the others picked up on it; it was only now that Thea saw the rolled map tucked under Idina’s wiry arm.

“There’s no time to stand around,” Idina began. Her dark brown eyes landed on Jay. “I believe this man, Jay, is telling the truth, even if his trust is not yet certain. And we must act as soon as possible.”

The serious tone in Idina’s voice made everyone freeze and focus.

Idina’s eyes shifted to Thea, flickering, as if reading her mind.

“If anyone is uneasy about this, I will let you speak up after I repeat the message Jay shared outside the guild entrance.” Idina looked back to Jay, cocking one eyebrow. “Unless you’d like to repeat it yourself?”

“Once is enough, thanks.”

While Idina relayed the message, Thea made a trip downstairs and back to bring Jay a bowl of soup leftover from earlier that night.

When she returned, the room was deathly quiet. Runi’s face was noticeably pale.

After a pause, Thea decided to speak, “To have all four other guilds…”—massacred, destroyed—“… taken out is so extreme.” Thea faced Idina straight on, and the times Idina had kept her company after her leg incident, the times they had talked about the Northern Guild—as if it were their whole worlds, stared back at her. There was more to this in Idina’s thoughts, and Thea probed for it: “We’re believing the word of one person, who we know nothing about. Is acting on it the right decision?”

From the corner of her eye, Thea saw the heads of the others switch back and forth between the two of them. She didn’t catch Jay’s expression.

Idina replied, “I had previous suspicions about what has been happening outside the guild, with the way nature has been behaving.” Her expression turned grim for a moment, and it was clear how much the last five months had taxed her. “Also, to deny the message would mean to risk it being true—which is not a risk worth taking.”

Thea understood, and gave a nod. Something had been off in the air, the water, the mountain peaks. As much as the threat of an approaching army troubled her, what Idina said made sense: they needed to prepare.

“So,” Idina voiced, unrolling the large map onto the table with a bold wave motion, “in light of this new information, the original scouting mission to seek help from nearby towns is a no-go. Jay and everyone, huddle over here.”

As they all came closer to Idina’s side of the table, Thea recognised the map of North Point and surrounding area before them.

Runi bounced on her tiptoes behind the others peering over the parchment, despite hardly needing to for her height, while Thea looked on steadily beside her. Han moved in on her other side with awkward steps, while Jay held back on the opposite side of the table.

“We must create a new stealth and scouting mission, so we know what we’re up against,” Idina told them. “Jay, what do you know about this army? Are you aware of its current location?”

Jay had scraped the last of his soup down, and now plonked the empty bowl on the table. The look he gave them was indistinct. “I have a vague idea," he said, "but only caught a glimpse of the army. If it’s anything like the troops that attacked my guild, though, you’ll be far outnumbered here.”

At the mention of his own guild, Thea stared at him. So he had belonged to one of the guilds that were attacked. A feeling of sympathy arose in her, but she wasn’t yet ready to trust him entirely.

Meanwhile, Idina nodded, appearing lost in thought. “I see,” she stated, as if buying time. Half a minute passed. Eventually, she resumed, “We’ll have a vote, then.”

“A… a what?” said Runi on impulse, as unclear as they all were.

“This will be good,” said Vela from beside Jay, a smirk subtle on her lips. Her blue, green and purple harpy wings were a striking contrast to Jay’s plain, loose-fitting clothes.

“In order to scout the approaching army to gather information, we will likely need Jay to help find it in time,” Idina explained. “However, we do not yet know if he can be trusted, and so I’m putting the decision to you all: Are you willing to take Jay along with you on this scouting mission if it means saving precious time?”

The group looked at each other across all directions of the table. Thea had not expected this to be laid on them.

“Well, obviously, it makes more sense to take him. Trust or no,” voted Vela. “There’s five of us to watch out for any smart moves he might pull.” Vel glanced at Jay. “No offense, messenger boy.”

“Thanks,” Jay answered dryly. “Do I get a say in this?”

“I’m also okay with him!” voted Runi. “We need to save time, for sure.”

Ani had been eyeballing Jay for a while, and finally came to a shrug verdict. “Yeah, I say we take ‘im.”

Slowly Han gave a nod of agreement, but when the others expected more from him, he responded, “Yes.”

They all turned to Thea, waiting.

Her vote wouldn’t matter now, yet even as she hesitated, she knew the risk of wasting time, of evaluating risk. When she had climbed mountain faces nine years ago, that was all she'd mainly done. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and there were consequences to each judgement. Always consequences.

Thea looked directly at Jay, who looked back at her unfazed.

“Okay,” was her reply. “To protect the guild,” she added.

“Then it’s settled,” chimed Idina. “Jay, you will accompany this scouting team to lead you to the army’s location as soon as possible. I trust you can manage that?”

Jay, seeming accepting of the unfolding events, nodded at her. “I’m a decent tracker.”

“Wonderful.” Idina was already breaking away from the group and treading lightly towards the doorway. “All of you come back promptly tomorrow so we can prepare for an attack. I have much faith in you.”

Idina Lynn, the guild master, was about to leave them.

“Hold up, what about this ‘ere map?” asked Ani, gesturing her arms at the tabletop.

Idina halted, saw the expressions looking back at her and laughed. “You thought this map was for you? Hilarious! No, no, it’s to strategize our defences here while you’re off scouting. We won’t be idle until you return, that’s for sure.”

Vela seemed slightly ticked off by this from what Thea observed—which seemed to catch Idina’s attention.

“And Vela,” called Idina, “I know the original scouting team had you included, but I’d like you to stay out of this mission. There is too much unpredictability.”

“What!” Vel exclaimed, and Thea was worried her wings would expand in fury. “I didn’t sign up for this human conflict, and you dare try to confine me here? I didn’t ask to be struck by a landslide and stuck here for months! This group could use my capabilities. You know they could. I’m a skilled healer. And I want out.”

Idina was smiling, but there was sadness and worry in her old eyes. “… Very well.”

Before disappearing through the doorway, Idina met Thea’s gaze. “You have the ability to lead this team, Thea.” Her words were slow. “Lead them well.”

And Thea remembered the conversation the two of them had had before Jay had arrived on the porch outside. She felt the pressure of the situation closing around her, but she kept herself tall. “I will.”

Ten minutes later, Idina had left and the team had begun preparing to leave.

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ScarlettFire says...

Velalis of Arete
cowritten with @AvantCoffee and @soundofmind

Velalis watched the messenger boy from the corner of her eye for a moment and then stepped away from the map. Her shoulders and wing was starting to ache and she was finding the bandages extremely uncomfortable. She could deal with messenger boy later. Besides, the bandages needed to be changed. She glanced about and caught Thea's eye, then gestured for the woman to join her.

"Thea," she said, as soon as the woman was close enough. "A moment?"

Thea appeared distracted, but looked towards Vel, seeming to sense her concern. "Sure. What is it?"

Vel lead her off a few feet and then gestured to her injured wing. "The bandages need changing. They itch."

Thea nodded and Vel led her to a low couch set against one wall, where they sat down. The other woman proceeded to carefully unbind the bandage layers. Vel could tell she was slightly uncertain about the task, but they both said nothing. It wasn't ideal and it wasn't what Vel wanted--having to rely on another to tend to things--but she honestly could not reach the section of wing that was broken.

"How bad does it look?" she asked, keeping half an eye on the group over by the map table.

Vel heard Thea reply, "It looks... uncomfortable." But Vel could tell Thea was holding back for the sake of them needing to leave the guild regardless. It's not like anything could be done to greatly improve it.

"It is uncomfortable."

"I know," she replied, and for a moment Vel remembered Thea's missing leg. "We'll need to keep moving, but hopefully this helps."

"I am aware," Vel muttered, sounding slightly sour. "It won't stop me from leaving."

"I'm also aware of that."

Thea finished unwinding the old bandages, and began to wrap around new ones. Vel grimaced as the movements shifted her broken bones. "Careful," she snapped, and then winced. That had been a little harsh.

Thea had clearly never handled a wing before, but her expression was serious as she worked. Vel watched from the corner of her eyes as Thea worked. She caught movement from near the map table and glanced that way only to find Messenger Boy--Jay, was it?--watching them closely.

"We have an observer," Vel muttered to Thea, keeping her voice low.The bandage wrapping paused for a moment after Vel spoke, but quickly resumed. "Do not look, though. Just keep doing what you are doing."

"Let's just finish this," Thea responded, her tone measured, but Vel detected a hint of coolness.

"Fine," Vel hissed as Thea fiddled with the bandages, "but it does not feel like it is healing properly--"

"How'd you hurt it?" Jay said, suddenly much closer, seemingly having crossed from one end of the room to the other in a moment. Ani and Runi glanced up from their bags, all stacked on the end of the table as they packed a few more things in with Han's help. Both Ani and Runi looked tense - Ani especially, staring with intense disapproval.

"None of your damned business!" Vel snapped in Harpy, then winced when she realised what she'd done. She refused to translate, though.

Jay's mouth twitched for a second. Not quite a smile, not quite a smirk, but it looked like his face was too tired to do much else with his eyes stuck in a half-lidded gaze. "So that's what it sounds like."

She blinked and switched back to human. "What?"

"Harpy. Never heard anyone speak it," Jay said.

Vel snorted. "We do not normally speak it around humans."

That time, Jay's smirk stayed. "Yeah. Okay," was all he said before turning around, walking back over to the others. "Figured as much."

Thea wrapped the last of the new bandage and stepped back. "How does that feel?"

"Much better," Vel said, standing up slowly and carefully. She cast a scornful look towards Jay and then stalked towards the door. "I must attend to something. I will return later."


"Why must we walk in the dark?" Vel asked as they edged around another corner. "It is so slow." She carefully slid her foot along the edge and tried to keep her wings high on her back, which was a little hard to do when one was practically strapped to her back. "And annoying."

This is maddening, Vel thought as she felt around for another handhold. How do humans do this all the time?

Jay responded from the front of the line, somehow having heard her grumbled complaint from the back of the line. "Do you see anyone else with wings?"

Vel rolled her eyes. "Do you see anyone whose wing is not broken?"

"Hey, keep i' down," Ani warned just ahead of Vel. "It may be dark outside but we don' want 't draw attention 't ourselves. Sound echoes easy off these rocky cliffs."

"Tell him to keep it down," she muttered and kept edging along the ledge. "It was not like I spoke very loudly in the first place..."

"Are you okay back there?" Runi whispered back, just ahead of Ani.

"I am fine, Runi," Vel hissed, just as her left hand slipped on the rocks. For a split second, Vel swore she was going to fall. She bit out a curse in Harpy and scrambled for a new handhold. Her shoulder ached now, much more than when they'd first started, and she had a feeling it was only going to get worse now. "Are we near the end yet?"

Ani had stopped in front of her, looking back. Though it was dark, it was clearly out of concern. "We're close. You think y' can hold on a lil' longer?"

Vel considered Ani's words carefully for a moment then nodded. "Maybe. But we must move quickly."

Thea had been quiet the whole time since they had ventured along the ledge, and it was becoming noticeable to Vel. She had learned from her time in the guild that Thea had lost her leg to falling. She watched the other woman carefully for a moment---or the vague shadow she thought was Thea--and then put her head down so she could focus and get through the climb. She could check on Thea after.


Vel stumbled onto solid ground gratefully, and leaned over to plant her hands on her knees, one wing extended to stretch it out. She'd had it tucked in tight against her back for most of the climb, but it was the one currently strapped to her back so that it wouldn't move that was a mess of agony. When her wing was healed, she was never doing that again.

As her eyes were closed mid-stretch, Jay snuck up again, because when she opened them, he was there. This time uncomfortably close, looking at her injured wing. She straightened up and jerked back a step, eyeing him warily.

"What do you want?"

"Nothing from you, if that's what you mean," Jay said, still looking at her wing, going so far as to lean to the side to get a better view. "You want to tell me how long it's been that way in common speak?"

"None," Vel hissed, "of your business." With that, she turned to stalk towards the group, gaze landing on Thea. The woman looked a little pale, but otherwise alright. "Thea!"

"Vel," was all Thea responded at first, but her voice wavered behind the shadow of a small tree growing up from the rocks. As she came closer, Vel could make out the distant look in Thea's eyes. "I'm okay," Thea added, seeming to detect Vel's concern, then, "How is your wing?" When Thea reached out to Vel's shoulder, however, her hand shook.

Vel was just about to respond, but before she could she felt another hand lightly touch her injured wing from behind. A faint, weak rush of soothing energy ran through her shoulder and her aching muscles, relieving a fraction of the pain. She froze. Vel knew that feeling anywhere. It was healing magic.

Vel whipped around to glare at Jay. "How dare you!"

"Oh no," Jay replied, though his voice lacked any form of surprise. He drew his hand back like he'd stuck it too close to a fire. "Looks like I helped you. My mistake."

"Did I ask for your help? No?" Vel's gaze narrowed. "Do not help without permission again." And with that, she turned and stalked off several paces. She muttered to herself about stupid, arrogant messenger boys as she did so, coming to stop beneath a tree. This time, she kept her eyes open, and Jay did not follow.

After several quiet moments, Vel regained her composure. She took a deep breath then turned to wind her slow way back to Thea's side, noticing that the woman was not as close to Jay as before.

"My...apologies," she said to Thea, readjusting the bag on her hip. "In my culture, it is rude to heal without permission. Still, I should not have snapped at him like so, even if he deserves it."

"That's okay. You had the right," Thea responded, seeming more improved than before. "Jay should have asked, but at least now you won't have too much trouble with it." Thea stared off in Jay's direction. "So he's a healer. That will be helpful." Thea spoke the final words like she was trying to convince herself of something.

"Hmph. Weak, though." She followed Thea's gaze and watched Jay just kind of stand there, staring blankly off into space. "He may be worth teaching... Hmm..."

"Maybe. We should focus on the mission for now." And with that, Vel watched as Thea began pulling the rest of the group back together so they could continue their journey.
"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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Mageheart says...

Darunia Vain

Runi wondered how it had all come to this.

They hadn't really been walking all that long. And somewhere in her head, Runi knew that. But the more she thought about what they were doing, who she was with, and just, well, everything, she was having trouble accepting that her memories of life at the guild weren't from an entirely different lifetime.

No matter what happened, life was going to be different.

And Runi really wasn't sure she was ready for that.

She hadn't said much during their trek. She wasn't sure what to say. Everything that had happened felt like the kind of thing she might have thought of before going to bed late at night - the terrible, fear-inducing kind of thing that could, theoretically, exist, but would never actually.

The group came to a halt.

Runi really wasn't sure who stopped first. Maybe it was Jay. Maybe it was Thea. Or maybe it was someone else. Runi just knew that she was so consumed by her own thoughts that she didn't even realize they had arrived at their destination.

In retrospect, she should have guessed where they were heading. It was the only flat area for miles. They hadn't turned the corner. Runi guessed the others in their group were probably being cautious. They were being quiet, too, but Runi wasn't as sure that last part was needed. It just made her feel more nervous. By the time that Thea opened her mouth and said something, Runi had been considering doing exactly the same - just to break the weight of the silence.

"We could have probably found this ourselves," Thea said.

Runi shifted. She couldn't really see what "this" was, but she had a sneaking suspicion that she was the only one at the bad angle right now.

In response to Thea's comment, Jay scoffed and rolled his eyes.

Growing impatient - and wanting to see why everyone was so quiet - Runi moved past the others and peeked around the corner of the tall cliff face they were standing beside.

And then her breath got caught in her throat.

When Runi had heard that people were coming for them because of their magic, she had it in her head that "people" was just a little group. Maybe twenty people, tops. It would be an army in name alone - too big to be a scouting party, but not really the size of the kind of armies that attacked entire kingdoms. An entire army's worth's of people wouldn't decide seemingly overnight that a series of natural disaster were caused by mages.

But the army was an actual army.

An army filled to the brim with people who had to want her dead just because she had magic. They didn't care that she had grown up an orphan, that she really loved playing music, that her best friend was Thea, and that being a part of Master Idina's guild was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

They just saw her as a threat.

Runi knew she had to start seeing them as the same thing, too.

She took a deep breath and looked back at the others, hand up against the cliff face. She made it seem casual, but she needed it for support. She wasn't sure she could trust her legs to not lose their strength the moment she let go - it felt like her entire world was crumbling to the ground around her.

"We should go check out what they have," she said. She gave a grin - because that was what she was supposed to do. She was supposed to not be terrified at something like this. She was supposed to be brave, and happy-go-lucky, and be the one person who gave everyone else the semblance of normal. Runi had never been in a situation like this before, but she just knew that was her role. It was what she had been doing ever since the landslide, and what she knew she had to keep doing now.

It was the only thing that made sense to her in all of this chaos and horror.

"No," Jay said.

Barely a second had passed since she made her suggestion.

The grin faltered, for a moment, but Runi quickly regained it. "But knowing their numbers doesn't help if we don't know their weapons-"

"No," Jay said, with more emphasis than before.

Runi slumped just a little. Not going felt like a mistake. Weren't they doing this so they could be prepared for the worst?

"It's too dangerous," Vel added. She looked a little hesitant about agreeing with Jay, but Runi didn't think much of it. "We could get caught-"

Runi took the first step anyways.

"Just give me a minute," she whispered. "I'll be quiet - I promise!"

She put a finger up to her lips, grinned again, and started approaching the army. She knew the dangers. She might have been overly optimistic sometimes, but she wasn't stupid. But it also wasn't like she didn't have any skills.

She tapped into the magic within her. Her shadow - not that it had really been there to begin with - shrunk a little more as she manipulated the light around her, and she made it so her actual body was barely noticeable in the darkness. And, hey! If worse came to worse, she could just blind whoever saw her with a nice, concentrated flash of bright, bright light. She hadn't done that in ages.

Just the thought of it made her grin genuine.

They'd get through this.

She was sure of it.

[ she/her, but in a boy kinda way ]

roleplaying is my platonic love language.

queer and here.

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soundofmind says...

Jay Mournsky

A loose rock shifted under Runi's feet and clattered down the cliffside.

Jay's heart stopped. Everyone ducked and hid behind the rock wall beside them, holding their breath. Runi enveloped herself in darkness as she retreated back to the others, and though Runi had made herself difficult to see in the shadows, everyone was thinking the same thing.

The noise had to be caused by something, and there wasn't a lot that lived on the cliffs. Jay knew it was inevitable. They were going to be found soon, and the others didn't even understand the half of it. Had they stayed quiet and hidden, they just might've made it back to their guild in time to see their loved ones again. If Master Lynn was smart, she'd be planning an escape, not preparing for a fight.

Buildings could be replaced. People could not.

The silence that followed was deafening. The darkness of the night felt like both a comfort and a curse. They were hidden, but anyone approaching would be too. His senses felt like they were overworked. The slightest shuffle of Han's feet and the slightest rustle of Velalis's feathers made him twitch. Even Thea's brief shuddered breath made him want to slap his hand over her mouth to silence her. But complete silence would win them nothing.

He wondered if the others could sense his apprehension as much as he could smell their fear.

They waited for what felt like an eternity before Runi stepped out again. Nothing had happened. They'd heard no commotion, no stirring, nobody coming to look for them, but Jay had a pit in his stomach. Runi seemed to think no response meant nobody noticed. That was not always the case. She advanced again on light feet, this time testing the rocks beneath her feet before putting her full weight on it. Jay could hear Thea suck in a short breath in front of him like she was holding back from saying something.

If she was going to give a warning, it was too late anyway. Jay could smell the presence above them before Runi got further than two steps.

Figures dressed in black descended from ropes above them. A net dropped and spun over Velalis, catching on her wings and tangling Han up in the mess. Thea was tackled to the ground, and Runi was staring down the end of a sword. Ani managed to create a shield of earthen stone and push one of the attackers off of her, but things seemed to freeze when one of the figures advanced towards him.

He stood and watched.

It was a woman, much taller than him (not that that was a difficult thing to achieve), with the lower half of her face covered. Her dark hair was short and shaved on the sides. She grabbed the front of his poncho, yanking him forward. Had his poncho not been so loose, she would've lifted him off the ground.

He felt everyone's gaze land on him as her eyes pierced through him.

Maybe she would understand. Maybe she would play along, act like she didn't know him. Maybe he could explain that it was a mistake. He'd gone to the guild and they asked questions. They'd sent people with him to make sure he got out safely. Or better, they had asked him to lead him out of the mountain, and who was he to refuse? He had to keep a certain cover and trust, right? He felt trapped. Yeah, that could work.

"We told you to come alone," she growled.

Jay felt his heart sink into his gut. He could see Ani's eyes widen from the corner of his eye.

Okay, so forget the cover story. What was her name again? Lisa? Lauren? Lauren blew his cover, but it didn't look like she was interested in holding up her end of the deal now that he'd compromised on his own promise. He'd come back, and technically he did have information, didn't he? But that wouldn't matter to them now, would it?

If they'd really wanted to know what had happened to the Northern guild since the landslide, they should've sent one of their own. Not that he would've given them that idea. He would've been dead if he hadn't begged to be proven useful.

But now he was probably moments away from being dead anyway.


"Wait! Wait! Please!"

Jay turned his face away and pinched his eyes as the man raised his ax over his head.

"I'll help you!" he shouted, his voice fraying at the seams.

He held his breath and waited for the ax to fall. His hands were raised over his head and his whole body was tense in anticipation of the swift death to come, but when nothing came, he shook and opened his eyes, peering through his fingers at the man standing above him. His hair was a bright red, pulled back into a tail atop his head. Blood splattered his freckled face and blended in with his dark clothes and armor. He looked down at Jay with a disdain, still gripping the ax, ready to strike, but he seemed interested.

In the distance, Jay could hear screams and shouts from inside the building. He was too far to help, now. He'd fled into the forest and should've been ashamed for it, but he knew when to back down from a fight. Now was one of those times.

"Help how?" the man pried, pointing the ax down to Jay's chin.

Jay froze, suddenly finding his breath again, and it came back too quickly. He was heaving.

"Anything," he pleaded. "Anything! Information! Whatever!"

The tip of the ax met Jay's skin. It was cold. And bloody.

"Why should I trust a mage who's so eager to betray his own?"

Jay stared up blankly, swallowing.


Jay's mind went blank.

"Because I'm more interested in living than being hacked to shreds."

The freckled man pursed his lips and scoffed, pulling his weapon away. Jay thought maybe he'd been lucky. He could take the opportunity to run, but he was surrounded, and the man standing over him looked ready to swing or throw his ax at the first sign of trouble. Jay felt like his heart was pounding in his head. His mind was turning to mud, and he was drowning in the wet, sloppy sludge.

There were a few seconds of silence and the man assessed him, looking Jay over.

"What do you know about North Point?"

So they were attacking all of the guilds.

"I've never been."

The freckled man narrowed his eyes.

"How would you like to?"


Jay was getting sweaty.

"Jay?" he heard Thea whisper.

Jay didn't look at her. She was behind him, with her face on the ground. He counted the numbers in his head. Elani, Thea, Runi, Han, Velalis, and him. Six against eight. They weren't too heavily outnumbered. They had a fighting chance, and he knew that was the only way they were going to get out of this.

He flashed a painfully fake smile and sent a look in Ani's direction. She wasn't currently bound or grappled. He hoped she could understand what he meant from a second of eye contact.

"I got lonely," he said to Lauren.

And before she could reply, he punched Lauren in the gut and kicked her in the shin. Ani took his cue and rained rocks down on the group surrounding them. Jay took the distraction as liberty to leap at every soldier and draw as much attention to himself as possible.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Lael says...

Han Young
cowritten with @soundofmind

Everything had happened so fast. Han could barely register anything going on around him. In a normal situation--that is, if he were caught in a net or snare alone--he would have immediately located his knife and cut himself out in no time. But he was tangled up right next to Velalis, who was breathing angrily down his neck. Han wasn't sure if she was angry at him or just angry, but he didn't want to risk hurting her already-injured wing with large, unnecessary movements.

Amid the yelling and sounds of combat, he took a deep breath. His knife was on his belt, but his hands were held pretty firmly in place near his chest by a thick knot in the net, losing circulation with every second.

"H-hold on," he said to Vel. His mind raced, analyzing how to best get his arms free quickly and efficiently without jostling the harpy. If he turned his left wrist and wriggled his right one out of there...

"Oh sure," Vel hissed near his ear. "No rush! It's not like we're in a hurry or anything."

Han tried to stop himself from cringing, to no avail. "Sorry." He pulled an arm free, then the other, stretching to get to the knife. After fumbling with the handle for a few seconds, he was able to grab it securely in his hand.

At that moment, a bead of sweat rolled into his eye and he grimaced as it began to sting. Just ignore it. He slipped the knife into a space in the rope where he felt would be the least painless possible for Vel when he cut it and they were freed. Then he began sawing at that spot.

At that moment, Jay fell into Han's line of sight as he was thrown to the ground beside him. Jay was on his face for but a second before he pushed himself back up, eyes wide, and spit out what might've looked like blood in the dim moonlight. Then Jay practically growled as he ran straight back into the fray, swinging wildly and drawing the attention of their attackers once again.

Han stared at him, shocked and a little frightened. If he were being honest, this was the first time he'd ever seen any type of real fighting rather than the sparring at the Northern Guild. Although Han had experienced his fair share of gruesome in the wild, this was next-level to him.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Velalis's irritated voice snapped Han out of his frozen state. He realized that he had stopped cutting the rope just then, and he began again, this time with more vigor. He shouldn't be acting useless right now, especially when everyone else was having a hard time.

With a snap, the last strands of the rope broke, and he pulled the net apart, crawling out carefully before lifting it over Velalis's injured wing so she could get out easily. Han turned and scanned the area, seeing Ani throw two of the attackers into the rock wall. Runi got out of the way as they flew past her to help Thea, who had fallen. But Jay seemed to be surrounded.

"Hey, those two got out of the net!" one of the soldiers shouted, gesturing at Han and Vel.

As some of them broke off from the formation around Jay, Thea called, "We can't take them all. Ani, help Jay. Everyone else, run!" She turned and hurried away from the scene with Runi beside her.

Velalis passed Han in a flash of color and followed them. Han started forward, but looked back.

As small as she was, Ani always seemed like a mountain to Han, immovable and possessing a kind of strength most didn't have. At that moment, she had knocked the soldiers blocking her path to Jay like a tidal wave, and Jay wrestled free from the ones closest to him. Both of them cleared the soldiers and ran towards him.

Jay, who was more limping than running, shouted, "Go!" at him, so Han sprinted away in pursuit of the group ahead, reassured that they would make it.

As he caught up to the four and Ani and Jay gained ground on the army, the thought that he had kept out of his mind for the past several minutes strayed back in: Jay was going to betray us. But then he didn't?

Can we trust him?
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:7

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AvantCoffee says...

Thea Forenode

Thea’s heart hammered a different rhythm to her loud footfalls, her attention half on the air moving around her wooden leg as she directed her magic to it. They needed to gain as much ground as they could. She willed herself to be faster, to keep up with Runi’s long legs and those of her other two nearby companions as they moved through the dark.

The faint taste of blood crept into Thea’s mouth from a small cut on her lip like time settling in as she ran from the army’s direction; she’d cut it when she’d been pushed to the ground earlier.

As she kept track of the positions of her allies and stole glances behind her, a single name clung to Thea’s head:

Jay; he’d conspired with the army, which had been confirmed to be very real.

Whatever chance they’d had at learning more about and surprising the army later was leaking away from them in Thea’s mind. She’d anticipated possibilities in their journey from the Guild, but not this. Not something this huge, this fast. The blood in her mouth tasted worse as they traversed back over the mountains.

Soon Elani and Jay appeared out of the thick shadows of the mountain trees a few paces back, and a layer of relief fell over Thea: the group was together again. Although she couldn’t see Jay clearly in the blocked moonlight, she could hear the masked pain in his breath. Sounds of their pursuers trailed behind them, with the occasional flash of armour winking at them from between trees.

Runi broke the silence of the group the second after Elani and Jay caught up. “Psst! So what now?” she asked at a volume that seemed unsure of whether shouting or whispering was more appropriate. Thea could feel Runi’s eyes.

“What do you mean ‘what now’?” Vel talked back. “We’re done for, that’s what.”

“Ay now!” Elani began, still fired up like she usually got after tackling people with her bare strength. “Mamma Ani ain’t lettin’ no big army go stealin’ ‘er friends or ‘er guild. Why, when I was small lass—aye, even smaller than I is now—I swore to protect people from ‘em bandits, an’ this army be seemin’ more like bandits fer wantin’ ter steal the magic of good people if yer ask me. Shame on ‘em!”

This made Runi grin a little from near Thea, which Thea took as a good sign.

“We need to head back to the Guild," Thea stated in a calm voice. "Any chance we have of circling back to gather more knowledge on the army is too risky.” Thea had a vague idea of where they were, but not enough to be sure—mostly a memorisation of the map at the Guild. And it was dark. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d stepped outside of the Guild boundary; it would have been nine years ago.

“… We’re closer to the longer way,” Han said observantly, as if picking up on Thea’s intention.

Thea nodded to him and smiled. So her bearings had been right—she’d hoped they weren’t. Their pursuers had driven them away from the shorter path they’d come from, and didn’t seem likely to fall back anytime soon. Thea didn’t know if they could face the army soldiers a second time.

“But won’t we get to the Guild slower this way?!” Runi asked, abandoning any previous whispering.

“That we will, Runi,” Elani replied, before suggesting, “What if we turn us ‘ere back ‘round the way we was comin’ from, ay? I still got some fight in me yet, an’ we wanna be fast before that army gets to where we’re goin’ faster.”

“We won’t be fast if we’re dead,” Vel enlightened.

Jay had been awfully quiet this whole time. Thea sensed that he wasn’t in the best shape for fighting. He had betrayed them, but that would need considering later. They were already heading towards the longer path back to the guild, and it would be almost impossible not to run into their pursuers if they turned another way.

Thea felt swayed by caution. “I don’t want to slow us down either, but I don’t like our chances at taking on those attackers again.” When Thea looked around, she saw a similar uncertainty in the group’s faces.

The tree coverage was opening up, which jolted Thea’s memory. “It’s easier to navigate this longer way,” she added in a melodic tone, almost to reassure them, “and if we keep going, we’ll be able to lose these soldiers behind us.”

“That makes fer a reas’nable plan,” Elani huffed.

“That’s Thea for you,” Runi said, a tease in her tone. She gave Thea a trusting smile, though there was a sign of concern there—in the same way they all worried for what was to come.

Everyone seemed to be in silent agreement, so they travelled fast without speaking for a long while, and without changing direction.

They were soon progressing along the longer path. Every so often, Thea would look behind them in search of their pursuers, but after some time she stopped seeing or hearing them. It wasn’t until she’d been certain for several minutes that she stopped checking. She continued to assist her peg leg with air magic to keep her balance.

Eventually the group came upon a small clearing where they decided to rest for a few moments—or at least an area flat and open enough to be called such. Gnarled trees slanted into the high air beyond the clearing edge to one side, as if bracing against the wide gasp of night sky beyond the mountain. Deeper forms of neighbouring mountains framed the impenetrable black pool that was the valley.

As soon as Elani slowed to a standstill, the furry weasel that Thea recognised as Meanie-mo surfaced from beneath Elani’s top and leapt to the dirt, where he bounded over to the spot Han had chosen to sit quietly.

Thea could see Jay better now under the moonlight, yet she almost wished she couldn’t; his injuries were worse than she’d assumed, and he sported a number of them. How had he kept going like that?

Vel and Thea locked eyes and had a silent conversation about it before Vel relinquished. They had a history of this unspoken practice over tea back at the Guild, but being reminded of the Guild made Thea feel sick, so she pushed the thought away. Thea watched Vel sit Jay down and attend to his wounds. Jay hadn’t said a word since the struggle with the army.

Turning away, Thea walked over to where Runi sat nearby in a patch of stiff grass and joined her. Together they looked on as Vel began her healing magic with clawed hands outstretched. From the corner of Thea’s eye, Elani seemed to be busily digging through her pockets in search of treats to feed Meanie-mo.

“How are you feeling?” Thea asked Runi.

“I'm feeling like it’d be nice to wake up from this dream now,” Runi replied with a light laugh. Her foot tapped in the grass. “What about you?”

Thea smiled at that. “Same. I can’t say I’m used to this level of adventure.”

“I know! It’s because you’re always doing responsible things all the time,” Runi said. “But you’re really good at it, and I mean really good at it. Even this is a responsible adventure, and you’re doing great.”

"Thanks,” Thea replied with slight amusement. “It'd be less fun without you here.”

“You too! Well... I mean, discovering an army of mage hunters isn’t that fun anyway—unless you're a mage hunter, but I can't see mage hunting being fun at all. Did you see that woman Jay was talking to when we were all captured?" Runi grinned a little, but her eyes were set on the ground in front of her. "She didn't look anywhere close to having fun, even before Jay punched her in the gut.”

Thea knew Runi was trying to cover up how scared she was. She always kept upbeat in times like this. This was more than they'd ever faced before, though. The Guild was her home as well, and they had many memories in it. "Yeah," Thea responded. She looked over at Jay, who was improving with Vel's healing, but not by much. He'd chosen not to betray them for the army, but logically it seemed he'd done it for self-preservation; Thea couldn't help but think it.

He was alone. The mage hunters had made sure of that when they'd wiped out his guild. Thea sensed he hadn't lied about that, or anything so far—only withhold information, and a lot of it.

Vel finished healing Jay, and they both stood up, signalling that they should all get going again. Jay still had visible wounds, but he didn't look as pained when he moved.

"I healed his hip, mainly," Vel told Thea as the entire group stood and prepared to leave. Vel had her arms crossed in front of her. "As to how the stupid idiot managed to damage it that bad in the first place is beyond me," she continued loudly. "I couldn't heal all of him, but that's his own dumb-ass fault."

"You did great, Vel!" Runi said enthusiastically, which made Vel appear irritated.

Thea turned her head to Jay, who was now closer to her than the others. "You can keep going, right?" she asked him, but her tone was reserved.

He looked up at her. “I thought you were naïve, but this... You should’ve just left me if you really cared about getting there faster." His voice lowered to a barely audible mumble. "That’d be the smart thing to do."

“I guess not all of us think like you, Jay,” Thea said, but his words managed to cut her. The weight of her decision hinged on the sunrise, and time had become a rapid they were caught in. The truth was, leaving Jay behind to go the shorter way had crossed her mind, but she hadn't been able to bring herself to it. It hadn't seemed right, and yet she didn't know what unsettled her more: the fact that she'd thought about it, or that she hadn't allowed it to be an option.

“Just be ready to face the consequences,” Jay stated.

Thea couldn't tell if he said it to help or burden her. “That’s bold talk after almost betraying us.”

He stared into her eyes with a blank expression. “Yeah.”

The group set out again along the longer trail back to the Guild, moving as fast as they could. No one spoke for the rest of the way, which allowed thoughts to surface in Thea's mind.

Soon the sky showed signs of lightening, and they were almost there.

As they trekked up a sloping trail, memories of Thea’s childhood painted onto the early light of the waking mountain: rock climbing at dawn with a group of other guild members; the feeling when they all reached the top and saw the Guild buildings below, highlighted in slanting sunlight, and the warmth Thea felt towards her place in the world; the evenings she snuck out of her house to visit the other kids around the Guild; her mother teaching her how to plait her hair to keep it off her face after her first day of archery practice; the way her dad let her climb onto his shoulders because she liked being up high all the time back then, and the chuckle he gave when she asked; Idina catching her the time she fell from a tree right outside the Guild Master’s dwelling.

It felt like so long ago. Thea hadn’t had time to say goodbye to her parents before she’d left with the group on this scouting mission. These days Thea seemed stretched thin with tasks for the Guild—so much that she rarely saw them. She couldn’t remember the last time the three of them had been together. She wanted to see them now.

Thea lifted her eyes from the ground ahead of her to the other heads of the group. She imagined they all had a version of the same somewhere in their minds. Even Jay, she thought, remembering he'd had his own guild.

Jay caught Thea staring at him and returned it with a cold expression.

“Is that smoke?”

[instrumental if you want it]
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Thea couldn’t tell who had said it, but it made everyone stop in their tracks and take in the sky in front of them: black smoke. Thick billows rising from the top of the slope they were ascending, the slope between them and the Guild.

Towering black trees growing together in a pale world, eerie and quiet.

Thea’s heart dropped far below her. She couldn’t feel her body, only the dread that hung in the sight before her. Everything was surreal.

Wordlessly Thea raced ahead of the others to the top of the slope, terrified of what she would discover when she got there. As her air magic helped carry her forward, she felt like she was climbing again. But she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to climb again. She hated it.

Just be ready to face the consequences.

Maybe her home was okay. Maybe everyone would be waiting for them—Idina and her parents. Everyone would be okay, and they would work it out together.

The scene beyond the mountain slope came into view, and Thea looked over the ground sprawled below.

The Guild had been destroyed.

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Mageheart says...



Darunia Vain

The guild was on fire.

It was a raging, burning inferno - the kind of fire that made Runi feel like was standing in the flames when she was still a good distance away. Even though the group was still standing atop the mountain slope and only the smoke’s smell had reached them, Runi felt like she couldn’t breath. The others were heading towards the flames. Runi knew she should have been, too. But she couldn’t move. Her feet felt like they were glued into place. It was only when she realized everyone else was far ahead of her that she forced herself to move.

One foot after the other. One step, followed by another step. Each step brought her closer to the flames and to the wreckage. Each step brought her closer to the realization that no one could possibly survive a fire that bad. All that she could do was desperately hope that at least one person had gotten out in time, but the fire just seemed so powerful. Standing on the edge of the flames, Runi got the sinking feeling in her gut that Thea, Vel, Ani, Han and her were the last remnants of their guild.

And Jay was…

Her brain pushed the thoughts of Jay to the side. There was a heat in her chest right now. It was just a little ember, nowhere near the strength of the actual fire right in front of her eyes. But thinking about Jay added a little bit more wood to the fire. She couldn’t think about the metaphorical heat rushing through her veins. All she could think about was the adrenaline.

Runi wasn’t really sure what happened next. Someone might have run towards the flames. Someone might have stopped them - in the back of her mind, she guessed that those people might have been Jay and Vel. But at some point Runi found herself back on a ledge overlooking what had once been her home. The others were there, too. She was just barely aware of that.

She looked beyond the flames, eyes trying to find some bit of architecture behind the yellows and oranges and reds. She remembered when she first saw the guild nine years ago. She had only been twenty back then. It hadn’t seemed all that long ago yesterday, but that felt like a lifetime ago now. She remembered being intrigued by the idea of a place where she could be with other mages. She remembered how welcoming Master Idina had been, and how the combination of the atmosphere, the guild master, and Thea - thank the gods she still had Thea - had made her want to stay five years later when she was twenty-five.

It was hard making out the guild’s building now. She was able to catch a glimpse or two of the structure, but it looked mangled and burnt behind the flames. It wasn’t anything like what it looked like in her memories.

The magic in her eyes faded; gold shifted to dark brown. She screwed her eyes tight and tried to block out the smoke and the heat and the everything, and just pretend that she had looked back when they left the guild earlier. She tried to pretend that when she opened her eyes again, she’d be laying in her bed and everything would have been a terrible, terrible nightmare. She would go play music for the kids again. She would check out what Master Idina was doing. And then she and Thea would go on some great adventure together, even though the adventure would involve them never leaving the confines of the guild building.

Her feet started to hurt from all of the standing and walking. She slowly opened her eyes. The flames were still going strong, but they were beginning to run out of things to burn. Runi bit her lip and sat down on the very edge of the ledge, staring at the flames down below.

After a moment of staring, she slid her instrument case off of her back. She was careful to keep it from the edge; some part of her knew she couldn’t lose her music on top of everything else, too. She grabbed her lute from it and held it close. The case remained open beside her.

She didn’t play her lute, at first. She just held it there, trying to find comfort in something she had always had with her on her travelers. She had never thought that she would return to a time where she was always drifting from one place to another - she thought she had put that behind her four years ago. But her home was gone now. She just had a few people left from her guild, and she couldn’t begin to guess what they would want to do.

When she was younger, Runi had come up with a little rule. It was a rule she had never shared with another soul - not even Thea - because she just knew that it would make people worry. But after being tossed from one relative to another, Runi had always believed that there was something about her that made people leave. They’d say they were happy to take her in, but then they would discard her when she was no longer interesting. And the moment when trouble showed up in their lives, even when she wasn’t the cause of it, she would be passed onto the next relative.

If anyone had somehow known about it and asked about it before now, Runi would have claimed that she had somehow forgotten about it.

But that wasn’t something you could just forget. It was something that she had carried with her for as long as she had been alive. It was the reason she had always traveled, and the reason she was so hesitant to stay in the guild.

Runi’s grip on her lute tightened.

Things were supposed to be different, now. The guild - and its promise of a great, big family - was supposed to stop her from being tossed aside. But Han was always solitary. Vel had never really liked her. Ani liked her, but she liked everyone. Jay wasn’t even part of the equation. And even though Runi definitely had Thea, what if Thea left her? What if she lost Thea, too - not because Thea purposely left her, but because someone hurt her or took her away? Runi couldn’t stand the thought of anymore heartbreak.

Runi’s fingers moved over to the strings of her lute and she quietly strummed a single note as the fire died.

She was so in her own mind that she didn’t even notice Jay suddenly collapsing behind her.

[ she/her, but in a boy kinda way ]

roleplaying is my platonic love language.

queer and here.

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Lael says...

Han Young
cowritten with @soundofmind

As Jay fell to the ground Han narrowly stopped himself from jumping back a few feet in a flinch. He wasn't used to seeing others hurt around him, even after joining the guild for a while, so all he found himself doing was standing and staring speechlessly down at the other mage's limp body. There were a lot of things he could do for him--he knew lots of first-aid techniques--but his body wouldn't move. And besides, Jay just . . . betrayed them, so he didn't deserve it, right?

Well, it never did Han any good thinking too much.

Others let out an exclamation at the sight of Jay unconscious and Runi startled from her lute playing and turned around in surprise. Vel came forward to check Jay's condition.

"Just exhaustion," she said after a few moments. "He'll be find after sleeping it off." She immediately stood.

"Let him sleep," Thea said, though she hadn't turned back to look at him. Vel nodded, and stepped away from him.

Han could feel his shoulders sag a little at the pronouncement. He wasn't sure what he was feeling, but he figured there was other things he could be doing to make himself useful instead of standing around. He took off his pack and opened it up, rummaging for some food.

"We have t'go down there," Ani spoke up. "They need our help! We gotta put out th' fire!" She was standing at the very edge, looking down at the fire, like she was calculating a quicker way down. Thea stepped up towards her and put a hand on her shoulder.

Ani turned to look up at Thea, and her eyes were glistening with tears.

"It's too dangerous, Ani," Thea said, her voice low.

"You won't be able to get that close," Vel said, standing a few feet back, with her arms crossed. "You'll choke on the smoke... before..."

Ani ripped her shoulder away from Thea and sat down, drawing her knees to her chest.

"When the fire dies," Thea said. "We'll go."

Han paused, sending a side-eyed glance at Ani. Something inside him was growing uncomfortable, seeing one of the nicest people he'd met at the guild so devastated and desperate to rescue her home, but once again, he was confronted with the feeling of not knowing what to do for anyone. Perhaps not even for himself.

Useless, a voice in his head whispered. Han clenched the sides of his bag in his fists. He angrily let out a quiet huff and then pulled out some rations.

"Let's--let's eat . . . first."

He found it a wonder that anyone heard him.


After the group had rested and had their wounds tended to by Vel and Jay finally came to, they began making their way down the cliff to get to the guild. Besides carefully navigating the slopes and rocks, Han kept his eye warily on Jay. He noticed that some of the others did, too. But the man was trying to safely come down the cliff himself, so it wasn't like he could easily push anyone off and to their death.

As Han reached the bottom and stepped onto the rubble-covered ground, the acrid stench of smoke had settled into the back of his throat and nose and he found himself coughing. But the irritation seemed to disappear as the sight of what used to be the main building loomed ahead and filled his vision.

Bodies--or charred remains of them--were strewn around the building. Han could almost hear the other mages' screams amid the crackling flames as he stared at their agonized positions, like they were running and tripped in their haste, crawling and scraping by their fingertips, and--

He stopped himself before the sickening feeling in his stomach worsened and looked away from the bodies. Every time he saw one he recognized a smiling face in his mind, and knowing that none of them would ever come back reminded him of how his parents had left all those years ago. Blinking, he glanced up at the building again, studying the bottom two floors that hadn't collapsed, wondering if it was safe to enter.

At that moment, Ani rushed through the entryway, which was now devoid of its door. "Ani, wait!" shouted Thea, but she was already inside. There was a rumble coming from within, and smaller rocks and rubble from the collapse rolled over the threshold. Ani must have been moving some of the debris out of the way as she searched the interior of the building.

After a painfully long, silent wait, everyone standing outside seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief when Ani came back out unscathed. She looked grim as she said, "I didn't find any'un inside. 'Live, I mean."

"I didn't find any survivors, either," said Vel, who had been searching around the guild's grounds outside.

"What about Idina?" asked Runi, who appeared to be slowly coming out of her frozen state of shock.

Vel shook her head, while Ani replied, "Couldn't find 'er. There's nothin', no signs of 'er."

They all stood together without saying a word, no doubt processing their own thoughts. Han glanced at the others, taking in the mixed expressions on their faces.

He felt like one thing was for sure--they couldn't stay there. But where would they go? What were they going to do? And how were they going to deal with Jay? All of these questions surfaced like a tidal wave in his mind, so strange to him that they came together and spilled softly out of his mouth before he had even realized it.

"What now?"
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:7

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soundofmind says...

Jay Mournsky
cowritten with @AvantCoffee

"I'm still trying to figure that out," Jay said.

His mind felt empty. The air still felt toxic, and it made Jay want to gag. Everything smelled like smoke, and it was suffocating his senses. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could remember his own guild, Burninghood, consumed in flames like a tribute to its name. Visions of blood and war were distant and clouded, pushed back by a wave of reality. He had to keep moving forward. This was life now. War. Loss. The sooner they made peace with it, the sooner they would be able - well he would be able to figure out what was next. For him.

Jay stood at the edge of the charred building, in what was now ash, staring down at a stone bowl, blackened by soot, but somehow preserved in the fire.

He could feel the heat radiating off of it. Still.

Silence still hung in the air, though it was broken. Jay finally looked up at the others, noting how everyone avoided eye contact, still consumed by the destruction around them.

"You led them here," Ani said lowly. Though she was small, she stood firm amidst the ash and turned to look at him. "Didn't you?"

Jay knew now was not the time to argue, and yet--

"They would've come with or without me," Jay answered. "I only bought you time."

He saw Runi's head rise from the corner of his eyes, and he could feel the heat of her gaze.

"I didn't know they weren't going to wait for me," he said, feeling distant from his own words. "That wasn't part of the deal."

"The deal--" Ani repeated, her words laced with venom. "You made a deal with th' people who killed your own?" She started marching up to him slowly, like an animal stalking up to its prey. Except she didn't seem to have enough malice in her eyes to strike.

"Of course he would," Runi muttered bitterly.

"I did what I had to do to survive," Jay said cooly.

"And leave your whole guild t' suffer and die?" Ani retorted. Bitterness melded together with desperation and sadness as she looked up at him in disbelief, wide-eyed, with her eyebrows pinched together. "Did y' learn nothing? Weren't they your family? How could you just leave 'em like that?"

Ani stopped a few feet in front of him, meeting his eyes. Jay knew something was wrong with him that all of this - what she was saying, the look on her face - the look on everyone's faces - didn't stir anything inside of him. He just felt empty. But maybe that was what he was. Just a hollow shell of a person, just trying to survive, and that was what he always had been.

They didn't know him. In their eyes, he was just a traitor, and the reason their guild, their home, and their family was destroyed. Not a good second impression.

He held Ani's gaze with a blank expression.

"Why do you think?"

Ani's distress was apparent. She growled and kicked at the ground, sending dust and ash into the air, causing her to sputter and cough.

"So you did it because you're selfish," Vel said, turning her head to look at him while her body faced a little away. "That's nothing to be proud of."

"We shouldn't assume that," Thea countered, which caused the heads of the group to turn in her direction.

Vel's eyes narrowed at Thea. "He literally admitted to taking sides with your enemies. I think we should assume that."

"It wouldn't change anything," Thea stated, and judging from her expression she stood composed by her words. "He has his reasons, whatever they are."

"Yeah, 'cept he ain't explaining any of 'em!" Ani said, throwing her arm out towards Jay, gesturing to him in frustration.

"I don't even want to hear his reasons," Vel replied. "Imagine him actually saying them out loud."

"But he hasn't actually explained anything yet," Han's quiet voice interjected. Han shrunk under Vel and Ani's gaze.

Thea slowly turned to look at Jay, and even though she didn't say anything, Jay understood what she was thinking. If he wanted to defend himself, it was now or never. He let out a deep breath and tried not to choke on the smell of smoke.

He held up his hands in front of him, palms facing the others, and shrugged.

"Look. I know when I'm not wanted. I'll leave."

He could barely breathe there anyway.

He turned and started walking away, ignoring the turning heads watching him go. He only made it a few steps before he felt a tug on his shirt from behind. He stopped and turned to give Thea a dead-eyed stare.

"No, stay," Thea said, meeting his stare directly. "We could use you here."

"As a scapegoat, or as extra manpower?" Jay asked.

Thea didn’t react to his boldness. It seemed as if she’d been trying to figure him out through what he wasn’t saying. “As a tracker, and because you’re resourceful. And because you’re like us: a mage without a home.” The last words she uttered sunk darker in her voice than the rest.

Jay looked behind Thea, at Han, and the three women who all seemed to hate him at the moment.

Going forward, huh.

He looked back up at Thea.

"What exactly are you thinking then?" he paused. "Going forward?"

Thea paused for a long moment, her gaze on the ground, thinking. "We searched everywhere for alive guild members. We couldn't find Idina anywhere, not dead, not alive. There are others missing too."

Jay nodded slowly. "They've been taking guild masters prisoner, so Idina is probably still alive." If she didn't escape - but he had a hard time believing Idina would run off to save herself. She wasn't like him. "When I was with the army that attacked my guild, I heard something about a potion or poison that keeps people from using their magic. So, they might've used that."

He paused, knowing he was about to state the obvious, unsavory truth.

"That, and whoever pledged allegiance to the mage hunters and promised to never use their magic again was spared."

Jay noticed a conflicted thought flicker across Thea's eyes before she replied. "Then we rescue Idina and the rest of them."

Except, some of them might not want to be rescued.

"One problem. We don't know where they are," Jay said.

"But we do know, at least, that they're leaving the mountain," Vel interjected. What wasn't said, but what Jay heard, was that she wanted to leave.

"So they're probably a day ahead of us," Thea said. "There's a good chance we can catch up. We could gather any supplies we can salvage here and start down the mountain in the afternoon."

"You really be thinkin' we can catch up?" Ani asked.

Thea was silent. She looked like she refused to believe in an alternative. "I don't know for sure, but it makes sense to try. It's what Id—" Thea broke off as if the cracks of reality were filtering into her full awareness for a moment. "It's what Idina would do in our situation."

Runi came up behind her, putting a hand on Thea's shoulder. Ani and Han came up around them.

"We'll see 'f we can find anything," Ani said softly.

"We're with you, Thea," Runi said, echoing support.

Vel stood a little away from them, looking up into the sky.

"Let's hurry, though," Vel said. "The air's making me sick." She paused, and she and Thea looked at each other. "We shouldn't inhale too much smoke," Vel added.

Jay backed away, just a little, as the group came around Thea in what looked like a heartfelt reunion. He knew he wasn't a part of it, and he didn't want to be.

"I'll scout up ahead a little to see if I can figure out what direction they went," Jay said. "And I can make sure they didn't leave any traps for us."

Thea gave him an understanding look. "Thanks, but you shouldn't go alone. It'd be safer to stick in small groups in case there are any mage hunters lingering."

"I'll go with him," Vel said.

"I could go--" Han started to say at the same time, before fading to silence.

"You go," Vel said quickly.

Han nodded.

Thea seemed to make an effort to smile at Han, but her entire appearance looked weighed down, and it didn't result in much. So far she hadn't shown signs of breaking, but all the devastation had to be taking a toll somewhere inside her. It had to be, for all of them. "Okay. We can meet back here in half an hour. The rest of us can gather supplies."


When Jay and Han returned, the bags the others had been carrying looked more full, but they weren't wearing them. The bags were stacked, left to the side, while everyone had gathered around a plot of space that they'd cleared.

The ground was still lifeless and dark, but the debris and ash had been pushed to the side with a wall of earth. It had to be Ani's work. The air also felt cleaner, like the smoke had been directed elsewhere.

Jay stood back and watched as Han stepped forward, approaching them slowly.

There was a grave.

A long, long rectangular plot of recently-disturbed earth stretched out behind a large headstone. Jay lagged, far behind Han, and when he came up around the side of it, he was finally able to see what was written on it.

Names. Each one carved into the stone - not with grace, or with the artfulness of a skilled carver, but each one intentionally put down. Both the first and last names of every single guild member. He wondered how many of them were found recognizable, and how many names were put down with their fate having been assumed.

At the top of the slab of rock, there was a title.

"The North Point Guild." Simple. To the point.

It was a marker for what once was and now was no more.

Jay wondered if Burninghead ever received the honor of that kind of recognition, after having fallen. Or if there was anyone left around to bestow it.

Han, Ani, Thea, and Runi all stood together in front of the grave. Thea stood in the middle, and the others came around on each side. For a moment, they all held hands, and even Velalis stepped forward to join them, though she didn't take part in the physical touch.

Jay stayed back. This wasn't his guild to mourn.

Ani lifted up a large bowl from the ground. He recognized it as the one he'd seen peeking out of the ash earlier. Now it was cleaner, with a mound of ash inside it.

Runi stepped forward and lifted her hands. The dim morning light around them seemed to darken, and little circles of light started to appear, dancing over the grave like lightning bugs, or like light snowflakes of light, fluttering in the air.

Ani lifted the bowl up in front of Thea, and Thea stood tall, taking a deep breath as she took a step back.

Thea outstretched her arms, and with fluid movements, pulling and pushing the air, the ash rose from the bowl like a plume of smoke. Its path became more controlled, and slowly, with the grace of a quietly flowing stream, the ash circled through the air, rising higher and higher, until it stopped, spinning as a ring above the grave.

Thea brought her arms back, and then forward, sending a gust of wind forward.

The ash flew over the grave, and it kept going. Flying, flying, until it dispersed somewhere over the edge of the mountain.

Runi's flickering lights faded. Ani set the bowl on the ground. Thea let out a deep breath and brought her hands together in front of her.

Han stepped forward and knelt in front of the gravestone, reaching into his pack and pulling out a canteen. He unscrewed the cap and pulled the water out into the air, causing it to hover over his palm. Then he raised his hand and turned it upside down, sending a gentle shower over the gravestone.

As the water settled, he stood up and returned to the line of surviving mages.

A solemn silence settled over them as the sun rose higher in the sky. A calm, but a cold breeze blew from behind them, and it bit the back of Jay's neck.

Finally, Thea spoke.

“Those that died here were not just mages. They were people. People with full lives and diverse identities who laughed, who sang, who lived kindly and loved the family we built here. People who called The Northern Guild home because, in one way or another, they belonged, and we belonged together. We knew these people very well, enough to know that they died as light as the air, as steady as the ground, without the cruelty they were supposedly killed for. Now they rest in this place, and may their lives always be known by this land, as they will in our memories. This is what mages truly are.”

The five of them joined hands again, with Vel included this time, and Thea pulled them all into a group hug, while Jay stood alone.

As Jay looked on from afar, he could've sworn he saw a small, fuzzy creature poke its head out of the collar of Ani's shirt and crawl up her arm, out of Jay's line of sight.

Was that a rat?
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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AvantCoffee says...

Thea Forenode
cowritten with @soundofmind

From the corner of Thea's eye Jay made a movement that caught her off guard. It wasn't hostile, but seemed odd somehow, like a mixture of confusion and alarm had arisen in him all at once.

Thea turned her head and narrowed her gaze to see what could have caused his reaction, but all he seemed to be staring at was Ani’s arm relaxed at her side. In Jay’s expression Thea watched a process of uncertainty and disgust morph into dull acceptance. If this was how he reacted to Ani's arm then Thea was beginning to doubt her decision to take him along with them.

In any case, she decided to ignore what had happened and focus on the more serious situation they now confronted: catching up to the mage hunters who destroyed their home, and rescuing what little remained alive.


They had been traversing down the mountain for a few hours before Thea spotted Meanie-mo's little head poking out of the back of Elani's shirt, and suddenly Jay's behaviour from before made sense.

"Thea, you're smiling," stated Runi, her eyebrows bunched together with concern.

Sure enough, Thea felt a slight raise in her mouth corners despite everything they had been going through, and immediately registered guilt. The grim truth was that she couldn't feel anything, not since seeing the smoke rise above their guild and the charred bodies scattered between building rubble. Nothing mattered anymore. Nothing except finding Idina and the others, and keeping the group safe: Vel, Runi, Han, Elani--even Jay. All they had now was each other.

"It's nothing," Thea replied to Runi, glancing at Jay.

Jay gave Thea a side-eye from a few paces in front, clearly suspicious of her, and that triggered in Thea a small idea.

"Elani, has Jay met Meanie-mo yet?" Thea asked. Knowing Elani, this would spark some enthusiastic action, and they could all use a distraction like that after going hours in their individual thoughts.

"Ah, now that'd be a good question! Usu'lly the little guy be meetin' others a ways before they're ready to be meetin' 'im, but he don' bite none. He likes makin' new friends and goin' places he shouldn't, isn't that right, Meanie-mo." At the sound of Elani's voice Meanie-mo scurried out of Elani's shirt and down her right arm, where Elani began rubbing the top of his furry head with her left hand.

At that moment, Jay came to a stop, staring at Meanie-mo with narrowed eyes. Meanie-mo started chittering, skittering up Ani's arm and around her shoulders to get a better look at Jay. Everyone started slowing to a stop around Elani and Jay, and Elani walked up to Jay, letting Meanie-mo bounce around her shoulders and arms, until she extended her hand and Meanie-mo perched in her palm.

Elani held Meanie-mo out like an offering, and Jay leaned away, looking down at Meanie-mo with an expression akin to some mix of disgust and bewilderment.

"Meanie," Jay said, like he was making sure he got it right, but not because he thought it was cute. "That's it's name?"

"Well, actually, his name is Meanie-mo," Runi corrected—a little sourly, but there was lightness when she said the pet weasel's name.

Thea watched on as Meanie-mo recoiled slightly after sniffing the air in Jay's direction. The feelings seemed mutual on Jay's end, who made no attempt to touch the small animal. If Thea was certain, she could've sworn Meanie-mo had cowered away from Jay... He definitely appeared more jittery than usual.

Elani frowned. "That's strange, norm'lly he can' wait to get all cosy with new people, even if they are tratorin' no-gooders."

Jay just shrugged, still staring Meanie-mo down. "It's probably because I smell like ash."

"We all be smellin' like ash," Ani said. Her eyes flicked to Meanie-mo, who had scurried back into her shirt, and now only poked his nose out from her collar. She narrowed her eyes at Jay and pursed her lips into a thin line.

"I guess the ferret doesn't like traitors either, then," Jay said dryly.

It definitely seemed odd, Thea thought, but she wasn't about to fret over a small thing like this. In all plainness, she didn't take Jay for an animal person, and Meanie-mo probably picked up on that.

"There, there, Meanie-mo, you can't win 'em all," Elani consoled, stroking his little head again.

Further back in the group Han and Vel patiently waited, with Vel the less patient one; her arms were folded, and she tapped her clawed fingers against her feathered arms.

"Time to keep going," Thea spoke. She looked to the net-like branches above them. Through the foliage she noticed the light falling, becoming warmer. However, the air around them was growing cool with the nightly chill, and would only grow colder as long as they stayed in the shadows of the mountainside.

As the group moved forward again, Thea caught a whiff of smoke and panicked for a moment. Was the army near? She spun her head gradually to all sides, looking past the farthest visible trees, but there was nothing. She was overacting and she knew it.

Runi seemed to notice Thea's momentary distress, and she gave her the universal look of concern—eyebrows pinched upward with a slight frown—asking if everything was alright.

Thea gave her a nonverbal friend signal that everything was fine, and from then focused mostly ahead of her, moving silently to the front of the group. Jay hung back behind everyone else, but Runi and Ani seemed to draw closer, and Han picked up the pace until he was almost at Thea's side. Vel was in-between all of them, looking a little pained; in their time walking down the mountain Thea had noted that her wing probably bothered her, and empathy sprung up in Thea. She wished they could do more to help, but the supplies they'd packed were only ever meant for a day's worth of reconnaissance, not preparing for this.

As they kept walking, Thea could hear Elani and Runi start talking quietly. At first, idle chatter about the weather and being hungry, and then a squee that could only have come from Runi.

"Aww!" Runi cooed. Thea glanced back to see Meanie-mo wiggling up Runi's arm, running across her shoulders, and then hopping into her shirt's chest pocket.

"He be havin' all this pent up energy after havin' ta keep quiets for the mission," Ani said with a warm smile. "Now he's lettin' all of it out."

Meanie-mo poked his head in and out of Runi's pocket, and Runi looked like she was finally starting to relax. It was nice to see her smiling again, and Meanie-mo seemed to be cheering Ani up too. Runi patted Meanie-mo's head and the little ferret closed his eyes, satisfied.

"I'm glad he's getting rid of his jitters," Runi said softly, continuing to pat his little head.

"Me too," Ani echoed.

As their conversation and Meanie-mo's burst of energy seemed to fizzle out, Thea looked ahead again. The mountainside sloped downwards at a steady angle, so she would need to be careful where she stepped. Something stirred in her at the thought of her leg, something like annoyance, but it didn't reveal itself fully.

A few minutes later they approached a flat stretch of the mountain—not very long, but enough to camp out on—under the shade and shelter of a few tall pines. Pine needles layered the mountain's floor, mixing with dirt and stringy grass, and the smell of pine almost overpowered the still-lingering scent of smoke on their clothes. There was a drop-off a few yards to their left, but it was more than enough distance away that they wouldn't need to be concerned about rolling off of it in their sleep.

Thea opened her mouth, about to announce that they should rest here for the night.

"We should stop for the night," came Jay's voice from behind, as if he was one step ahead of her thoughts.

The group came to a standstill at his words, all turning behind them to look back at Jay. There was a moment of hesitation—Runi's eyes darting between Thea and Jay—before Jay elaborated.

"We won't find another place like this before sundown," Jay said plainly, as if he was ignoring all of the uncertain looks. "And hey, it comes with a view."

He gestured to the drop-off, and the side of the mountain that dipped down from it, but his expression was mirthless, and he looked at them all with a dead-eyed stare; Thea was beginning to wonder if that was his default expression.

Runi, Elani, and Han all turned their heads to Thea, like they were looking for confirmation.

"He's not wrong," said Thea simply, as she had planned to say since he'd suggested it.

"Right," Vel said, her voice snippy. "Let's settle down for the night then. I'm tired."

That was enough to bring everyone into agreement, because no one could argue with Velalis's closing sentiment. They were all tired.


It was almost dusk by the time the group had settled into their individual tasks. Jay was busying himself with collecting firewood, while Runi and Elani organised the food the group had salvaged earlier at The Guild into an inventory. Now that they were on their own, they would have to ration their food, and soon they would have to forage or hunt for more.

Vel, though, wasn't doing much at all. She'd found a tree to sit under, leaned back, and looked like she was resting... and sulking. Though, it was easy to tell that she meant it when she'd said she was tired.

Han had gone off somewhere, and Thea had become increasingly aware of her own lack of activity. She opted to help with the inventory after sensing the unwelcoming vibes surrounding Jay.

"Oh, Thea," Elani acknowledged when she crouched down next to the supplies spread out over the pine needles. "We might not be needin' three people to get this job out o' the way, so you don' need to be worryin' 'bout this."

For a second Thea experienced a tinge of insecurity. Jay interrupting her leadership earlier replayed in her head, and that mysterious negative feeling stirred inside her again.

"Howe'er, las' I checked not a soul be lookin' around fer danger," Elani added, seeming to think out loud, "an' we been runnin' into a lot o' that recently."

Runi piped up next to Elani. "I can come with you, Thea!" She seemed much cheerier since chatting with Elani about Meanie-mo before.

"Runi, that may be defeatin' the purpose of one o' us goin'," Elani said in a motherly tone.

Thea smiled gently. "I can be a lookout on my own," she stated, and stood up to survey the area.

Between some sparser trees and close to the slanting drop-off of the mountain, Thea soon found Han standing and looking out over the view; she had assumed he might already be scouting for signs of mage hunters.

Han heard Thea before she arrived within several metres of him, and greeted her with a considerate look. He didn't smile, and neither did she—there wasn't much to genuinely smile about.

"I saw you looking around earlier...” Han explained, “like you were worried about the army being close by, so I wanted to make sure. And we're safe... I mean, I uh... I walked everywhere and couldn't find anything."

Thea nodded, impressed that he'd still had the energy to do so. "Thanks—for giving us some peace of mind."

"Of course, Thea," Han said softly. He took in a deep breath, looking out at the mountain dipping down ahead of them, and there was a natural pause as they both watched the last of the sun hide behind the horizon.

Han broke the silence gently.

"Thank you," he said. "For keeping such a cool head with all of this. Like you said before... we're all in this together."

Thea’s eyes left the spot where the sun had vanished to meet Han’s, and she gave him an appreciative look. “We are,” she confirmed, matching his softness. “… I might need to remember that better myself, that none of us are alone in this.”

Light would be falling quickly with the day over, and Thea decided that it would be easier for the two of them to make their way back to the group sooner than later. She made a movement to turn around—but it had been a long day, and she miscalculated where to step—

Her prosthetic leg wobbled as she reached for the nearest tree to steady her balance, the bark rough against her palms.

Han had stepped towards her with concern, and Thea stiffened—not because he’d done so, but because so many people had in her life since the accident.

“I’m fine,” she said immediately, before she softened her tone again. “… Sorry, I’m just a little tired after everything that’s happened.”

Thea shut her eyes for a moment longer than was necessary, and images of the past day and night haunted them. So much had changed in such a short amount of time—unbelievable loss and violence, but one thing remained the same: she had been given the task to lead them, and she needed to do that for them now to the best of her ability. Thea wanted to help her fellow guild members—her friends—get through this.

Han seemed understanding, and stood carefully by as Thea righted herself. Together they began walking back to the tall pines where the others were.

“How did it happen?” Han asked, glancing at place where her real right leg ended. They hadn’t run into each other much at The Guild before the scouting mission, so it made sense that he wouldn’t know much about it.

“A fall. Nine years ago, while rock climbing,” Thea answered. “It took a while before I could move again on my own, but it usually isn’t a problem anymore.”

Han took her words in with a thoughtful expression, though seemed unsure of himself when he spoke. “Well… it’s okay if it is—a problem, that is. Not saying that it is a problem, um… but you don’t need to deal with it alone.” His eyes appeared sincere.

Thea couldn’t absorb what Han had said fully, but there was safeness in hearing him say it. “Thanks, Han,” she replied, and a friendly smile found a way onto her face. “I really mean it.”

The shadows around them were growing as the two of them returned to the camping spot. It looked like everyone had remained in the jobs Thea had left them in earlier.

Jay was closest but out of earshot, head down and expression closed-off next to a heap of wood. He didn’t notice them, or otherwise didn’t care to; Thea was starting to learn his personality.

Han also stared at Jay for a short moment, before turning to Thea and dropping his voice—despite not needing to. “Do you really think we can trust him?” Han asked her honestly; his eyes revealed that he wanted an honest answer from her.

Thea turned her gaze on Jay again. The group had every reason to reject Jay after he’d conspired with the army and broken their trust—not that there had been much trust to begin with. In every respect he was just looking out for himself, however… there was predictability in that, and as long as they were all trying to survive with mage hunters around they had a mutual interest in being a larger group.

"I think so," Thea said to Han. "For now, at least."

Han was quiet for a moment, and he looked at Jay like he too was thinking it over.

"I trust your judgement," he said softly. He turned to Thea, giving her a solemn nod.

They stood there for a moment, making eye contact, and then they heard Ani's voice pipe up.

"Han! There y' are. Were ya foragin' for food?" she asked.

Han gave Thea one last glance before he parted and approached Ani. He responded quietly, telling her what he'd told Thea. He was just checking the area.

Thea hung back, continuing to reflect on the decision she'd made to let Jay stay with them. During their travel down the mountainside Thea had reflected back on Jay's answers at the destroyed guild, and--more notably to Thea--his facial expressions as Elani and Runi had interrogated him: empty eyes, flat responses, like his emotions were far away... only Thea wondered if she understood a little of what he might be covering, after seeing the ashen ground where her guild had once stood. She wouldn't let herself access any emotions for what had happened at her guild, not while there was still hope: Idina and others might still be alive... But what had Jay gone through before meeting them?

Thea looked at Jay again, his unwelcoming body language as constant as ever, and decided to go talk to him.

Jay appeared to be arranging wood for a fire pit as Thea approached. It looked like he'd already dug a hole in the dirt around it, leaving chunks of grass in a pile. It was apparent he'd dug it out with his hands. He didn't look up at her when she walked up.

"You look like you've done this a few time before," Thea started to say. "I imagine it was a long journey from your own guild."

Jay's eyes flicked up at her, but he quickly returned his attention to the branch he was weaving through the bottom of his pile.

"Good imagination," he said in monotone.

"You mentioned you're a tracker before. At The--" Images of the now destroyed buildings flashed in Thea's mind. "--at The North Point Guild, much earlier."

"One of a few skills," Jay said, still not looking up from his fire pit. "Top of the list is making fire pits."

Thea had expected as much from trying to start a conversation with him, but persisted anyway. "And another is healing magic, right?"

"You're observant," Jay said. It was unclear if that was his way of confirming his magic or if it was just sarcasm.

Thea did recall Vel's comment on his healing magic being weak, but that could have just as easily been her irritation and pride talking. Thea decided to move the conversation elsewhere after a pause. "What was it like at your guild?" she asked, but continued before he shut her down. "I want to know what another guild was like before it was destroyed..." Her tone shifted as she looked into the unlit fire pit. "I want to know what all of them were like."

Jay's movements slowed with each passing word. He stacked the last branch, finishing his pyramid-shaped stack of wood. He pulled his hands away and sat there, squatting by the fire pit, with his hands resting idly between his knees. Then he sat down, and let out a deep sigh.

"You know, I never really got too close to anybody," he said emptily. "But the leader of our guild was a woman named Sylva. She was a talented water mage, famed for her years of monster hunting. She was retired from adventuring, but she was interesting. Had a lot of stories."

He finally looked up at Thea.

"Idina probably would've liked her, if they hadn't met before."

Thea's breathing had slowed as he'd talked. "I can see that too," she replied quietly. "Idina... and I go a long way back. She really listened to me when I was younger, and made sure no one was left out."

He met her gaze for just a moment. It was hard to tell what was going on behind his eyes, and when he looked away, it was down at the stack of wood.

"I hope you find her then," he said. "For your sake."

Determination solidified in Thea's eyes. "Me too," she replied.

Jay didn't look back up at her. Instead, his eyes were fixed on the wood, and he took out two rocks from his pocket. Striking them together, he created a small spark at the base of the stack, near a bunch of dry twigs. At first, it didn't ignite, so he did it again, and again. And then it finally looked like it caught.

He leaned in, starting to blow on it.

Thea offered automatically, "Let me help with that," and sent him an easy look. She drew closer to the struggling flames in the fire pit and knelt down--careful of her prosthetic leg. Thea had grown accustomed to using her air magic in almost any useful way she could in her years of developing it, and feeding fires was one of them.

Jay leaned back as Thea used her magic, watching as the fire started to crackle, eating away at the logs. He didn't acknowledge what she was doing, or the fact that she'd helped. Instead, he glanced over at the others: Ani, Runi, and Han. His eyes drifted to Vel, who hadn't moved from her spot under the tree. As if on cue, as the fire started to light up their little camp under the shade of the pines, the last of the sunshine faded from the sky.

"We should sleep in shifts," he said. "I'll take first watch."

Thea tensed up for the second time that evening with Jay giving them orders, but his words didn't get to her further. She finished helping the fire.

Han started getting up to sit with them around the fire, but Ani and Runi looked at each other, and then to Thea. There was something unspoken between them, like they were asking Thea if she was going to just let him take charge. Vel had her eyes closed and said nothing.

"There's no need for you to stay up first," Thea told Jay, standing up. "You probably had the longest day out of all of us. I'll take first shift. Everyone, let's sleep close around the fire."

She looked at Vel, who finally opened her eyes and slowly got to her feet to join them. Runi and Ani followed after, bringing their bags with them as they sat around the fire and started getting situated.

Jay was silent, and he didn't argue with her, nor did he move when one by one, the others pulled out blankets and started lying down. Slowly, the fire grew bigger and brighter, and it wasn't until everyone but Thea had lied down that he finally turned away from her and curled up on the ground.

Thea stayed near the fire for a moment and faced the flames, feeling the warmth and light dance over her face. In a time that felt distant now to this one, when Thea had only just lost her leg to her fall, she would stare into fires for long hours when others couldn't be with her and imagine the embers as tiny ruins in flames, or as the rocks that had crushed her after she fell. Now all she could see was her guild burning, and people dying. Yet she almost felt cheated that she hadn't seen the real thing--that she hadn't been there for them when they'd faced their end. That they'd been too late.

Thea drew her attention to the air in her lungs, the air all around them. She summoned her magic once more to manipulate the air around the fire, creating momentary shapes with the flames--images of the mountain views she knew off by heart from the windows of various guild buildings. A short time later she got up to find a good place to keep watch, and chose to sit with her back against one of the pine trunks.

It would be a long night, and a day she would remember for a very long time.

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Lael says...

Han Young
cowritten with @soundofmind

The group was quiet as they got up in the morning, covered the signs that they had spent the night in the clearing, and continued on their way through the mountain. The air didn't feel quite as tense as it had yesterday, but Han still felt that a somber cloud was hanging over them.

Runi appeared to be mostly back to her usual self, though, smiling a little and seemingly ready to be back on the road. Ani also seemed fine, though her expression was a little off, as though something bothered her. Han didn't dare sneak more than a second-long glance at Vel, who was scowling darkly as always. It was more severe than normal, though, and she was stretching a little, as if she was sore all over.

He looked over at Jay, who had no life in his eyes, then at Thea. Though she appeared to be bouncing back to normal, he felt a twinge of worry about how she was acting, especially after she had taken everything yesterday. He'd even talked to her last night and felt that, with all the things she had been carrying on her shoulders and whatever pressures she was evidently facing inside of herself, she should still be having a hard time this morning, more than anyone else.

Was everyone just trying to hold it together and put up a front? In a way, Han knew that he himself was, a little, but he mostly felt numb because he'd already lost everything in the past. It didn't feel too surprising to him that it had happened yet again. Good things and community didn't really seem to last all that long.

Barely anyone had spoken except for a few murmured words to each other, as well as Thea giving directions. Seeing as no one had woken everyone up during the night and there was not much said about the night watches, he assumed that everything had been uneventful, thankfully. However, now that they were walking through the trees and the light was barely beginning to peek through the branches, it wasn't just their group that was nearly silent. The environment around them was eerie and still, with no signs of active life in the area. No doubt it was because of the fire. The animals had had the good sense to run away.

Han mostly just concentrated on the path in front of his feet as thoughts spun through his head, but he was caught off guard when he saw Jay suddenly break off from the group through his peripheral vision. He lifted his head and stared after the man for a moment. The others exchanged glances, confused, and Han felt that this was an opportunity to be helpful. He met eyes with Thea before following after Jay.

He didn't walk too far, though, which helped Han catch up quickly. He stood and glanced at their surroundings, then sent Jay a surprised look.

"How did you know they came this way?" he asked. The ground before them was completely trampled down and riddled with fresh bootprints, as though a large army had passed through.

Jay didn't look at Han. He kneeled down, studying the ground. "Thought I saw something," he said.

"... Right," said Han. He wasn't sure he completely bought that reason, but there was no denying that the signs they were looking for were here. Not all of him trusted Jay after his betrayal, either, but it was some kind of intuition all the same.

Just then, there were footsteps behind them and the rest of the group caught up, with Thea in the lead. Han gestured at the path in front. "Jay found where the army went."

"We should go this way," Jay said, pointing in the direction that the tracks headed. "The tracks don't look more than a day old. There's a lake further down that they likely stopped by for water."

Thea nodded, though her expression appeared forced to Han. "Okay, everyone just be careful and walk quietly. There could be scouts or traps that they left behind." Somehow she didn't seem completely pleased.

Jay nodded and started leading the way without instruction. Thea visibly bristled before following after, waving her hand to encourage the others along. Ani seemed to pause for a moment, like she was trying to sense if there were any traps through the earth. She ended up falling behind Vel, who was formerly at the tail end of their group.

Han couldn't help but look at Thea again, worried. It was probably something to do with her leader position being stolen, by the traitor no less. After everything that had happened, having a role and purpose felt like stability. To have that taken away as well . . . Han shook his head. He wondered if he should try to talk to her, but he immediately felt his nerves acting up when he thought about what he could say. It wasn't like she would welcome it, right? He'd already overstepped the boundary yesterday when he tried to prevent her from tripping, which must have been insulting to her pride. As much as this was.

He sighed quietly, then decided to walk next to Jay. Now this was something he was really puzzled about. After living in the wilderness for so long, Han didn't think his survival and tracking skills were shabby by any means, but the way that Jay had veered hard off their path earlier and in the right direction with such certainty and purpose was beyond him. How was that possible? He felt the question rise up in his mind, swirling around as he played out the scene in his head where he confidently asked Jay how he had done it. But the more he thought about it and planned it out, the more he could start to feel his limbs feel stiff and his body shaking involuntarily.

Stupid nerves.

Then Jay looked over at him. They were walking side-by-side, and Jay seemed to look at Han expectantly, asking without words: "What do you want?"

"Um," said Han, his voice coming out in a whisper. He could feel his ears turning red and he cleared his throat. "How did you, um, know where the army went? Like for real, I mean. Because I--I don't think there was really a way to tell from the road, where we were. I think."

Jay gave Han one long look before he turned to look ahead.

"I was traveling with them for a while," he said curtly. "I know the kinds of paths they'd take."

"Oh." Han's voice trailed off. He felt like he was shrinking from the inside. Jay didn't seem like he wanted to talk, and perhaps Han was thinking too much into it. The answer did kind of make sense, after all.

He decided to keep his mouth shut after that. It was probably better to just make himself useful by keeping an eye out around them. He let himself fall slightly behind Jay and tried to keep the failed interaction out of his mind. But, like just about every time he managed to embarrass himself, it was impossible. His ears burned as he looked to the sides and ahead for any threats, but there didn't appear to be any. If he were being honest, he was thinking more about how terrible he was at talking to people, though.

Thea stopped, and so did Jay. Everyone else did a second after them.

In front, the ground was marred by skidmarks, like the grass had been torn up by heavy steps in every direction, revealing disturbed soil underneath. Han's eyes fixed on the leaves scattered on the ground, and caught sight of dark stains on them. Blood.

Thea took a few steps forward, looking down at what used to be a bush, now crushed by a giant rock. "Whoever was fighting was using magic," she said.

"Earth magic," Ani said quickly, in earnest. "It could've been Idina."

"Do you think this means--" Runi started the question, but didn't finish it as Thea turned around, and the two of them made eye contact.

"We have to hope," Thea said, but it was clear that there was something stirring inside her that she wasn't allowing to come to the surface. "But this means they have someone with them. At least one of our own."

"All the more reason to hurry," Ani said, pushing forward to the boulder and setting her hand on the side of it. "They were probably defending themselves... trying to fight."

There was a long pause that followed. Behind the boulder, there were jagged rocks jutting out of the earth, cleary ripped through the ground because of magic. It was something they had all seen Idina do several times when sparring and teaching younger mages, disturbing the earth underneath your opponent.

"It looks like she was fighting alone..." Ani said softly.

Runi walked up behind Ani, setting a hand on her shoulder.

"We should keep moving," Thea said, cutting the tension and starting forward once again, following the matted down undergrowth that the army had left in its wake.

Vel came up beside Han, looking down at the blood spattered leaves at his feet.

"If we find them," she said soberly. "I guess I'll be busy."

"Yeah," murmured Han. It was hard to imagine Idina, a powerful mage, being subdued like that. His fists clenched.

Hopefully, it wouldn't be too late when they caught up with the army and found her.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:7

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Mageheart says...

Darunia Vain
cowritten with @soundofmind

Runi had never seen so many dead fish.

She admittedly wasn't entirely sure they were dead, but they looked dead. There were too many to count—which she knew because she had tried to and lost count halfway through. The dead fish would have been weird on their own, but it was especially weird (and worrying) given where they were right now.

Their group had spent the past two days following the tracks. Jay and Han had done the majority of the tracking, but Runi had tried a little bit, too. She just wasn't any good at it. Tensions were high; they were running low on supplies, and the struggling wasn't as obvious in the tracks. But they had thought they were in luck when they got closer to the foot of the mountain. There was supposed to be a lake there. Lakes meant food to eat, water to drink, and a place to finally wash all of the dirt and grime off.

(Not that Runi usually minded that.)

When they finally did get to the lake, they were met with the sight of a lot of dead fish floating at the water's surface. The water looked fine besides the horde of dead fish. But the fish had to be dead for a reason, and Runi had a sneaking suspicion there was something in the water. While Vel went to check out a nearby dead fish with a branch she had found on the ground, the rest of the group investigated the area around the lake.

Runi didn't have to be a tracker to know that other people had been there. The land looked disturbed. There were remnants of campfires, footprints everywhere, and broken branches littering the ground.

Runi glanced around.

She didn't know a lot about bad water, but she wasn't sure they could get a lot from around here. There had to be somewhere else that they could supplies from. Somewhere that she remembered hearing about once, and might have even seen a glimpse of while traveling around before joining the guild.

(She tried not to think of what they had just left behind, even when the thought of the guild conjured the memories of the destruction.)

Now that she thought about it, there was something nearby...


Runi had thought the worst part of the day would be the dead fish, but she really wasn't liking the situation she was stuck in now. It had all started when Han and her had both remembered the smaller pond a little ways down the mountain. Neither of them remembered exactly where it was, but Jay did. Which was weird and kind of suspicious, but Runi wasn't really sure he'd betray them a second time. Not this soon, at least.

So the three of them had gone to the pond. The water was murky, but it was a normal, non-polluted kind of murky. It also had a lack of dead fish floating on the surface, so Runi had taken that as a plus. Han had offered to use his water magic to filter it, but it was clear they'd be there awhile. Luckily for him, Ani, who had apparently tagged along with Runi noticing it, had suggested that she could remove some of the elements in the water with her earth magic. As a final precaution, Thea had offered to make a fire to boil the water.

Which was theoretically great. They needed the fresh water.

But with Vel checking out the dead fish and Han, Ani, and Thea taking care of the water, they needed food. And the only two people left were Runi and Jay. They had both tried to go on their own, but Thea had forced them to go together to be safer. Runi knew that Thea had good intentions; she would have probably pushed for the same thing if she was in Thea's shoes, too. But Runi was used to traveling alone and really didn't want to be stuck with Jay right now, so she wasn't all too thrilled by the decision.

Now the two of them were exploring the forest surrounding the lake. Runi wasn't really sure what she was supposed to be looking for. She had traveled a lot when she was younger, but she usually had enough food to get her between towns back then. She rarely had to forage the wilderness for edible things-

She caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye. It was still within view of Jay, so she wasn't worried about them getting separated right now.

She walked over to the thing at the base of one of the tree trunks.

There were some mushrooms. If she looked up and squinted, she could see a few more littering the forest floor. It wasn't enough for multiple meals, but it was something. And she even recognized them as something they had regularly eaten at the guild, so she was sure they weren't poisonous.

"I found some mushrooms-" she started to excitedly say, only to pause when she remembered who she was with. She glanced over her shoulder at Jay. He was...crouching behind a bush? All she could see was the top of his head. For a moment she wondered if he was using the bathroom, but he would have said something if he was. At least, Runi thought he would have. She didn't really know him all that well, and he was the quiet type.

"What are you doing?" she asked, walking towards him.

"Digging," Jay said simply, and when she walked up behind him, she could see that he was, indeed, digging with his hands. He was uprooting some grass and underbrush and reached his hands into the earth, pulling out a beetroot.

Runi blinked.

"How did you know that was there?" she asked, squatting down next to him. She put aside her distrust and dislike of Jay; she was too intrigued by his discovery.

"I know their leaves," Jay said, pointing to a few leaves shooting out of the ground that matched those on the beet he was holding.

Runi frowned.

"They don't look that special," she said. She poked one of them with her fingers. Maybe Jay knew more about plant life than Runi did, but something wasn't adding up.

"They're special when you know you can eat them," Jay said, handing her the beetroot before he once again dug his fingers into the ground.

She held the beetroot in her hands and kept watching him as he dug. She was trying her best to shake her suspicion for Thea's sake, but Jay wasn't making it easy. Still holding the beetroot, she got to her feet and started to make her way back to the mushrooms.

"Wait," Jay said, pausing in his digging to look up at her. "Let me see the mushrooms."

"They're edible ones," Runi argued. But she still did as requested, plucking one off of the ground and bringing it back to him. She was surprised he had even noticed that she was looking at them earlier. He was more observant than she had expected.

Jay leaned forward and studied the mushroom in her hand for a moment, and he took in a deep breath.

"...They're safe to eat," he said plainly.

"I know," Runi said, a little bit of irritation slipping into her voice. Then she took a step back, not liking how close she was to Jay. "We ate them all the time at the guild."

"Oyster mushrooms are native to these mountains, then," Jay said like he was voicing a conclusion, not like he was asking for her opinion. He turned away again and ripped another beetroot out of the ground, adding it to a small pile he was making on the ground.

Runi took a deep breath and slowly let it back out again. She was just going to go back to getting her mushrooms. She could stop thinking about Jay and focus on the more important things here: food, survival, and finding Idina.

She saw a glimpse of color near one of the mushroom patches.

Without giving Jay a second look, she walked on over to it. It was a berry bush. The berries on it all looked ripe, but they also all looked familiar — Runi was sure there had been a bush of them growing back near the guild. It wasn't a lot of berries. It could probably just be considered a snack if they split it up between their entire group. But when combined with the mushrooms and the beetroots, it was something.

She started to pick some of the berries.

"It's too bad we can't fish," Runi said to herself. She wasn't a cook, but she was sure they could make some kind of dish out of the food they had collected.

Without hearing him approach, she suddenly heard Jay's voice behind her.

"A shame."

Instinct kicked in before Runi could really register that it was Jay behind her. She spun around, clenching the fish that had a few berries in it. She threw a punch at his face.

Jay jumped back before it could make an impact, but it was close.

"I'm so sorry-"

"Don't crush the berries," Jay said flatly, standing up straight and staying a step back, just out of arm's length.

Runi lowered her fist.

"I won't," she said. She wasn't sure if she was grateful that he didn't seem to care, or frustrated that he only was focusing on collecting the food right now. She really wished Thea had let someone else build the fire. She wished that she had offered to build the fire.

Jay stared at Runi for a moment, but it felt impossible to read his face. It seemed permanently locked into a dead-eyed expressionless void. He then inched closer - not hesitantly, but slowly, like he was watching her briefly for a reaction before he decided to crouch beside her by the berry bush, scanning it. She could see that he'd piled all of the beets in his poncho. It looked like he'd bunched and tied up the corner to use the front of his poncho like a pouch.

"So," he said lowly as he plucked off a few small berries off the bottom. "Why do you use your magic to make your eyes golden?"

Runi faltered.

She...hadn't been expecting him to ask about that.

"I started doing it when I was younger," she said, grabbing a few berries. She didn't want to talk to Jay out of stubbornness, but she also was desperate for a conversation. "I figured it out by chance and thought it looked cool. I've been doing it for so long that it looks weird when they're not golden."

She thought for a moment.

"And it is a good way to practice using my magic," she added.

Jay flicked his eyes over to her, and she saw his gaze travel from her face to her hair.

"So it's just an appearance thing," Jay said. "A preference."

Runi nodded.

"Yeah," she replied. She grabbed another berry and looked over at him. "...What else would it be?"

Jay looked back to the bush, reaching his hand in further to pull out hard-to-reach berries.

"I don't know," Jay said. "I don't ask questions I already know the answer to."

"You don't ask a lot of questions in general," Runi muttered underneath her breath. He didn't talk a lot in general, either. She still didn't see why he'd suddenly ask her about something like that when he hadn't been remotely interested in anything outside of the food collection, but maybe he really was curious.

"Sometimes," Jay said steadily. "People don't speak because they have nothing to say."

He then turned and looked at her for a moment, meeting her eyes.

Runi held his gaze. Jay blinked, but he didn't look away. He was staring at her like he was waiting for something, but suddenly, his eyes broke away, and he looked behind her, towards the lake.

He got to his feet, wordlessly walking past her.

Runi rushed after him.

"What is it?" she whispered, not wanting to be caught if he had noticed another person who wasn't part of their group.

Jay didn't respond, instead he lifted up a hand as if to shush her as he walked up to the water's edge, looking down the lake's small beach.

A few feet off, there was a hawk holding a fish from the lake, and it was starting to eat it. Jay was staring at it intently, not even giving Runi a second glance.

It would have been nice if Jay had actually responded to her, but Runi could see why he was quiet. She didn't want to startle the bird either. If it hadn't been eating one of the dead fish, they could have probably caught it. Still, at least they could test out if the fish were dangerous to eat.

They stood there for at least a minute or two. By the time the bird started looking a little sluggish, Runi was starting to reconsider her decision to join Jay in watching the hawk. The watching finally paid off when the hawk tried to fly. It flapped its wings and got off the ground for just a second, but then it stumbled forward and tumbled into the ground.

"I, uh, don't think it's a good idea to eat the fish," Runi said.

"Velalis has likely come to the same conclusion by now," Jay said quietly in response.

"Probably," Runi agreed. She glanced at what they had collected. Between the beetroots, mushrooms, and berries, they had a decent amount of food. "We should head back to the others now."

Instead of verbalizing his agreement, Jay simply turned around and started walking back the direction they came.

Runi sighed and followed him.

[ she/her, but in a boy kinda way ]

roleplaying is my platonic love language.

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Mon Aug 23, 2021 11:46 am
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ScarlettFire says...

Velalis of Arete
cowritten with @soundofmind

Vel watched Jay and Runi disappear into the trees before turning back to the lake, ignoring her aching wing. The fish were definitely dead and Vel was prety sure she couldn't heal them, not that she'd want to anyway. She crouched by one near the edge of the lake and poked at the fish with the small branch she'd picked up. It fell apart into glowing goop... Yes, she was definitely not touching them or eating them. That was...concerning. Vel frowned, glancing up over the lake and all the floating, dead fish. She had a feeling it would not be wise to touch the fish or the water.

She sighed and stood up, stretching slightly and flaring out her good wing. Her broken one ached again and Vel rubbed at her shoulder, wincing. She turned and headed back to the camp, catching sight of an empty camp. Vel frowned and went to go sit by the cold campfire, collecting some of the smaller branches on her way over there. Carefully, she got the wood set up and ready to lit before she want searching through her pack looking for flint.

Vel had just found it and was about to lit the fire when Ani, Thea and Han returned with fresh water. She almost smiled. "Welcome back," she called and turned back to lighting the fire. It sparked once, twice and then caught. Vel leaned forwards and carefully blew on it to get it to flare up. "Don't touch the fish or eat them, and don't touch the water." She nodded to the fish she'd been prodding at and the glowing goop that had been inside it. "Definitely a bad idea, I think."

"Eww," Ani muttered as she inched closer to the dead fish. "Why's it glowing?"

"I have no idea," Vel replied, straightening up and adding another small branch to their campfire. "But it's clearly nothing good."

"Even more reason to not mess with them, then," Thea said definitively. She and Han were both carrying canteens that were full and heavy with water. "We found a stream further away that wasn't connected to the lake water, so this should be clean, and not carrying... whatever that is. Hopefully."

"That's good," she muttered, glancing over and nodded. "Find anything else?"

"No," Ani answered quickly, sitting down beside Vel with a deep sigh of disappointment. "Nothing new. Looks like the army's trying harder to cover their tracks, now."

"But we know the general direction they went," Thea added. "Thanks to... Jay."

"I suppose that's a good thing, then." Vel shifted to get more comfortable and carefully stretched out her wing, glancing about. She caught Thea gazing off into the distance and followed her gaze as it drifted past Vel and Ani. Off in the trees, Runi and Jay could be spotted a small distance away, and it looked like their arms were full of food.

"What'd ya find?" Ani hollered over her shoudler.

"Mushrooms!" Runi chirped back. "And uh... beets?"

"I guess that's better 'n nothing," Ani said at a normal volume, turning to the others. "Han, you think you could make a soup or something?"

Han had sat down quietly on the other side of the fire, and he looked a little surprised when Ani addressed him, but he nodded eagerly.

"I can figure something out," he said quietly.

A few seconds passed in silence as Runi picked up her pace to hurry up to the fire, leaving Jay behind. She bounced on her feet as she showed off her armful of different types of mushrooms, and Ani nodded in approval, taking them out of her arms and handing them to Han. He and Thea started clearing of a slab of stone to sort through the mushrooms and clean them with the limited water they had.

"Did you find anything out about the fish?" Runi asked, turning to Vel.

"Yes," Vel said, nodding towards the still-glowing goop that had been inside the fish. "Don't touch them, don't eat them. I'm fairly certain that that would be a bad idea."

"A very bad idea," someone else muttered lowly, but Vel ignored them. Runi's eyes fell to the goopy fish, and her mouth curled in disgust.

"Eww," she muttered. "Yeah. Definitely won't be doing that."

Runi shuffled closer to Ani, still warily eyeing the dead fish before she sat down with them around the fire. At that moment, Jay finally caught up, silently approaching them and stepping into the light. As Runi had announced, Jay was predictably holding a handful of beets, which he promptly plopped down beside Han and Thea, who had started preparing the food. Without addressing any of the others, he walked around the fire and picked the spot furthest from them all to sit down.


Vel lingered by the lake, staring out over the eerily still water. She'd deftly avoided standing near the goopy fish and was making sure she kept her wing held up high enough to make sure nothing touched it. It was too still, too quiet and she didn't like it. Vel frowned, twitching slightly at the rustle of clothing and soft footsteps on leaves and twigs. She turned her head to find Jay standing beside her. Vel gave him a nod.



Jay was looking out at the water. He didn't even turn to acknowledge her. Silence. Vel turned to look back out over the water, still frowning. They stood there for several minutes in silence until Vel twitched again and glanced over.

"Can I help you?"

"With what?" Jay asked, finally looking at her with what seemed like a blank expression.

She scowled. "Is there a reason you're standing with me?" she countered, raising an eyebrow.

"Wanted to look at the death water," Jay said plainly. "You just happened to be here too."

"Death water," Vel mused, turning to eye it warily. "An apt way to describe it."

"It doesn't look like a normal disease," Jay said. "Glowing fish goop... Do you think it was a slow death?"

Vel snorted. "How I am supposed to know?"

"I don't expect you to," Jay said quickly. "I'm only theorizing."

"Well," she said, turning to look at a fish bobbing against the shoreline. She was tempted to nudge it with a foot but decided against risking it. "I can't imagine it's pleasant, slow or not."

"Do you have a lot of experience?" Jay asked. "With death?"

Vel glared at him, lips pressed into a thin line. He stared back, still with that same blank expression. She huffed and looked away. "Some."

Jay hummed, almost thoughtfully. Vel ignored that and crossed her arms. She'd been perfectly content to stand there on watch without being bothered, and now here was Jay, bothering her.

"I've seen a lot," he said vaguely.

Her wing dropped slightly and she jerked it back up. "Yes, I suppose you have."

Another silence followed, but before Vel could break it, Jay spoke up.

"You've been a healer your whole life, right?" he asked.

She sent him a sharp look. "Yes."

"Trained, and everything?" he asked again.

Vel raised an eyebrow. "If I say yes, will you go away?"

"I'm asking because I wanted to know, in your professional opinion, if you think there's any hope for making my weak magic useful," Jay said flatly. "But I think I already know the answer."

He gaze narrowed. "I am not one for teaching," Vel told him, sniffing and glancing back out over the lake. "But if there's any tips I can give you..." She sighed. "Time and patience."

Jay snorted.

"Yeah, okay," he said. "So nothing, then."

She snorted. "If you think so," she said, glancing at him from the corner of her eyes. "Then why bother asking me?"

Jay stared back out at the lake for a moment and let out a long sigh.

"We're in a war, now, Vel," he said lowly. "I want to be useful. Not a hindrance."

Vel just stared at him for a long moment, watching him carefully. Studying him, her gaze narrowed, arms still crossed. He had a point there...and they were the two who could actually heal... She sighed and gestured towards him, then back towards the campfire.

"Show me what you can do, then."

Jay turned to her, raising an eyebrow.

"Are you going to let me touch you this time?" he asked.

She scowled. "Fine," she hissed and turned to stalk towards the campfire. "Hurry up, Jay. Before I change my mind."

Jay kept up the pace behind her.

"I don't see how a change of location is necessary," he stated plainly.

"If you're going to sit there and stare at my wing for as long as I think you are," she said, not looking at him, "I'd rather be comfortable."

"...Fine," Jay muttered.

Vel huffed and moved to sit by the fire, stretching her good wing out, making sure it was positioned so it was not going to be in the way. Then she gestured at her injured wing. "Get on with it."

Jay paused for a moment, his eyes darting to the others, who were sleeping around the fire. Each of them curled up in blankets, trying to keep warm. It looked like they were all still asleep.

On light feet, Jay came up behind her and observed her injured wing. All that could be heard was the crackling of the fire as he presumably inspected it, taking a closer look. About a minute passed before she felt his hand gingerly reach out over the bandaged wound, making her twitch a little---it was another minute before she actually felt anything.

It was like a small pulse. It came with a warmth that radiated around the wound's point of origin, but it was only a small relief. A few muscles might've been mended, but the bone was still broken and fragile.

At that point, Jay pulled away.

"There," he said, keeping his voice quiet.

Vel frowned, twisting to glance over her shoulder at him. "That's it?"

"Any more, and I wouldn't be standing up right now," Jay said, meeting her eyes, unamused. He didn't seem ashamed of the fact that he was so weak, just mildly annoyed at her reaction.

"Hmm," she said and turned back to face the fire. "I see..."

"So it's like I thought, then," Jay said. "If I haven't been able to improve by this point, this is as useful as I'll ever be."

"Yes," she said and rubbed at her face. "It would seem so... You would be useful for very minor wounds, probably...but....not anything...more..." Like my wing.

"And there aren't any magic tricks -- nothing you could tell me besides 'time' and 'practice'?" Jay asked pointedly as he walked back around and sat beside her to look at her squarely.

Vel hesitated, eyeing him warily. She was quiet for a long, tense moment, and then sighed, looking away. "I..." She trailed off, frowning and then glanced up and met his gaze sternly. "There might be...but it is not...exactly...legal..."

Jay stared at her.

"...Legal?" he repeated. "What's that supposed to mean? I don't see anyone out here 'enforcing laws.'"

She looked away, biting her lip. "It means it's forbidden, Jay. And therefore not something I'm inclined to share."

"But you're the one who brought it up," Jay countered.

She sent him a scathing look. "You asked first."

"If it's forbidden and you didn't want me to know you shouldn't have said anything," Jay said. "Now, are you going to tell me what it is?"

Vel exhaled heavily and leaned back slightly, glowering at him. She waited a moment, then firmed up her expression. "You must promise me you won't teach anyone else, that you won't use it unless you asolutely must...and that you will not to breathe a word of this outside your lessons with me."

"Promise," Jay said, watching her with his full attention.

She glanced at everyone else and swallowed. "Not here," she said, and stood abruptly. "Come."

Vel turned and walked towards the edge of the clearing, away from the lake and away from the campfire everyone else was sleeping around. Jay followed behind silently until they were far out of earshot.
"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.

What's the point of being a grown-up if you can't be a bit childish sometimes?
— 4th Doctor