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Interesting Citizen

Denre Rispit

User ImageJhandel's greeting left Denre slightly nervous. Was there a way to tell a shapeshifter's identity just by looking at them? Regardless Jhandel was on Denre's side, at least for the time being. Denre had made the guess that the man was a cultist by herself. He had seemed too sure of himself in the face of death to be a single man operating on his own. What secrets did this cult hold? After his current responsibilities to Jhandel were finished he would have to see about infiltrating this organization, whether by force or not she would decide later.

Jhandel's advice about keeping her origins secret were entirely unnecessary. She hadn't lived for two hundred years by flaunting her abilities. Many would deem her a witch or worse. Their fears of course had some justification as Denre's own method of sustaining herself spoke of some dark origin. The clarification of Kalison left a cold chill in Denre's spine. What lengths would this cult go to in order to hunt her down?

Deciding that this recent information was enough to sate her thirst for the time being Denre decided to push no further for now. She had been searching for two hundred years now and impatience would be a horrible way to loose leads. She turned her attention to her last order of business.


"There is one last thing. My camp is outside the city and in my current wounded state I'd probably make it about halfway there before I collapsed. I'd rent an inn, but I'm too short on coin. Do you know somewhere I could stay for a couple nights while I recover?"
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AT THE TOP of the stairs, Xanthia was greeted by the sight of an unfamiliar foyer. She must have taken the wrong stairway. The palace was of an unsurpassed scale and it was easy to become lost, even for a native of the city. Then again, it was not like Xanthia spent much time here anyway. Nevertheless, she felt no desire to interrupt that couple’s obnoxious kissing on the previous balcony. Heading back to the heart of the party didn’t seem very appealing either. Xanthia continued on, gaining amusement from losing herself amongst the vastness of the castle. She wanted to make a map of it all but alas, she had neither a pen nor paper. It was quiet through these corridors, a sure indication that Xanthia was already far beyond the fringes of the main events. In fact, wandering alone through these tranquil unexplored halls was nearly as peaceful as the brilliant night sky and far more satisfying. The sound of a pair of aggravated voices twisted around a nearby corner, seeding Xanthia’s stroll with intrigue.

Rounding the final corner to the noise, she found herself entering the embrace of a magnificent lobby. Though every room in the palace was an ostentatious display of wealth, this one was a step higher. The voices emanated from a royal guard and a short brown haired man in a red robe near the opposite entry. They were arguing intensely. Xanthia only had a moment to come to grips with their disagreement but it appeared that the red robed man was demanding that his petition be delivered personally to the king’s quarters for his consideration. The guard, who strongly disagreed with the proposals of the petition, was obviously offended. Making good use of their self-initiated distraction, Xanthia easily slipped past towards the quarters of the royals. It was odd that there weren’t more guards here, especially at such a glamorous event as the banquet where even many of the common folk were granted entry to the palace. She tried not to question her fortune. After all it was a busy night and guards were probably well occupied with other things. Xanthia had also yet to penetrate very far and there were probably many more guards nearer the quarters of the king and queen.

Xanthia rejoiced in the excitement of this new domain but she was also very nervous. The guards didn’t take kindly to strangers slipping past their guard. Just around the corner was the chamber of the king and queen. Even seeing the door would be a highlight. Xanthia prepared herself for an imminent confrontation, thinking about what excuse she might give the guards. That she was lost? It wasn’t a lie. In the end she had yet to do anything truly wrong. It was the guard in the lobby that had failed. With this confidence Xanthia marched with a spring in her step. Before she even cleared the royal guest rooms, however, she caught the sight of a door even more intriguing than the king’s.

“Sir Jhandel Koven”
, the guest label read. The sign startled Xanthia. Here, among the quarters of the Rhakovans? So it appeared that Jhandel was even more intertwined with the royalty than even his knightly status suggested. Whatever the reason, Xanthia leapt forth without abstention to try the doorknob. It was locked, of course. With a frown of disappointment she yearned over the secrets that lay mere steps away from her. Whatever it was that Jhandel was really trying to accomplish with this expedition, it was sure to be found on the other side of that baleful door. The thoughts were putting Xanthia extremely on edge. She could break in, but if caught there would be no excuse the world she could give. Her heart was beating furiously as she considered the consequences. Would it cost her livelihood? Of course not. She might not even spend a day in jail as her father would quickly bail her out; a privilege that came equally from his connections and her well-deserved reputation for being innocently nosey. More devastating than any of these could be, however, was that she would lose all hopes of being on the expedition and embarrass herself and her family beyond repair. But, Xanthia pondered, was it worth being a part of an expedition she knew nothing about? Why did this ever-reclusive empire seem suddenly interested in sending people to the borderlands? Was it exploration or reconnaissance? The questions were overwhelming but soon there was only one to answer. Would she find out now what this whole thing was about or would she boycott the secrecy?

Xanthia pulled a bobby pin from her hair and a letter-opener from the small purse she carried. She took a long deep breath to calm her nerves and tried to embrace the feeling of sickness that pervaded her stomach. As a kid she had watched her mother assemble locks like this and though she had never tried picking them before, Xanthia did have a good understanding of how a lock worked. She inserted the bobby pin and tried to visualize the inside of the mechanism from the fragmentary tactile feelings that came from raking the pin along the inside. Doing her best to keep her hands from shaking, Xanthia used the letter opener much like a screw-driver to twist the cylinder as she elevated the tumbler pins one-by-one. Her method was random at first but with each rake of the bobby pin she was able to improve her perception of the inner-mechanisms. The seconds slowed. Too much pressure would break the bobby-pin and then she would never get it out of there. The challenge was not completely new, however. Xanthia could feel the angles and forms of the tumbler pins like she could feel the mountains when she mapped them. As her sense of the inside achieved near perfection, each iteration came closer and closer to success. At last, with a twist of the wrist the cylinder turned to completion, unlocking the door and a rewarding click welcomed Xanthia to the darkness of the room.

Allowing the door to lock again behind her, she lit a few candles and spent a moment delighting in her own cleverness. The fear that gripped her only moments before dispersed with the light as and Xanthia began to focus solely on the next stage of this adventure. The room was well kept and she didn’t want to disturb anything unnecessarily so she decided to leave the drawer opening and pillow-flipping until things got really desperate. There was a notebook on top of a night table that flanked the bed – that would be a good place to start. Near it were also several letters that had yet to be sent.

Xanthia rested on the bed as she acquainted herself with the small notebook. It was very much like her own. Seeking no particular order, she began to flip through its pages liberally to uncover its layout. The first part was a list of names. People Jhandel could call on for favors and others he marked to be wary of - none of which were recognizable to Xanthia during her quick browsing. The next section seemed to be compiled out of notes regarding surrounding empires. Also included were some sketches of maps and general descriptions of topography. All were supremely interesting but Xanthia stopped flipping instantly upon coming across a map of Tourmaline with a line drawn from Zenithis heading south. It was their route, no doubt, as a list of the people on expedition was opposite of the sketch, hers included. Xanthia switched her focus to the details of this seemingly forbidden knowledge, whispering each line to herself as she read.

South they would head, to the realm of an infamous blood lord who the legends claimed sustained her immortality through the sacrifice of her enemies. Xanthia read with a loose jaw and wide eyes as if it was a horror story. But it was worse. This wasn’t a story, it was real. She continued on, trying to think it all out logically in order to keep the shivering at bay. Being the largest to border Tourmaline, it was this empire that posed the most immediate threat to the Rhakovan’s realm. Hence, Xanthia deduced, why a subsequent note described how Rhakovan’s army focused much attention on Tourmaline’s southern border.

It made perfect sense. Perfect, terrifying, disgusting sense. Jhandel wasn’t looking for ambitious scholars to push back the limits of knowledge, he wanted warriors. He himself was a soldier and Nero, an expert huntsman with stature enough to break a man’s arm with his thumb. And as for Denre, if the way he juggled those knives said anything, he could slay a man with the toss of a coin. What in Kol’s name was she doing on this quest? A 22 year old map maker being sent alongside men-at-arms? Was it some sort of mistake? Her skills weren’t needed for survey this was military reconnaissance! Xanthia almost threw Jhandel’s journal to the floor at the very truth. What if her father found out about this? Then she would never be going? Did she even want to go anymore? Tears started seeping from Xanthia’s eye-lids and she choked once or twice. She didn’t have long to cry, however. Someone was at the door.

“I thought he was supposed to be at the hall of heroes?”
, a man whispered.

“I’ll knock”

“No!”

“Why?”

“Would you want to be disturbed at this hour in a state like that?”

“He’s a knight for Rhakovan’s sake! No man cries like that. It’s not him and with all this talk of assassins I think I’ll take my chances. Lord Koven are you in there?”


Xanthia immediately rose from the bed in panic. Her eyes immediately fixated on the window for escape but she needed to buy some time first. Even then, did she leave Jhandel’s journal or take it with her? Further reading would likely prove invaluable but what if he found out? He surely would. But…it had descriptions of other realms! Even more important, she had to make sure, for their own safety, that Denre and Nero knew what they were getting into. Given some time she would find a way to slip it back here discreetly, even if it meant paying some bum to walk over to the palace with it. Ok, she would take it. Pulling her nerves together, Xanthia spoke in the manliest voice possible in an effort to distract whoever was at the door…but it wasn’t very good.

“Um…ahem…Um yes it’s me, Jhandel. I’ll be out in like five minutes.”


“Hey! You’re not Jhandel! How dare you impersonate his noble knightlihood! By the order of the royal guard open up in there!”


Fortunately, by the time she had finished uttering such a failed impersonation Xanthia had already opened the window and was preparing to climb out. One of the people at the door banged furiously while the other fiddled with some keys. There wasn’t much footing on the outside of the wall. The stones of the palace were smooth and flat and the garden below seemed so far away. Adding to the peril, she was in a dress again and it hung just slightly below her heels so as to only cause trouble. It was a really bad combination, especially considering that she was never really great at … *crash*

Xanthia tried to yelp at the pain erupting from her elbow but she was too short of breath. She only gasped instead. The bush was luckily without prickles and hopefully inflicted nothing more than minor scratches. At least it had broken the fall. Xanthia had no time to inspect the injury, however. The guards would be looking out the window any second now and she had to get away or be caught. She rolled from the bush onto the cool garden grass and leapt quickly to her feet. Who knows how much time she had to spare by the time she rounded the nearest corner. Another lay up ahead. She needed to get as far as possible as fast as possible so Xanthia did not stop her half-limped sprint until she rounded the next bend into the Queen’s garden.

There couldn’t have been a worse happenstance. It was Jhandel in the garden and a slender young woman with raggedly cut blond hair that appeared to be wounded. Xanthia instantly shot back around the bend at the very sight and whispered a quick prayer. There was nowhere to run. The guards would be here any minute and she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. One count on break and entry and one count on theft. Having not much else to do other than accept this tragic fate Xanthia collapsed into the corner, unable to even allow herself the tears. Maybe the shadow would hide her purple dress. She sulked, trying to pass the final seconds before the guards came by eavesdropping on Jhandel’s conversation with the woman. But that feminine voice changed everything.

“It’s Denre, I switched forms for the tournament … “
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

Gracious General

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                                                        JHANDEL WATCHED Denre curiously, assessing his --for it was a he regardless of the form he took --reaction as one might catalogue a collection of butterflies. He saw within that feminine frame a violent grace, befitting a marauder off the coast of the Sea of Storms, a nervous eagerness playing subtly behind that slender face. The guise was truly perfect; there was nothing, not a single hair out of place, that belied the first form he had shown the knight. It was impressive, unsettling though, Rothaelim bless his eyes, he could see through it like a fine haze. Had I always been able to do this? he wondered. Blinking slowly, Jhandel knew the answer was no, that whatever gifts he possessed during his childhood, being able to feel the threads of falsity was never one of them. Again Notras' soul-rending gaze cut through the fog of his mind, singing times are changing until it rang over the sound of his heart.

                                                        Rothaelim's Shroud was fraying.

                                                        Jhandel paid little attention to Denre's second request, the guilt of ignoring his guest overwhelmed by his desire to leave this place and do something with this new knowledge. He gave her a curt invitation to stay within the palace grounds, offering a room in a wing he knew was not occupied to capacity by visiting dignitaries. Notras would likely approve of the notion that the sellsword should remain here; with such close proximity, surveillance was as easy as looking out the window. As was his habit, Jhandel fell into a default politeness, hoping Denre would not take offence to his rapidly dwindling diligence towards their conversation.


                                                        "Rest well, Denre. There is no saying what lies beyond our sight and I must have every member of this expedition at his or her best," Jhandel said. He ran a hand over the breast of his coat, feeling the thick paper of the document most crucial to their mission press against shirt fabric. Since receiving it from his prince, the knight had not once left it out of his sight, if not tucked securely on his person. This wasn't paranoia, he told himself. He genuinely did not know what he would do if he lost it or, god forbid, had it stolen from him. The notes he left by his bedside were incriminating, yes. But those he could forge, reforge, and destroy if the situation demanded it.

                                                        Jhandel stood and made to leave, noting with some irritation that guards were noisily approaching this sanctuary. He could not tell what disturbance had spurred them into making such a commotion, though whatever it was the knight did not want to deal with it. He had other more pressing matters to attend to, like ensuring his prince remained visible yet well protected. Likely, these guards had nothing to do with him anyway.

                                                        Bidding Denre --Ms. Rispit he corrected --a pleasant farewell, Jhandel turned down one of the many darkened hallways, this time forgoing the lantern-lit paths guests were expected to travel. It was faint, this wind that blew from the heart of the castle, a light caress before it passed with a sigh. With it the Lord Knight heard a distant keening, no more than a tremble in the air, and a sudden darkness clouded his sight. He paused, hand reaching for the wall beside him. The hall lacked shadows for the pitch blackness that shrouded it. Jhandel held his breath, second hand soundlessly loosening his sleeve. Cold metal fell into his palm and he waited.

                                                        Slowly he glanced behind him, more to see if his ears could catch something else from a different angle than actually expecting to see anything through the darkness. Astonishingly, the fabric of his heavy coat and the silken shirt underneath made not a sound as he shifted. Perhaps he had been wrong about the high-collared formal attire of the Rhakovan House; the clothes drew too much attention in a brightly lit and populated hall, but they were fitted to his form and allowed him a wide range of movement comparable to his armour.
                                                        If I were an assassin, he mused, I would wish to commission this tailor. And what a sobering thought that was.

                                                        Jhandel crept along the wall, drinking in the silence. The darkness remained as the darkness had been, threatening but only for the reason that it hid the unknown. His mortal eyes still could see nothing but a vast void, though as he inched his way closer to the Hall of Heroes, the shadows he imagined were pursuing him vanished. Soon the anxiety gave in to nervous curiosity. He listened again, straining to hear over the sound of his body.

                                                        Somewhere a gentle crackling danced and he felt anticipation, excitement, a tremendous lust for destruction, before it too disappeared. Jhandel couldn't place it. The emptiness that marked his ignorance was chilling.
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...A SHAPESHIFTER? Xanthia’s eyes widened and despite listening intently, she completely missed the point of their conversation after tripping over that first sentence. The man who had been tossing knives on the street just a few hours earlier was now a slender blond haired woman. Was that even possible? The thought made Xanthia feel sick. It couldn’t, but had to be. Rothaelim’s shroud was said to prevent magic such as that and though Xanthia sometimes dismissed the legend as a convenient way of explaining the scarcity of magic in the world, perhaps she had it backwards. Maybe it was the shroud that didn’t exist, at least not anymore.

The woman, Denre, had said it outright. There was no mistake. Denre was a shapeshifter and Jhandel knew about it. How could he? How could they? Xanthia had come looking for the answer to a simple question – the goal of his expedition – and had gotten far more than she’d bargained for. Considering the nauseating truths that this little adventure had brought, Xanthia tried to think whether she regretted her decision to answer the call of her curiosity. She didn’t. What if the autumn storms had come yesterday and they had left? How dangerous would it be to set off into the wild expanse when only Jhandel knew the truth and with her companions hiding secrets like Denre’s? Was the knight trying to get them killed? So Jhandel assumed they were soldiers but Uncle Davice had always talked about the most important quality in a team of soldiers being trust. The trust that your comrade would watch your back. Indeed, he would say, it was the trust in each other that allowed you to complement one another and make the team greater than the sum of it’s parts. Without trust a team of soldiers was nothing more than an undisciplined rabble and it was this trust, as well as her own, that Jhandel had betrayed.

As that devious snake closed his conversation with Denre, Xanthia became aware of the guards that were finally approaching. What had taken them so long? Perhaps they had been a little more careful than her descending that perilous wall or maybe they had just guessed the wrong direction at first. Their unreserved scrambling also brought to Xanthia’s attention an odd property of the Queen’s garden. All sounds were nearly perfectly dulled here. It was tranquil and not even the hurrying of the armored guards could disturb it. This would work to her advantage. Drawing strength from her despair Xanthia refused to let those royal hounds take her so easily and dispense injustice for her righteous inquiry. The inverted corner left a cool dark shadow that would efficiently hide her dark purple dress but there was still one detail to take care of. Xanthia slipped the other bobby pins from her dark hair and bowed her chin to let it hang in front of her face. Now even the frightened pale of her skin wouldn’t compromise her hiding.

The royal guards stormed by and into the clearing where Denre still sat. Xanthia held her breath… and her bladder, trusting the acoustics of the garden to mask the rampaging lumps of her heartbeat. Jhandel’s journal trembled restlessly in her hand as the sickness of terror gripped her insides. If the food of the banquet hadn’t been so good she might have even puked.


“It’s her! Stand down miss!”


“No you idiot! Wait!”


“Why?”


“It can’t be her, she’s wounded. I sincerely apologize for our rudeness ma’am, we are looking for a …”


“…girl”


“How do you know that?”


“We heard her crying didn’t we?”


“Yeah but what if it was a kid? Anyway, we are looking for someone with a feminine voice. Have you seen…


”…heard”


“…seen-heard anything?”


Xanthia couldn’t stop herself from peaking around the corner into the clearing. The two guards’ backs were turned and though Denre’s presence had bought her some time she wasn’t out of the woods yet. If she stayed they would search this area again, probably splitting up once they found out the blond woman knew nothing. Xanthia had to keep moving. Rising from the shadowy cradle of the corner she looked for an escape. The entrance to a hedge maze just adjacent to the Queen’s garden immediately caught her sight. It would be the perfect way to lose her pursuers but there was first one qualifying challenge – she would need to sneak behind the backs of the guards. The acoustics of the garden could mask her footsteps but there was nothing the stop the guards from turning around. More so, Denre would see. It was a tremendous leap of faith but Xanthia was convinced there was simply no other way. Whispering one final prayer and embracing the terror, she stepped out into the open and gave Denre the trust neither he nor Jhandel had afforded her.
Lord Scottacus's avatar

Interesting Citizen

Denre Rispit

User ImageThe Garden was quiet as Jhandel left for but a moment before the tranquility was shattered as a pair of guards burst into the clearing from around the corner.

"…Seen-heard anything?" The guards were practically tripping over themselves to their discredit.

Denre was about to inform them that she had indeed not seen anyone go past when she noticed someone creeping out from the shadows from another corner of the garden and into the hedge maze nearby. Had this person been there long? She could have overheard the conversation. Adding to the complication Denre though she recognized the culprit, Xan the woman she had met earlier. Letting Xan get taken into the custody of the guards could only result in problems for herself if Xan had overheard anything of the conversation.


"Yes, she ran by in a rush and went in that direction. Good Luck" Denre let out a small giggle and pointed them to another area of the garden that eventually led pack to the palace proper.

With hasty thanks the guards blushing guards rushed off in the direction she had pointed out. Xan had disappeared into the maze while Denre was misleading the guards and Denre saw no other option but to follow. She needed to find out how much Xan had heard, and possibly explain herself. Initially setting off at a brisk pace into the maze a coughing fit and some blood convinced her to slow down. Soon after entering the maze Denre quickly realized that finding the other woman inside would be no easy task. The natural dampening of sound in the garden paired with the tight corners and twists would make it nearly impossible to track her down. The only way to find her would be stumbling upon her by shear luck. Denre decided that she would have to try a more diplomatic approach.

"Seriously I'm in no condition to chase you down and I just want to talk okay? I led the guards off your trail already so you won't have to worry about them."

The call was loud enough that it would penetrate the brush of the maze, but wouldn't carry outside the garden.
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WITH HER lightest steps, Xanthia moved quickly through the open and never looked back until she had reached the entrance of the hedge maze. After slipping past the first corner she stopped for a moment. Peaking through the foliage, Xanthia watched the events unfold with a frozen heartbeat. Denre enthusiastically pointed the guards in a bogus direction to which they fled without hesitation, never even thinking to question the giggle at the end of her sentence. Xanthia coughed a breath of happiness and in a second the tears of fear that had lightly dampened her cheeks became trickles of relief. She lifted her arm and dried them nonetheless. When she could open her eyes once more, however, Xanthia caught sight of Denre approaching at a brisk pace.

They were allies here. Denre had just proved that. But to what measure? Xanthia was beginning to panic even as the slender figure coughed and slowed. This ability of hers was obviously something she wished to share with no one but Jhandel and Xanthia could not predict how she might take to an eavesdropper. The thought its coincidental nature brought to her mind another consideration – the journal. How strong was Denre’s loyalty to Jhandel? The two certainly shared a great deal of trust if they could discuss such an otherworldly ability. If Denre were to know of the stunt she had just pulled to retrieve it, the crime would no doubt be brought to Jhandel’s attention. In that case, Xanthia might as well have just been caught by the guards and the good luck that had gotten her this far would be wasted. She escaped further into the maze in flight of this possibility.

"Seriously I'm in no condition to chase you down and I just want to talk okay?”


Xanthia stopped at her voice as if Denre was standing right behind her. Even if her guilt for this dirty deed were to be brought to Jhandel, didn’t Denre deserve to know? It wasn’t just herself that she had done this for, Xanthia reminded herself. It was for Nero, and Denre, and now maybe even Abel. It was for transparency. And even though Denre could, in an instant bring her to Jhandel’s blade, they would still know the truth. No matter what happened, Xanthia’s efforts couldn’t be wasted.

She turned around and with the resolve of a soldier stood and waited for Denre to catch up. Maybe she wouldn’t stick out amongst the others on this journey as much as she thought. Maybe her recommendation by the cartographer’s guild wasn’t a mistake. But these brief flashes of hope were on shaky ground, all depending on how Denre responded to her and to Jhandel’s notes. Though she stood fast for some time, Xanthia only felt the true weight of the situation after the shape shifter turned the corner. Even when wounded there was an aura about her that was intimidating, like the very air had submitted to her authority. Xanthia tried not to step back but took one anyway. She stood silent, holding the book out and shying from eye contact. She had bookmarked the section with the quest with a pair of matches in case the light of the full moon wasn’t enough to make its reading comfortable. Becoming conscious of the confusion her body language might evoke, Xanthia quivered a quiet whisper to explain.

“I-i-it’s Jhand-el’s”


Though Xanthia could no longer question the path that she’d chosen, she couldn’t shake the weight of the moment. It shook her instead.
Lord Scottacus's avatar

Interesting Citizen

Denre Rispit

User ImageDenre caught up with her quarry in the maze. Xan had stopped to let herself be found. The woman looked frightened to say the least. Denre's mere appearance around the corner invoked a back-step. This was the exact reason she avoided letting her secret out. The knowledge of her abilities simply brought out fear and mistrust between her and her colleagues. Xan was holding out a book of some sort.

"I-i-it's Jhandel's"

So that's what the guards had been after her for. Denre recalled Xan talking about a gnawing curiosity towards the details of their mission before lunch. Denre cared little for the knowledge herself as she was used to this kind of behaviour from her mercenary work. Many an employer in the past had run their jobs on a need to know basis. That being said Denre could understand where the naturally curious woman was coming from in looking for answers.

"I care not for the details contained in that book. You keep it and read what you want. I suggest you give it back to me when you are done though, I will return it to Jhandel's room without his knowledge afterward. I think it's best if he doesn't find out about this."

Denre switched topic to the woman's potential eavesdropping. She hoped this wouldn't harm their relationship. She believed the woman would be more open minded than Jhandel. He had seemed to be uptight and secretive around her since she first met him. Sometime on this journey she hoped that she would be able to get the man to open up some more. Now was not the time though she still had other matters to attend to.

"Regarding whatever you overheard. I'll tell you this much now, I'm not what I seem to be. I was planning on telling the whole group Jhandel takes with him at least a little bit of what I can do. That being said I was planning on doing so outside the city once we have set off on our journey. The city has far too many prying eyes and ears for me to exchange information like that."

Denre waited for Xan to glean the information she wanted from the journal so she could return it to Jhandel's room.
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Nero's breath came in pained gasps. He had been running for eight hours, and while this would under normal circumstances only be a mild test to Nero's endurance, he was wounded, exhausted and burdened. His head was ringing worse than it had before, or perhaps he simply hadn't noticed. He wondered vaguely if he had a concussion. The lacerations on his underside stung and chafed, but more worrisome were the small burns that covered his body. They were hot and itchy, and he recognized distantly that the taint had gotten in them. As well, between the fight with the boar, the pursuit through the forest, the fight with the false wyvern, and finally eight hours of running without rest, Nero was in bad shape.

More importantly, in Nero's eyes, was the worsening condition of the archer, and it was for him that Nero ran. Despite the way the man had become heavier as the miles passed, Nero hadn't even considered dropping him. Not even when the small pack of wolves had decided that two wounded humans looked simply delicious. Nero still had a hard time remembering how he had gotten out of that. As far as he could tell, he had simply tried to outrun them- a stupid idea, since wolves tend to be fast, and Nero was slow at the best of times- but they had seemed to trip over their feet and go around rocks that hadn't been quite so in-the-way just a moment before. Nero wasn't going to question good fortune; it had probably just been his feverish mind descending further into hallucination and fancy.

He was not so lost to the world, however, that he could not recognize his destination. The walls loomed out of the darkness, somehow more sinister by night. Perhaps the city's name was more indicative of its character than Nero had previously given it credit for. Beautiful in the sun's light, intimidating when blackness crept across the land. Torches moved like tiny fireflies on top of the wall. It was towards the nearest gate Nero moved, however. Nero had left through the south gate, but he approached now from a more western direction, by his scattered perception. As he neared it, he began to slow down. It took him a few tries, so used were his legs to their motion. Even when he had stopped before the gate and her guards, they continued to twitch and tremble. The tainted burns on his body felt like they had reignited. They felt corrupt. Nero felt drunk.

"Open!"

His approach had not gone unseen, as the night guards of the west gate were ever vigilant. His unsteady shout was promptly answered.

"The gate is closed until morning. Return then."

Nero shook his head, unsure as to whether or not they could see it in the moonlight at this distance, but not caring.

"Open!" He cried again, more insistently.

"Leave now."

Nero was angry. He would not fail in paying his debt because of some city rules. He lifted the archer's prone form above his heads with a gargantuan effort. His arms had felt cemented in their clutching grasp, but he forced them to move. His conviction suffused his voice.

"HE NEEDS YOU!"

He would never know whether it was his own insistence that did it, or if they recognized the broken body in his hands. Whatever it was, there was a brief silence where Nero began to despair, breathing heavily. Then the gates groaned as though woken from a deep slumber, and cracked just wide enough for Nero to stumble through. He might have fallen then, but there were hands to receive him. Rough hands, but he was past caring. The archer was taken from him gently, his arms pried away. He saw through a haze that the brave little bow was taken as well. He closed his eyes in relief. He turned to leave.

Suddenly, the men around him were pounding on his back and shaking his hand, thanking him for the return of their comrade. He swayed dangerously, wanting to explain that he was simply repaying a favour, but not able to force the mouth sounds to work right. The guards around him quieted as they stared at him more closely, then shouted for a medic. Nero wondered who was injured as they sat him down in a chair that he more fell into than sat in. The burns didn't hurt anymore; he was grateful for that. He would leave soon, he thought, as he closed his eyes for a moment. He just needed to catch his breath. Why did he feel as though oil flowed through his veins in place of blood? It seemed..dirty. Voices whispered and snickered at him. He remembered he needed restocking of supplies.

"Jhandel?"

No one answered him. Blackness coiled and slithered at the corners of his vision, but disappeared when he looked directly at them. Nero was afraid. What was happening?
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A FEW seconds passed but the journal never left Xanthia’s hand and its lingering weight spawned confusion. She had expected nothing else other than Denre to take what was held and taken by surprise she could only stand there in silence. She sniffed once before she could bear it no longer. With a smooth tilt of the head Xanthia brought the shadowy moonlit figure of Denre into the corner of her eye just in time to hear her speak.

"I care not for the details contained in that book. You keep it and read what you want.”


She was shocked. At the very mention of her ignorance, Xanthia cast aside her shyness and looked Denre right in the eye. There was a rage boiling behind her own. How could she not care? For Kol’s sake their lives depended on it. It was a gift she was giving her, a gift of knowledge and after every thing Xanthia had forced herself through to get that gift Denre seemed content on refusing it. The foolish juggler had no idea what a risk she took breaking into a royal suite, something she made very clear at the next opening of those disguising lips.

“I suggest you give it back to me when you are done though, I will return it to Jhandel's room without his knowledge afterward.”


Was Denre really that pompous? Did she really think she could just waltz in and have it dropped off just like that while wounded, no questions asked? Sizing the blond figure up with a scrutinous eye, Xanthia reckoned the clown could hardly make it up the stairs. The way she so willingly exuded such ignorance was disgusting. Indeed, it was downright offensive the way she denied even the slightest glimpse of the journal’s contents like they bred some bubonic plague. Had she not a trace of concern for herself, or the others whose livelihood could very well depend on the pages she so exhaustively still held in her hand with a tightening grip? Xanthia’s lip quivered at Denre’s words. If nothing else, did she lack even a little bit of curiosity, or was that too human? Why didn’t she just shape-shift into a damned lemming if she was going to be so ignorant?

Denre spoke once more, changing the subject like she too was as uncaring. Xanthia turned away and held Jhandel’s book close. Give it back to him, why the hell would she do that? Did Denre think that everyone wanted to be as blind as she? There was no chance in Tourmaline she’d let the dreg have it simply to bring to Jhandel for his favor. The others still needed to know and Xanthia was not about to let Denre talk her into wasting all of that luck and effort she had spent to obtain its secrets from beneath Jhandel’s curtain. With her back turned, Xanthia quickly swapped Jhandel’s journal with her own while Denre blathered about her ability like it had been that which had offended her. She really was blind wasn’t she? Xanthia turned swiftly and tossed her journal to Denre’s feet.

“Take his damned journal and tell the b*****d. I hope Jhandel’s heels taste nice. Oh! And if you are looking for coin then why don’t I just give you some right now?”

Xanthia hastily tore the leather coin-purse from her dress and emptied its contents into the grass before her and dropped the pouch on top of them. The glitter of the silver coins in the moonlight was not unlike the reflection off the tears that were rolling from beneath her eyes.

“I bet you’ll be needing every last one because you know what? Nobody pays a dead mercenary. Good luck with the stairs.”


With that she stormed away in a flurry of tears, hurt even more now by her own ferocity. Her words were harsh to the point where they hurt her as well and Xanthia couldn’t tell if she’d meant the things she’d said. Indeed, she was as blinded emotionally as she was physically and she was slow to realize a dead end lay ahead in the maze. She would have to go back. But, in desperate need of escape she didn’t slow her pace and passed Denre without so much as a glance. “…it’s a dead-end” , she merely muttered. Stomping out of the hedge maze Xanthia ran, lost herself away in some forsaken corner of the garden, sat down, and cried.
Temporarily Schizophrenic's avatar

Versatile Streaker

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HE HEARD it. It was faint, and barely recognizable, but he heard it. The unmistakable sobs and flowing tears of a young woman. He tuned out Iahelia and the guard he had been talking to in order to listen more intently to the barely audible sound. Yes, he was sure. There was a woman crying somewhere nearby. Something bothered him, though. His chest had begun to clench down hard. Was it because of Iahelia? Because she looked so much like his Zanya? No, he didn't think so. It was something else. There was only one other possibility he could think of offhand, and he didn't like it. Not one bit.

He turned back to Iahelia and realized she had been staring at him without so much as saying a word? Had she been talking? She must've realized he wasn't listening. Ordinarily, he would not want to come across as rude to any woman, however... Well, with this particular woman, he still didn't want to be rude, per sé, but he did want to leave. He was still feeling quite uncomfortable with her around. He made a small bow of his head and simply said, "Excuse me." And with that, he turned on his heels and walked out of the Hall of Heroes. He had been in the castle a few times before for various banquets for His Royal Majesty, the King, and he had been given a partial tour only once before. Even so, navigating the castle was proving to be far more difficult than he had imagined. Just how many halls and rooms did one need?

He walked up a set of stairs to the second floor and walked down, lo and behold, another long and seemingly endless hallway! This was getting old quite quickly. But as he wandered, the sobs seemed to grow louder to his ears. Though they were slightly muffled, which meant they were behind a door. Abel walked on, checking by each door for where the horrifying sounds were originating. Nothing. Next door. Nothing. Next door. Nothing. But the sounds were still growing louder. Were they that loud to everyone else? Probably not. His mother used to swore to all high Heavens that he could pick up the sound of a woman in distress a mile away. Sadly, it was probably true. But it certainly came in handy. He went to put his ear to a door and stopped when a guest sign by the door caught his eye. Sir Jhandel Koven. So this was where knight had been taking up residence for the time being. Where was he anyways? He looked around, trying to recall his tour. This was somewhere amongst the quarters of the Rhakovans, wasn't it? When the hell did he get this far? Curiosity struck him, though. This was Jhandel's room. What sorts of secrets lay behind this door? He looked to the doorknob, and felt the pull of temptation.

"Oi! You there!" Abel looked down the hall at two approaching guards. Uh oh. Was he not supposed to be up here? The last thing he needed was to be thrown out. He glanced down to the other end of the hall, deciding it would probably be best just to run. He could easily outrun them. "Don't even think about it! He looked back to the approaching guards and found one of them had lifted a crossbow and had the tip of the bolt aimed at him.

Seriously? On this night of all nights, there's a guard walking around with a crossbow? You've gotta be kidding me! They approached him with weapons at the ready. This was bad. He glanced back down the hall, at the door in front of him, and back to the guards. He wasn't really in the best of positions. Running would ensure he was shot. Going with the guards was not really in his agenda for the evening. He had to find the source of those sobs. And if he tried the door and found it locked, well, then he was just screwed. So, which option was he to go with?

The guards had reached him by now, one with a sword in hand and the other with the crossbow aimed at his heart. "This is the quarters of the Royal Family. What are you doing here?" The guard with the sword posed the question to him.

The guard with the crossbow inched a bit closer to his fellow knight and spoke next. "What if he's an assassin? There's been so much talk about them tonight. Besides, look at the way he's dressed. And he has knives on his belt at his backside." The first guard tilted his head to look at Abel's back and, sure enough, found the knives in their sheaths behind him.

"Really? The way I'm dressed is what makes you suspicious of me being an assassin? Have you never seen me before? Is it my hair not being pulled back that's throwing you off?" The two guards looked at him with raised eyebrows. He confused them. Dear God, these two must must've been some of the worst guards. And they were guarding the Royal Family? If they were truly this easily confused, they needed to be hung and replaced. Abel rolled his eyes and sighed. "My name is Abel Brynhildr. I'm the Sous-Chef at Quixote an--"

"Enough of your lies!

The first guard lifted his short sword and put the tip of the blade at Abel's throat. Big mistake. Abel reacted on instinct without any prior thinking. He lifted his hands and grasped hold of the hand guard and the pommel of the hilt, spinning his body slightly and twisting the sword out of the guard's grip. During his spin, he released the pommel and used his now freehand to strike at the guard, using his open palm to strike the guard at the bottom of his jaw. The second guard moved quickly, taking a step back and moving the crossbow to aim at Abel. Again, another huge mistake. He flipped the sword into his hand and quickly pushed the crossbow away just as the trigger had been pulled. The bolt went flying out of one of the floor to ceiling window-doors that led out onto a balcony. He struck with the pommel of the sword to the side of the guard's head, knocking him unconscious onto the floor. His fellow knight had recovered from the blow to his jaw and had reached for a dagger that rested at his hip. The blade rose quickly, aimed to pierce through his chest. Yet another stupid mistake. What was it with these people? His open hand rose and caught the blade and hand in his grasp, the sharp edge of the blade having slid right between his middle and ring finger. A small stream of blood oozed down both sides of his hand. Work enough years in the kitchen, and you can catch a knife with your teeth or between your toes and probably not get cut. He dropped the sword from his other hand and curled his fingers into a tight fist. He swung quickly, striking the guard in the face hard enough that when he released the knife from his grip, the man flew into the nearby wall. The impact to his skull knocked him unconscious. Two guards, laying on the ground, unconscious and bleeding, outside of Jhandel Koven's guest room. This wasn't going to look good.

Time to go. He took off down the hallway and rounded the corner. In front of him, off to the right side of the hall, was an open glass door that led out onto a balcony. And the sobs were considerably louder to him now. He had been mistaken. They were not from behind a door. They were from outside. Huh. His mother was right. He really could hear them coming from a mile away. He stepped out onto the balcony that overlooked a lovely garden. He had never been here before, but it was quite lovely to see. He looked around, trying to pick up where the softening sobs were coming from. There. Down below him, slightly off to the left side of the balcony at a dead end, was Xanthia. Xanthia? That explained the pang in his chest. Even now, actually seeing her sitting down and in tears, his chest ached with pain. He opened his mouth to call out to her, but was suddenly overcome with a better idea. On the other side of the balcony, a large oak had grown large enough that the branches could be touched from where he stood. And hanging from those small branches were several acorns.

A memory flashed through his mind. One in which he and Xanthia had snuck out one night to enjoy some time alone. There had been a show that had come to town that Xanthia had wanted to desperately to see. Alas, her father had forbid her from going due to the "work she needed to complete first". That conversation had been held at Quixote. So, of course, he overheard. And, of course, he decided to go against her father and surprise her. He stood outside her home that night and tossed acorns against her window until she had noticed him. He held a finger up to his lips, reminding her that she must be silent, and held in his hands two tickets for the show she had wanted to see. That had been the first night the two of them had ever spent together. They didn't bond vocally that much, but it had been a night to remember nonetheless.

He reached a couple of acorns and aimed for Xanthia's lap. The first acorn flew right over her head and landed silently in the grass. The second fell right in front of her feet. Frustrated, he flung the third one a bit harder. Gravity didn't seem to affect the acorn's trajectory, as it flew in a nearly perfectly straight line and smacked the top of Xanthia's head. His hand shot up to his mouth, trying hard not to laugh. It was difficult, though, but he settled with a laugh and a soft chuckle. He leaned against the balcony and rested his chin against his hand and said, in the most theatrical and intimate of voices he could conjure,

"Come, hold me close; dance with me
Til the night breaks to day.

Come and dance with me tonight."


It was part of a poem from the play that they had gone to see. A romantic scene of an intimate dance between two lovers. The whole scene itself had been moving, and rather saddening near the end, but those lines had been the ones he had remembered the most. It was the final lines during the dance. The final lines spoken from one lover to the other. The man who requested the dance wanted one final dance with his beloved, because he was to be executed the next morning. As a final request, he asked the king who had sentenced him to give him one final night to dance with his lover. That had been the scene he had recited. Even from where he was, he could see the smile creeping onto her face. She remembered the scene. Even still, as glad as he was to see her somewhat smile. Her tears bothered him, though. What had happened?

He asked. "So. Are you going to tell me who I need to beat to a bloody pulp, or am I going to have to interrogate every person in the castle?"

.:OOC: Edited, and still crappy.:.
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Xanthia let it out without restraint until the last of the tears eeked their way to her chin and dripped like the falling pedals of the Magnolia she rested against. Her sobs softened, perhaps calmed by the tree whose luscious pink went uncompromised by the pale moonlight. She wanted to think it all through logically. What had happened, what was going to happen, what she could do about it, what the notes in Jhandel’s journal meant, and what to make of Denre. But as the relentless ache that wrenched the backs of her eyes reminded her, now was not the time. Xanthia closed her eyes to make the world disappear when something landed at her feet.

She opened one eye to see what it was but didn’t care enough to pry her back from the trunk of the Magnolia. It surely wasn’t a pedal and Magnolias didn’t bear fruits or nuts, did they? *Thunk!* Something hard bounced off her head, only adding to the pain that was gripping it already. This was no accident and Xanthia turned quickly to see who was making a fool of her. Abel stood upon an overlooking balcony giggling. What a jerk, she thought at first. In what world did she look like she was in the mood for childish play? Too beat to say anything, Xanthia simply communicated this with a look of annoyance and turned away, denying him the pleasure of her eye contact. She couldn’t stay like this for long, however. Not after Abel recited that poem from the most romantic play she’d ever seen.

"Come, hold me close; dance with me
Til the night breaks to day.

Come and dance with me tonight."


Despite Denre, Jhandel, herself, and the book that soiled her every hope of what the expedition would be, despite all that was paining her that moment, Xanthia couldn’t stop herself from smiling. She tried to be irritated and felt silly like a child for letting the smile break amidst her sadness but the memory was just too powerful. The intimacy of the lovers’ dance, the way the man requested it in the face of certain death, and of course those final lines of the play all crafted emotions that overwhelmed the heart and proved that grief and happiness could be as one. Indeed, she was feeling both of them now. But no matter how touching the play had been, it was nothing compared to the trouble Abel had gone through to take her to it. It was that which evoked the tears, the kind that warmed the soul.

Xanthia had never considered it at the time, maybe she was the blind one, but despite all Abel had risked to get her a ticket she never gave him much in return. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Years of the best treatment at Quixote and meeting any favor she asked and all Xanthia did was take. Perhaps that was why he’d stormed out earlier. She had hardly recognized the special effort he afforded her and maybe it had finally broken him for good. No, Abel’s bold image on the balcony was proof that he persisted. But why? Did he love her? Come to think of it, how did he find her all the way out here anyway? Xanthia suddenly found herself overtaken by gratefulness for Abel’s presence. She looked to his face and spoke from a smile, but this time the pleasure was all hers.

“Can’t you see I am crying already?”
, Xanthia said to Abel with a shaky voice, but a voice nonetheless. Abel smiled upon seeing how she couldn’t resist cheering up but the concern in his eyes never left. "So. Are you going to tell me who I need to beat to a bloody pulp, or am I going to have to interrogate every person in the castle?"

Xanthia gasped imperceptibly at his call for violence. It was the one thing she couldn’t stomach about him. If he loved her, then perhaps that is why she hadn’t seen it. Xanthia wanted to frown but instead let the brief annoyance pass. After all that was what Abel was like and he had meant it only in her support. At the very least, she would never have to feel unprotected while he was around. With the way the garden muffled sound, who knew who could be hiding here?

“No, Abel, come here”
, Xanthia requested with a squeaky voice. The pain was beginning to work its way back into her chest as she prepared the pages in Jhandel’s journal for him to see. The moonlight was bright and she had no problem reading it but Xanthia handed Abel the matches anyway as he came to meet her side. “I stole it from Jhandel’s room in the royal chambers.” , she explained with shame. “Do you remember all those things I said about the expedition being an adventure and a quest of knowledge at Quixote today? I was wrong about all of them. It’s a suicide reconnaissance of a blood-lord. I don’t think I want to go anymore.”

By that moment Xanthia was beginning to sob again. Weakened by her tears, the rest came down like a landslide.

“…and I ran into Denre on my way out after I stole the journal. I wanted to tell her but she didn’t care. She doesn’t see what Jhandel has us in for and we will die because of it. All she wanted to do was hide it again beneath Jhandel’s veil. I gave her my own journal instead.”
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

Gracious General

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                                                        JHANDEL DID not dare emerge from the darkened hall, perched as he was at the edge where shadow met the blue glow of the frostvale flowers. There would be no escaping the prying eyes of the wolves here if he allowed them the chance; despite the command to socialize with these men and women of high society, Jhandel simply did not have the time nor the patience to play their games. He searched the Hall of Heroes as quickly as he could, each second without the sight of his quarry turning the knot of frustration in his stomach into one of dread.

                                                        The prince was missing.

                                                        Jhandel let out a breath, nervousness edging the silence that surrounded him. He shook his head firmly, as if convincing himself he was being irrational, replacing the small silver dagger he held back into his sleeve. He was methodical about it, drawing back the fabric of his coat slowly, folding the green upon itself as to not put unnecessary wrinkles in the clothes. Laying the blade against his silken shirt, Jhandel held his arm flat in front of him, palm facing the ceiling so as to balance the dagger there. He pressed two fingers of his other hand to his lips, breathed a wordless prayer to Rothaelim for the protection of silence, and drew them over the cold metal. Jhandel had heard of assassins asking for the same boons from the same god before taking a life and Rothaelim, not one to ignore an invocation regardless of intent and integrity, answered them as easily as he answered the knight. He wondered darkly whether that made him like them, whether intent mattered when the results were the same.

                                                        Sometimes the line was so thin that the only difference between his oaths and those of the Silent Guilds was the colour of their uniform.

                                                        Jhandel peered over the crowd once more, disappointed in not finding Notras amongst his people. He was no longer alarmed, the ritual arming of his dagger giving him the time to quiet his mind, though he was hardly pleased with his current predicament. The prince would be safe, yes, as no one could take a Rhakovan by surprise while they lingered in the Sanctum. But how would Jhandel find him now? The grounds were enormous and Notras knew of places within the palace that the knight couldn't even imagine existed. He frowned, resigned in his search before it even began. There was no such thing as entering the mind of a Rhakovan and Jhandel had no desire to wander around aimlessly.

                                                        He was at a crossroads then, contemplating whether returning to his room for some much needed rest would be worth the reprimand for failing his duty as Notras' proxy while the prince was absent. The decision was made for him, however, as an elite guard of the West Gate tumbled through the entrance of the Hall as discreetly as one could in their grey armour. The man, breathing heavily and hunched over the bow he gripped in his hand as if he had been pursued by the hounds of the abyss, went largely unnoticed by the crowd to Jhandel's dismay. His face was covered by scarf and hood, though the way the figure moved Jhandel knew he was seeking something, someone, and would not leave without retrieving it.

                                                        The knight watched with rapt fascination as the ashen guard slipped between individuals, cutting through the crowd without so much as drawing the attention of a single person.
                                                        Impossible, Jhandel thought, more than a little frightened for what it meant if he alone seemed to notice the grey one. So enthralled by this trick was he that he barely noticed as the guard slipped into the shadows beside him.

                                                        "The Wall beckons, Lord," the man whispered, though the sound seemed to emanate from a point behind him. The guard was tired, voice rasping to match the trembling of his frame. Perhaps that trick had been more than just a trick. "A tall, tall man arrived at the gates tonight to return our fallen comrade. He summoned you, Lord, and we must answer his request. He is wounded." Jhandel studied the guard for any signs of deceit. Finding none he wondered briefly if this was the most elaborate ploy to get the knight to listen to a case he might otherwise have avoided.

                                                        "Did he have a name, guard?" Jhandel asked, not bothering to inquire about how this wounded stranger came to know his name. Every ambitious adventurer on this side of Zenithis knew his name now.

                                                        "No name, Lord. He spoke little and his weapon was foreign. None of the guard tonight, for all our travelling, have seen before anything like what he carried."

                                                        Nero.
                                                        Jhandel shut his eyes in defeat before lifting them to pin the guard with a hard stare. "Rest here, soldier. I will see your debt is repaid." With that the knight was gone, spinning so quickly he didn't see the guard slide to the floor and take his words literally, disappearing down the same darkened hall he nearly emerged from though this time he ran.

                                                        It was a long ways to the West Gate, one that would force him to cut through Lowtown if he were to be expedient. He, like the guard, had not wished to rile the public into panic with his haste however Jhandel knew none of the grey warriors would ever run messages unless the need demanded the task be done now. He swallowed his fear for what could have happened, pressing himself to the wind as he tore through the roads by night.

                                                        The attendants of the House of Healing by the West Wall were already prepared to accept him, opening the doors for him as he rushed passed them and followed the flurry of medics down the dimly lit halls to a small chamber meant for quarantines. Normally the healers would have jested about his loudness, disrupting the peace of the House like this, and lead him to a seat in order to catch his breath. But no one laughed about his hastiness tonight, some even sneaking accusatory glances as if he had not run fast enough.

                                                        The crowd surrounding the single bed parted for him and Jhandel wavered when he caught sight of that leg. Black and dripping with inky fluids, the archer's limb writhed on the white sheets. He could see evidence of a burn between the oozing tendrils of the vile substance, hot flesh roiling beneath the poison, the corruption. Jhandel staggered backwards, finding himself next to Nero who was being quietly tended to by a young woman. So tired was he that even a smile of relief at seeing the hunter still lived took too much effort to conjure.


                                                        "Wash it with water from the glacial well," Jhandel commanded and the healers rushed to fetch him what he needed. "And call the High Priest Brendolyn. Archbishop Theitos is away--" he took a shaky breath, not trusting himself to withstand any more of this stress though he knew this would likely not be the last time the fates toyed with him tonight, "---And Lady Lor as well. Summon her too."

                                                        Because tonight the moon of Taltherion replaced Kalistar in the sky, bathing the city with a light none had felt for centuries. The promise was there, in the wind, in the earth. The fury of the gods was not something to be taken lightly. Distantly, he recalled a passage Notras had read to him from the half finished last book of Taltherion, a passage he had never seen himself. A passage he doubted was written in any copy aside from the one possessed by the Rhakovans.

                                                        Jhandel leaned over, tiredness forgotten.
                                                        "Nero," he said, grasping the hunter's shoulder with a firm hand. "Come back to us. We need you soon. The city needs you soon." And because he knew the healers were too occupied with the archer to worry about him, he let the leash go, mad desperation marring his words. Delirium clouded his judgement, though he knew it would pass soon enough. It always passed.

                                                        "Taltherion have mercy. I need you!"



                                                        OOC :: I'm going to be busy for a bit, therefore have a long a** post. Hopefully this will make up for my silence for the next little while. xD
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Interesting Citizen

Denre Rispit

User ImageThe soft clank of metal permeated the air as Xan poured the coins from her pouch in one final insult. Rage flared under the cover of a blank face but quickly faded to something else entirely. A numb blankness now permeated her thoughts. She hadn't felt this way since Ensel had died fifty years ago. Why was it that she felt so wrong in hurting this woman when she had left so many others in her past? She certainly hadn't meant to offend the woman, that said Denre didn't think she could have screwed things up more. Denre had flinched under the harsh insults but now stood perfectly still and stared blankly ahead with a slight frown as Xan stormed first one way, then back out behind them.

Once she had left Denre collected the coins that had been poured onto the ground and returned them to their pouch. Taking a rough aim based on the direction the sobs had faded to Denre drew her arm back and flung the coin-pouch. The pouch flew true and arced out over the maze and into the garden. She had told herself already that she wouldn't take anymore handouts from the cartographer. The exertion from throwing the pouch tore the wound in her chest open anew. First her bandages and then her dress became soaked in blood. Grabbing the journal and clutching her chest Denre made her way slowly out of the maze and proceeded in the direction she had seen Xanthia approach from in the originally.

Coming around the corner Denre found a crushed bush and glanced up. Sure enough there was an open window above. It appeared Xanthia hadn't made the most graceful of exits. Once again taking aim Denre tossed the book up through the open window further tearing the wound. As blackness began to creep in on her peripheral vision Denre heard the beginnings of whispers at the edge of her consciousness. Stumbling a short distance further down the wall Denre half-collapsed on a bench.

Denre though about going back to confront Xanthia and try to explain her lack of interest for the secrets of the journal but decided anything she said would probably only make it worse.The sting was still there from the harsh words. Despite the anger behind them there had been some truth. At this rate the dead man from the arena would have his way if she kept taxing herself like this. Looking down at the ruined dress Denre decided that she could get away with cutting it. Taking a dagger from her thigh Denre cut the lower part of the dress off just below the knees. Taking this strip she wrapped it around her chest several times in an attempt to stem the bleeding. She didn't know how much it was actually accomplishing but lacked time to contemplate it anyway. The darkness rapidly began to encroach further into her vision range emboldened by her weakened state it strode forth and encased her. She was vaguely aware of slumping over before she once again plunged into the cool murky depths of her unconsciousness. As she descended voices began to ascend from the depths to meet her. Although not as bad as at the tournament she found herself buffeted by the currents of a hundred minds all striving for a release they wouldn't find.
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Nero sat in his chair, eyes darting around him. There were.. things. Twisted things. His pupils shrank as his eyes widened as far as they possibly could. The other people around him seemed to be acting as though they couldn't see they horrible creatures among them. Some of the beings were formless, and simply oozed along the ground. Others seemed almost humanoid, and they leered at him and whispered things in his ear. It was always just barely too quiet to hear, but the malice was unmistakeable. Still other creatures were like nothing Nero had ever seen. Some stood ten feet tall, with more limbs than usual, or limbs that weren't limbs. He began to shake violently. How could the others not see? Were they blind? Or...or maybe they were aligned with them! Evil! His hands grasped the arms of the chair tightly. Soon, the people seemed to have the same sinister aura that the formless shapes around them did, and Nero swore they took glances at him our of the corner of their eyes....hungry eyes. He wanted to leave, to stand up and run, but either fear or exhaustion rooted him in place. Probably both.

Before long, however, a form he recognized seemed to materialize before him. Jhandel. He seemed clearer than the other people around him. He even walked right through one of those creatures. It dissipated with a hollow wail that no one else reacted to. Nero shook his sweaty head. How did Jhandel do that? He reached his own hand out, to try and do the same to the nearest being. His hand struck it solidly. The black mass resisted his hand. It...grinned. That was the only way to describe the slash of open air that appeared where a head might be on a human. Nero tried to draw his hand back, but the creature seemed to hold on, delighted by his touch. With a gargantuan effort, he wrenched his hand back. Whatever these things were, they wanted him. More afraid than ever, he turned back to Jhandel. The man had spoken a few words to the traitorous scum around them, and then turned back to Nero. Again, when Jhandel spoke to him, it was clearer than the other sounds that assaulted Nero's delirious mind.

Jhandel...needed him? What? The part of Nero that still was reasoning was slightly cross. He had come here to get supplies! His employer had it backwards, Nero needed his help. Before he could articulate a response- not that he was at all confident that he could- he was being made to stand up, and moved into another room, away from the other people. However, there were only more strange creatures of roiling darkness waiting within. He fought against his captors. He would not be taken so easily!

He threw one of them to the side with a powerful shrug, and turned to the other with his free hand. Before he could deal with the thing- or person, whatever it was- he was grabbed by more hands, strong hands. There were too many. He roared in fear. But no matter how he struggled, he was held. Suddenly a cup was brought to his lips, and he was forced to drink. Poison! he thought. It was thick and sweet, and left his mouth feeling as though it was full of sand. He tried to escape again, but his muscles would not respond. He felt even more tired than before, and his eyelids began to close. The creatures loomed closer, but somehow they seemed less real than before. Nero quieted, and finally relaxed for the first time since arriving. Closing his eyes in release, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
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XANTHIA'S SMILE brought with it a series of warm and fluttery feelings to Abel's heart. Over and over, that same scene played through his head. The traitor's last request, that intimate dance between he and his lover, that final kiss they shared only moments before his death. During the play, his eyes were so locked on the couple and the story that had she not moved, he never would have caught it. Xanthia's hand had risen from the arm of the chair, which dragged his eyes, for a moment, away from the play. A sidelong glance told him everything he needed to see. Xanthia had blushed. Her hand had gone to her cheek and she blushed. And smiled. In that moment, he knew that his choice for buying the tickets and sneaking her out of her home had been the right choice. Course, he had to suffer the wrath of her father when they came to Quixote again. He noticed Xanthia missing that night and upon her return, he caught glimpse of Abel standing outside. But sometimes, the best things were always worth it.

Abel's so-called "threat" about beating whoever had caused her to cry brought an imperceptible gasp from Xanthia's lips. She had never appreciated his call for violence. But, again, she wasn't raised the way that he had been. His father had always taught him that anyone who harms a woman and brings her to the point of tears was always worth it. And to Abel, Marx was always right. Xanthia didn't agree, though, and her eyes told it all. She didn't frown or make a face, but he could tell by the way she had looked at him that it had annoyed her. One step forward, two steps back.

"No, Abel, come here." Maybe not quite two steps back? He nodded and had begun to walk back into the hall when he physically stopped with a thought. He had no idea how to get down to her. She could be waiting as long as an hour. He wasn't the best with directions if he hadn't ever traveled it before. And he never knew about that garden prior to three minutes ago. He turned back to look at Xanthia and ask how to get to her, when another thought crossed his mind first. The branches of the oak by the balcony were quite large and sturdy. Hm. That'll work. He grasped onto the branch and lifted himself from the balcony. Two arm swings later, and he's landed flat on his rear end. Abel was not a tree climber. Ask him to catch a deer with naught but a copper wire and a shark tooth, and he could do it. Ask him to scurry up a tree after a squirrel, good luck. That could have gone better...

He wandered to Xanthia's side and glanced down at the pages that she had prepared while he was falling from the tree. He took the matches she offered and, out of simple courtesy, he lit a match and held it by the papers. His eyes scanned the words quickly as he lit the next match after his burned to his fingertips. “I stole it from Jhandel’s room in the royal chambers,” she explained. “Do you remember all those things I said about the expedition being an adventure and a quest of knowledge at Quixote today? I was wrong about all of them. It’s a suicide reconnaissance of a blood-lord. I don’t think I want to go anymore.” By that time, the last match had fallen to the ground a tiny stub and Abel had nothing left but the moonlight to read on. And with each word, a slightly wicked smile grew over his face. He was excited. But the emotion was mixed. His eyes burned with anger and... some pain that he couldn't quite explain. A pain of remembrance. He was furious with the fact that this whole expedition was a ruse. So, with everything he was reading and what Xanthia had said to him, the basic point of this was that Jhandel was looking for warriors to do a military reconnaissance mission that would most likely result in the deaths of everyone, except for Jhandel if it worked out in his favour, so that he could report back to the Prince what he had found. And if it was anyone but Jhandel, that may face a silent execution, or rather, assassination and let it be known to the public that the last survivor had died from some sort of illness. Was the Prince that sort of ruler? Most rulers were, but was Notras?

A soft sob echoed through the garden. Abel's eyes turned quickly to Xanthia, who had finally lost her composure once more. “…and I ran into Denre on my way out after I stole the journal. I wanted to tell her but she didn’t care. She doesn’t see what Jhandel has us in for and we will die because of it. All she wanted to do was hide it again beneath Jhandel’s veil. I gave her my own journal instead.” Denre? The man she had sent to Quixote. Wait, now he was confused. Denre was a man, correct? She kept referring to him as "she". Abel wasn't often dumbfounded and confused, but Xanthia had managed to catch him in one of those rare moments. He almost wanted to ask her about that, but the part of his brain and heart that cared for Xanthia told him his seemingly pointless question could wait. He shifted his position to taking a knee in front of her and quickly moved up, wrapping his arms around her in an embrace. She sobbed into his shoulder, clutching to the fabric of his coat. He knelt there, completely silent, while she got out the last of her rampaging emotion. All the while, he was cursing his wretched luck. This was the first real physical contact they had ever had, other than the kiss on her cheek he had given her the night of the play and the occasional brushing of hands when they walked side by side. And of all things, she was in tears. Erionelle was right. He really did have some terrible luck. Comes from the South, no doubt. South?

When Xanthia had finally calmed, he held onto her even still up until she had started to pull away from him. As she did, he said, "Tell them to find another cartographer. You shouldn't be on that expedition, Xanthia. The last place you should be is in that godforsaken land to the South. The Blood-Lord is an unforgiving and cruel ruler. I don't... You shouldn't be there. We'll talk with Jhandel and tell him to get a different cartographer." And if Jhandel says no, I'll personally hang him from a tree... He smiled at Xanthia and stood. His eyes scanned her for a moment, and caught sight of a few scratches on her arms and even a few at her ankles. Nothing escaped his watchful eye when it came to a woman. Or maybe it was just Xanthia? "You should get those disinfected, you know, he said as he turned to look at the moonlight above them. It was nearly straight above them, and the garden where they were had no torches to light the area around them. All they had was the silver moonlight that bathed them. Again, his mind went back to that play. Curse that damned play. It was constantly plaguing his mind tonight. A smile crept over his face, nonetheless, as he turned back to Xanthia and held out his hand.

"Dance with me."

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