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Interesting Citizen

Denre Rispit

User ImageDenre's emergence from the outer edge of the room brought more attention than she would have liked. Ideally she would have just slipped out and drawn no more attention. It was her fault of course; she had felt too awkward to simply reveal herself in the first place. It had only gotten worse the longer she stayed in the shadows of the pillar and she knew that eventually she would have to come out into the centre of the room. Becky's entrance had served as the necessary catalyst to put Denre into motion. Despite having entered Denre still hadn't said anything. She rolled ideas on her tongue. Almost said something and stopped herself and repeated. Denre remained unaware to the conversation between Abel, Xan and Becky as she attempted to bring some form of speech to mind. Last night had been confusing to say the least. Not once had Denre intended to offend Xanthia. Everything after their encounter was hazy due to the blood loss. Why had Xanthia come to her rescue afterwards. She had seemed tearful as well, rather than a grudging rescue. This confused turmoil of thoughts left her in silence. Her thoughts drifted to the scene she had just witnessed, no doubt there would be questions asked after the meeting. Denre had no intention of spilling such secrets. Simply wishing to act the agent of peace on this one Denre realized no good would come to anyone if she revealed such secrets had she wanted to.

Denre's thoughts were interrupted by the entrance of Jhan and the prince. Noting the prince's presence Denre sat up straighter in her chair. Her face bore a mask of concern. Why was the prince attending this meeting? Was it really of such importance as to involve a Rhakoven? Denre wondered at just how important this mission was. She had signed up for a treasure hunt; maybe even a trek into someplace dangerous. The prince's mere presence led Denre to believe that this mission was something on an entirely different level. Xanthia had seemed quite worked up about what she found in the journal. The more Denre thought about it the more the more she realized she wanted out. There was of course one small problem with that route. Jhandel knew something of her origin. She hadn't spent two hundred years searching for her the nature of her origin simply as a hobby. The burning question had fuelled her for as long as she had been able to think. She would like to think that there was a happy story behind it -maybe a being sent from the heaven's- but everything about her power led her to believe the contrary. No, this was not some supernatural power; but rather a curse. She had to endure the centuries and the constant need to kill to sate a hunger she hardly understood. Even her name was invented; she had awoken without any earlier memory. Denre was just a moniker she had adopted in the last fifteen years. Even if it meant discovering that darkness that was behind her nature she needed to know. This man sitting across from her knew something that he hadn't told her yet and until he did it would take a damn lot of punishment to scare her away. Jhandel made his introduction.

"I have gathered you here today to discuss the purpose of our mission and address any concerns you may have. As I suspect there will be much to cover, I will ask we keep the introductions brief. Please,"

Becky spoke first and delivered an envelope; as timid as ever. Denre was about ready to gloss over the introductions when a name jumped out at her. Tierson; a hero of old. Old was relative of course when dealing with Denre. She remembered him from his younger days when he was still running around on the country side preforming deeds. She had seen the man fight once and his style was simply amazing. If there was one thing Denre pursued almost as much as her shrouded background it was learning the art of combat. To date she had a firm grasp of the use of all but the most exotic weaponry and mastery of a couple different weapons as well. Knife fighting was merely a small shred of her talents that she was currently fleshing out. If this woman was an apprentice of Tierson Denre would certainly need to spar against her if she could get past the ridiculous stammering. The techniques this woman must know! Denre shuddered slightly in anticipation of such a battle. Jhan's immediate approval of the request caught Denre a bit off guard. Denre ended up revealing her dark nature to Jhandel to buy her way into this quest and all this woman needed was a recommendation from a long retired hero? Mere promise of skill hadn't cut it for Denre and she sure as hell hoped it wasn't the other woman's demeanour that had impressed Jhandel. What else it could be Denre knew not though. Xanthia followed up after Becky with a question of her own; saving Denre from the decision of wether to speak next for another few minutes.

"How far south?"
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

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                                                        JHANDEL TURNED away from Becky, feigning indifference as she spoke of him in such high regard. There were certain formalities expected in the corner of society the knight found himself in, formalities such as how to address a man of his rank and how to properly show gratitude for a service done. But in all his travels to the edges of the known realm, to communities buried in legend or forgotten in isolation, his presence was never desired and his good work hardly a thing to celebrate. Even within Zenithis his peers thought him unsuitable, their "thank yous" a means to cover the blemish that was Jhandel. It was for that reason why he felt so embarrassed now; Becky, in her innocence and painful honesty, meant every word that she said.

                                                        Jhandel's heart rested uneasily in his chest. Would she still believe in him after she saw what he was capable of? What he was willing to do in order to secure their victory? The knight remembered his bickering with the hero Tierson, with many long nights spent in argument when the anger would not let him sleep. Much was said between the two of them, all truth as far as the speakers believed. He smiled faintly, remembering the similar darkness that plagued the hero. A thought occurred to him then. If Becky had stayed with Tierson, perhaps she would be able to forgive him too.

                                                        A movement at the corner of his vision brought his attention away from the foreign man by his side. It was the Lady Vetyz, dressed simply and looking more like the adventurer he would need than she did the last they met, who sat up in her chair as if drawing strength for this confrontation. Jhandel relaxed his hold on her journal, adopting a similar pose before meeting her steady gaze with one of his own. There was no doubt in his mind that Xanthia would look to peel pretence from his flesh, seeking cracks in his conviction like every Highborn he had met thus far in his life had done. But while he felt the desire to defend himself, Jhandel forcibly suppressed the impulse. Antagonizing her would not only be counter-productive to their cause, but she was also chosen by Notras. With the prince at his side, he tried to attribute what questions she might throw his way to curiosity and not malignant intent.


                                                        And so it begins.

                                                        The first question would have surprised him with its simplicity but the side of Jhandel with its vindictive slant, still angry that Xanthia chose theft over speaking with him, sneered deeply and said to him, I told you so. Habits were hard to be rid of and Jhandel knew his former master would be disappointed in his wildly prejudiced judgement. With considerable effort --the taint was making him nauseous again, too idle! --he hung onto those old lessons in discipline. For Rothaelim's sake! If he could hold his sanity amidst a hundred hot irons, this should have been easy.

                                                        Blinking once to show that he neither underestimated her question, nor was unaware of her intent, Jhandel compelled the response to form on his tongue.
                                                        "South beyond the forest Threshaldil is the Tourmaline-Corbalich border that spans the entire length of the Empire. Across that border live a people who swear fealty to the one they call the ‘Blood Lord,’ a woman who purges the taint left by the fall of Taltherion with her powerful blood rituals. Of all the kingdoms that we know of, Corbalich is the only other aside from Tourmaline with a sovereign who wards off corruption in an effort to preserve her people."

                                                        Jhandel's face was decidedly blank as he relayed what he knew, and what would likely catch the attention of the markedly astute map-maker. While Tourmaline was an Empire entirely to herself, with strict policies regarding their isolation from the rest of the world, it would be the greatest folly to believe nothing ever passed over her borders. However this was a folly the Rhakovans had depended on for over three thousand years. With it they crafted a kingdom of self-sustainable people, of men and women who relied on the strength of their own backs and their faith in the the land, Lady Providence, and her Sovereign.

                                                        A nation born from the ashes of war to end war. A nation made from the sweat and blood of warriors.

                                                        Corbalich by comparison was no better, though Jhandel thought, with secret pride, that the people of Tourmaline were more suited to survival. When it came to war --and it would come to it eventually as the falling of the Shroud forced empires to reclaim what was lost --the Rhakovans were masters. Perhaps it was their shared blood with Taltherion that made them such adept tacticians. And if that were the case... Jhandel rubbed the back of his left hand idly, thinking of the mark there under his armour. If that were the case, Prince Notras the Ever Perceptive would shake the world as the Fifteenth.


                                                        "That is the destination of our mission."
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AT LONG last, the meeting was underway. And much to his dismay, Abel sat in the presence of only five people; one of which was the Prince, and everyone knew he would not be going on the expedition. Taking a quick glance around, his eyes took in the images of those around him. Jhandel Koven, a knight in the service of the Tourmaline Empire. Xanthia Vetyz, a new mapmaker in the Cartographer's Guild. Denre, a mysterious, shapeshifting man-woman person that he knew absolutely nothing about. Becky Carver, a stuttering, clumsy individual clad in some kind of foreign armour that he didn't recognize. And finally, himself, a singing chef who happened to be familiar in the ways of hand-to-hand combat, thanks to his father and some of his other fellow chefs. This was not an expeditionary team. This was a group of individuals who were bound to get killed. This was a suicide run.

Jhandel addressed the group first and foremost after he and his prince took their respective seats. “Welcome to the hallowed hall of Rhakovans past, honoured guests of Prince Notras of Tourmaline and myself, Lord Knight Jhandelis. I have gathered you here today to discuss the details of our mission and address any concerns you may have. As I suspect there will be much to cover, I will ask we keep the introductions brief. Please.” Introductions, eh? Well, the introductions would only be good for the Prince and Jhandel to learn of Denre and Becky. They undoubtedly knew who he and Xanthia were. That said, Becky was the first to stand up and introduce herself. She handed Jhandel some sort of small pouch and an envelope. Abel didn't know what the pouch contained, but by the look on the knight's face, he could only guess that it was some kind of letter of recommendation.

"Tierson is a name I greatly respect. As he has vouched for you, I am honoured to have you on the team, Miss Becky Carver." Right on the money. So, wherever it was that Becky was from, Jhandel must've known her or someone she trained under. Master Tierson, was it? The name sounded vaguely familiar, though he was unable to place it. He would make it a point to ask about her instructor at a later time, assuming they survived past the first day of this crazy, stupid journey.

Abel stood at the first moment he had gotten. He took a small, polite bow before the prince and grinned. "Good morning to you, milord. I must admit, I'm a bit surprised by your presence here. Had I known you were going to attend the meeting, I would have cooked us all breakfast." He stood from his bow and returned to his seat, turning his head slightly to now address the knight instead. Jokes aside, Abel. "I believe you are the only individual here who doesn't know who I am, then. My name is Abel Brynhildr; I serve as the Sous-Chef at the restaurant Quixote, and I have cooked many times at the royal banquets held here at the castle." He paused for a moment and started to consider his next sentence carefully. Course, considering would mean he paused for longer than half a moment. "Also, Sir Koven, I would appreciate that the next time you send messengers to our homes, they not be waiting inside when we awake. Abel then went completely silent and turned his head away from the prince and knight back to the center of the room. He was done speaking for the time being.

Next to speak had been Xanthia. No doubt her intelligent mind had a hundred or more questions running through it at ungodly speeds. Having read through the journal that she had stolen from Jhandel's room last night during the festival, she would likely ask him questions to match up with the information she had read. They were questions that he had desired the answers to as well. He sat in the garden last night and read through some of the notes, and he did wish to know exactly how much Jhandel was willing to share. He had considered asking some of those questions himself, but he did not wish to reveal to Jhandel that he had also read through his journal. Not quite yet, anyways. “How far south?”

A good question to start with. Abel turned his head back to Jhandel, looking into the knight's eyes for any form of deception. Lying to Xanthia would be pointless, unless he didn't expect Xanthia to come right out in front of the prince and call him a liar. Of course, he wasn't too sure either that she would do it. Abel, on the other hand, held little shame and would have no issue doing so. But much to his surprise, Jhandel answered the question right out. "South beyond the forest Threshaldil is the Tourmaline-Corbalich border that spans the entire length of the Empire. Across that border live a people who swear fealty to the one they call the ‘Blood Lord,’ a woman who purges the taint left by the fall of Taltherion with her powerful blood rituals. Of all the kingdoms that we know of, Corbalich is the only other aside from Tourmaline with a sovereign who wards off corruption in an effort to preserve her people."

Aris. The name popped into his mind so suddenly that it startled him into a slight jitter in his chair. Where had the name come from? Who was this "Aris"? He had never met someone by that name before. And yet, it felt so familiar. Like something right there on the tip of his tongue that he just couldn't manage to spit out. Who was she? And why did her name immediately come to his mind when Jhandel spoke of their destination to Corbalich? Abel lifted his hand to his forehead and cringed. The sudden onslaught of questions had stirred quite a headache, and only more questions -- which, of course, led to a larger, more painful headache.

Pushing the curiosity that was plaguing his mind to the side, he dropped his hand and turned his attention back to Jhandel. "So, let me see if I am understanding this correctly... You have put together a group consisting of a cook, a mapmaker, a guard, a knight, and a stranger to journey southward to the border of our empire and a land where Ari-- where the infamous Blood Lord rules over to... what? Wave and say hello? Ordinarily, he would not have been so rude, especially in front of the prince, but the migraine that was developing was not granting him manners at the moment. He bit his tongue to hold him back from saying anything more that would have him removed from the meeting and expedition. He was not about to leave Xanthia alone with this group. Before allowing Jhandel or the Prince to retort against his previous statement, he asked the next question that seemed appropriate to what he and Xanthia knew. "What is the purpose of this expedition?"
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                            MUCH OF Jhandel's exposition flew right over Becky's head. Personally, she hadn’t thought of inquiring for the details of the quest and would have gladly followed orders blindly otherwise. She was a simple person by nature, and she'd rather not think about things more than she had to. To her, the explanation raised more questions she wouldn't dare voice than it answered. So they were headed back to Threshaldil? Becky wondered if there was any chance that the party would stop by her home, but the great forest of Tourmaline spread far and the hamlet was small even by the standards of rural communities. Travelling to Zenithis hadn't been easy for a lone woman hitchhiking by caravan after braving the depths of Threshaldil, but perhaps the journey would be easier in a group.

                            The reference to Taltherion's fall meant little to Becky, less so when it came to the name Corbalich. However, she was familiar with the taint and the effect it had on people, more so than she liked to be thanks to the very man speaking of it now. She hadn't a clue what blood rituals were beyond the fact that they sounded spooky and far from the natural medicine-based treatments Master Tierson demonstrated, though they had to be good if they took care of the taint, right? Ah, thinking so hard over this was giving her a headache, so Becky turned her attention to the people rather than the matter at hand, appraising them after having to got to know them marginally better.

                            Well, maybe except for that empty chair. Perhaps Jhandel hadn't gathered enough people for the quest because no one would dare be absent from such an important meeting, would they? Her eyes drifted over to the next seat in line-- Nope, nuh-uh, still way too intimidating to spare more than a few nervous glances at the King-to-be. Again, she wondered what Master Tierson would say for help, thinking that he would ask what was there to fear from Prince Notras, next in line to-- Wait, what a dumb question that was. Stupid Becky, stupid.

                            Well, Jhandel was Jhandel, and also Jhan apparently. Becky wondered if he still fought with sword and shield much like she did now. She remembered watching him take a few practice swings to test his health while Master Tierson quizzed her on his style. The ex-folk hero (is it ever possible for one to retire from being a legend?) praised her for recognizing the broad, punishing sweeps suited perfectly for Jhandel's curved blade but admonished her for judging the style too slow to be useful.


                            “Only an idiot would think a fighter was only as good as her hands. You think that's really how a bedridden soldier moves his feet?said Astato after rapping her lightly on the head, enough to inflict pain but not to have it ache for long after. “Take a better look. Now, why would you also use a shield with this style? Quick now!”

                            Becky couldn't remember if Master Tierson's last words were directed at her or Jhandel but she did recall giving a satisfactory answer as quick as she could. Whether it was born out of fear or admiration, nothing stopped her from doling out respect to even the crudest of ruffians. She couldn't say the same of the man right of Master Koven, Sir Abel Byrnhildr. Just where in the world had he gotten the gall to speak directly to the Prince and so casually at that! The mention of breakfast reminded her of the emptiness in her stomach, proof that she hadn't eaten before rushing to the castle.

                            Becky took it upon herself to be mortified in Abel's place, shrinking in her seat and quietly groaning as he spoke to Master Koven in a flippant manner. Couldn't he have just asked why they were headed to Corbalich without being so... brash about it? When she noticed how worked up she was getting, Becky turned her attention back to Sir Byrnhildr's weapons to take her mind off of things. Were those claws meant for puncturing or slashing? How easy was it to manuver about with the spikes on those greaves and gauntlets? Was it possible to use them with other weapons or was one restricted to fisticuffs? She couldn't deduce their exact use from the way he was handling them without proper care, so Becky turned her attention to the next in the circle.

                            There wasn't much to say about Xanthia Vetyz at the moment, really. Her serious expression showed no signs of leaving her face anytime soon. The space between her and Master Koven felt... tight and tense for some reason. Why would it be-- Oh. Ohhh, Becky just remembered how Xanthia confessed to breaking into Jhan's private quarters and stealing some tome of his, a crime which Becky nearly took the fall for last night. But if that was the case, why did Master Koven have another book on his lap now?

                            Finally, there was the other woman to her right, the only one besides the Prince to have not spoken yet and the last person whose name she did not know. The blonde lady was dressed far too lightly for the fall season in Becky's opinion yet her poker face showed no signs of suffering; quite a feat to pull off considering the wrap she wore as a shirt and the amounts of bandages wound tight underneath it. She seemed unaffected by the autumn cool while here was Becky, fighting the urge to abandon decorum to rub away the goosebumps on her arms. Short sleeves were great at avoiding getting pinched by armor but they were not the best choice to wear in the northern city of Zenithis as winter approached. Becky's once-blue, knee-length dress might have been a bad choice in this breezy season, though the heavy belt she wore over it helped keep the wind out of her skirt. Her feet were warm in her boots, though Becky couldn't say the same of the sandals the other woman was wearing.

                            As she did as much as she could to learn of her, Becky suddenly caught the eye of the woman on her right. Embarassed over her staring, she quickly turned her head forward only to catch a glimpse of-- was... was the other woman angry at her? The blonde woman's slightly strained expression was startlingly similar to one Becky used to see on the her peers when they were much younger. Usually, it was when she gave into their curious demands and performed several tricks Tierson taught her at the time, making swordplay look downright easy. Oh no, oh no, what did Becky do? How had she offended this woman and what was she supposed to do to make it up to her?


                            Perhaps 'Autumnal Waterfall ~ Fall of Fall' would be a better choice in theme? ~ fin.
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“Aha!”

All was quiet as Xanthia’s sudden voice reflected back and forth throughout the vaunted hall. She was standing there embarrassingly, having risen from her chair in a crack of false victory. All eyes were turned upon her faux pas. Gulping once, she giggled ever so slightly before hopefully taking a swift exit from everyone’s attention and sitting down. Jhandel continued,

“…a woman who purges the taint left by the fall of Taltherion with her powerful blood rituals. Of all the kingdoms that we know of, Corbalich is the only other aside from Tourmaline with a sovereign who wards off corruption in an effort to preserve her people."


Xanthia looked only to the floor, hoping to spare herself the extra humiliation had someone still been watching her. Corbalich, eh? She tried to compare what Jhandel had just said with what she already knew. There was the geography, of course, and the infamous Blood Lord. That knowledge was as basic to her as breathing. As children, Zenithisians were schooled on her horrible designs. Xanthia grew up no different. She was only 2 years of age when the war ended and general Nir led her proud army home. There had been a truce formed with Corbalich but the soldiers returned with stories so full that they turned what might have been a disappointing tie into a glorious victory. Of course, she didn’t remember much other than those stories that she was raised to.

It was a nightmarish realm, so far south that the sun no longer shone and dark crystal spires peaked where mountains should stand. The populace lived in cold, dark caves; doing everything they could escape the awful reign of the sacrificial blood lord. Most were blind and their skin a blueish grey after generations of cannibalism in the disease-ridden filth of their hiding. Indeed, so weak had they become that their skin clenched desperately to their frail warped bones and their blood flowed thick and dehydrated. They were the Shadow-kin. And as their payments to the sovereign became ever more dilute, a vicious cycle ensued prompting the blood lord to look beyond her own borders for the gory sacrifices needed to sustain her immortality. It was said that she sought out children most fervently for their blood was the most vigorous and delectable. Every so often, they told, children would go missing near the border, disappearing to some horrible fate.

Xanthia loved to imagine what life was like outside the empire. Her mother, for one, was an immigrant. Many times she had asked her about her homeland though every time her mother appeared disinterested. ‘It was by the sea and we were fisherman’, she would say but the story always ended there with her mother staring off into space. Naturally, Xanthia filled in the details. Fisherman of the skies! With great airships of canvas and steel, the valiant flyers would ploy through the clouds and reap the bounties of gargantuan herds of, of … darkstar dragons! As she grew older Xanthia learned to curb her imagination to at least be a little bit realistic but surely there had always been some truth to her stories. After all, no fisherwoman learned how to surface a lens simply from building rowboats.

Of all the places she dreamed about outside the empire, Corbalich was rarely one of them. Instilled in her were the stories her parents and schoolteachers had told her and surely there was truth to those too. Her parents, especially her father, would never have had the morbidity of mind to think of such horrible things let alone tell such falsities to a child. In the midst of it though, Jhandel seemed to be not only be confirming the macabre stories but justifying the blood-lord! Xanthia stopped herself from lashing out once more. Her fingers clenched the sides of her chair and her thighs squeezed tightly in fear. She looked exactly ahead into nothingness has Abel pointed out the nearly comedic stupidity in the knight’s implications.

"So, let me see if I am understanding this correctly... You have put together a group consisting of a cook, a mapmaker, a guard, a knight, and a stranger to journey southward to the border of our empire and a land where Ari-- where the infamous Blood Lord rules over to... what? Wave and say hello?”

Xanthia giggled a shaky laugh and continued to stare straight ahead. Of course her parents didn’t lie. No wonder her father was worried silly about this. Wait…he didn’t know did he? She had only found about their route last night and hadn’t told him. Was Notras trying to pull some kind of glory stint and turn a truce into a decisive victory just before his ascension to the throne? Keeping her head still, she glanced over to the prince. The villainous smirk on his face said ‘yes’. How could they even tell corruption was being warded when such a vampiric ruler was in power? What would be the difference? There was still so much to know. She had to keep going. Closing her eyes for a moment, Xanthia let it all melt away and returned with new strength just as Abel had got the discussion going again.

"What is the purpose of this expedition?”

“Yes. And if I’m not mistaken, we were at war with Corbalich just twenty years ago. So there might be a truce but I still find it hard to believe that there will be no hard feelings upon our reception. And, if that is not what we are to expect, please enlighten us on, as Abel here has already pointed out, your sundry choice of attendants.”

Xanthia parodied Notras’ smirk as she basked in a little bit of admiration for her own self. After all of that, the knight would still have to make something of those foul stories in perpetuation ever since that war twenty years ago. Those, as she had already deduced, were certainly true. What would he say then?
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

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                                                        THE DIFFERENCE of demeanour between gentle Becky and this man --Abel Brynhildr he had said --was shocking, jarring even. Jhandel did not respond to the chef's first request, passing it off as a comment made in jest and not something he was supposed to take into serious consideration. Truly, of all the complaints he had received in the past, none of them ever had to deal with the timing and placement of messengers. Jhandel narrowed his eyes. What was more, Abel Brynhildr was not a name he registered and would therefore not have been visited by the Westrion he had sent. Without a letter like the one Becky had, what purpose did Abel have here? Jhandel almost sighed out loud.

                                                        Notras.

                                                        The Prince's presence here did not signify his lack of trust in Jhandel, like he first thought, or even a curiosity in who the knight had gathered for this mission. No, Notras sat on his pseudo-throne --for even if the chair was the same as everyone else's, there was no mistaking Taltherion's moon, carved into the true throne, peeking out from behind his head --wearing the garments of his office in order to keep Jhandel from asking too much and assuming too wrongly. This was a delicate operation then, he mused, or else he would have been told just who this Abel Brynhildr was.

                                                        What am I to do with him, Notras? If his origins are not something you can share with me, am I to assume you wish him gone? Let it not be that I have to kill another named 'comrade' so soon after the last.

                                                        Jhandel's thoughts were broken by another question and he had half the mind to remember the lines he had attempted to rehearse late in the night in the privacy of his own room. He left his dark contemplations aside easily, turning his frustration towards Abel's insolence into a slow-burning intensity he had seen his prince use many times before. With a breath Jhandel met the eyes of all in his company before returning to stare at an empty spot in the centre of the ring.

                                                        "From this point onwards you will have two choices. I ask that you decide now whether you wish to stay and hear my answer to both Brynhildr and Lady Vetyz's questions," Jhandel said, voice quiet but not lacking in command. If ever there was a time that he demanded the utmost sobriety of his audience, now was that time. "Should you remain, you will be bound to me as I will be bound to you. Until our mission is complete you belong to the Empire, her designs and, by extension, me.

                                                        The circumstances we find ourselves in is as precarious as your words--"
                                                        he gestured smoothly at Xanthia "--imply. Should anything go amiss, should we fail altogether, it will be on my head alone. With this knowledge, I hope you may forgive the secrecy which you have doubtlessly pinned on paranoia." A humourless laugh, sounding more like a pained exhale than anything else, tumbled from his lips as he considered what he just revealed. Oh the power of knowledge... if anyone in the room now harboured ill intent towards him, how easy would it be to abuse this clause in their partnership.

                                                        "Once you become aware of what it is this mission entails, you may either choose to follow me or choose to stay behind. However to stay behind is to submit to an indefinite amount of time under house arrest. And if you find that option disagreeable," Jhandel shut his eyes, wishing for all the world that he didn't feel so indifferent for the words he was about to say, "then I shall put you to the sword."

                                                        The knight left the threat in the air, letting the gravity of the situation sink in. He did not want to use such methods to ensure obedience, but he could not allow these people --innocent people who had yet nothing to do with this war --to walk into this with half their hearts. If they lacked conviction, he would allow them to leave now, peacefully. Jhandel counted to ten slowly in his mind, waiting for the tell-tale footsteps that would signify talent and opportunity lost.

                                                        At last, when the silence stretched to each corner of the room and had saturated everything in the hall, Jhandel opened his eyes and addressed the question at hand.
                                                        "Our mission into Corbalich has only one purpose: to secure the knowledge of an ancient neutral ground buried deep within Corbalich lands. The place is called Talbrelon'alim, or 'Valley Where No One Sleeps.' For those familiar with Taltherion, you will know it to be where Wretched Erenil, the Kinslayer, killed his brother, our patron god.

                                                        For thousands of years it has been decreed by both Tourmaline and Corbalich that those lands would remain untouched, to respect what had occurred there and to prevent unsuspecting people from falling to the taint that bleeds from the centre. However,"
                                                        Jhandel licked his lips, the first and only sign of his nervousness that he would allow, "it could not be denied that on those lands held innumerable secrets --keys to knowledge that would bring us closer to the gods we so fear and respect.

                                                        As a result, all kingdoms who held a stake in the exploration of Talbrelon'alim signed an agreement. It states: 'For every dominion mentioned below will be allotted an exploratory party no bigger than ten persons, with at least one person who is well-versed in history, religion, and the arcane. As well, there shall be no more than two soldiers, formally trained warriors, or other men or women of arms employed by his or her respective dominion within each party to ensure the intentions of the exploration are purely scholarly.

                                                        In the event that the integrity of the exploratory mission dissolves, or if it is believed that the spirit of the agreement is broken, a blood price is to be paid by the party member representing his or her dominion's authority.'"
                                                        Again Jhandel looked at those who remained. As if seeing something he liked in the eyes of his audience, he nodded appreciatively. "This is Tourmaline's claim to her one allotted exploratory party. Lady Vetyz is our scholar and I am the representative of Tourmaline authority."

                                                        A rare smile wormed its way on Jhandel's face as he worked up the courage to show that he would extend his hand in trust first. "But to travel such distance into unknown lands with only two people would be a fool's cause. The rest of you have the necessary skills I believe are critical for our success. Between us we have ones who can navigate wild lands, ones who are familiar with social and linguistic nuances, ones versed in the art of battle, and ones with a thirst for knowledge that translates into a degree of vigilance I could not expect in any others.

                                                        It is precisely because you are 'a cook, a mapmaker, a guard, and a stranger' that I have decided on you for this mission. With our guide,"
                                                        Jhandel looked over at the empty seat, a strange confidence replacing what should have been worry over Nero's condition in his voice, "there is no foreseeable talent, skill, or ability we lack in order to overcome most obstacles likely to be placed in our path."

                                                        Jhandel leaned back in his chair, a restlessness he hadn't noticed before slipping from his bones and leaving behind a pleasant calm that the knight had nearly forgotten what it felt like. The relief of knowing he was not alone to shoulder this burden was immense; that he would not die and take these secrets to the grave, that someone else could carry on if he failed, was a sentiment so comforting that even the taint could not shake his resolve. He smiled patiently, waiting for the reactions of the others in the room, the prince at his side all but forgotten.

                                                        How was that, Notras? From you I have learned confidence through truth and ambiguity. I only pray that those you have appointed to me will not disappoint, lest my proclamations now turn out to be lies and my confidence sorely misplaced.
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XANTHIA leaned inwards slowly, making use of the long moment Jhandel was taking to consider his words. The man looked troubled, a fact that said little since, in the small time she had known him, he always seemed to look that way. When he finally lifted his eyes towards them, though, she could tell his look was somehow more serious. Appearing neither worried nor stressed, knight’s face was as dull as the flat lighting of an overcast winter afternoon and when he spoke, his voice resonated with penetrating power.

"From this point onwards you will have two choices. I ask that you decide now whether you wish to stay and hear my answer to both Brynhildr and Lady Vetyz's questions.”


Xanthia swiveled her head around the circle quickly. She sure as heck wasn’t going anywhere. Was Jhandel really trying to scare her away? Was that his plan? She hoped so since it really wasn’t going to work. She smiled as she returned her head towards the knight. Xanthia could respect the gravity in his words but there was little he would be able to do to ward her away. Indeed, everything he did only teased the intense curiosity brewing in her soul. Eager to hear what words weighed so heavily on his sullen lips, Xanthia lifted an eyebrow in response. As Jhandel swirled endlessly towards a point, he let out a forced dead chuckle and for the first time she noticed how old the man seemed, somehow more so sitting next to Notras. She tried to be patient but inside she was swelling with anticipation that only grew with each gratuitous word slugging from the knight’s mouth. Tapping her feet several times, Xanthia bit her lip as a means by which to relieve some of the excitement.

“Once you become aware of what it is this mission entails, you may either choose to follow me or choose to stay behind. However to stay behind is to submit to an indefinite amount of time under house arrest.”


She nodded with impatience through the knight’s useless words. Indeed, what was it she didn’t know? Living in Zenithis was already house arrest and she could hardly take it anymore. Every map Xanthia could draw here had been done a thousand times before. She had few friends, the museum kicked her out, and she was done with school. It was almost embarrassing to still be living at home. Even the Cartographer’s guild wouldn’t have taken her if it weren’t her father’s connections and still they dumped her on this expedition at the first opportunity to get rid of her. Fine, because anything seemed better than another mundane year in Zenithis. The world was out there and it called for exploration, even if that beckoning came from the most god-forsaken of places.

It would still take a month for the group to reach the Corbalich border, Xanthia calculated with her carefully experienced mind. There would be plenty of time to get some fresh air and even make a few sub-expeditions of her own. Then, perhaps before they reached the border, she could feign a sickness or injury to and buy herself a ticket back. Of course, she could always make a few detours on the way home too. What she could do, however, depended on what answers Jhandel was plodding around. Xanthia squirmed anxiously in her chair as the anticipation energized her muscles. Now if he could just get to the damn point!

“…And if you find that option disagreeable…"
Xanthia sat motionless, holding her breath so that not even the movement of the air could interrupt his words. ”then I shall put you to the sword.”

Her stomach cringed and for the moment immediately afterwards Xanthia could have sworn she had just walked off a cliff. Mouth hanging open, she glanced quickly around the room as if searching for her parents’ reaction. For once she wished her father was here. Or her mother - she would certainly protest such a vulgar offence. Who the hell did Jhandel think he was? Did he think he somehow had a god-given ownership of whatever knowledge he so jealously guarded? And what gave him the nerve to flex such authority when the very prince sat beside him? Or would the scheming Rhakovan like it as he voiced the pinnacle perpetuation of isolationism? Death for the mere matter of knowing the purpose of some five-man exploration? Ha! She would like to see him try. Bursting from her chair, Xanthia challenged his disrespect of humanity.

“Excuse me? How dare you threaten death for the mere matter of knowing? You speak of knowledge like you own it! Dear Rothaelim have – !“


And just then she was silenced by an irrefutable voice. Acting on impulse and a frustration fueled by all the built up excitement, she hadn’t yet determined what it was she was exactly going to say. It wouldn’t have been pretty. Knowledge was eternal and to think Jhandel would kill in the name of owning just a mere mote of it was an offence against the Pantheon and Tourmaline herself. But maybe that was just the thing. Perhaps the gods had no ownership … at all.
Temporarily Schizophrenic's avatar

Versatile Streaker

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ABEL CROSSED one arm across his torso and rested his opposite elbow on his arm. His hand rose up to act as a resting point for his chin. Thus far, Jhandel had yet to respond to either question that he and Xanthia had proposed. Really, how much thinking did it take to answer "What was the purpose of the expedition" and "What are we to expect when we get to Corbalich"? Abel's foot began to tap with impatience as he waited.

Finally, Jhandel began to speak. Though his words did not yet answer the questions asked to him. Instead, he was asking the group members to make the decision as to whether or not we wished to stay or leave now. Abel took a quick glance around the circle and caught Xanthia doing the same. No one moved. Not an inch. Even Becky hadn't really so much as twitched in her chair -- and he'd have taken her to be the first to jump and run. Perhaps he misjudged her? No matter. He turned his head back to Jhandel and listened to him babble senselessly. That is, until the Knight overstepped his grounds.

"Once you become aware of what it is this mission entails, you may either choose to follow me or choose to stay behind. However to stay behind is to submit to an indefinite amount of time under house arrest." Do what now? So, simply knowing what this mission entails would mean they would be indefinitely placed under house arrest? Is that even legal in Tourmaline? To Abel, that seemed a bit too oppressive. Was the prince signing off on that? "And if you find that option disagreeable..." Jhandel paused for a moment and closed his eyes. Abel leaned forward ever so slightly, anticipating how that sentence could possibly end and ready to react when those words came. "...then I shall put you to the sword."

Anyone who knew Abel and his reputation at Quixote knew that he had a some slight violent tendencies. Nothing too extreme, but they could be bad at times. But now? Now... had the prince not been present, he would have leapt out of his chair and beaten the knight halfway to death. His sense of control kicked in almost immediately, and he gripped the chair at his side that faced away from Jhandel and the prince, but the chair did shift slightly (but quite audibly) as he held himself from flying out of it. What the hell made him think it was his right to be able to make such a threat? His eyes, narrowed with anger, turned from Jhandel to Nostras, looking for any sign of his disapproval to what the knight said? Nothing. There was nothing that said Jhandel was stepping out of line. That only infuriated him more. His anger could have been turned to Nostras just then, had Xanthia not shot out of her chair and spoke. Or rather, shouted.

“Excuse me? How dare you threaten death for the mere matter of knowing? Dear Rothaelim have – !“

"That's enough, Xanthia." Abel's eyes turned to her for only a moment before immediately returning to Jhandel and his prince. "Sit down and let Jhandel finish. I'd like to hear what makes this expedition so damned important that he thinks he can threaten execution upon us." Xanthia, frustrated as much as he was, took her seat and remained silent while Jhandel continued on with his explanation. He could not blame her, though. He was as put out as she was. But he nonetheless listened on. And as he did so, he simply grew more and more frustrated. How did the prince sign off on such a thing? Hell, how could he organize it? He was the one who organized it, wasn't he? Was he willing to send his own people off to their deaths for something like this? What was the point of it all?

"Our mission into Corbalich has only one purpose: to secure the knowledge of an ancient neutral ground buried deep within Corbalich lands." An ancient neutral ground? Abel knew of that place. Talbrelon'alim, they called it. What kind of knowledge could be so important, though, that they would journey there? "For thousands of years it has been decreed by both Tourmaline and Corbalich that those lands would remain untouched, to respect what had occurred there and to prevent unsuspecting people from falling to the taint that bleeds from the centre." So, wait... Nostras and Jhandel want to journey to Corbalich to disturb holy ground that has remained untouched for thousands of years? Were they out of their minds? Let alone that Talbrelon'alim was respected as sacred ground, Corbalich was not about to let them walk onto those grounds. "However, it could not be denied that on those lands held innumerable secrets --keys to knowledge that would bring us closer to the gods we so fear and respect." That was what put him over the edge, again. Abel had to bite down on his tongue to keep him from having an outburst like Xanthia. Once more, his eyes turned to Nostras. The anger welling up within him had finally turned in full force towards the prince. He was simply waiting for Jhandel to finish wasting their time so that he could have his turn.

Finally, though, Jhandel reached the end of his speech. "It is precisely because you are 'a cook, a mapmaker, a guard, and a stranger' that I have decided on you for this mission. With our guide, is no foreseeable talent, skill, or ability we lack in order to overcome most obstacles likely to be placed in our path." Or rather, that was where Abel decided he would end it. He had had enough and finally needed to speak.

"You're a fool. You expect this group to cross through Tourmaline and into Corbalich in order to desecrate the Talbrelon'alim so that you can learn secrets that would bring you 'closer to the gods you so fear and respect'? The gods are gods for a reason. We're not meant to get any closer to them then we already are. What you seek is to take away the boundary between man and god. Abel sighed and ran his hand over his face, pinching at the bridge of his nose. He hadn't realized that the nobility of their Empire had fallen so far that they now desired to become gods themselves. Such foolishness. Such arrogance. He couldn't let that happen. He wouldn't let that happen. He shot a quick apologetic look to Xanthia, then turned an unemotional glance back to Jhandel and Nostras. "Such knowledge should be left buried, milord. That being said, if only because I will not be bound to my home like a child or sentenced to die like a dog, you have my committment to this suicide run."

If only so that I may dispose of you myself out in the wilderness.


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Dapper Dabbler

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                            BATTLEFIELDS WERE nothing new to Becky, who was used to seeing her own blood run after a rough training session or a bad shift on the job of defending her hometown from monsters. However, arguments like this where the sparks flying were words really had her shivering down to her bones. After all, the best of blades and shields couldn't deflect insults and a simple-minded person like her wasn't used to reading --erm, listening-- between the lines for anything more subtle than the most outright of affronts. She hadn't even realized how dire the threat of confinement and execution that Jhandel made was until Xanthia and Abel pointed it out nor could she bring herself to care much for it. The art of living in fear was one Becky had mastered and placing herself in one more peril hardly hurt.

                            When Jhandel gave the choice of leaving before hearing him out anymore, Becky remained rooted in her chair. How could she even think of disobeying Astato Tierson's command, all for an ominous description of a land she didn't even know existed until this day? While she didn't completely understand some of the higher language he used, she got the gist of what he was saying about their quest. They would travel to another land called Corbalich to get something from the Valley Where No One Sleeps. No, wait, 'to secure knowledge of' meant 'to learn of', didn't it? It was shortly after that point where Becky got lost beyond faintly recalling the occasional word but not how it fit in this context. But knowing only those basics was enough, wasn't it?

                            Not so according to Miss Vetyz earlier, angry enough at Jhandel over hiding knowledge (at least, that's what Becky understood her to be angry over but she was used to being wrong when it came to language) that she rose out of her chair before Sir Byrnhildr coaxed her down. Xanthia was fierce when filled with indignation but Becky always feared Jhandel the most for his authority and his past demeanour. At the moment, she wasn't sure whom was scarier: the Master Koven now in complete control of mind and body, or the Jhan then completely lost in the throes of his delusions. Though, to be honest, the latter had drawn enough sympathy rather than fear from her to convince her to stay at his bedside even when the taint threatened to drag her into madness with him.


                            "You are a fool." Those four words triggered something buried deep underneath the depths of fear and stress bearing down on Becky. Not only did she know Master Koven to be a noble man, but he was the one whom Master Tierson entrusted her to and damn if she would let insults towards her teacher slide away that easily.

                            "Sir Byrnhildr, you scum-sucking louse--!!" Anger was a foreign feeling to Becky and she was not used to resisting rage's whispered suggestions. She was on her feet before she knew it and only realized she was the only one standing after she struck a stance geared for attacking Abel, hand curling around a weapon that wasn't there. She dropped that notion like a hot potato, drawing herself up tight while she cast nervous glances at the ring of people around her. Babbling excuses and apologies, Becky took her seat as quickly as she left it, paying no attention to the rest of Abel's speech.

                            A silence taut with tension fell once Abel finished his clearly reluctant submission to Jhandel. While she could hardly pick out any specific jabs, Becky knew her ears weren't lying to her about the vitriol in his words. Jittery after making her earlier interruption, she gave into her feeling that something had to be said, especially after she had the cheek to cut in as she did.
                            "I- I don't really know anything about Corbalich and the gods and stuff. Um, but... Does it really matter? I mean, not that isn't important or anything, that's not what I mean to say! Well, I g-guess what I'm trying to say is that it shouldn't really matter because we're already chose to stay in this for the long run, haven't we?"

                            The fact that Becky was never great at public speaking was never more apparent than now. Even she cringed at her inelegant wording, so far from the language of these experienced, city-dwelling folk. In desperation, she grasped at her feeling of ire from before, clouding her perception with anger to restore her confidence and finish saying what she thought needed to be said. "I don't know about the rest of you but I'm not going to fly the coop over a mouse in the yard. I have a duty to be here and I will gladly follow Master Koven to finish it. I mean, he's the one in charge of leading us into Corbalich and he knows the most about this quest after all. N-not that everyone else going isn't needed, that's not what I meant at all! Um, that makes sense, right?"

                            Break-It Becky. Enough said. ~ fin.
Lord Scottacus's avatar

Interesting Citizen

Denre Rispit

User ImageDenre didn't even budge as Jhandel made his ultimatum. She had already signed up for this mission. She had already revealed her secrets to this man and most importantly; this man knew more secrets that she wished to know. Agreeing to hear this information from him was nothing more than a gesture at this point. The decision had been made long before this.

"Excuse me? How dare you threaten death for the mere matter of knowing? Dear Rothaelim have – !"


This outburst brought up indignation in Denre. How dare she accuse Jhandel for his offer. Was she really so naive that she believed there was no secret that should be hidden. There was a reason nations didn't share their troop movements with their enemies and the names and positions of spies were not revealed to public knowledge. Such actions would bring ruin upon the fools that tried such openness. Such a procedure would bring equal, if not greater, misfortune upon this group. Before Denre could interrupt Xanthia though; Abel did so, in a much kinder manner than Denre would have gone about it.

The party sat in strained silence as Jhandel explained the purpose of the expedition. Denre had never been outside the empire. She had set up residence in each of Tourmaline's major regions, some even twice. Maybe it was the nations isolationist tendencies rubbing off on her. Not to mention Denre could appreciate the unearthing of lost knowledge, she herself was searching for something lost long in the past now. Abel's retort brought up further feelings of anger in Denre. First Xanthia proclaims that they should reveal that which should not be known and now Abel is claiming that they should leave that which should be known buried. Once again another member of the party spoke before Denre voiced her opinion though.

Becky's outburst was surprising to say the least. She too favoured Jhandel over the people questioning him and his motives. Denre wasn't sure wether this was out of loyalty to a higher power or a genuine belief that Jhandel was in the right. Regardless she was supporting Jhandel at the moment and Denre swooped in behind her clumsy argument to back it up.

"I stand by Jhandel on this one. Whatever knowledge this "Valley where no one sleeps" holds is obviously important or we would have never been commissioned to recover it."
Denre made a pointed look at the prince to get that point across. "As for godhood, wouldn't you rather your sovereign make the ascension than an enemy nation? In this world, knowledge is power and securing it is the means of claiming such power for oneself."
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SNAPPING back into her seat almost instantly at the sound of Abel’s voice, Xanthia frowned like a child in pouting. As much as she hated being yelled at, Abel was right. It would only be more fitting to rebuke Jhandel after he had finished insulting their humanity. She made no eye contact as the knight spoke, instead glaring intensely at the floor around her. Inside, her consciousness continued the argument. So they only had one purpose and what was that? To secure knowledge of an ancient neutral ground in Corbalich? Xanthia almost let out a morbid laugh. The blood-lord’s ritual grounds she bet. Couldn’t he just say that? Was it not obvious enough already? Heck, they might as well have just set the expedition’s objective at: “To sacrifice Tourmalinian citizens to the blood-lord.” The thought evaporated immediately, however, when Xanthia heard the word, “Talbrelon’alim”.

“It’s been found…?”
, she whispered quietly to herself. Lifting her head from it’s slouching droop towards the floor, her eyes widened with sudden amazement at the knight’s every word. Jhandel elaborated on the name’s most basic significance; something that was necessary only for the others for Xanthia knew it well. During a geological survey three years ago, she had the fortune of stumbling away from the group and becoming lost in a journey of her own designs. Originally the draw had been the gorgeous cross bedding displayed in the layers of a mountain crevasse but quickly she had realized that these layers were unnatural. This became more and more obvious further down until the layers themselves weaved an intricate pattern of glyphs and symbols, many of which were common to religious texts. That is where she discovered the ruins. After hours of happily trudging through the crumbling caverns, Xanthia found the books. They were the books of Taltherion but untouched and preserved since ancient times. It was proof that the legends of the gods really had been passed down through the generations and her find could serve as a standard by which the twisting of the original could be subtracted out. In her hands was the story of Taltherion in its purest form, the way it was originally told.

Xanthia had been hooked ever since. For her discovery she was offered an apprenticeship at the royal museum in Zenithis and though that didn’t last long, she gained in months what most scholars learned in years. The morals, the personal lives of the gods, the history, the language; she was entranced by all of it and it was in the first book, Ascension, that she first learned of Talbrelon’alim. In fact, Xanthia had once tried to deduce its location from geography mentioned in the text. She was more than qualified. Despite this, however, the references proved too vague and so much time had passed that it could have been pretty much anywhere. One could always crop out a section of map, rotate it, and otherwise force it into the arrangement of valleys, rivers, and mountains mentioned by the book. Lost, perhaps never meant to be found, or perhaps never there in the first place. A shame. The knowledge, the wisdom, the enlightenment would be unparalleled. Maybe it was too good to be true. Since then Xanthia had moved on to other parts of Taltherion. But now, to learn that not only did Talbrelon’alim exist but to hear they would go there sparked a fascination that was reborn far greater than even the first time she had cracked open Taltherion.

Those were merely the things she had known already. As Jhandel began to recount the history of the agreement over such neutral land, Xanthia squirmed desperately in her chair in search of her journal. She padded her pockets well before remembering it sat upon the knight’s lap across from her. Not to be trounced by the unfortunate circumstance, Xanthia repeated each of Sir Koven’s words to herself in hope of remembering it. She flooded with enjoyment, so much so that it drowned out the fighting that erupted the moment Jhandel finished his speech. Lost in the onset of a daydream, she didn’t even pay enough attention to notice Becky’s surprising contribution to the fuss.

“People, STOP!” Xanthia, having awoken from a state of trance, caught the tail end of the bickering and, waving her arms at the air in front of her, stood to her feet once again. Notras seemed pleased. She smiled at him but only briefly lest she leave her audience unappeased for her interruption.

“This isn’t about power or suicide…this is even more than about knowledge.”
Xanthia paused for a brief moment as she swirled about to meet the face of each one in the circle. “This is about redefining the human condition! Just think of what ancient wisdom waits to be found down there!” Smiling uncontrollably wide, she made a enticing gesture towards Abel. ”The Kinslayer? Taltherion’s armor? We could find them! And not only that but can you imagine the implications?” Her parents came immediately to mind. ”What are they made of? We could build towers and bridges out of it!”

Xanthia had to apply serious effort to stop herself from simply collapsing right there into a fantasy. Such a flight of whimsy was a dream all unto itself because she knew that it didn’t have to be a dream. It could be real. But she hadn’t even told them the half of it! If there was one thing Denre had been right about it was that knowledge was power. He probably had only thought of it in the political sense but Xanthia knew that power was far, far deeper. It was power over nature. You didn’t have to be a Rhakovan or a god. With knowledge, each and every person was an engine of creation, a god unto them self. Tears were nearly rolling from her eyes at the beauty of it but she had to keep going. Taking a deep breath, she jiggled her wrist in gesture and then continued.

“Mentioned vaguely in the first book of Taltherion is a library, an archive containing the texts written by the Sleeper and the Writer.”
Xanthia had hardly made it to the end of the sentence before the excitement had her voice all riled up anew.“Do you know who they are? This is knowledge transcribed by the gods themselves and this place could be out there!”. With a burst she flung her arm towards the southern wall. She wasted no moment to gauge the interest of her audience. There was still more. Xanthia bent her knees and tightened her first as she placed it over her chest. She cringed with emphasis on her every word.


“When the gods left this Earth and silenced their magic with Rothaelim’s shroud they weren’t abandoning us. This place is their gift! Can you believe it? This archive could be a blueprint for the whole universe! Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about their creation might be in there. Philosophy, science, religion…every idea man has ever had about the world could be completely redefined!”


Xanthia paused one final time, her heart aching with passion. ”We’re not talking about Notras’ ascension here,”she stated while gesturing to both Denre and Notras at once. ”…this is about the ascension of the entire human race. It’s a new age that’s about to dawn on us and we, of all the people in the world, have this unique chance to usher it in. Sure there might be perils.” Xanthia turned herself solely to Abel to smile upon him with a compassionate gaze. “But what’s adventure without a little hardship?”

“Thank you so much Sir Koven for this opportunity.”
, Xanthia expressed as she turned towards the knight and lunged forth to grab his hand with two. She shook it vigorously with such enthusiasm that the motion no doubt shot rattles up his shoulder. Turning to Notras, she offered the same.

“And dearest prince Notras, forgive me. I’m not quite sure why you’re here but I am certain you have played your part. Kudos to you too, your majesty.”
The smile on his face was far more than the smirk that it had been. Gracefully, he took her hand but rather than shaking it, brought its back to his lips. Xanthia couldn’t help but blush as hot blood flooded her cheeks. Twirling with joy, she returned to her chair and sat exhausted from the burst of fervor. Staring towards the fifteen pointed star above them she whispered,

“Somewhere out there, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
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Gracious General

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                                                        JHANDEL WATCHED as the information swept over the crowd, a profound patience rooting him to his seat and keeping his demeanour calm and deceptively passive. He could have leapt to Xanthia's challenge --to call upon Rothaelim, against he who had devoted so much for the shred of favour his god bestowed on him, woke in him a primal rage that could not be completely attributed to the taint --but he had chosen not to. Still again, as the man named Brynhildr slandered his name and his rank by even considering that he would desecrate the sacred, Jhandel remained silent.

                                                        It was a curious thing, almost distressing, to witness how terribly selective an individual could be when dissecting such poignant information. Had Xanthia even heard his reasoning for his caution? Or Abel when he spoke of an agreement signed by nations outside of Tourmaline? Jhandel, for however much he wished to direct his anger at them, could not bring himself to do so. This was, after all, exactly as Rothaelim had taught him --to be wary around emotion, to acknowledge its power, but never to degrade the truth in an individual's perspective regardless of how incomplete the evidence was from which judgements were drawn.

                                                        Because that was just it. Ignorance was born from an incomplete understanding of the situation at hand. But, as Jhandel knew, who of any self-aware creature, be it gods or men, could claim he or she had a complete understanding of anything? It was often believed that Rothaelim punished those who were arrogant in their ignorance, that his use of truth as a weapon cleared away the trash that polluted reality. As Jhandel remembered those assassins he served under, the thieves he fought alongside with and against all at once, he knew Rothaelim's ruthlessness was the fundamental creed many chose to follow for its simplicity and certainty.

                                                        But that was not the only creed. Rothaelim the Constant was not named Constant for lacking ambivalence. He was named for the integrity of the self in spite of the changing world. A desire to learn was what he prized, and he rewarded those who were humble at his altar for their acceptance in Rothaelim's near absolute mastery over the talents his followers so desired.

                                                        So Jhandel watched patiently, the prince's presence easing the taint further so he found it not so difficult to concentrate on the dialogue presented to him. He could not blame the men and women here for their opinions. In fact, he valued each opposing argument more deeply than those that agreed with his own beliefs, though he was no less grateful for Becky's intervention. For every time his truth was challenged he was forced to find more reasons to believe he was right or would be faced with the knowledge that he was wrong, that some idea needed to be revised. Both found pleasant company in his mind; without them, he would never be able to form such as strong resolve as he would now.

                                                        At Denre's mention of his name, Jhandel paid especially close attention to what the man --for the sake of his sanity, he would continue to see him as a man regardless of the shape he took --had to offer. The knight almost bit his tongue in surprise at the ease in which Denre accepted his conditions, seeing the initial benefits exactly as he had seen them. Perhaps he had been too quick to judge the sellsword? Those words, "knowledge is power," revealed an affinity for the same Rothaelim Jhandel served. He paused. Or perhaps his judgement was not harsh enough for he could easily underestimate the lengths this man would go to accomplish his goals, or worse, the knight could misinterpret the motives of another Master of Silence just as easily as Abel misinterpreted the purpose of the mission.

                                                        Humbling thoughts.

                                                        Jhandel made to respond then, only to be interrupted by Xanthia who, terrifyingly, resembled neither the lady he met in the home of Counsellor Vetyz nor the woman who had wished to call divine retribution on his head for a believed offence. His immediate suspicion at the change in attitude melted into a growing intrigue as she, like Denre, jumped on the notion that they could use whatever knowledge was to be gained from the mission for the benefit of society. But that intrigue, twisting nervously in his gut, hardened into stone as she spoke of the Kinslayer as if the fact that the weapon had slain such a beloved god was secondary to everything else. A coldness seeped into his chest, bleeding into his bones, silencing him as he sat petrified. He could only watch in horror as the possibilities, dangerous, dangerous possibilities, were laid bare in front of them.

                                                        Jhandel did not resist as Xanthia grasped his hand, the motion of her shaking wrenching him from his thoughts. This... he needed to think about this. It was not often that the knight was caught so off guard --that he misjudged Xanthia's intelligence so severely he had been stunned by her understanding was more than enough reason for him to worry. He cleared his throat, half wondering if he would be able to make an impression now after such an enthusiastic display. The journal in his lap suddenly felt a thousand times heavier.


                                                        "'Fear not the boundary between gods and men, for knowledge is the bridge that spans across it,'" Jhandel said. The quote fell freely from his lips and he thanked Notras, Rhakovan, privately for the confidence the words of Taltherion brought him. He avoided Abel pointedly, though in his heart he knew the quote was meant to tear at him. "This concludes the material I wished to cover in this meeting at Rhakovan's Hall. If there are any more questions, please ask them now or hold them until we are beyond the city's walls."

                                                        Jhandel kept the eagerness out of his voice. He had not intended the meeting to last much longer, and now that Xanthia had tossed into the air the seeds of intrigue he was more than anxious to end their conversation. As much as he enjoyed the debates for they showed him a unique picture of the individuals he would be taking with him for what could be a journey lasting many months, there were still too may unknown factors. Too many variables he could not account for.

                                                        "As you leave today, I will advise you on the practical matters of our mission. You know we are to leave at the first sign of a storm, though I have yet to tell you what you should bring," Jhandel's gaze landed on Becky though he meant nothing by it. He needed a source of constancy right now, and she was the closest he could find save for the prince. "Pack light. We travel by horseback on open plains only; while we pass through Threshaldil, it will be on foot and I expect everyone to be responsible for his or her own belongings.

                                                        "Until we depart, you are free to partake in any activities you desire. And of course, I should not need to say that what has been revealed here under the Star of Aoes is not to be repeated to anyone. May Rothaelim protect us all."


                                                        Jhandel swallowed thickly, praying that no one would notice the way his hand clenched around Xanthia's journal until his knuckles were white, or how he pressed absent fingers against the spot where his dagger lay under his tunic.

                                                        Rothaelim protect us all.
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                            “I stand by Jhandel on this one.” BECKY LIFTED her head, having dropped her gaze to the floor after ending her less than stellar speech with a trailing mumble. Was the blonde woman on her right actually speaking? Apparently so, and not only that but she was also allied with Master Koven, voicing her support for him! While the notion was comforting, the sound of the other lady's voice was not. It wasn't exactly pain-inducing or even cacophonous but it made Becky feel dizzy and unsettled. The other woman's words echoed in the throne room longer than they should, as if an entire crowd was talking rather than one person alone. As for the meaning behind her talk, Becky agreed with the idea of supporting their shared king, despite only vaguely understanding words such as 'commissioned' and 'sovereign'. Shame that she didn't know her name yet.

                            “People, STOP!”

                            Becky jolted in her seat, almost tipping her chair over backwards. Though she saved her from going to jail for her crimes in the end, Xanthia was hardly warming Tierson's pupil up to her as of late, having stolen from and spoken against Master Koven. On the other hand, her enthusiasm was hard to resist even if her ideas were just as difficult to comprehend. 'The ascension of the entire human race' was a concept too lofty for Becky to completely grasp but it sounded quite lovely from the sound of things. So she just nodded and went along with it, not bothering to stop the faint, nervous smile forming on her lips. The authenticity of her grin was questionable when Xanthia went to shake hand of the Lord Knight she'd disagreed so strongly with only minutes ago, then completely fell away once she turned towards the Prince. The excitable mapmaker wasn't the only one blushing when Prince Notras kissed her hand while Becky slowly let out the breath she'd been holding in subconsciously.

                            "This concludes the material I wished to cover in this meeting at Rhakovan's Hall. If there are any more questions, please ask them now or hold them until we are beyond the city's walls." So, that was it? That wasn't much of a question period if only two were asked, however far-reaching they were. Then again, Master Koven did go above and beyond in answering them, and it wasn't as if there wasn't plenty of discussion had. As Jhandel paused, Becky slowly rose from her chair, thinking the meeting over, only to sit back down when it turned out he wasn't quite done speaking.

                            "As you leave today, I will advise you on the practical matters of our mission. You know we are to leave at the first sign of a storm, though I have yet to tell you what you should bring," As she caught Jhandel's glance in her direction. Becky swallowed a lump of guilt. She would certainly not be packing lightly; her armor might even be the heaviest thing to be brought on this quest. While it wasn't as if her equipment would be completely unmanageable (Hey, Becky did haul it to the capital all on her own,) it was a good thing they would be using horses up until stepping into Threshaldil.

                            Becky didn't know much about horseback riding but what were they to do if bad weather turned their route muddy and unnavigable? Wouldn't the weather be bad at the first sign of a storm? And just where were they to meet and leave together anyway? While nervous, Becky wasn't eager to look like a fool later on, especially if it risked her not leaving Zenithis with the rest of the party.
                            "So, um, where are we supposed to meet again? And, uh, when? Not that I wasn't listening, I mean! It's just that 'at the first sign of a storm' is a little... not clear?"

                            -~-


                            When all was said and done, Becky would be the last to leave Rhakovan's Hall. After hesitating to leave her seat, she stood to bow twice before the men across from her, once to Prince Notras and again to Master Koven. It had been such a long time since she and Master Tierson bid Jhan goodbye and there were so many questions left unanswered since childhood that she wanted to ask him. How had he been? Did he ever suffer relapses? Ohhh, but the Prince was there too and the last thing Becky wanted to do was behave inappropriately in front of royalty, especially towards his Lord Knight. Eventually, she decided that she'd lingered long enough and scurried for the door.

                            Catching up with Jhan would have to wait for another time. It's just that there were other things Becky had to attend to, like the serious matter of breakfast as her empty gut reminded her painfully. That issue was a downright crisis considering she'd been running low on supplies since coming to Zenithis. Yet she still wasn't comfortable with pawning odds and ends for money, however necessary it had been on her journey. On the other hand, Becky was quite eager to sample the food of Zenithis that Master Tierson told her of when he returned to the capital for teaching supplies. Becky did not accompany him, despite being seventeen at the time, but she clearly hung onto his every word when he later regaled her with mouthwatering descriptions of pot pies, steaks and pork chops from butchers, delis and a restaurant in particular that employed a 'precocious whelp' as Master Tierson put it, before he reluctantly admitted that the young man had talent.

                            Tales of such meat were what the old man used against Becky weeks earlier to convince her to answer Jhandel's call, before he resorted to outright ordering her to go. Come to think of it, she did have that pouch of silver coins lying around her room back at that Lowtown inn, so she wasn't completely penniless... W-Wait, NO. No, bad Becky, bad. That coinpouch belonged to someone else and it was only right for her to return it instead of spending the money on herself! After all, what if someone mistook her for a thief because of it and in turn, had her taken off the quest? But who in the world would she give it back to?

                            Certainly the true owner of the purse had to be from the castle, or so Becky would think if only so many people hadn't attended the Summit last night. Nevertheless, Becky's conscience wouldn't leave her in peace if she didn't at least try to get the leather coin-purse to its rightful owner. Perhaps she could just hand it over to the authorities up at the palace and be done with it, even after getting off the wrong foot with the castle guards. With one major objective complete and yet another task to do, Becky set off for Lowtown, pondering how to squeeze a quick bite to eat into her agenda.

                            How done am I with this post from a scale of 1 to 10? Bake until golden-brown. ~ fin.
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Fear not the boundary between gods and men, for knowledge is the bridge that spans across it.

Wait…those weren’t her thoughts, Jhandel had said that. Xanthia smiled towards the fifteen-pointed star she was still staring at. Well, there was at least one thing they could agree on. She swung body back into a proper sitting position just in time to catch the next of Jhandel’s words. "This concludes the material I wished to cover in this meeting at Rhakovan's Hall. If there are any more questions, please ask them now…” That was it? Xanthia gasped quietly and then scrambled for more things to ask. She searched needlessly for her journal once more before revisiting the realization it wasn’t with her. Nodding through the trigger of departure that she had diligently committed to memory, her mind was left to percolate on which details of their mission still had to be filled.

Before it could begin, however, it was twisted into a knot of perplexity as Becky questioned the first thing the knight had proposed – the storm. What about the first sign of a storm was ‘unclear’? Xanthia turned to look at Becky with an expression of puzzlement before she stopped herself. Come to think of it, the first sign of a storm was pretty vague. What constituted a storm in the first place? Was it rain? Did there have to be lightening? How close to the city did it have to come? Did the clouds have to be of a certain opacity? Could the ‘sign’ take the form of a dropping in temperature, an arch in the clouds, a herald’s weather forecast, or any other indication that a storm was on its way or did it actually have to happen first? Xanthia shook her head, closed her eyes and smiled. It was the autumn storms Jhandel was referring to and having been raised in Zenithis, she couldn’t mistake those for anything. It was clear to her what the knight had meant but she couldn’t say as much for a foreigner such as Becky. She took the liberty to elaborate.

“Sir Koven refers to the autumn storms, miss Carver. You won’t be able to mistake them, don’t worry.”
Or was that the reason to worry all the more? Xanthia turned towards Jhandel once again, glancing briefly at the prince beside him and pointing to the ground beneath them all. ”…And we should all meet here when they come, I presume?” She nodded in confirmation of the response.

As for the horses, Xanthia tried not to have much of an opinion. Of course she knew how to ride, most Zenithisians could. And it was something she enjoyed too. Being up high, commanding strength greater than her own; the feeling of control was exhilarating. Her family had never owned a horse. Living well within the innards of the city, they didn’t need it. Perhaps this was a fortunate thing for on the other hand, she had only ever broken one bone and that had been after being thrown from a horse. It was only a minor fracture and necessity had forced her to continue to ride throughout the decade that had spanned since. Nevertheless and no matter how enjoyable riding horses was, there had always been some enmity between her and them. It depended on the particular steed, which led Xanthia to another question.

“The mounts will be provided, correct?”


It was a trivial question, no doubt, having little relevance since they would be proceeding on foot once they hit Threshaldil anyway. But it spared a few precious moments for Xanthia to collect her thoughts to realize something more meaningful. She brought to mind a map of the empire and traced her finger along the route she recalled from Jhandel’s journal through the space in front of her. It tingled slightly as the brush of the high forest trees gave way to the hard stone structure of a city. Manetherilan. No matter which direction they went or how hard they tried to avoid the place, they would have to cross it or forsake Threshaldil altogether. It was a dangerous city whose inhabitants always insisted on making it difficult to leave. Nevertheless, they would likely be low on supplies by then and would need to restock. Uncomforting, but even she had said herself: what was a little danger when the grandest of treasures awaited them? Content not to bother with the trivial details, Xanthia bundled her questions into something more general.

“Can I assume that we will be sticking at least vaguely to the route laid out in your journal, Lord Jhandel? How long should we expect to be gone?”


The question surely wasn’t the end of her onslaught. Could they expect to encounter any other exploratory parties? Did the treaty say that only one exploratory party would be allowed ever? Or did it simply mean that there could only exist one at a time? Where was Nero? Was he still on the expedition? Did Jhandel know Master Tierson? Was he still alive? Would they be stopping anywhere along the way? Was there a quota on the maps she had to produce? How far into Corbalich was Talbrelon'alim? What was the climate like? Had it changed since the books of Taltherion were written? Did the blood-lord really exist? Did Tourmaline trust that she would hold the agreement? How did they figure out where Talbrelon’alim was? Had anyone ever tried to go there before? Was this knowledge they uncovered to be made public? Were they permitted to take things from the site?

By the time Xanthia had finished asking such questions, let alone let Jhandel answer them, she had already found herself herded towards the great wooden doors at the end of the hall. A quick glance around allowed her to see that she and Becky were the last ones of the group to leave and only Sir Koven and the prince remained inside. The others must have left some time ago. Curses, she must have been too diverted to even bid Abel good-bye. It was clear she was overstaying her due and so with a quiet sigh of disappointment, Xanthia stepped outside the door and proposed one final question.

“Can I have my notebook back?”


Unhesitant, the knight placed it firmly in her hand. She smiled and bowed thanks in return. As the heavy plodding doors slammed shut, Xanthia nested herself beside the closest patch of bare wall and plucked a graphite pencil from the pouch at her waist. Flipping to the newest page, she could feel that her familiar journal had hardly been opened. Xanthia scribbled down to the best of her memory Jhandel’s answers with a furiously quick hand. “Bye Becky!”, she waved before sprinting straight home to reveal the news to her parents. Fortunately, at least they would have the sense to seal the spread of such knowledge there. Her father knew well of the silence demanded by the Rhakovan's walls.
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                                            THE SPLASH of cool water to his face did little to dull the throbbing aches bulging from behind his eyes. Yanry tried to sigh away the fatigue as annoying droplets ran their way into the sleeves of his Tourmalinian red work gown. The water was refreshing nonetheless but, being all too well accustomed to such late nights these days, Mr. Vetyz knew that a restful sleep was the only remedy. He dried his face quickly with a towel and slung to his shoulder a briefcase stuffed with the documents of Notras’ Interim War Council as he left the dimly lit bathroom. The palace was empty as it always was at this time so Yanry proceeded alone through the deepest halls of the castle. He made a brisk pace. As long as the day had been, there was still one last errand to run before calling it a night.

                                            “Farewell Counselor Vetyz. I bid you a wealthy rest.”


                                            Yanry nearly stumbled over in surprise at the sound. It had been so empty, so quiet, and he was so tired that even the calm wishes of the guard had left him dazzled. He swung his head around frantically for a second and started walking backwards before finding the pair of sentries stationed by the last gate.

                                            “Aye, why thank you. And shall the starry skies bring you a peaceful watch.”


                                            With a quick smile and wave, he turned forward once more before embarking down the moonlit streets of Zenithis. Despite being downhill, the walk was not exactly a pleasant one. The skies were clear but his mind was clouded. What had been of tonight’s meeting seemed already like a distant memory and came to him only in momentary flashes of names and numbers. Falconridge quarry, output capacity, production parities, blackstone deposits. Roads were needed, timber hauled, workers allocated, construction plans finalized, contracts issued. 1400 Barrels, 3900 laborers, 14 months, 170 square kilometers, 1100 tons. What did they mean? By the king it was a good thing he kept good notes. If there had been others roaming the streets at this hour, he couldn’t have discerned their silhouettes from images leaking from his half-delusional mind.

                                            Yanry was even shocked himself to have somehow made it to his destination despite being in a zombie-like state. Despite the moon being just past full he still found himself squinting to ensure he had come to the right place. Quixote. This was it. Standing by the torch-lit entrance, Mr. Vetyz kneeled on the cold cobblestone street and searched around his baggage. He drew several letters at random and one by one lifted them into the light. Counselor Welskerlan, Landmaster Servota, Abel Brynhildr. There, that was it, but Yanry was still not ready to fully bestow his trust at the mere name of the recipient. Carefully opening the letter, he took a brief glance at the message itself.

                                            Dear Mr. Brynhildr, I am honored to present my heartfelt invitation to an autumn picnic with my family … have planned for some time … tells me you will also be accompanying his honorable Lord Koven … on behalf of the Vetyz family it would be my pleasure if you could attend … best wishes to you, your restaurant, your family, and your home, as well as the horizons that await.


                                            Convinced, Yanry resealed the letter and delivered it. Even when he wasn't nearly passing out from fatigue, checking letters a final time before sending was good practice, especially in recent days. Letters were known to have been switched and things would go missing only to be found later, their secrets compromised. Fortunately this particular one wasn't overly important but he still had to be careful. Yanry cringed at the thought of the mess that would ensue if one of his documents for Notras went missing. Things like this didn't make the walk home any easier, but at least when he got there the night would be over.

                                            ~~~


                                            The last autumn picnic was a family tradition and Yanry’s lips erupted in smile as the kids rushed towards the famous dead husk of an old large tree. Every time was special but this one was especially so. Looking intensely across the plateau and rolling hills caused the memories to flow like a resonant tune. Mr. Vetyz savored every note as he watched the children throw the first handfuls of leaves into the air. Nature’s confetti. Standing to his right was their mother. He turned his beaming smile onto her beautiful face and the perfect hair that his daughter had faultlessly inherited and caressed an arm around her. They gazed at each other lovingly and with a passionate beam. Her intoxicating sweet scent drowned out even the grainy smell of the autumn leaves that already littered the ground. It was a moment that seemed to last for eternity…or at least until Kaiyan called out.

                                            “Mom! Dad! Look! It’s a knight!”


                                            “It is! He’s leaving. Come wave!”


                                            Never letting go of her hand, Yanry made a casual walk to the dead old tree until he could see over the slope towards the road below. On horseback rode the lone knight. They were leaving today, all except for Jhandel and the Guardian, and dispersing to every corner of the empire to tend to their sacred duties. The children waved fervently, especially Xanthia. So innocent, so childish, incurably naïve; that girl seemed to not have aged a day in years. But not to be left out of the fun, Yanry waved too and happily the knight waved back.

                                            They had intentionally arrived a bit early. It only took a few minutes for them to lay down the blanket and spread out the feast but it gave some extra time to relax. They were also expecting a visitor this time and Yanry wanted to be sure everything was ready and in order before his arrival. Together, the family rolled out the blanket and placed it on top of the soft Earth before his love suggested that Xanthia and Kaiyan get started on the ceremonial leaf pile. They took to it immediately and seeing this, their mother gave Yanry a look just short of a wink. Surely that would keep them busy. After laying out the top contents of basket, Mr. Vetyz pressed his hand against the hidden wooden box buried within, verifying its presence. Waiting on Abel, now, he helped lay out the rest of the feast and then stretched himself out on the soft blanket making small talk with his wife. It was a kind of relaxation he hadn’t felt in a long time, at least never since he accepted that position on Notras’ Interim War Council. But he wouldn’t be thinking about that today, just in case this was the last time he would be free from worry and war.

                                            Mr. Brynhildr arrived precisely on time and Yanry was glad to see his youthful stride towards them from the city gate. ”Greetings Mr. Brynhildr!”, he called to him. Yanry rose to his feet in a flash, regretting for a moment that he wasn’t as young as Abel, and met him half way. As he approached, the sheer height of his mood was overwhelming and after affording the cook a vigorous handshake and a pat, gestured with his hand towards their picnic. ”I’m so glad you could make it. Come, take a seat. Kids?, he voiced with excitement. ”Let the picnic begin!”

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