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Witszy's avatar

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                              THERE WAS no movement nor any other sign that answered Becky's cries for help, much to her despair. She knew there was no chance of her outrunning or evading her pursuers, which left fighting her way out as her only option. Scuffing the heels of her boots, she skid to a stop while somehow keeping her feet underneath herself. With the grace of a trained soldier, Becky turned on her heel to face her opponents and immediately sank into one of the many stances she knew. The 'shhhk' of her shortsword being drawn from its sheath masked the noise of the great door opening just enough for Lord Koven to be seen through.

                              Her arm tensed, ready to nudge her buckler to its place over her knuckles. Becky remained coiled, prepared to attack or defend as needed even when her- pursuers stopped in their tracks. Their shared cautious expressions and steps made backwards confused her. Was she that intimidating? Ha, hardly. But it wasn't as if there was anything else around to scare these ruffians into standing so still, right? Curiosity and a strange feeling of dread prompted her to take a glance over her shoulder to find Jhandel Koven at the door, wearing a most frightening visage. The sight was enough to make her jolt out of her stance and take a few steps towards the very men she'd just fled. However, Jhandel's expression was not exactly new to her and the initial shock wore off fast. Knowing better than to look a gift horse in the mouth, Becky rushed past Jhandel into the entrance hall

                              Better to face the devil she knew rather than the devil she didn't. Becky helped Lord Koven pull the door shut behind her as quick as she could. She kept her eyes turned down when she could, never looking at the very man she sought as she slid her blade back in its sheathe and her buckler further up her arm. There was hardly any doubt left in her that the Lord Knight was the very man she'd seen in Master Tierson's care. Having the sight of Jhandel's aggressive snarl made fresh in her mind also renewed her simultaneous fear and pity for the man. As he rubbed at his eyes, Becky regarded him with the same worry and apprehension that her twelve-year-old self did.

                              Though she nodded at the hand he waved towards the staircase on the other end of the hall, Becky did not follow after Jhandel immediately but trailed a little ways away after him out of respect and fright. She kept the same distance between them even after Jhandel's knees seemed to give out below him when he took a seat on the third step up, though she didn't dare think of coming any closer to help. She refused his invitation to take a seat with a quiet shake of her head, not yet feeling that it was alright for her sit at his side. Though she was the only one standing tall, Becky still felt so small before Master Koven.

                              "Ms. Carver, please tell me what brings you here at this hour. I was not expecting guests." It seemed that Jhandel mistook Becky's nervous glances as her observing the strangely emptiness in the hall around them both because his next statement was, "Ah, you will have to pardon the poor hospitality. The castle hands are quite... occupied at the moment."

                              "Oh no, that's alright, I'm not bothered by it at all."
                              Truth be told, she didn't even notice the lack of the castle's usual hustle and bustle, though she did find it admirable that Master Koven would take on the responsibility of guarding this entrance all by himself. It was quite puzzling for Becky to look up and find Jhandel's features drawn tight in a way that really didn't match the casual tone of his voice. What an excellent Lord Knight he was, she thought, to remain so calm even in a situation such as this! For all their differing opinions, Master Tierson and Master Koven certainly shared the quality of being unflappable. Wait, speaking of Master Tierson, wasn't that why she was here? "Um! I-I hope I'm not being a bother or anything like that but it's just that there's something going on outside! All these fires are starting all over the place and I'm pretty sure there's people behind because I really saw them spreading it with just their hands. Oh, yes, there's also these people going about in groups, I've only seen them going around in handfuls, but they're none too friendly with anyone they see."

                              "A-and I think they've got something flying up the skies too, I-I mean, I heard noises b-but I didn't really take the time to look up. I'm so sorry, I'll do much better next time-- not that I hope there will be a next time, goodness no! And..."
                              All the advice Becky had learned about looking at a person when you talk to them hardly did her nervousness any good. Jhandel hardly made things better as the subtle straining of his face made her feel uneasy and unsure if he really didn't mind what she was saying. Becky just had to drop her gaze to the floor before she could quite go on. "Th-there was also that group outside the castle gates but I guess you already know about them and, and-- and I-I don't mean to pry but, um... A-are you alright Master Koven? N-not that I mean that there's anything wrong with you, I'm ju-just wondering, is all!"

                              Yeah, this really shouldn't have taken me so long to finish. ~ fin.
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

Gracious General

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                                                        JHANDEL WAS only partially listening to Becky's recount of the events outside, too busy was he trying to shake the fog from his mind to pay proper attention to his guest. He felt lethargic, drained of all energy, and he supposed that shouldn't have been much of a surprise since he hadn't eaten since this time the previous day. Perhaps he was reckless; falling into Rothaelim's Wall had not been his intention, but the vastness of it swallowed him whole before he had a chance to realize what was happening. Jhandel couldn't even recall what he had been searching for, only that he had been searching and was none too pleased when the servant boy interrupted him. Just remembering the lurch of being forcibly drawn from his reverie made him nauseous. He covered his mouth with his hand. Perhaps it was a good thing he hadn't eaten.

                                                        He cleared his throat roughly, straightening in his seat at Becky's inquiry of his wellbeing. Jhandel smoothed the wrinkles from his uniform unconsciously, surprised at the sudden turn in the conversation. It was not very often someone asked him how he was faring; most assumed he was well and were content with that description even if he had been bleeding on their doorstep. The highborns of Zenithis did not pay him the slightest attention unless the situation absolutely demanded it, and all others, with the exception of a select few like the prince, either hated him too much to care or feared his rank too much to even ask. Having someone worry about him was... nice.

                                                        His smile this time didn't feel nearly as forced. With a light laugh he answered her,
                                                        "Yes, I am alright. Though I should be asking you the same! It must have been dangerous coming up here." Jhandel levelled a critical gaze at Becky, appraising her for any injuries he might have missed earlier. Finding nothing of major concern he lifted an eyebrow, amusement bubbling in his chest as he realized this girl would face down rebels to see him but still could not look him in the eye. "Why are you here? I would have thought it safer in the lower parts of the city."

                                                        Before the knight could say anymore, a thunderous roar broke the sky. The torches flickered in the wake of the sound and Jhandel held onto the baluster beside him to steady himself. Had Becky mentioned something about a creature flying above the city? Having been sequestered in his room the whole day, looking out windows just to check the hour, the thought never occurred to him that they would be under attack from a fell-beast. A flash of panic passed through him as he tried to place a name to what he had heard, cursing as he remembered how little he learned on the subject of monsters. Rothaelim within... what if it was a dragon? No, no, that's preposterous. Even if these people have in their possession a dragon, no human since before the Shroud could come close to commanding one. The king is busy and Notras--

                                                        Where was Notras? Jhandel took his hand off the stone railing, suddenly self-conscious as if he had spoken his thoughts out loud. The prince was not here, that much was certain, and if anything he bet the Lady Lor was with him too. But moving around at this time was precarious, even if Notras had planned this weeks in advance, so could Jhandel count on a Westrion to be with both of them? Ah, but it would not be just any Westrion and the knight knew only of one who would be privy to this field of intelligence. Not many people had such high clearance from Notras' spymaster. Jhandel shook his head. He was getting ahead of himself. He didn't even know if it truly was a dragon circling above them, but he could not argue with what a good team these three made in his mind. Did not the legends say a Rhakovan could make a dragon bow with naught but his presence, his sceptre, and two of his companions?

                                                        Noticing he had yet to address half the things Becky said, Jhandel gave her a sheepish grin. It was hard to find a place to start his explanation, only understanding bits and pieces of the situation at hand himself, so he began by asking her,
                                                        "How much did Master Tierson tell you about magic or the time before Rhakovan the First, before the advent of the Shroud? Ah, I know he was not fond of city-life, but did he ever tell you why?" Jhandel knew the old man was aware of many things; his poor opinion of Zenisian politics was the one thing they shared in common and something they discussed at great length as he was fighting the taint.

                                                        Jhandel glanced out the closest window, nervous now that he knew he had missed a vital detail. What he found made him pause. He stared incomprehensibly for a moment at the deepening clouds, illuminated by an orange underglow from the fires ravaging the city, gathering over the Horizon. It was far too early for the autumn storms --he had not expected them for another week if not longer --yet there the sky threatened them. This time the rumble that shook the mountainside had nothing to do with whatever creature lingered in the air.

                                                        A curious thought crossed him then. Had Notras placed him here, knowing that the night would end up this way? Strangely, that idea comforted him though he supposed it made sense if it meant he would be on the road soon. He had too much energy lately and not enough outlets for which to exhaust his reserves. Jhandel turned back to Becky, beckoning her to look at him. He was calm now, oddly so, and he wished to impart some of that reassurance onto the woman in front of him.

                                                        "I pray you are ready to leave tonight. It would seem the gods have urged us to move sooner than I had anticipated. The others should arrive shortly." Jhandel stood from his seat on the stairs, all his missing grace before returned to him as he imagined how good it will feel once he was out of the city. "Until then, I shall tell you what I know and hope I may put your heart at ease for Zenithis was never lost to begin with."

                                                        OOC ::: Alright! We're just about ready to leave Zenithis. I'm going to cut this a bit short because I know we're all anxious to continue. I may have one or two more posts with Jhan as we get together at the castle before I close the Critical Event as well as Chapter One.
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                                              ABEL NODDED in confirmation that he was all right but Xanthia wasn’t quite convinced. She placed the door back in place as best she could and then shot after him and the Westrion as they ascended the stairs. She finally caught up as they reached the top. Even Xanthia’s mother, famously calm in demeanor, nearly leapt from her chair at the sight of the drying blood running down Abel’s face. Abel turned around and towards Xanthia at the top and the Westrion subtly stepped backwards to give them a moment of space. Lifting his arm to her face, Abel smoothed his thumb across the cheek that was mostly numb. Xanthia could barely feel his touch aside from a slight tingling sensation and a bite of cold. She knew that wasn’t him but she turned her head sideways and look down. Xanthia was embarrassed. It was her curiosity and incompetency for which that cheek was numb. What if she hadn’t been so lucky? It always seemed to work out this way. She hated needing someone to save her from situations like this and only a fool would bank on luck. Xanthia frowned and felt so useless. Fortunately her blushing wouldn’t show if that cheek was bright red already.

                                              "I wish I had gotten here sooner. The streets are a mess, and we had an incident at the restaurant. That's what this is from,"
                                              he gestured to the blood on his forehead. Xanthia appreciated his silent companionship and the way he didn’t ask what had gone wrong, what the swelling of her cheek was from. It was refreshing that, when he did speak, he spoke about himself. She tried to carry on the conversation but the Westrion didn’t seem willing to be that patient. He tended further to the wounds which meant Xanthia was forced to keep squirming and shifting around him to get a glimpse of Abel’s face. Without so much as offering first, Xanthia even tried to aid in the healing efforts but to no avail. The Westrion kept a good monopoly on his medical supplies and eventually nudged Xanthia away with a gentle push and humorous smile. She couldn’t argue that he knew what was best here.

                                              The Westrion had proved earlier to be a nicely charismatic fellow but even more unique was that he knew when to keep quiet. ”My pleasure, Mr. Brynhildr”, he replied honorably to Abel’s gratitude before gliding back to his perch at the window. Xanthia’s mother greeted them softly as she and Abel came to sit on the couch opposite to her. ”Why did you come?”, she asked to Abel. Xanthia only hoped that Quixote, greatest restaurant in all the empire, was in better shape than her mother’s shop. The bandaging above Abel’s left eye was not an encouraging prospect. How careless it all seemed. Xanthia felt brimming with anger. She didn’t want to be coddled right now. It was infuriating to not understand. What could the rebels want so badly so as to drive them to ruin the lives of thousands this night? The War documents? No – the westrion had dispelled that one. So what was it and where did they get that dragon?

                                              The tapping of rain on the roof of the shop drew Xanthia’s attention and calmed her at first. She couldn’t hear the dragon anymore but still its presence lingered. The charge in the air felt even more intense. Something was off and Xanthia quickly pinpointed it to a rise in atmospheric pressure. It seemed all too fitting a prelude to the thick black clouds she could sense marching in overhead like an army of the gods. Their presence was dominating and unnatural and it made her feel nauseous. This wasn’t the autumn storms she was accustomed to, it was still too earlier for them. This fact became apparent long before the storm even hit Zenithis and the booming claps of thunder wracked the city.

                                              Kaiyan cringed in his mother’s lap at each flash of lightening. He was probably awake but wishing that he wasn’t. After all, no one in the right mind could have rested through the roaring wash of rain and the deafening cracks of thunder that echoed for many seconds. ”At least the fires will be thoroughly doused”, Xanthia remarked with a nervous laugh. She noticed that she had shifted a bit closer to Abel when the Westrion mercifully shut the window and then moved his watch to another corner of the house. He returned several moments later from some forlorn duty. Xanthia looked over her shoulder to see him standing idly at the top of the stairs. The flashes of lightening casted haunting shadows throughout the house. He was unfazed.

                                              The storm. Xanthia gasped ever so subtly at the thought. Was this the one? Did it count? This surely was no autumn storm but it certainly far exceeded any requirement to being one. She felt a sudden rush of anxiety. Was this the time? Would they go now? Knowing that the autumn storms could come at any time, she was mostly already packed. It was beginning to seem surreal. She had imagined many times what the final day with her family would be like and how she would savoir it. But no simulation in her mind had ever run like this. It was a scary feeling to think that this might be the night.

                                              ”Is it…?”, Xanthia asked, turning back to the Westrion. He had been waiting for her to ask and with a firm nod, he confirmed that indeed it was. She looked to her mother. There was a resolute expression of strength in her face. Xanthia had been counting down to this day ever since her appointment to the expedition. She had tried to imagine every moment and prepare for it. But setting off on a night like this had wholly been beyond her thoughts. She had spoken of hardship but her naivety was unmatched. Xanthia looked to Abel and gauged his expression. Did he need to return to Quixote first? Would she meet him at the castle? Oh how she loathed to walk those dark streets alone. For all the questions that started to bubble to her mind, one shouted louder than the others. There was a sickness in Xanthia’s stomach. Did she even want to go?
Witszy's avatar

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                              HOW COULD someone so listless and pale be so restless? The very idea hardly added up in Becky's head and yet here she was, watching Master Koven fidget about while still bearing a thousand yard stare. He moved like a man on a last burst of adrenaline, his motions of bringing his hand to his mouth then straightening out his uniform holding an energy that didn't match the weariness in the rest of his body. Then, as she was about to continue fussing over his tired state, Jhandel looked up at Becky with a smile and a laugh. Just where did the light of attentiveness in his eyes and the red in his face come from? This situation was so puzzling that she almost wished to see Master Koven in a bedridden state again if only to have what she was seeing make sense.

                              "Yes, I am alright. Though I should be asking you the same! It must have been dangerous coming up here." Dangerous? Becky had been scared but she'd made her way from Lowtown with hardly a scratch. It sure wasn't a walk in the park but it wasn't a trek through Threshaldil either. Had she really been through such peril? She couldn't tell, having most of her worries brushed off by even Master Tierson as raising much ado about nothing. The thought made Becky squirm under Jhandel's examination. Whew, she really dodged a bolt there, didn't she? "Why are you here? I would have though it safer in the lower parts of the city."

                              Safer? In the city that was in flames at this very moment? Becky opened her mouth to voice her confusion, not yet fearing to interrupt Jhandel. "What--"

                              She nearly bit off her own tongue when she jumped at the roar that shook the castle to the rock foundation it was rooted in. Becky stumbled over her own feet, nearly lurching over until she stood steadily and regained her balance. The light returning to the room hardly did her racing heart any good, only reminding her of the darkness that almost descended. What did this mean, to have the dragon's bellows reach the castle that was so eerily detached from the noise of Zenithis minutes before? Perhaps Jhandel was right in saying the burning city below was less dangerous than this stronghold.

                              Speaking of Master Koven, Becky only noticed just now that he was mumbling under his breath. She had no idea what for, only catching the end of his unintelligible tangent but she suspected it had something to do with the great lizard up in the skies. Then again, she hardly had an idea of what to even do right now, offering only a blank look in response to Jhandel's sheepish grin. At the same time it unsettled her, his casual manner in the face of this crisis was oddly soothing, an anchor when panic threatened to overwhelm her.

                              "How much did Master Tierson tell you about magic or the time before Rhakovan the First, before the advent of the Shroud? Ah, I know he was not fond of city-life, but did he ever tell you why?" The rush to answer Master Koven's questions was as refreshing as a cool splash in the river by Master Tierson's hut on a slow summer day. Though the terms were nothing new to her, Becky knew little of history and even less of the ancient ages, when magic supposedly flowed as freely as water all over the Empire. She told Jhandel this and tried making up for her ignorance by regurgitating what Master Tierson taught her on dealing with magic. "-- said that he didn't really go up against magic much in his day but I don't really have to worry about it either, since there's not many mages out there that are prepared for battle. But if I ever run into one, Master Tierson said I should ..."

                              "-- is around people, though I know where he's coming from with getting nervous in crowds and all, since..."
                              So wrapped up in reciting her every lesson on magic was Becky that she didn't notice that Jhandel had turned his attention elsewhere until she got into answering his inquiry on her teacher. She only trailed off when she hesitated to go into further detail regarding Astato Tierson and the Star Slayer, not feeling it her place to speak on such sensitive matters. Becky could hardly blame Master Koven for getting distracted once she followed his gaze to the nearest window overlooking the rest of Zenithis.

                              The shape over the city, dwarfing even the dragon circling above, drew a gasp from Becky and made her fear for the coming of yet another threat to Zenithis. She could hardly believe her eyes when she made it out to be a gathering storm, having not witnessed bad weather of this scale in Threshaldil or even on her journey to the Northern capital. As the glow of fires set all over Zenithis flicked against the belly of this beast, Becky realized what this approaching column could mean. Would a storm as great as this one be what Master Koven meant by his earlier answer of when the party would finally depart? Another low rumble rolled through the air, filling Becky with a chill of nervous anticipation, calm in contrast to the fright she got from the dragon's roar.

                              A wave of Jhandel's hand brought Becky attention back up to him. None of his earlier nervousness appeared to have remained, replaced with a grim but steady confidence that she could hardly question. His rise to stand prompted no worry on her part, though what he said next did.
                              "I pray you are ready to leave tonight. It would seem the gods have urged us to move sooner than I anticipated. The others should arrive shortly."

                              "Until then, I shall tell you what I know and hope I may put your heart at ease for Zenithis was never lost to being with."
                              Never lost...? How could that be? In the face of Jhandel's apparent belief in his statement, Becky hesitated to question why. Curiosity eventually prompted her to speak; that and the fact that she only came here with the armour on her back. "Wh-what do you mean by that? I- I didn't mean to be rude o-or anything like! It's just that... Well, the rest of my stuff is still at the inn, this one in Lowtown and there's still the dragon a-and the fires and all those people still running around."
                              Yet another post that shouldn't have taken me this long to finish. ~ fin.
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

Gracious General

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                                                        HOW WAS he to explain the current situation without implicating Notras in what was likely a horribly bloody affair? Becky's previous inquiry about the fire mages forgotten, Jhandel folded his arms over his chest as if to pull himself together for this story. He really did not mean to deceive her with what he was about to say, but perhaps a bit of caution would be prudent on his part. After all, the Rhakovans had spent generations preparing for the event of war and their empire maintained its integrity solely through popular belief. If the things he knew were shown to the public... How many centuries of work could be undone with a few careless words?

                                                        Knowing how skittish Becky could be, Jhandel laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, peering into her eyes with what he hoped was a thoroughly open expression. It was a show of intimacy he normally never was a part of, but something about her feminine frame carefully ensconced in armour made him want to reach out to her. A small part of his mind berated his manipulation of this woman's trust in him, but the knight suppressed the guilt. He had done worse things in the past than asking someone to believe in him.

                                                        "Do you see the clouds gathering above the city? They are heavy with rain and the mountain will soon be howling with the wind. I had heard it once said that a dragon's presence brings great storms, that the wildness of nature follows in the wake of their wing beats. I did not remember this until now, which is why I can say the city will be safe." Jhandel kept his hand on Becky's shoulder, though with a slight nudge he turned her towards the window. "There cannot have been many people who decided to attack us tonight. We have suffered this much damage only because we were caught unaware and they have an ancient power to assist them.

                                                        "But with this storm on the way, whatever fires they conjure will be put out by the rain. The dragon, too, will likely have problems remaining aloft in the crosswinds. Look there,"
                                                        with his free hand Jhandel pointed to the retreating forms of the small team who had patrolled the Palace's front courtyard, "I believe these people know that their advantage will soon be lost, so they run while the chaos still protects them." Pleased with the eloquence of his statements and the logic he seemed to summon into coherent sentences, the sense of panic that had stolen his clear-thinking mind receded until he was once again comfortable in his skin. It was incredible how knowledge could set him at such ease, even if that knowledge betrayed the innocence his prince wanted him to see.

                                                        Notras had orchestrated a purge tonight. If he closed his eyes, he could guess who had been killed on purpose and who still remained due to sheer luck. Jhandel suspected only a very small group of people even knew this much, and the thought of how lonely this information made him nearly caused him to be sick to his stomach. He would be glad once they were away from this wretched city.

                                                        "There is still time to grab your belongings. With the raiders retreating, I would say it is safe to go now." Jhandel gave Becky a reassuring clap, though he highly doubted she could feel it through the metal of her armour. "I have my own business to take care of before we leave. Perchance we may speak more of this while we are travelling. I will be more than willing to answer those questions of yours when we are on the road."

                                                        OOC: From here I ask that everyone write one last single post that ends with your character at the Palace. More details about where we go from there will be given in my post after I close Chapter 1.
Temporarily Schizophrenic's avatar

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"Why did you come?"

XANTHIA'S QUESTION brought Abel's attention back from the Westrion, who had shifted his position from one side of the window to the other. Instead of answering right away, he simply blinked a few times, then smiled. He would have thought it was obvious why he came. Why else would he rush across the city in the middle of a riot where deranged men and women rushed through the streets with swords and axes and magick? He make a quick glance to Xanthia's mother, who wasn't quite paying attention. He was sure she knew, but it didn't mean he was willing to say anything in front of her. Instead, Abel looked back to Xanthia and said with a wink, "I'd have thought that was obvious."

Abel rose from the couch and took the Westrion's previous position by the window and glanced outside. It seemed to have calmed down a bit compared to what had happened at Quixote. Which reminded him, he did owe Xanthia a further explanation. Or at least, a simple one to explain why he left his family behind to come to her. No doubt that was the true question she had asked. "My father and the rest of the crew have the place under control. I've told you before, many of those chefs were more than chefs back in their younger years. And father..." He thought back for a moment to his father cutting down three armed men. The assailants didn't seem to have been military trained, but Marx, on the other hand... His swordplay had been too precise. Abel reached up and touched the bandaged wound above his eye, wincing at the pain that still throbbed there. "Well, he has the place under control. Apparently, he knows how to use a sword. And quite well." He left it at that, choosing not to say any more. Not that he could have said more. He didn't know much about his father's past, and he had no idea his father could use a sword so well. He was going to have to ask him about that.

Rain came shortly thereafter, droplets tapping loudly on the roof above their head and thunder clapping after each strike of lightning. When the Westrion had closed the windows, he had switched spots with the Westrion yet again and cracked it just slightly to glance outside. The light of the raging infernos across the city had begun to fade as the storm poured down. Now that the excitement was starting to come to an end, he couldn't help but think about his family. Marx said he could keep it under control, but he could only hope that was true. No, he knew it was. He watched Marx dispatch three people with ease. They were fine.

"You know we are to leave at the first sign of a storm." Jhandel's words came back to him as he closed the window once more. This was certainly a storm by all standards, but was this the storm he had meant? He turned back to Xanthia again, who had posed the same question he had been thinking aloud to the Westrion. A firm nod from the man confirmed it. This was it; their journey was about to begin. But his stuff was still at Quixote, in the back room. He was going to need to return and grab his effects. With the condition of the city, though, he did not want to leave Xanthia to walk to the castle herself. She'd probably wait if he asked her to, or she may even come with him to the restaurant, even though it wasn't really on the way to the castle.

A quick tap came on the window he was standing by, which startled him into a small jump. Then another tap, which had drawn on his curiosity enough to make him crack the window, then open it with a sigh. Standing outside in the rain was Antionette with a grin a mile wide as she held up the bag he had packed with one hand and a carrying case that had his new gauntlets and greaves Marx had forged for him. Abel turned on his heel and walked past the Westrion, who raised an eyebrow and followed him downstairs to the door. He pried the door open and was immediately met by a quick and firm kiss from Antionette. She had always done so, mostly in a teasing manner of course. Mostly. The woman was a very affectionate individual. "You know, sometimes you scare me when you do this."

Antionette laughed and shrugged, handing over the two packages she had brought with her. "I noticed after you left that they were still in the back room, so I had a feeling you were going to need them and he let me leave." She smiled and put her hand on his shoulder, giving it a soft squeeze. "Don't worry. Everyone's fine. We had a couple of more attempts, but they stopped when we started throwing the corpses out the front door." Abel couldn't help but smile, reassured that they were indeed doing just fine. Antionette leaned in and gave him another quick kiss and hugged him tightly. "Your family sends their love and wishes. And Erionelle says you need to make it back alive and in one piece. She said, "He still has a promise to fulfill.""

Abel nodded and returned her hug. As they parted, he dropped down to one knee and opened the case. His newly forged weapons were neatly pressed inside a silk mound to keep them still and protected. And folded neatly on top was the outfit that he planned on wearing out, though he could have sworn he had left that at home. He said nothing though as he pulled it out. He was going to change before they left. He glanced up and went to thank Antionette, but she was already long gone. He hadn't even heard her leave, which of course brought back all the rumours about her. He smiled again and closed the case, bringing it and his attire upstairs. Xanthia's mother had offered him Kaiyan's room so he could change, which he thanked her for as he closed the door to the boy's room. Stripping out of his clothes, he couldn't help but take a quick glance in the mirror that hung in the boy's room. The brand on his right bicep was starting to burn again, and the skin around it had a soft red glow around it, as if someone had actually held a flame to it for too long. He rubbed it a couple of times before he had begun to get dressed. The sensation had begun to fade as he pulled on the greaves. He lifted his feet in them for the first time, admiring just how light they felt. He flexed his ankle a bit. They felt as though he was wearing a second skin of sorts. And standing in them was actually comfortable. He pulled on the gauntlets next, which were amazingly just as light. He barely felt the additional weight to his arms. He curled his fingers and extended them, watching each small plate move. The claw-like fingertips were probably going to be the hardest thing to get used to with these. He had a habit of running his fingers through his long hair, and with these things, he was likely to cut his scalp. He pulled off one gauntlet, messed with his hair to give it a slight messy look, and pulled the gauntlet back on and fastened it.

He emerged from Kaiyan's room and made his way downstairs where the rest of Xanthia's family was waiting for her to gather her things. He picked up his bag and swung it over his shoulder. It was time. Once Xanthia had come downstairs and they had said their goodbyes to her family, and his promise to protect her, they were on their way to meet up with the rest of the group at the castle.
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                                              XANTHIA LEANED forward in her seat and let her hair drape down over her head as she tilted it towards the ground. There had been no time for a haircut as she had planned and her long dark hair was like a curtain that isolated her from the world. She rested her elbows on her thighs just before the knee and rubbed her hands over her face, tugging the skin. An imperceptible sigh slipped through the pursing of her lips, too quiet for anyone to hear but no less present. As her hands moved over her forehead they entered the dark forest that was her hair. Xanthia pulled them through the thick slowly, as if the subtle yanking on her scalp could relieve some of the stress.

                                              This expedition had meant everything to her. She had been dreaming of it since the very day she opened that letter in the mail and learned of her appointment. But now suddenly, as the day she had anticipated with such fervency loomed, Xanthia found her conviction faltering. It was a sort of shock, she guessed. The kind you might feel in a dream when it all seems far too real. Fear, perhaps. She had lived in Zenithis all her life, been sheltered and coddled by the most loving family in Tourmaline, and though she had been on many field trips before, nothing compared in magnitude to the expedition that was about to begin. It was the realization that Xanthia might not see this shop, little Kaiyan, or her mom and dad again in a long long time, maybe never again, that was getting to her. Oh the consuming fires of Paphos! She wouldn’t even get the chance to say goodbye to her father.

                                              There was a double tap on her shoulder that was no doubt the hand of her mother. It offered comfort and peace. She always knew. Xanthia sought strength in herself but she couldn’t shake the feelings of nervousness, anxiety, excitement, regret, and hesitation. The melting pot of emotions was making her nauseous. She finally pulled her hands from the sweaty warmth of her gloppy hair and with them came to view a flash of color. There, resting in the span of her fingers was a strand of orange, almost red hair. It refreshed Xanthia with a jolt of perplexity. ”What the…?”, she whispered to herself. The single fibre was a curious thing indeed. Nobody around here had red hair. Maybe a previous visitor? Or perhaps the Westrion beneath his concealing hood? Xanthia flicked it off into the dark. An insignificant little mystery but something to distract her was just what she needed.

                                              Xanthia was alone in the living room when she finally started paying attention to her surroundings. Well, except for Kaiyan who was passed out cold on the opposite chair where her mother had sat. There was activity on the lower floor so she stood up to follow where the rest had gone. As Xanthia neared the top of the stairs, however, she was confronted with an obstacle. She hesitated in her motion several times as she tried to step over or dodge around the marks of dry blood on the floor where the attackers had been dispatched. There was a distinctly rusty smell to it too and she knew exactly why. It was the iron in their blood….interesting but quite unsanitary.

                                              Leaning forward and grabbing onto the stairway railings, Xanthia leapt over the marks of dry blood and skipped the first six steps as she slid down the railings. It was just like she had done many times as a little girl. Her dad always hated it but there was certainly no one to stop her this time. She smiled with some enjoyment but her expression turned into a wince of pain as a sliver pricked her hand just as she passed the last few steps. Xanthia whispered a curse to herself as she came to a stop at the bottom of the stairs and inspected her hand. In this light even her eyes could not spot the sliver.

                                              Her attention was drawn immediately to the woman locked in Abel’s embrace. It was someone he knew. The Westrion and her mother stood close to the bottom of the stairs to give them some privacy. Her mother cast Xanthia a glance of annoyance as she entered. She had come too late to catch their final words but as they let go, Abel kneeled over the case that was lying on the floor. The woman who she vaguely recognized but hardly knew looked to Xanthia, still smiling strong. She winked, or so Xanthia thought. Confused, she rubbed the weariness from her eyes and squinted to better focus that face in the dark light. But by then the woman was gone.

                                              It was his weapons that Abel pulled from the case and inspected. They looked every bit as deadly and obnoxious as before but considering the events of the night, Xanthia could see them in a new light. Better to have those claw like gauntlets on the hands of Abel rather than anyone else. A necessary evil
                                              , she affirmed in her mind.

                                              “Who was that?”
                                              , Xanthia asked with a slight amount of bite as Abel made his way to the beginning of the stairs where the rest of them stood. She didn’t want to sound jealous or anything and quickly regretted asking the question on the thought of it. She wasn’t really jealous anyway. How could she be? It wasn’t like there was anything between the two of them. Abel was a friend. A good friend and maybe that friendship just felt very concentrated on her end because Xanthia really didn’t have many other friends. Her mother offered Kaiyan’s room as a place for Abel to change. He thanked her at the top of the stairs and then closed the door behind him. The Westrion returned to his watch close to the window. Xanthia felt the touch of a hand on her lower back. Its push was gentle but firm; her mother’s. Silently, it led her to her room.

                                              Neither of them said anything as her mother helped Xanthia pack the last of her belongings. It was a strange feeling. She wasn’t bringing more than she could manage to carry herself but still her room looked significantly emptier, like something was missing. Maybe it was just her. As Xanthia slipped the straps over her shoulders the backpack felt heavy but manageable. She slung the waterproof cylinder of maps and paper over her shoulder too and after neatening her hair, the pair descended downstairs again without a word. Xanthia’s heart was beating faster and faster with each step upon the realization that this precious moment was passing all too quickly.

                                              Through the cracks in the boards covering each window, it was apparent that the reddish glow of the fires was gone but periodic flashes of lightening continued to disperse bursts of light through the sky. The nauseating feeling of nervousness had returned once again but this time it came coated with panic. Xanthia trembled as she turned around to face her mother at the door. Abel was already downstairs but had the sense to afford her and her mother some privacy. ”Ma?”, Xanthia cooed, ”I…don’t think I want to go anymore.”

                                              Her mother forcibly sat Xanthia down at the nearest chair immediately as she finished expressing her words. She knelt before her and held each forearm with a tough grip. ”You”, she pressed, ”are Lady Xanthia Vetyz of Tourmaline. You draw maps, the best maps, and you navigate with them. But even they will not show you your heart’s path. I know I haven’t told you much before about where I grew up. It was a place along the coast oh so far from here. I had a family, we had a fishing business, and a home. We were happy. But things changed, they always do, and now all that is in the past. But whether that change is for better or for worse is up to you. I met your father through that change and then I met you. I’m still happy. That was my heart’s path and you WILL find yours if you go.”

                                              There was a brief pause and the way her mother had shaken her arms with each word had left her fingers tingling. The strong grip couldn’t have helped. Her mother took a breath, deep and noticeable, before she continued.

                                              ”I know you are scared, Xanthia. I know you hesitate. But this is what happens on the eve of something great. You live for the realms of knowledge and the unknown. You’ve been called by them ever since you were born. People don’t always come back from those places. But those who do are remembered forever. That is how history is made. It is how you were made.” A single blink revealed the moisture in her mother’s eyes. It glittered in the flash of each strike of lightening but Xanthia heard no thunder. She couldn’t remember if she had ever seen her mother cry.

                                              “There is no compass that can guide you on this path. But if you ever become lost, just close your eyes and lose yourself in the ocean of dreams. You were always the best at that.”

                                              , Xanthia replied with a shaky nod to satisfy her mother. She hugged her and they embraced each other for a long time, every second of which Xanthia savored. But it came to an end eventually and seeing that Abel was ready to leave, Xanthia took a step of faith outside the door and into the cold dark street. The pouring rain pelted her hood. No more words needed to be said, but Kai’s.

                                              , he yelled after her as she had just begun to turn and walk into the street. She looked back to see her brother sprinting for the door. Her mother stopped him before he could run out into the street. Xanthia took several steps back towards the battered entrance of the shop and knelt before the child. He exclaimed, ”Take this!, and handed towards his sister the finely crafted wooden sword that had been so admired by the Westrion. Xanthia choked at how considerate his offer was. In fact, she probably wept too but it was impossible to tell, her face was already wet from the rain. She embraced her brother tightly and for once he seemed not to mind the hug. ”I will, Kai. I will”, promised Xanthia before finally, after a nothing more than a nod to her mother, sibling, their shop, and her life, departed for the Rhakovan’s palace.

                                              She didn’t speak a word and walked quickly through the empty streets, but not without staying close to Abel. Reminders of the destruction that had passed were everywhere to which Xanthia made no effort to pay them any attention. There was enough on her plate already. It was only when they finally reached the castle walls that she spoke. ”I think that dragon had something to do with the severity of this storm,” she said, “I’ve read that their presence is known to destabilize the atmosphere.” With that they made their way into the eerily deserted palace and arrived at the throne room where Jhandel has instructed them to meet.
Witszy's avatar

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                              THE FACT that Jhandel didn't give up an answer right away was quite worrying to Becky, though she knew better than to expect an instant response. Perhaps her question had been too complex or overstepped some boundary of some sort? The young woman fidgeted nervously at the thought insulting Master Koven, even if she hadn't meant to. Oh, how she wanted to apologize for any blunders on her part but she didn't want to interrupt in case Jhandel really was working on a reply.

                              One couldn't be sure if Becky remained still, save for one flinch, out of fear or respect as Jhandel outstretched his hand to lay it on her shoulder; most likely it was a measure of both. Her eyes darted down to the floor then up again several times until she forced herself to return his gaze, so as to not be rude. Open and friendly as Jhandel's face was, Becky just wasn't completely comfortable with looking people in the eye, her fright warping their difference in height to appear much large than it really was. Her nervousness only made it all the easier to direct her attention to the clouds gathering outside a nearby window.

                              Becky was no thinker, nor was she naturally suspicious, so she accepted every bit of Jhandel's explanation without contesting them. After all, they certainly made sense and she wasn't any sort of expert to speak on the weather or the dragon. The warm glow of fires burning in the city of Zenithis still unsettled Becky but now, they seemed more akin to embers that were soon to be burned out, not blazes threatening to engulf the capital. The menacing forms of the people who chased her into the castle slip away from its walls only supported Master Koven's answer to her admittedly long question. Besides, how could someone be remain so composed if they weren't telling the truth? She certainly couldn't.

                              "There is still time to grab your belongings. With the raiders retreating, I would say it is safe to go now." Becky didn't notice the weight of Jhandel's grip leave her shoulder for a moment before it returned as a friendly clap on her pauldron. Unlike every other friendly gesture, this was one expression that didn't leave her skittish as a newborn foal. Something could be said about the fact that she didn't buckle in the slightest from the force, light and well-meaning as it had been, whereas an open glance was enough to get her to tremble. "I have my own business to take care of before we leave. Perchance we may speak more of this while we are travelling. I will be more than willing to answer those questions of yours when we are on the road."

                              And with that Becky considered herself dismissed. With a low bow and a mumbled thanks, she slowly went for the door, still cautious of any hostiles that might have remained. As she marched back to her Lowtown inn, she found for herself that Jhandel was telling the truth about the city being much safer than she had thought. Though not even that was enough to convince her to continue on her way without holding up her shield and sinking into a stance at every suspicious noise. The Blue Dragon Inn and Tavern somehow remained standing in all the chaos, though it appears to have taken some work to keep it that way, given the scattered arrows embedded here and there. The slightest movement of something darting away in the corner of Becky's eye had her scrambling for the door.

                              The scene inside the building was a faint echo of the crisis that had just passed. While most of the people gathered on the ground floor were the same faces she'd grown familiar with during her occupation, there were a few shifty-eyed strangers here and there, though all seemed to bear wounds of some sort and had an opinion on the night to voice. The blonde archer who caught Becky's eye when she was leaving for the palace stood at the foot of the stairs, her icy glare just daring potential looters to help themselves to the patrons belongings. Though she waited quite a while before approaching the innkeeper (or, more accurately, getting approached by him when he noticed her constantly glancing over in his direction without saying a word), getting past the archer and gathering her things had been easier than Becky dared hoped. Perhaps it was because she wasn't the only person wishing to flee the city as soon as possible.

                              Packing all of her things in one bundle (or two, given her recent shopping spree) might have been easier but Becky was one to be safe than sorry, even if that meant carrying everything on top of bearing the weight of her plate armor. She never was a fast runner and it would be better if she kept her defenses up despite going at a snail's pace because of it. Such precautions put her mind at ease, but weren't necessary as she made it back up to the palace without incident.

                              When Becky came up to the gates, she instinctively rushed past them and through the courtyard, despite witnessing her pursuers make their retreat earlier. There was a brief moment of panic when she found the entry hall empty before she remembered that the party was to meet at the throne room, deeper into the palace. It was only as she walked through the halls, her armour clanking and clanging like great bells, that she truly took note of the lack of personnel. Where could everyone else be? In hiding or guarding other parts of the palace?

                              Becky thought circles around this conundrum but never came to a conclusion as she turned a corner and found herself outside the throneroom. Just like her first time there, she arrived only to catch the doors shutting behind another who had just entered. This time, she hardly hesitated to enter, as the deadline to leave the city by was much more urgent now. Easily managing the weight of her pack with her left arm, she freed her right and tugged open the door with hardly any effort, taking the time to also close it gently behind her. She had a strange sense of deja vu from it all and was hardly surprised to find that Abel and Xanthia had arrived before she did. Nevertheless, Becky made no effort to get closer to them beyond gathering with them in the center of the room and mumbling a hello.

                              As nice as it is to get used to doing these replies on a weekly basis, that's still not frequent enough, I think. ~ fin.
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

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                                                        THE ROOM was still as dark as when he had left it, hidden away at an unobtrusive corner of the Rhakovans' private wing. It was no more quiet than it had been before the raid though this time the silence carried with it a lingering anxiety, like a breath that could not escape the lungs no matter how starved they were for air. Jhandel hated it, hated how he could imagine the floors slick with blood, the dead mewling with the wind, the guilt that screamed you knew and did nothing, hated how the taint filled the empty shadows with monsters, how he would chase them away only to realize he was alone and they had never left. He would have been lying if he said he was not yearning to leave.

                                                        It was with great urgency then that Jhandel gathered his few belongings --the white scarf he had purchased earlier this week he wrapped around his neck before throwing his grey travelling cloak over his shoulders. The shield he readjusted to fit over his clothes, and with his two swords already at his side, the knight turned towards his bed where he had placed the rest of his necessities. Having been in such a restless mood for the last few days, Jhandel was surprised his missing pack did not cause him any alarm. Instead, a soft, obliging smile made its way onto his face as he peered at the window's reflection, meeting the gaze of this mysterious thief. There were only a few people he knew who could steal in his presence, who were not also recruited into the Westrions, and of those most were living half a continent away.

                                                        Decorum forgotten, Jhandel lifted his hands from his sides so the light from the halls would reveal their emptiness. He turned slowly, cautious and more than a bit aggravated that his uniform was noisier than the outfit he was made to wear during the banquet. Noticing the mirth behind his assailant's eyes, Jhandel was unable to hide the sadness from his voice, breaking the atmosphere with a question,
                                                        "Are you so eager to see me gone?"

                                                        At once, like watching a pane of ice sheered off a cliff come crashing into the ocean below, the humour left the thief and he answered back, "You mistake my eagerness for your own. Do not be so quick to accuse me of such untruths."

                                                        Properly chastised, Jhandel looked away, hoping the darkness would hide his flush. He busied himself with what papers were left on his desk, tidying and putting things away so it looked like he had never been here at all. The ache in his chest returned, though he knew it was not caused by his scar; the taint never affected him when Notras was around. Yet despite the prince being the only person in Zenithis he was comfortable around, Jhandel found it inordinately difficult to look at him tonight. Was he nervous? Perhaps. Scared? More than a little likely. But scared of what?

                                                        Death, his mind supplied, but there is always death waiting for me, so what has changed? Jhandel did not look to see if Notras had moved from the doorway, pretending to be absorbed in his cleaning. The longer the silence between them stretched on, the heavier the ache grew to the point where he nearly dropped a pot of ink because his hands would not stop shaking. He tried once to say something only to close his mouth with a click that sounded far too final in the evening light. Failure. Jhandel froze and suddenly the answer wrote itself on the backs of his eyelids, burned there in bright red.

                                                        Failure and disappointment. You are scared this will be your last goodbye. And dammit if his intuition was ever this perceptive.

                                                        In a matter of moments his mood took a turn for the worse, but Notras, the Ever Perceptive Crown Prince of Tourmaline, knew exactly when to step in. Before Jhandel could slip further into his dark meditations, Notras bridged the gap between them, planting himself a hair's breadth behind his most treasured knight. With a voice as clear as daybreak, he commanded,
                                                        "Promise me you will return alive and well."

                                                        Jhandel sucked in a breath, the guilt suffocating him. He had missed his opportunity to say his farewells, and now what was he to do? How could he answer something asked so earnestly by the one he loved most of all? Grief threatening to consume him, he blurted out the first response that came to mind. "Forgive me, my Prince, but that is one order I cannot abide by." The void that followed would have killed him had he not heard the shuffling of fabric behind him, the distance he more felt as oppose to see forming between the two of them, and he braced himself for the strike that came whenever his words were thoughtlessly made.

                                                        Jhandel cringed. He had never denied Notras anything before in the past, but he had no intentions of letting what might be his last memory with him be marred by lies and false promises. He made to apologize again though the prince cut him off. There was no anger in his voice, just the barest tremble of desperation, and if Jhandel heard it he paid it no attention in favour of the words he never thought he would hear spill from Notras' mouth.

                                                        "I am not asking this as your Prince, Jhandel."

                                                        The weight of the implications sent the knight reeling. He spun around swiftly, seeking some explanation in the visage of his Notras who had retreated back into the light of the doorway. The prince bore a faraway look as he examined a spot just beyond Jhandel's shoulder. The words died before they had a chance to form.

                                                        Perhaps their circumstances were to blame for Jhandel was a creature of habit and what he did now had no precedents. Without missing a beat, he stepped into the wing of light that illuminated Notras in such a way that all but his shape and the deep glow of his eyes was obscured in shadow. Jhandel did not pause to think, knowing that doing so would steal whatever courage he had left, sweeping in to press his lips against his prince's. The kiss was chaste, already a distant memory by the time Jhandel grabbed his pack and left to meet the others.

                                                        Notras stayed at the entrance to Jhandel's room long after he knew the party had departed. A maelstrom of emotions churned beneath the surface of his skin, a feeling he had not encountered in years. Through the anger he could place the grief, the longing, and he clutched at his chest as if that would make it easier for him to hold onto his humanity. He laughed, sad and distressed.

                                                        One gesture and all his guilt was now Notras' to bear.

                                                        OOC: Next up: Chapter One Close.
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

Gracious General

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                          ZENITHIS, THE Night's Warden, was a city of stone that touched the sky. A beacon in the darkness, lights piercing through the fog of the unknown, its walls separated the sanctuary from the frozen sea of the Grey Horizon. It was always quiet this far up as if the thin atmosphere was too weak to carry sound, and nothing, not the rain, the fire, or even the dragon could lift the dampening silence that draped like a pall.

                          It was in this silence that the people move about, sluggish, limbs hanging as dead weights as they stared unseeingly at the destruction that had occurred. The stone walls of the houses had survived the flames, but not much could be said for anything else. Rooms became empty shells with charred, collapsing roofs. A fine layer of ash was beginning to settle on every surface, churned into the air by the rising wind, and now painted rocks polished white with streaks of black and grey. Some people sought shelter from the storm with neighbours whose homes seemed sound enough to bear the weight of the rain. Most, however, stood on the streets either looking lost or busying themselves with the rescue effort. No one could remember when was the last time Zenithis saw war.

                          The rain was falling harder now, pounding the grime into every crack it could reach. It was dark, the fires long extinguished by the thick downpour, though the people still carried on with their work unimpeded by the lack of light. A number had died, either by accident or the result of careful planning, though there were no bodies to be seen. Despite the chaos, honour still held that corpses, enemy or comrade, be protected until they could be buried.

                          When Notras stepped into the storm, sweeping through the streets in a thin robe of green and white, he drew the eyes of many who had, until then, never been less than a few hundred paces away from the Prince. To the others he appeared otherworldly, indifferent to the sheets of rain that bent even the strongest of individuals. Whether by trick of the night or some magic possessed only by the Rhakovans, a light like the moon gathered under Notras' skin making his hands, his face, and the long line from his neck to the center of his chest stand starkly against the shadows. He carried nothing with him, no sword or sceptre, and his crown of silver leaves was missing from his head. Yet somehow, when his people gazed at him, drawing strength from his strength, the absence of these relics heightened, not diminished, his royalty.

                          The prince did not smile. A calmness followed his footsteps though it was strained, and only through sheer force of will did Notras hold back the seething rage. Those who did not offer a dry place for the prince to stand could feel the fury coiling around him, a growing pressure like the sea retreating upon itself, promising a wave of singular destruction. As if understanding what tremendous amount of weight lay on his shoulders, a few men started a chant from an ancient page of history.

                          Androth kaai Rhakovan. Meneth toris, androth kaai. Where our lord walks, we follow. We walk together.

                          Soon the city was awash with ten thousand voices, threading into the storm that answered raucously with peals of thunder. At the center stood Notras, still and cold as a statue, enjoying for once being able to hear something louder than the anger that burned from the taint.

                          Elsewhere a lone figure moved, clothed in a heavy grey cloak that shifted on each step revealing lines of sharp white that snapped like eel heads. It paused once at an entrance to the mines below the city, hearing the chanting and laughed out loud for it knew no one was near enough to hear. Notras, that damned prince, could make a city from trash.

                          Zenithis was no longer silent.

                          OOC: Bah! Okay. Next up is the Chapter Two opener and then we can get this going. I hope you guys aren't afraid of tunnels. xD
Cassandra Voorhees's avatar

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                                                        DEEPER INTO the palace, apart from the chaos of the city, Jhandel lead the way through a series of winding corridors, hallways of stone that bore none of the signature Tourmalinian red carpet in earlier areas. There were no windows where they were walking, nothing to indicate what direction they travelled, though the stairs that sometimes appeared around sharp corners implied they were descending. The transition was gradual, and it was not obvious when the smooth walls gave way to dark hewn rock. The lighting as well became sparser, shadows deepening so it appeared that a lone torch every few dozen paces floated in isolation on a sea of nothingness.

                                                        Despite the darkness and the multitude of turns, the path only ever had two directions: forwards and back. It was with great wariness then that Jhandel stopped at the thirty-ninth torch, having walked for a good ten minutes, bracing his hand under the iron sconce as if he were resting. Symbols written in a long forgotten language danced between his fingers to the flickering of the flame. The knight could not read them --he doubted anyone could save perhaps the few ancient scholars of Zenithis' Archives and Aron the Sorceress' Apprentice --though he knew them to be part of a great binding ritual that kept trespassers from leaving. Jhandel regarded the fork in the road with scepticism before turning down the left path.

                                                        Once when he had asked how to navigate the labyrinth he was told that direction didn't matter, that he could take any which path he chose and still arrive at his destination. Jhandel scoffed at that, thinking this concept horribly flawed for a maze. It was then that the laughter came, mocking his perfectly reasonable logic. He didn't understand what was so humorous, and no one was willing to tell him. Notras had given him a disappointed look when he failed to uncover the truth of these passageways, a look that mirrored the others' saying
                                                        you are not even good at what you were born for.

                                                        Of course now, many years later, Jhandel understood what he previously had not. Those runes he thought to contain magic, carved into the stone under the lights that never faded, bore absolutely no significance when read by an individual walking into the labyrinth with his back to the heart of the castle. Their purpose was not to prevent outgoing people from traversing the halls, but rather to stop incoming intruders that sought to use the mines to breach Zenithis' security. For when viewed through a mirror, the runes spelt words for confusion, despair, and unending, or so he was told. So long as the party travelled forwards and not back, they would be safe.

                                                        Eventually the countless paths merged into one central room, smaller than the Great Hall though not by much, where the ground was level and remnants of a time when the mines were alive lay scattered about. Old tools and rusted carts were half-covered by heavy tarpaulin. A few wooden crates were pushed up against a back wall and in them were hundreds of gems deemed too imperfect to sell. If this had been an age of magic, even cracked stones would have fetched a hefty sum on the market. Alas, this was no such age and those who did know how to make use of flawed materials likely weren't aware of the bounty that existed underneath Rhakovan's Palace.

                                                        Jhandel wasted no time, crossing the room with the shortest path from where they entered to the only gated exit. Unlike the sconces, the gate was made from a metal that glimmered at the slightest drop of light. Silvery and delicate, its intricate skeleton filled in with a filigree like the veins of a leaf, Jhandel had also wondered how this was supposed to prevent passage of unwanted guests. However, the embarrassment from the first time asking never truly left him, and so he immediately suspected a dual nature to this barrier as well.

                                                        But now was hardly the time to be contemplating relics. Jhandel searched quickly for the recess in the wall next to the gate. Finding it, he pried out a circular key of the same shimmering metal and fitted it into the centre of the barrier where the filigree twisted in upon itself to form a knot. One by one, the arms of the thicker silver skeleton folded like the ribs of a fan, creating an opening just big enough for two to walk through abreast.

                                                        Jhandel gestured for the others to follow quickly, picking up a torch as an afterthought. The gloom of the mines seeped out of the hole without the gate to keep it back. A chill wind swept by, hardly rustling his hair, but the unnatural scent it carried was unmistakable. This place had been put to rest hundreds of years ago and now they would be disturbing ancient sleeping grounds. Jhandel was not expecting to meet any resistance though he loosened his longsword in its sheath nonetheless. It was unfortunate, but his scimitar might very well prove useless in the tighter corridors.

                                                        "If you can spare the hand, carry a torch. There will be no light down there."

                                                        With no further ceremony, Jhandel pressed forward.

                                                        OOC: Alright, Chapter Two is now open. We will be making use of the OOC to facilitate this section, so be sure to post all your inquiries about anything (especially the active setting) there. For those who are unsure as to what I'm talking about, this link should provide the answer.
Matsurika Akai's avatar

Tipsy Explorer

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"AMBER SKIES." The words hung in the air. Much like the the sweet smell of spices within the tent, they lingered and fluttered. Hovering like rose peddles in a spring breeze. Light. Yet heavy with the foreshadow of fading beauty. The kind of hushed tone that made a woman's ears perk with worry. Making gloved hands grip the ends of a purse tightly. Anticipation clawing a her throat, she tried her best to sit silently as the young one before her concentrated. She dared not move a muscle. So sacred was the ritual. This was hard to do. There was so much to look at. So much to catch one's attention. Glass spheres of varying sizes hung on colored thread. Ornate cloth sprinkled with gold weaving lined the walls and draped over the table before her. Sparkling beads dangled like vines, criss-crossing into random patterns. The cloth itself let little light in. The entire inside was lit by several candles. Old and oozing, they flickered steadily at various heights and locations. When entering for the first time many a customer is dazzled by such a sight. Within moments they are struck with the scent of incense. Though the perfume is heavy the effect is soothing. The only thing wrong was the cramped space. While there was enough room for two people to sit, there was little room for anything else. This lack of room often made people nervous. Much like the current client. Though it probably didn't help that her lungs were indeed snuggled together quite firmly by a bone-lined corset. The gypsy in front of her sat still with closed eyes. The fact that she had only uttered two words so far made her anxious. But within moments the doubt within her lifted as out of the girl's mouth came, "Spring will not abandon you. Though twilight flows ever vigilant. Keep the sea in high regard. There you will find your hidden fountain." Closed lids sprang open at the last word's breath. "That is all I see."

A squeal of delight squeezed out of the woman's lungs. To further show her pleasure she reached into the coin purse and pulled out the payment due. The price was reasonable for such good news. "You, my dear, have made this lady's day. Lady?" A mouth carved with the evidence of many smiles sprang to life. "What am I saying? Spring will not abandon me! I am still a young maid after all." A wink, a hug, and the woman was gone. Two man-servants helped her into her coach. From the small window she waved happily to the girl as she rode off into town.

Eris Xycra stood outside of her midnight blue business tent, waving politely at her latest customer. As soon as she was out of sight her lips let out an relieved sigh. "That was close..." She rubbed her eyes lightly. "I almost fell asleep." She turned and opened the curtains. Taking a small wooden fan from the table, she made quick work of the tiny flames that speckled the interior. Glancing momentarily at the cluttered nick-nacks on the ceiling she couldn't help but think that her previous set up had been better. That tent had been bigger and better built. Even the decorations were of better quality. Alas, she had not the money to keep up such an elaborate display. Nor did she have the muscle or patience required to haul such delicate things across sometimes harsh terrain. So she had long made it her practice to buy all of her work materials at any town she happened across. If a village was big enough she would often find more than enough to make the impression she wanted. If the village was poor she would simply set up at the edge of town with a simple carpet to sit on. It all depended on what he could get her hands on. While her current location was less than ideal, the market did have some pretty good merchandise. Still. Bigger towns were better. They had richer clients. People like that last lady. Ready and willing to let go of a couple coins to hear some honeyed words.

And that was exactly what Eris had given her. The truth was, she really did have the gift. This whole fortune teller business was not a act. At least, not most of the time. It was just that humans are funny creatures. Feed them vinegar and say it is the wine of truth and they will spit it out. But give them fragrant water that only serves the purpose of covering up their stink and they will pour in on by the pound. The gypsy had long ago learned this fact.

"Excuse me." With the voice came a ray of light. It cut into the darkness, making Eris squint. "Oh... I apologize," she said with her hand in the air, "But I'm afraid I was about to close up for the--"

"Oh, please!" The voice was weak and needy. "I only ask a moment of your time. Please I just..." As her eyes adjusted to the light she saw that a young boy was gripping the entrance cloth tightly in his fist. The sunken dread of hunger lined his face so gravely that the back-light made him look like some sort of human skeleton. Taken aback by his appearance the gypsy drew closer with worry. The boy continued, "Please, miss. I don't have a lot of money, but..." He reached a thin hand out. Within his calloused palm was three copper pieces and half of a silver coin. A fortune for a child. However this lad was old enough to know that such a sum was not even enough to buy a whole fish. Eris looked down at the money momentarily and then focused on the sullen face of the boy. "My mother, she...she's not...I just...I just need to know if mother will...if...mother...will..." The quiver in his voice was unmistakable. She had seen this kind of thing before. Without a moments hesitation she took the youth's hand, folding his fingers gently over the coins. He gazed up at her with confusion. She guided him over to one of the chairs. "Sit."

He sat. The hooded girl nestled down on the seat opposite him. Out of her robes she pulled a sharp, thin piece of wood. Without warning she swiftly poked the boy's arm. With a surprised flinch he let out a hiss. He watched with unsettled curiosity as the young woman brought the bloody reed to her mouth and licked it. Then she muttered,"Pure. That's good," and proceeded to bring out a bowl from the bottom of the table. She also reached behind herself to fetch a pitcher. Carefully she poured the water until it was halfway full. Bringing the sliver to hover over the water she said a quick, "Now. Don't say a word until it's over. Understand? Not. One. Word." Once a series of eager nods was given, Eris gave her full attention to the task at hand. As she let the reed go it sunk slowly. Too slowly. Like it was a needle at the point of bursting a balloon. The pressure of the water was taunt, keeping the wood in place. What little blood was left on its tip began to filter out. To the utter amazement of the one watching, soon the whole bowl was a deep red. As if a few pints of blood lay before him.

His vision quickly turned to the one producing this miracle. Holding back the gasp that swelled within him was no easy task. Her eyes had been transformed into two orbs of light. Pale and beautifully shimmering. Color of a cloudless sky. Soon the sliver glowed as well. The same hue yet only faintly glittering. Slowly she reached her hand out. As her delicate hand slowly moved back and forth the needle moved as well. Making the blood-water ripple and sway. There came to be no expression on her face. But her hand twitched and pulsed erratically.

She gave him a fright when at the end she inhaled sharply. Brow knotted with worry, he watched as she caught her breath. Perfectly normal looking pupils stared at him. "You don't...have enough money for medicine." Looking ashamed the boy shook his head. "Yet you thought it was a good idea to come spend what little you could earn on your own on a fortune teller... You should be with your mother, she--"

"NO!" Despite his condition he had quite the burst of energy. "Please!! She's the only mother I have she can't--"

"Calm down," Eris said steadily. "I was going to say... She's worried about you. Go to her." A heavy glaze of disappointment covered his eyes. He lifted the sack of bones that was his body and let out a dismal sigh.

"And tell her," she added just as he was about to leave, "'You will find treasure in an unexpected place in a moment of need. Look under the old oak at dawn.'"

It took forever to get the suddenly elated boy to leave her tent. So excited was he that every other phrase that came out of him was either a word of praise or a thank you. He finally left when Eris gave him the coins she received as payment from her last customer. It was enough to buy his lunch for the day.

After she hung the CLOSED sign outside the opening she quickly undressed in the dark. She had a lot to do and little time to do it in. Now free of her peddler's robes, she gave a light stretch as she stepped outside. The vision she had seen had not been a good one. That boy's mother was going to die if she didn't get medicine soon. He was too young to take care of his siblings. They would starve. She had seen it all. Skeletal corpses on the side of the road. Remembering it made her shiver.

"Well..." A sudden grin graced her face. "Time to make my own prediction come true."

With: no one
Doing: work
Location: outside town
Wearing: [x]
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                                              XANTHIA HAD no trouble keeping track of their location. So far there had only been one tunnel and the seemingly never-ending series of turns and descending stairwells left themselves chiseled into her subconscious mind. The dominating presence of the Rhakovan’s palace faded behind and above them as they traversed each new corridor. She had said nothing. The lingering smell of her father’s shoulder and the cool wetness where his lips had touched her forehead were distracting. Or at least that’s what she thought it was, something that brought about a feeling of loneliness. As the precision construction of the initial pathway gave way to roughly carved tunnels, a nullifying silence pervaded the air. It was as if even the gentle hum of the very Earth was becoming dead.

                                              But step-by-step the feeling of fear was softened by a dash of intrigue. How long was it since someone had been down here? How ancient were these tunnels? As the group finally came to a fork in the pathway, Xanthia’s attention was drawn to the arcane symbols that peppered the walls. Perhaps they held the answer? Touching her fingers to the wall, she traced the trenches of a few of the carvings and frowned. She had no idea what they meant, but that was nothing that would stop her.

                                              ”The…”, Xanthia whispered. It was the first crack of her lips since the group had departed into the tunnels. She needed to find the most common sequence of three letters amongst the runes. That she would assume to be the word “the”. From there she would figure out which symbols corresponded to “t”, “h”, and “e”, therefore allowing her to investigate other simple words such as “to”. Symbol by symbol she could assemble a cipher and with that she could maybe understand what these things meant. Xanthia brought to hand her notebook, flipped to an open page and began her investigation.

                                              She wasn’t patient enough to translate more than about 12 letters before she had to try it out. Washed in the flickering light of the torch, the runes spelt several words that appeared more dominating than the rest and, looking down as her progress thus far, she noticed one of them was composed wholly of symbols she had already debunked. Xanthia forced her tongue into her cheek with a surge of excitement. It was making her antsy and it nearly pushed her handwriting beyond the brink of legibility. In a flash she translated the word according to the cipher she had compiled in her notes but the feeling of excitement withered and died in a flood of disappointment.

                                              Tyskch. That wasn’t a word. Xanthia quickly reviewed her cipher and the means by which she had derived it in search of a mistake but there was none. Despite rising frustration, she ignored the gibberish and continued to complete the cipher before translating yet another one of the more imposing strings of symbols. Idnwydsoo. Snapping shut her journal, Xanthia frowned and crossed her arms like a pouting child. Why didn’t it work? There was always the chance that the first strong of three symbols she had used was not actually the word “the” but then she would have reached a contradiction in her cipher much earlier.

                                              What if it was a language instead of code? Xanthia threw her palm to her face. Of course! Her method would not have worked then. What a waste of time, she thought. Stepping back from the wall and putting away her journal, the silence returned with a vengeance. Xanthia quickly realized it was more than just the null feeling of the Earth this time. She was, in fact, alone. Jhandel, Abel, and Becky were nowhere in sight.

                                              Xanthia was struck by a sudden explosion of panic. Behind, left, and right, there was nothing but lonely torches burning like beacons in a sea of dark. They didn’t go back, that was almost guaranteed. But there was still a fork in the path. Left or right? The irritating crackling of the burning torches, a sound she found calming only seconds ago, offered no answer. Maybe it didn’t matter. Taking a long deep breath, Xanthia guessed right and burst off in a hurry down the tunnel.

                                              The panic grew with each twist, turn, and fork in the tunnel. How long had she sat stationary to study the runes? No more than 10 minutes. There was no way the group could have travelled this far even if they still hadn’t noticed she was missing. Xanthia ran faster. She was carrying a lot of weight and could admit she really wasn’t the in best shape after spending all summer in Zenithis. By the time the tunnel funneled into a large central room she was breathing heavily, almost wheezing. But to her fortune the group was there, approaching a silvery gated exit. It was embarrassing to have to stumble upon them so loudly but it was worth the relief of knowing she wasn’t going to be lost. ”Those runes….”, Xanthia explained with a laborious breath cleaving her sentence in two, ”…were interesting.”

                                              As Jhandel searched for a means to open the gate, Xanthia’s mind wandered once again. The relics of the mine were a plentiful distraction and she was soon peeking under the tarps to get a better glimpse of the rusted carts and old mining tools. She had never mined before but the forgotten equipment seemed to trigger a wave of nostalgia, even sorrow, like she was traversing a graveyard. The empty ore veins demanded a combination of respect and mourning like the graves of fallen soldiers. Buried en mass inside the crates pressed against the back wall, the cracked gems evoked a sense of nauseas grief – still born children whose unfortunate timing was their only mistake. For Xanthia, the experience was deeply emotional for some reason. It’s late, I’m tired, and I just left my family, she explained to herself.

                                              In need of a distraction, Xanthia began to wonder about the geology of this place. What types of ores and gems had been mined? What were they used for? Shoving her backpack onto Abel, she searched for a pick axe and started to pry off the top of one of the crates. It came off easy and inside was a sea of cracked and broken gemstones. It had been filled to the brim with various assortments of gems though most were tourmaline. Xanthia reached down to brush her hand through the rocks. Amethyst, quartz, malachite and …quartz? Her fingers tingled as they touched the tourmaline, a sensation that she characterized it by and assumed others felt as well. But she also felt something of a spark as they touched this other quartz like mineral. Though it appeared much the same as quartz, her intuition disagreed and the intriguing tingle was cause for investigation. As Xanthia picked several rocks to keep for this purpose, the mass of gems sprang to life and burst through one side of the crate. With a shriek, Xanthia was pushed to the ground and overflowed with broken gems.

                                              She tried to dig her way out immediately. It was obvious why this had happened. With such an old crate so full with gems, pulling the top off was a really bad idea. It undermined the structural integrity of the crate so no wonder why the side had burst outwards. When Xanthia finally made it to her feat, she let out an embarrassed giggle before picking up her torch. With the dim lighting, it was comforting to know the others probably couldn’t see her blush. As an afterthought, the sound of the crash also didn’t echo like it should have in a room like this. How peculiar.

                                              She stuffed several gems into her pockets for later investigation and headed over to the silvery gate, which Jhandel had somehow managed to open. Perhaps she should have been paying attention to that instead, she considered. The intricate design of the gate might have been just as interesting and far less embarrassing as she couldn’t think how she might have screwed up. Yet, there was a slight sense of reward she felt in saving a few of these broken gems. Being cracked, they had little value aside from her investigations but beyond that, there was a feeling that she was helping someone or something more than herself. As the knight gestured the group through the door, Xanthia thought to ask for a moment so she could inspect the gate but the quickness in Jhandel’s gesture made her sense that it wasn’t an option. No longer burdened by her heavy sack of belongings, Xanthia sprung to the front of the pack, just behind Jhandel. The chill air cautioned one’s entrance to the darker depths of the mines and the path ahead seemed somehow more silent than before, leading Xanthia to ask,

                                              “When was the last time you went down here, Lord Koven?”
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THE DEEPER into Rhakoven's palace they went, the tighter and the darker the corridors became. Though it was only one corridor that turned here and there, and never seemed to end, it almost seemed to get tighter and tighter to him. Or maybe he was just imagining it? It was possible, though he doubted it. The further they went, with the occasional torches to light the way, the more Abel's anxiety rose. They were not as tight as his mind was making him believe, though. These corridors were forcing him to battle with his not so irrational fear of tight spaces and being unable to move. Claustrophobia, they called it. It was a very real thing, he had been told; then again, he was told it was irrational and silly. It wasn't something he was proud of, and therefore only Erionelle knew about his "condition". The walk lasted only a few minutes, though it seemed so much longer. He kept telling himself over and over what Erionelle taught him -- breathe slowly and force yourself to be calm. Easier said than done, of course, but he managed nonetheless.

He had positioned himself behind Becky, who stood behind Jhandel, and in front of Xanthia. At times, he wished he had taken up the rear so that he could walk a bit slower in this confined space, but Xanthia being on his heels kept him walking at a steady pace. He knew it was silly to be so nervous about a small corridor, but he couldn't help it. No matter how calm he remained, it always kept flashing in his mind. The memory of his younger years, when he was a child. He didn't remember the event too clearly, and he couldn't recall for the life of him where he was. Or who ended up rescuing him for that matter. He knew it had to come from before his time with Marx and Adelle, though, since Erionelle said she didn't remember ever hearing of such a time. He had been playing in a maze, chasing after... a woman? He believed that was correct. He couldn't remember. But she had gained such a lead on him that he was no longer chasing her. Everywhere he turned, every path he took, he couldn't find her. He could only hear the echoes of her laughter and the calling of his name. And soon, even that faded. Abel stood in a maze, a child, and very much alone. The earlier excitement and humour had turned to terror as he ran as hard as he could, taking each turn that became available. When they came to dead ends, he would begin to cry and run back the way he came. He was scared. The maze he would always enjoy trying to figure out how to get through became his worst nightmare. Especially when the ground gave way.

Abel had turned down a path and sprinted as hard as he could, hoping he was near to the exit. He still couldn't hear anything but his own frantic breathing and thumping heart. Halfway down the stretch, the very ground beneath him had caved. Down young Abel had went, crashing into some deep hole barely wide enough to fit his tiny body. He was unable to move, and all he could do was scream for help. Help that hadn't come for several hours later when his voice had given out, his throat so sore that even his pants seemed to ache. The sun had begun to set when he had heard voices at last, though he couldn't call out. The memory ended with someone kneeling down above him, face obstructed by the lack of light, and calling out "I've found him!"

Coming back into the real world, Abel became aware that there was a lack of footsteps and urging from behind him. Glancing back, he realized Xanthia was no longer behind him. He didn't worry though. She had steeled her resolve about going on this expedition, he knew she wasn't backing out now. No doubt something on the walls had caught her eye. Sometimes, that woman was so one track minded. And so easily distracted. He couldn't help but laugh though. It was something about her that he found adorable. Her dedication to such things made her loveable. Though now something had caught his eye, forcing him to look back forward. They had entered a room that was not quite as big as the Grand Hall, though it wasn't far from its size either. He couldn't help but allow his eyes to wander. Abandoned tools and boxes lay about, piquing his curiosity as to what lay within. Course, not only his curiosity had been piqued. Xanthia had caught up with them at last, and had obviously seen the boxes as well. She threw her pack on his shoulder, causing him to shift to pick up the extra weight. She had rushed to a crate and pried it open with a pickaxe that she had picked up. Perhaps pried it open was the wrong way to phrase what happened? More so, she was flooded by gems of all shapes and colours when they came bursting out the side. Abel's hand went to his face as he sighed, stifling a laugh. No doubt she was blushing, but the lighting did not permit him to see it.

Still holding her gear and taking up the rear of the group, Abel caught up to the other three and made his way to the gate. Not before one of the many gemstones had caught his eyes, though. Laying near his feet was a red stone, not too unlike a garnet, but its colour reminded him more of blood than anything else. He leaned down and silently picked it up, sliding it into his pack without so much as a sound. Having delayed long enough, he took his place just behind Becky and gazed past the gate to what lay beyond. Nothing. There was not a damn thing in sight beyond the gate. The only thing that came from beyond the gate was a terrible stench that forced his nose to wrinkle. Whatever was down there hadn't been disturbed for a very long time.

Abel shook his head. "You've got to be kidding me..." He had to fight with himself from turning around and walking back the way they had come. But he, like Xanthia, had committed to this. And he was not going back to be put on house arrest. Sighing, and throwing a glare at Jhandel behind his back, he took a torch from the wall with the hand hand that was not holding Xanthia's bag and followed through the gate behind the group, serving as the rear man. This wasn't going to be pleasant. Hopefully it was a little more open than the corridors.
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                              FAITHFULLY FOLLOWING at Jhandel's heels, Becky hardly voiced a complaint even as her footsteps set the beat for the rhythmic clanging of her armor, which soon rang clear as bells as the party moved from muffling carpet to echoing stone. The small space of the tunnels and the darkness that slowly enveloped them as torches grew scarce renewed the nervousness previously soothed by Lord Koven though Becky still had enough of her head on her shoulders to contemplate other things. She paid hardly any mind to the scrawled symbols they passed occasionally, her inability to understand the literal writing on the wall being nothing new. It said something of Becky's trust or servitude that she voiced no complaints as Jhandel lead her and the chef into a greatroom of sorts, an intricate gate gleaming silver straight ahead. Wait, what? Tierson's student only just did a double take to find Xanthia missing when the lady in question burst from one of the other passages that led into the chamber.

                              ”Those runes… were interesting...” said Miss Vetyz in between gasps for air, which appeared to be a satisfactory explanation for some but only confused Becky. Then again, her closest experience to such nagging curiosity was her stubborn refusal to accept that she'd learned everything Master Tierson had to teach her, and that was moreso out of loyalty and an aversion to change than it was a thirst for knowledge. Even so, Becky did not dwell too long on the idea in favour of rethinking her place. Mr. Byrnhildr was behind her with his spiked gauntlets and all, even if he did appear to handle them a little too carelessly than she would have liked, but it still struck Becky as a bad idea to have all able-bodied fighters up at the front while their navigator remained defenseless at the back of the line. That would have to be fixed before they continued any farther, though it would probably be too bothersome to trouble Lord Koven with this after everything this evening had put them through.

                              Speaking of Jhandel, Becky focused her attention up ahead in time to catch him turning a key in the center of the delicate-looking silver gate. She marvelled at the ethereal sight of the gate folding in on itself but was not captured so closely as to ignore a wooden crack and the shriek that followed closely after. Buckler sliding down her arm, Becky whirled around to find Xanthia in yet another mess, trapped underneath a settling avalanche of gemstones. The young woman quickly clawed her way to standing in the time that it took Becky to calm down from the jump scare and wonder if she should lend a hand or not. A blessing, that, as she might have had to set down her pack for that task and while it was hardly heavy on her shoulders, even on top of her plate armor, it was quite cumbersome.

                              "If you can spare the hand, carry a torch. There will be no light down there." Leave it to Lord Koven to get things back on track. Becky moved to take a light of her own, thinking it a pity to have missed the full sight of the beautiful gate opening, but found she hardly had her hands free to hold one. Where was she to put an open flame should she need to ready both her arms for a fight? Oh well, Jhandel would already be lighting the path ahead and she'll just have to make things up by putting all the more effort into doing her duty (or what she thought was her duty) as guard. It wouldn't do to leave Xanthia vulnerable in the very back, now could she?

                              With the young woman apparently eager to rectify her holding back the group slightly, it didn't take much effort to let her enter just after Lord Koven lead the way. After that was pretty much being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Abel glanced expectantly from her to the receding backs of the other pair, showing no signs of budging from the rearmost position of the line. Not that the next stretch of their journey was any more welcoming, with a musty air that held implications much nastier than the actual smell itself wafting out from the darkness beyond the gate.

                              Determined as she was to do her best to serve, Becky was still very submissive at heart and couldn't bear to waste time arguing with Mr. Byrnhildr any longer on the subject, even if it was incredibly one-sided and no words were actually exchanged. Silently, she conceded with a turn of her gaze back towards the ground and hesitantly followed after Jhandel and Xanthia. Admittedly, the slight confrontation had unnerved her and she couldn't help grasping for the hilt of her shortsword at the thought of coming close to the dead. Xanthia's voice reverberating off the walls brought a small measure of comfort but Becky made little effort to keep up with the small talk, not being one for talking nor wanting to be so rude as to eavesdrop.

                              Secret tunnel, secret tunnel~ Through the mountain~ Secret, secret, secret, secret tunnel~ ~ fin.

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