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  #1  
Unread 3rd of September, 2012, 15:08
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Arrow Chapter 13 - Monsters in the Dark

Lynn fled through the forest as fast as her legs would carry her, stumbling over undergrowth and fending off shapes half seen in the darkness until her arms were scratched and bloody. The pain was good, it cut through the horror of the nightmare fight behind her and kept her focused what was important, on survival. So she ran, through forest and shadow and fear, not along a path or with a plan, just away from danger, from anything that might follow, she ran without time until the last burning bit of breath escaped and her body rebelled, collapsing into a half seen hollow and refusing to heed the commands of her terror fuelled mind to stand, to run, to move.

Huddled alone in the dark, twitching as every stray sound reached her, expecting the brutal and final attack that never arrived, Lynn slowly recovered herself as she realised that somehow, she had done it. She had escaped, survived - for the moment. Rising on trembling limbs, she drew a breath and mentally chided herself. She had survived, raw brute animal survival, like she always did, but she was more than that, needed to be more. She was a person, actual and whole, and people were smart. She needed to be smart.

Looking out at the gloom shrouded forest, Lynn tried to take stock of the situation. She was alone, without any idea of how long she had run, where she was or even if anyone else had survived. Supplies – she had the clothes on her back, boots on her feet and not much else besides. She couldn’t remember if she had been wearing her cloak when the creatures attacked, but if she had, she’d lost it at some point. Hidden within a sheath in her sleeve was her knife, which she drew it, grateful for the small comfort of the familiar weapon. Scattered in pockets hidden around her person were several other items, a small purse of coin and gemstones she hoarded for emergencies – all but useless in her current one, her old childhood set of prayer beads, a tiny portable mirror, a handful of nuts she had grabbed earlier in the day then forgotten about, and for some baffling reason, a sock. It wasn't one of her own.

Without her cloak, and drenched in sweat from her run, it was cold. Repressing a shiver she considered that, cold and dark were a problem and the obvious solution was fire. As cheerful as the thought of a warm fire roaring away was, Lynn dismissed it as soon as it arose. Even if she possessed the means or ability to start a fire, there was no telling how far away the creatures were, and a light might draw them near.

The picture of the creatures creeping close to her hiding spot, drew the woman upright to peer into the shadows under the trees, and pushed her thoughts down a new path. Her current safety might not last, if the creatures kept searching long enough they would eventually find her. She needed help to survive, and she couldn’t afford to wait for it to find her, or risk trying to draw it near, so she would have to search it out. The only question remaining was what direction, and lost in the wilderness without any clue what was near, any direction was as good another.

Squeezing down on her knife handle under her fingers began to ache, Lynn set out, carefully weaving her way through barely seen obstacles. She had done well, by stopping to think her way through the situation instead of relying on instinct. She was going to survive by being smart, like a person, and that was what was important.
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Unread 7th of September, 2012, 19:32
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The battle had disintegrated into a chaotic melee as their lines were overwhelmed by the seemingly endless hoard of undead, and the survivors fled, trying to escape in a random scattering of directions.

Ducking under the arms of a creature attempting to grab him, taking its legs out with his sword as he went, Nicos set his sights on the back of a fleeing figure that looked familiar and moved to follow it. The route they took through the chaos was twisted and uneven as they would alternatively attempt to circle around the clustered knots of the monsters, or change directions randomly when one of the creatures wondered too close to their path. More than once Nicos was forced to set on a creature with boot and blade to get free, moving on before sparing even the precious few seconds needed to ensure that they were down for good.

Abruptly, like passing over the banks of a surging river, the noise was behind them and they were swallowed by a dark forest. Rather than stop or slow down, the figure he followed plunged on at breakneck speed, and Nicos belatedly realised they must think he was one of the creatures chasing them. The fight and later flight had left him too short of breath to both shout out his identify and keep the figure in sight, leaving Nicos to continue to try and follow and hope the person would slow down or turn to face their peruser. The situation was made worse as within the forest the bard found himself confronting a new, but not unexpected danger. In the darkness and at their speed, he found he couldn’t see the trees until they were almost on top of him, forcing him to dodge, duck and stumble over branches and miscellaneous bits of undergrowth, an issue turned from irritating to perilous by the need to avoid striking himself with his own still drawn sword.

It was after the blade despite his best efforts, managed to scrape against the mithral shirt over his ribs - thanks to a high-speed bounce off a suddenly looming tree - that the bard made the decision to stop and sheath the weapon. The action only took him a few seconds, but they were enough and in those moments the person he was following disappeared into the shadows, leaving Nicos alone.
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Unread 14th of September, 2012, 09:33
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The forest around him was awash with mysterious noises, and Nicos grimaced. He hated the wilderness, give him a busy city street, a barroom full of guile and plots, or even a subterranean sewer in a pinch. In any of those he could survive, adapt, even thrive, but once he hit wilderness the bard found himself badly out of his element.

Something rustled in the leaves nearby and Nicos peered in vain into the darkness, for all he was able to tell there could have been a dragon perched just out of arms reach. Sighing, he next turned to try and see through the branches above him, to the night sky. While far from an expert, he was familiar with a few clustered of stars, and if he could sight them or the moon he might be able to reason out an estimate of which direction he’d need to head in to find the road. But once again his efforts came up empty, either the trees were thick enough to obscure the sky above, or clouds had rolled in to cover it. In any case the only thing he could see above was a complex mix of shadows.

Turning on the spot the bard tried to decide what to do. Setting off at random into the night could only lead to him wondering in useless circles, without a light the best he could do was stay put until dawn and – with a grunt of disgust Nicos slapped himself on the head. Lack of light was not a problem he should have been having, he wasn’t thinking.

Drawing his sword, Nicos held the tip of the blade just before his mouth and began to whisper a song. The song was one that had been taught to him years ago by an old woman who decided to live out her twilight years alone in a remote cottage. Many of the locals called her a witch behind her back, and weren’t far from the mark. The song was one of the first tricks Nicos learnt, when he was still healing with the loss of his arms, and his teacher had insisted it was ideal for such mystical uses as walking to the outhouse at night. He never proved her wrong.

The words of the song glowered from the bard, old words of summer, sunlight and the joy of dawn. The familiar tune drenched up bitter sweet memories of a happier time and old … companions, but Nicos brutally suppressed them. This was neither the time nor the place. At first the song didn’t seem to do anything, then so lightly as to barely be seen, a mote of light began drifting around the tip of the blade. Nicos lifted the temp and the notes multiplied until they swarmed light butterflies, condensing into a single point that lit up the forest. Letting the song fall away, the light settled down into a steady, warm glow and the bard brandished the weapon to examine his surroundings. There was no dragon perched just out of arms reach, which was a bit of good news. Other than that the light didn’t reveal much. A random selection of trees back a dozen feet or so, with the usual assortment of busy undergrowth, beyond which the former mix of impenetrable dark shapes and dissolved into a flat, midnight black veil.
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Unread 18th of September, 2012, 11:32
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While his situation was improved, the bard was still trying to puzzle out his next move when the sound came to him. It was faint to the point of being obscured by the background forest noise, but distinct in what it was – a human voice. A few moments later it came again, this time a clear laugh and a smile reflexively etched itself across Nicos’ face. Voices meant people, and if he could find people he could get help, whether from charm, begging, buying or even threats, people were as much his elements as the wilderness was not. With a third peal of laughter ringing out, the bard carefully set out across the forest towards it.

There was no noise for several uneventful minutes, when the laughter came again, this time to Nicos’ right and closer than before. The bard hissed in frustration, he had been positive he was heading in a straight line, but must have been turned about by the trees. Realigning himself, he resumed walking.

Again and again the same pattern repeated itself, Nicos making his way forward only for the voice to appear off on an angle to his left or his right. Finally after many minutes the bard stopped, exasperated. He had taken careful sightings on the few landmarks he could see, and was as sure as he could be that he had been heading in a straight line, but the laughter was now off to his left and further away. Either he was trying to find someone who was making their own irregular path through the trees, quickly and without light, or someone out there was toying with him.

No sooner did the thought cross his mind, then the laughter came again, this time behind him. Not even that, this time the tone of it had changed, no longer a carefree expression of joy, the sound was mocking. The taunting came again immediately, this time to his left and much closer. With a snarl Nicos extinguished his light, plunging him into a total darkness. Whatever was out there, he thought angrily, clearly didn’t think he was enough of a threat to take seriously, missing an arm, half a man and all alone. The bard swore that it would learn the painful error it had made.

The laughter came again, still to his left but now ahead of him and closer still than before. Tightening his grip on the sword, he summoned his repertoire of tricks to mind and tried to ready himself, it wouldn’t be long before whatever was out there came for him. Then a shock of recognition washed through him as Nicos realised he knew the voice, and the laughter erupted from a multitude of places, an endless well of mocking for a child, a boy playing at being a man, seeking things he didn’t understand. Uncontrolled memories of silver hair, soft lips and laughing eyes forced their way to the surface and Nicos twisted away from the laughter, shame fuelled tears running down his face.

It was while like this that Nicos saw the light. Flicking as bobbi9ng as it moved through the trees, it was a clear spot of warm, orange firelight as if from a candle or small lantern. A warning bell went off in the bard’s head as his sight settled on it and the laughter went quiet. There were many tales of strange lights in a spotted by lost travellers, and not a single one of those ended well for those who chose to follow them. It was a clear lure, a trap, and the bard knew that following after it was the very last thing he should do in the situation.

The laughter returned, this time from right behind him, close enough to make soft breath caress the back of his neck. The laughter had changed again and wasn’t a harsh mockery, or an innocent bit of joy, but a gentle piece of pity, and the whispered fragment of a memory came with it.

“Nicos, what are you … did you think that-“

With a savage jerk the bard forced the memory away, set his jaw and stepped towards the light and away from visions of silver hair, away from mocking laughs and away from shadows of pity best left forgotten in the dust.
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Unread 28th of September, 2012, 11:47
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Lynn slunk through the forest, moving in stops and starts. Lurking in the shadows at the base of a great tree trunk, she would examine the way ahead, then rush through the foliage until she was close enough to throw herself down into the shadows of her new hiding location. Her method made for slow progress, but it felt safe and taking on the forest in calculated chunks made it seem less overwhelming.

The darkness wasn’t so bad once you got used to it, Lynn thought, easily picking out grey shapes around her. Even the noises of the forest were becoming familiar and almost comforting, the irregular insect chirping and buzzing, and the gentle wafting of wind through trees. To keep herself entertained and focused, Lynn began counting things. The amount of steps it took to run from one tree to another, the number of heartbeats it took to regain her breath between goes, how many times she had repeated her travelling pattern.

It was on her thirty second repeat, as she started to become uncomfortably aware of her thirst, that the young woman noticed the patch of silence in the forest noise behind. Pausing, she counted three heartbeats until the noise started again, then counted fifteen more without anything happening. Content it was nothing, she moved to her thirty-third tree, and the silence broke out again for another three heartbeat gap. This time Lynn lay pressed against the cool forest soil for a slow count of a hundred heartbeats, carefully listening for anything further out of place. When nothing further occurred, she cautiously rose and set out towards the thirty-fourth tree. On her second step the silence rose up again, and continued for four frantic heartbeats afterwards.

Whatever was causing the silence, Lynn determined, was following her.
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Unread 5th of October, 2012, 15:31
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Thinking quickly, Lynn picked a new tree off to the right of her current path and rushed to it. Almost at once the silence broke out behind her instead off to one side, leaving Lynn to shudder with fear at the thought of what that meant for how close whatever was causing the silence was. Taking deep breaths and trying to remain calm, the young woman counted another hundred heartbeats while the normal noises of the forest returned, then changed her pattern. Instead of picking a nearby tree she selected one only barely seen in the distance, took a breath and rushed towards it. She forgot to count how long it took, trying to dodge around obstacles and stumbling over underbrush, her breath exploding and thirst rising to a burning pitch. She lost track of where she was going, grabbed a tree at random and dropped into the shadow beneath it.

She counted first ten, then twenty, then a hundred terrible heartbeats, but this time the silence never faded. It sat behind her then moved, spreading both right and left, a great wave of extinguished sound that rolled in to surround her like two nightmarish arms reaching out to embrace her. Lynn lay as still as possible, her breath rattling out of control in shallow pants, and her terrible thirst distracting by its insistent demands to be satisfied. Struggling back from the brink of unbridled terror, the young woman was just beginning to try and think of a rational, human was out of the situation when she finally noticed the smell.

It was the smell of freshly disturbed soil, the smell of dusty death, the smell of hot wet sex and the smell of none of those things. The smell of the man, the thing that had attacked her. After all this time, all this distance, somehow he – it – had found her. Forcing her face into the fragrant dirt, she desperately prayed to any god that may be listening that it was all a dream, that she was safe, but she knew that is wasn’t.

In her mind’s eye she saw the man, the monster gliding across towards her, the gleam of ivory white against charcoal black and indistinguishable, fragmented memories. She was found, she knew she should stand, turn and finally face him, face it. She should do something besides lay there in terror. She wasn’t the helpless child she had been back then, she had been out in the world, alone. She had learnt things, both terrible and wonderful. She –

Something shifted in the fallen leaves near Lynn’s head, an almighty crunch in the otherwise pure silence, and the woman broke, launching herself to her feet and fleeing at random, without direction, her scream shattering and keeping at bay the silent force that had tried to swallow her. She ran in the scream, wrapped it around her until she was cocooned in noise. She ran, she screamed, and she didn’t think.
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Unread 13th of October, 2012, 00:05
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The dark didn't really bother Blarth all that much. His orc heritage enabled him to see just fine without any light. Indeed, he had been running through the woods at night since he was a child.

Now, running through the woods with a horde of not-dead at your back, that was a different story. One which was being further complicated by the fog.

Fog meant that morning was coming, however, and Blarth just had to keep ahead of the not-dead until then. Most not dead weakened or even disappeared in the daylight. With the rising of the sun it would be safe to slow down and start searching for others in an attempt to get the caravan back together.

At least that was what Blarth kept telling himself. The sun, however, refused to come up and the fog just kept getting thicker. Eventually Blarth could barely see the trees in front of him in time to get out of their way.

Forcing himself to slow down, Blarth takes a few deep breaths, trying to slow his heart beat, and then holds his breath, listening carefully.

1...
2...
3...
4...
5...
6...
7...
8...
9...
10...

*gasp*


Nothing, there was no sound of pursuit. He was probably safe enough for the moment. Except, there was no sound of anything. None of the usual noises of the night reached Blarth's ears. Surely, it must be the hammering of his heart in his ears still. That's all, he just needed to catch his breath and still his heart and all would be normal again.

Picking the largest tree near by, Blarth carefully leans his back against it, eyes and ears focused outwards and straining for the slightest sound or sight as he tries to relax and calm himself. Said calm comes, his years of training ensure that, but the night sounds do not return.

Biting his lip as fights to hold on to his enforced calm, Blarth focuses on his sense of direction and place. It was a sense he had long since honed to infallibility. Even in the middle of a land completely unfamiliar, he would know which way was which and which way was the best way to go to get unlost.

Tonight, however, the infallible was fallible. Blarth could not sense where the nearest landmark was or even which direction he was facing. For the first time since his 6th birthday, Blarth was lost.
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Unread 16th of October, 2012, 12:15
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Lynn peered out between the tress at the town. It was day, but the sun had never actually risen, the darkness had just given way to a grey diffused light that revealed the heavy clouds hanging overhead and light fog flowing through the trees. Moving at random she had eventually caught sight of the buildings and was now lurking on the treeline. There was something off about the town, she couldn’t say what it was, but she felt it deep down in her bones, felt the wrongness in her very blood. But she was tired, afraid and her thirst continued to burn with an unholy fury, so taking a breath she pushed herself out and scuttled across the open ground to the cover of the nearest building. Skulking around the corner and between two walls, she came to a view of the road and a familiar figure brazenly standing out in the open.

The figure turned towards her, so Lynn dropped into a nonchalant pose, leaning against a wall as if she had been standing there for a while.

“Typical,” she said. “I finally find a nice quiet little town and who decides to turn up? This is going to just destroy the property value.”

“Well you know me,” Nicos said, flashing her a smile before turning back to observe the buildings around him. “Always turning up where I’m not expected but most enjoyed. And quiet is the right word.”

“What?”

“Come here,” he replied, gesturing to a spot on the road beside him. Reluctantly, the young woman left the shelter of the building behind and moved out into the open.

“Now what?”

“Now listen, what do you hear?”

Lynn held her breath and listening. Besides her she could make out the sounds of Nicos taking shallow breathes, the irregular thumping of her own heart in her chest and the impossibly loud crinkle of thirst parched lips as the rubbed against each other. Beyond that, the town was perfectly silent.

“Nothing, I don’t hear anything.”

“Exactly, this place is dead silent. If there was anyone living here there would be some sound, there is always some noise around people. Or the smell of smoke, or something. But here? There isn’t anything, it’s just hushed, like you would get in a temple, an awed hush.”

Lynn observed her surroundings again, she understood what he meant about the place being too quiet, but like a temple? The town still felt off, like something about it not quite fitting in place where it should be, creating a general sense of foreboding, but there was none of the reverent silence she had experienced when she was younger and her family were regular temple goers.

“HELLO!”

The yell shattered the silence, echoing off nearby building fronts before being quickly absorbed and Lynn leapt back for the shelter she had only just abandoned, flaring knives at Nicos as she did, who in turn just grinned in return, clearly amused by his own antics.

“What the hell was that?” the young woman hissed.

“I was never very good at staying quiet when I was meant to,” Nicos shrugged.

“You’re a damned fool, keep your voice down.”

“Might be a bit late for that advice,” the bard said. “Want to search the town?”

“Fine. I’ll lead” she replied, picking a direction at random and crept off, keeping to the shadows of the buildings as much as possible.

“Uh, Lynn.” She had only made it a few metres before the voice called out. Turning she found Nicos still standing in the middle of the street, watching her.

“What now?”

“If anyone is here, they’d know about us by now. And if anything is going to jump out to ambush us, they’ll be doing so from those buildings. You’re just getting closer to them.”

“Ah, but you’re overlooking that they won’t have a chance to spot me,” she said, rolling her eyes. “What with me having such a great distraction standing in the middle of the street.”

“I’m to be bait am I?” Nicos asked, grinning again. “I can do that.”

Taking a moment to think, he adjusted the sword on his belt and began to sing a loud and very crude song about the misadventures of a sailor on shore leave. Watching him strut away, Lynn shook her head in disbelief. For all that his antics were irritating, she was forced to privately admit that they did manage to drive away most of the foreboding sense the town gave off. Plus, she silently added, moving to shadow him down the street, he did make quite a good distraction.
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Unread 22nd of October, 2012, 05:07
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Lost. The word almost had no meaning for Blarth. Sure, he understood that other people occasionally got lost, but it was something that simply did not happen to him.

At least, not since his 6th birthday. On that particular day he'd been tagging along after Trak, as he was wont to do in those days, trying to keep up with the older and full-orc brother that he practically worshiped. That particular day, however, Trak hadn't wanted to have a half-blood little brother dragging him down and had purposefully chosen to use paths that were difficult to follow and which contained obstacles that required a great deal of strength to get past. Blarth had become worn out rather quickly and his brother had gotten out of sight. Running a bit to catch up, Blarth must have missed a turn in the game trail they'd been on as he'd suddenly found himself not just alone, but not following any trail, game or otherwise.

"Hello..." Blarth's voice is weak, as if it more properly belonged to that 6-year-old he had been than to the 24-year-old he was now.

“HELLO!”

Surprisingly, the forest seems to answer back. Orienting on the sound, Blarth heads towards the source, calling out "STAY PUT! I'M COMING TOWARDS YOU!"

Except now there is no reply. Indeed, there is practically no sound at all, even the sound made by his own movement seemed deadened.

Becoming disoriented again. Blarth called out for a response, "HELLO! WHERE ARE YOU?"

Nothing.

"Are you still there?"

Nothing.

"Say something."

Nothing.

"Anything..."

* * *

"HELLO!"

The same call that he'd heard a few hours ago, rings out from a different direction. Unfolding himself from the ball-like position he'd taken against a tree, Blarth almost calls out a response, but his memories are still playing tricks with his mind and he holds back.

Still, there was something familiar about the voice this time.

On the verge of settling back down, the words of a rather raucous song (at least by human standards) drift through the trees and the familiarity clicks into place: Nicos.

Picking up the axe from where he'd dropped it (when had he done that?), Blarth headed off to find his friend.
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Unread 7th of November, 2012, 06:32
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At first, each dead face was like a stab at her heart, rending with a pain that matched the wounds they inflicted with their misshapen claws and teeth. Yet the more she slew, the less her assaulted senses could equate these things to the people they had most certainly been. Instead, they became targets - foes that had the finesse and skill of a sack of barley, but with the will to keep fighting long after they should have died (for lack of a better word). Shade lost track of her companions as the retreat became an all out rout, people running every which way, unrelentingly pursued by the now scattering mob of rotting flesh and bone. Horses screamed shrilly in the mayhem, their hooves pounding along frozen ground as they fled, bowling over man, monster and beast in their haste.

So too she lost track of those she slew, blades flashing as she spun and danced through the enemy with the deadly grace of a feral tiger. Despite the cold a fierce fire surged through her, breath coming out in white streams as she hunted down the hunters with wild abandon. Battle madness, some called it, when all pain and fear and doubt were forgotten in the single, eternal moment where life and death hung in the balance. For Shade, it was the only sanity there was in a world that had spiraled into the deranged.

She dodged bony fingers groping for her throat, turning the movement into another spin, whipping her twin steel blades around in an arc that sliced the beast in half. As it fell she saw another pair grasping after a terrified woman on the fringe of the wood. She took them from behind, flesh and bone parting beneath her onslaught, black ichor spraying the night air. Beneath the bower now, leaping fallen logs and slipping through the rigid undergrowth as she followed the blundering commotion of the living dead. A moment, an hour, a day - she could never say later how long it had gone on, the heart pounding chase and gore stricken slaughter. It seemed endless, yet at some point it did end.

Shade found herself alone, breath steaming, swords dripping black patterns in the white snow underfoot. She listened for more, but all was silent now. Her last kill had been perhaps a mile from here, though it was hard to be sure, and on the heels of that she'd followed the unmistakable sounds of the next one. Yet they had diminished, no matter which way she turned to pursue. Her chest rose and fell steadily as she gulped air and tried to hear over the thudding of her heart, arms suddenly leaden and an icy cold seeping into her overheated form. A growing certainty crept into her mind that she was alone, the fighting done.

Such a feeling should have brought relief, yet strangely it churned an unnatural fear in her gut. Alone, in this stark lifeless wood, the white crust of snow broken only by black twisted trees and thorny undergrowth. The cold wind seemed to blow through her soul and her narrow fingers clutched the sweat soaked hilts of her swords rigidly. The wave of fear rose, flooding her senses with dread and threatening to overwhelm her utterly. Her knuckles whiten tighter in their grip, clinging to the only tangible thing remaining, until finally, inexplicably, the wave crests and she feels the tide slowly recede.

When it has gone she sinks to her knees in the snow, a single sob escaping her raw throat as she draws her arms close around herself. Alone, perhaps the only soul in the world, and without hope against the undead tide that assailed them. They had failed - failed to defend the innocent, failed to end the threat, failed to reach Cadrius' aid in the North. The futility of it all was tangible, yet when finally she looked up to the night sky her grey eyes were clear. A failure, it had been, but to truly fail she must needs give up. And as she stood Shade knew that she was not ready to admit defeat.

Sheathing her weapons, she ran a hand through her sweat soaked hair and adjusted her ever present veil. The night was cold and dark, but they were old friends. She slipped into their arms and took a first step, and then another. By the time she'd gone a dozen paces, her ears could pick out a rich voice lifted in song - dim and distant, muffled by the wind, but she could recognize Nicos in her sleep. Wrapping her cloak tighter, she lengthens her stride and allows herself a sardonic smile.
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Unread 9th of November, 2012, 07:53
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Nicos walked down the street, trying to both repress his irritation and keep an eye on Lynn without revealing either. He sensed the need to be quiet and weary of the shadowed buildings, and it made him suspicious, so the natural reaction was to make a loud and brash declaration of his presence. He remembered the woods the previous night, as much as he wished he could forget, and knew that something had led him to this place. A haunted wood around a mysterious town, he could almost feel the Narrative pull, like strings around his limbs, urging him to take the next step along the story, to play the role and act his part. So he did his level best to subvert it.

Lynn paused at the doorway of a building and the bard stopped to watch her. He was as suspicious of his companion and finding her here as he was of the rest of the town, and until he had more evidence as to the reality of her presence, he vowed to keep that suspicion close. Seeing the young woman brush a hand over the door which began to slowly open with an ominous groan, he stooped down to pick up a heavy stone, and then threw it through one of the windows with all of his might.

The crash of breaking glass shot out and Lynn whipped away from the partially open door, looking at Nicos in disbelief. For his part, the bard winked at her then skipped up to the broken window, peering inside.

“Hello the house! I’ve lost my rock, I think it may have run off through your window.”

The interior of the building was some sort of living quarters, neat furniture arrayed in a comfortable fashion. A meal was laid out on one of the tables, fresh food as if it had only recently been abandoned, and Nicos’ stomach reminded him of how long it had been since he had last eaten. The entire thing was suspicious, they should investigate.

“Nothing interesting in there,” Nicos said stepped away from the window and back to the street. “Want to go dancing?”

“I – say what? Dancing?”

“A series of movements that are conducted in rhythm for the purposes of fun and courting. You know, dancing.”

“What the hell is wrong with you? Ever since I found you here you’ve been acting like an idiot. I thought you were just trying to show some … bravado, but dancing? Here and now? And me? Even for you that’s a bit much.”

“If not like this, then how should I be acting? I seem to have lost my book on etiquette.”

“We just managed to escape from a plague of ... things, and found ourselves in a damned creepy town that seems to be abandoned for some mysterious reason, with no supplies, no water and no idea where we are. How about you try just a little bit of serious until it seems like we might actually survive?”

Nicos was taken aback, it was pretty much the response he would have expected from the real Lynn, and not some fantasy version of her. He did a swift mental revision of the situation, concluding that it was possible that whatever had led him here might also have led someone else in, which made her presence far less improbable, and made the incident in the woods more disturbing.

“Okay, you’re the one determined to think this through.” Nicos said, letting his face form the smirk it usually wore. “What is our next step? What are we searching the down for?”

“Water.” The bard watched Lynn’s eyes and they scanned him for a moment before flicking away, apparently satisfied by his change in demeanour. “There must be a source of water nearby. Maybe even a well or two in a town this big. It seems like years since I’ve had anything to drink, we look for water first.”

Shrugging his acceptance, Nicos let Lynn set off again before he moved to follow, humming the tune in his only gesture towards stealth. The pair slowly followed the road, taking the occasional detour down between buildings, until they had a general idea of the layout of the town, were sure it was abandoned, and at last found a source of water. The well was made from old stone, with a old style bucket and winch set up. It was a picturesque sight, and one which once more set Nicos’ paranoia raging.

“Oh thank you gods!” Lynn exclaimed, rushing over when she caught sight of it and bringing the full bucket to her lips. Strangling a shout of alarm when he realised what she was doing, Nicos leapt over and violently knocked the bucket away. As she whirled on him, a mad animal fury burning in her eyes, the bard didn’t wait for her to act, already moving out of the way of her oncoming rush, kicking her off balance and wrapping his arm around her chest from behind, pulling her close in an attempt to hold her immobile.

“Think!” he hissed in her ear and she struggled to get free. “The entire town is empty, but why? The water might be tainted!”

She continued to struggle for a moment, then with a shudder forced herself back under control, becoming still.

“You’re right, I – I should have been thinking, I need to think. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” the bard assured her. “You’re thirsty, it’s been hours since we had any water, anyone could have acted that way.”

The moment hung between them, an awkward silence without anywhere to hide.

“Uh, Nicos?”

“Yes.”

“You can stop groping me now.” Fixing his most irritating grin on his face, Nicos let her go, only brightening it when she shot him an annoyed look. “Okay, so how do we tell if the water is bad?”

“An excellent question, I have no idea. You?”

“Well I could let you take a drink, and if you keel over dead I’ll know not to try it myself.”

“Clever, but let’s hold that plan in reserve in case we can’t think of something better.”
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Unread 21st of November, 2012, 06:54
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Like a shadow of a shadow, Shade observed the town from the forested fringe, motionless, as she had been for the past twelve hundred heartbeats or so. Apparently deserted, but not entirely as she'd heard footsteps and voices not long before. Certainly Nicos' voice had seemed to come from this direction, but of the one armed bard there was no immediate sign. Likely she should circle the town, look for tracks where he might have entered but a specter of dread had been steadily growing in the back of her mind, like a drop of inky dark sprouting legs and fangs, growing into a hideously wicked spider.

Her stomach rolled with a wave of nausea as her nostrils caught the sudden scent of cloying decay. Instantly, she was transported back to a day that seemed a lifetime ago, in a town that might have been a brother to this little frontier hamlet. There she'd wandered off into a wood filled with horrors, a place the defied logic and reason, seemingly not of the world she had known. This was the same, although different, and Shade that day have faced corpses from her past. Her crimes had grown in the interim, though now she'd found a better way.

The sweat that had broken upon her skin went quickly cold. She pushed at her fears, unable to move them entirely from her mind. She wiped her palms and carefully drew one leaf shaped blade in complete silence. Swords, of course, had failed her utterly in her first encounter and she'd no reason to believe this would be any different. Still, it was against her very nature to do otherwise - better to die with steel in hand. Staying silent as a ghost she moved forward, abandoning any effort at concealment. The first buildings were abandoned but unspoiled, as though the occupants had simply disappeared. As she checked one after another, the same was true for each of them and the spider wound it's web around her mind, sending tendrils of dread to each corner.

She gritted her teeth against the silence, when she heard once again voices - a man and a woman, it seemed. Her stride quickened as she followed the sounds, gray eyes stony above her veil. The street ended where it crossed a wider way, and she followed it until it opened onto a deserted courtyard - with a start, she ducked back as she noted two figures within, standing near the centrally located well. It took only a moment for her it to register that the man had only one arm. Nicos, certainly, and Lynn? She peered with one eye around a corner for a moment to ensure she was right, then scanned the area for anyone or anything else.

Nothing, and yet . . . the sense of dread remained, and for a moment she considered leaving this place as quietly as she'd arrived. The thought of the menacing wood without made her frown, and she looked again at the pair. Of course it was Nicos and Lynn. It was his ridiculous singing that had led her here to begin with. Sheathing her sword, she stepped out into the square.

"Hello, the town! Is there room for one more at the inn?"
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Unread 26th of November, 2012, 11:01
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Hearing a familiar, yet unexpected voice call out, Nicos turned, then frowned.

"Why would I imagine her?" he muttered under his breath, throwing a quick glance towards Lynn to check if she too heard and saw Shade striding out from between the buildings, seemingly without a care in the world.

"Room? Yes, but I'm afraid we have a very strict dress code," the bard replied. "Do you have something else you can change into?"
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Unread 28th of November, 2012, 04:37
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"I'm afraid some of us find it difficult to change."

Her gray eyes narrowed above the veil as she weighed the bard's demeanor. He was, as far as she could tell, the same one armed scoundrel he'd been since the first time she set eyes on him. Beside him, Lynn seemed somewhat distracted, leaving her wondering if she had interrupted something. They both averred the relationship was friendly rather than romantic, but Nicos wasn't one to be merely friends unless it couldn't be helped. Which meant, like as not, it was Lynn who was making the decision. Perhaps she was having a change of heart. Suppressing a shrug, she sauntered over to the well to join them, resisting the urge to look behind her as the hair on her neck stood up.

"It doesn't seem like there is anyone around who will mind, though. Have you found anything?"
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Unread 28th of November, 2012, 12:41
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"An empty town, which is odd as folk normally wait until after my performance to run for the hills."

Nicos hesitated, on the verge of mentioning the incident in the woods, but pulled back from it. It had been personal, no need to mention anything about it if he didn't have to.

"Still, seems a nice enough place. Quiet little town, sudden abundance of property available, no taxes. I'm starting to think about settling down here. Maybe open a shop"

"Do you know how to tell if the water is safe?" Lynn interrupted Nicos' ongoing description of the hypothetical life he would have in the town. "It's been hours since I had anything to drink, but we don't know what happened to the people and, I mean, how to check if it's safe to drink."
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Unread 1st of December, 2012, 05:12
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"Normally, I'd say look for signs of animal activity around the source," Blarth says, coming into the conversation as it was the most normal thing in the world, "but seeing as this place seems to be lacking any animals, as well as people, I doubt you'd find any."

Pulling the half-full water skin off his shoulder, one of the few possessions he hadn't left behind in the hastily abandoned encampment, Blarth hands it to Lynn. "It's not much, but I can survive quite well without it."
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Unread 4th of December, 2012, 15:50
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Snatching at the waterskin, Lynn noisily gulped most of the water before stopping herself and offering it back with clear reluctance.

"Blarth?" Nicos said. "Now why would I ... huh. Okay that's four of us now. If this many of us from the caravan found this place, we might want to think about camping out in here in case anyone one turns up - abandoned or not."
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Unread 6th of December, 2012, 00:35
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Blarth's sudden appearance caused Shade to furrow her brows and stare into the wood beyond the half-orc, seemingly looking for others. Once she had wondered how he had ever gotten along before he met them, but since then Blarth had proven himself time and again to be resilient and resourceful, and far more capable than her initial impression. Still, he'd come from a direction other than Shade which meant he hadn't followed her . . .

"How did you find this place, Blarth? After the battle I wandered far, hunting down the infected. I ended up near here, and then I heard Nicos and headed in this direction. It seems odd for the four of us to have wandered here by accident, without seeing any of the others from the caravan."
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Unread 6th of December, 2012, 12:18
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"Not that unusual," Nicos interrupted. "It was chaos after the attack on the caravan, we could have easily walked past a dozen people walking in circles without seeing anyone in those woods. Still it's a brings up a point, if we all made it here the others from the caravan might not be far away- or even those ... things. Do we still want to be here when it happens?"
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Unread 13th of December, 2012, 04:41
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"Out of all the people that fled the attack, I end up in the exact same place as you three? It would seem less strange if any of those others had made it here."

Shade studies the others with expressionless eyes, then reaches up to pull down her veil. The long white scar that divided her face stood out beneath the shadow of her hood.

"But if there is a chance that others will show up here, maybe it's best we use it as a base of operations. We could fortify a position in case we are attacked, determine a route of escape should we be overwhelmed, and scout the surrounding area to see if there are any other stragglers."
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Unread 17th of December, 2012, 06:46
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"Well, Nicos' singing helped," Blarth replies, but even to his ears that doesn't sound convincing.

"It's like we're in a story," he continues after a moment, "We scatter, get lost, and then miraculously find each other in an abandoned town. On top of that we're expecting a sort of boogey-man."
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Unread 2nd of January, 2013, 07:42
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"Most of life is like a story, if you look hard enough," Nicos said deflecting Blarth's observation. "You can drive yourself mad thinking too like that, trust me on this one. Besides, if we're going to stick it out here, there's a bundle of work for us to do. Did anyone see a likely building to set up in? I can't tell what the time is, but I sure as hell want to be done by sundown."
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Unread 21st of January, 2013, 05:07
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"What kind of building do you want? One that's easy to escape from, or one that's easy to defend? I passed the smith's workshop on the way it. You can't get much easier to escape from than a building that only has one real wall."
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Unread 25th of February, 2013, 11:41
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“Maybe something a little less easy to escape from,” Nicos said. “and a little easier to defend.”

“ I don’t know,” Lynn interrupted. “I saw it earlier it would be easy to put up some sort of barricade around it, there’s plenty of material in the smithy, and the approaches are all visible so no one will sneak up on us. Plus that wall is part of – I think – a bakery, if we needed to run we could climb up onto the roof and make out way from there.”

“Well I’m outvoted,” Nicos said, scratching at his freshly grown facial hair, throwing a glance at Shade then shrugging. “And the Smithy should have coal on hand for fires, so there’s that, which just leaves other supplies. Let’s do a quick search of the town and meet back here. We’re just looking for the important things, food, drink, gold, young women that are fans of melodic bardic tones and are eager to show their gratitude to me for having saved them, you all know what we need.”

-------------------------------

Lynn weaved a random path through the house, the sound of Nicos’ boisterous singing ringing out from the other side of the town. She had deliberately set out in a different direction to the bard, and wasn’t making any real effort to collect supplies. Something about the place still left her on edge, like there was something at the corner of her eye that was never there when she turned around.

Spying a house with an ajar door, she slipped through it and into family home. A broad table dominated the room, set out on it was a feast for a half dozen people, meals prepared and then left untouched, or left waiting.

Eyeing the food suspiciously, the young woman skirted around to table to a sidebar containing several bottle. Prying one open, she was in the process of sniffing it when she saw something moving behind her in the bottles reflection. Dropping the item to the ground with a loud, wet smash of glass and wine, Lynn drew her knife from its hidden spot within the folds of her clothes, brandishing it.

“Shit, it’s just you.” Lynn lowered the blade when she saw it was Shade. “Did you have to sneak up on me like that?”
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Unread 28th of February, 2013, 01:43
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Shade left the smithy a little more slowly than the others, watching as her companions split apart and faded into the silent streets. It was hard to pinpoint all of the little things that were nagging at her subconscious, but she was convinced there was something out of the ordinary at work here. Not for the first time she wondered what had become of Cadrius and his little charge - he was competent and courageous, so he may well have led them to safety. Her mood darkened when she thought of Arjuna, glimpsed only briefly in the horrific melee. The woman had surprised Shade before with her knack for survival and all she could cling to now was the hope that once again Juni would beat the odds.

Choosing a direction at random, Shade begins her own search although her heart was hardly in it. As is her wont, she moves quietly, sticking to the shadows where she felt comfortable and secure. The town was deserted, she was convinced, and from the look of things it hadn't been a plague or massacre. Almost as if they residents had just picked up and moved out, all at once. Why they should do such a thing Shade could not begin to guess - the ground showed no evidence of anything abnormal as far as her practiced eye could see. What did it mean?

After a time, and closer than Nicos' too loud singing, she heard the noise of a door opening and automatically shifted in that direction. Her hands remained beneath her deep blue cloak, never far from the twin hilts of her blades. She didn't imagine any trouble but best not to take such things for granted. Up ahead there was a small cottage, the wooden door ajar. Shade eased forward, staying in the long shadow cast by a row of buildings. Her eyes scanned the ground and she could make out recent disturbance, and she caught a glimpse of movement from within.

Rather than prepare for battle the sight made her relax for she recognized Lynn. Her grey eyes narrowed as she watched the other woman, wondering if she regretted her choice to join them. It had not been a particularly fruitful journey so far. Abandoning the shadows, Shade moves to the door, though her feet remain as quiet as ever.

-------------------------------

When Lynn starts, Shade holds up her empty hands in a gesture of peace.

"That was hardly sneaking," she answers deadpan, "but it's good to see you're quick with that knife."
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