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  #101  
Unread 2nd of April, 2009, 03:59
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Dumbfounded by Nicos's curt reply, Blarth lapses into an embarrassed silence for several minutes while he thinks of a reply.





Fortunately for Blarth, he's spared the need of actually formulating a reply when a noise drifts to the groups ears through the trees. At first, it's indistinct because it's so far away, but as it grows louder and closer, the noise doesn't resolve to a single sound, but a cacophony of voices. Looking at each other, Nicos, Blarth, and Lynn share puzzled looks as they try to figure out what the sound of crowd moving through the woods towards them might mean.

"... dirty orc's around here somewhere," a voice declares, clearly shouting to make itself heard over the general noise. "We'll flush him out like a pheasant. Spread out a bit, but don't let yourself get out of sight of the whole group. Orc are a whole lot more dangerous than pheasant, even if their brain's the same size."

This last remark causes the more general crowd noise to coalesce into the sound of laughter for a few moments before reverting to a more subdued level of its original sound.
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  #102  
Unread 3rd of April, 2009, 23:22
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Shade struggles to maintain her composure, but the forces of the world conspire against her. The disease is progressing; she can feel it with each moment that passes, feeding off of her life, naught but rotting hunger in it's place. She pushes the improvised lock pick as far as she dares, but it was a poor tool for the job and with only one hand it was fairly well impossible. She grinds her teeth against the desire to vent her anger, the feelings augmented by Juni's rising hysteria. The pick slips and jabs her finger, catalyst for a terrible rage. It sweeps through her in a black tide, blotting out both caution and reason.

She lurches to her feet, brought up short by the chains that bound her. With the awful scream of some wild beast she seizes hold of the chain. Her monstrous left hand sweeps out and clamps down on the rusted metal; she pulls with inhuman strength for a moment that lasts and eternity. The chain snaps with a rattle and she staggers back, eyes glowing like coals, panting with emotion.

The look on Juni's face nearly stops her heart. Instead she chokes down her regret and part of her humanity, moving to the door before her rage flees and leaves her alone with her fear. Her unnatural hand flexes and tests the solid barrier before her. They needed to get out.
  #103  
Unread 25th of April, 2009, 10:20
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The wind blows sharp and stinging cold against Juni's pale cheeks as she sits cross-legged on the rooftop looking up at the stars. What a relief it is to be out in the fresh air again! If only she could forget everything that had happened in the last day or so. If only things could be normal again.

She had watched in horror as Shade broke down the door to their cell, her one hand gnarled and blackened and unnaturally strong. But Juni had pulled herself together enough to lead the way out of the maze of crypts, and finally they had come through to the old temple and back out into the darkened streets of Tradeholm. They'd hurried to put distance between themselves and Skathros' lair, keeping to the back alleys and side streets as much as possible. Juni had noticed with growing alarm that she often lost track of Shade's whereabouts completely in the dim light: the rogue seemed to have become even more stealthy and shadow-like than ever before. After a time, they'd climbed a service stair to a tenement rooftop in order to get their bearings and decide what to do next.

One thought is uppermost in Juni's mind.

"What are we going to do about Isac?" she asks quietly. She watches as Shade crouches near the edge of the roof, poised, it seems to Juni, as if for sudden ambush.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, we don't know what happened to him, if he's dead or alive."

Shade continues to look away, apparently studying the nearby buildings and streets, perhaps planning their next move. She makes no reply. Juni can't see her face, or any part of her, really, other than her dark cloak. She has to wonder what is going through her friend's mind right now. She is cursed, and her hand has become a monstrous thing. How long before it spreads to the rest of her body and she becomes like Skathros? How can they stop it? Hopefully the information that Juni was able to decipher from Ricard's journal will lead them to the answer. But do they have enough time? Without Isac's skill and without his prayers, they have no way to keep the curse under control. What if he is lost to them? What if he is dead?

"I can try to look for him," Juni says after a moment. "Psychically, I mean. I'll send my mind's eye back to Ricard's place and look for sign of him. That will save us from having to go back there ourselves... maybe. Let me try."

Juni doesn't wait to hear what Shade will say about her idea. She closes her eyes and holds her psi-crystal tight in her hand to help her concentrate. She has to make a conscious effort to put the thought of Shade's monstrous hand out of her mind. How terrible it is that she has come to fear and distrust her friend! But she had seen for herself the blackened and corrupt flesh of Shade's undead hand. And she had seen her friend's barely controlled rage unleashed.

Concentrate, her psi-crystal admonishes.

And Juni is suddenly back in Ricard's study. Or rather, her mind's eye is there. She feels like she is floating in the center of the room, a disembodied eye connected by a psychic thread to her self on the roof. She had been thinking of the last time she'd seen Isac, right before Skathros' shadow-creature had dragged her away. The priest had been holding a shining sunburst aloft, then had fallen to the floor in a spray of crimson. She'd thought him dead for certain before blacking out herself.

Her view now is of the door to the hallway, and she has to reorient her mind's eye, turning it by degrees, in order to see the place where Isac had fallen.

"He is not here," she says out loud, reporting what she sees to Shade. "There is a large pool of blood on the floor where he fell. Oh, so much blood... He must be dead after all!"

Her heart lurches, and she feels tears start in her eyes. He can't be dead! What will happen to Shade?

Don't jump to conclusions. Besides, if he is dead you would expect to find the body here, wouldn't you? It hasn't been that long ago that it happened. No one would likely care enough to take it away already.

"What else do you see?" Shade suddenly hisses near her ear.

Juni tries to calm herself and focus her attention on the pool of dark blood.

"There are tracks.. bloody footprints. And it looks like something was dragged out of the blood pool. Oh, and there is a pile of bloody clothing nearby. They are Isac's things, I think. Someone must have come here, come and tended him perhaps? The trail leads out into the hallway. Hold on a minute."

The disembodied eye can't move of its own volition. She has to refocus - start over again and send it to the new location - in order to move her view out into the hall.

"The trail goes down the hall... and just ends there. Wait, the wall down there looks like it has a door in it. Hold on again."

Refocus...

"Yes, the trail goes right to the door in the wall! And..." Refocus again... Juni is starting to tire now... "And on the other side of the door is a narrow stairway leading down."

She opens her eyes. Shade is crouched right beside her, staring at her with those piercing gray eyes, as if by concentrating she could see what Juni had seen through clairvoyance.

"Do you want me to follow the stair down?" Juni asks. "It is getting harder to change locations each time. I don't know how far I'll be able to go...

"I think that Isac is alive," she continues hopefully. Is it reasonable to believe so or is she only indulging in wishful thinking? She decides that it doesn't matter. "We should go back and follow the trail. We need Isac." She glances pointedly at Shade's hand, though it is hidden beneath her cloak. "And more than that - Isac may need us."
  #104  
Unread 28th of April, 2009, 23:42
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Anger was an emotion intimate to Shade - for years now it was never far from the surface. But this, this hatred simmering inside her, was different than the white hot emotion that she was used too. It was more than her simple anger, which burned clean, bright and quickly. This was more insidious, more bestial - it was rage, and a rage fueled by hideous longing and unreasoning madness.

And it was in her, constantly. Even now, she clenched her teeth, trying to think clearly through the haze as Juni stands motionless and unaware, focused on Ricard's study on the other side of town. Bits of information dribble out; she fights down the desire to choke what she wants to hear out of her friend.

Unthinkably, Juni says it: Isac may yet live. She steps forward with frightening suddenness, seizes Juni's tunic with her good hand.

"The blood. How old was it?"

"I - "

"The markings of the boots. The sizes."

"I'm not sure - "

"Leather or metal?"

"I couldn't te-"

"What about the clothing? Ripped or cut?"

"Shade, I don't -"

"Damn you, I need to know!"

"SHADE!" Juni shoves her back, angry, frightened. "Stop it!. I only know what I told you."

For a moment, Shade's face twists into a horrible mask of feral rage and Juni is suddenly sure her friend will attack, but Shade shakes her head instead and after a moment her eyes look less wild. She turns away abruptly.

"I'm sorry."

Her shoulders slump for a second, then she shakes her head again, steeling herself.

"I'm sorry. I need to find him."
  #105  
Unread 29th of April, 2009, 11:43
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“What’s that?”

It is the first noise she has said in two days, and the first words he has heard in a fortnight. Since the horrific night in her family’s farmstead, Sarra has fallen into a near catatonic state. She moves where directed, wordless and mindless, appearing hardly more alive than the walking dead that shambled into her house two weeks earlier.

At his insistence, and with no complaint voiced from Sarra, they hid in the woods for a week. Each night Cadrius went to sleep with his hand around the hilt of his dagger, wondering if it would be him or Sarra that would turn first. The infection seemed all but assured. He had crept through the eerily silent village, finding none alive. Those dead that he had not butchered had disappeared, shuffling into the darkness.

Camped beneath the boughs of pines and firs, breath steaming into the air, Cadrius waited for his end to come. It did not. Instead, their days were filled with cerulean skies and the high wisps of clouds racing overhead. Zephyrs darted through the forest, stirring the needles above. A little fire smoldered at all times, being fed sporadically.

After a few days his remaining food ran out and he was forced to steal back into the town under the cover of night and forage what he could. Worried for her safety, Cadrius brought her with him. She followed, docile; seeming unconcerned with the fallen paladin’s robbing her neighbors. He was worried about the purity of the victuals lying on the shelves and in the pantries and larders, but desperation forced his hand. That night they supped on salted pork and stale bread.

When not following Cadrius, Sarra sat on the ground with her knees clutched against her chest. He did not need to ask if she was cold. Instead he fed the fire and doled out the food they had brought with them.

Feeling ashamed, Cadrius had waited until Sarra was not looking before he took the small leather purse with a few silver coins. They would have need of his money should they live long enough to reach a town. A healer would not come without cost, especially if Cadrius dared to speak the truth.

He turns to follow Sarra’s gaze toward the river and wonders if her decision to speak is not a sign of madness. He sees nothing save the flow of cold, dirty water and a fallen log bobbing in the current far upstream. Birds sing overhead, crying sweet songs of territory and longing. Then he spots it. It is not a log at all, but a man. He floats face up, moving at the beck and call of the water. His head collides sharply against a rock before being swept around it and closer to Cadrius and Sarra. As he draws near Cadrius can see he’s bereft of all but the barest modesty—a merchant, most likely, or some other victim of brigands or robbers. His possessions stripped from him, his killers had dumped him into the river to let her dispose of their guilt. Cadrius’ mouth twitches. Stranger or not, none should be buried like this.

“Watch the fire,” he says. The golden light of dawn stretches her fingers across the trees and low hills near the river. The water chills him to his core and his breaths come in deeper gasps as he reaches out and grabs one arm of the dead man. The skin is cool to the touch, but not cold. Cadrius frowns and lifts the corpse from the river. It occurs to him to perhaps hide the body from Sarra, but he thinks better of it. She has seen worse than this and if a dead man’s presence brings her back to the living, then so be it.

“Is he…?”

Cadrius looks at her, seeing clarity reflected in her brown eyes, and gives a tiny nod. She cannot see the cuts that run deep on his back, leaving his flesh little more than ribbons. He lays the corpse down, almost reverent in this act, and looks at him. Tattoos mark his flesh on his arm and shoulder. Cadrius’ brow knits together as he stares at the symbols. The first he knows well. The circles and slashes of goblin glyphs are unmistakable. This one is a former slave. The story reforms in his mind. Perhaps this one had made a break for freedom only to be cut down from behind. Cadrius’ lip curls in disgust. The only thing worse than thieves were slavers.

But there is another mark on him that gives the fallen paladin pause. It is no slave tattoo. He knows the sunburst mark anywhere. This man was not just a worshipper, but a priest of the Shining One. A slave turned holy man? Or a holy man enslaved? It is not for Cadrius to know. However, he knows a spot that would be suitable for a Morning Lord. A hill nearby with a southern face would be a good spot for a cairn and could let the sun drift down on the departed.

“Stay here,” Cadrius says. “I am going to find a spot to lay him to rest. Do not touch anything.”

He leaves Sarra there, feeling a twinge of guilt for abandoning the girl with a corpse, but he is not willing to drag a body up the hill without making certain there are the stones to build a monument for the fallen. Winding between the trees and up the slope, Cadrius pauses halfway and admire the wilderness. The grass trampled underfoot has seen the feet of few men. He will miss it when they venture into the town upstream. To love the wild more than the works of man is a strange thought for a one such as him.

“Cadrius!” Sarra’s call sends a chill through his veins. Instinct guides his hand behind his shoulder, where the hilt of his sword should be, but isn’t. He curses himself for a fool, having left the great blade back by the fire. He takes off running back down the hill as fast as his legs will carry him. Nightmares of robbers and rapers dance in the back of his head, urging him onward as sure as any lash.

He breaks through the last of the brush and back to the river, blood up and dagger in hand. But there are no foes here. It is only Sarra and the man Cadrius thought to be dead. But the corpse’s eyes are open and his chest draws breath. Cadrius’ bedroll props his head up at an angle and their eyes lock. The fallen paladin clutches the dagger more tightly.

“Are you alive?”
  #106  
Unread 5th of May, 2009, 04:17
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Anger and fear. Orc and human. Blarth's two natures battle within him at the sound of the mob. A mob gathered to hunt him down like a bird.

Anger. The orc in him cries out for a stand. Bite and rend. Club and pound. Make them respect you. Make them see your strength.

Fear. The human in him cries out to run. There are too many. You'll be overwhelmed. Resistance will only bring more of them down on you. Get away while you still can.

Anger. The voices of the mob hum with it. Orcs have killed wives, children, parents, and friends. They must be made to pay for their crimes. Orcs must be destroyed.

Fear. The mob is driven by it. Fear of the destruction wrought by orc tribes. Fear of losing those they hold most dear to the rampage of one who is stronger than them. Fear of death.

His eyes wide with the panic that threatens to overwhelm him, Blarth looks at Nicos.
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  #107  
Unread 9th of May, 2009, 01:06
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Are you alive...

Isac can feel the words oozing into his consciousness like blood flowing into sand. His pale sea green eyes stare blankly upward, seeing neither the young girl nor the rugged warrior standing over him.

Eyes searching for the sun.

"Hey, priest, are you alive?"

The thin priest's lips crack and air begins to rattle through his throat for a moment before dropping back into his chest. Pain latches onto the side of his neck like a rabid wolf causing his frozen limbs to convulse clumsily. Bits and pieces of memory come back to him.

Ricard's house...the ledger...Skathos...

A shaky hand lightly touches the still open wound.

Why am I still alive?

Isac closes his eyes, and reflexively reaches out to the Eternal Lantern.

Pelor is the Light and the Way...

Holy light faintly glows under his palm as the warmth of the Sunlord flows through his body.

"Yes."
  #108  
Unread 11th of May, 2009, 12:37
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Nicos barely bit back a curse as the sounds of the unruly mob drifted towards them through the forest. Someone must have spotted Blarth in the city and followed him out to the wilderness, or this was a random alcohol fueled patrol. Either way the result would be the same. Even as shorted tempered as he had been of late Nicos didn't relish the thought of becoming entangled in a free for all with a lynch mob. A glance at the panic in Blarth's eyes quickly dismissed the possibility of flight, the half-orc was the most woodland savvy of the small group, but only if he had his wits about him.

The other options exhausted before they began, Nicos grabbed a hooded cloak and draped it over Blarth's shoulders.

"Lyn," Nicos hissed to his companion. "Get over here. No offence Blarth - but we need to hide his features. Can you do that?"

"With what?" Lyn retorted, glancing around at their makeshift campsite. "I didn't exactly remember to bring costume powder with me."

"Improvise." Nicos said back, biting off the word.

"Fine," Lyn said as she started to carefully rub dirt onto Blarth's features. "They'll want to know why we're out here if we're not with a half-orc you know."

"Yes I know," Nicos said, shooting the young woman a withering look. "I'll think of something." I hope.
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  #109  
Unread 14th of May, 2009, 11:13
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Cadrius once stood on the pier in his homeland, talking to a captain as his men unloaded barrels and crates from his ship. They had made port in late afternoon and the tired sailors bent double, trying to hurry their labors to make time for the evening’s drinking and wenching. The rich orange light spilled over the quay, painting the masts of moored galleys.

Captain Middleton bore the weathered lines in his face of a man married to ship and sea first and his wife second. He was as salty as any dog that crewed his caravel, but kept his etiquette when before the duke’s son. Cadrius felt out of place in his own home, wearing his rich livery. The gold and green surcoat bearing his family’s mark reminded him of the divide betwixt the two worlds. There are those who rule and those who must be ruled, but in the open sea, every captain is a king and every ship his kingdom.

“Oh, aye,” Middleton said. “There are risks going up river to the other duchies. Pardon my speech, lord, but you dukes are wont to grab a man’s ship and cargo if you think him to be delivering aid to an enemy.”

Cadrius nodded. Even in times of relative peace, there were always rivals to watch and gain advantage over.

“You have seen your share of danger?”

“More than you know, m’lord,” he says. “But the risks are often worth the rewards.”

“And what risks are those?” He knows the answer, but wants to hear it said. Later, he will ask his father if he has ever seized a ship and kept it as his own.

“The good ones will empty your hold and pay you for your trouble. The others, well, if you can’t speak you can’t complain about losing your ship, can you? Dead men tell no tales.”

Dead men tell no tales. He thinks of this now, looking at the priest who had been floating dead in the river. Perhaps they tell no tales, but can a dead man lie? But it is not the glow of magic from his hands, knitting flesh together, that convinces him that the priest is alive. It’s the fire that blazes behind his eyes. It is the burning will to live.

Sarra stands nearby, uncertain. Cadrius tucks the blade back into his belt.

“What happened to you, priest?”
  #110  
Unread 18th of May, 2009, 11:23
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Isac is silent for awhile, not wanting to leave the blissful state of communion. While casting he feels himself being lifted from the demands of the the physical world into the supernal realm of spirit where he is free. Free from cold, and hunger, and pain. Free from loss, and dispair. Free from the past.

Free from the diluvian weight of life as it crashes down on him.

Like chains of lead, the reality of the world of flesh wraps itself around his spirit dragging him down into the nearly naked, miserable, shivering husk of being. It was the same every time, and every time it was almost more than he could bear.

Then, a single ray pierces the gloom of his mind. A tiny mote of human kindness no bigger than a small girl's hand, and no wider than the worn, wool blanket that she hesitantly wraps about his shoulders.

"Thank you," he whispers, drawing the coarse fibers tightly around himself. Her eyes are filled with shock and pain, and she quickly retreats behind the warrior. Behind but not embracing...

"I think," he starts roughly then drops into a fit of coughing. Even healed Skathos's blade still haunted his flesh. The warrior pours a slug of water into a leather cup and offers it. The drink's coolness helps greatly. "I think someone decided to give me a swimming lesson." He forces a weak smile and finishes the water.
  #111  
Unread 21st of May, 2009, 06:47
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Unsure of what Nicos and Lynn are about, Blarth's actions as they first attempt to mask his more obvious orcish features are counter productive. Their insistence, however, soon gets the message across and he steadily becomes more pliant to their efforts even if his own actions aren't exactly helpful.

Once they are satisfied with their work, Nicos steers Blarth towards the fire ring and instructs him to sit with his back towards the approaching mob, which is quite close now.

"Act as if you can't hear anything," Nicos hisses as he and Lynn move to take up "casual" positions between Blarth and the mob.

Unsure of what exactly that will accomplish, Blarth nevertheless picks up a stick and begins stirring the remnants of their campfire with it, doing his best to ignore the sounds of the mob as it breaks into the clearing.
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  #112  
Unread 1st of June, 2009, 14:32
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He cocks an eyebrow at the priest's wry response. The priest understates his fate by seven leagues, but Cadrius merely gives a quick nod and kneels by the fire. He pulls a small pot from his rucksack and hangs it over the low fire. Sarra stands nearby, transfixed by the torn flesh, now healed to a bright pink.

"We do not have much," he says, "but it should warm you."

The stew is modest indeed. Cadrius has never been much of a cook, but it has salt pork, potatoes, and carrots and a thick, albeit bland, broth. Nevertheless it is hearty and will warm the bones if not the soul. Soon the smell fills the air.

"I am Cadrius," he says, fetching a worn wooden bowl and a rough spoon. "This is my daughter Sarra."

"Isac," he says with a weak bow.

Steam wafts up from the pot and Cadrius pours a helping into the bowl. He offers it to the priest who takes it gratefully. He holds the plain bowl reverently, breathing in the warmth of the steaming vapors. He forces himself to eat slowly, partly in the name of etiquette, partly to keep the wound in this throat from reopening.

It is, quite possibly, the best stew he has ever eaten.

Except for the scarping of wooden spoons and the murmuring of the river, they eat more or less in silence. Half way through his second bowl Isac realizes his holy symbol is missing. The shock drops like chilled lead brick onto the warm pillow of stew in his gut. He glances forlornly at the river then returns to politely finishing his food.

There is nothing that can be done about it now.

"Are you two heading towards town?" he asks quietly as he idly pushes his last piece of pork through the thick, brown broth with his spoon.
  #113  
Unread 4th of June, 2009, 10:51
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The town walls did little to impress. Worn stone was weathered and cracked in places. In others, more prominent fissures had been filled by masons using whatever mortar they could. The town watch, too sparse for Cadrius’ liking, made the occasional pass along the top. Cloaked men bearing the checkered shield of the town turned their eyes toward the horizon where the wild lurked and waited.

Cadrius had fastened his surcoat tight over the mail and chain beneath, muffling the clank of metal against metal. There was no hiding his shield or sword though and he was stopped at the gate by the cautious guards. However, their fears were allayed by his lie. He, his daughter, and his brother Isac were traveling from their village a week’s journey to the north.

At the mention of Sarra, one man leered, trying to see if any curves of womanhood were present through her roughspun dress. Cadrius resisted the urge to split his face open with a mailed hand.

He had dressed Isac in the spare clothes he kept in the rucksack. Once fine, they were dirtied, torn, and patched in places from two years of exile. Too big, the shirt and trousers almost resembled robes. The priest had been forced to cut a new notch in the belt just to cinch it together.

“This man, Skathos you say,” Cadrius says, passing beneath the arch and into the town proper. “If he finds you again he will only make certain the job is finished.”

“Perhaps.” The priest’s reply is too serene for Cadrius’ liking.

“I cannot involve myself,” Cadrius says, nodding his head toward Sarra. “I cannot put her life at risk.”

“No,” Isac says. “You can’t.”

Cadrius frowns. The admission and recognition of his helplessness irks him. His life has been spent protecting, serving, and honoring one cause or another. Here is a man who claims innocence, was left for dead, and Cadrius must stand by like a mewling babe because of his charge. Perhaps he owes nothing to this girl. Perhaps he owes her everything. He cannot say if that dread plague would have struck had he not arrived. His fate is one of a fall from grace. Divine wrath knows no bounds.

“Perhaps the watch…”

“Skathos is a powerful man,” Isac says. “He has many friends.”

Grabbing the priest’s arm he pulls him into an alley. The acrid stench of offal fills his nose. A beggar, dying of some god forsaken disease, moans piteously from his pile of rags and filth. Sarra flicks her eyes between Cadrius and the dying beggar, alarmed. She has not been outside of a village. She hasn’t seen the wretchedness that comes with cities and the gathering of men.

“Then you will die.”

“Mayhap. If that comes to pass then I hope Pelor will find my soul worthy and welcome me to Elysium with open arms.”

His piety is as infuriating, but it cuts Cadrius deeper than he likes. Here is the certainty of a man blessed from on high. What sins he might bear have not tipped the scales away. His soul will find warmth and love in the everafter by the light’s blessing. He will roam the fields and valleys of paradise, pausing only occasionally to look up at the great Citadel that rests upon the highest peaks in that land of perfect goodness.

The envy is overwhelming.

“I cannot let you do this,” Cadrius says. “You will need me. There will be another way.”

He does not do this out of kindness. He wants the priest to live another day in this hard, painful, cold world. He wants to deny the faithful his reward for at least another turn of the Shining One. Perhaps Cadrius’ penance is not to make right on his past deeds, but to make certain others earn their ends.

He does not do it out of kindness. He does it out of spite.
  #114  
Unread 5th of June, 2009, 12:02
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Nicos turned to face the mob, screwing his face up into an expression sneer, his hand moving towards his sword hilt. Grasping only air on his hip, the bard realised his weapon still lay on the dirt several feet away, where he had thrown it in frustration not too long ago. Making a fist instead, he eyed the mob.

"What do you think you're doing," he demanded in a nasal voice, making his lines up as he went hoping a solution would present itself. "This is private property!"

For not the first time he wished one of the more imposing members of his entourage were still around. He was painfully aware that the combination of himself and Lynn would fail to strike fear into the heart of even the most craven coward.
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  #115  
Unread 10th of June, 2009, 09:33
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"You read the signs wrong, all wrong," Shade says grimly as she surveys the scene in Ricard's study. Juni holds her breath, half-expecting Shade's frustration to erupt into another violent outburst.

"What do you mean?" she dares to ask in spite of her reluctance to draw Shade's ire.

"Someone came for him, yes, but not to tend his wounds. They stripped him, took what they wanted, and left the bloody rags behind." Shade sighs, sounding more tired than anything. Tired and beaten. "Then they took the body and dumped it," she adds, pointing to the bloody trail leading out of the door.

"You think he's... "

"Of course he is. If he was alive when they started their dirty work, they finished him off. Isac is dead."

Juni looks down at the blood-spattered floor, feeling sick inside. Poor Isac! He had only been trying to help them. She thinks of him as she'd last seen him alive: a thin figure suffused with golden light; a man holding the power of the Sun in his hand. He, least of all of them, deserved to die.

But she will have to mourn him later. Right now her main concern is Shade. Without Isac to keep the curse in check, how long will she last?

"Let's go meet up with Nicos and Blarth," Juni says finally, wiping away a few stray tears. As she turns toward the door, a glint of gold from under Ricard's desk catches her eye. She crosses the room and stoops to retrieve what she's found.

"It's Isac's sunburst," she says, wonderingly. It is heavy, an intricate piece of metalwork, gold on silver, quite possibly of elven make although Juni is certainly no expert. It's beautiful.

How can he be dead?

Juni tucks the holy symbol inside her blouse next to her psi crystal, and then follows Shade out of the room.
  #116  
Unread 12th of June, 2009, 14:08
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“What is the meaning of this?”

The thronging mass turns to see the owner of the booming voice. They move as one, reeking with the threat of blood and murder. Their eyes burn with hatred and fear, searching for purpose that ends in a red ruin. Yet the crack of the fallen paladin’s voice is like the flick of a whip over their heads. His every word and action drips with the authority of one born to privilege and command.

“Are the lot of you deaf?” He advances on them as a murmur spreads through their ranks. The large shield on his arm is dented and dulled from many blows. The haft of the massive sword jutting above his shoulder is well worn from use. His blue eyes blaze with rage. Cadrius does not look like a lordling, fresh out of his mother’s care. He storms upon this mob as one of the kings of old: those that were forged in the fires of carnage and steel. A ripple of uncertainty rolls through the mob.

Sarra stands behind Isac, half shielded by the slim priest’s frame. After spotting his former comrades Blarth and Nicos, he pulled him aside and instructed the priest to spirit Sarra away to the Three Cups Tavern should the worst happen. Last Cadrius knew, an old campaigner by the name of Bartelman lived here. He was a good man, or was in the years he had served Cadrius’ father. It was a gamble to even assume he lived, but if he had not yet been laid low by axe or spear, then he would be found lurking in the tavern he always spoke of around the cookfires. Isac’s business was his own

“I am Sir Cadrius of Somerest,” he says, the bark of command coming as easily to him as breathing. He comes to a stop a dozen paces from the mob, allowing enough space to pull his blade and cut down the first daring enough to challenge him if need be. “These two are my men and they, and those with them, are under my protection.”

“So let me ask again.” He flexes his sword hand. The metal of the gauntlet creaks with deadly intent and a dangerous gleam sparks in his eyes. “What is the meaning of this?”

Last edited by Cadrius; 12th of June, 2009 at 14:45.
  #117  
Unread 13th of June, 2009, 05:52
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"What do you think you're doing. This is private property!"

At Nicos' demand, the mob seems to instinctively turn to one of its members for a response. Before he can formulate a reply to the absurd claim, however, a new voice breaks in.

"What is the meaning of this?"

Turning with the rest, the apparent leader looks like just another member of the mob. As the newcomer continues to speak, however, a cold rage burns behind his eyes, very unlike the confusion that can be found elsewhere. Indeed, closer inspection reveals that very little of this man is like the rest of the mob. Where most brandish hammers, sickles, knives, picks, and other tools as their weapons, he carries an old short sword, a true weapon, and one which certain eyes would recognize if they considered it close enough. Where most wear clothes that have clearly seen hard use but have been kept in good repair, his are clearly new under their current layer of dirt.

"What is the meaning of this?" the newcomer asks again as the apparent leader slinks out of sight, and the mob, now leaderless, begins to try and formulate its own response.

"We're hunting orc!" a voice shouts.

"This is old man Tate's land!" another exclaims.

"You're a long way from Somerest!" a third adds.
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  #118  
Unread 24th of June, 2009, 15:08
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It took Nicos several seconds and a double look for the identity of the man who had stepped forth from the surrounding brush to sink it. Cadrius - a man who had been sucked into the conspiracies of the mages beside him, and one who had hasn't seen since Blarth and himself and set off after Shade.

Placeing an even greater strain of disbelief on the situation were Cadrius' companions. An unknown slip of a girl, and Isaac, a cleric who had only recently begun to travel with them. Were this a tale, Nicos' bardic instincts warned him away from the improbability of the situation. Dozens of questions dashed through his mind, chased away by the reality of the angry crowed scant feet away. Now was not the time.

The crowed recoiled at the authority Cadrius wielded with as firm a grasp as any weapon, but did not withdraw. Content to let the former paladin take the lead in confronting the mob, the bard began to measure the distance between himself and his discarded sword. If things turned ugly he would need it in a hurry.
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  #119  
Unread 24th of June, 2009, 22:03
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Dead.

Shade can feel the weight of her unnatural hand, hidden beneath her cloak and swathed in a long length of blue silk. Hidden, but still a grotesque abomination. It wouldn't be long before the rest of her body would follow. Thoughts of Skathros, the horror he'd become, set her gorge rising.

And she knew it wasn't just deformed, it was dead.

Still part of her, still functioning, capable of things she could not have imagined even days ago. That was the fate she was walking toward even now. Isac had been her last hope, and a slim hope that had been. There was nothing left now.

She moves forward doggedly, filled with the same sick hate that came with this creeping illness, pushing hard toward Nicos and Blarth. To what end? They couldn't stave off this horror the way Isac had. Her step slows, the throbbing in her head causing her to grit her teeth. Shade stops moving completely, the good fingers of her right hand massaging her temples. Behind her, she can hear Juni's tread falter uncertainly and then end. She can feel the familiar weight of her swords across her hips. It had been her answer to life up until now and it comes to her in that instant that it would be her answer once again.

She looks back at the clairvoyant, her stony eyes burning. It would be best for all of them this way. Sweat dampens her back at the thought; beneath the flimsy covering, her heavy hand clenches spasmodically, seeking something to crush, to kill. Her head is pounding, darkening the edge of her vision, reducing her world to a tunnel focused forward. Moments pass while she tries to find the words for the frightened, concerned gaze across from her.

It is Arjuna who speaks first, reaching out a tentative hand to grasp her shoulder. Clearly she means to try to comfort her friend in spite of her own misgivings. "Shade, everything is going to be all right."

She shakes the hand off roughly, winds her fingers around the hilt of her sword.

"Neither of us believe that."

Take it. Take this blade and slit my throat.

It would be a kindness - her mind would go before long, same as her body, turning her into a rotting beast. Better a clean death now than an interminable time as a mindless abomination. She'd seen Skathros, still clinging to bits of his former self. She wouldn't go there, but even so the words won't come out. It's too great a burden for Arjuna, and Shade knows it, but she wasn't the only person in the world.

"We need to get back to the others. Maybe Nicos can help."

"Nicos?" The other woman gives her a quizzical look. "Well, yes, certainly he will be able to help. Blarth too... "

The pale brow furrows. "What are you thinking, Shade?" she asks, sounding suddenly alarmed. The pair stare at each other for a moment, Arjuna's silver-blue eyes searching the shadowy depths of Shade's own, as if she might read her mind. "Shade? Don't you dare give up! We still have the information in Ricard's journal, remember that."

Shade looks away, breaking the contact with those oddly penetrating eyes, afraid that if she listens she'll have hope.

"You saw him. I won't let that happen to me."

She rubs her eyes, tired, grim, sick of holding back the dark tide of malevolence that writhes in her blood. Something in Arjuna's plea slides past her carefully crafted walls, dodges the visceral anger of the curse and finds the woman inside. A woman who had learned that to survive meant to push through hardship and do what needed to be done.

"But enough of that. The journal - you found something? You weren't just lying to Skathros?"

by Gral & Kel
  #120  
Unread 29th of June, 2009, 01:02
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A sick dread sits like a heavy weight in the pit of Juni's stomach.

"I won't let that happen to me."

Of course Shade would not, should not, let it happen. To become like Skathros, to allow the transformation to reach its conclusion, is unthinkable. And a true friend would aid her in any way that she could. Even if it means...

No! She can't expect me to do that!

Are you her friend or are you not?


A quick thrust of the sword and the blade slides into the belly up to the hilt. Hot blood flows over her fingers and Vywodor staggers back from her in shock, then falls to his knees. He stares up at her, gasping his last convulsive breaths, and ... it is over.

Juni shudders, the memory of her teacher's death surfacing suddenly, almost like one of her visions of the future. Reflexively, she wipes her hands on her skirt, remembering the blood and feeling it still wet and sticky on her fingers.

Could she do it again? Could she kill? She had barely used the sword since then. And how could she use it against someone she cares about? But if Shade begins to lose herself in the curse, she'll lose her own will as well. She won't be herself any more...

"I said, did you find something in Ricard's journal?"

Disoriented, Juni shakes her head and finds Shade looking at her, grim and determined as ever, but with no real hope in her eyes.

"Yes, yes, I found something," Juni answers, pushing aside thoughts of what may yet need to be done. "You'll have to help me make sense of some of it, but he definitely mentions the scroll, and-"

At this point she is jostled by a passing townsman, and Juni realizes that they have stopped in the middle of the walkway. This might not be the best place to discuss the contents of Ricard's journal. She lowers her voice.

"We'll talk about it back at the meeting place. Come on."

Last edited by Kelemyn; 29th of June, 2009 at 01:06.
  #121  
Unread 14th of July, 2009, 14:37
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The mob is uncertain but not without purpose. Their aim is violence and Blarth is the bullseye. He draws their ire from his pointed ears and orcish jowls. Perhaps they hate half-breeds here in the north as much they do the parents, or maybe they are simply too ignorant to know better. They stomp and snarl, a vicious beast. Cadrius’ lip curls. He longs to speak with words of steel; his blade can sing as sweet as any choir. He watches it play out in his mind. It could be no matter to take the heads of the first two men, watching them go down in gouts of crimson. Seeing death doled out in heaps, the rest would be cowed like the cattle that they are.

But that was a different time and a different man. Cadrius has an obligation. As likely as he was to throttle this mob through strength of arms, he could die. They could overrun him, bash his skull in with a rock and take Isac and Sarra too. He cannot allow that. He swore an oath—the last he shall ever pledge—and he aims to keep this one. Where he has failed his family, his order, and his god, Cadrius will not fail this little girl.
So it is that the fallen paladin, a man who has walked the life of the sword for so long, does not draw his blade and wreak bloody mayhem upon the smallfolk of this distant border town. He crushes the urge, but keeps his baleful glare fixed upon the crowd.

“Aye,” he says, “I am far from Somerest, but that gives me no fewer rights here as a knight of the order. If my men have strayed onto Tate’s land, then it is but an innocent mistake. Yet if you take issue with my men, you take issue with both me and a good friend of mine: the captain of the guard.”

“He knows Balent?”
“He’s a liar.”
“The orc must pay!”

Cadrius raises his voice over the din. “We used to campaign together. Perhaps I should ask him and a dozen of his best to come down, and investigate, eh? The guards do look bored. I am certain they would love to find a mob to break up.”

“He’s full of shit!”
“I don’t want any part of Balent and his boys.”

The guards of these border towns are often times little better than the criminals and monsters they strive to keep out. Order is obtained through absolute force. The men relish their power and exercise it wherever they can. Between the local government and the church, Cadrius wonders if there is an honest man here. Perhaps Isac is one of them, but probably not. A man who is stabbed and left for dead in a river must have lies of his own that he keeps. Nicos spins thick webs of his own. No, if there are any innocents here it is Sarra and Blarth. They deserve a better world, a sweeter one, but Cadrius cannot offer them that. All he can do is grant them this reprieve from the world’s cruelty for this hour on this day. He can give no guarantees beyond that soon enough, the world will try and grind them down again, and soon.

“Isac,” Cadrius says, “Go and fetch Captain Balent and his men. I am certain they would welcome a little entertainment.”

The members of the mob exchange worried glances. They squabble and squawk like feuding birds. But the tapestry of hate that binds them is frayed and unravels with haste. Men begin to scatter while others yell and fume. One man, a wild passion burning in his eyes, tries to rally the crowd and stir them back into action with fiery rhetoric, but the damage is done. The mob disperses. Furious, he and three others stalk toward Cadrius. The fallen paladin gives no ground, but his hand slides toward the dagger at his belt.

“You staying long here?” The first man points a thick sausage finger at Cadrius’ chest.

“Oh, I do not think so. I have business to attend elsewhere.”

“Good.” The man spits on the earth near Cadrius’ feet. “You should find the trail soon, sir. It gets dangerous after dark. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to your lordship.”

“Kind advice. I shall remember it.”

The men leave, grumbling about greenskins and the sullying of knighthood. Cadrius watches them go, wondering if all men are this wicked and if so, why the gods still care for this world. Nicos approaches, the one armed bard swaggering despite his brush with death. A wry smile curves the corner of his mouth.

“Nicos,” Cadrius says. “I see some things never change.”

“You have good timing.” Nicos cocks an eyebrow. “Do you really know the captain?”

Cadrius casts a glance at the dispersed, receding crowd and shrugs. “Whether I know him or not we should leave this place. Now. Blarth, it is good to see you again. Come along. We can catch up on the way.”
  #122  
Unread 14th of July, 2009, 21:08
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With the immediate danger gone, Nicos became aware of his heart beating a staccato rhythm within his chest and a cold sweat dripping down the back of his neck. The sudden urge to laugh welled within him, a heady surge of relief from escaping intimate violence. With some effort he managed to suppress it and sauntered over to Cadrius.

“Nicos,” Cadrius says. “I see some things never change.”

“You have good timing.” Nicos cocks an eyebrow. “Do you really know the captain?”

“Whether I know him or not we should leave this place. Now. Blarth, it is good to see you again. Come along. We can catch up on the way.”


"It's hella amusing," the bard commented making no effort to move on. "To see you sway a mob away from violence." The memory of his first encounter with dour sellsword in Karkas arose fresh to mind, the trial and general riot that had been its companion. Less then a year had passed since those events, but they seemed a lifetime ago.

"We still have a slight problem" Nicos hedged. "We were meant to meet some friends a few days ago, but they seemed to have gone missing. Somehow I doubt that it's a coincidence that the rabble happened to be here hunting for Orcs."

The bard paused, his dramatic instincts timing the gap before adding the next bit.

"Shade was one of them."

During their journey to the hidden mage citadel, Nicos had harboured the suspicion that the pair had entertained a secret tryst, but if the look that crossed Cadrius' face contained any clues, he wasn't able to read it.

"And if that wasn't enough," Nicos continued after another dramatic pause, shifting his attention to Isaac. "I'm praying the others don't look half as dead as you do."
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  #123  
Unread 15th of July, 2009, 02:50
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"Shade is still one of them."

Her voice is tight - controlled, but with an edge that indicates suppressed anger - as the two enter the clearing. Shade moves with grim economy, her monstrous hand carefully concealed beneath her cloak. At her side, Arjuna looks relieved to see the others but there is tension in her brow.

"And I'll show you half - ", she begins with a hint of her old determination. She breaks off suddenly, staring at the man speaking to Nicos. Such is her surprise that she very nearly takes a step backward. Instead, her face loses all expression, becoming a pallid mask. Above the harsh line of her scar, her eyes seethe in turmoil.

"Cadrius."

Her thoughts whirl suddenly, bitterness shot through with regret. Why was he here? Anger flares, born of fear. She was a monster, with death hovering near even now. She is aware of his eyes on her, and within, an urge to flee this place and his judgment. Through it all flows the sick, dull heat of her rage as it consumes her flesh and her soul.
  #124  
Unread 16th of July, 2009, 02:20
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Turning to look at Cadrius when he first announced himself had probably been a bad idea. It had allowed some members of the mob a chance to see his face and confirm that he was at least part orc. Blarth's surprise and Cadrius' unexpected return, however, had made the move almost involuntary and Cadrius had been able to disperse the crowd despite it.

Turning to see Shade when she walked into the clearing, however, was definitely a bad idea.

"Death which is not death," Blarth mutters in orcish when he sees her. Her aura bears it clearly now: fully developed and no longer held in check by Isac's healing magic. There was no denying it and his tribes traditions were clear on the course of action.

Grabbing his club, Blarth raises it over his head as he starts towards Shade, fully prepared to burst her head like an overripe melon. Her eyes flicker to him, their gazes lock, and Blarth's actions are halted by what he sees there.

It is not the rage... No, not rage, Blarth new and controlled rage himself. This was anger, unbridled hate, the unrestrained hate of the thing that Shade was becoming. It is what was behind that that stopped him. The fear, the grit, and the resignation that he saw which stopped him.

Fear. Fear of what she would become, of what she would do when she fully succumbed to hate. The fear that Shade would never let show if she had anything to say about it.

Grit. The determination to fight that so characterized the Shade that he knew. Her will to live, was so like what he had experienced around him growing up and was what continually drew him to her.

Resignation. The recognition of what Blarth meant to do and the acceptance that it was the right thing to do.

Those three emotions showed more than anything that Shade was not gone yet. That there still was a chance to lift the curse before it consumed her and Blarth clung to that chance.

Lowering his arms slowly, Blarth lets his club drop to the ground. Taking the dream root from his belt pouch, Blarth turns his back on Shade, unwilling to look at what she is becoming, and moves to Isac's side.

"Do what you can for her," he says, turning over the dream root. "Before I am forced to do what must be done."

Still careful to keep his back to Shade, Blarth sits at the side of the fire ring again, his eyes focusing on the charcoal and ash remnants, shutting out the world around him.
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  #125  
Unread 17th of July, 2009, 08:51
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Isac's heart freezes as he watches the half-orc raise his club to strike. Hate wells up in him as the beast's tusked visage leers at him. The lash and worse had beat a hatred for the goblin so deep into his soul that even now, after so many years, its strength surprised him. Under his shirt his sunburst tattoo burns with wrath as the thin priest reaches out to the divine.

Pelor is the Light that purifies, the Flame that burns the unclean.

His chest feels on fire as he channels the wrath of the Sun God through the sigils in his flesh. Black markings made from the ashes of St. Auric the Deliverer and etched into his skin with the sharpened finger bone of St. Sebastian the Purifier. Holy symbols that connected him bodily to the divine and branded him as a ieros poliemitz - a holy warrior of Thuranoc.

He takes a half step towards the orc, the hot kiss of divine magics nascent on his soul, and murder on his mind.

Then, a gold disk flashes in Juni's hand.

Sheolign

Isac's rage evaporates like mist, revealing the truth.

It wasn't Blarth that he hated, it was himself.

Blarth wasn't the one who violated cannon law.

Blarth wasn't the one who let the weakness of the flesh cloud his mind to his duty.

Blarth wasn't the one who let them all die.

"Do what you can for her, before I am forced to do what I must." Coarse fingers push the tuber into Isac's hand.

The priest stares at the dried herb mutely, his mind still numb from his insight, and the knowledge of what must be done.

Last edited by -J-; 17th of July, 2009 at 11:13.
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