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 The Mansion in the Woods

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The Chatterbox

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PostSubject: The Mansion in the Woods   Sat Oct 28, 2017 8:00 pm

The sun slowly climbed over the mountain range and sent its rays across the world, gingerly caressing the land as it announced the dawn of a new day. What few clouds that remained broke under the star's shower of light and the world and its inhabitants started to rouse. The multitude of villages that surrounded the large, stone monastery were the first to show signs of life. Farmers starting their day, going out to the field to get some work done before breakfast and the morning prayers, their wives lighting fires and preparing the ovens to cook. Smoke puffing through the chimneys, a dog barking as a shepherd took his flock of sheep into the fields. Life began to stir as it did every day.

Except that today was not the usual day. Mother Dilia, Prioress, ruler and overseer of the Monastery of Saint-Natalie, had declared that this would be a day of Sending, when the worthy Associates would be promoted to the rank of Priest and be placed within a party belonging to the Order of the Sword, and sent out beyond the boundaries of the civilized world to bring the word of the Lord to those untouched by His Light. It was a day of feast, a festival that only happened once sufficient Associates were found worthy, an event that took place less than once every dozen years.

As the sun steadily climbed higher and shone brightly on the children of the Lord, the faithful in the monastery began to stir as well.
Glissandi, First Associate, hopped out of bed the moment the first bell rang. She had been eagerly awaiting this day. She gracefully slid out of her nightgown and picked it up in the same movement. Folding it in but a moment, she tucked it away neatly in the chest that held all her belongings. She would let no Sister catch her being anything less than perfectly neat, and even less so on on this day. Nearly skipping through her little room, she went through her small bag and searched for her comb. Usually the daily chore of having to brush her long, sun-blonde hair was a task she dreaded doing, but not today. Finally, after all those years she'd be sent out! Promoted to the rank of Priestess and be set free of the confines of the monastery! Free to enjoy the world and bring knowledge of Him and His glory to those unfortunate enough to not yet know of Him!

As she pulled the comb through her shoulder length hair she stared in the mirror and paused. Gingerly touching her reflection she marvelled at her pale, smooth skin, the large, sea-blue eyes staring back at her, how the sunlight glittered in her shoulder-length hair. Her lips twitched upwards and she smiled as she admired her own form. She was beautiful. Most of it was her own beauty too. It was common practise for any girl or boy growing up into the Priesthood to be slightly altered through magical means to improve their looks. When the Mother had first explained that to her and the other students, some had made a fuss about it. Despite all of them having a high degree of magical affinity themselves, the main requirement in order to be allowed to study to become a Priest or Priestess, most of the students had been uneasy about being magically altered. Her smile deepened as she thought back on that day. She had taken the Mother off guard with her question. What purpose does this serve? She had not complained, not cried out, she had merely asked the reason. The pain that she had momentarily felt as the Mother pinched her cheek had been immediately overshadowed when the holy woman had called her a bright girl whom she had good hopes for. And she had given her answer. It eased conversion and lowered the risk of them encountering harm during their missionary work.

The bell rang again and she chastised herself for letting her thoughts drift off. She couldn't afford to! Not today! Especially not today! She raced back to her chest and pulled out her gown. A long, lace gown, without the magic that official Priestesses had to keep it clean, it was still a beautiful thing, and as the sun poured through the small window it seemed to dance in her hands, the light cascading over it. Yes, today was the day!

She wasted little time in getting dressed and offered a small prayer to the Lord, thanking him from the bottom of her heart, and went outside, taking up her place in front of her room, awaiting the Sister that would soon appear. She looked left and right and found the hallway to be still empty. Her lips curled upwards again but she forced them down this time. She should take no pleasure in seeing that her fellow Associates were once again tardy. And on the day of Sending of all days! She shook her head, dismissing the thought. Yet in the back of her head that little voice fed her pride. She was smarter than the others. She was faster than the others! Her magical affinity and abilities far outstripped those of anyone else and even Mother Dilia had applauded the girl for the fast progress she made in all of her studies! She would be the youngest Associate rising to the much desired rank of Priestess today and she had earned it well and truly!

Sister Valerie's arrival interrupted her proud thoughts and Glissandi immediately straightened up at her arrival. The older Sister smiled warmly at the much younger girl. "Good morning Associate."
"Good morning Sister Valerie!"
"It would seem your fellow Associates are sleeping in again," Valerie said with a smile, but this time it lacked its earlier warmth. Glissandi knew better than to give an answer to that. She could feel the Sister pulling magical energy towards her, the strands of the world bending slightly as the energy pooled in the woman. Glissandi closed her eyes. She could read the weave the Sister was making and knew that the other girls were in for a very unpleasant awakening.
"Good morning!" the Sister cried out, her voice echoing through the hallway as she simultaneously cast out her spell. It slipped through the wood of the doors and crashed into the girls without warning. Screams rose from their rooms instantly as the spell made them feel as if their bottoms were being thoroughly switched. Glissandi shook her head quietly at Valerie's satisfied grin.

A short while later all the Associates had been gathered into the courtyard under the watchful eyes of the Sisters. These women lacked the ability to climb up to Priestess and instead served the Lord by maintaining the monastery and helped to raise the next generation of Priestesses. They were like hawks watching prey. And on a day of Sending, up till the very moment their charges would be officially promoted, even the tiniest deviation from protocol would result in a harsh and immediate punishment. The two dozen girls present stood in perfect lines and barely dared to breathe. Somehow it put Glissandi at ease. She felt how the Sisters' gaze swept over her rather than focusing on her. She had never given them reason to punish her. She had dutifully obeyed their every command, had been studious in every subject and had amazed her teachers with a zeal that had put some of the Sisters' themselves to shame. Everyone in the monastery had known she would be a Priestess before long, and a handful suspected, worried, or hoped, that her ambitions would take her higher than that. She was capable of it and today she would take the first step on that road. Her eyes firmly fixed on the empty pulpit, she knew that she radiated eagerness and pride. And she knew she would have been caned for it more than once if she hadn't have had the ability to back it up. As Sister Valerie had once told her, there was a thin line between proper confidence in your own ability, and arrogance.

The doors of the Chapel opened and shattered her thoughts, casting them to the wind. Everyone present held their breath as the Prioress left the innermost sanctum of the monastery and gracefully made her way over to the pulpit. Despite being well over a century old, she looked as if she hardly had outgrown her youth. Her thick, brown hair was tucked neatly inside her veil. In stark contrast with the white gowns of the Associates, Mother Dilia wore a black habit adorned with gold brocades, signifying her rank. A small, red rosary lay between her breasts, given to her by a Cardinal for her faithful services. The Prioress radiated faith and energy and her smile warmed the heart of all who witnessed it. Even the Sisters' had to cease throwing angry stares at the Associates as the woman took her place. Silence fell over the courtyard and not even the birds dared to make a sound. Mother Dilia spread her arms and spoke, her voice resonating with joy and authority, filling the courtyard and the hearts of those listening.

"Sisters. Associates. We thank the Lord for today. He has sheltered us and given us peace and prosperity, and in turn we serve Him. Today more so than others, for today is a day of Sending! Over the years we have nurtured these young women. We have seen them grow in knowledge and ability and today we shall bestow the rank of Priestess on a number of them. It is a title you all strive for, a title not easily given, yet know that those of you who shall leave this monastery today can carry it proudly, for you well and truly deserve it. And for those who will not be promoted today, do not lose heart! We all serve the Lord to the best of our ability, and your teaching is not yet at an end." She lowered her arms and looked down on the small crowd that gazed back at her with adoration. She smiled broadly at them.
"Glissandi Di Elianta, First Associate, step forward!" she cried out.

Glissandi swore she could hear her heart beating so loudly that she feared it would drown out the Prioress' words. Filled to the brim with happiness she left her place in the formation and walked to the front. She could feel the gaze of all the occupants of the monastery on her. The admiring and approving looks of the Sisters who knew she earned the right, despite her young age, not even having passed into a second decade of her life. The boring eyes of her fellow Associates, most who regarded her with envy and jealousy, and a few who shared her happiness. The awe-inspired looks of the Aspirants, the young girls hiding in the corners of the courtyard, who had looked up to the kind Associate who always had been eager to help them. And the warm, motherly look of the Prioress, who had taken a personal hand in seeing that a young Glissandi had grown up into a capable young woman. Reaching the small altar in front of the pulpit, Glissandi knelt down and lowered her head to the stones in front of the large cross.
"Glissandi Di Elianta! By the right granted to me by the Mother Supreme, I hereby promote you to Priestess of the Order! May you forever walk in the Light and serve the Lord, spreading His word where ever you may go and aiding His cause where ever you are! May you carry His name on your lips, always, and may His teachings find shelter in your heart!"
Glissandi looked up and kissed the cross, before standing up again as the Prioress stepped down from the pulpit. The older woman's eyes twinkled with happiness and pride. She grabbed Glissandi by the shoulders and kissed her forehead.
"You have earned this, child. It was an honour teaching you, and I am certain that you have a promising future ahead of you. Remember what I have taught you, and I am sure you will attain much greater heights than I ever have. Make me proud, child. And remember, serving the Lord is its own reward."
Glissandi bowed, humbled, and fumbled as she received the small scroll the Prioress handed her, the official proclamation that she was now a Priestess.
"Thank you, Mother," the girl replied, her voice choked by the tears she desperately tried to hold back. "For everything."

The two women looked each other in the eye a final time, one carrying a broad smile, the other with tears running down her face. Then they turned, each to their task. The Prioress returning to the pulpit to call forward the next person, the Priestess towards the gate at the end of the courtyard, where she would meet the members of her party with whom she'd travel the world and spread the Lord's Light with.

Her journey had finally begun.

Last edited by Floris on Sun Oct 29, 2017 3:31 pm; edited 3 times in total
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The Gullible
The Gullible

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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Sun Oct 29, 2017 1:27 pm

A really strong start there Floris! You set the scene well, and prepare us for the adventures ahead. I love the way the opening paragraph starts with a wide view of the community, the sun rising over it all like a metaphor of the dawn of the new adventure that is to come, then the focus hones in on Glissandi's corner and place in that community.

Glissandi's natural pride in her own achievements is introduced too, and we all know what follows pride!
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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Sun Oct 29, 2017 6:35 pm

The small forecourt that lay in between the monastery and the stables was usually only sparsely occupied. The stablemistress and her aides went around feeding the horses and making sure there were always a few ready should the monastery have need of them. The women glanced nervously at the large group of well-armed warriors standing in the centre of the court, waiting for the first Priestess to exit the monastery. They may as well have been a chiseled from stone, seeing how none of them deemed it necessary to do more than blink, and sparingly at that. At the head of the group was a woman well past the bloom of youth, wearing a full set of plate armour, holding her winged helmet in her one hand, and resting the other on the hilt of her blade. Her grey eyes were fixed firmly on the wooden gate. Paladin Lisa was waiting patiently for her charge to walk through there. She was the first among equals here, with years more experience and more awards and decorations to her name than any other. Any who looked at her would see a calm and collected woman, yet within her head her thoughts tumbled around restlessly. It wasn't the first time she'd go out beyond the civilised world escorting a Priestess. She had had plenty of experience with all sorts of party leaders since the first woman she had been saddled up with, way before she had attained the rank of a Paladin, back when she was but a Squire. Some Priestesses listened to reason. Others were headstrong and had their own idea of how the world worked. Most were a mixture, but usually all were convinced that they knew better and the Lord help her if convincing them that camping in a goblin infested region required stopping in defensible locations rather than the pretty ones. Her thoughts flashed back to the young woman behind her. The Knight, Trista, was wearing the same outfit as her superior and the two women had the same posture. They looked quite different from one another though, even if they mimicked each other near perfectly. Where the Paladin had grey eye, grey, short hair, and a leathery, tanned skin that was covered in scars, Trista had short brown hair and dark brown eyes, although she was equally tanned. She had a less scar tissue in general, except for the region around her nose, which was downright disfigured. That had happened during an ambush by trolls, and the only reason she had survived that wound was because of her skill. If the blow had fully connected her head would have been gone entirely. Lisa wondered what the Knight was thinking. It would be her second time escorting a Priestess, and the last one had, if the rumours were to be believed, been more than an annoyance. There was little love lost between the Order of the Sword and the Faction of the Spirit, but it was rarely that a Paladin forced an expedition to return early.  She hadn't inquired about it. That wasn't her task.

Her thoughts moved on from the Knight towards the two Squires that were assigned to her party for this mission. A young pair of twins, girls who were old enough to skirt with the border of being called women and who did everything in their power to stay as far away from that as possible. She had to suppress a smile. Mina and Mira, the Lord bless the buggers, were loyal and enthusiastic about any task given to them, but they struggled with discipline. A bit of an understatement, but on the way here she had discovered that as long as the girls were exceptionally busy they had no time for mayhem and pranks, and the one time one of them had loosened the pins on her saddle they had discovered that she did not share their sense of humour. After she had made them ride the rest of the day hanging to the underside of their horses, the girls had decided to not prank their new superior. She had a soft spot in her heart for them, although she would never admit it. Both girls were seemingly thin, their thick, black hair making their pale faces seem even paler, but she knew that they were more athletic than even some Knights. The girls were absolutely fanatical when it came to their training, and when she picked them up their Blademistress had confided to the Paladin that the girls could wield their training swords with more skill than half the Knights under her command.

She took pride in her unit. It would never show on her face and she would not let it slip how proud she was to be allowed to lead such a strong and capable unit for the glory of the Lord, but she was proud none the less. It was fitting. A party would always be formed by putting members of several fortress-monasteries together, and the division was decided on ability. The First Associate would be teamed up with the Head Paladin, the First Knight, and the two Squires who were the most promising. While that distinction filled the Paladin with confidence in regards to her sisters of the Order of the Sword, it made her worry for their last companion. The clergy did things decidedly different and she had served a First Associate turned Priestess before. The woman had been very capable, her magical prowess had saved their hides more than once when they were facing an overwhelming opposition, yet on the other hand if the woman had actually listened to advice once in a while they would never have needed to face that opposition in the first place.

The doors opened and immediately Lisa abandoned her thoughts and gave her full, undivided attention to the woman walking out of the monastery. girl, she corrected herself. That had to have been the youngest Priestess she had ever seen. Surely this was a mistake. Priestesses usually didn't attain that position unless they were nearly half again as old as this... girl was. She studied the newcomer carefully, not letting it show on her face. There were tears visible on the girl's cheeks. She did not consider that a good sign. The Priestess scanned the forecourt and seemed to be taking in the gathered warriors as carefully as Lisa was taking the girl in. Then their eyes met and Lisa had to alter her opinion of the girl. Those eyes were ablaze with determination and eagerness, yet as the Priestess strode over to her, without a hint of uncertainty despite being confronted by over three dozen of hardened and well armed women, they were well contained within. The girl paused a few steps short of Lisa, and bowed. Bowed!
"Greetings, Paladin. I am Priestess Glissandi. I assume you are the leader of the party that I will become a part of?"
Lisa's eyes narrowed slightly. The introduction spoke volumes about the character of the Priestess, and this girl was humble and polite. Yet the fire in those eyes didn't waver one bit. This girl had ambitions and dreams, and there was a strength hidden behind that pretty face that Lisa wouldn't like to be faced with. She snapped off a sharp salute.
"Paladin Lisa, at your service Priestess. Behind me are Knight Trista and Squires Mina and Mira. We will be your sword and shield for this mission, for the glory of the Lord."
Glissandi smiled warmly as the Knight snapped off a salute just as sharp as the Paladin earlier, the moment she heard her name. Glissandi's eyes went over the Knight's scarred face and her perfect posture faltered slightly. What could injure a woman so? Then she regained control over herself and gave the Paladin a perfect smile. "Let us go then, Sister of the Light. I look forward to learning from your experience. I hope that you will forgive me for being forward, but I shall count on your advise and will expect you to give it freely. You are more accustomed with this task than I am, and it would not do that our mission would delay or achieve less than great success." She gestured to the older woman to lead the way, and fell in beside her as they walked towards the stables, where her new outfit and anything else she would require for the journey was laying in a travelling pack.

Lisa was not sure whether to be elated or deeply worried. The girl had a solid head on her shoulders and made it clear from the start that she knew her own lack of experience and had instantly demanded that if she made an error, that Lisa would let her know post haste. That would be a dream come true as it would make it easy provided she actually listened when the time came, although Lisa had a feeling the girl would. What did worry her, however, was what the Paladin could hear between the lines. Glissandi was ambitious, oh-so ambitious. She would not tolerate her own pride to interfere with their task. This Priestess aimed for success, and the hunger in her voice for results wasn't something the girl could contain. Normally she would applaud that. She served the Lord with her heart and soul after all, and she desired success just as much as Glissandi did. But did Glissandi desire success for the Lord, or for herself? Only the future would point that out, and this endless pondering would bring her no closer to the truth. She signaled Trista and the two warrior woman accompanied the Priestess. They would load their pack horses, saddle up, and their journey would start.

Regardless of what the future would bring, Lisa was deeply happy. She was doing the duty the Lord had intended for her, and nothing pleased her more.

Last edited by Floris on Wed Nov 01, 2017 3:58 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Mon Oct 30, 2017 7:20 pm

First Knight Trista only paid a minor amount of attention to the conversation between the Paladin and the Priestess. Most of her attention was spent on constantly scanning her surroundings. It was impossible for any threat to approach a monastery without being detected long before it got within sight of the building, but life had taught her a few harsh lessons about taking security for granted. Her disfigured face was proof of that. She systematically moved her eyes constantly, taking notes of the landscape, of bushes where goblins could hide, trees where an archer might lurk, a rocky outcrop that could hide a troll. Her fellow Knights at the fortress-monastery that she called home had ridiculed her once they had discovered that compulsion. They called her paranoid, insane, and a few had even called her out for lacking faith— as if the Lord would ever tolerate monsters and evil to approach a sanctum! The women who had voiced those accusations had faced her in a duel shortly after that— all three of them versus her alone, in a single battle. They had kept quiet after that, even when their bones had healed. Her Protector, the leader of the fortress-monastery, had admonished her for it. Even though the woman had agreed that the insults were vicious enough to warrant her issuing them a challenge, thoroughly trashing them to the extent that they needed months in the infirmary was taking it too far.
Trista had accepted the penance the Protector had set for her. She would not tell the woman that the main reason she had reacted so aggressively was because the accusations were true.

When the trolls had ambushed her patrol, she had lost faith. She had seen most of her team be torn to shreds in seconds after the beasts had struck. A human stood little chance against a being easily twice as tall as you swinging a club that was the size of a trunk. How those monsters got that close to a fortress-monastery that employed a full squad of scouts had been anyone's guess. She absentmindedly brought her hand up to her nose, and snapped it down violently once she realised what she was doing. That beast was dead now, by her own hand. Two other trolls had died as she served as the only line of defence while protecting three heavily wounded comrades-in-arms. The fourth beast would have overwhelmed her had the Protector not launched a lightning-quick assault, arriving just in time to prevent the First Knight from being pulverised and to shove a lance through the troll's torso.

In a way she was glad for it, though it was a thought that made her feel guilty. It made people believe that the real reason she had so violently beaten up the Knights that had been spreading tales like fish-wives, was because they also commented on her new appearance rather than her lack of faith. And it was that lack of faith that bothered her so. She still believed that the Order was a force of good, but she could hardly trust and support the Lord when he allowed His faithful to die for no reason. She had begun questioning Him more and more ever since the attack, and had only found more questions— questions that she would voice to no one. Being stripped of everything she had, getting whipped till she had no skin on her back, and being thrown out of the Order would be the most merciful of fates she could expect. So she had thrown herself into her training even harder, to all the world appearing to be a woman driven by the fires of faith, zeal and vengeance on the evil that had wrested her beauty and friends from her. Her teachers had held her up as a shining example to the rest of the Knights and Squires, an irony she both appreciated and loathed simultaneously. She cared little for the Lord, even though she still followed. But she cared for those around her, for the Order. The Order was good. The Order brought peace and prosperity and those who ascended in its ranks were worthy and would do their task well, regardless of how they felt.

And that's when she had been assigned to accompany a Priestess on a missionary sending. The belief in the competence of the Order as a whole had not so much taken a beating as it had been dismantled entirely. The Priestess had been arrogant, aggressive, had abused her magic to impress and punish without discrimination. Any man, woman, child that had not worshipped the bitch was harshly punished. At first the Paladin that was with them had tried to voice complaints, all which were either pointedly ignored or resulted in the Priestess yelling so viciously at her that the Paladin bade a hasty retreat. The situation had escalated as time progressed, and had only been violently ended when the Priestess lost her temper with the wrong people. She had used magic to strangle one of the Squires over a perceived insult and the poor girl had been turning blue. Trista had returned from her patrol just in time to see the end of that. The frail girl was near death and the furious Priestess was still livid and dead-set on administering a proper penance. The sound the Paladin's blade made when it pierced the Priestess' gown and flesh would be forever associated with the downfall of the Order to her. The Order was an organisation made up of humans, and humans were fallible. She had been trained well enough to know that she was more than slighty biased, and that the individuals the Order produced were incredibly capable. Usually the only people who reached a high rank were indeed those who truly believed and would go on performing countless good deeds. But she no longer believed things on hearsay. She would judge what her own eyes witnessed and believe those whom she deemed trustworthy, but nothing more.

"Are you alright, Knight Trista?" came the Priestess' voice.
She snapped out of her thoughts back to the here and now, glad that her eyes were still moving back and forth and looking for traps and foes. She moved them towards the Priestess and was confused when she saw the face of that young woman again, younger than her by several years at least, which was absurdly young for a Priestess. But what truly confused her was the look of honest concern. She nodded her head slightly.
"I am fine, Priestess."
Glissandi nodded in return, the look on her face making clear she did not believe a word of it, but that she would not enquire if the Knight didn't want to share. Trista appreciated that. So when she felt dislike for the woman well up, she pushed it down firmly, aware that this Priestess could not be blamed for the actions of the previous one.
"I would like to request the same of you as I did of Paladin Lisa; I would like to hear your honest and open opinion on everything I do. Treat me as you would treat a student." The Priestess' eyes went over to the Squires slaving away with loading the horses and already working up quite a sweat and she grimaced slightly. "Well... Maybe not entirely as a student," she corrected.
Despite herself, Trista's lips twitched upwards. The Priestess had a solid head on her shoulders and seemed to actually be aware that she would be depending on her warrior escort to see her safely around the world once they left civilisation. And moreover, she tried to be friendly, which was another thing the Knight could comprehend. Knights, Squires and Paladins were all used to being out in the field and interacting with strangers on a daily basis, often working solo, but anyone serving the clergy was often locked away in monasteries and saw little of the outside world.

She turned her attention to her superior, a woman she had only known for a few weeks, yet one whom she trusted deeply. Everything about the woman screamed that she was a damn capable leader, and that was before she knew of the dozens of awards the Paladin had to her name. Lisa seemed to feel the Knight's gaze and turned her face slightly, meeting Trista's stare. She nodded once, but firmly, then returned her attention to the Squires and the Priestess. If the Paladin approved of this new Priestess, then the Knight would follow her lead.
"As you wish, Priestess. It shall be my honour."
Glissandi beamed a bright smile. Lord above, the girl —she was hard pressed to think of the Priestess as a woman now— was really looking forward to it all, and obviously felt safe in the hands of her new companions. Had she ever been like that, wide-eyed and full of eagerness to explore the world?

As the Priestess fired question after question at the Paladin concerning everything from how much difference there was between a warhorse and a travelling horse —a lot— to how long it would take them to leave civilisation behind and actually start their mission —around a month or two, depending on the weather— Trista's expression returned to her usual, unreadable state. She slid her helmet onto her head and fastened the straps, and went over to Steadfast, her own horse. She considered sending a prayer skywards for a good journey, then decided against it as she mounted. The future would bring what it would bring, but she doubted the Lord would deign to personally interfere with her.

Last edited by Floris on Tue Nov 21, 2017 8:12 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Wed Nov 01, 2017 4:54 pm

Mina and her twin sister regarded their three companions silently. The Priestess climbed onto her horse —doing it too clumsily to be described as mounting— and Trista and Lisa followed suit. The girl barely managed to hide a scowl. They were saddled up with someone who would doubtlessly be a nuisance and delay their adventure. They had finally, finally been let out of that damnable prison others called home, and they had been overjoyed when they had been partnered up with Lisa, someone who could actually take both her and her sister on simultaneously. Then Trista joined the party and the Knight had been eyeing them warily, like a wolf watching its prey. They had recognised her for the capable woman she was. But now they had this Priestess to deal with. A happy young woman who was oh-so overjoyed at being freed from her confines. Much akin to their own fate, except they could handle themselves, which Mina doubted the Priestess' ability to do likewise. Granted, the woman was magically strong, they could see her ability burning brightly within her, but —the Lord have mercy— she struggled to get onto a horse! Mina nearly spat on the ground, and would have if not for a quick shake of her sister's head. Both Lisa and Trista would have seen, despite neither of the warriors looking in their direction, and she was not too keen on having her head slapped by an armoured gauntlet again.

As the party set off, the twins fell in line, making up the rear along with the pack horses. The pace was slow, too slow for their liking. Mina twisted her head slightly to look at her sister and wasn't surprised to find an equally annoyed look on the girl's face, invisible to all but her own twin. Letting out a short sigh, she allowed her thoughts to wander. She entertained herself by recalling the first evening, their first mock battle with the Paladin after the older woman had recruited them to the party. Mina knew that she and her sibling were excellent fighters, way better than most Knights, and when fighting in unison they could throw off pairs of fighters even if they were individually better. Yet Lisa had beaten them both soundly, leaving no doubt who the victor had been. They had adored her for it. At home there had been nobody left to beat. The older Paladins were constantly out on missions, and even the Blademistress had begun avoiding them like the plague. The girls needed a challenge and Lisa had noticed, and gave them one. Mina absentmindedly brought her hand up to her cheek, where Lisa's foot had somehow connected with her face after dodging an attack that the Paladin shouldn't have been able to dodge. It had knocked her clean out of the fight and Mira had followed suit a few seconds later, the Paladin's knee landing in her sister's stomach causing the girl to surrender her evening meal to the grass.

The fight with Trista had been similar. Lisa hadn't allowed them to challenge the Knight to a battle at first, until the girls had mocked Trista's face. That had allowed the Knight to, despite the Paladin's original protests, teach the girls a lesson. The older women had to make do without their Squires for a few days as they were nursing more wounds and bruises than they had believed possible. Lord above, that woman could fight!
Mina's lips twitched upwards in a smile. With Trista and Lisa they had found a proper home. People who could outperform them and whom- they could gain valuable experience from. Mina knew that she and her twin were smarter than most, faster than most and better than most, despite their youthful age. She could feel her sister's presence in the back of her head, and when paired up with her they could execute the most difficult attack patterns without any prior training, instinctively knowing what the other would do and being able to add to it. They were, as their superior had often called it, blessed by the Lord. Those same superiors had often called them arrogant but who could blame them if those supposed betters couldn't provide them with a challenge or proper lessons!

Mira shook her head bemusedly. She knew what her sister was thinking even without having to look at her face. Her twin sister was too easily frustrated, too quick to focus on what was bad rather than what was good, and far, far too impulsive for her own good. Her back still throbbed from the beating that Trista had given her after Mina had called her out with a very specific and impressive series of profanities. The bruises had been well deserved, and confirming Trista's skills had been worth the beating. Where her sister focused on being annoyed with the slow pace as the Priestess and the Paladin conferred with one another, Mira was content. They were finally on the road and she couldn't help feeling that this journey would hold a lot more in store for them than either of them could foresee, as if they were heading to something big. She knew her sister felt it too. She often wondered if that ability to feel what the other was thinking was because they were twins or because they really were blessed by the Lord. The one seemed as feasible as the other, and she had never had the opportunity to meet another pair of twins, so the answer to that question remained a mystery.

She gave her sister a hard, mental prod and was pleased to see Mina straightening up and her scowl deepening. Mira countered the angry frown with a smile.
'We're travelling with people we can learn from, Sis. Stop acting like a phoenix caught in the rain just because there's a bit of delay.'
Mina's face turned sour. Sending thoughts directly to the other was a thing Mira could do, but one Mina hadn't managed yet, although that wasn't for lack of trying. Mira did receive a broad angry feeling. That was something her sister could broadcast. Changing the conversation topic, Mira projected that feeling that lurked in the back of her head, along with a question. Mina gave a nearly imperceptible nod, indicating that she felt it too. Mira was about to ask another question when Lisa let out a soft growl and forcibly readjusted the Priestess' her position on her horse, causing the younger woman to shriek as she suddenly found herself hugging her horse's neck. The Paladin gave Trista a short hand signal and the Knight slapped the Priestess' horse flank, causing it to set off in a trot. The warriors instantly followed suit, and the twins rapidly exchanged a grin before doing the same, forcing the pack horses along as they went.

It was hours later when the group stopped. Glissandi was covered in sweat and visibly struggled to stay atop her horse, shakily clinging to it with an admirable determination and stubbornness. Mira managed to suppress her grin just in time, but her sister failed and received a smack on her cheek from a Trista, who dealt the blow without any visible emotion. Mina took it in good grace and didn't respond, despite the trickle blood welling up from the cuts caused by the gauntlet.
"We'll stop here for a bit." Lisa slid off her horse with an ease that the Priestess envied, as she nearly fell off her own horse. The woman took a few steps before collapsing into the ground. This time Mira caught a hit that send her head ringing. It was deserved. She shouldn't have laughed.

Glissandi steadily crawled into an upright position again and closed her eyes. Her magic lit up like a fire to anyone sensitive to it as she formed a quick weave and cast it out.
'Cheater,' thought Mira, and felt a sentiment of agreement coming from her sister. The Priestess stood up and dusted herself off, her magic having taken away her exhaustion.
"That was... intense," the Priestess said, somehow managing to prevent her irritation from showing. "Do you plan to keep this pace up every day?"
"Actually Priestess, I plan to go faster starting tomorrow," Lisa answered, signalling the Squires to dismount and to prepare a quick meal. The girls slid off their horses with exaggerated grace and hurried to their task when they caught Trista's angry stare, noticeable despite the woman wearing a full face helmet.
Glissandi's face took on a look of desperation, before taking a deep sigh. "I'm afraid I'm not very comfortable with riding for so long yet. I don't suppose there are any pointers you could give me that would ease the burden?"
"I think I can show you a few," came Lisa's reply, a hint of approval audible in her voice.

The girls lost little time in preparing a meal. They wouldn't need to light a fire, so all they had to do was take a few loafs of bread and some dried sausages out of the bags, as well as hand out the flasks of water. They set to their tasks with speed and dedication, despite their badly hidden dislike. Neither Trista nor Lisa could find fault with them there, and the girls were keenly aware that the faster they were done with their tasks, the more time they had left for other things. The meal was short and spent in silence, with Trista keeping eerily quiet as she always did, her eyes scanning everything around them for threats. Glissandi was simply too beat up to talk much. She could remove her muscle ache with magic, and block the feeling of exhaustion setting in, but applying a well cast weave didn't have the same punch as a proper night's rest did, and that was still far off. She did make some attempt at small talk however, and received polite and curt answers from the Paladin, whom obviously still was testing the waters to the precise character of the Priestess.

All too soon for Glissandi's liking, the party mounted their horses again and resumed their fast pace. Lisa obviously wanted to cover a great distance before stopping for the night. The only consolation the Priestess had was that Lisa promised that if they kept this pace up, they'd reach the starting point of their mission within a month. The way the older woman voiced those words made them seem like a great compliment. Glissandi decided to take it as such. Mina shook her head in disgust. The Priestess was almost desperate to fit in. Mira gave her sister a sharp stab.
'Of course she wants to fit in. How would you be, in her stead.'
Mina's response was a cloud of anger that was like lightning. Mina obviously didn't care for others that she couldn't use to better herself.
'You're an idiot. If Lisa approves of her, than we can learn from her too. Watch, don't let your massive ego get in the way, and observe instead.'
The lack of a response to that caused a wide grin to appear on Mira's face.
Oh sister dear, aren't you lucky that you have me to watch over you lest you become too arrogant and thickheaded? she thought quietly to herself. Then she laughed, seeing the irony in thinking that. She patted her horse on the neck.
'And regardless, sis', she thought aloud,  'we're finally having our adventure.'

Last edited by Floris on Tue Nov 21, 2017 8:53 pm; edited 3 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Mon Nov 06, 2017 7:19 pm

Glissandi did her damned best to look the part of a Priestess, sitting straight up in her saddle, rather than the part of a young woman that had covered more distance in a single day than she had in the last ten years put together. She was exhausted, both physically and mentally, the latter surprising her. She hadn't expected horse riding to tire her to that extent, but she had to admit that the only reason she hadn't fallen out of her saddle during the last few hours was her steel determination to make a good impression on the Paladin. The Priestess was confident that she had succeeded in that at least, but she honestly hoped that tomorrow would be easier, or she'd die of exhaustion long before they got close to the borders. That was a worry for the next day however, now her thoughts were focused on the inn they were heading to. It was already getting dark and Lisa had obviously pressed hard to make it to this town before nightfall, and Glissandi had obediently increased her pace, too tired to argue about it. The casual conversation that Trista and Lisa had made about the promise of an inn, warm food, and —the Lord be blessed!— a hot bath —or at the very least a tub with warm water— had helped, and she hated herself for it. And that the two women had done it on purpose. She was a fully trained Priestess with enormous potential, and the Paladin and Knight treated her like a child to be goaded on with the promise of presents.

Now they were in the town however. The group stayed in the middle of the road, that was surprisingly well maintained. Solid stone underneath, a rarity for a town as out of the way as this one. Glissandi knew that Lisa had mentioned the name of the town, but the Lord have mercy, she couldn't recall it at all. A spark of excitement got hold of her once she realised she had actually left the lands under direct control of the Order. She was in the Trivistan Empire now! A huge nation that covered enormous territories to the south and west of the Order, the Empire had eaten up most of its neighbours over the many years, and was a well functioning nation. The Imperial Family ruled as absolute dictators, but unlike most Kings, Queens and other nobles in other countries, they were deeply loved by their subjects. The laws were strict, but fair, taxes were surprisingly low, and the army took on the additional role of police force, civil engineers, and whatever the country needed, making the highly trained force a welcome sight rather than something to be feared. The Empire was also one of the best neighbours the Order could wish for, and trade flowed freely between the two nations, and if anyone had the idea to threaten the seat of the Order with an invasion, nobody doubted that the Empire would mobilise immediately to rush to the Order's aid.

Glissandi smiled warmly, sitting straight in her saddle, waving gently at the people who respectfully cleared a path for her. Despite the late hour the streets were still surprisingly full, yet everyone easily parted at the sight of four heavily armed women with a Priestess in their midst. She may not have the stamina to ride a horse for a full day, but she'd let Darkness claim her before she'd show believers anything less than a perfect Priestess. Her long, golden hair flowed behind her, despite the lack of wind, and her pristine gown sparkled in the light of the lanterns that were being lit all over now that the sun was setting. Her beautiful face was adorned with a benevolent smile, further enhanced by the stark contrast of her entourage. The Knight and Paladin were covered from head to toe in dusty plate armour, but even with the shine gone their winged helmets gave them the image of divine warriors. The Squires, limited to chainmail, a simple helmet that lacked a visor, had a confident look on their faces, without being arrogant about it. They scanned the surroundings carefully and made it known that they were doing that. Soldiers who were fully focused on their task, and looked impressive while doing it. Yes, this is how the Order should present itself. Powerful, noble, and tasked by the Lord to protect His followers. Glissandi thought. The people were happy to see her. They smiled back at her, poked their mates on the back and pointed while laughing, those closest to her made short bows or curtsied with respect bordering on reverence, and kids rushed as close to the imposing warhorses as they dared, shouting all manner of compliments, or asking for a blessing for adorable things.

A tiny boy wearing a much too serious expression for his age pushed his way through the others, dragging an even smaller girl along with him by the hand. He stopped a few feet short of Trista's horse and knelt down, not letting go of the girl's hand despite it. Trista was left with the choice of letting her horse trample him, which a warhorse would do without hesitation, or stop. Glissandi was sure Lisa ordered Trista to do the latter, but how the command had been given eluded her entirely. The older woman had not moved at all as far as she could see.
"Priestess!" the boy cried out in his tiny voice, desperation mixed with a tinge of hope audible in the cry. Glissandi's heart wept at it, and would have hopped off her horse to pull him up and hug him, but she was quite certain she would never manage to get back on her horse afterwards. That, and Lisa somehow radiating the feeling that should the Priestess dare to leave the protective circle in a busy town, that the Paladin would skin her alive afterwards.
She suppressed a shiver and took the benevolence in her smile up a few notches. "What is wrong, child of the Light?"
The boy knelt down even further, his head only a few inches away from the hooves of Trista's horse, each one easily capable of turning his head into paste.
"Please Priestess, bless my sister!" came the response. It was shouted clearly, despite the storm of emotions that was obviously raging in the boy.
Glissandi tilted her head, her exhaustion not forgotten but pushed aside for now. Her curiosity was piqued. Children rarely acted this strongly if they did not have a very clear goal in mind. She closed her eyes briefly and touched the fire of magic that burned inside her. When she opened her eyes she looked down at the children again. Her blue eyes took on a slight touch of gold as the magic ran freely inside her. The boy was surrounded by a swirl of colours. Despair was obvious and powerfully present, but it clashed with a sense of determination and duty that refused to give up. And a gold thread of hope shone brightly throughout it all. She turned her attention from the admirable boy to his sister and her eyes went wide. The fires of magic burned like a lighthouse within her. The girl had considerable ability, a good deal less than her own, but enormous none the less! Yet that made no sense, if the boy was so desperate for his sister to be blessed...

Glissandi took another look, focusing more. Then she let out a hiss as an angry frown formed on her angelic face. Within a moment's notice all four of her protectors had their swords out, causing the crowd to rear back in a mixture of excitement and worry. Glissandi ignored all that and slid down from her horse, shrugged off Lisa's murderous stare as she walked over to the brother and sister on the ground, didn't notice how both Lisa and Trista started circling around her, still on horseback, shield and sword at the ready, while Mina and Mira had dismounted as well, short swords and bucklers ready, and covered the Priestess from anything that might have a chance at breaching the circle their superiors formed. She noticed none of that, her attention purely focused on that core of pitch, black Darkness that lay in the midst of that flame of magic. A curse, a potent one at that, that was slowly draining the poor girl's life. No wonder the boy had been that desperate. If left unchecked for a few days longer the girl would have wasted away. She knelt down and grasped the girl's hand and smiled warmly at her.
"What is your name, child?" she asked softly. Two tiny eyes looked up briefly, then down again. The Priestess squeezed the girl's hands again and those eyes flashed up again. This time the Priestess made sure the girl didn't look away. Gazing deeply into the girl's eyes she could make out the flashes of gold swirling around in them, natural magical abilities battling against the curse and keeping it at bay.
"I'm Nassi," the girl whispered, giving a slightly scared smile. Glissandi replied with a broad one of her own.
"That's a beautiful name, Nassi." The Priestess started drawing more and more of her own magic and her eyes slowly turned fully to gold as she started sending strands through the girl's hands into her body. Curses were delicate to remove, nothing to be forced. The Mind and the Spirit were fragile things. As she started her work, she felt how exhaustion tugged at her from the corners of her mind. Her mental discipline kicked in and she banished it out of her conscious entirely. She was a Priestess, a magician of extreme ability, blessed by the Lord himself, and she would allow no weakness of her own to interfere in the healing of one of His followers!

Nassi smiled weakly at the Priestess, and gave a surprised tug on Glissandi's hands as a feeling of comfortable warmth spread from them, sinking into the girl's small body. The smile turned sleepy and Nassi's eyes slowly started closing, causing her brother to gasp in fear and worry. Glissandi devoted a small part of her attention to him.
"Don't worry child. She is safe now. You did well in bringing her to me. You have saved her life in doing so."
The boy broke down, relief bursting forth from the thread of hope, overwhelming everything else. Despair and determination alike drowned in that sea and the boy just collapsed, weeping quietly whilst clutching the hems of the Priestess' gown. Glissandi briefly looked down at him and smiled warmly, her heart touched, before returning her attention to the curse. It was a nasty, subtle, well hidden thing. Lurking in the fires of the girl's own magic it had been near impossible to see, even with her own ability it had been hard to notice, it was small wonder no one had found out about it.

She pushed more strands in, slowly forming a web inside the girl. It was both a puzzle, a lock and a trap at once. She had to surround it, dismantle it and make sure not to apply too much pressure, or the core of the curse would burst and kill the girl instantly. Drops of sweat formed on Glissandi's head. She had trained this extensively, but there was a vast gap between a training practise and doing it while a life was at stake. Before worry could sink its hooks into her, her vast discipline came to the forefront and reinforced her determination. She took a deep breath and redoubled her efforts. The weave grew tighter and started locking entire sections off from the core, meaning death was out of the question now. Paralysis in some limbs would be the worst now. She brought up more strands, slipped them through the dark web that made out the core, manoeuvring them with skill and care, wiggling them slightly and forcing the black strands to move to her bidding. She lost track of time as she progressed further and further, alienating the curse and rendering it weaker and weaker with each passing moment. After what felt like an eternity she was done, and with a triumphant yell she stood up, slid her hands past Nassi's head and then tore the curse out in one go.

In the broad daylight, for a truly massive crowd, Glissandi came back to her senses, her hair floating freely behind her head, rays of sunlight setting it aflame. Her tired face, covered in sweat and dust and looking no less angelic for it, carried a victorious smile, her eyes shining bright gold, visible for all who looked at her. And in between her outstretched hands was a bowl of golden energy, holding a tiny black dot that seemed to suck the light out of the day itself, captive. Blinking, surprised, she could see the warriors still moving around her, ever vigilant, with only the Squires throwing a glance her way. Blinded by the sunlight she realised it was well into the morning of the next day. Before she could contemplate any of that however, the crowd responded.

A roar that shook the town to its foundations originated from hundreds of throats. Praises to the Light and the Lord were launched into the sky and like a tidal wave they surged forward. Lisa turned the direction of her horse and darted to the Priestess, picking the confused woman up, and pulled Glissandi, surprisingly gracefully yet no less hard for that, onto her horse, making sure she sat firmly behind her. A short glance at Trista and the Squires was all it took for the entire group to form up on her before the crowd had the chance to cover the little distance needed to reach them. Nassi and her brother, lacking such protection, were picked up and raised into the sky as the crowd went mad with cheers, euphoria taking hold and spreading like wildfire. Glissandi sat on the horse, utterly numbed, still holding that core of Darkness in between her hands, keeping it firmly caged, watching it all happen with utter confusion.

Then, as her mind started catching up with current events, a smile crept onto her face. And as the atmosphere started getting to her she raised her hands high up in the sky, displaying the captured curse like a trophy and shouted "Praise the Lord!"
Exhaustion temporarily forgotten, Glissandi's eyes radiated pure happiness as the crowd took on the shout and the Lord's name was praised high into the heavens.
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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   

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The Mansion in the Woods
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