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 The Mansion in the Woods

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Floris



Posts : 127
Join date : 2017-02-03

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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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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Floris



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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 eyes, 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 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 Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:54 am; edited 5 times in total
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Floris



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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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Floris



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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 Lissa 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 Lissa, 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 Lissa 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 Lissa 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 Lissa had noticed, and gave them one. Mina absentmindedly brought her hand up to her cheek, where Lissa'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. Lissa 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 Lissa 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 Lissa 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." Lissa 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," Lissa 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 Lissa'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 Lissa 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. Lissa obviously wanted to cover a great distance before stopping for the night. The only consolation the Priestess had was that Lissa 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 Lissa 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 Sun Aug 05, 2018 8:10 am; edited 4 times in total
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Floris



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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 struggling against the curse and fighting a losing battle to keep 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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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Sun Nov 26, 2017 3:57 pm

"You are utterly insane!" shouted Lisa. "What were you thinking! If there had been an assassin around, or even a simple farmer with a grudge, you could have been wounded, killed! If I ever catch you doing that again I will flail you alive!" The Paladin was outraged, her usually stern face red with anger.
Glissandi brought her hands up in defense. "The girl was dying! And we're still close to the Order's territories, the chances of anyone being after me already is practically nonexistent!" The Priestess obviously disagreed with Lisa's assessment, fully believing herself in the right.
Lisa grabbed the Priestess's gown with both hands and pulled the younger woman up, who immediately abandoned any priestly behaviour and started squealing. "You told me to treat you like a student, and one of the first lessons is that you COMMUNICATE with your unit!" the Paladin raged, shaking the Priestess as if she was a rag doll. "In any unknown situation where you are not blessedly certain of your surroundings you don't rush out of the circle!" Lisa was vaguely aware of the twins laughing only to have their amusement be cut short by a ringing blow to the head. Good. At least the Knight remained reliable and composed.

Lisa returned her attention to the Priestess just in time to see the scared expression fade and turn into determination. A moment later the Paladin was blasted backwards through the common room in the inn by a magical blast, crashing into a table and reducing it to firewood. Glissandi fell to the ground, her eyes blazing gold as magic coursed through her. As the Paladin slowly got up from the broken table, the Priestess regained her composure. "I am not a Warrior!" she hissed. "I had no way of knowing what is common sense to you. And if you dare manhandle me like that again it will be you who will be flailed alive!"

The twins started laughing again, but Glissandi's glare shut them up even before Trista could cuff them around their ears again.
Lisa shook her head, clearing her vision. She approached Glissandi slowly, differently. She moved like a panther approaching a prey, and the Paladin could tell the Priestess noticed from how the woman recoiled, suddenly a lot less sure of herself. Good, the Paladin thought. "Then that is a mistake I will rectify when we set off again." Lisa grinned at the Priestess, and the older woman knew it was a feral expression. The Priestess wanted to pretend that she was in the right, did she? That she had no way of knowing what was common sense to Warriors? Then Lisa would make sure that she'd make sure she would never get to use that excuse again. From the way Glissandi paled, it was clear the message had arrived.


A knock on the door interrupted the argument, and within a moment the Knight and Paladin stood in front of the Priestess, hands on their swords, while the Squires took up position behind her.
"Enter without fear, if you serve the Light," Glissandi announced. The door opened and a short, broad man entered, holding a brightly coloured hat in his hands. Behind the man where two soldiers clad in leather armour, each armed with a cudgel and a small knife, but not wielding either of the weapons. Obviously guardsmen.
"Priestess, I'm mayor Kristof. Please allow me to thank you and the Lord for saving the life of the girl. If there is anything I can provide you and your party with, you have but to ask, and if it is within my ability I will see to it immediately."
Glissandi gave the man a warm smile. She couldn't shrug off the exhaustion anymore, but years of training let her at least masquerade it. "I thank you for your kind words, mayor." She tilted her head slightly, making a pretense of considering his offer. There were plenty of things that she needed from him. Information first of all. That curse was nothing to sneeze at, it was powerful and well hidden, not something a novice could cast. And not something to be placed on someone for no reason at all. It hinted at Darkness lurking below the Light and it was her sworn duty to drive it out of its hiding place and eradicate it.

"Mayor Kristof, I would like you to compensate the owner of the inn for the duration of our stay. We will be staying at this place, and as long as the threat remains we will not tolerate others to enter. As such, I would also like to request for a solid guard to be set around this location at all times. I will leave the finer details of that detail to Paladin Lisa," she said, gesturing to the Paladin, who accepted her task with a small nod. "For the rest, I would like for Nassi and her brother to be brought here as well. I will need to question them, and them staying with us will make it less likely for them to be targeted again." The mayor nodded and tried to respond, but Glissandi cut him off with a sharp gesture. "In addition to that, I would like for the captain of the guard, whoever is in charge of the judiciary system of the town and holds the ledgers of all criminal activities recorded and the person in charge of the orphanage to be brought here as well. I will need their assistance if we are to root this Darkness out quickly."

The mayor opened his mouth and closed it again, obviously dumbfounded by the list of requests. He looked like a fish. Glissandi hid her annoyance at the man's inability to just do as he was told.
"Rooting out Darkness, Priestess?" the man asked.
Glissandi's annoyance shot up a few notches. Was the man actually that incompetent that he wasn't even aware that a healing that took an entire night meant something major was happening? Lord above, she hoped that the others she'd have to cooperate with would be more alert than this dull witted man.
"A curse of that level indicates at highly capable..." she trailed off, thinking of what word to use to instill the necessary speed in him without frightening him out of his wits. "Miscreants that have abandoned the Lord. Nassi is a capable girl with great magical promise," she explained, bowing her head slightly. "I would rather not waste time, mayor. Lest they expand their range of targets to, say, higher placed officials in order to cause chaos to obscure their trail." The mayor paled at that and Glissandi grinned in satisfaction.
"As you say, as you say Priestess, I'll do as you say with the most urgent haste! Men, with me!" the man explained, rushing out of the inn with a surprising amount of speed.


"Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out," Mina muttered, earning herself another whack around the ears.
"A fair conclusion Priestess." Lisa remarked. "Trista, secure the inn. Place wards where ever you see fit and tell me when you're done. Mina, Mira, do another tour of the building. I want every inch of this place ingrained in your memories. Then take care of the horses, we'll be staying here longer than expected. And I expect a full inventory on everything in here. You know the drill on that. Go!" she commanded. Trista was already heading upstairs, and the twins bolted off, eager to be on their task.
Glissandi was impressed with the speed that the Warriors presented, then failed to stifle a loud yawn. "Thank you, Lisa. If you don't mind, I will grab as much sleep as I can now. That healing took a lot out of me. On top of that horse riding." She threw the Paladin a weak smile, exhaustion finally settling in now that she was left alone with people whom she didn't need to pretend with. "And you were right, I think I could make use of a few lessons in Warrior's common sense."
Lisa paused mid-stride and turned to Glissandi, a surprised expression on her face. Clearly the Paladin had not expected to see the Priestess actually agree with her on that.
"Just..." the Priestess began, making her way up the stairs, "no more shaking."
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Sun Dec 03, 2017 4:03 pm

A soft knocking on the door awoke Glissandi from an all too short slumber. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and got up from the too hard bed, glad she had thought of sending a cleansing weave through it to clear out any bugs before falling asleep in it. She looked at the candle she had lit before drifting off, and saw to her dismay that it had lost more than half of its size. She had slept for over three hours, and yet she felt as tired as before. With a soft grunt she dismissed the desire to ignore her visitor and instead set to fixing her gown, smoothing any curves in it. She wished she could have taken her mirror from the monastery with her, but lacking that she would have to make do with the reflection in the water of the washing table. Making sure her hair was still as perfect as it should be, she couldn't suppress a sigh at the amount of time and effort she had to put into it every blasted morning.
The knocking repeated and she admonished herself. She had duties to perform, a serious task to attend with lives at stake. She could waste no time on frivolities regarding her own comforts!

"Come in!" she announced. Before the sentence even finished, Lisa had already entered, fully armoured save for her helmet.
"A word of warrior common sense, Priestess," the Paladin began, greeting the Priestess with a nod, "always ask your visitor to announce themselves."
Glissandi felt a twinge of annoyance surge up at being lectured, but caught it and squished it out of existence before it could take hold. She had requested this, and despite her own dislike about it she knew that she needed it. So she inclined her head in response. "I'll bear that in mind."
Lisa quickly went over the room in a methodical fashion, paying close attention to the heavily warded window and the large closet, before finishing her short inspection tour by looking under the bed. "You'll be pleased to know that all the people you requested for have arrived and are waiting in the common room for you to join them. The girl and her brother have been taken to the adjoining room and are asleep there, with the Squires taking turns guarding them. There are three four-man patrols constantly walking around the inn, another six men are stationed at the front door, and four more at the back. The Captain takes his duties very seriously and I believe him trustworthy. On our part, we have thoroughly secured the entire building and all windows and entrances are properly warded."
Glissandi was taken aback by the amount of security that the Warriors had put in place. "And yet you still find it necessary for me to ask for identification prior to opening the door?"
Lisa responded with a slightly feral grin. "It may seem as paranoia to you, Priestess, but I have been on missions where the lack of it has made my task a lot easier." Her hand slid to the hilt of her sword almost unconsciously and the grin grew more feral. Then the Paladin took notice and her face returned to a more neutral stance. "It works, Priestess. In our line of work the words 'too careful' don't exist. At least not in regards to security."
Glissandi nodded, realising that the Paladin drew on more years of experience than she had been alive for. "As you say then. Please, lead the way."


Glissandi descended down the stairs in a regal matter and was pleased to see that every single one of the gathering of people looked at her with deference in their eyes. A Priestess was a high ranking member of the Order, and she was glad to see that they paid the necessary respect to her rank. It was quite easy to discern who was who. A tall man with a fair amount of gray in his hair was obviously the captain of the military within the city. His sharp features and the way his eyes never focused on one point was a massive give away. Not that she needed that, given that he was the only one wearing a chain mail shirt, with a buckler hanging on his back and a short sword on his belt. Next to him was an elderly woman, looking positively fragile compared to him. The way she looked at the Priestess as if the younger woman was a Saint come alive made Glissandi believe that this was none other than the headmistress of the orphanage, and was very well aware that the Priestess had saved the life of one of her charges. The last man was ghastly thin, with glasses dancing at the end of his nose and seeming to be in constant confusion about whether they were supposed to stay on or fall off. The black, inky stains on his fingers indicated him as the head scribe, or whatever the equivalent title was for that position in the Empire. He offered her a sharp nod, as if he wasn't pleased to have been pulled away from his books.

"Captain Dar, Ledger Master Cuvain, Head Mistress Lena, may I present to you Priestess Glissandi, may the Light bless her." Trista's introduction was solemn and short, before the Warrior retreated to the side of the room and seemed to become one with the background. A very heavily armed and alert part at least.
Captain Dar took a step toward the Priestess, but was overtaken by the Head Mistress who made a curtsy so deep she nearly fell over. "Priestess, I thank you, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving little Nassi. I had tried everything, every doctor, every wise woman, but nothing seemed to ease her unease. I have not much, but please, whatever you may desire, it is yours." Tears ran down the woman's face and slowly fell to the floor.
Glissandi reached out for the flame inside her and let it flow through her. She felt her eyes turn from blue to gold again as she looked at the woman. She studied the colours swirling around the frail Head Mistress for a bit, before nodding. The woman spoke true. "I need nothing from you, daughter of the Light. Continue to serve Him as you have done before, and no one could ask more of you."
The Captain stepped around the older woman and looked into Glissandi's eyes, meeting her golden eyes with an angry gaze of his own. No, she corrected herself. Furious. "Priestess," he greeted her. "I am sorry to report that the town is now in a state of panic. The Mayor has ordered the gates sealed, and I heard of it too late to countermand the order. I have put the man into house arrest and relieved him of his duties. If our quarry is still in the town, they are now aware that we have started a hunt. If they are already outside the town, I fear that if they decide to go into hiding we will not find them anytime soon. Never the less, I have sent scouts out and messengers to alert all nearby garrisons to watch for suspicious characters, and to report their findings back to us. My men and I are more suited for warfare and policing duties rather than luring out filthy rats, but we are yours to command, in life, and unto death." The man snapped off a sharp salute and Glissandi could see the burning red covering him from head to toe and pulse vibrantly when he mentioned the rats. The Paladin had been right. The man was serious about his duties and took it as a personal insult that Darkness had gotten past him, saw it as an incompetence he would either clear up or die in the attempt to do so.
"You are a good man, Captain. Do not see it as your fault that Darkness has snuck past you. You are used to marching in the open where they excel at hiding in the shadows." She motioned to Lisa, who had moved to stand at her side.
"Keep the gates locked for now Captain. I would like you to clear the houses around the inn at present and establish your position there. It would also speed up our reaction speed if you established several forward positions in town so your soldiers can respond quickly."
The Captain grinned and Lisa instinctively returned it. Glissandi had a feeling she was watching two old wolves. "The forward positions are already established. I have a mage at every position to aid them and to quickly send signals should the need arise. My men are tightly patrolling the walls and the militia is working to calm the population as we speak. I have started a rumour that we are preparing to clean out a nest of thieves that deal in narcotics and have managed to operate underground for a long time, in cooperation with the Order. I have also amended the story that the curse that you rooted out, Priestess, was damage caused by an experimental drug." His grin broadened and Glissandi could barely hide the shiver running along her spine. Lisa's grin was a perfect mimicry of his! The two were enjoying it!

"Also," the Captain continued, "Master Cuvain, could you relay to us what you found in the ledgers?"
Glissandi pulled her eyes off the swirling red that surrounded the Captain and turned to face the thin scribe. There was very little emotion residing in him, only a hint of annoyance at being pulled away from his books. She sent a silent prayer to the Lord that it was only the Mayor who was incompetent.
Master Cuvain made the tiniest nod, barely moving his head. "Priestess. I have checked for criminal activity related to this. I have found nothing in the list of condemned criminals. I have found nothing in the list of suspected criminals. I have found something in the list of suspicious persons."
Glissandi blinked in surprise. The man spoke as if he was devoid of life, speaking in statements rather than in sentences. "What have you found, Master Cuvain?" she asked, forcing herself to ignore the man's weird behaviour.
"In the list of suspicious persons I have found one person who aligns with the criteria. Young woman. About six feet tall. Brown eyes. Black hair. Was wearing a large brown coat and boots, both made of good leather. Admitted to carrying one dagger. Suspected to have more. Estimated around sixteen years of age. Entered the city three weeks and two days ago."
"I have my most trustworthy informants looking out for her, Priestess." Dar interjected. "She has been spotted by several of my patrols the first three days after she has arrived."
"What made her become classified as a suspicious person?" Lisa asked.
"She made a point of evading my patrols. She was good at it too, but she seemed to be looking for someone, or something. Now I didn't think much of it at first, suspected she was a noble's daughter with too much free time and too little to do, but there are too many flags raised to not suspect a connection. Mistress Lena, when did the girl first showed signs of illness?"
"Nassi?" the woman seemed surprised at having been addressed. "Let me think... I think it was around—"
Glissandi interrupted everyone by hissing loudly and turning towards the door, followed a moment later by a loud explosion that resonated through the air. The door of the inn banged open and a soldier rushed through.
"Captain! Hostile action at the Weaver's Market! Red flare!"


Captain Dar rushed over to the soldier, followed by Glissandi, who somehow had overtaken Lisa. "Send two thirds of the main force to them! Make sure nothing gets in or out of that entire area, and send word to the wall that our target is on the loose!"
"Captain!" Glissandi yelled, pulling at the man's arm to force him to stop. "There's Dark magic being used. Your men will be wiped out!"
Dar's eyes widened the tiniest fraction, then rapped his knuckles against his forehead. "Then we will die for the Light, Priestess."
The man pulled himself out of Glissandi's grap and set of at a run, only to come to a full stop when Lisa grabbed him by the neck. "Lock the inn down. Get your men inside, protect the child at all cost, and give us some guides. You have rooted out the rat, Captain. Now it is our turn."
The Captain met Lisa's burning gaze, irked by the idea that he would have to sit out the Darkness that had gotten past him.
"You have done well, Captain. The Lord has tasks for all of us. Do not forsake duty for honour." Glissandi's words were solemn and the Captain turned his eyes downwards. A speck of shame appeared in the red cloud of anger.
"As you say Priestess."

Lisa turned towards the stairs and bellowed loudly. "Get in gear and get down! We have prey to hunt!" Trista, somehow having exited the inn without anyone else having taken notice, popped back in through the door, walking backwards, her shield and sword pointing towards the outside. Mina and Mira practically threw themselves down the stairs, barely managing to avoid losing their bucklers and short swords in their reckless descent.
Glissandi submerged herself fully in the fires of her magic and her eyes started to shine. As Lisa barked orders and the party got in formation, the Priestess prepared herself to unleash the Lord's divine punishment on the vile cretin that dared to hurt children. By the Light! she swore, they will pay!
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Sat Dec 30, 2017 3:05 pm

The party stormed out of the inn, accompanied by a handful of soldiers that the Captain had assigned to guide them. Glissandi winced as the residue of another magical assault blasted past her. If she could feel it that clearly despite all the obstacles between their location, the enemy had to be a powerful spellcaster. Dangerously powerful. She turned towards the Paladin who was running alongside her, somehow managing to simultaneously sprint and hold her weapons up. "Looks like our enemy is a mage," she panted.
"That was fairly obvious since you had to remove a curse that finely crafted," the Paladin grunted in response.
Glissandi frowned and felt a stab of jealousy at the Paladin's ability to run at that speed without it affecting her. As much as the prospect disgusted her, she had a dire need of physical training to improve her stamina. "I know, but I can feel the spells from here. And there are a lot of obstructions in the way!"
Lisa turned her helmeted head towards the Priestess and let her eyes rest on the younger woman's face for a moment before nodding solemnly. "I understand." The Paladin snapped her eyes forward again and she shouted at Trista, who had taken the lead. "Trista! Anti-mage tactics!"
Trista gave no sign that she had heard anything, but Lisa seemed satisfied. Glissandi couldn't help but wonder if the Knight was a statue given life, considering the lack of emotion the woman displayed.

Lisa turned towards Glissandi again. "Do you have combat experience, Priestess?" she asked. She turned and gave a sharp gesture to the soldiers running alongside them, making them expand their circle around them.
"Not as much as I'd like, and all of it training," Glissandi admitted, "but I am capable and I won't panic. You can rely on me."
"We'll need to. Especially the twins, Trista and I can deflect a fair bit and our armour heightens those abilities, but the girls don't have the same defense, and they are too brash for their own good at times."
Twin groans indicated that the twins had heard the comment, despite the entire conversation happening at a rapid pace.

The group ran into a far larger contingent of the city's militia and within a few moments the party was locked well inside the centre, earning them a positive grunt by Lisa. The Empire trained their militias well, which was a rarity for forces assigned to cities. A lightly armoured, unarmed man made his way through the small army and took position next to Trista, whom the man assumed to be in command. "Ma'am, I'm Gerald, commander of the mages, who ever it is we're fighting is good. My colleague that send the flare is dead. Bitch all but disintegrated him. We were linked when it happened."
Glissandi looked at the man and saw two seas of red dance around him. Anger and grief filled him almost entirely, the two emotions enforcing one another. "Don't worry Gerald, we will return the favour."
The mage looked towards the Priestess and nodded, the desire for vengeance burning in his eyes. "Take care Priestess, our target uses weird attacks. No conventional blasts of fire or torrents of air. However she's fighting, my colleague had never seen anything like it."
Glissandi nodded in response and embraced her magic deeper, sending out threads to weave a net around her party as her eyes lit up. Whatever may come their way, she'd be ready for it.


The next few minutes were spend running in relative silence, with the soldiers at the front shoving the people on the streets out of the way and clearing the road for the group. Glissandi found herself panting more rapidly and Lisa threw her a worried look. "Are you rested enough?" the Paladin asked.
"Not used to running. Not part of our training. Plan to amend that in the future. Horse riding too." Glissandi sent a trickle of magic through her veins and she felt her fatigue slip off her. By the Lord, when that caught up with her she'd spend a week sleeping! That spell only delayed the inevitable.
Trista, who had manoeuvred herself to the front of the small army, slid to a halt and made a cutting gesture with her sword and spoke a single word. "Trouble." It carried enough authority to make the front of the group come to a dead stop, the men behind the first lines running into those ahead of them before everyone managed to stop.

Ahead of them was a shield-wall, formed by more militia-men. The small shields they wielded made it clumsily looking, but the spears were held with grim determination, and the crossbows poking over the top made up for it. The men covered the entirety of the street. Gerald went to the front and passed Trista, ignoring her hurried gesture to stay behind her. The shield-wall was a good tactic, but not against a single foe. And they were facing the wrong way. They were facing her way.
"What are you men doing?" Gerald asked, pure consternation adoring his voice. He looked at the three dozen or so men blocking their way and ordered them to break up the wall. The men ignored him and stayed in formation.
Trista ducked behind her shield. "Get back!" she shouted. Gerald turned in confusion and the crossbows fired. The mage never had a chance, the bolts, fired from that close, ripped him to pieces. Other bolts struck the militia's lines, most of whom hadn't put their shields up. Those who had weren't much safer, however, as the bolts simply smashed through them. Over a dozen of the militia went down with gaping wounds. Several crossbowmen had shot at Trista, but both the shield and the woman behind it were made of sterner stuff and she held firm, the attacks bouncing off her shield.

The group stood still in utter confusion as the men behind the shield-wall started reloading their crossbows with as much speed as they could manage. Lisa wasn't as easily shocked as the militiamen however, and raised her sword.
"Charge them!" she shouted out. The twins and Trista launched themselves from within the mass of bodies and threw themselves at the shield-wall, that tightened at the sight of three warrior women rushing their position. "Priestess! Break that wall!" the Paladin commanded. The Priestess, unaccustomed to the flow of battle, hopped to and lit up the air with a compressed ball of fire that she hurled towards the shield-wall. It overtook her comrades in the blink of an eye and smashed into the tight group, blasting them utterly apart and blinding everyone in the process.
Lisa, who had averted her sight as soon as she realised the Priestess was going with a fire spell, felt the heat wash over her and opened her eyes again, overseeing the carnage. Mina and Mira were huddled up behind Trista, a sensible move since the Knight was heavily armoured. Trista herself was fine, her large shield held up as a massive barrier between her and her target. Then her eyes wandered to the shield-wall. Or rather, what was left of it. The entire group had been simply obliterated. Glissandi's spell had hit them dead centre and exploded upon contact. Those closest to the impact had simply been evaporated, and the heatwave had blown the rest in every direction. It was a brutal, simple and efficient spell. The girl hadn't exaggerated her abilities.

She turned around and saw the militia still rooted in place. With Gerald's death and the sudden betrayal of their allies, shock reigned. She had to dispell that. She raised her sword again and let her voice thunder over them. "Ready yourselves! The enemy awaits!" Lord, giving speeches is not my thing. It worked though, the men seemed to shake off their stupor and come to their senses. "Good!" She could see the Weaver's Market in the distance, past the torn up street and the damaged buildings. Their quarry had to be clo—
"ATTACK" Glissandi shouted, her arms jumping forward as she hastily brought defenses up. Black streaks of magic flashed through the streets and collided on the golden dome that the Priestess had erected in the centre of the street. The militia who were to the sides of the street were less lucky, and the magical spears tore them apart. Where ever a man had taken even the smallest wound from the magic, his skin would turn black as tar, before it would rapidly spread across his entire body. The men near the afflicted jumped back, uttering curses as they witnessed their comrades die a horrible, painful death.

Lisa ignored all that however. Her attention was focused on a tall woman approaching them. Even with her limited ability she could see the air crackle around the woman. Witch! The woman appeared to be perfectly at ease and stopped a good hundred paces away from the group. Her features were surprisingly soft and she had a gentle smile playing about on her lips. Her long, black hair flowed behind her despite a lack of wind. In a way she seemed similar to the Priestess. Except for the eyes. Those were the complete opposite of Glissandi's. Were the Priestess' eyes turned into fountains of gold when she wielded her magic, the witch's eyes turned into pools of the darkest black.

The Paladin was surprised to feel a short tug on her arm and found Glissandi motioning to accompany her. The Priestess walked forward and the cluster of soldiers parted for her. Strangely enough Lisa felt less worried now. A battle-ready Priestess wouldn't fall prey to a surprise attack easily, be they physical or magical in nature. Not with the amount of defenses she had raised around her. If the air crackled around the witch, it all but thundered around the Priestess.
"You are the one who turned those soldiers, who hurt innocent children, and who basks in Darkness." Glissandi's voice rang out, serene and powerful. Lisa could feel how the men drew strength from that voice, standing up a bit straighter, faith filling their eyes.

The witch threw her head back and laughed. An eerily beautiful sound that made Lisa tense up and bring her own shield to bear. She could feel her instincts screaming at her that this woman was dangerous. She didn't find it strange that she thought of the witch as a woman, despite that the woman seemed even younger than Glissandi, who she thought of as a girl. After all, you didn't kill children.
"That I am," the witch replied. "And what are you going to do about it?" she asked, her voice just as musical as Glissandi's.
Lisa could swear she felt the ground tremble underneath her feet as Glissandi raised a single arm towards the witch and her eyes lit up like suns.
"Well," the Priestess began, gathering an insane amount of energy, "I am going to kill you."

Then the world went white.


Last edited by Floris on Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:23 am; edited 1 time in total
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Mon Jun 04, 2018 4:57 pm

A bolt of lightning struck an ancient tree and completely shattered it, followed a moment later by a thunderclap that sent the horses into a blind panic. Even though the weight of the carts impeded them and their handlers tried to pacify them and were walking alongside them, most of them made a run for it. They didn't get very far, as the narrow pathway through the dense woods was the only passable part. Men were run over as they made desperate and futile attempts to stop the stampede, their thick woollen coats swollen with the rain that fell from the skies in a continuous downpour. The frightened horses ran in all directions, often careering into each other or the carts as they did so, breaking legs and receiving gaping wounds as they did so. Within moments the previously orderly caravan was a horrid mess of wounded men and animals and destroyed vehicles. The merciless storm overhead cared naught for what was happening beneath it, and kept up its constant assault of wind, water and lightning.

In the midst of the mayhem stood a span of four oxen surrounded by an equal number of well-armed and well trained groomsmen. Behind those was a large wagon that had once upon a time been quite homely, but had since then sustained quite a beating. The paint was flaking off, the wood was damaged in multiple places, the iron parts were rusty and the wheel spokes had several cracks in them. Yet light still burned brightly behind the windows and it formed an island of calm inside the sea of chaos that surrounded it. The oxen held their peace, unperturbed by the horrid weather raging all around them, and the groomsmen were the very image of bored guards on a sunny day, their only reaction to the vengeful elements being to hide their faces deeply into their sturdy coats.

Inside the wagon a small army of servants tried and failed to look away from their master yelling at the guide. The man was tall, managed to be both fat and incredibly muscular at the same time, and was bellowing at the much smaller woman, who looked tiny in comparison. The woman lazily leaned on her long walking staff, her eyes glazing over the interior of the wagon. Everything about her spoke of utter disinterest in the man shouting down at her. The way she casually toyed with her long, hazel-brown hair, the dead look in her eyes and the yawns that kept escaping her lips. Only when a particularly strong flash of lightning lit up the sky did a spark of life return to her deep, brown eyes. A primitive, hungry look settled on her face for the briefest of moments as she observed the violent, wild and uncontrolled display of nature, before it disappeared along with the lightning itself.

"You're not even listening to me, are you!" the man shouted, bringing his hand down on her like a hammer. The woman was hit squarely on the cheek and was sent flying into an old armoire that broke under the impact. "You stupid bitch! My entire caravan's going up in splinters because of you!"
The woman carefully picked her way through the broken planks and got to her feet again. A bruise was forming on her cheek, but her eyes remained disinterested as they turned towards the man.
"I told you not to take this path, Rumbar. You didn't want to listen. Shame you didn't inherit a shred of your father's wits."
Rumbar stomped over towards her, anger flaring in his eyes. "Do not dare to talk about him, Sanguilia! I'm twice the man he is! Thrice! He didn't know how to run a business! Always wasting his money on frivolities! Never having the gall to cut costs where it was needed! He was an idiot! A buffoon! He was—"
"A man capable of keeping his caravan together," came Sanguilia's bored response as she prodded a rotten plank with her staff. "And he kept things in order."
The servants looked away as Rumbar smacked the woman again, sending the much smaller human flying into a closet, which was demolished as well.
Ignoring the blood running from several scratches on her face, Sanguilia grabbed a short plank with her fingers, before crumbling the rotten thing to dust. "See? You're so incompetent. I feel sorry for your father, really. Such a great man, yet he fathered such an inept clown like you." Her voice remained bored, as if the entire event wasn't anything that involved her.

Veins started throbbing on Rumbar's head as he threw himself at his guide with an incoherent scream of rage. He plucked her out of the debris as if she weighed no more than a kitten, her arms dangling limply beside her. Spit flew out of his mouth as he roared obscenities and explicit threats at her. The way he was violently shaking her, she seemed no more than a ragdoll, and still her eyes remained as dead and empty as before. As she refused to give him the satisfaction of any sort of reaction, he spit in her face and threw her onto the floor. She landed awkwardly on her arm, and it held for but a mere moment before it snapped with a sickening sound. She threw a casual glance towards it and used her other arm to lift up the broken limb. Bone protruded from it, pearly white mixed with red as blood seeped out of the wound.
"Damaged goods aren't worth much, you know?" she mocked him, the tiniest sliver of emotion sneaking into her voice. It was not pain, neither was it fear, nor anger. It didn't hint at any of those dark emotions. If Rumbar had any sanity left, he would have recognised it as amusement. Sadly enough, the man was way too far gone, buried under layers of pure anger, and had reverted purely to his baser instincts. He wanted to humiliate this woman, break her, see her cry and beg him for forgiveness. He would take everything from her, and it was well within his rights to do so! Forget that she was an independent guide who had safely steered the caravan through the wilds for over a decade, evading monsters and storms and traps alike! The look in his eyes changed from rage to lust as he saw the tears in her clothes and the skin underneath was revealed. He stepped over towards her and grabbed her again, not by the shoulders this time, but by her tunic. He leered openly at her as he pulled on it.

Life flared into Sanguilia's eyes in an instant and before Rumbar knew that something had changed, she had tightened her fingers together and rammed them deep into his throat and crushed his trachea. As the taller man crashed into the ground, fruitlessly gasping for air, Sanguilia stood up, her eyes still ablaze. She calmly patted the dust from her clothes before rearranging them for decency. Ignoring the thrashing form of her previous employer, she went to pick up her staff. The servants were peeking from their hiding spots, rooted to the ground with fear as their master's movement became increasingly infrequent as his air ran out, before he finally ceased moving altogether. Pulling her hood over her head, Sanguilia looked over at the man whose father she had served faithfully and loyally for a dozen years. Then she spat at his feet.
"I am not for you to touch."
She turned around and walked out of the wagon, hiding her broken arm within her cloak. She nodded towards the groomsmen standing watch at the oxen, and received curt nods in return. Everything that had transpired within the wagon had been silenced by the sound of the raging storm. A particularly strong gale of wind ripped her hood off her face, and she moved to put it back in place when a frighteningly powerful lightning bolt turned an immense tree into a smoking crater. A wild grin formed on her lips and flames of excitement danced in her eyes as she lowered her arm again, letting the rain wash over her face.

She smiled as she hopped off the wagon's platform, and with a determined tread she glided into the dense undergrowth, leaving the caravan behind. She didn't think twice about those she left behind. The storm would end within a day, she knew, and then they would die. Not far from these woods was a nest of Wyverns, and the caravan would be easy picking for the beasts, but that did not matter to her. This chapter of her life was over, and it was time to move to the next.
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Tue Jun 05, 2018 8:41 pm

Sanguilia carefully picked her way through the dense growth, knowing there were numerous poisonous plants, thorns, and other unpleasant surprises hiding all around her. Water seeped through the cracks in the canopy of leaves high above her, countless droplets gathering in tiny streams that became small waterfalls thundering down between the branches, feeding the earth far beneath. Where the lightning and thunder failed to permeate the dense network of leaves, the water compensated, adding its unique symphony to the woods. It enthralled her. It made everything seem so alive. She paused for a moment and closed her eyes, enjoying the streams falling down on her face, soaking her hair and seeping into her clothes. She felt how her body struggled to contain some heat, how it fought with the water for that precious warmth that a human needed to live, and how it failed. The corners of her lips twitched upwards and soon she found herself laughing out loud, arms stretched wide open. She twirled around until she noticed her broken arm disturbing her rhythm. She tilted it to get a better look at it, a flash of annoyance marring her young visage. It didn't feel right. Everything was alive, full of fire, of energy, of action and movement! The bone sticking from her damaged limb broke that spell, disrupted the weave that nature had carefully woven on the world. She grabbed it with her other hand and with a sharp move she snapped it back in place. Unseen by sentient eyes, a rain of green sparks danced across her arm, twirling around the wound before diving into it as she held the bones in place. She waited patiently until the last sparks were gone before stretching her arm out. She turned it, bent it, twisted and flexed it. When she was satisfied with how smoothly it moved again, she switched her attention back to the spectacle nature was bringing to bear. The smile returned to her lips and laughter to her eyes as she danced deeper into the forest with all the grace of a mystical nymph.

As she made her way through the dense undergrowth with more grace than even the most gifted ballet dancers, hardly a leaf that stirred at her passing. Her feet seemed to refuse to acknowledge the existence of roots, no matter how well hidden. Her arms twirled around her nimble frame as she treated trunks as old friends, dancing around them as if they were her partners in a mystical dance, and all the while letting out that delightful, childlike laugh. A sound of innocence, of wonder for the world. It intertwined with the music of the rain and formed a beautiful duet that seemed at home in the dark forest. It was neither gentle, nor wild. Neither slow, nor quick. It simply merged perfectly with what was, a true harmony between the force of nature and a single woman, dancing as if this was her place, her home.

She vaulted through the air as her legs carried her up, landing on a low branch and smiled warmly at an owl and its owlets. It looked at her from the safety of its nest, tilting its head as if it were curious about the creature that just landed on its doorstep.
"Hello there," she sang.
The owl hooted softly in response. Reassured that the creature meant no harm, it shook the damp from its feathers and adjusted its position to cover the owlets more properly.
She enjoyed herself. Her breath came out in short pants, more due to her excitement than the dancing. With every step she had taken, she had distanced herself more from her life as a guide, returning to the roots of her personality. She was free again, allowed to move as she wished, see as she wished, live as she wished!
"Hoot hoot," she whispered, before giggling.
The owl looked at her silently for a few moments, before giving a few hoots in return.
"That's right. You have a family to care for. Responsibilities. A home. Nice and warm. Meanwhile I'm wet and cold. Yet we both live and move, isn't that beautiful?"
She tilted her head and looked intensely at the owl, who returned her gaze with one its own. She slowly brought her hand up until it was in front of the nest. The owl kept looking straight into her eyes. She kept it there, holding it in place. Oh so carefully, she brought her hand forward until it rested on the owl's head. She scratched it, the smile on her face broadening. In a swift movement she brought her hand down, letting her fingers slide across the owl's feathers, down and down, until she reached the owlets. Without breaking eye contact, she plucked one from the protection of the nest and pulled it towards her. And still the owl didn't look away. It didn't move or make a sound.

Finally she broke eye contact, and moved her gaze onto the owlet, who was chirping in her hands. It was obviously cold and didn't like her wet hands surrounding it.
"That's right," she repeated, "you and I are alike. Both cold, and wet. Without the protection of those who gave us life. Carried by currents that we cannot go against. And yet..."
She looked up again, into the owl's eyes. It rustled its feathers, trying to look bigger, frightened by what it saw in the woman's eyes. Sanguilia's hands closed and the chirping stopped. The owl hooted once, then stopped.
"And yet we are nothing alike. I am not helpless and I am not adrift. I have both purpose and a goal. And I shall achieve them, no matter what life may throw at me. Every day I become more than I was before. Nothing will stop me. Not until I have what I so desire." Her voice was cold ice and sharp like crystal, cutting through the rain and silencing the storm around her.
"And until then," she said, the darkness that had covered her dissipating, "I shall enjoy life as much as I can. Because that is what I have been taught."
She opened her hand and smiled at the little owlet sleeping soundly in her now warm hands, a handful of sparks jumping out of their confinement and assaulting drops of rain as they came down, going up in bits of steam as they collided. She hooted at the owl as she placed the owlet back in its nest, gave it another gentle scratch on the head and launched herself off the branch, resuming her trek through the woods.


She needed to plan. Would she return to her master and report on what she had encountered? That was a silly question. Of course she would. The real debate was whether to return in a straight line, or to move as the currents took her. She recalled the map of the regions in her mind. The Woods of Aralbas were massive, but the caravan hadn't gone in too deep yet, and the road they had intended to take was fairly short. If she moved swiftly she knew she could be out and into the city of Tinas in a day or two. She could also take a detour to the hidden Kobold fort that was nearby, although chances were they wouldn't take kindly to a human. That would be interesting though. It had been a while since she met up with Kobolds and the creatures never failed to amuse her. They were quirky and loved playing pranks, something she had in common with them. Although they were equally likely to kill her on sight. That was a situation she'd rather avoid. Not that she didn't understand where they were coming from. Given how cults of the Lord had been spreading in the lands, with their fanatical desire to murder all who were not Men, she could even sympathise with that idea. Especially since those madmen had a strong base in Tinas and were rather forceful when it came to conversions and catching heretics.

She recapped her choices. Either she went to the fort and dealt with the Kobolds, who may or may not try to kill her on sight, or she went to Tinas, tried to explain why the caravan was not with her, and then would possibly have to deal with zealous fanatics trying to convert or kill her on sight. Both seemed equally interesting, but she honestly believed that the Kobolds were likely going to be the more reasonable of the two, despite that she had many friends in the city who would vouch for her. Humans tended to favour coin more than the people they befriended, whereas Kobolds had a strict code of honour.
She sighed deeply. She missed Lanas, her home city, or the next best thing to it, given that she didn't actually know where she was born. People had honour there, courtesy of her master. It had been fun growing up there. Incredibly harsh, and she had been scared, cried often and took more beatings than she could be bothered to remember, but it was home. A good home. The home her master had made. Her master... What would he do? Would he go to the Kobolds, or go to Tinas?

She stopped mid-stride and laughed out loud as she realised how stupid that question was. She had to go to Tinas eventually, just to pick up better means of transportation. So naturally she would go to the Kobolds first. The idea that she might die didn't bother her. It was part of the circle of life. People lived, and people died. Some more easily than others, but all would pass the border eventually. The finality of life made it worth living in the first place after all.

Laughing at the irony of that last statement, she set off towards the hidden fort. Finally she was free again. Finally she was going home.
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Wed Jun 06, 2018 9:25 pm

The hours slid by unnoticed as Sanguilia made her way through the woods. The dense undergrowth did little to hamper her progress, as she was more than used to dealing with harsh terrain from her many years of experience as a guide. The miles slid by her as the storm overhead slowly passed her by, eventually exchanging the dark clouds for the black of night, countless stars replacing the rain. She shook off the final sparks as she finished using magic to bring her body temperature to more acceptable levels, enjoying the twirls of steam they caused as the last damp evaporated from her clothes. She paused shortly when she heard distant screams echo in the wind; the sound of Wyverns hunting, and knew that the caravan was about to meet a bloody end. She felt no guilt.

She focused on the way ahead instead, knowing that the fort was nearby. While she didn't know the exact location, there would be signs of habitation, hidden to everyone but those who knew what to watch out for. It didn't take her too long before she saw the signs. Kobolds were small, and were often thought of as dumb, or less intelligent as humans. Nothing could be further from the truth. They had a very different intelligence, but were more than a match for humanity's best and brightest. There were small markings on trees, applied with concoctions that gave off a foul smell, but were unnoticeable to most sentient beings. Animals, on the other hand, would avoid it like the plague. It was a great way to throw off the watch dogs the fanatics liked to use, and to keep their traps clear from the local wildlife, letting them set up a more lethal variant without fear of harming innocent creatures.

The traps became visible shortly after she crossed the first signs. Small discolorations in the grass and leaves showed the locations of deadly pitfalls. Branches that were just that tiny bit out of shape turned out to be hidden crossbows, their bolts undoubtedly poisoned. A seemingly rotten trunk hid a masterful piece of machinery that would be triggered if enough weight gathered around the pressure plate hidden underneath, causing it to launch large nails in every direction. A rather nasty and vicious surprise. It warned her however. The Kobolds were preparing for war. This visit would not start peacefully at all. She kept on, sidestepping traps as they came into view, carefully moving between them to avoid triggering both the physical ones and the much more dangerous magical ones. The ward spells were hardly visible, often turned upside down so a falling leaf or a drop of rain wouldn't set them off by accident. Insects knew better than to walk over such things; the pulse of stationary magic wasn't a pleasant sensation to them and so they steered well clear.

It was all good fun, really. She enjoyed herself. Traps that could kill her if she missed but the tiniest detail, wards that she could hardly sense lying underfoot, waiting to go off and take her to the underworld, and no doubt there were Kobold scouts that patrolled the area and would soon notice her. Her outfit, damaged as it was in ways that weren't caused by the wood itself, would obviously mark her as someone with no military connection, but she doubted that this would stop the Kobolds from piercing her with their infamous crossbows.

A sliver of movement drew her attention and she paused. She put her staff to the ground and leaned on it, the very image of a lazy, uncaring person. Which, in a way, she was. Her eyes quickly scanned the canopy and lower branches until she saw the scout. He was slowly raising his crossbow, trying to keep her from noticing. Or rather, trying to keep her from noticing the second one who was a few dozen feet to the right of him, stealthily readying his crossbow as well. They were good. They had recognised her as someone with scouting abilities and acted accordingly. How fun.

"You either put those crossbows done or I will put this staff where the sun doesn't shine and wave you around like a banner, she said. Her voice was calm. She didn't raise it, nor did she sound afraid. It was a statement, cold and clear, with a hint of amusement behind it that was far more visible in her twinkling eyes. The Kobolds paused, not so much because of what she had said, but because she had spoken their language.
The Kobolds looked at each other in confusion, before the second scout barked an order at the first. He raised his crossbow, pulled the trigger, and was promptly launched off the branch and into the bushes below. Sparks danced all across his crossbow as it bounced off the branch the Kobold had previously occupied only a moment ago, before tumbling to the ground.
I knew you lot had special weapons, but this is the first time I see a crossbow that shoots Kobolds rather than bolts. She laughed as she said it, her voice dancing through the forest. The first scout, who had held off shooting, looked at the display, too stunned for words. Then he connected the dots between Sanguilia's remark and the sparks and he threw his head back in laughter.

Several feet lower, Sanguilia had a broad grin on her face. Kobolds loved pranks, in any form, in any shape, and shifting the forces that launched a bolt onto the Kobold holding the weapon had been a very direct and practical form of that. The scout that had fallen down saw her approaching and desperately scrambled backwards at the sight of her, ignoring the thorns that tore at his vest and skin as he crawled away from her. His eyes went wide as saucers and he screamed with pure fear as she raised her staff and pointed the bottom end towards him. The near-maniacal glitter in her eyes further enhanced his panic.
"Alright human, that's enough. Or poor Lib'l will piss his pants if you keep it up." The Kobold easily climbed down from the branch he was on and disappeared into the bushes, before popping up less than a foot away from her.
"I'm Ab'li. Sorry for the harsh reception, but there have been quite a few longlegs that have been causing us trouble recently. We're pretty much at war with them, you see, he said with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
She let out a short, barking laugh. He was testing her with a pun humans wouldn't understand. Kobolds were masters of remaining unseen.
"I saw that, and you, and Lib'l" she replied, mimicking Ab'li's grin. She was rewarded with the sight of his face lighting up in a broad grin, revealing significantly more teeth than most humans were comfortable with.
"So what brings you to our home then? And where did you learn to speak our language? You speak it well, absurdly well for a human."
"I'm simply passing through. I was with a caravan. You may have heard of Rumbas?" She tilted her head, waiting to see if the name meant anything to him. When he nodded in response, she continued.
"He died in an accident recently, and his son took over. I was their guide. He was an idiot however, unlike his father, and ignored my advice. He took us all through the forest. I abandoned them before the storm ended and the Wyverns flew out. So I'm currently making my way to Tinas, where I'll probably end up having trouble with the same longlegs that trouble you, but I knew your fort was on the way there, so I decided to drop by. I haven't met up with your kind since I left Grads'Krl ages ago."
"You have visited Grads'Krl?" Ab'li asked, his tone incredulous. "The Fortress of our King?"
"I have. I was sent there to learn about you. Your culture, language, magic, everything really. It was a very pleasant time, and I taught many little children that sewer water can reverse direction mid-flight." She smiled. Those were fond memories. The adults abided by their king's orders to respect the envoy, but the children very clearly believed that since she was there to study their culture, she also had to experience their pranks. She had fallen for a fair number of them, but had rapidly adapted and turned the tables on them. In the end they had made peace with one another, and during the last months of her stay, they had become a true scourge of terror that haunted the inhabitants of the fortress, the ingenuity of children mixed with her ability proving to be an endless source of original and unexpected pranks and traps.

"That's a very impressive story you tell there, human. Allow me to reintroduce myself the way it behaved a Kobold welcoming a guest from the Hold. I am Ab'li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West Gate. I welcome you to Kras'vt and offer you the hospitality of me and my kin." He made a short bow, ignoring the unbelieving and confused looks his companion was giving him.
Sanguilia bowed in turn and made sure her head went lower than the smaller being.
"I am Sanguilia, Traveller of the World and Apprentice of He Who Is. I am humbled by your warm words and shall gracefully accept your hospitality. My body and mind are at your service while I share your halls. She spoke the words with care, recalling them from a past long behind her. Kobolds loved pranks, and they were known for both that and their crossbows, which were the stuff of legends, but they had a much broader history that was well hidden to all but a select few that did not belong to their race. They would consider the words the two of them had just spoken as an oath. No harm would befall her and they would share all they had with her. They would honour her as a guest, and in return she would follow their rules and treat her hosts with respect. The last part of the phrase was more important than most people could imagine, and she knew very well that they would quietly watch to see if she abided by it. Body and mind. If those in the fort required help of her, or she saw an issue that was within her ability to solve, they would expect her to do so without being asked. It was a complicated and convoluted code.

As Ab'li kicked Lib'l up and shouted at him to start guarding again, Sanguilia couldn't keep a childlike smile from her face. Most people would think the life of a guide was interesting, but after more than a decade she had grown oh so tired of it. Now she was doing interesting things again, learning new things rather than mastering old ones. As she walked beside her much shorter guide and happily engaged in small talk with him, she let part of her mind wander.
Life, she considered, was good once more.


Last edited by Floris on Sun Jun 10, 2018 8:22 am; edited 1 time in total
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Thu Jun 07, 2018 10:52 pm

Sanguilia followed her guide towards the well-hidden fort. Ab'li had gone largely silent and was busy waving off groups of guards that came up to him to ask about her, which was quite understandable, given their current war with the fanatics and her showing up. She did notice that Ab'li consistently failed to mention that she was fluent in their language though, and took great care to phrase it so that it would seem that she wasn't able to understand a word of what was being said. She had caught on immediately and had given him a sly smile when they had passed the third group of guards. He nearly failed to get his face back under control when the next group had shown up, obviously giddy with the idea of being able to play a good prank on his fellows.

She was impressed with the amount of security and how well-oiled the outer defences were. Small groups of around half a dozen Kobolds were patrolling the area in tight patterns, with many more scouts guarding the outer perimeter, working in pairs. If they used their usual tactics, one would engage and delay, while the other would silently call for backup. The patrols would take up defensive positions and further delay the enemy, while the larger contingents that were stationed at outposts would take to the trees and prepare to rain down death and disease on their foes. Kobolds may be small in stature, but in their natural habitat they were fierce fighters and they played to their strengths and weakness perfectly.

As they reached the outpost, Ab'li exchanged a small greeting with a Kobold who distinguished himself from his fellows by the large golden earring that pierced his long, pointed ear. Sanguilia frowned, before remembering that it was a sign of rank used by their Guards. That made little sense. The Guards were a specific type of their military that was rarely deployed outside the walls of the fort, as opposed to the Hunters, such as Ab'li. She leaned on her staff, pretending to be patient and waiting for her host to finish his chat, and started eavesdropping.

"I'm telling you, Lik'r, she can be trusted. She's visited the halls of the King himself!" Ab'li said, raising his voice. Annoyance dripped out of it.
"I don't care. She's human, so she's an enemy! What did you think, bringing a foe to our homes! Has your mind cracked from all those dorberries you so love to eat? Or did she bribe you?" Lik'r responded.
That wasn't good. She didn't care much about the two dozen crossbows that were casually held by the Kobolds behind him, nor that they were pointed in her general direction without being directly aimed at her, but Lik'r was dangerously close to insulting her host's honour, and that would end in blood.
Ab'li folded his arms and gave a cold, menacing stare that caused Lik'r to take a step back despite himself.
"She is our guest. We exchanged the official greetings. Do you dare question my right to invite a guest, Lik'r, Guardian of the West Gate?"
Lik'r seemed to be taken aback by that statement. It was all but a challenge for Kobolds. He would either bow down and lose face, or he would end up having a duel. To the death.
She could see the muscles in Ab'li's arms start to bulge as he moved his hand to the heft of his knife.
"Well?" he hissed through his teeth.
Pearls of sweat formed on Lik'r's head, slowly rolling down his face as he considered his answer. If she had to take a guess, it would be unlikely that he'd back down. He was simply calculating his chances of winning. She knew his type. Angry, full of blind hate against humans. Similar to the fanatics who fought for the Lord, really. It was rare to see one in a position that high though. She fully ignored the Kobolds behind him and focused solely on the pair facing off. Slowly but surely, Lik'r's hand slid towards his own short sword.

"Traitor!" he screamed, and attacked. He pulled his sword in a move that spoke of his abilities and experience, and Ab'li barely managed to get his knife out. She knew that it would be hard to parry a sharp thrust, and both of the combatants knew it as well. Lunging forward, Lik'r brought his sword up against the knife, slid past it and aimed to perforate Ab'li with a single attack. Time seemed to slow as the blade neared his skin. It crept closer, inch by inch, and then a rain of sparks crashed into the blade and tore it to pieces, simply evaporating it. Lik'r's eyes went wide as saucers as he lost his balance and fell forward, and Ab'li struck before he could recover, bringing his knee up and smashing it straight into his opponent's face. His head bounced back a bit from the impact, but the rest of Lik'r's body continued to fall down. Ab'li adjusted his stance and stabbed his knife into the ground, against the skin of Lik'r's neck.
"You dare attack me like that! I should cut off your limbs one by one and feed you to the ants you mongrel! Ab'li shouted, more outraged by the lack of proper procedure than the attack itself.
"Ab'li." She could hold her tongue no longer. She had interfered earlier, out of obligation, and this was no different. Muttering erupted from the other Kobolds as she walked over to the pair. Ab'li regained his self-control and took a step back from his downed foe. Lik'r grunted as he regained his senses. Before he could get his act together, however, Sanguilia delicately wrapped her fingers around his neck. He reached for them, too out of it to understand what was happening. The fingers tightened into a steel ring as she clasped them shut. Standing up, not bothered by his weight in the slightest, she raised him until his feet were dangling well off the ground. She looked him dead in the eyes and could see panic starting to form in his mind as he met her cold, unforgiving stare.
"On the invitation of Ab'li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West Gate, I enter this hold as his guest. In turn, I serve the hold with body and mind while I share your halls, she stated. She kept the tone of her voice official, oratory. Yet her fingers slowly tightened more and more with each word that passed her lips.
"Lik'r, Guardian of the West Gate, do you deny Ab'li's right to invite a guest into the hold? Do you deny me these rights? Do you deny that I am a guest, invited in by one of your kin?" She added a layer of ice to her voice, her gaze taking on the cold of death as she asked it of him, as she dared him to defy her and her host.

Lik'r gasped for breath, and fruitlessly struggled against her hand as it closed more and more. His breath came out in short gasps, but didn't go back in. His face started turning purple, but he started shaking his head, desperate for breath and relief. His trousers coloured damp with wetness and a sour odour filled the area as his bladder control gave out.
Not easing up on her grasp but ceasing to crush his throat further, Sanguilia turned toward Ab'li, who was watching the exchange with a stare that he tried to keep neutral. He met her eyes and found no emotion in there, only dedication to the rules she had just enforced. He pondered the situation for a moment, ignoring Lik'r's desperate gurgles, and nodded once, solemnly.
Sanguilia turned back towards the Kobold in her hand, who was now turning blue, and dropped him. He fell to the ground, his hands reaching for his throat while he gasped in air as if it was sweet ambrosia.
"Go in peace," she whispered.

Lik'r heard the words and looked up just in time to see Sanguilia's staff come down on him like lightning. He felt a sharp pain burn through his skull, and then nothing.


Last edited by Floris on Wed Jun 27, 2018 8:37 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:22 pm

A Kobold Guard pushed both Sanguilia and Ab'li into the main hall of the fort, where the Maester and the Circle resided. Sanguilia probed her memory, and recalled that the Maester was a position of practical power, not associated with combat ability, physical prowess or magical affinity, but instead was given to the Kobold who would be the most capable of running the Hold in its entirety. It was comparable to a human administrator with the absolute authority of a king. The Circle consisted of the eldest, and therefore most wise, Shamans of the Hold. The number of Shamans in the Circle were indicative of the size of the Hold. Given how she saw six Shamans standing behind the throne, she realised that the Hold was bigger than she had thought at first glance. Each Shaman in the Circle represented roughly three to four hundred Kobolds, meaning that there lived around two thousand inhabitants in the fort.

She hadn't been surprised when the other Guards had taken both her and her host into custody. Although custody was too strong a word. They had been formally invited to come along, and her captors would remain friendly and polite, unless she refused. Standard procedure, really. She had killed Lik'r and had good cause for that. He had launched a surprise attack, without stating his full name and title, challenging Ab'li using his full name and title, openly refuted Ab'li's right to have her as a guest, while naming her by her full name and title. By the Flows of Life, Kobolds were so formal that getting anything done through proper channels could drive a person up the walls.
She knew she wasn't in any trouble. Lik'r had forfeited his life when he diverged from proper procedures, and the only reason his death was swift was because he retracted his accusation towards Ab'li at the end, and because Ab'li had accepted that retraction. For roughly three foot tall creatures with long noses, pointy ears and fuzzy hairballs on their head, they really weren't as cute and harmless as they looked.

Sanguilia's eyes wandered around the main hall. It was amazing how much Kobolds could do with trees, given time. People often credited Elves with the ability to grow wood into any shape, and while she had not had the chance to meet any Elves herself, her master having always sent her out in completely different directions, she doubted that the long-ears had the same practical approach to it. The main hall was made from hundreds of trees that had grown around one another in the shape of walls, before converging on the top and merging into a single, massive trunk. From the outside it looked as if the tree had swallowed a massive rock and the ground wouldn't take it. Where Elves liked to grow their buildings far from the ground, Kobolds were more practical, less elegant, and kept their homes firmly planted on solid soil, the roots forming surprisingly flat floors.

There was little in terms of decoration or furniture. There was the throne, plenty of seats that were either in use or stacked against the walls, and what little furniture that was present in the room was purely practical. A few tables, closets, a handful of bookshelves. Light seeped in from magically altered ivy that grew across the ceiling. Kobold Shamans were often seen as incapable of using magic, but that was human folly. They were indeed quite incapable of anything that involved mobile magic, so to speak, but they were masters when it came to stationary magic. Wards, growing trees and manipulating plants, traps, there were few creatures who could match them in those fields.

Her attention was drawn when she felt a sudden urge to roll her eyes and found that the Guard accompanying her and Ab'li had knelt in front of the throne and started speaking with a clear baritone, announcing their presence. She suppressed her desire to yawn and braced herself for another round of formalities.
"Maester Jas'tra of Hold Kras'Vt, your servant Lob'i, Guardian of the West Gate and Keeper of Inner Peace stands before you. I bring you Ab'li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West Gate, along with a human he proclaims as his guest, Sanguilia, Traveller of the World and Apprentice of He Who Is. During their approach to the Hold they were stopped by Lik'R, Guardian of the West Gate, who insulted Ab'li's honour and insinuated that Ab'li had no right to invite a guest in. Ab'li reacted honourably and spoke the words to open a Duel, but Lik'r failed to respond in kind and launched an attack without voicing his desire for a duel. Upon this, Sanguilia intervened and directly caused Lik'r's death, after proclaiming her identity as Ab'li's guest and speaking the words of servitude to the Hold in exchange for hospitality. The three of us have gathered in front of you to let you decide on whether or not their actions were just and fair."

Knowing very well that any signs of annoyance would be a seen as a grave insult to them, Sanguilia had to content herself by gnashing her teeth in silence. She had enjoyed life with Kobolds before, and found them pleasurable company, but by the Flows, their procedure and need for formality grew more annoying by the minute.

The Maester looked down from his throne towards the kneeling Guard and gave a response that was just as formal as the speech of Lob'i had been.
"As you have asked, so shall I judge. Let it be known that I, Maester Jas'tra of Hold Kras'Vt, have heard the tale from my servant Lob'i, Guardian of the West Gate and Keeper of the Inner Peace, involving Ab'li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West Gate, who stands before me; involving Sanguilia, Traveller of the World and Apprentice of He Who Is, who stands before me, and involving Lik'r, Guardian of the West Gate, who does not stand before me on the account of being deceased."
The Maester turned his attention from Lob'i towards Ab'li, who had been patiently standing at attention. Upon seeing the Maester's gaze on him, he bowed.
"Ab'li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West Gate, your name is known to me. Your Maester asks of you, my faithful servant, is which my servant Lob'i, Guardian of the West Gate and Keeper of the Inner Peace reports, correct?"
Ab'li straightened himself again, swelling with pride at being called a faithful servant, rather than just a servant. When he spoke, he did so with a strong, clear voice that resonated through the hall. Maester Jas'tra of Hold Kras'Vt, your faithful servant Ab'li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West Gate stands before you. That which your servant Lob'i, Guardian of the West Gate and Keeper of the Inner Peace reports is true. While on our usual scouting trip, my younger colleague and I, your servant Lib'l, Feather of the Hunters, encountered the lone human Sanguilia, Traveller of the World and Apprentice of He Who Is. Despite being hidden, she had spotted us immediately and had, prior to that, been easily evading all the traps that fill the border between the woods and our Hold."

Sanguilia let her thoughts drift off, only paying attention with a fraction of her mind. She had lived through those events, hearing them recapped in such a dreary, formal manner bored her to tears. She would have preferred watching grass grow. She started thinking of cider instead. Every race she had encountered so far had their own specialty when it came to alcoholic beverages, and Kobolds were the undisputed masters when it came to brewing cider. She felt that familiar nagging in the back of her head when she thought of it, her master didn't approve of drinking anything intoxicating, even if her mind was incredibly resilient and she didn't get drunk easily. She suppressed the urge to smile when she remembered how her master had reacted when he had caught her drinking in secret. After a training session that could only be described as pure torture, he had spent over a year doing nothing but providing her with every type of liquor there was, from the very worst to the very best. He had not scolded her for her choice to drink, nor had he forbidden her from drinking. Instead he had trained her how to deal with alcohol, how it would affect her behaviour, to distinguish flavours, and so many things that by the end of the it all she had nearly promised herself that she'd never touch a drop ever again. She had, however, abstained from drinking for quite some time after that lesson. It had been a very informative experience, but not exactly a pleasant one.

Her attention fluttered back towards the present just in time to hear Ab'li finish up the story.
"After that, Lob'i and the other Guardians, your servants, decided it was the most wise course of action if our tale was brought to you, for you and your wisdom to decide if we acted fairly or not."
The Maester brought up a hand and Ab'li bowed again, before taking a few steps back until he stood alongside Lob'i.
"I have heard your tale, Ab'li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West Gate, and shall take it into consideration. Sanguilia, Traveller of the World, Apprentice of He Who Is and guest of Ab'li, my faithful servant, and of Hold Kras'Vt. As guest of our Hold, do you know and respect our customs? Will you answer and honour me as Maester as if you were my servant?"
She stepped forward, until she was but a few feet away from the throne. She held the old Kobold's gaze for a moment and looked him over, appraising him as much as he was her. She smiled, warmly, and she could feel that it reached her eyes. She bowed towards the old Kobold and spoke, her voice clear as rain and weaving a warm melody through the hall as her tongue twisted itself into unfamiliar shapes to produce the strange sounds that were part of the Kobold language.
Maester Jas'tra of Hold Kras'Vt, I, Sanguilia, Traveller of the World and Apprentice of He Who Is stands before you as guest of Ab'li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West Gate. I stand before you as your servant and will honour you and your hospitality. My body and mind are at your service while I share your halls."
The Maester gave a curt nod and she raised herself to her full height again, looking slightly down on the Maester. He gave her a friendly, toothy smile and motioned for her to continue.

As she told her version of the events, she found the boring, repetitive formalities a lot easier to tolerate with the Maester smiling at her. She could tell he was a kind man, who disliked war and was happy to have a guest. Upon hearing her confirm that she had stayed in the halls of the Kobold King, his eyes twinkled like stars in a clear sky. As she continued on and told how her promise to serve in body and mind forced her to interfere, his face took on a dark scowl as she recounted just how Lik'r had betrayed his kin with his unprovoked insults and assault. When she mentioned how she had dissolved his sword, the Circle of Shamans stirred to attention, but was silenced by a short gesture from the Maester.
When she was finally done she could tell by the look on the Maester's face that everything would end precisely as near all those involved had predicted. He rose from his throne and nodded solemnly at the trio in front of him, as Ab'li and Lob'i joined her to stand in a single, formal line, which was slightly disharmonious due to her being nearly twice as tall as the Kobolds beside her.
"Let it be known that I, Maester Jas'tra of Hold Kras'Vt, find that Lob'i, Guardian of the West Gate and Keeper of the Inner Peace, Ab'Li, Forebow of the Hunters and Warden of the West and Sanguilia, Traveller of the World and Apprentice of He Who Is, have spoken true and acted justly. Let it also be known that she is our guest and will honour our customs. In turn, we shall provide her with our hospitality and see that she wants for naught. So I declare. So shall it be."
"Hear! Hear!" the Circle chanted behind him.

The formalities done, Sanguilia didn't even have time to blink before she was rushed by a flood of Kobold as the Maester and the Circle abandoned their stately positions to storm her with questions, handshakes and curious prodding. The former two she didn't mind so much, but when the Shamans started to become a bit too liberal with their curiosity and their strange imaginings that prodding would somehow explain her abilities, she sent the entire group floating in a whirl of sparks. Amidst cries of amazement the Maester did his best to call the Shamans to order, and only succeeded after Sanguilia resorted to shaking them until they were too occupied with keeping their meals down.
"I have no qualms answering your questions," she began, a mischievous twinkle playing in her eyes that was mirrored by the Maester. "But I do believe there are certain establishments were a weary traveller might wet her throat before speaking in length about such serious matters, are there not?"
The Maester burst out laughing and several of the Shamans, who were currently floating upside down, started nodding enthusiastically. As the sparks dissipated and the group either landed or crashed into the floor, Sanguilia started walking towards the exit, the Maester keeping pace behind her, being one of the lucky few who landed feet rather than head-first. Dusty formalities soon forgotten, she found herself gossiping amicably with the old Kobold as they made for the bar and some badly needed refreshments.
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Thu Jun 14, 2018 3:53 pm

Faen peeked nervously from underneath the sail of the wagon. His wings were folded alongside his body as he tried to keep himself from shivering in fear. Two wagons further ahead were the eight guards of the merchant train arguing with people from the fanatical group Flame of the Lord, overly zealous believers of a god from somewhere. They claimed they fought for good, for the Light, for more of that crap. In reality they were well armed thugs that simply slaughtered anyone who was not human, who didn't properly convert and revere their Lord, or who made the mistake of opposing them. He could see his friend Daenan stand in front of the leader of the fanatics, shielding the leader of their small caravan, Marcus, with his much larger body. Faen tried to get a better look without leaving the safety of the wagon. If those madmen spotted him, they would slaughter everyone on the spot. He could see at least a dozen of them, but he knew there were more. He just prayed that they wouldn't find out what Daenan was, or their heads would roll as well. Faen knew he wouldn't be able to escape afterwards. They'd just take the wagons in their entirety and roll them back to their base in Tinas, and they'd find him eventually. Unbidden thoughts bubbled to the forefront of his mind. Would his death be quick? Would they pluck his wings, torture him, make his passing slow and agonising?

"L-like I s-said, g-good sir, we a-are but h-humble m-merchants. I-I am b-but a humble m-merchant. T-these are m-my guards, g-good sir!" Marcus stammered. He held his hat in his hands, his fingers plucking at the seams as he nervously looked up at the tall commander.
"Is that so? Yet you seem awfully short for a Man. Are you sure you are not a mixture? A half-breed of some sort? You are aware that those who follow the Lord, those who have sworn their souls to the Light, cannot abide the presence of inhuman monsters, who can only serve the Dark, don't you, humble merchant?" the commander asked, spitting the last words. His hand was resting on the handle of his blade, his fingers drumming a melody while he stared menacingly at the smaller man. The men around him laughed darkly. The commander looked around, observing both the positions of his men and of the caravan guards. He wasn't worried. A few of his men had their swords out already, and of the rest there were none who didn't have their hands near their blades. A few measly guards were not a threat. Not even the big one up front.

Daenan smiled from underneath his helmet, towering a solid two heads over the tall commander. He let out a short laugh, seeming to be perfectly at ease. He was different from the other guards, not only by his sheer size, but also by his equipment. Where the members of the Flame were wielding swords and mail hauberks, and the guards carried a motley of leather brigandines  and wielded everything from short daggers to spears, Daenan was coated in full plate armour and had a large war hammer slung across his back. It was a very unusual and unlikely outfit given his occupation, and that image was further enhanced by the short mace strapped to his hip, as well as the simple thing that both weapons were purely made of metal, as opposed to wood.
"You shouldn't mock poor Marcus, sir," he spoke, his deep, rough voice rumbling out of his helmet. "He's only that short because he keeps bowing endlessly for every potential customer he sees and as a consequence it has stumped his growth." He let out a laugh that filled the air, and was soon joined by the other guards after a brief moment.

The thugs from the Flame lost a bit of their confidence. People were supposed to be cowed when they saw them. To quiver in fear lest they strike them down with the Lord's righteous fury! They were not supposed to crack jokes of their own.
"And who—" the commander asked, gesturing towards Daenan with the hand not resting on his sword hilt, "might you be?"
Daenan had to give the man credit. Despite having to look up a fair bit just to make eye contact, the man didn't flinch.
"My name is Daenan, sir."
"That does not sound like a local name to me, Daenan." The commander grinned as he could feel his men changing positions, getting ready to pounce at a moment's notice.
"It is not, sir," came the easy reply. "I am from quite far away. Kind Marcus found me when I was wandering int he mountains I had succeeded in getting myself lost. It was a desolate place and I was starving, but the Lord saw it fit to not let his servant die just yet and guided Marcus to find me."

The commander blinked, completely taken off guard.
"You—" he stammered, taking several steps back, unsure of whether or not to draw his blade.
"You call upon His name?"
Daenan stepped forward and seemed to grow in size, a not dismissable feet given that he already towered over everyone else. When he spoke his voice was low and threatening. "Of course I call on His name. Would a Paladin do otherwise?"
The commander all but soiled his pants. "A paladin!" he squeaked.
"Of the Order of the Eagle. You may have heard of us, sir." His voice was mocking now, and the commander suddenly seemed to have shrunk so much even small Marcus appeared taller.
"O-o-o-of course I have sir! T'is an honour! I— I am so sorry to have inconvenienced you, I did not expect a Paladin to be travelling with merchants!" The commander saluted, and about half of his troupe did the same. The others looked at the interaction with doubts in their eyes, observing both the 'Paladin' and the merchant guards, who seemed equally surprised at the revelation as their commander was.

One tall, thin man stepped forward, his eyes sparkling with an unnatural red light.
"Commander, we must not remiss in our duties."
This shook the man out of his reverie. "You are right, you are right. I must apologise, sir Paladin, but we must still follow our orders. We must check everyone who enters the city. I am afraid I must kindly request that you take off your helmet for that, sir."

A sudden silence fell over the two groups as Daenan froze. The man behind the commander tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. Then Daenan started moving his hands towards his face, slowly. The guards seemed to hold their breaths, and inside one of the wagons, Faen was paralysed with fear while soundlessly mouthing 'no' over and over again. Daenan's hands paused as he reached his helmet.
"Before I take my helmet off, sir, I must ask that you hear me out first." He paused and waited for the commander to nod before continuing.
"When I was scouting the lands for signs of Darkness, I encountered a foul, magical being. A witch. She had been aware of my passing and had set up an ambush, along with her cohorts. She was strong and capable and her henchmen were enhanced and hidden by her dark arts. Despite my abilities and training, I failed to see their trap and their ambush succeeded. Yet the denizens of the Dark cannot hope to prevail against the Light, and I managed to vanquish them, the Lord's strength flowing through my arm and guiding my blows. Alas, in her final breath she placed a curse on me that I at first dismissed as nonsense, believing her to merely sustain her evil ways until her last breath. I was mistaken. Her curse took root, and I have not yet found a way to break it. It is a shame I bear, and until I can break this curse, I have vowed not to return to my brethren, lest I bring shame upon my Order."

The entire group, the guards, Marcus, Faen and the men of the Flame alike were enraptured by the tale and the way Daenan brought it, his emotions colouring his voice and bringing forth unbidden feelings in all those who heard it. With a soft click he unfastened his helmet and with a determined move, he brought it upwards, revealing his face.

Stunned silence reigned for several moments.

Then the man standing behind the commander hissed, took a step forward and pointed accusingly at Daenan. His finger aimed at Daenan's face. It was green, with pitch black hair on top, and large fangs protruding from his lower lips.
"You are an Orc!"


Last edited by Floris on Fri Oct 12, 2018 3:14 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Mon Jun 18, 2018 4:12 pm

Faen watched the scene enfold from his cover. His wings, nearly as large as his own body, were buzzing in a way not dissimilar to those of a fly. His thin fingers were clenched tightly on the edge of the wagon and they were all that kept him from taking off in a desperate attempt to run. He couldn't tear his eyes away from them. The accusing finger pointed squarely at Daenan's face, who looked down on the man, unfazed by the accusation. The commander of the Flame troops seemed unsure of who to look to, switching between Daenan and the accuser. Faen felt his heart skip a beat when a scowl formed on his friend's face, and he gave the thin man such a condemning stare that the man took several steps backwards, a shiver visibly running across his back.

"Given the average level of intelligence possessed by an Orc, maybe I ought to return that accusation."
Daenan took a step forward and brought his own arm up, a single finger pointing threateningly at the thin man, who responded by retreating even further and throwing panicked looks at his comrades for support.
"How many Orcs have you faced, I wonder? Have you ever gone toe-to-toe with them? Saw their brutish, raw strength up close? Had to survive their crude maces? To pierce their crude armour that seemed as if it was held together by spittle and misplaced belief alone? Heard their guttural grunts as they charged? Had to plan around their wild, blind ferocity as they disregarded tactical sense for a frontal charge? Saw them break an ambush because they grew impatient and decided to rush an enemy? No, forget all that. Just answer me this single, simple question, and do try to use your brain for once. When was the last time you saw an Orc stand still, or even saw one that was capable of stringing enough words together to form a proper sentence?"
"I..." came the stuttering response. The other thugs of the Flame looked away from their comrade, leaving him alone to face the giant, well-armed man with the face of an Orc.
Daenan took another step, closing in on the man.
"Who has ever heard of an eloquent Orc!" he shouted, accompanying his words with broad gestures. "They are fearsome! They are stronger than us! Faster than us! Meaner! More cruel! Yet for all that they lack the qualities that the Lord has bestowed on us! Intelligence! Wisdom! The ability to help those weaker than us rather than treat them as food! To look beyond our primitive desires and build up a civilisation and reap the benefits of what such civilisation brings us! Order! Peace! Wealth! Technology! Discipline! You accuse me, me! A Paladin of the Order, no less, of being a vile, low beast, that isn't capable of understanding the benevolence of Him? Would you deny that I serve Him? Would you claim that you are my superior? That you know the enemy better than I? Do you dare question my honour? To proclaim that I am a liar who would falsely take up His name? That I would break my oaths and spread falsehoods, despite being sworn to uphold the truth?"
With every new accusation that he brought up, Daenan advanced on the thin man who had, in his haste to get away from the Paladin, fallen over and was now crawling backwards. Daenan's face was positively furious now. During his speech he had gradually shown signs of anger, which had rapidly increased until his emotions had transitioned well past that and turned into unbridled fury.

The commander and the rest of the Flame had all backed away from Daenan as well, their swords forgotten in their sheaths or lieing abandoned on the ground. Many had their hands clasped together and were muttering prayers.
In the midst of them all stood Daenan, appearing as an angel of wrath, descended from heaven to bring divine judgement to the heathens and disbelievers.
"M-My Lord! I'm sorry! Please! I was wrong, forgive me! Have mercy on me, by the Lord, I beg of you!!" the man stuttered, his eyes wide with fear.
Daenan wasn't having any of it. He crossed the remaining distance in a few long strides and picked the man up by the throat, anger burning in his eyes.
"Mercy? Mercy?! You dare ask for mercy after accusing me of being an Orc! After calling me a liar! I am a Paladin! A servant of the Lord of the highest level! My devotion to Him is unmatched and yet you dared to question it! And you dare ask for mercy? You are a blind man, not worthy of the gift of life that He gave to you! You are less than a worm! Less than excrement! You dare take His name into your mouth after accusing His servant of being the same race as those disgusting monsters that serve the Dark? You have no right! You are a blight to all Men! To all those who serve Him! You claim to be one of His believers, yet you tout such nonsense!"

Daenan's voice thundered across the clearing shaking the thin man with every new syllable. His eyes were lit with zealous fire, and his green lips were pulled back in anger, revealing rows of sharp teeth. The target of his wrath was panicking wildly now, screaming unintelligible things. A damp stream was forming on his lower body, spreading in all directions as his legs flailed wildly.
Then Daenan's tirade stopped as his gaze bored deeply into the man's eyes and mind. The flailing stopped, but the thin man's eyes went even wider, his face turning as pale as snow. Silence reigned over the clearing for an instance, before Daenan spoke.
"By the name of the Lord," he began, his voice calm and cold, yet at the same time it was tightly wound, as a spring, "you do not deserve to live."
A look of pure panic contorted the man's visage, freezing him in place. He gasped loudly. Once. Twice.
Slowly, as if it was an act, the man's limbs went limp. His hands stopped holding onto Daenan's outstretched arm. His arms fell down, hanging motionlessly alongside his body. His head lolled back as his eyes took on that look that all corpses shared.

Daenan opened his hand and the dead man fell to the ground, his corpse folding on itself as it landed. The tall man reached out for his helmet and with a quiet yet unsettling thunk he put it on, hiding his Orcish visage once again. He turned to the commander, who was gaping at him, mouth and eyes wide open, frozen with shock.
"Commander. We will depart for the city now. I bid you good luck with your hunt for disbelievers and heretics."
He started walking towards the city, ignoring everyone else. As he came level with the commander, he paused. Without turning to look at him, he growled from underneath his helmet.
"I would encourage you to make sure that every man serving you is a true believer. And if I am bothered again, by you, your men, or any other of your group, I can guarantee you that my actions of today will be a kindness compared to the holy fury I will unleash then."

Not waiting for an answer, Daenan continued, walking away from the group in stately strides. The guards exchanged confused looks with Marcus, before they all rushed back to the wagons and quickly chased after Daenan, leaving the stunned group of the Flame behind. It wasn't until the merchant and his people had completely gone from sight that the group dared stir. The commander fell to his knees and closed his eyes, offering a truly heartfelt thanks to the Lord that He had spared them from His wrath.


Faen slipped out from underneath the sail of the wagon he had been hiding in and flew towards his friend, who had retaken his position in the formation. He buzzed next to him at head-height in silence for some time, pondering the events that had just transpired.
"Are you really a Paladin?" the fairy asked with a small voice.
Daenan paused, the caravan following suit a moment later. Daenan could feel the gaze of the guards, the tiny fairy and Marcus on him. He kept them in suspense momentarily, grinning broadly underneath his helmet, before responding.
"Of course I'm not!" he shouted, barking a loud laugh.
"Being a part of the Order, me, hah. What a joke!"
The small merchant train continued on, a semblance of normalcy returning to them. Jokes were shared, mostly at the expense of the thugs, but there was a worry in the air that their situation would become more troublesome once they reached Tinas. Yet they trusted Daenan. He was their friend and long-time companion, and he was as dependable as stone.

Faen cast a broad smile at his friend as one of the guards was busy exaggerating the tale of how the thin man had pissed himself, yet underneath that smile he hid his doubts.
Who was Daenan really? Or perhaps the better question was not who he was, but what?


Last edited by Floris on Fri Jun 29, 2018 8:58 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Wed Jun 27, 2018 3:00 pm

Valdon sprinted through the woods, using the ancient trunks to keep his pursuers from being able to having a clear line of fire at him. His muscles burned with exhaustion and his mind was stretched to the limit as he listened for the tell-tale whistling of the feathers on arrows that indicated a shot coming too close for comfort. If it hadn't been for his skills, honed over the years as a scout, combined with knowing this area like the back of his hand, he would have been caught hours ago. He took a sharp step to the left and lamented that he could not even spare a single breath to sigh in relief as the arrow missed him by a hair's width. He settled for letting the corners of his lips twitch upwards for a brief moment, forming the ghost of a smile. That evaporated a moment later as he heard the barking of dogs.

He cursed himself for having dropped his weapons in order to lessen his load, then realised that if he had not done so he would not have lasted as long as he had. His pursuers were relentless, and well trained. He did not fear for his own life, that was entirely inconsequential in this matter, but he had to reach Lanas and warn them. Warn them of the massive army that was trailing behind him, with their vanguard hot on his tails. The city always had scouts out at a surprisingly far distance, and was seen as the pinnacle of civilisation in a fairly wide radius. The Mayor led it with strict, but fair rules and under his guidance the city had blossomed into a true marvel, with wide, clean roads. It was prosperous, with schools educating its population in matters of physical, spiritual, philosophical and magical nature, which in turn led to further prosperity. Traders from all over the known world visited the marketplace outside its walls to trade in artifacts, tools, resources and so much more. As a result of its wealth, it had been the envy of many nearby kingdoms, none which had ever managed to reach the right mixture of arrogance and stupidity to launch an assault. Aside boasting considerable wealth, both in finances and even more so in technology, it had tremendous defensive capabilities as every citizen pulled double duty as militia, although most of them were more at the level of elite units rather than city-militia.

Yet all that would not last against the oncoming storm. The city only boasted a population of roughly twenty thousand, and the army approaching them, what little he saw of it, boasted at least twenty times that number, and was marching under the flag of the Kingdom of Maltora, meaning that this was not an ill-conceived offensive, but a meticulously planned invasion led by capable officers.

Valdon's thoughts were interrupted as he felt a sizzle in the air and he abruptly reversed directions, running in the direction of his pursuers. It saved his life as a bolt of energy crashed into a tree a scant few feet ahead of him and evaporated everything in a small radius. The shockwave of the blast launched him even closer to the enemy and he lay on the ground, thoroughly disorientated, his muscles aching all over. He was nearing his limit and he knew it. He gritted his teeth. He willed down the despair that was forming a tight knot in his stomach and he got to his feet again, unstable, but unwilling to yield despite the near-overwhelming pain. He ignored the blood streaming down from a gash in his head and started running again. The barking of the dogs was even closer now. He knew he had only a few minutes remaining. He had used every trick he had at his disposal to delay them — led them into the territory of wild animals, tried to trap them in the more swampy areas while he ran ahead using the few well-hidden dry patches, luring them into a remarkably dense undergrowth and trying to shake them off between the leaves and the trees. He had gained time, but all his efforts had only delayed the inevitable.

He heard the tell-tale whistling again and threw himself to the side. His tired body tried to obey, but the hard landing had taken too much out of him and he couldn't dodge the arrow in time. He screamed in pain and fruitless rage as it nailed him in the shoulder, perforating his lamellar armour and the gambeson underneath. Most of the sting had been taken out of the impact, but it was another drop into a rapidly filling bucket. His right shoulder protested as the muscle was grinding against the invasive arrowhead, preventing him from using his right arm. With a primitive scream he reached for the shaft with his left hand and tried to pull it out. Another scream left his mouth and tears filled his eyes as he heard the condemning sound. The shaft had snapped and the head remained lodged in his shoulder.

Overcome by the pain, his legs buckled beneath him and he collapsed on the ground, the sound of blood pounding in his ears blocking out everything else. He tilted his head slightly, and pulled out a small knife with his left hand. He gnashed his teeth, felt them nearly break under the pressure, and forced himself to roll onto his back. Slowly, taking much longer than he liked, he felt how the pain receded slightly as adrenaline kicked in. He sat up, dragging his body to lean against the nearest trunk and prepared himself for a final stance. He didn't have to wait long. Within moments the first dogs came running out of the undergrowth, saliva coating their mouths, their small eyes glittering with malice and blood-lust as they spotted their wounded prey. The biggest one, leading the pack, launched itself at him. With a scream that was filled with grim determination, he forced his useless arm to move and threw it up. The dog's maw opened and his teeth sank into it.

It was a strange sensation. He could see how the teeth bit through flesh and bone, hear with perfect clarity how the bite broke his arm, saw the splinters poking out of his skin through the blood that gushed out of the wound. Time slowed down, allowing him to appreciate how the sharp slivers of pain that surged through his body gave him the energy to perform a final, tiny act of defiance. His left arm shot up, using up the last bits of energy that he still had within him. A stray ray of sunlight was reflected off the blade as it crossed the small distance. The tip made contact with the dog's skull, right underneath the ear where the skull was quite thin. It offered the tiniest bit of resistance before it broke. The skin rolled back, the blade piercing through the flesh as he drove the knife into the dog's brain. The teeth came up from his arm as the dog started yelping in pain. He felt his own scream gain in strength as his lungs pumped to push out the breath that supplied it. With sadistic glee in his eyes, Valdon saw how the dog was smashed aside as the yelp was cut off by his knife slicing the beast's brain apart. As the second dog was nearing, a mere moment away from jumping at him and tearing him apart, he made peace with himself. He had done all he could. He had taken one enemy with him, and possibly others when he had lured them into wild animals. He directed his last thoughts to his home city and prayed that it would weather the oncoming siege. He closed his eyes, expecting darkness to overtake him. His expectations were betrayed when a flash of light erupted instead.


Mayor Deftis lowered his hand, the air around him crackling with energy. He overlooked the carnage as the men around him ran towards Valdon. Mia closed her eyes for a brief moment and opened them again, her irises having turned a pure green. Her hands slid across the downed scout's body as she deftly wove thread after thread of rejuvenating energy between herself and him.
"You damn near cooked him!" she yelled at the Mayor, before nodding and adding a slightly more deferential 'sir' at the end.
"Just focus on him," Deftis replied. He shook his hand briefly to extinguish the last of the flames dancing around it. In front of him the forest was simply gone, completely turned to ash, along with Valdon's pursuers. Two dogs were lying on the ground, smoke twisting from their hides. They had been caught by the heatwave of the massive pillar of fire that Deftis had launched at the enemy in a desperate gamble to save his scout. A third lay half on top of the unconscious, wounded scout, an arrow piercing the beast's thick neck. The rest of the small party secured the area, making sure that no other enemies could take them by surprise while Mia healed the scout.

Deftis walked over to his wounded scout and knelt down next to Mia.
"How is he?"
"Bad. It's a miracle he survived this long. He must have been running for damn near two days to get this close to us. Damn it all sir, you should have pulled them back the moment you caught wind of Maltora's invasion."
"I needed the information."
"Couldn't you have acquired it some other way? We've lost a good number of men already, and the war hasn't even begun."
"Do not second guess me, Mia. Heal him to the point he can answer my questions, then we retreat." Deftis stood up. He wasn't a particularly tall man, but he had an aura about him that made him seem imposing. This was further enhanced by his stocky built, seeming more like a man who had spent several lifetimes working in a port unloading heavy cargo than as one who ran a city. His cold, mud-brown eyes further added to that image.
Mia was about to make a snarky response when a groan pulled her attention away.
"Valdon? Valdon! Stay still! You're safe now. You're with us."
Valdon's head lolled back, his neck not having regained proper functionality. His eyes were empty as they tried to focus on the origin of the sound.
"M-Mia?"
Deftis ignored the tears on the woman's face as she tenderly held the head of her husband in her arms.
"Valdon, what is coming for us?" he interrupted, earning a murderous glare from Mia which he completely ignored.
"Who... Mayor? Sir? Is that you?"
"It's me, Valdon. What is coming for us?"
"Sir," the scout croaked, relief flooding his face as he sagged down, his entire body relaxing as he realised that he had achieved his goal. "At least two hundred thousand men, sir. Less than a week away at the speed they're marching. Heavy troops and mages—" a cough interrupted him, and he drew a gargled breath.
"He needs to rest!" Mia growled at the Mayor, trying to push him aside.
This time Deftis was the one to throw a withering glare at the mage, who promptly collapsed under it. She was left whimpering quietly.
"—aplenty. And engineers. Too many for us. I didn't see it all, sir."
Deftis turned back towards Valdon, freeing Mia from the spell she was under. She let out a sigh of relief and collapsed, throwing her entire focus on healing her husband.
"You did well Valdon. I won't forget this."

The Mayor rose. Gathering his party with a shout, he started rapidly issuing orders. Within moments a stretcher had been made and Valdon was gently placed on top of it with Mia by his side.
"We return to Lanas with post haste. Niller, Vilsen, Ritta warn the outlying villages, tell them to poison everything and set as many boobytraps as they can, they have till tomorrow evening, then they must retreat to the city. Mandark, run to the Mansion, ask him for back up, we cannot achieve victory with what we have. Linsa, leave signals for the rest of our vanguard. Have them run interference and ambush any scouts that Maltora sends out. I want them blind. I will arrange a more fitting welcome as soon as we reach home. We'll give them a welcome befitting of our glorious city."
The men and women in question nodded and stormed off to fulfil their tasks, leaving a handful behind to escort the wounded scout and the Mayor back. The group picked up speed as they all but rushed through the dense forest with surprising ease for city-folk. Mayor Deftis' eyes swirled with barely suppressed anger.
They dare attack MY city. The city I was assigned to protect. He knew that the forces he had at his disposal would not survive a direct assault and would be overwhelmed, but if it turned into a siege he would have a chance to hold out long enough to make the invaders lose their morale.

Either way, whether the city survived or not, Maltora would not survive as a kingdom by the time this war was over. This he swore on his name and sigil.
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Wed Jun 27, 2018 8:51 pm

By the time Deftis and his diminished party returned to the outskirts of Lanas, the city was already preparing itself for war. The nearer surrounding villages were moving everything they had behind the sturdy, tall walls. The farmland that directly surrounded the city was being ploughed by mages who specialised in this, digging deep trenches through it all as they made traps for the siege equipment that would undoubtedly be coming. Pitfalls were usually a tactic employed to hinder infantry, but Lanas had plenty of mages with the ability to make them big enough to be lethal traps for siege towers. Deftis nodded as his group joined the stream of people moving towards one of the few gates. The city had contingency plans ready in the case of invasions, and where some cities practised fire drills, his city's preparation went far beyond that.

Aside the massive pitfalls there was a plethora of traps that were being prepared. Caskets of flammable oils were buried underneath the more accessible pathways, with a barrel of oil vapours underneath. Mages walked around, accompanied by other folk that provided muscle. Sigils were added to the barrels, meaning they would detonate under certain conditions. The barrel with vapours would explode with enough force to send the oil all over the units crossing on top, simultaneously disrupting their formation while setting it on fire. Fences were sharpened and turned into long lines of stakes, then laid flat. Craftsmen attached wooden mechanisms with springs every handful of stakes, while others connected the contraptions with wire. A short magical burst would cause the connected section to jump up, creating a lethal barrier for cavalry, or a very annoying hindrance for infantry, who would be trapped behind them while the archers and mages would fire away from the safety of the walls.

The stream of people opened up as they recognised their Mayor, letting him pass. They greeted him with warmth in their voices. They trusted him, unconditionally, to lead them through the oncoming storm. He saw the efficiency with which they moved and felt pride stir within him. He greeted them back, with a nod or a wave, but his expression didn't change. Despite the defences being erected at a pace no other city could match, he knew it would not be enough. His eyes scanned the moat that surrounded his home, with the massive walls just beyond it. Invaders would break their teeth trying to get in, but he knew well that if you threw enough men at a problem, you could exhaust any defence. And their enemy had men to spare. Maltora wasn't coming halfheartedly. Deftis was familiar enough with their royal house to know that he should not underestimate them. The defences of Lanas were renowned. They wouldn't risk an assault without being sure it would not only work, but would also be worth it. In other words, they had tricks up their sleeves as well.

He continued to look over the defences. In the outer villages the people would be busy poisoning wells and preparing to set fire to everything they couldn't take back with them. Livestock would be slaughtered and salted, fields would either be harvested with speed or destroyed. Small traps would be left behind to slow the enemy's advance. On the walls there were more craftsmen along with a handful of mages who did the heavy lifting. Massive siege weapons were constructed at a speed that defied common sense. Enormous beams were whisked up with the aid of magic and hammered in place only mere moments later as they were swarmed by an army of engineers. He looked towards the drawbridge in front of him. He admired his lord for the ingenuity he had displayed when drawing the plans for the city. The walls behind the drawbridge were angled inwards, with heavy beams on top that could slide down to lock it firmly in place. Any invader trying to break into the city couldn't just disconnect the thick chains. Gravity itself would keep it in place, and the beams would prevent an enemy from pulling it down, while the defenders would easily be able to drop it in order to launch a sortie.

He felt a sudden urgency come over him and signalled one of the deputies to bring word of his return to the Praetors. They were the men who led separate parts of the city and were the ones who would lead the different sections of the defence. He thanked Valdon and Mia, bade them good day despite Mia still shooting angry glares at him, and went off. His guards were trying to hide their smiles at Mia was doing a good job of interspersing whispered words of love to her husband with words of anger to the Mayor. Deftis didn't smile. His mind was occupied with other things.

By the time he entered his office in the centre of the city and read up on new missives from his informants, several of his Praetors were already present and the rest followed shortly thereafter. He waited patiently until everyone was gathered, so he could address the fifty-odd people all at once.
"I'll cut to the chase," he started. "The Maltora kingdom has launched a massive invasion with the intent of bringing us to heel. They're serious about it. All our scouts alongside our northern perimeter were killed, except Valdon, whom we managed to rescue in the nick of time. He saw at least two hundred thousand men approaching us, a week away. I think their real strength is around twice that. Reports indicate that they launched a full scale mobilisation and are leaving their defences up to militia, meaning that what we're about to face is their entire army. We're only twenty-three thousand strong. Despite our defensive position and home ground advantage, I cannot stress enough that it is impossible to prevail against that number.."

The Praetors murmured amongst each other, lines of concern marring their faces. None amongst them were young or inexperienced, but from their entire group only Krabdan, the Praetor of the Orcs, and Livi, Praetor of the Gnomes, had ever participated in large scale warfare. For all the others the oncoming battle would be their trial by fire.
Livi raised her hand, indicating her desire to speak. Deftis nodded towards her, giving permission. The rest of the Praetors fell silent as the tiny Gnome, small even by the standards of her race, struggled to get on top of the chair in order to become more visible.
"Right," she said, her old voice rumbling through the assembly hall. "I have to ask, Mayor, why are they invading? Pulling their entire army together and marching into the south leaves them unprotected from every daring neighbour that they have. We are rich, but even if they could somehow defeat us without losing a single soldier, they'd still lose more than they would gain. Even their more pacifist neighbours would launch raids, not to mention the Trivistan Empire to the north. They'd surely launch an invasion, especially given how the Maltorans aren't the most virtuous when it comes to the religion of that Lord character, while the Empire is damn zealous and loves to use it as an excuse for invasions."
Deftis nodded. It was a fair point, and sadly enough he had an answer to it.
"I fear it is a ploy by Trivistan. They stirred rebellions in the surrounding nations and had one of their nobles sign a non-aggression treaty. They're likely going to 'punish' that noble and rescind their treaty, saying that a noble has no right to sign it. So the Maltorans find themselves under the illusion that they possess secure borders and a chance to expand their territories to the south. They probably believe that rumours of our defences are blown out of all proportion and that we are an easy and attractive prey. Should they come to possess our technological advantages, that would allow them to break out of the stalemate with the Empire, which is their ultimate goal."
"We're not that advanced in terms of military, the logistics required to properly deploy what we have is ridiculous. The demands alone—" began Krabdan, before being interrupted by the Mayor.
"They're not after our military tech. It's a nice bonus, but their main objective is our agricultural knowledge. They're a nation of farmers, and it isn't exactly a secret that our output is about a third of their entire kingdom. Little wonder they want what we have, they could dominate the market that way."
Krabdan grunted in agreement and withdrew himself from the discussion, only to be replaced by Lifär, the Praetor of the fairies.
"If we cannot win, Mayor, why don't we retreat? We could just abandon the city, tear it down if you must, but wouldn't preserving our lives be more important?"

Everyone in the room held their breath. Lifär was the youngest Praetor by far, and had only been a citizen for handful of years before rising to that rank. Unlike the other Praetors, he was not aware of the weight Deftis carried.
Lifär looked around, realising something was amiss but not quite able to grasp what. Then a part of the table broke off as Deftis' fingers held it so tightly the wood itself splintered. The sound rang through the room, somehow enhancing the silence. Pure, red-hot anger was fighting a visible battle with his self-control as Deftis gave the fairy a stare that made the small being regret his choice of words.
Livi, seeing that the Mayor was in no fit state to speak and that Lifär had not been informed regarding the origins of the city and Deftis' role in it, coughed loudly, breaking the spell of silence that hung around them like a shroud.
"Lifär, what do you know of the Mansion in the Woods?"


Last edited by Floris on Fri Jun 29, 2018 9:12 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:33 am

Lisa hid behind her shield, standing in between the raging battle and the twins, who for once had seen sense and abandoned their usual reckless behaviour. Trista stood a few dozen feet further, partially embedded in a wall. She was hidden behind her large shield, which was a wise decision. The Paladin turned her attention to the light-show that was tearing the marketplace apart. The rest of the militia had retreated or fled. Those that had been fortunate to escape the battle at least, at least half of the group of brave men that had accompanied them to apprehend the witch were dead, caught between hammer and anvil as the forces of Light and Darkness clashed in what could only be described as an epic battle.

Lisa had witnessed plenty of battles were magic was involved, but never something of this scale. The Priestess, despite her exhaustion, proved to be truly adept at magic. The Paladin was not an expert on the matter, her own magical abilities being incredibly limited compare to what the two women were unleashing at one another, but even the blind could see how the air itself sundered at the titanic energies that were being unleashed.
However, for all the Priestess' abilities, the witch countered her every move. The Priestess, in turn, blocked any counterattack that the witch unleashed. Whenever two attacks met each other in between the two parties, the energies would spiral out of control and explode, sending powerful shockwaves that flattened everything in their immediate surrounding and toppled over anything that was not nailed down. If it weren't for their heavy training and magically reinforced equipment, Lisa had no doubt both she and her Knight would have shared the faith of the dead militia-men.

She looked over to where Trista was and was pleased to see the woman still standing at the ready, having managed to climb out of the wall she had been smashed in. Her helmeted face peered over her shield as she observed the battlefield with a seeming lack of emotion. Lisa knew her better than most, though, and knew the woman was trying to discern a pattern she could use to join the attack. She wasn't stupid and knew that blindly rushing in would distract the Priestess and only get them both killed. Unlike normal weaponry, magic could attack in more than just straight lines, and it was clear from Trista's hesitation that she knew that only her shield could take a direct attack. If one of those attacks hit her from the side, or worse, the back, she'd be torn apart instantaneously.
Trista suddenly seemed to see something and briefly turned to Lisa. Exchanging signals with the briefest of movements, both parties being unable to move their shield much, the two Warriors nodded solemnly at one another. Then Trista took a small step forward, her eyes fully focusing on the battle as she started to slide along the wall, towards the witch.


Glissandi was having a hard time. In raw strength she had the upper hand, but the witch's training somehow exceeded her own. The attacks the vile woman launched at her lacked punch, but were all the more insidious. They pierced layers of her defences and it was only due to her massive energy reserves that she was able to hold her ground. Unlike a battle between two skilled swordsmen, a fight between mages was devoid of the parties moving. Both stood their ground, shields flaring up so strongly they became visible to the naked eye. Energies sundered around them and distorted the air while both mages tried to obliterate one another relentlessly. Attacks pierced the air, hidden and unseen to those not versed in magic, crashing into the opponent's defenses or meeting another attack mid-way, resulting in explosions every time.

Her shields shook as the witch launched a broad assault, countless spears of dark energy colliding against the golden field. Glissandi gritted her teeth and moved her arms, gathering energy and throwing it in a straight line at her enemy. The witch's shields flared up as more energy was poured into them. It grew so dense that the woman behind it was obscured by pure darkness. Then the golden ray slammed into it and the witch took several steps back, her shield unbroken. Glissandi's vicious grin was met with a feral growl as the witch lost some of her composure. The woman couldn't keep it up. The Priestess was outclassed in ability, but not in strength. With the Lord on her side, she'd triumph. Darkness could not prevail against the Light!

Her hopes were dashed as a needle-sharp offensive smashed into her shield from the side and sent her flying. She crashed into the ground, hard, felt her skin rupture as she slid across the rough stones. Before she could regain her bearings several more attacks hit her shield and she was sent skidding again. More attacks followed but this time she countered with a broad wave of energy, dispersing them. She stood up, truly furious. She met the witch's gaze, saw the confidence in the woman's eyes, the disdain for her opponent and all she stood for. When the creature of Darkness laughed that musical laughed, Glissandi could feel how her eyes started twitching. She brought her hands up in order to launch another offensive of her own, refusing to yield, when a massive blast came down from the sky like lightning and tore into her shield with more strength than she had thought possible. She felt the pressure wash down over her as her shield lost its shape and desperation bubbled to the surface. Then the attack faded and relief flooded over her for the briefest of moments, before she felt the same energy gather above her again. Looking up to the sky in despair, she had only time to whisper the Lord's name before the next attack came down on her, this one even stronger than the last one.


Trista saw how the battle was unfolding in their opponent's favour. The Priestess was starting to buckle, holding her shield up with lines of fear visible on her face. She grunted as she kept sliding across the wall. She was no expert in judging the magical strength of people, but she was quite certain that the Priestess was the stronger one by a fair margin. The reason as to why the witch was winning despite that was as plain as rain to her. The witch had combat experience, the Priestess didn't. And it was clear that the witch had caught Glissandi off-guard and put the Priestess on her back foot. She was panicking now, and that was bad. If Glissandi fell, the rest of her party would follow shortly there-after. She'd lose those around her again.

The scar on her face heated up as anger took root in the core of her soul. No. Not again. she thought with grim determination. She'd die before she would let that happen again. She may not believe in the Lord, and have lost her faith in the Order to an extent, but the Priestess had been placed in her care. They were not only her sword, but also her shield. And a shield would break before harm could befall its wearer. Lisa could not interfere, the moment she moved the Squires would be blown apart. She couldn't launch an assault herself, the witch would simply switch targets for a moment and obliterate her.

Yet, wouldn't that buy the Priestess time for a counterattack?
Trista raised her sword and made up her mind.


Glissandi was panicking. Attack after attack crashed into her shield, and what was once a perfect circle of golden energy was now heavily dented, cracks appearing around the zone of impact, their number and size increasing with each consecutive blow. She was afraid. She knew she should be afraid of the Light losing to Darkness, of failing in her duties, that her loss would cause the death of countless believers, of her party members, but all that raged in her mind was the thought that she didn't want to die. Another blast tore into her shield and she was smashed into the ground, barely managing to keep her hand out so she could keep reinforcing her shield. How was the witch doing this? How could she keep up this relentless assault without tiring? Her own muscles trembled with exhaustion, her once angelic face marred with the ugly emotions of pure fear and exasperation. She was going to die! She didn't want to die! Lord above, she was scared.

Then a determined scream tore her out of her thoughts.


Using the wall as a stepping stone, Trista launched herself forward. With every step the Knight gained speed, launching into a full sprint only a moment after starting. With an absurd amount of speed for such a heavily armoured person, she stormed at the witch, her sword held low, mostly behind her shield. The witch was pulled away from her offensive and was obviously taken off guard by the sudden assault, her cocky grin dissipating at the sight of the charging Knight. Heavy shield held in front of her, her winged helmet peeking out just above it, a strong determination in her every step and an absolute murderous aura shrouding her, Trista was a frightening sight to behold. It managed to shake the witch's composure for a moment before her battle instincts kicked in and she launched a powerful wave at the Knight.

Trista felt the attack more than that she saw it, and knew that she could take it head on, but that she would be blasted back into, if not through, the wall behind her. It would leave the Priestess open to a follow up attack, as the woman would be too disorientated to have done more than reinforce her shield again, inexperienced to real battle as she was. Disregarding her own safety, the Knight threw her shield into the attack. Magical energies collided with the shield and the attack dispersed in an explosion that sent the shield flying. Trista had aimed her shield well enough that the resulting blast launched it just besides her, rather than through her. The witch's eyes widened as she realised that her attack hadn't tore the Knight apart, and that she was still coming, and was now much closer.

She waved her hands about and gathered more energy and prepared to launch a vast amount of small attacks, giving the Knight no chance to survive to counterattack when Trista suddenly threw her sword. It spun around the air in a straight line at the witch. Blindly firing off her attack, she threw herself to the side as the magically reinforced sword slashed through her barrier with ease, the blade only lightly nicking her.

Trista saw the attacks coming and knew she had no chance of dodging it. Yet she would not yield. She would strive to survive until her last breath left her. She tried to feel where most of the attacks would come from and threw herself in the opposite direction. Then they hit her and darkness consumed her.


"Trista!" screamed Lisa, having been forced to witness the entire exchange without being able to interfere. She had to watch on helplessly as the Priestess had panicked, only to earn a slight reprieve as the Knight sacrificed herself, nearly managing to take out the witch with her attack. Then the witch eliminated the threat in turn and Lisa felt hot tears stream across her face as Trista was blown away, her body sent flying through the nearby wall and possibly several others, like a rag-doll. She was about to abandon all reason and charge at the witch herself when thunder roared and split the air, nearly causing her to drop her shield. The twins behind her were less sturdy on their feet and fell over. Lisa's gaze traversed from the hole in the wall, over the witch, who for the first time since the battle started was looking frightened, towards Glissandi.


Trista was gone. Due to her. She had failed. Had surrendered to fear and panic and had abandoned her training. Because of her inexperience, her failure, a brave Knight of the Order was gone. Because of that bitch in front of her, dozens of militia-men were death, a child was nearly murdered and Trista was gone. And only the Lord could know how many other atrocities she had committed.
"No more!" she screamed, the air around her ablaze with energies as her mind broke free from the mental conditioning she had endured for years. During all the mock battles she had performed in the Monastery, she had always been forced to hold back, to control her energy, to not go all out. That training had taken such hold that she had forgotten that she had more strength than what she had wielded so far. With her fury burning unbridled within her, that block was gone.

The darkness surrounding the witch was struggling to maintain its existence against the golden rays that were radiating from the Priestess as she accessed reserves she had all but forgotten existed. The witch held up her hand in desperation, realising that she had no chance against her opponent.
"You can't! You'll blow up the city! Think of the innocents!" she screamed, attempting to discourage the Priestess from her attack.
The Priestess considered her words for a brief moment, then realised that if this creature survived many more would die.
"You have a point," the Priestess admitted, controlled fury seeping through her voice, and shifted the angle of her attack. The witch only had time to scream before a pillar of light struck down on her from the heavens and wiped her out of existence.


Last edited by Floris on Sat Sep 29, 2018 12:43 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Tue Jul 31, 2018 10:26 am

Glissandi sagged down through her knees, her strength utterly expelled. She barely had any energy left to be angry at herself with. She had messed up, thoroughly. Sure, her teachers had haunted her for years that she needed to control her strength, needed to use less, not show off just how impossibly large her reserves were, but just because she had buried those final reserves and had nearly forgotten about them due to years of training, didn't mean it excused her for not using them when it actually mattered.
Worse than that was the simple fact that she had panicked. Retreated in fear. She was a servant of the Light and the Lord! Yet she had cowered in fear from the Dark as it encroached on her. Had wanted nothing more than to flee for her life, so she could live. If the witch had left her an opportunity, Glissandi feared that her frightened mind would have gladly taken it. In her blind desire to live she had abandoned her duty, her friends, her ideals, everything she stood for! She had been a selfish coward.

It wasn't until Trista had jumped in to save her, give her an opportunity to strike back, that Glissandi had gathered her wits again. It had been too late for the Knight though. A powerful mage had no trouble dealing with a Knight, no matter how tough or resilient they may be.
"Oh Lord, Trista!" she shouted, thoughts of the Knight jumping back to the front of her mind. She turned her head, scanning the walls for where the brave woman had been blasted through and saw the two Squires running towards her. She tried to stand and found that her legs refused to work. Growling at herself with irritation, she attempted it again, but her body was devoid of energy after her last attack and her limbs went numb. She saw the cobblestones approaching her face quickly when the Squires caught her at the last moment.
"Priestess, are you alright?" one of the Squires asked, her face hidden in the shadows cast from her helmet.
"Mira?" Glissandi struggled to make out which one of the twins it was. To her they were still indistinguishable from one another.
"Mina, Priestess," the girl corrected, "but it is no matter. Are you alright?"
"Tired... I... Is Trista—"
"I don't know," came a soft response from the other side.
'That must be Mira then,' the Priestess thought.
"Paladin Lissa is going to check on her." It was obvious from the tone of the girl's voice that she was fraught with worry over the Knight's fate.
"Her armour should have kept the magic from penetrating her, but the impact on itself..." Mira trailed off, leaving the verdict unspoken. Glissandi did not need to see the girl's aura to hear the tinge of hope being drowned out in a sea of desperation. The Priestess closed her eyes and was not ashamed when she felt hot tears drip down her face.


"Trista!" shouted Lissa. A beam blocked her passage, jutting from the ceiling. The angry Paladin did not waste time trying to squirm around it, instead using her sword to slice through it, causing the heavy wooden barricade to drop down, clearing out the passage. She did not fight against her anger, letting it flow through her instead. She drew on it as a source to let her move faster, act more efficiently. The thoughts that accompanied the anger she locked away. She let them fester on her own while the active part of her mind focused on the objective. She could still hear them, but they mattered little to her.
There were plenty thoughts that fuelled her anger, however, and she knew she'd need to face them sooner rather than later, lest they influence her judgement. As her arms pulled debris out of the way, her innate strength further boosted with her armour's abilities, she focused on them momentarily. Yes, the Priestess had panicked. There was reason to be angry with her, but on the other hand the opponent had been the strongest witch the Paladin had ever seen. Skillful beyond compare, on top of the foul woman's considerable ability. In truth, she could not blame the Priestess. She had been untested in combat and had held her own. Any other Priestess she had travelled with in the past would have died in mere moments. Yet, redirecting your anger and hate at a dead woman wasn't quite as fulfilling as aiming it at the living.

The debris gave way and she dismissed those thoughts, storming through the opening into the next house.
"Damn woman! How many walls did you fly through?" It was a shout without anger. The Knight had performed admirably, displayed bravery without compare. She had assaulted a mage, willingly walking to her death, and had given her all to delay that final moment as much as possible. She had succeeded. The witch had been distracted, wounded, and given the penultimate scare of her life. She silently prayed to the Lord, hoping against all reasons that the Knight would still be alive. That she still could be saved.

Her training kicked in just as she was about to storm through the next barrier of debris. She had heard something. She changed the angle of her sword and took off in a sprint, crashing through the handful of planks that blocked her way and rolling into the next room. In a blink she pulled her shield up to cover her, wary of an enemy attack. In the next she let her eyes flash over the scene, taking in information. Trista on the ground, half her armour gone, massive bruises all over her body. Looming over her, an incredibly tall man, hidden in a coat, pieces of her armour laying on a neat pile next to him.
Grave robber! her mind screamed at her. With a loud roar, she jumped back to her feet and launched herself forward, her shield to her side and her sword aimed at the man's centre mass in a powerful thrust. The man stood up, swifter than she had assumed, but she had fought Trolls before and her sword's tip followed the movement. The Paladin crossed the distance in an instant when the man moved again. A large hand, covered in bark, jumped forth from his coat and grabbed the sword. Lisa's expectations were shattered when the man's hand remained intact, despite that her blade could cut through magic with ease, and he actually pushed her sword aside. Rather than try to free her blade, which would leave her open for a counterattack, she brought her shield up. She slid her left foot forward, pulled on her blade to use it as a counterweight, and smashed the heavy shield into the man's side. She saw his other arm flash up in a desperate attempt to ward it off, and she grinned. The tremendous impact forced the man to take several steps to the side and the gust of wind it created blew the man's hood off. Except it was not a man at all.

Glowing green eyes, embedded deeply in a skin of rough bark, stared at her. Her eyes flashed down, to the hand holding onto her blade. Green fluids slowly dripped from it, glowing slightly in the ill-lit interior of the house. She was not facing a man at all. She didn't know what creature this was. It towered above her, its strength more than a match for hers, given that even the blow with the shield didn't seem to faze it. Then the smell hit her. The scent of herbs, of earth, of water, of nature. She hadn't noticed it before, but it was dense and powerful, this close to the being.
"Cease your violence, human," the being's voice rumbled in a deep bass. It was the sound of roots breaking stone. "Or your companion will not survive."
Lissa's determination, which had wavered momentarily, flared back up. She moved closer, intending on using her shield as leverage to pull her sword free, when she felt the being's arm push against her shield. It seemed a lazy, casual move, as if one would swat a fly, but it sent her tumbling backwards. She let go of her sword, knowing that if she held on she'd fall, leaving her at his mercy. She got her bearing back in moments and pulled out a mace, knowing a sword would do little good against a being with bark this tough, and prepared to advance again when she realised the creature was ignoring her again. Instead, his thick fingers were delicately dismantling Trista's armour once again, revealing more of her torn gambeson and the bruises underneath. At the same time she noticed that the Knight's chest wasn't moving, and that her eyelids were wide open. The Knight was staring up into the void, her eyes broken, devoid of life.
"You—" she commenced, before the being interrupted her.
"Mostly trauma induced to the violent physical impact. Organs have taken severe damage, but not beyond repair. Armour obviously mitigated most of the damage, so nothing is pierced. Eyelids have shown little reaction when I first arrived, so a heavy concussion is likely. Given the damage from her armour, she took heavy blows all over. Honestly I'm surprised she wasn't torn apart by that storm. Oh, also her pulse is gone."
Lissa paused. The being's voice and demeanor reminded her of the medics in the Order. The being kept dismantling the armour as he turned to her.
"You humans would very likely describe her as clinically dead. Her mind has not yet given up the fight, however, even if only a flicker is remaining. You are quite fortunate I was keeping an eye out on Cassandra and saw what happened."
Lissa opened her mouth to speak when the final piece of armour was tossed aside. The being spread his large hand open, hooked his fingers at the base of Trista's gambeson and casually moved his hand from her legs towards her head, the bark slicing through it all as if it were a sharp knife, leaving the Knight bare.
Lissa put down her mace, deciding to trust her instincts. The being behaved exactly like the medics did. Factual, distant, barely aware of what happened around them when they focused on a patient. She did not know what manner of creature it was, hadn't even heard of something that looked similar to it, but she didn't care very much either. It mattered little, in the end. What mattered was that Trista was dead. Except that the being acted as if that was but a minor hindrance.

Having stripped the Knight of all her clothing, the full extent of the damage she had taken became visible. Ugly bruises, of all shapes and colours, dotted the Knight's body. There were plenty of scars on them as well, from previous engagements, especially around the face and neck, from where Lissa knew she had been hit by a Troll before, and they stood out all the more on the plethora of colours that covered nearly every inch of her skin. The being seemed unperturbed by the state of the Knight, however, and simply spread his fingers on her body, lightly pressing the tips down against her skin. Seeing just how massive his hands were compared to the Knight's body made her realise the actual size of the creature. The coat had hidden it well, but it was nearly twice as tall as she was. Observing it carefully, she discovered that it was bending over. If it fully stood up, it was likely to be taller than a Troll.

A gentle, green light flooded from his fingers and seeped into Trista, pulling Lissa's attention back. The light was almost liquid in nature. It pooled in a few places on her skin, before being sucked through the pores. It slipped into her veins, flowing through them. All of them lit up in that same calming, strangely peaceful green colour. The bruises diminished at an astonishing pace. The yellow, blue and purple colours rapidly fading back to the normal pink. Scars lit up as beacons in the night as the light engulfed them and seemed to struggle with them, before giving up and moving further along her body. The being moved his fingers, guiding the light through her body. As his one hand moved down, the other moved towards her head.
"Fluids pooling in her cranial cavity. The pressure would kill her. You humans aren't yet capable of operating on this. Your magic can fix it, but you do not know how it works. It is a sad thing." The being's eyes turned towards Lissa for a moment, and genuine sadness seemed to pool there, immeasurably deep. Then he returned his focus towards Trista. Lissa looked on curiously when he held the Knight's head in his massive palm, and spread two fingers wide, one against each of her ears. She shouted, jumping up, when small roots shot forth from his tips and disappeared into the Knight's head. She felt no urge to stop him, but that did not make looking at the process any less frightening. She resisted the urge to clasp her hands over her own ears and felt a shiver run down her spine, an emotion she thought she had left behind decades ago.

The roots started to swells lightly as they turned red. The Paladin realised that these must be the fluids that the being mentioned before. After a brief moment the flow stopped, and the green light appeared in its place, flowing into the Knight's head this time. Lissa usually prided herself on being hard to disturb, but when the Knight's skull started glowing green, she could not help but describe the sight of it as incredibly eerie, despite the light itself being soothing. There was just something about the sight of a human's head being lit up like a magic lamp that seemed incredibly off.

Then the roots pulled out of her head, disappearing back into the being's fingers. Lissa looked up and down at the Knight's body and realised that it had returned to normal. Gone were the bruises and damage. Yet the Knight's eyes were still broken, devoid of life. The being leaned over her, bringing his lips onto hers with a tender care. Seconds ticked by as Lissa could only stare on helplessly, when all of a sudden the being withdrew himself at the same instance that Trista jumped up, coughing loudly. The Paladin barely noticed the dark brown flecks of spit that came from the Knight's mouth, as she took the younger woman in a crushing hug, leaving the freshly revived Knight gasping for breath.

The being pulled the two apart instantly however.
"Let her get her bearings," he lectured the Paladin sternly. Lissa, instinctively submitting to the voice of medical authority, nodded politely and pulled back. She looked at the being instead, curiously. She had fought side by side with some non-humans before, that were allies of the Light. It seemed this being was one of them. That was not a matter for the Warriors of the Order to discover though. Perhaps the Priestess would know more. For now, she was more than content that Trista was still alive.

The being slowly leaned back from a still coughing Trista, who from the looks of things seemed utterly lost. The deep, green eyes focused on Lissa.
"Well then, I believe we should have a chat about some things. Namely the woman you just murdered on the square."
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Wed Aug 01, 2018 6:54 pm

Lissa's eyes narrowed at the being's choice of words.
"Murdered, you say?"
The being blinked, layers of bark slowly grinding in front of his eyelids, before moving back in their original position.
"Yes. Murdered. Is there a different word for when a sentient forcefully terminates the life of another? Cassandra did not want to die, was healthy, and would have lived many more years if you had not killed her."
Lissa's eyes narrowed further as her hand slid back towards the handle of her mace. In the background, Trista was still coughing, trying to get a modicum of breath back into her body.
"You were with her then?" Lissa asked, narrowly managing to keep herself from sounding overly threatening.
The being pondered the question, bringing his hand up to what seemed to be his chin, and tapped on it.
"In a way. I followed her to... limit the damage she caused."
Lissa's hand relaxed slightly at the answer.
"You knew she murdered innocents?"
"She enjoyed causing harm without reason. She relished dealing pain. She was a monster who needed to be stopped!"
Lissa had taken a quick step back. The being had grown more animated as he spoke and had seemingly become taller as he did. Not having forgotten the strength he had, not to mention whatever strange magics he had at his disposal, she had slipped into a defensive stance almost subconsciously.
"I..." Lissa began, then paused. "I suggest you speak to the Priestess about this. She was the one who fought this... Cassandra, and brought an end to her rampage."
The being nodded and turned around. He stretched out his arm, the massive limb fully sliding out of his coat. It was less thick than that of a Troll, and the bark hid the muscles that Lissa knew were there perfectly well. He grabbed a curtain and gave it a short tug, tearing it loose. Picking up the still coughing Trista in a fast, but gentle movement, he held her up in the air for a short moment, his hand covering most of her back and his fingers holding her up underneath her shoulders. Using the other, he quickly wrapped the curtain around her, providing her with a modicum of decency.
"That seems like a good idea," he responded, turning towards the Paladin. "Let us go then."

Despite the being's massive size, he seemed to have little issue navigating the debris that littered the path that Trista had unwillingly taken when she had been blasted out of the square. His broad legs parted stone and wood as if they were mere blades of grass. It made a lot more noise than grass though, wood splintering and stones turning to dust. If this strange creature was made of bark, as it seemed, then he was a lot tougher than any tree she was familiar with. She didn't know what to make of him. Her instincts told her that he was harmless. How he had behaved like a medic wasn't a behaviour that was easily faked. Either he was a master of deception, or he genuinely was a medic. Given how he had saved the Knight, she believed it was the latter. Yet there were many things that were strange. On one hand, he was obviously acquainted with the witch, even if he seemed to disagree with what she did, but he had seen her demise as murder. On the other hand, however, he had saved Trista, even when he had no reason to, as he had more than enough raw strength at his disposal to be a genuine threat to her, even with her training and equipment. She was going with her instincts for now, though her hand never wavered far from her mace. She needed more information before she could make an accurate judgement. She knew that Evil appeared in all forms after all.
"How is your hand?" she asked. A seemingly innocent question.
"It is fine. It was but a minor cut, and has healed already."
'He heals at an astonishing pace then,' she realised.
"Do you specialise in healing then?"
The being harumphed. "Not even an apology for cutting me in the first place?" He paused and Lissa turned, finding herself being pointed at by a very thick finger, as if he were lecturing her. "You humans are fortunate I am not like the one who taught me. And even more so that I lack the pride so many of my fellows possess."
He started walking again, nearly trampling Lissa underfoot. She quickly hurried on, realising that while the being may claim it did not possess pride, it wasn't above giving her a kick that would likely leave her thoroughly bruised.
"To answer your question; yes, I specialise in healing. I am adept in it, more so than any other I have met, save one. Even among my kin, there is none who approach my talent. Ah, there is the Priestess you spoke of. Are those two others friends of yours?"
Lissa nodded. "Mira and Mina, Squires of the Order. The one in between them is Glissandi, the Priestess."
Without waiting for her to finish her introduction, the being glided past her with surprising delicacy given that he shared the body-size with that of a Troll, who were quite well known for possessing the opposite of grace.

The Squires reacted fairly normally to the apparition of a giant with limbs and a face made of bark, that was holding the dazed, but alive, form of someone they clearly thought dead. That is to say, they jumped back, letting the obviously exhausted Priestess crash into the cobblestones, and drew their weapons, swearing extensively throughout the process. When they spotted Lissa, however, they calmed down remarkably, but they didn't sheath their blades. The being ignored them both and simply walked towards the Priestess, who had landed badly, hitting her temple on the stones, and had been knocked out by the impact. The being grumbled, shifted Trista so she was only laying on one arm, and picked the unconscious Priestess up.
"It would seem our talk will have to be delayed. I assume you have residence somewhere in the city?"
The twins backed up a bit more as the creature loomed over them and gave them both a questioning stare.
'Do you think he's an enemy?' Mira thought towards her sister. She felt a wave of angry confusion in response. It was at times like these that Mira really wished her sister had mastered the ability to think in words rather than emotions.
'Paladin Lissa's over there. She's keeping calm. I don't think he's a threat?'
Her sister radiated back a desire to attack and Mira responded by mentally slapping her with an utterly horrified feeling.
'He's holding both the Priestess and Knight Trista! Not to mention that even Paladin Lissa is even keeping her distance! Don't tell me you hadn't noticed that?'
When Mina sent back a reluctant response of shame, Mira had to fight off the urge to slap her sister. The girl would've engaged an opponent even the Paladin was wary of.
'You'll get us both killed one day if you don't learn to curb your aggression.' Mira sent her twin a clear image of her shaking her head in disappointment, and threw in a chastising look for good measure.


"Squires, we're packing up. Mira, stay with me to escort our guest to the inn. Mina, find the nearby groups of militia and tell them that the danger has been dealt with, but forbid them from entering the square for now. I want the Priestess to take a look at everything afterwards and I don't want them disturbing the site, or us for the time being. I'll deal with Captain Dar." Lissa gave Mina a short look that made it clear that the Paladin had caught on to the girl's aggression and that she was being sent away as a precaution. Then she gave Mira a different look that told her to remain on her guard. The twins gave a near imperceptible nod in return. Despite the situation, Lissa felt a smile tug at the corners of her mouth. Travelling with capable people was a blessing, even if one of her party still lacked practical experience.
As she guided the strange being who carried her two party members through the empty streets, she felt strangely safe. Despite the fierce lectures she had given the Priestess earlier in regards to safety, the Paladin often relied on her instincts. They had been developed, over her many years of duty, to be frighteningly accurate. They had kept her on high alert when they first entered the town, but were calm now. Another reason for it was, though she would never admit that publicly, that the Paladins who lead the parties exaggerated with the intention to raise the Squires and Knights. Combined with a whole other load of reasons because paranoia was often quite practical. Especially in cities, given that being surrounded by other sentient beings overloaded off a Warrior's senses.

The silence didn't last long however. Soon enough they were greeted by a small party of militia-men. She assured them that the threat was gone, that the Priestess and Knight were merely exhausted, ordered them to stay out of the square, and made them fall in with her small party. The being had been wise enough to put his hood on the moment they left the square, avoiding any issues regarding his appearance. As they went more groups joined them, until the the small gang was surrounded by a small army. The militia seemed more at ease now and chattered amiably amongst themselves, but they retained a decent enough level of alertness. Just before they reached the inn, a panting Mina rejoined them.
"The square is kept under guard, sir, nobody will approach it without your explicit permission," the girl gave her report.
Lissa nodded in response and guided her party towards the inn, where she could see a very impatient Captain Dar pace back and forth in front of the window, looking hungrily at them. She didn't blame the man. If she were in his place, she would have hated having to sit out a battle against Evil, even more so since the fight had been fought within his jurisdiction.

The very moment the door had been closed, the Captain rushed her.
"The girl and her brother are asleep in their room. Save for us, and some guards, the inn is empty. Tell me, Paladin, is the witch vanquished?"
The burning eyes of the Captain were so intensely focused on Lissa that he had somehow managed to overlook the giant behind her.
"Rest assured Captain," Lissa said as she clasped his shoulder. "The witch is gone. Turned to less than ashes. She will not plague you again. However..." she trailed off as a shadow fell over the Captain, his eyes jumping from her to the source.
"I will have to ask you to station your guards outside the inn, as well as depart yourself. Me and mine have things to discuss that those from outside the Order are not privy to."
The Captain saluted, a bit slower than usual. She did not blame him. He was a veteran, but had likely only ever faced humans or Goblins. Giants like whatever this creature was, were things the good man had obviously never encountered before. He opened his mouth, as if to disagree with the politely phrased order, then nodded instead.
"As if you wish, Paladin." He turned around and bellowed orders into the inn. A dozen guards appeared shortly thereafter. Some of them remembered to salute the Paladin, but most were too busy gawking at the giant man whose features remained hidden in the coat. The Captain quickly called them to order, and it didn't take long before the inn was emptied, save for the Paladin, her party, and the mysterious being.

The creature walked towards the stairs and carefully placed a foot down. He shifted his balance, bit by bit, and the stairs started groaning. Slowly he moved his full weight onto it, and satisfied that it did not give in, he started climbing the stairs.
Mina and Mira stared at each other, openly dumbfounded, as the stairs creaked in protest to the load being placed on them, before hurriedly chasing after Lissa. They caught up with her in one of the larger bedrooms, where he had put down the Priestess on one bed and Trista on another. The Knight, clearly awake now, was clutching the curtain tightly towards her, and clearly felt naked without her weapons. Her clothes mattered significantly less.
"Your weapons and armour are over there," the being said, his voice rumbling through the room. It was a large room for an inn, but the sheer size of the creature made it seem small in comparison. Trista's eyes flashed from the creature's face towards the pile, then back towards him, before she catapulted herself out of the bed, grabbed her sword in one smooth movement, rolled across the floor and landed on three of her limbs, the fourth holding her blade.
"Calm yourself, Knight," Lissa's voice interjected.
The being nodded. "You should get dressed first. And eat. Then rest. You were more or less dead for a while, and rest is the best way to deal with that. Especially for the mind. You will suffer from confusion, headaches and dizziness for a few days, along with bouts of being violently ill, so I suggest eating only light meals. Stews, broths, those things."
"I... what? I died?" Trista asked, clearly confused. Then a bout of promised dizziness hit her and she fell sideways as gravity decided to change directions. Lissa raced towards her, but the being was faster. His long arms shot forward and grabbed both woman and sword before the former hit the ground and the latter hit the former. As Trista mentally scrambled to reorient herself, the being put her to bed and gave her a very stern look.
"Stay in bed," he rumbled.
Instinctively recognising medical authority when she heard it, Trista nodded, before her face contorted in pain as the headache hit her.
The being turned towards the Priestess and shook his head disapprovingly.
"She used several spells to delay the effects of having exhausted her stamina. Then she fully emptied her magical reserves in an uncontrolled burst, and on top of it all she has a concussion when she hit her head. Normally I would simply prescribe plenty of rest in a dark room along with a concoction of nightvale and baselroot to prevent any swelling, but I lack the time. So, I shall speed it up a bit."

As he moved his fingers to the side of the Priestess's head, placing the tips at her ears, Lissa mentally steeled herself. It was a shame she was a moment too late in realising that buckets might have been very useful for her companions.
'Oh well,' she thought, 'floors can be cleaned.'
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Floris



Posts : 127
Join date : 2017-02-03

PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Fri Aug 03, 2018 4:20 pm

Glissandi slowly opened her eyes. She felt weird. Not precisely ill, but strange. The last she remembered was that the twins had jumped up and let go of her. She had been too exhausted to move her arms to catch herself, but that was where her memory ended. She tried to make sense of things. Had exhaustion claimed her? She knew it wasn't a very healthy thing to completely open the sluices to your magic reserves. Fully emptying those had consequences on your physical body, and on top of her already tired state that had not been a good idea. She felt refreshed though, for some reason. How long had she been out for?
As she tried to blink the sleep from her eyes, she noticed a face floating nearby. She made out a vague, sour smell as well that somehow seemed familiar, but she couldn't place it. It barely managed to penetrate the thick scent of earth and nature that hung around the tree like a blanket. Her mental capacities slowly kicked themselves in gear as her vision started to gain focus. All of a sudden she found herself staring into the massive face of something. She blinked. Once, twice. Was it a tree with a face carved in? Was it — the tree blinked! She pulled herself back in surprise.
"What —" she stuttered as her brain tried to make sense of the situation.
"Good," rumbled the face. "It would seem that you are back to your senses. I would advice you to take plenty of rest afterwards, and not eat any heavy meals for the first day. You exhausted too much of your body's energy reserves, so if you eat anything that is too troublesome to digest, you may end up with cramps."
"I... what?"
"If I may..." interrupted a voice that she recognised. The large tree-face pulled back and Lissa appeared into view.
"Lissa?"
"Yes Priestess. We are back in the inn. Your last attack managed to..." there was a moment of hesitation in Lissa's voice before she continued, "to vaporise the witch. Damage to the surroundings was minimal. The..." another pause, "being that is here in the room with us, has healed Trista. She was in a bad state —"
"She was clinically dead," the being interrupted with a humph.
Lissa threw him a semi-annoyed glare before continuing.
"But she is fine now." Her head turned towards the Knight, who was using one of the blankets to wipe vomit of her bare body. "Well, reasonably fine," the Paladin amended.

Glissandi nodded, slowly starting to make sense of the situation. Then she connected the sour smell to the sight of vomit and she frowned. "Why is there so much vomit in the room?"
Lissa looked slightly uneasy as she looked at the Knight and the Squires, all of them doing their best to clean the mess as quickly as possible, then turned back to the Priestess to respond, but the being beat her to it.
"You had a concussion, and I have magic at my disposal that can deal with that quite efficiently. However, the procedure is, if your fellow humans reaction is anything to go by, not a pretty sight."
A squeamish Mira protested from the back.
"You put roots in her head and made her skull glow like a damned frog that swallowed a nest of fireflies!" the girl croaked.
For a minute, Lissa feared she would regret her decision to not bring buckets in once more as Glissandi turned remarkably pale.
"I see..." the Priestess commented. Then, deciding to steer the conversation to less disturbing topics, she faced the strange tree-like creature again.
"It seems I must thank you then. For saving the life of one of those who faithfully serves the Light. If there is something I can do to repay you, then please, name it."
"Humph. I care not for your rewards, human. I came here because I had things to discuss with you, and the other human" — he gestured to Lissa — "told me that you were the one to speak to."
Glissandi nodded. "May I suggest we move to a more comfortable room then?" She turned to Lissa with an unvoiced question in her eyes. Lissa nodded. She understood that the Priestess asked if the others should tag along with them, or have a chance to freshen up. The girl had picked up some things about safety that the Paladin had tried to teach her.
"Trista, Squires, go freshen up, make yourselves presentable, then rejoin us in the common room."
"I suggest we move to another room similar to this instead," the being interrupted. "It would be for the best if these two," he continued, gesturing to the Priestess and the Knight, "stayed in a bed."
"As you wish. We shall be in the room opposite of this one then."

The Priestess slowly slid her legs out of bed, and tested their strength. Moving gingerly, she stood up, slightly unstable, when the being simply wrapped one of his massive hands around her waist and plucked her up as if she were no heavier than a feather. Feeling his hand cover half of her back, and his fingers extend halfway down her legs, the sheer size of him finally hit her. He was basically folded in half trying to fit in the room without hitting his head on the ceiling! Without giving her a chance to protest, he carried her out, with Lissa close behind on his heels. The Paladin seemed calm though, and that reassured her. She reckoned that if this creature had intended her harm, he would have done so a long time ago.
Lissa reached for a chair and sat down in it, looking alert and fresh, while Glissandi gratefully sank down into the bed. While she didn't feel as exhausted as before, she was still tired. The being simply remained standing. She had the sneaking suspicion that this was because any chair he would sit on would shatter immediately, if the way the floor groaned as he walked was any indication.

"What was it you wished to speak to me about..." she trailed off, realising that she didn't know the beings name.
"Although before we begin, may I ask for your name? And what you are, if you don't take offense to that. I have never heard of beings like you before, even though the archive at the Monastery is quite vast."
"Humph. I do not expect your kind to know of mine. We tend to not mingle with humans. Your kind, as are so many others, is too short lived and violent for our tastes. We prefer to remain hidden within deep forests far from here. The name of what we are is one that you can neither speak nor hear. My kind communicates differently. However, if I were to translate it into a name fitting for your tongues, we would be named the Silent Keepers. The name that I was presented with when I left the one who taught me was Salixor."
"Does your kind believe in the Lord?" Lissa interjected, earning her a sharp glare from the Priestess.
The sound Salixor's skin made when he turned towards the Paladin and narrowed his eyes was foreboding.
"My kind does not believe in your gods. We were here before them. We shall be here after them. We have seen kingdoms rise and crumble into dust. Civilisations encroach on our forest, grow to tremendous heights before falling down, their cities abandoned as the forest reclaimed them." He pricked Lissa's chest with a finger.
"Your gods too. Religions come and go. They are temporary. We remain. We tend to our duty. Your Lord is something you humans believe in. It matters not to us. Only our duty matters."

Lissa grimaced, unnerved by the answer. Usually others were either fellow believers, heretics, or people who hadn't yet heard of the Lord.
"Pray tell then, what is your duty?" she countered.
"We tend the forests," came the immediate reply. Salixor sounded as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"We Keep the balance between all things living, and heal those that were injured through means not belonging to nature's course." His eyes glanced over the Paladin's weapons and armour.
"I assume you are wise enough to figure out what I mean with that," he said, his eyes throwing the accusation her way. Lissa didn't flinch.
"Evil has to be fought, or it shall triumph. Just like you must uproot a snakevine, lest it strangles the tree, so we must prune the Dark from the Light, lest it extinguish it."
"Harumph. You claim of uprooting it, but your methods usually result in burning down both the vine and the tree. More often than not starting a wildfire in the process."
"That is because Evil, unlike a snakevine, does not allow us to uproot it peacefully."
"You claim to serve this 'Good', yet —"
Glissandi coughed, interfering in the argument. She raised a hand, smiling, her priestly demeanour having returned to her face and she radiated calmness.
"May I suggest we move on from the theological debate and remain focused on the subject at hand?" she asked innocently, abusing her young age to further that image.
Salixor harumped again. "Fair enough. You need your rest as well. To resume the topic I had wished to start earlier, I have come with you to talk about Cassandra. The woman you murdered."
Glissandi frowned in confusion. "Woman I murdered?"
"He means the witch, Priestess." Lissa clarified.
The Priestess' eyes narrowed as she gave Salixor a careful look. "Are you saying murdered because she was your friend, or because your kind dislikes violence?"
The Keeper nodded appreciatively. "The latter. She was my companion, in some ways. Or rather, it was her travelling the world while I followed her from a distance. She was a bad creature. She revelled in causing hurt and pain. She and I studied at the same place, but she left early on. She ran into too many arguments with others who studied, and even more so with the one who taught us. When she tried to hurt one of the others, the one who taught us interfered. She left after that, stealing some things in the process. The one who taught us told me to give chase. He believed that it would be valuable experience for me. Given how much harm she has caused while travelling, I was glad he did. I alleviated much of it. Not all, not enough, but much. Besides that, I was to keep track of her, until others could arrive to deal with her."
He paused.

"First, I must thank you. You ended her rampage and kept her from causing more sorrow. Even though I am not glad about her demise, I understand that it was only within your ability to end it on that note. A skilled gardener might be able to carefully uproot a snakevine and plant it near a tree that can withstand it, but a young one can only remove it for the betterment of the forest.
Glissandi felt her cheeks heat up, but kept the anger from showing on her face.
"Yet, I must also warn you."
A sharp crack shot through the room as Lissa grabbed hold of her mace, the leather creaking in protest to the strength she exerted on the handle.
"Explain yourself," she demanded, her eyes glaring at him, her muscles tense, ready to leap into action should the need arise.
"Humph. Impatient sapling. I was about to. The one I learned from teaches many. He cares not for believes, or morals. The only condition required to study with him is to be invited by the older students, who travel. He cares for talent, or lacking that, for an interesting character. There are many who study with him, and many more who are travelling for him. Not everyone holds the same opinion of him, however. There are those who are jealous of what he possess. His home, his wealth, his library, the knowledge he refuses to share. There are those who only care for what he teaches, and take what they get. There are those who see them as a mentor. The three factions tend to be at odds with one another when travelling."

He tilted his head, as if he heard something. "Ah, your companions are returning."
Lissa frowned. "I haven't heard any —"
"Listen to the wood then. Feel it vibrate. It creaks, as they walk over it."
True to his word, a gentle knock on the door announced the arrival of the Knight and the Squires. Trista, lacking her gambeson, was wearing comfortable clothes for a change, meaning they lacked any armour components. She obviously regretted the lack of defensive equipment, and still had her sword with her. The Squires had removed their chainmail and were only wearing their gambeson. Their short swords dangled from their hips, but they were significantly more at ease than the wary Knight was, whose eyes were flashing all across the room in their ever-lasting search for danger.
"I shall not start over. I expect you can brief your companions afterwards. To resume where I left off: the members of the factions are often at odds, when they are not at his home. None of them are stupid enough to cause a ruckus where he can see it, especially not since the ones who adore him always make sure they properly outnumber those who wish to do him harm. He himself does not quite care. The further you go from his home, the more of the latter faction that roam the lands. I fear that they will not take kindly to you killing one of their own, especially not since she had whatever it was that she stole from his home."
"What was it that she stole?" Glissandi interjected.
"I was not told. I trust him enough to believe he had valid reasons for not telling me."
"So you are telling us that there are others, akin to the witch's in ability, to be coming after us? Either out of vengeance for a fallen comrade, or because they believe we have their items?
Trista's eyes focused sharply on Glissandi for a moment before flashing over to Salixor at the mention of the threat, before resuming their route across all corners of the room at an even more frantic pace.
"Yes. That is what I believe. Except that they will be wary this time, and not act as openly as Cassandra did. The only information I can share with you about them is that their talents vary wildly, they are nearly all human, and that they usually prefer to travel on their own. A single one of them could wipe out all of you, however, if you are not very careful. Personally I would suggest leaving human-held territory behind, or at least that which your kind calls civilisation. If you keep heading south, you will start entering the lands that are more often visited by the faction that is in league with him."
"I shall keep your advice in consideration. Tell me Salixor, are you part of the faction that protects him? It seems, given your dislike for violence, that it would be ill suited for you."
"Humph. You are sharp, for a human. Yes, you are correct. I belong to the middle faction. I am a Keeper first and foremost. My duties lies there. While I get along with the one who taught me quite well, there are things he does I disagree with as well. I obey him, to an extent, as he has proven to be someone worth obeying, but I do not blindly cling to him."
"There is another thing I do not understand. If he knows that there are those who wish to see him brought low and desire his possessions, why does he not eliminate them? Does he lack the power to do so?"

Salixor stood up slowly and walked towards the sole window. The floorboards creaked at his every step as a thoughtful look settled on his face.
"You are smart, little one. Your questions are sharp, your insight clear, and you have not asked many questions you knew I would not answer. Then heed me when I say this: do not cross his path. He is strange beyond measure. He is not akin to you or I. He answers to none save himself, and why he does the things he does, nobody can fathom. And all I know for sure is that he has no love lost for those who follow your Lord. He does not push his views on us, but neither does he hides his distaste. I have warned you once. I have warned you twice. Now I shall warn you thrice. Stay clear of him, if you can."

He slowly reached for his hood and slid it back over his face and began walking towards the door.
"I have spent too much time here as it is. I must depart now. You still have time, humans, it will take a while before word of what transpired here will reach others. I shall do what I can to delay them as well. I owe you that much, for stopping Cassandra's rampage."
"Salixor, please, one more question if I may," the Priestess begged.
The Keeper slowly retracted his hand from the doorknob and turned to the much smaller Priestess, who stood defiantly in front of him.
"What is his name?"
Salixor's green eyes took on a strange expression as they seemed to stare deep into Glissandi's blue ones. They pierced her, dug deeper than the surface and seemed to connect with her mind.
"He is called Gaelus. Pray you never meet him."
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Floris



Posts : 127
Join date : 2017-02-03

PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Sat Sep 29, 2018 3:15 pm

As Salixor left the room, walking as delicately as a giant of his size could to avoid sinking through the floor, Glissandi and Lissa looked at each other, faces wrought with confusion.
Lissa waited for the Priestess to speak. In the short conversation with the Keeper, the Paladin had seen a new side of the Priestess. She had been aware that the girl wasn't stupid, and had a good head on her shoulders, which had been evidenced in her desire to learn from the Warriors, but seeing her engage the tree-like creature in discussion had fully revealed the girl's large intellect. It seemed that her magical abilities were not the sole reason that the girl had attained the rank of Priestess.

Glissandi brought her hand to her hair, exhaustion forgotten as her mind dissected the previous conversation. She absentmindedly ran her fingers through the golden strand, her blue eyes turning distant as she ran through the events of the past day. Too many things didn't add up, failed to make sense, and she had far too many questions that remained unanswered. She ran through them in her head. Why was Nassi targeted? What was the witch's goal? Why did she come to this city? Who was Salixor? And who or what in the Lord's name was this mysterious Gaelus? Other than the questions, she had her personal demons tormenting her. She didn't take her failure in the battle lightly.

Her mind returned to the present and she noticed her companions staring at her. The Knight was, as usual, utterly devoid of emotions. Her face was blank and patient. The only visible sign that she was disturbed was that her fingers kept dancing across the blade of her sword. The Squires were looking slightly ragged. Not a surprise, given all what transpired in such a short period of time. The Paladin, on the other hand, was undaunted by today's events. She was a monument of patience, impossible to shake no matter what might happen. Perhaps it was Glissandi's imagination, but the Paladin seemed to be looking at her with a measure of respect. At the very least, she was waiting for the Priestess to speak first.

"I would like your opinion on the matter, Lissa. I lack experience. I know this. I have not seen much of the world, and know little of it besides of what I saw in the Monastery, and I doubt that holds up out here. We have only left for a scant few days and already my expectations have been shattered." The Priestess turned to look at the others.
"The same question I extend to all of you. Me and mine are trained to be capable in magic, diplomacy, etiquette, conversation, debate and other scholarly subjects. Events like these leave me out of my depth", Glissandi admitted. It stung her. She had always been praised for being smart, for being able to figure things out by instinct. Her intelligence was one of her greatest assets. Yet here she was, completely unable to deal with the situation. It was her pride that was hurt, and she knew it. Yet that just made it sting all the more.

The Squires looked at one another, seemingly communicating in silence, but held their tongues. Likewise, all Trista did was blink and focus briefly on the Priestess. She shook her head shortly, indicating she had nothing to add. Then Lissa spoke up, softly.
"I am sorry Priestess, but I am as much out of my depth as you are. In all my travels, I have never encountered a witch as strong as her. Nor have I met a creature that even remotely resembles his kin. I am a Paladin. A Warrior. We serve the Order as its sword and shield."
"Have you ever heard the name Gaelus before? Or saw any artifacts, or other strange items on the witch? Perhaps we should send a runner to ask those questions of the Ledger Master, he might have known something. Captain Dar might know of any places the witch stopped at, perhaps she hid the items there..." the Priestess mused aloud.
"I have never heard that name before, Priestess. As for the items... Trista, you are the one who came the closest to her. Did you see anything on her that might be these items that the Keeper referred to?"
"By the Light, I did not. I saw nothing of the sort," came the reply.

Glissandi nodded, her eyes thoughtful.
"If we lack answers, we should at least make sure we know what questions to ask. Would any of you know why the witch would place such a curse on a child? Does Nassi have any history or background that makes her special? Any people that care about her that the witch would want hurt?"
Mira raised her hand. "Priestess, I... might be speaking out of turn here but..." the girl trailed off, obviously feeling reluctant to voice her opinion around her betters.
"Speak honestly, child. I'd prefer to hear your honest opinion."
"What if it was simple arrogance?" Mira asked.
Lissa and Trista looked confused, while Glissandi frowned.
"Arrogance?" Lissa asked. Mira nodded, her expression serious.
The Priestess nodded. "You mean to say that she did it simply because she could. Because she wanted to show off."
Mira's face lit up. "Exactly!" she shouted. Then, adding a bit belatedly, "Priestess." The girl drew a breath. "If what the tree man said was true, then she liked to see people suffer. What better way to cause that than to let a promising child die a slow, agonising death that nobody could stop, while simultaneously showing off her magical abilities? I mean, she did the same when she was fighting you. If she had struck full force from the beginning rather than wanting to show off—" Mina clasped her hand on her sister's mouth, eyes wide open. Mira followed a moment later, as realisation dawned on her as to what she just implied.

"Don't!" Glissandi shouted, causing Lissa to freeze mid-movement, her hand only a hair's width away from the Squire's face.
Glissandi gave the Paladin a furious stare and when she spoke her voice was ice cold.
"Paladin Lissa. I asked for everyone to give me their honest opinion. The girl did that. Raised a very valid point in the progress. And we both know damn well that the witch toyed with me. I panicked, messed up, got Trista killed, nearly got all of us killed, because I messed up. I will not deny that. You will not deny that either." The Priestess closed her eyes.
"By the Light. I will not deny my failures. It hurts to hear it. It hurts even more to know that it is the absolute truth. To hear it from a Squire, a rank so far beneath me, makes the sting even worse. But it wasn't a Squire who said it. It was the girl, who spoke from the bottom of her heart without holding back on my request, and told us what she saw as truth."
She opened her eyes again and looked at the floor.
"We serve the Light first and foremost. My pride should not matter. Her speaking her mind when I requested it is not an offense. If there is anyone who deserves punishment, it is me. I failed us during the battle."
She raised her head, her eyes meeting Lissa's.
"Tell me, Paladin. What would a Warrior do to a trainee who messed up and put their unit in danger?"
Lissa blinked rapidly. What happened to the girl from earlier? There was a woman facing her now. A woman with steel in her eyes.
"She'd... be punished, Priestess."
"How?" barked Glissandi, her eyes not letting go of Lissa.
"I... Not in a matter appropriate for a Priestess... You cannot mean—" the Paladin protested, realising what direction the conversation was heading in.
"Then make it so!" Glissandi commanded.

The room was dead quiet. Trista's fingers paused their dance across her blade, and Mira and Mina didn't dare breathe. Glissandi was standing upright now, in front of Lissa who, for the first time since they all met, actually looked unnerved.
"Priestess!" the Paladin protested once more, raising her hands in front of her, as if to protect herself from the Priestess.
"Did I stutter, Paladin? We agreed that you would teach me your Warrior's common sense, didn't we? I am not asking you for your opinion! I am giving you, as your superior, a direct order!"
"But—!"
"NOW!" shrieked Glissandi, grabbing the older woman by her armour.

The smack resounded through the room. Lissa had brought her hand up from beneath and slammed it into Glissandi's face, without holding back. Glissandi fell to the ground, knocked aside, her cheek torn open by the gauntlet. The Priestess screamed in pain, tears streaming of her face as the burning sensation completely overwhelmed her.
'It hurts', she thought. 'It hurts so much!'

Lissa stood frozen in place, numbly looking at the mailed hand in front of her. Pieces of skin and drops of blood were clinging to the rings. The wailing cries of the Priestess didn't seem to reach her.
Trista had completely ceased her habit of continuously looking around the room for danger and was moving her gaze back and forth between the Paladin, unable to make sense of the situation.
Mira and Mina were standing up, hands outstretched towards the crying Priestess, but not daring to move further. They carefully watched the Paladin, a primal fear invested in them through years of training making them stay put, lest they be hit like that as well. They had been hit numerous times before, but never like this. This wasn't a warning smack. This blow had ripped off part of the Priestess's skin, laid bare muscle and was causing her to lose large amounts of blood at a rapid pace. Gone was the brave woman who had faced the Paladin. In her stead was a crying, wounded girl.

Slowly, Lissa's awareness returned. She moved her hand down, looked at the Priestess, then at the Knight and the Squires.
"Out!" she hissed. The trio left the room in the blink of an eyes, nearly running over one another in their haste to vacate the premises.
Kneeling next to the still trashing Priestess, Lissa grabbed the girl by the chin, ignoring the blood pouring over her hand. With her other hand she grabbed the girl's hand, then the other, forcing them to remain still. She looked at the wound, ignoring Glissandi's wails. It was deep and large. Quite severe even, given that the Priestess had expended all of her magic.
"Why did you do that, you idiot?" she asked. She met the Priestess's gaze, and found that laying deeply underneath the pain, that same steel that she saw earlier was still present. The girl didn't regret her decision. And Lissa understood why.

"Fine then," she grunted, pushing the girl to the ground and pinning her trashing limbs underneath her armoured legs. Reaching into her bag, she grabbed out a needle and thread, and a bottle of alcohol.
"This is going to hurt. I'm not going to bother to tell you to not trash around, you'll probably pass out from the pain anyway."
As she doused the open wound in alcohol, her prediction came true. Wielding the needle with expertise, she started sewing the wound shut. It wouldn't be a clean job, given what she had to work with, but it would keep the girl from bleeding out.
She cussed with every stab of the needle.
"You're mad, girl. An idiot. Reckless. Inexperienced. Insane. Arrogant. Thick-headed. Stupid!"
She paused, before employing language no living being had ever heard her employ.
"And you're the first Priestess I might actually genuinely like. You damnable ballsy bitch."
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Sun Sep 30, 2018 4:59 pm

Glissandi woke up in total darkness. The first sensation that hit her was the burning pain radiating forth from her cheek. It overwhelmed her temporarily and she brought her hand to the wound, her fingers trembling as she traced the stitches with her fingertips. She felt tears well up and didn't try to stop them. When she felt a sob coming she forcefully suppressed it. By the Light, it hurt! She had never been switched before at the Monastery, but somehow she thought that this wasn't exactly comparable to getting smacked on the rear with a cane or the magical version of it.

She tried to switch her focus away from the pain, into her magical reserves. The roaring fire that usually resided in her wasn't there, but unlike earlier in the evening when her reserves had been entirely depleted, a small flame had returned to her. She failed at first, stabs of pain tearing her concentration apart. She frowned, annoyed at her control slipping beyond her grasp and was rewarded for the facial expression by even more pain. She cursed. The pain woke her up fully and she felt her own anger burn, suppressing the pain to an extent. She realised that this is what Warriors must feel. Using anger to fuel their determination when pain threatened to distract them.

She brought her full conscious to bear on it and was pleasantly surprised when she managed to shrug off part of the roaring pain that the wound gave her. Her other senses started to report sensations again. She became aware of a vague scent of alcohol and the memory of Lissa bluntly pouring it onto her face returned. The recollection made a flash of anger roar through her mind and she redirected it to distract her further from the pain. She shifted her focus away from her inner rage and moved them towards her magic. This time she grabbed hold of it without issues. She felt relief flood over her as the energies washed over her, instinctively homing in on her wound. It wouldn't be enough to fully heal it, but it greatly lessened the pain and she could feel an itch that she knew meant her skin was healing.

Establishing the connection properly, she sank back down in the bed, tenderly rubbing her fingers on the slowly healing wound, the pain easily ignored now.
"Lord..." she whispered. It was deserved. She knew it. She had sought out the punishment, not primarily because she had panicked like a raw recruit, but because she had failed in her sacred duty to the Lord. She had wished to live, to survive, when her only task should have been to eliminate Darkness. She lived to serve. She was a Priestess, a loyal subject of the Lord. Her gifts, training and ability were there to spread His light, not for her own selfish gain. The wound had also served so many more of her goals than merely acquiring a form of atonement. It had instilled a form of respect for her from the Paladin. It had revealed her dedication to the cause and the way it had happened had enforced a sense of unity in the party. Mother Dilia had prepared her plenty for when she'd go out in the world, far more than she had let on to the rest of her group.

In that aspect, she had succeeded, far faster than she had anticipated. She had known her weaknesses, known that the Warriors would feel a variation of irritation and pity towards her due to her lack of skills that came as second nature to them. Lissa had been somewhat impressed by her willingness to admit that. The girls had mocked her for it. Trista was still a mystery. Reading that woman was like trying to see through a wall of stone. Still, the Knight had risked herself in order to save her. As Mother Dilia had said, there were plenty of advantages to being the first party to be sent out. The first party simply was made up of the best, which meant that each and every one of their party would do their duty. She closed her eyes, a small shiver running through her spine as the wounded skin knitted itself together again. She recalled one of the conversations she had with Mother Dilia, away from prying ears.
"The party that accompanies you during your Sending is much more important than most people know. You are with them for years, and they are your ties to the Warriors. How well you perform and how much you impress them will matter greatly in how their entire faction sees you, and it heavily influences your future career. You know that most other Associates don't like you, due to your rapid progress. They are jealous of you. They might try and hinder your future growth if they are able, but most will not never ascend beyond the rank of Priestess. Make connections, Glissandi. Spread your web. You are special. The Lord has blessed you with many abilities. Make sure to use them all for His glory."

The Priestess opened her eyes again. Her party was more united than ever. She had learned valuable lessons, and the failures she had made during the battle would not be repeated. Every mistake she had made would be analysed and she'd improve herself accordingly. The pain had been a good lesson to. It had hurt, oh Lord, it had hurt so much more than she had expected. It had torn aside her barriers and reduced her to a weeping wreck. Thanks to that she could now put things into perspective. Pain was an area she had thoroughly lacked experience in. She had encountered some of it in the battle, when she was thrown across the stones and the friction had torn the skin of her limbs, but then she had been shielded by magic and her own ability had mended those wounds instantly, dulling the pain as it came before doing away with it entirely.

Aside from having gained solid experience and a tighter bond with those who would, hopefully, later serve as her connections into the Order, she had taken out a skilled witch, a true servant of Darkness. She had saved a child who had a promising future. She would make sure that Nassi would be sent to the Monastery. Mother Dilia would undoubtedly tutor the little girl until she'd grow up to be another capable Priestess. Connections, friends, relations, all mattered. To climb in the Order one needed more than simple abilities. It was an intricate web of politics and one needed to navigate it carefully to rise in rank. Mother Dilia had raised Glissandi and that bond worked two ways. If Glissandi climbed, so would Mother Dilia. If Nassi climbed, so would Glissandi. You helped one another and supported those who aided you. It was sickeningly similar to the politics of a kingdom or an empire, but Mother Dilia had explained the difference to her when she had asked.
"A noble desires rank because it carries power and wealth, and they crave that. They are vulnerable to corruption. Some genuinely care for their subjects, but to climb in such an institution requires blackmail, the trade of favours, conflict. All too often war springs forth because of it. We desire to climb in rank only if we think ourselves capable of it. Sure, Associates often dream of leading their own monastery at one point, and we encourage those thoughts as it drives them to further improve themselves. However, in the end all that matters is ability. If you can climb the ranks, if you are capable enough to handle more than your current task assigns you, then we see it as our duty to do so. To do more, in His name, to better serve Him, for that is our purpose. And we are strict with ourselves. If we see a person trying to ascend, we will judge them harshly, for that is our way. No matter what happens, we cannot allow the Dark to worm their way in. And sometimes, we are overzealous in our scrutiny of those below us, and prefer to be overly cautious. That is why it is important to have the backing of others. Thanks to them, we can climb, and do more for the Lord. Because that, my dear girl, is all that matters to us. To work for the Lord. Our duty is sacred above all."


She had her team and her accomplishments. She had gained a possible valuable ally. Thanks to the interference of the strange Salixor, she had done so without losing anyone in the process. Now, however, she stood at a critical point. There were plenty of unasked questions, and she prayed that Mira had been right in assuming that the witch had only cursed the girl out of arrogance and the desire to see others suffer. She needed answers, and she was considering pulling back to the Monastery to ask Mother Dilia for advice. If Salixor was right, then those who would chase her could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle. Then again, there was the chance he had been lying. Due to her reserves being depleted, she hadn't been able to study his emotions. Depending on how much of what he had said was truth, the actions she would have to take would be different.
"South..." she mused. That had been his advice. To retreat towards the faction that opposed those who would chase her. Still, even if that was true, it would only be a temporary stopgap measure. They couldn't hide there forever. Should they try to find the items that had been stolen? Should they try to find Gaelus, despite Salixor's warnings? Should they go back to the Monastery and report on all of this? There were advantages to either, and risks aplenty. Going south would mean risking their lives, even if it was in line with their original course. Going back meant they might gain additional information on this Gaelus. They could also report on everything else, but it would be seen as cowardice, and if those who would chase her were as vile and capable as Cassandra had been, or worse, as Salixor had warned them, more capable, then they would easily set ablaze the world to lure them out.

She shook her head. Returning was out of the question. She would trust Lissa's paranoia to keep her safe. Trista's constant alertness suddenly made so much more sense as well. They would stick to their course, go south. She would have to draw up a report and ask Captain Dar to deliver it to Mother Dilia, preferably in person. The Captain had proven to be very reliable. She could ask him to take Nassi with her as well, after having a word with the orphanage. Her brother's desire to protect his sister could make him a valuable asset as well. The boy had shown quite a bit of bravery in confronting them, for his sister's sake.

She would have to plan this with Lissa in the morning. The Paladin would have to give her a crash course in Warrior skills. She grimaced at the thought of it, but knew it was a vile necessity. She clenched her teeth in determination. Powerful yet hidden factions warring in favour for or against this mysterious Gaelus, with people capable enough to clash head on with the first party of the Sending. Salixor served neither Darkness nor the Light, Cassandra obviously served Darkness, and Gaelus supposedly had no love lost for the Order. Did that make him a servant of the Dark, or was there more at play? She would have to be wary to not let prejudice cloud her thoughts on that. If Salixor's deference was anything to go by, he was capable, and could either prove to be an invaluable ally, or a grave threat. Regardless, if she could deal with him, it would be a massive boost for herself, the Order, and the Lord.

'Yes,' she thought. She now had a task that superseded the mere conversion of villagers, although she would not relent in that either.
'Beware, Gaelus,' she thought to herself, her golden eyes ablaze with determination.
'I am coming.'
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Floris



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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Mon Oct 01, 2018 8:46 pm

As Glissandi went back to sleep, a smile of satisfaction on her lips, the rest of her party lay awake, pondering the events of the day.

Lissa was keeping herself busy by going over her armour. She treated her weapons with a light coating of oil, making sure the blades were still sharp and in good shape. She studied the green fluids that were on her sword. The strange being, the Keeper, had blocked it with his bare hand. It frustrated her. The weapons she carried were specifically made with the intention to cut through both magic and most armour with ease, having been enchanted to that purpose. Her blade wasn't comparable to the one that Trista carried, let alone to the weapons of the Squires. She was a Head Paladin and her outfit reflected her status. Whatever Salixor's skin, hide or bark was made of, however, surpassed the equipment she wielded. It had healed in mere moments as well, putting the creature obviously well above her in terms of abilities. She wondered what his insides held.

It was pure professional interest that made her wonder that. She held a mild dislike for him due to him not acknowledging the Lord, as that made him a willful non-believer, but at the same time he had healed Trista without requesting payment and she doubted that his desire to heal and nurture was a false trait. His kind, on the other hand, could possibly be an enemy they would face at one point. If their insides held organs, the same way Men, Trolls and every other creature had, then they would be susceptible to her other weaponry. Maces, cudgels and other equipment similar to those that carried the purpose to cause harm through armour would do more damage than her sword had. Of course, if the Keepers were more akin to trees, lacking the same biological system that all other known sentients had, she would have to rely on other ways to take them down. Ambushes, fire and magic would be her greatest assets then. She paused, staring off in the distance. Realisation struck her that those ways of fighting would be better anyway. In her haste to find a way around his tough, natural defences, she had forgotten that he had actually blocked the force of her swing with a single hand, without exerting himself. Even when she had smashed her shield into him, he had only taken a few steps back and she wasn't sure if he had done so because of the blow, or because he had been forced to fold himself in half to fit into the room.

She frowned as she came to another realisation. How the hell had a creature of his size gotten into the city without being spotted? When the Ledger Master had been listing off suspicious people he had not mentioned a mysterious giant that shrouded himself in a cloak. Did he have more abilities at his disposal than he had revealed thus far, or were there insiders in the city that worked with him? Given the militaristic structure of the Empire, it was unlikely that he had been smuggled in, or that guards had been bribed to look the other way. The truth would have come out the moment Captain Dar had begun his investigation.

She grinned wildly at the thought of the broad-shouldered Captain. Dutiful and experienced, devoted and intelligent, and if the way he carried himself was an indication, a very strong and capable man and fighter. For a man not belonging to the Warriors of the Order at least. A shame she hadn't met him half a lifetime earlier. He would have been a good partner. Even now she felt a measure of temptation tug at her. It was a shame they wouldn't spend more time in the city. Maybe she would take a detour later, when their mission was over and the Priestess deigned to return. If they were still alive at that point.

She sighed. Maybe she should just go for it. If they stayed for one more night. Could she trust Trista to handle the defence of the inn on her own? No, bad train of thought. Trista was capable but if the lot who were coming after them were as capable as Salixor promised, she couldn't abandon her post. The inn was large though... It wouldn't be too difficult to invite him over for a discussion. It would be nice to have a bit of fun before they went south. The Priestess may think herself smarter than the rest — and she was it too, Darkness be damned — but she was still easy to read. The girl was ambitious and zealous. Salixor had given her a name. A target. There was just no way the girl would pass up the opportunity to chase it.

She let out a deeper sigh as she tucked her weapons away, laying them down close to her so they remained within reach. Falling back down onto the bed she laid her hands underneath her head and stared at the ceiling. First the witch, Cassandra, who had proven to be an opponent that completely outclassed her and her fellow Warriors. Then Salixor, who she might beat. If she was lucky. And now this Gaelus. If this man was even half of what she feared, then she doubted her party would stand as much as a sliver of a chance. Still, if the Priestess went, she'd follow. That was her duty and she would not shy away from it.

Her thoughts shifted towards Glissandi. The girl learned fast and was damnably smart. She learned so much from her every mistake and did so with a devotion that matched her own. If the girl had been raised by the Warriors rather than the clergy, she would have made a fine tactician. Lissa couldn't help but like her at this stage. Glissandi was still arrogant, but that was an inherent trait to any Priestess really, and at least this one backed it up with solid ability. The girl might be dead-set on chasing after an incredibly powerful target, but somehow the Paladin doubted it would be a suicide mission. Ambitious as she might be, the Priestess was smart enough to keep herself from getting killed easily. No doubt the girl would have plans ready come daylight.

She hopped out of bed and stretched, feeling her muscles tense. Another grin played on her face, this one far more feral than the earlier one had been. Lissa knew she was aging and that it was a matter of time before her years would start taking a toll on her abilities and she'd be relegated to raising the new generations rather than leading missions. She truly and thoroughly dreaded that time. Riding towards a dangerous goal, risking life and limb for the glory of the Lord, side by side with capable companions? There were worse ways to die.

Shaking off any sleep she grabbed her mace and shield, smoothly sliding the straps around her arms, tying them in place with the ease of decades of experience. She swung the mace forward and her foot followed suit, readying herself for the next movement. Within minutes she felt her muscles heat up.
She might be well past her prime, but she was still a Paladin. Those who served the Lord would find sanctuary behind her shield. And those who defied Him would taste her blade.



Trista lay in bed, thoughts jumping all over the place. Her fingers were carefully feeling up the mass of scars that lay atop what once was a fair visage. Once. A long time ago. Before the Lord decided to prove to her that he didn't care about her, or those who served Him. Before she realised that what you were told was the truth did not automatically mean that it was so.
Her thoughts ran to the Priestess in the other room. Undoubtedly her wound was already being healed by her magic. It wasn't fair. The Priestess had narrowly managed to defeat the witch, after that she had risked her own life by recklessly charging in, just to give the girl a chance. She had excelled in her attack as well, despite being hopelessly outclassed. The reward for her troubles had been that she was blasted through several walls, died, and then somehow was revived by a creature in manners she preferred not to think about lest her stomach decide to dump its contents again. The Priestess had, on the other hand, gotten away scot-free. The only punishment she received had been one she had actively demanded, and even then the wound would heal without leaving a scar, leaving the girl in possession of her perfect features.

The Knight felt her face contort. It was pure jealousy that was raging within her and she knew it, but wasn't it justified? She had sacrificed everything for the Lord! She hadn't made mistakes! She had held out against an impossible force, against impossible odds and had somehow managed to actually keep three of her squad alive! And what had her reward been? A disfigured face! Seeing the Priestess radiate with devotion only made things worse. Thank the Lord. Thank the Lord! Bah! A joke is what He was! He didn't care about what His followers went through! She felt the emotions slid from her face again as the turmoil of feelings raged within her, very much akin to a devastating storm. Anger lanced through her thoughts, colouring them red. Perhaps it was unfair to blame the Priestess for it, as the girl could no more help her circumstances than Trista could help her own, but damn it all, was it too much to ask to look normal again? To look human? To have a face that didn't made people recoil in fear or disgust when they gazed upon it?

She smothered the deep sigh that welled up within her throat.
'Thought I had accepted my fate. Light be damned.' She closed her eyes, vainly trying to let sleep wash over her again. Hadn't she decided long ago that she would try to serve the Order as well as she could? To help those who were worth it rather than lament her own situation? Why was it then that her head felt like bursting with all these emotions? Because of Salixor? If he could bring her back from the dead, couldn't he fix her face as well? Lord, what she wouldn't give for that! It was an empty hope and she knew better than let her heart yearn for it.
Still... The world was a vast place. Before today they hadn't known of Keepers and mysterious yet powerful factions moving unseen in the shadows, hidden from the Order despite operating freely near their lands. Maybe she shouldn't abandon hope entirely.
Maybe this unknown teacher of Salixor knew things. Perhaps they would meet him. Perhaps he would help her.
Her eyes turned to steel and her hand rested on top of the sword laying next to her. She felt her powerful muscles tighten as she gripped it.
Or perhaps she would have to beat it out of him.


Mira and Mina were patrolling the inn, making less noise than a mouse despite being fully armoured. It wasn't that there was a true need for it, given that the city militia had the inn surrounded and had been reinforced by plenty of mages, but Lissa had judged it safer to not take risks and be a bit paranoid. Normally the girls would have obeyed grudgingly, but deferring to the Paladin's authority in the end. After witnessing a battle between two powerful mages, seeing a Knight they previously thought of as invincible get blasted away as if she were no more than a speck of dust and seeing a being that looked like a massive tree casually put roots inside someone's head and make it light up like a lantern, they had agreed that the extra precautions might be quite sensible. As such they were patrolling through the empty hallways, swords in their hands and bucklers on their arms. Their eyes danced from shadow to shadow, only the light of the moon falling through the windows providing any form of illumination.

Mira's eyes flashed to her sister as the girl made rapid hand signals. Due to the girl's inability to speak with her mind the way she could, Mina had learned to compensate for it through other means. Mira replied to the silent query through her thoughts.
'No, I hadn't expected the Priestess to stand her ground. Honestly it shocked me as much as it did you.'
Mina replied with a flash of respect, her signals relaying a question.
'I think so. She is different from us, but she has guts. And she can fight. I don't think we should try picking on her for the foreseeable time.'
Her sister sent over a feeling of grudging admiration as well as agreement. Then a sudden desire to fight mixed with apprehension slipped out.
Mira smiled. 'Honestly, we should have known. First Priestess to come out is the best, right? She's a bit of a lion in sheep's clothing. She was kept sheltered in that Monastery of hers. Reckon that when she learns how to fight she's going to be one hell of a pain to go up against, and we can't counter that magic of hers. If you want to try and antagonise her to fight against us...' she left her sister to figure out the rest of the thought. The feeling of doubt in Mina's mind became tangible. Fighting against Lissa and Trista always ended in utter and total defeat, but at least they learned from that. How could you learn from magic that beat you black and blue when you couldn't even see it?

Mira smiled as she felt a weary sense of resignation flowing from her sister, followed by meek agreement. A new question followed immediately, Mina's fingers moving rapidly.
'I don't think we're a match for Salixor either.'
Her sister radiated disapproval and Mira felt her cheeks heat up in embarrassment. She had mistranslated. She hated to admit it but despite being ahead of her sister in their mental connection, Mina had her beat in martial skill by a fair margin, even if her recklessness often hid it, and the girl picked most things up far faster than she did.
'Could you sign that again?'
Impatience slipped out of her sister, but was quickly pushed back as Mina repeated the signs, slower this time.
'Gaelus? How... Strong he is? Is that what you mean?'
Mina nodded at the first bit, then once again repeated the last signs, expressing a sense of urgency. Obviously she was still missing part of what her sister wanted to say. She focused on it and was completely taken off guard when her sister suddenly moved in on her. Before she could react she felt her feet being kicked out from underneath her. Mina's arm slipped around her neck and she was placed in a choke-hold. She looked into the grinning face of her sister, which was hovering far too close to her own for comfort.
"You know sis, you're quite arrogant at times. You may think things through more, but that doesn't help you one bit at times."

Mira frowned, shielded her own thoughts in turn and headbutted her sister. Mina reeled back, taken off guard by the sudden attack. She knew that Mira would be bringing her own sword up and moved accordingly. She slid forward, her vision still blurred from the blow, and grabbed her sister's wrist and pressed down on it, hard. Mira let out a silent scream and dropped her sword. Mina stopped the blade from hitting the ground with her foot, slowing down its descent and keeping it from making too much noise.
"My win," she announced, tapping Mira's other arm with her sword. Mira growled at her and slid the dagger she wielded against her sister's blade.
"How did you know?"
"Because I felt you thinking about it."
"Gah. You and your instincts," Mira complained, but smiled while doing so.

Without saying anything the girls resumed their position. Mira picked up her blade as Mina whispered the question her sister hadn't understood earlier. "What type of strength do you think this Gaelus has?"
Mira blinked in surprise. "What do you mean?"
Mina rolled her eyes. For being the thinker of the pair, her sister was being awfully thick-headed at the moment. "Glissandi's strength is magic. Yours is thinking. Mine is instinct. Lissa is a Paladin. Trista is a Knight. Both excel at fighting with weapons. Trolls are physically strong. Salixor is..." she left the sentence unspoken. Neither girl had a desire to think of that again.
"So," she resumed, "what is Gaelus' strength?"
Her sister was quiet for a while. When she spoke, there was admiration in her voice. "I'm surprised a muscle-head like you could actually think of such a — oof!" she coughed as Mina rammed her elbow into her sister's side.
"Right, well, I have absolutely no idea"
"You don't?" Mina asked, incapable of hiding the worry that she felt. Her sister always knew things. Or had a suspicion. An idea. A guess! To see her sister straight up admit that she didn't know made her uncomfortable.
"Look, if a guy who puts roots in people's head for fun tells me that he's far beyond anything I can imagine, I tend to believe him. Maybe the guy's just a good teacher. An old wise man or something. Maybe he's actually the Lord in disguise. I don't know!"
Mina gave her twin a horrified look. "Don't say such blasphemy!"
Mira turned her eyes downwards and whispered a soft prayer. "You're right, that was stupid of me. I'm sorry. I just wanted to say that he could be anything."

The girls resumed their patrol in silence for a while, before Mina signed at her sister again. Another question.
Mira paused at a window and stared through it for a while before responding.
'Yes, I'm sure we'll go after him. We killed the witch and now we must go after her master. You wanted your storybook adventure, sis. Well... We're in it now.'
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The Mansion in the Woods
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