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 The Mansion in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her journey had finally begun.

Last edited by Floris on Sun Oct 29, 2017 3:31 pm; edited 3 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Sun Oct 29, 2017 1:27 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glissandi took another look, focusing more. Then she let out a hiss as an angry frown formed on her angelic face. Within a moment's notice all four of her protectors had their swords out, causing the crowd to rear back in a mixture of excitement and worry. Glissandi ignored all that and slid down from her horse, shrugged off Lisa's murderous stare as she walked over to the brother and sister on the ground, didn't notice how both Lisa and Trista started circling around her, still on horseback, shield and sword at the ready, while Mina and Mira had dismounted as well, short swords and bucklers ready, and covered the Priestess from anything that might have a chance at breaching the circle their superiors formed. She noticed none of that, her attention purely focused on that core of pitch, black Darkness that lay in the midst of that flame of magic. A curse, a potent one at that, that was slowly draining the poor girl's life. No wonder the boy had been that desperate. If left unchecked for a few days longer the girl would have wasted away. She knelt down and grasped the girl's hand and smiled warmly at her.
"What is your name, child?" she asked softly. Two tiny eyes looked up briefly, then down again. The Priestess squeezed the girl's hands again and those eyes flashed up again. This time the Priestess made sure the girl didn't look away. Gazing deeply into the girl's eyes she could make out the flashes of gold swirling around in them, natural magical abilities 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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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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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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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 shieldwall, 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 shieldwall 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 shieldwall started reloading their crossbows with as much speed as they could manage. Lisa wasn't as easy 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 shieldwall. 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 shieldwall. 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.
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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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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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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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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 odor 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 Sun Jun 10, 2018 8:29 am; edited 1 time in total
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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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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 fanatics 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. She could see her 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!"
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PostSubject: Re: The Mansion in the Woods   Today at 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, pointing 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 of Men! 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? 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 slowly shown signs of anger, which had rapidly expanded until he his emotions had well transitioned 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 laying 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 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 part 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 man was panicking wildly now, screaming unintelligible things. A damp stream was forming on his lower body, spreading in all directions as the man's legs were flailing 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 settled atop 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, the 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 retaking 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 tolerated them for a bit, grinning broadly underneath his helmet.
"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 longtime companion, and he was as dependable as stone.

Faen smiled broadly towards 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?
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The Mansion in the Woods
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