Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Frizan Free From This Backwater Hellsite

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Welcome to the Trophy Case!




For every contest, there is a winning author and their fantastic work, so I thought it fitting for those works to be given a place of pride in the Contests section! With every new prompt that comes and goes and the winners get decided, they and their entries shall be added here in the Trophy Case for everyone to see for as long as the Guild stays running.

Congratulations to all future Contest winners!
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Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Frizan Free From This Backwater Hellsite

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The Winner of RPGC# 15: New Beginnings



It'll Get Easier Over Time by @PlatinumSkink


‘You’ve gotta be a villain,’ I said. ‘The good guys are constantly on the defensive, they’re the guys defending the good shit. Being a villain means you get to plan out the attack, take out the defenders way ahead of time, you’re more likely to win. Besides, as a good guy the best you’ll get is a pat on the back and a paycheck, villains gets to keep all their loot.’

‘Um, Charlotte,’ Holly looked a bit uncomfortable as she replied. Several of my like-minded friends giggled at my words, others looked uncomfortable, only Holly was able to reply. ‘I don’t think it’s that easy. Villains have to deal with the guilt of committing crimes, making people’s lives worse, being shunned…’

‘Eh,’ I shrugged. ‘It’ll get easier over time. Not that it matters, none of us are going to awaken powers any time soon.’

The subject was dropped, and we eventually picked up our plates and deposited them at the proper place in the school cafeteria, and headed back to class.

_______

‘She’s bullying at school, she’s cheating at tests and she listens to nobody. W-we can’t let our girl continue like this…’

I staggered back, eyes wide staring at the wall of my room. It wasn’t that I just had heard my mother lament over me that had startled me. It was the fact I had heard her from four rooms away as if she had just spoken inside my head. In fact, I felt where she was, alongside my father. I also felt my neighbors, their neighbors, someone driving by in a car, numerous dogs and cats, countless bugs… I felt the location of everything living on the street, and I could choose to hear whatever sounds they were making. All I had wished for was to be able to eavesdrop on the conversation I knew they were having, and somehow I got it. And, instinctively, I knew it could do so much more. My lips curled into a grin.

‘… BO!’

Both my mom and dad jumped from the unexpected sound erupting in their heads, my voice. I felt their panic, and I laughed. This was glorious.

_______

‘Excluding you four, you currently have fifty-four men on this compound,’ I declared with confidence. ‘Thirty of them are playing games in the barracks, six of them are cooking lunch for the rest, fifteen are on guard, one is on the toilet and the two in the ceiling above me are filming me and have guns trained on me in case I do something funny. Then there are twenty-one hostages in the basement…’

Bloodshot, large man, local villain, sat with his hands together inspecting me along with the three other present power-users under his command. He looked like he needed some more convincing, so I continued.

‘I can also feel which ones are power-users. As of currently, including yourself, you have five power-users. Four in here, and one among the regular troops.’ Power-users somehow felt differently to my powers. I smirked, knowing how valuable this had to be. Finally, Bloodshot stood up, his large frame quite intimidating.

‘Impressive, I must admit,’ he said. ‘But before I let you join, you’re going to have to prove to me you have the heart of a villain.’

I looked at him a bit curiously, before one of the four suddenly vanished from existence. Only because I could sense him by my power did I know he had teleported down to the hostages. Down there he grabbed a few, and then he reappeared as suddenly as he had vanished in front of me, three bound hostages in hand. A middle-aged woman, a young man and an older man. The woman and the young man were struggling and crying, the old man was glaring angrily. The teleporter then held a handgun forward towards me. I frowned, looking over at the boss.

‘Prove to me your determination. I can’t trust someone who’s hands remain unsullied,’ Bloodshot said, gesturing at the gun.

While slightly hesitant, I accepted the gun. I’d never even seen one before, but knowing I might run into this situation I had studied their function. It was light, yet the danger was real. I inspected it for a second before ensuring the safety was on. Then I inserted my finger into the trigger-hole and started spinning the gun on it.

‘For the record, I think we could work together without these sorts of measures,’ I said, closing my eyes while spinning the gun abscently. ‘I could put my own demand saying you’re not to expose me to the rawer side of the operations. I think my power is useful enough you’ll have use of me regardless.’

‘That said,’ I finished, turning to the squirming hostages. I grabbed the gun, undid the safety, and directed it at the old man’s chests with one hand.

My aim was true, my expectation for the recoil was not.

As the bang of the gun sounded through my ears my fingers jerked in pain, my hand had flown up to so the two sections of my arm collided. First there did I manage to stop it after having staggered a bit. My ears hurt from the sound of the gunfire, but the man I had shot screamed so much louder. The shrill scream echoed inside my head, and seeing the blood on the floor staggered me more than the recoil. The man died moments later, falling over on the floor.

I grunted, feeling a disgusting feeling in my chest. Guilt? Disgust? Fuck that. I gripped the gun with two hands before directing it. My power helped me aim, and with two more bangs I shot the woman in the heart and the young man in the head. They died way faster than the old man.

The feeling wouldn’t go away. I stood frozen where I had fired the last bullet, looking over the three corpses. The three individuals I had killed. I might have remained there if Bloodshot hadn’t started slowly applauding. Reawakening, I brought the gun hand to my hips and grinned at him.

‘So? Sullied enough for you? You got it all on film, too,’ I giggled, knowing the people in the ceiling had filmed the proof.

‘I’m willing to give you a shot. Come, let’s share the news with the team. I want them all to see you,’ Bloodshot stated, some pride in his voice, as he and his underlings passed me towards the door. I breathed out in relief, but… the repulsive feeling in my chest hadn’t gone away, my hands were shaking. I looked at them, one of which was still holding the gun. I couldn’t stop the shaking. I gritted my teeth, clutching the gun hard, before I turned to follow Bloodshot.

It’ll get easier over time, I told myself.

_______

It was a curious feeling, seeing someone get killed with my power. It could only pick up living beings over a certain size, so as soon as they died they just vanished. For four months, I directed Bloodshot’s team with my surveying power, warned about opposing power-users and informed of enemy numbers, looked out for reinforcements. Battlefield control was my game, and I played it well. I could make call-outs that nobody else could, and I was now an integral part of the team. I directed them to kill so many people…

Even when I stood a kilometer away, I sensed Bloodshot shooting his blood-shots at the guards, I felt Hijack teleporting people hundreds of meters into the air to fall to their deaths, I felt Clawress literally slicing people in half. For all these months… the feeling of disgust in my chest had never vanished. Even though I myself had never partaken in the killing again, the feeling had never vanished.

I felt two guards running straight for Bloodshot’s trap through a door. I frowned in frustration.

‘Stop, you fools!’

I didn’t realize I had sent the message to their minds until I saw them stagger and stop. Oh, fuck. … Well, whatever!

‘Bloodshot’s behind this door! If you know what’s good for you, hide and don’t show yourselves until-’

Bloodshot decided not to wait and leapt at the door before immediately shooting both guards, who winked out of existence to my senses.

‘Damn it,’ I whispered, frustrated.

‘Scryer?’ one of the guard assigned to protect me immediately asked. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘…’ I didn’t give him a reply. I didn’t trust myself to not completely fuck up my excuse. I suppressed my feelings and kept up my support.

It’ll get easier over time… right?

_______

It was a drunken party, months later. Because of my help, Bloodshot’s gang could constantly evade authorities, because I felt their approach. Tonight they celebrated another victory, another successful deal, and I pretended to be knocked out from some of the things that had been distributed. It was easier like that. I… I didn’t feel like celebrating. They didn’t know, I was now repeatedly sending warnings ahead of time, to prevent unnecessary loss of life. Each time I had to simply pray Bloodshot didn’t find me out. But no matter what I did, the feelings just wouldn’t go away. The feelings of disgust in my chest, the feeling that something was horribly, horribly wrong. It wasn’t getting any easier.

Suddenly, I felt someone entering my range. A flying hero. Judging by the pose as he flew… Starlight.

I lay there silently. I knew what I should do. It was so easy to do, too.

I made my decision.

‘Starlight. This is Scryer.’

_______________

And there I was. I sat on a stump in a forest, arms crossed, looking on from a range as Bloodshot’s gang were being ambushed by heroes they didn’t even know were coming. I sat with a somber expression, knowing they were trusting me to look out. My guards had no idea, they assumed my silence meant everything was going according to plan. I felt the special forces approaching my position. Old Gunslinger was leading them.

‘Raise your hand, so we know who not to shoot,’ Gunslinger said. Obediently I raised my right hand up above my head.

‘Scryer? What are you-’

The guard didn’t have time to finish the sentence before a spray of bullets flashed through between the trees, taking down the guards around me. I breathed in heavily, feeling the finality of their bodies hitting the ground around me. The special forces moved in, double-checking that they had finished off my guards.

In the distance I felt Starlight and Steelia take on Bloodshot. Hijack and Clawress were out, as were the other power-users. Bloodshot was there… and there he was out. It was over.

Gunslinger walked and stood beside me. Older man with a gun, grey beard, limited sight into the future that allowed him to predict what would happen and see exactly how to act to win. Yeah, I couldn’t counter that.

‘You do understand that we still have to arrest you?’ he asked, in a calm but thankful voice.

‘… Yeah. I’m ready.’ I said, breathing out.
I sighed. My life was basically over. I was a known villain with blood on my hands. But with this, the disgusting feeling had finally withdrawn. It wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t as bad. I would live my whole life from now regretting what I had done… but at least for now, I was satisfied.

‘I’ll see if I can put in a good word for you,’ Gunslinger suddenly said, causing me to look up in surprise. ‘We could really use someone like you. If possible, I’d like to give you a second chance. If you really regret what you did, then you’ve got a long route to go for redemption yet. Are you ready to travel it?’

‘… Ha.’

I couldn’t do more than laugh. Was I going to get a chance to make things right? … It was more than I felt I deserved. But… if he was going to put it that way…

‘… Yes, sir. Gladly, sir.’

It was bittersweet. But perhaps, with enough work, I’d be able to make up for what I had done, and the pain in my chest could go away.

Who knows? Perhaps forgiving myself would get easier over time.
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Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Frizan Free From This Backwater Hellsite

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The Winners of RPGC# 16: It takes Two...



The Inquisitor's Chains by @shylarah and @Nevix


"I don't give a single damn, ya fuckin' prick." Edric's voice echoed down the dungeon hallway.

"No one is to see her."

"Fuckin' hells, mate. I'm Edric Karst. I helped build this rebellion. Now open the damn door." There was little contest to that, and soon the cell door creaked open. Edric felt strange, muted, once he stepped in.

Leia sat in the corner, where she could look up out the slit of a window and see a crack of evening sky. She seemed smaller, somehow, deprived even of the little control she'd had over her future during her time recovering. Particularly when training the guards, she'd been very self-assured, but now she was just another prisoner.

"Tell me it's a lie." Edric said. He was unreadable, but clearly suppressing some kind of emotion. "Tell me you didn't lie to me!"

"And would you believe me if I did?" The words came out sharp, bitter, and Leia immediately regretted them. "My apologies. You, of all people, don't deserve that." She turned to look at him, pale blue eyes rimmed with the faintest hint of pink. "I didn't lie to you. I have not, not since I turned my back on the Inquisition and got you out of their dungeons. But it doesn't matter. People believe what they like. And am I not a prime example of that?" The crack of a smile that splintered her impassive expression was fragile, and the farthest thing from cheerful. A moment later it was gone.

"If it's not true, then why are people saying it? Why's this happening, Leia?"

"Because they caught the spy that they were intended to catch. It's how the game is played, and if you have to kill off a few pawns to topple an opponent's piece, so be it." She sighed. "I should have seen this coming." Her gaze had wandered away from Edric but now it returned, and her expression turned hard. "You realize that once I'm out of the way, you're next. You and Duncan. At least he's got the Freelands' queen on his side, for the moment, but the Emperor isn't going to let her keep him much longer. It's about symbols, not people. ...Promise me you'll watch your back?"

"I'm not gonna need to, because I'm going to figure this out." Edric took a deep breath.

"There's nothing to figure out," Leia interrupted gently. "There's no proof that I'm telling the truth. Any evidence that supports my story...well, I was an Inquisitor, and a good one. Alys is too smart not to see a way to put anything into the perspective of a long game. It's what I excelled at, after all. But Edric, this isn't a battle you can afford to be fighting. I know how this works. I'm flattered you want to -- but your rebellion needs you, far more than a single oathbreaker does."

Edric blustered at this, searched for words. Grigory saved him. "Useless, I tell you! I told you 'no visitors,' and what do you do? You allow a visitor!" Hearing Grigory berate the guards made Edric feel a little guilty. He turned around, and started to walk away, but he stopped at the door.

"You take care of yourself, Leia."

She chuckled. "I'll do what I can."

---

When the verdict was delivered, Leia accepted it with an impassive nod. She'd shown little in the way of emotion throughout the trial -- and, given what she knew of those involved, she'd come to the same conclusion on her own not long after being shoved into a cell. She'd had time to make as much peace with it as she was ever going to -- admittedly not much, but damned if she'd let them see that. It was hardly fair, but she'd stopped believing the world was more than a decade ago, when she was still a child. All that was left was to face her fate with dignity, and that much she could do, no matter how she felt like raging or sobbing. And really, can you say you do not deserve it? To the rebels, the Inquisition is an order of criminals. I worked horrors, necessary or otherwise.

It felt like she'd known this was how things would end since the moment Edric had insisted upon trying to keep her alive. All he'd done was delay the inevitable. I hope he doesn't take it too hard. He shouldn't -- but that hasn't stopped him before.

---
When did I screw up?

It was a question he'd been routinely asking himself, this last day. It'd been 36 hours, give or take, since the sentencing, and he'd slept for only five of them. It was enough, though. He'd had longer stretches, mostly in the dungeons. He'd kept himself busy, since then, in the med tents. There were only so many patients, though, and soon enough he was filling out medicine order forms for Declan. His writing had never been neat, but now his scrawl was hasty, there was an almost desperation in his letters. If he stopped doing something, he'd think about Leia.

Two days, Eddy.

---

"Oh no you don't." The thick-necked guard outside Leia's cell lightly pushed Edric back. "Nuh uh, not this time, Eddy. We've got strict orders." The other guard, one with a startlingly impressive mustache, looked at Edric apologetically.

"Terribly sorry, Captain." It was an empty title, now that he was no longer in any kind of military command, but these guys had been in his unit, back in the Freelands. He couldn't remember their names for the life of him. "You should leave."

"You're right." Edric said, nodding gravely. "I should." The first punch hit the thick-necked guard square in the nose and he stumbled backward, grunting in pain. The mustachioed guard stood there, mouth agape, fumbling for his sword. They'd been instructed to look out for lynch mobs or wannabe assassins, not Edric. They were under the impression that they were there more to keep Leia safe until her execution than to actually stop an escape. Edric grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and slammed the crown of his head into the bridge of the guard's nose. He was out like a light. The other guard had recovered and drawn his sword, but Edric was banking on the fact that he'd hesitate to use it. It was a well-placed bet, and he was able to close easily. He grabbed the guard by the throat and put his leg behind the guard's. It was a simple matter to push with the choking hand and take the man down. He toppled to the floor. Edric crouched down and punched him once more in the face, for good measure. He hadn't brought his cutlass, as much because he didn't want to arouse early suspicion by bringing a weapon to the dungeons as it was because he didn't think he could seriously use it against any of the rebels.

With the two guards in front of the cell taken care of, and the ones upstairs not yet alerted, Edric made his way to Leia's cell. He'd fished the keys off of the mustachioed guard and, after struggling for a moment, managed to unlock it.

Leia hadn't missed the racket outside her cell, and she was already on her feet -- but far from looking relieved, her expression was cold fury. "Edric Karst, what the fucking hell do you think you're doing?" she demanded, lifting her her chin. If it wasn't for the dark circles under her eyes and her overall disheveled state, it would be easy to think that she was the one in control of the situation. Her words were the greatest indication that she was not -- she'd never been one to use "fuck", and hearing it from her was jarring.

"Duncan's dead, Leia." Edric managed a sheepish, sad smile. "I'm not going to sit on my hands while a friend dies. Not again."

Her eyes widened and the rage on her face faltered, turning into something closer to confusion before she regained her composure. "You're going to break your own rebellion apart, Edric," she told him, no longer as harsh but still angry. "The Empire is doing everything it can to tear you all down, and this will help them."

"This isn't my rebellion, not anymore." Edric opened the cell door as wide as it would go. "I've got nothing but respect for Cormac, but no rebellion of mine bows to a king." He'd been willing to overlook it previously, when it seemed like the only option. But after further thought, the radical in him reared its head. He'd not followed Duncan to take the throne, but to destroy it. Perhaps that was naive, but with Duncan gone, it seemed like Edric's insurrection was a thing of the past. Besides, he didn't think he could ever really become one of them again. Not after the Inquisitor he'd brought here had been convicted as a spy. "I'm crossing the Reach to see if I can drum up support against Osten there. You're welcome to come along, if you'd like."

She looked at him for a long moment, measuring his words. "You're sure about this, Edric?" she asked at last. "The minute I step out of this cell, there will be no turning back. You may never be welcome here again. Your rebellion will brand you a traitor. Are you prepared to live with that?"

"Not at all. But I'm less prepared to live with myself if I let an innocent be beheaded."

"You've a lot of nerve, calling me innocent." Her eyes glittered, perhaps with humor. "Alright then. ...But I'm not leaving without Illiachen."

"You know damn well what I meant." Edric grumbled, earning a soft chuckle. "Illiachen should be taken care of, if Deck and Dack came through." It was more than just Illiachen, of course. There was his own cutlass, as well as old, roughspun clothes that were going to be torn for scraps soon anyway.

"...I hope none of you regret this." Sadness flickered across her face before Leia squared her shoulders. "Very well. I'll follow your lead. Be aware, I'm weaker than I was a couple days ago."

"'I'll follow your lead.'" Edric repeated, smirking, as they stepped out of the cell. "I can't say I ever expected to hear that."

"I told you back on that boat."

"Right, but then I was too worried to really savor it." Edric planned to follow that up with another jab, but he heard the guards upstairs calling to the unconscious ones. "Shit." He quickly reached for her collar, muttering the incantation he'd memorized the previous night.

Leia stumbled as the runes in the collar flared and faded from view, grabbing hold of Edric to keep her balance. Like stepping into sunlight after too long in the dark, the abrupt return of one of her senses was briefly disorienting. She pulled away with a sigh of relief and a smile, bending to grab a not the sword but rather the cloak of one of the guards. "Right. After you."

"I don't know if I can manage to keep from inflicting serious injury, with an unfamiliar blade. Not in my current state," she admitted softly as they climbed the stairs. The guards above weren't expecting trouble. They turned to look at the stairs, and with Edric leading nothing seemed amiss at first.

So none of them were prepared when they saw the condemned Inquisitor following him, even as his fist connected with the jaw of the nearest. Leia followed suit, charging the second with the cloak thrown to both distract and tangle. She struck not with a fist but rather a beak-fingered jab, aiming for weak points on arm, stomach, and neck. He went down quickly, and between the two of them the third guard didn't have time to do more than shout.

Of course, she didn't need to do more. "That'll be the alarm raised," Leia panted, looking around to get her bearings. Edric swore under his breath, but there was no time to be worrying about it. The pair took off into the shadows, and when the bells started ringing they'd already made good progress.

"If you think I'm jumping off another wall, you need to realize that was a one time thing," she half-joked as they climbed. Dakur was waiting for them, crouched in the lee of a tower. The presence of a rope was not completely unexpected, but certainly a great relief. Leia didn't do more than acknowledge the man with a nod, but she felt oddly drained, more than she would have anticipated from the magic suppression alone. "Edric, something's wrong," she said, leaning on the wall to catch her breath. "I should not be having this much trouble." Ordinarily she would not have said anything, but...he kept trusting her. The least she could do was be honest in return.

"Shit." Edric said, looking around, frantically. They weren't being pursued yet, so they had time, but this was troubling. "Was it the collar?"

"I don't think so, but--"

"Actually, it's my doing. Apologies, Leilani. This was more difficult than anticipated." Declan came into view. It was his voice, but the cadence and the way he moved were all wrong. One look at his eyes explained why, though Leia didn't even need that to recognize the real speaker.

"Illy, you -- oh curse it." They'd discuss the matter where they wouldn't be overheard. "Good to have you back." Edric's head snapped to Leilani, and he was surprised to see her with a faint smile.

"Your things, or what I saw of them." Illiachen handed over the satchel, nodding approvingly when she noted the one Dack had put together for Edric. She held out her physical form, but before she let go she pulled her wielder close, her tone shifting into gentle reproach. "You let it come far too close, Leia-syl. Don't do it again." She waited long enough for a mute nod before kissing Leia on the forehead. "Take me and get out of here, you two. They're focused on the gates, but that won't last." The moment Declan's hand released its grip, the silver light in his eyes snuffed out and the presence vanished. Leia caught him, though it took Ed's help to keep the man steady while he regained his balance and his senses.

"Did your fucking sword-?" Edric stopped, surprised to find himself angry. He was on edge, he supposed. "He was taking it -- her -- here, dammit."

"He'll be alright by tomorrow.”

"You sure?" Declan sounded worried. "Because my head feels like it got trampled by an ox. And so does the rest of my body, actually."

"I apologize." Leia rested a hand on Illiachen’s hilt as she looked over at the rope, then at Edric. "We need to move." To the two other men she gave a nod. "Thank you both." Without further conversation she took a deep breath and hoisted herself up onto the wall, then lowered herself down the side. It was slower than she would have done, if in better shape, but better not to fall. She'd done that once already. She gave the line a solid shake once she was on the ground, to let Edric know she was out of his way. Beyond the wall she could hear the bells still ringing, and every second she stayed still was a second less leeway they had. She found herself very much opposed to letting the rebels recapture her, now that she was free.

Edric, with far greater strength than he'd had during his last escape from a dungeon, managed to work his way down the wall at a respectable pace. When he reached the bottom, he tugged on the rope. Almost immediately, Dakur started pulling it up. The enormity of what he'd just done descended on him then, but he didn't feel as guilty as he'd expected. He supposed that if one spends eight years of their life rebelling against the established authority, it makes it easier to go against other authorities.

Even the ones you create.

He took a few breaths, and shivered. Yes, winter was all too clearly near. They'd have to move quickly.

"So. Ever been through the border forest?"

"I have, though not in years." Leia glanced around. "I don't know the way well enough to be a guide as such, but I can keep us going in more or less the right direction. Same goes for the pass through the Reach." She brushed her hair out of her face, regretting that she'd never had a chance to cut it. "You'll be okay handling whatever comes our way in there? I'm not going to be able to fight anymore until I've had some sleep."

Edric patted his cutlass and nodded confidently. "I'm reasonably sure." He took one last look at Ulricheim and sighed. "Well, then. You ready to go?"

"Yes."

---

The old elf that had spoken to her by dreams had warned her that if she accepted his offer, things might well get worse before they got better. It was odd for Amuné to be the one uncertain what someone else meant by what they said, instead of being the frustratingly vague one. It gave her unwelcome insight into what it must be like for others trying to work with her. Was it because of her decision? Was it because she'd tried to reach him on her own to tell him she would come, and pushed herself too far in the process? Was it unrelated, and there was just more danger surrounding those she cared about?

Whatever the reason, her dreams were increasingly troubled, and she was having more trouble shutting out visions. The night before she'd woken in a cold sweat, and pushed by some awareness she didn't even understand herself she'd grabbed her things and vanished into the night. She needed to leave her escort behind, though she was frightened by the thought that perhaps she was mistaken. But the impulse was too strong to ignore.

Now, with a full day's solo travel behind her, she still felt it was right but her thoughts were nothing but second guessing. Not for the first time, she wished she'd been born a simple healer. "But this trip will change things. They'll be better. Next time...next time you'll know the first night to say something, instead of waiting three days." The teenager brushed a stray tear from her face and carefully banked her little fire until it was just a dim glow of embers. "And won't Edric have my hide, when he learns that this time I was the one that was reckless." Maybe it was lingering guilt that drove her so strongly, keeping her from ignoring poorly-understood instincts after such a huge failure. Maybe it was Melindanar guiding her -- he'd said he'd be in touch, when she got closer, but how close was that supposed to be?

Worn out, she curled up in the hollow she'd chosen and before long she was fast asleep.

It was a few hours later that Duncan found her. The former leader of the Grand Insurgency was looking haggard, his hair longer than it had been and his beard uncomfortably thick. There were circles under his eyes, but they were bright and alert. They widened a bit when he saw who lay by the fire. He'd only been hoping for some warmth. Luck, it seemed, might not have abandoned him yet.

She seemed troubled, and Duncan knew her well enough to know she was having a nightmare. He gently kicked her shoulder and said, in a voice just above a whisper.

"Amuné." He wondered if word of his death had reached Ulricheim yet. He hoped not, otherwise his appearance above her in the middle of the night could be frightening. "Wake up."

She made a noise that fell somewhere between a sob and a whimper, no longer asleep but not awake enough to tell the different. "It's all falling apart, Duncan. This is just the start." She spoke in a mumble, not yet opening her eyes. Her face was twisted in distress. "The queen's hands are covered in blood, and some of it's yours. The pale-eyed rogue turns others, despite her best efforts. I can be where I'm needed or where I need to be, but not both. And all I see at night is disaster."

"Still in good cheer, I see." He mumbled, then dropped to one knee. Her words bothered him, but not so much as to unnerve him. "Amuné. I need you to wake up. C'mon, open your eyes." He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and shook her. "Up and at 'em."

"I don't want to look," she protested, pulling away and curling up. "But I can't keep from seeing." She spoke more clearly now, articulation damaged less by sleep and more by tears. "Even when I do it right. I watched them with Edric. I never said, but I was there. I saw Ulrichheim, when it fell. And you -- I don't know how many times I've seen you die now. Too many. Too many."

"Well, for a man who's died so many times, I feel pretty alive."

"I wish you'd stop being so friendly." Now she did lift her head and look at him. "It's my fault it happened. I was there, I watched it, and I thought it was a damned nightmare, not a vision. We were too late. I was too late, all over again."

"Well, if you'd watched it, you'd know that I didn't actually die."

"He ran you through and shoved you out the window! I -- no, that was...there was a fire...." Amuné started with a snapped retort, but her own difficulty keeping it straight left her faltering.

"I slammed his face into a desk and set him on fire, actually."

"No. No. This isn't real. It's not -- you're dead! Heavens above...it's happening. I've finally gone mad." Amuné pressed her hands against the side of her head, a laugh closer to a sob leaving her lips. "Even trained Seers can be too late, can't they?"

"For fuck's sake, Amuné, I'm real. You're fine!" His voice wasn't harsh, but it was firm.

"No you're not! The rescue party wasn't there in time. You were already dead. They killed you -- Ed got so smashed he couldn't talk straight--"

"They tried." He cleared his throat. "To kill me, that is, but I woke up before the assassin stabbed me--"

"--And Alys, she tried to sing, you know, that one song you play until everyone's sick of it --"

"--Fought him off and faked my death."

"--And I was still awake the next morning, and dammit, Duncan, stop doing this to me. Please. Go be dead somewhere else, I can't do this." She'd cried over him several times already, but the grief never really went away. It was always waiting for when she wasn't looking and then it'd come out of nowhere and just swallow her whole. How many years had it been before talking about her parents didn't make her throat close up?

Duncan sighed and pulled her into a tight hug. He'd seen her like this before, but never so bad.

"I'm here. I'm not dead." He whispered. "Come on. This is real. I'm real."

Amuné stiffened, the sort of mid-motion freeze that accompanied some of her visions. A moment later she made a garbled noise and flung her arms about him tight enough that she threatened his ribcage. She couldn't manage to say anything for some time, but when she did get something out, the first thing out of her mouth was, "Alys will kill you for this."

"I don't doubt it." He managed to squeak out. "Not at all."

---

It was well worth the couple hours of lost sleep to catch up with Duncan, to know he was alive and well. She had news for him too, filling him in on the flight from the Freelands, those they'd lost, the formation of the new country, and so many other things. Eventually, though, she had to broach a topic she was dreading. "Edric's back, you know. He'll be so glad to see you." The words were bright, but her tone indicated that there was more to it.

"Edric?" Duncan couldn't suppress a smile. "He got out? Did you guys rescue him?" He balked, in a joking show of offense. "Before me?"

"Leilani Suldevi got him out."

"Pardon?" Duncan wasn't quite sure he'd heard correctly.

"The half-Imperial Inquisitor? Shame of the Freelands?" Amuné grimaced and looked away. "And he brought her to Ulrichheim. She was in terrible shape on arrival, but...well, you know Ed. Heart big enough to make an easy target."

"But...she got him out, right?" He cocked an eyebrow. "I take it that means she wasn't actively against us. Unless..."

"Oh, that's what she said. And...well, she was convincing. Even Grigory started believing her. I mean, we didn't exactly trust her with our backs, but...y'know.

"Then we find an Imperial spy trying to contact her. After she's supposedly gone rogue and turned her back on them. And she's been very clear that she's not supporting the Insurgency, and...." Amuné trailed off, shaking her head. "She's an Inquisitor. They're trained to mess with people's' heads. And she had him in that dungeon for...months. I've seen some of what was done. Far more than I wanted to, not nearly all of it. He won't believe she's using him, Duncan. And I don't know how to get him to. That's on top of the confidence he's lost. He's not entirely changed...but I think there is something wrong. Certainly where the Inquisitor is concerned."

Duncan was quiet for a moment, lips pursed. He sighed. "I can talk to him, when we get back. I take it she'll be long dead, by then, though." He stopped, as though remembering something. "Speaking of, what in the hell are you doing out here, anyway?"

"Del came through, with word from an elven Seer. ...I-I have to go. I need the training, desperately." Her shoulders slumped. "Doesn't mean I don't feel guilty for leaving, though. I'm needed in Ulrichheim too."

"Yeah, but what the hell are you doing out here alone?" He looked appalled. "It didn't to occur to you to take, well, anyone with you?"

"I did. But...I don't know. I needed to leave them. Maybe so you could find me?" Amuné's face twisted in frustration. "All I know is that I felt it as strongly as I've felt anything. Didn't even have a reason for it." She ran her hand through her hair with a sigh and waved in the direction she'd been travelling from. "If you want to find them, they're about a day thataway. But I get the feeling that you're not ready to go back just yet."

"Not without seeing you safely to the Pass, I'm not."

"Fair enough." She smiled, as much from relief as anything else. "It'll be good to spend some time with you before I have to split off on my own." She paused for a moment and nodded. "And I'll feel better about it with you around to keep an eye on Edric. I don't know that Alys would have been up to it, with you dead." Amuné realized the flaw in the plan. "Oh, but they still don't know! And I'm not sure I trust sending a message, even if I had a way to." The girl nibbled on her lip before she had to shrug. "It's the best we can do, I suppose. They'll manage a couple extra days." She looked up again, and slugged his arm. "Don't go faking your death again, you colossal jerk. You have no idea how miserable we were."

---

Leia watched Edric across their small campfire, her face unreadable. It was amazing just how little she understood him, even after all this time. Or maybe she did, but his motivations were simply altogether alien. Or maybe you've spent so long being bitter that you don't remember what it is to be bright. Whatever the case, and no matter how many times she tried to just accept that this was how he was, it bothered her. She didn't like the idea of watching him be destroyed by the compassion he showed, and she'd seen it happen far too many times.

But it wasn't something she could really talk to him about.

Instead she broke the quiet with something else. "Mother thought favorably of Duncan. Not necessarily as a leader, but as a person."

"She was right to." Edric didn't look at her, but into the fire. It hissed and popped, and every noise it made caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand up, but he stopped himself from constantly scanning the surroundings. "He was my friend before he was my commander." The ghost of a smile tugged at the corners of his lips. "Watching the same boy who used to drag me to the creek to try and spearfish, the same boy that would always convince me to go watch the old militiamen do their sword drills behind the grain storehouses, become the leader of the Insurgency was surreal. There was always some kind of dissonance, in my head, between Duncan the leader and Duncan the man." He grimaced. "Even more surreal to think he's gone." There were no sobs, wails, laments, or cries. He'd gotten the worst of it out back in Ulrichstead, and when he wasn't thinking of it, he could almost function as though everything were fine. But when he spoke of it, or if it even crossed his mind, he'd withdraw a bit.

He could never tell if he was sad or scared.

So long as he could remember, there had always been Duncan to turn to. It wasn't so much that Duncan was gone, hells, Edric hadn't seen him in what was fast becoming a year. The part that was hard to understand, the part that scared him, was that he'd continue to be gone, forever. He knew that Duncan was dead, but knowing and believing were two very different things.

"As he was in life, so may he be remembered in death." It was the closest to a properly religious statement as the young woman had ever made.

"May it be so." Edric half-croaked, before clearing his throat. "So, ah, your sword. I'm not sure I've ever properly asked. Where's it- she- from?"

"I don't rightly know." Leia unbuckled the scabbard and shifted around the fire so Edric would be able to see as she settled the sheathed blade across her lap. "Mother carried her for very nearly her whole life. Before that, I know she belonged to my grandmother, but...we don't know much about her." Her words slowed. It wasn't exactly an easy topic to discuss. "Mother didn't always like discussing her parents. Well. Her mother -- to hear her speak, her father was some total stranger unworthy of the position."

"I understand that." Edric nodded. "My mother's parents were mercenaries I know, but little enough else. She told me their names, once, but it was so long ago, and she didn't like to talk about them." He looked over at her, finally breaking his eyes from the fire. "What about your father's parents?"

"Inquisition, mostly. His dad was a Lord Inquisitor, his grandmother Grand Inquisitor General, before she retired. Wonderful people....Probably kill me if I showed my face now, though." Leia grimaced. "Maybe not. Dad's family, they saw the Inquisition starting to stray years ago. It's part of why they served so faithfully, trying to keep it on track. ...Seems I did a real bang-up job of that." Heavy sarcasm crept into her voice. "That's where most of my extended family is, on my father's side. I've got an uncle on Mother's, and an awful bastard of a great-uncle, and...that's it. Well. And Illiachen. She's as much family as Uncle Gray."

"Speaking of." Edric glanced sideways at the sword. "Does your sword regularly hijack people's bodies, or is that just something she does with my friends and I?"

"Not usually, but she's a warrior by nature. I can get her to stand down most of the time, but not without speaking to her. ...Then again, she doesn't generally have cause." Leia snorted. "She says Declan wasn't nearly as impressive as you. Not that she gave him a chance. But if you'd been just a little slower with the collar she'd've burned him. That's more typical. I said I can't blame her...but I do apologize."

"I'm flattered." He scratched the back of his neck. "I think."

"Oh, I forgot to ask about it while we were running for our lives, but I was curious." He cleared his throat. "Those drawings, in the tunnels in the dungeons. You...seemed like you knew them.”

The question was not one Leia expected at all, but after a moment of surprise she shrugged. "Knew them? I drew them. Years ago, when my father was showing me around the catacombs. I made the chalk markers, too -- it was a game, though now I see it was also a lesson in wayfinding." Her expression turned distance, the sort of fond recollection that was easily identifiable. "Honestly, I didn't expect to see my terrible art still down there, but I guess there's little traffic."

Edric almost chuckled, not expecting so wholesome an answer. Even after all this time, Edric still found himself surprised at her little displays of humanity, of a childish side. He still had trouble separating Leia the Inquisitor from Leia the person, but he was making progress.

"Me and Duncan used to carve swear words into shop counters." He offered a smile. "Hey, you're an artist and I'm a writer. We should be heading to the Imperial University."

She snickered, and then laughed outright. "I think we'll learn more from the elves, if that's the sort of career you want to pursue. Though I have trouble picturing them accepting your...colorful descriptions." She started to say something else, but instead froze, listening, and slowly got to her feet. "We've company."

---

Amuné still felt driven in a particular direction, even after meeting up with Duncan. She wasn't sure what she expected to find, but this was not it. She was so shocked that she didn't even think to stay out of sight. "Fucking hells, Edric, what did you do?!"

Duncan stepped out next to her, half-smile on his face, joy at seeing his friend again overriding worry that his friend was travelling with an Inquisitor. "Not so sudden," he scolded playfully. "You'll give him a heart attack."

"You're dead." Edric stood up, suddenly, eyes widening and lip quivering "You're fucking dead."

"People keep saying that." Duncan sighed. "Heart's still beating; head's still wondering what the hell you're doing with a condemned traitor."

“...Duncan?” Edric’s voice cracked on the name and he stepped closer, only to stop short when Amuné blocked his way.

"No, you stay back." Amuné wasn't about to let him do something even more idiotic. If Alys was right, if Edric was under the Inquisitor's control, she wasn't going to lose Duncan again so soon. She even went so far as to draw her rapier, though she wasn't so sure she could use it against Edric.

“Amuné, it’s me. Put that thing away.”

“It’s you with a traitor who was sentenced to death.”

Edric shook his head, putting the pieces together. “No, that spy was meant to get caught." His tone was pleading. "It's the sort of thing they'd do. They want Cormac to kill her for them." Duncan gave no answer, but looked at Amuné. He didn't think he knew enough to make a judgement just yet.

Amuné didn't know what to think. She was used to them looking at her for advice because she sometimes had it, but not always. "I...I don't know, Duncan. I can't be unbiased here. But I don't trust her at all." She paused. "Edric...she was sentenced. This isn't just about her anymore." The girl had to adjust her grip on her rapier and even then it shook. "You ignored your friends and defied your king. This...." She couldn't finish.

"And why's he king, anyway!" Edric couldn't help but shout. "Duncan's alive! Was this whole goddamn time!" He gestured emphatically to Duncan. "And wasn't the Insurgency founded on the fact that an old last name doesn't make you any better than the next person? Where was our election?" He was getting loud. "So we give our throne to a Callahan and because he's got a crown I'm expected to believe him when he says she's guilty and has to die?"

"Edric, this was always the emergency plan. If both of us were out of play, Alys was to go to Cormac. You know that."

"Yeah, go to him. Not give him a goddamn crown!"

"You swore loyalty, Edric. That...you didn't just go against him. You betrayed all of us." It was starting to sink in, what he'd done. What would happen because of it. "Even if we say nothing, you won't be able to come back. For fuck's sake, Edric, you promised me!" Amuné blinked away tears. Her family was falling apart.

"Oh, because you all needed me, didn't you?" Edric laughed, and it was bitter, a torrent of pent up resentment and anger bubbling out when he didn't especially want it to. "Because I was oh-so-necessary, doing fucking pity jobs for Maxwell!" He took a breath, tried to steady himself, and failed. "Six goddamn months, I was in a dungeon. Everything went fine without me then. I won't stand by while she gets her head lopped off for a crime she didn't commit." He wheeled on Duncan. "And you! Why was I even your second? Because I was your friend?"

"Because I trusted you, you bastard!"

"Well, I can't do it. If being your second means being an expendable medic in the revolution I helped build, I can't do it. If it means I'm not even needed after a fire? I can't do it. And if it means letting her die, I can't do it." He took a shaky breath, finally coming down. "I'm sorry, but I'm not the rebel you want me to be."

Amuné couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Ed...you...How can you be saying this? How--" She couldn't finish, couldn't accept it. He was family, but that didn't seem to matter. "You fucking bastard!" she managed, choking on the words. She gave Duncan a look that said everything she couldn't articulate, and headed back into the woods.

"You two are my best friends! I thought, if anyone would understand..." Edric yelled after her, to no avail.

"Ed, I-" Duncan stopped. "You understand, right? Why she's upset?"

"We did just scream at each other."

Duncan shook his head. "Listen, I'm going to go see if she's alright. You two, sit tight, yeah?"

"That's up to Edric." Leia spoke flatly. She knew when she wasn't needed, but damned if she'd leave him alone with two people that acted angry and aggressive, even if they were his friends. "Go keep your Seer safe. This isn't a place to be wandering blind."

Duncan nodded, and walked back into the brush, after Amuné. He stopped once he reached the brush, turned back around to stare incredulously at Leia, before shaking his head and continuing on.

"Doesn't keep secrets as well as Grigory," Leia observed softly once he was out of sight. "Not that it matters. I can tell what she is at a glance." She looked at Edric, finally falling out of her combat-ready stance. "You alright?"

"I'm losing my goddamn mind." He said, finally. "It's not just this. Ever since the dungeons, it's been getting harder to control what I say, what I feel. And I've been drinking like a fiend, on top of it."

Leia sighed as she sheathed Illiachen and sat back down, waving for him to join her. It didn't look like he had any interest in leaving. "I don't know what to tell you, Edric. Not many people ever make it out alive. Those that do are changed. Whatever this is, I'd guess it's a part of you now. The cause matters less than how you go about dealing with it.”

Edric looked at her, then, and it seemed like he finally understood something. Leia had been the one, broadly speaking, who'd put him in this mess. And yet she was also the one seemingly endeavouring to pull him out of it. Absurdity. Duality. He knew, then, that he hadn't made a mistake. That she was as complex and rational and affected as any other person, and that she deserved to live. He wasn't sure if it was forgiveness that he felt, but it was the closest to it thus far.

“...Yeah. Thanks.”

---

"Amuné!" Duncan hurried to catch up. Once he did, he put a hand on her shoulder, but she whirled on him and shrugged it off.

"No! Don't try to stand up for him! I don't care how long you've known him, or how hard things are. It's no excuse!"

"I'm not trying to defend him, I'm trying to figure out what in all seven hells is going on." Duncan took a breath. "You have to understand, I've known him damn near my whole life, but I've known you for a damn long time, too. If there's an issue, we're going to figure it out. We've got to."

"It's too late for that," Amuné whispered, shaking her head. "He can't go back now. Grigory can't stand him, and Cormac won't have a choice."

"He won't, but I will." Duncan thought for a moment. "If we can get his head on straight, I'll vouch for him, and I'd like to think that my word carries some weight."

"He said the same about her."

"Are you comparing me to him, or him to her?"

"...I don't know. But it doesn't matter, I know -- he can't come back."

"Well, then we can't rightly force him to." Duncan's face hardened a bit, a frown touching his lips. "We might have to, though. I'd like to get to know this... Leilani, a little better. If she was actually working with an Imperial spy, then I can't have her on the loose, certainly not with Edric."

"No. I'm not...." Amuné sighed. "He can't come back. That's not me saying it as someone he's hurt. He can't go back. If he does, it's...dark." She sniffled, wiping the tears that she was finally calm enough to be shedding away from her eyes.

"So be it." Duncan said, finally. He'd love nothing more than to continue fighting alongside his best friend, but he didn't expect Edric to fight if he didn't believe in Ulricheim, in Cormac. He wouldn't follow him, the revolution meant to much to him to turn away from it now, but they could if they could function without Edric, and if Edric would be happier on the road, then it only made sense to let him go.

"Duncan, he promised me. I made him, before I left. With you...gone, I knew he'd try something reckless and stupid, I just...I didn't think it would be this. And then he just...." She shook her head and took the two steps she needed to wrap her arms around him. "He wouldn't have if I'd still been there. I could have seen it, could have stopped him. Could have talked to him, or...something."

"Well, what's done is done." He thought about what to say, choosing his words carefully, but she beat him to it.

"It really hurts. That he'd break a promise like this. That he's okay just up and vanishing on us -- on me." The girl shuddered. It had taken time for her to grow to trust them, but she had, and now she had trouble remembering that they had lives too. Losing her birth family had made her possessive. "I get it...but it hurts."

"Waif, this world is full of awful people. People who will stop at nothing to hurt other people, people who want nothing more than to fatten their coinpurses or further some means or another." He sighed. "Edric isn't one of those people, but he's a person, nonetheless. What's he's done is selfish, and it was irresponsible and rash. I can't blame him, though. If you or Alys or, hells, Edric, committed some crime and were going to be killed for it and I thought you were innocent, I think I’d do the same thing."

"This isn't one of us in trouble! She's Leia fucking Suldevi! The one that spent six months making his life hell!"

"You think I don't know that?" Duncan's mask of composure fell then, and for a moment, he looked as conflicted as he felt. "I'm trying hard to understand, Amuné. I'm trying not to get angry at him, trying not to drag him back by his ear. I don't get it, but no one does anything without a reason. I can't let myself rage at him until I understand why."

"...And neither should I, I suppose. Dammit, I'm not strong enough for this." Amuné took a deep breath and stepped away again, wiping her eyes. "Alright. I guess if you're wanting to feel her out we have some time. ...But I still don't like it."

---

Amuné did not return with Duncan to join the other two, instead opting to lurk quietly in the shadows. She was visibly uncomfortable with the thought of staying near the Inquisitor, and not yet ready to forgive Edric. By the time he returned, Leia had managed to coax Edric into conversation. He stopped as Duncan approached. They looked at each other, and Duncan looked as though he was struggling for words. Finally, he sat down next to Edric and looked at the fire.

"So, I take it you were none too satisfied with your stay in the Imperial Inn?" Duncan asked, after a while.

"Well, the rooms were a mess, it was too damn cold, and the food was just terrible." Edric responded, and Duncan chuckled. He sighed and turned to Leia. "I suppose I've got you to thank for getting him out."

"I do believe you're the first person to say that. Don't know that you should -- I didn't do it for you or your rebellion." He might be trying to be friendly, but she knew a man with ulterior motives when she saw one, and he did not have her trust.

"Aye, perhaps not, but your motivations don't change the fact that ol' Eddy here's alive." He patted Edric on the back, hard enough to knock him forward a bit.

"..Fair enough"

"Not to say that your motivations aren't important." Duncan frowned. "So if you didn't do it for me or my rebellion, why did you do it?"

"For him." Leia jerked her head at Edric, frowning. "It's a bit more complicated than that, but I do think that's what it boils down to."

"Now, the spy." Duncan took a deep breath. "Amuné already told me, generally, what happened. You were found guilty, but why don't you give me your take on it. Edric was saying something about the spy being sent there to incriminate you?”

"My guess is that the spy was a plant, but I honestly don't know. It's not impossible. I never had the chance to assess the man, so I can hardly draw conclusions there." Leia ran the fingers of one hand along her swordhilt, not as a threat but more as a gesture of habit. "I'll tell you this, though. The Empire has lost my support for good, and they were keeping it through treachery. And since my departure was so...ah, visible, it is not in their interests to leave me alive and at large. Even if it hadn't been, I was one of their symbols. And they've no reason to think I'm not supporting the Insurgency now, or at least trying to. They want me off the board, by whatever means necessary."

Duncan hated to admit it, but what she said made sense. Then again, it also made sense that she was bullshitting him completely. He knew what Edric believed, and he knew what Amuné believed. He groaned internally. Making a judgement now would land him in hot water with one or the other.

"Treachery?" Duncan thought for a moment, scratching at his beard. "So, what exactly led to this escape?”

Leia was slow to speak, her gaze focused on the little tongues of flame that licked around the glowing coals of the fire. "I should have figured it out sooner. Looking back, there were clues...but I'd grown up with the neighbors Mother's wards caught breaking them. They were good at their disguises, and it paid off. Combined with Mother's death, the truth seemed obvious. But Cristov with Mother's books, running the Tower...it didn't add up. From there, things just started falling apart." She stirred and shook her head, turning towards Duncan again. "The decision to get Edric out was made under pressure, but not without thought for the consequences. I was working under Lord Inquisitor Tomas, and getting past him was...unpleasant. I wasn't sure I would be able to, but I had to try." Without meaning to draw attention to what was now just a bad scar under her clothing, Leia rolled her shoulder, the pain of it a vivid memory. "I'm lucky I made it out in as good a shape as I did, and Edric was responsible for that."

A lot of sense.

Duncan frowned and glanced to the shadows, wondering if Amuné had been close enough to hear. He let out a breath. "So, you two are headed past the Reach, then?"

Edric nodded. "The way I figure, that's just about the only place around where nobody wants her dead. I'm hoping that she can find a place to lie low, and that I can rally some support against Osten among the Fair Folk."

"Just a minute here, who said anything about laying low?" Leia demanded, glaring at Edric.

"Oh, well, you said you weren't willing to pledge loyalty to the insurrection, so I assumed--"

"I also said you personally had my loyalty. Or did you forget that part? If you think I'm letting your bleeding-heart self go waltzing into trouble unprotected--"

"I'm not exactly defenseless, Leia."

"Would you be safer if I stayed at your side?" she asked him, looking him straight in the eye.

“I suppose.”

"Then I'm coming. I'll hide the cloak, if I need to."

"Then it's settled!" Duncan suddenly said, not exactly shouting, but certainly speaking louder than anyone else had been. "Oh, it's been too damn long since I've been on a real, proper trip."

Leia looked over at him, frown returning. "The rebellion is going to need you with them. Unless you mean to send word you're alive and then just wander off." Her tone was far from gentle.

"Well, I'm not letting Amuné go alone, and I don't think she's of a mind to travel with you lot, unless I'm there." He shrugged. "Besides, it's only about a four day trip to the pass. If we make good time, I can be there and back in ten or eleven days, and I'm reasonably confident that the Empire won't make an attempt to launch any serious offensive soon, seeing as how Osten's in the Freelands trying to woo the queen."

Leia made a noise that sounded a lot like choking.

Edric and Duncan looked at Leia, then to each other, and back to her. "You alright, there?" Edric asked tentatively. She wasn't able to respond right away, but after a moment she gave up trying not to laugh.

"Damn, I'd like to be a fly on the wall for that," she managed, when she'd regained some of her composure. "I hope Natalia gives him hell. I seem to remember her being very shrewd. Osten is in for a surprise."

Duncan couldn't help but laugh.

"Aye, she's got that prick running around in circles. She made it a contest. From what I understand, our friend Del and Sir Orrin are participating, as well as a fistful of rich landowners and nobles." He snickered. "I heard that when she announced the contest, he was so angry he shook."

Edric looked between them and managed a small smile. They'd get along alright, it seemed. His smile fell when he looked to the shadows. He should apologize to Amuné, he knew, but his blood was still hot from the earlier argument. He wasn't so sure that he could properly apologise, just then.

Maybe he just didn't want to.

---

Leia eventually withdrew from the conversation to let the two friends catch up. The Seer girl still hadn't returned, but she was hardly surprised. Most people with exceptional magic wanted nothing to do with Inquisitors, and she could hardly blame them. She moved a stone's throw away, and very deliberately did not try to listen in, though she caught the occasional word.

They'd been talking for a while, but a lot of it was just them catching up. Two old friends bridging the time that had passed since they'd last seen each other, almost a year ago. Edric supposed that, for many people, a year was nothing. There were people that could go years without seeing close friends or family. Edric, though, had seen Duncan practically every day of his life until his departure and capture. Initially, missing his friend had been one of his lesser worries, but as time dragged on, he started really feeling the absence of his comrades. It had been soothed, somewhat, by seeing Declan, Dakur, Alys and Amuné, but hell, he'd been closer to Duncan than lots of people were to their own siblings. Hearing he'd been killed was like a punch to the gut. It might've hurt less, if he'd had time to process it, but now, here he was. He'd been lost in thought for a few moments, but managed to snap back in time to hear Duncan speak after a brief lull in the conversation.

"I've got no idea how you survived in there, Eddy." Duncan, for just a moment, didn't seem quite so vibrant or present. "They had you in the dungeons. I was quartered up in a bedroom, and it still damn near drove me up the wall."

Edric thought for a moment. "Neither do I." He answered, honestly. "I don't think it was hope, I lost that a few months. Humor, maybe, but I'm not so sure that was all that effective." He shrugged, shifting a bit in his seat by the fire. "Perhaps I just got lucky."

"Or, maybe you're strong."

"I thought I was supposed to be the idealist."

"I'm serious, Eddy."

"He's right." Something about their past few exchanges had caught Leia's attention, and now she ventured a quite comment of her own. "You've a strength of heart that is difficult to break. And beyond that, you're just plain stubborn."

"Bleeding hells, Karst, she just read you like a book." Duncan put a hand on Edric's shoulder. "Now, I might not have picked you as my second because of your administrative talents or your good looks, but she's right. I don't regret it."

"You just feel sorry for me." He said it with jest, but internally, there was little humor. Duncan playfully smacked the back of his head, and Edric elbowed him in kind.

"By all ten, Ed, learn to take a fucking compliment, yeah?"

They traded empty banter for a while longer, until it once again grew quiet. The silence threatened to end the conversation, as he saw Duncan glancing to the shadows, presumably looking for Amuné. Edric broke it, and the words came out as though a dam had broken, and he threw an arm around Duncan's shoulders.

"It's good to have you back, Duncan." Edric laughed, more out of cautious joy than out of any kind of humor, and he was surprised to find a tear in his eye. "You don't know what it was like. I'm no poet or bard, I'm not even sure how you'd describe it, but it was awful. Alys was crying. When was the last time you saw her cry?"

"Well, I-"

"Shut up and listen to me, damn it." Edric let out a breath. "You're my best friend, and you're just about the only thing that Alys loves more than a good field report." He laughed, but he meant it. "Hells, Declan, Amuné, all of us. We'd be lost without you. Now, for fuck's sake, keep yourself alive." Edric was surprised to find the tears had escaped to run down his cheeks. He wiped his face with his sleeve. "And thanks, for everything. You're a better friend than I deserve."

"Oh, screw off with that." Duncan stood, brushing off his legs. "It's not about what you deserve. If that had anything to do with it, Ilyse would be a princess and Osten'd be at the bottom of some lake or another. We're stuck with each other, way I see." He looked at Edric, sighed, and opened his arms. Edric rolled his eyes, but stood, and hugged him. It was brief, and maybe a little stiff, but damn relieving. Something about a hug made it hard to deny the reality of what was in your embrace. A few short moments later, Duncan wandered off to find Amuné, and Edric sat back down at the fire.

---

It was a full day before Amuné was willing to put up with Edric at all, and even then she was frosty towards him. Compared to the young girl that always wanted his attention, it was a massive difference. Despite her best efforts, he'd broken a personal promise and she was taking it hard, on top of what she saw as a betrayal of everything he'd worked to build. With no apology forthcoming, it was difficult to work towards forgiveness, and it made travelling tense.

Edric understood why Amuné was being cold toward him, but the comprehension didn't make it any less irritating. It was natural, he supposed, for friends to argue, but this had never really happened with her. They'd always been agreeable, understanding, with each other. In the end, he knew it was he who needed to make the first move. He thought about how he might go about apologizing without compromising the validity of his stance. In the end, he was no closer to a plan than when he started, and he decided to improvise.

"Hey, Amuné." He said, while the party was walking and the two of them had lagged behind a bit. She looked at him, tilted her head slightly as an acknowledgement instead of bothering to speak. Her silenced irked him, but he reminded himself that he was trying to apologize, not start another argument. "I'm not certain that I can honestly say I'm sorry for anything I said, but I am sorry for making you a promise I couldn't keep, and I'm more sorry for breaking it." Like removing a blood-stuck bandage or a stuck arrowhead, some things were best done quickly. He knew, rationally, it wouldn't be that simple.

She didn't reply immediately. "I don't expect you to change what you believe just because i disagree, Ed. That...we just need to work through, I guess. But it hurts a lot that you were so quick to ignore a promise you made. It felt a lot like being discarded."

“I didn’t mean that.”

“I know. And I’ll forgive you, but I can’t yet.” She paused. “It’s a long way to the elflands, Ed. We’ll have time.”

Edric nodded. Privately, he hoped that meant she’d have time to understand Leia as well.



And We Don't Say Goodbye by @BCTheEntity and @AngelofOctober


“Two Grand Slamwiches, please.”

“Two Grand Slamwiches...-”

“Each. I hear they’re very popular.” Jeremy offered Noah a coy smile, knowing full well that his friend wouldn’t want to be outmatched on that front. “And if you could put the hash browns in with the other ingredients, that’d be great. Thank you.”

Watching the waitress walk off, Noah gave a laugh, clinging his spoon on the rim of the coffee mug.

“When did you get so funny?” Noah asked Jeremy. “Oh, this better not be a Hansel and Gretel moment. No surprise ovens, right?”

“No no, nothing like that,” he reassured him with a shoulder pat. “I just figured, it’s my last day alive. Let’s make sure I’m not living it on an empty stomach, right?” Whilst he wouldn’t normally have picked Lenny’s for breakfast, it had struck him- more specifically, it had struck Noah, who then told him as much- that he’d never had one of their more expensive options. And what better place to start a day than a hearty meal at Lenny’s, right?

Noah gave another snorty laugh. “Don’t say your last day alive. It’s your Ascension.” It’s not like he was trying to avoid the terminology. It wasn’t his style. He already grieved a long time ago for Jeremy’s departure. He just dealt in silver linings and all that, rather than leaving a sad note on the world. “You’ll go from Jere Bear. To God’s Right Hand Man.” Again not that he believed in God, just something. Something after death.

“Ah, I don’t know about right hand man... maybe one of his librarians? He must have a lot of data to sort,” Jeremy mused, fingers stroking his goatee. For a moment, he grieved the loss of one of his favourite jobs - hell, his favourite, period. Alas, as he’d grown weaker, he’d found himself less and less able to work, and had eventually put in his two weeks notice, receiving a surprisingly graceful send off on his last day. He couldn’t convey how encouraging Noah had been in the weeks after that - nor could he be sure how graceful his send off would be on this, his last day ever.

Noah began to crack up in hysterics, he was sure that his thoughts were obvious to no one. To him, Jeremy had a funny view on things about God’s data, and a great joke has come to mind: “Don’t you know God ignores most of his prayers?” He snorted and took a second to calm down. “No, Heaven’s Library would be perfect for you,” Noah said, sipping some coffee. There was always a pro and con to seeing the future. The pro was seeing shitty people finally get theirs. The con was seeing things happen to people you love and care about. He knew Jeremy was going to die before Jeremy was dying. Today was going to be his big send off. His big day. He spent a year on this project, no project wasn’t the right word. A year making sure Jeremy had at least one person close to him.

One person who cared how he left this Earth. Noah wanted Jeremy to have something to cherish.

Jeremy couldn’t help but chuckle at Noah’s crack about prayers, but in turn settled down and sipped his own drink, observing Noah briefly in the silence that followed. The other man had gone to such lengths to make sure he enjoyed his last day. Pain had been a constant companion for months, and if Noah hadn’t done his best to be nearly as constant, Jeremy was sure he’d have languished in bed for the last week or so of his life.

“Hey,” he began, smiling warmly, “I know I’ve said it a couple of times before, but I really do appreciate you doing all this for me. It means a lot to me.”

Kicking his legs a little underneath the table, restless sitting usually he continued to drink his coffee. As Jeremy thanked him for the umpteenth bajillionth time. Noah rested his mug onto the table and just gave Jeremy a smile. “No seriously thank you for letting me do something.” Too many people remained grief stricken. They just wanted to wait for the day to come. He didn’t like to experience sad things feeling like he has done nothing. He dealt with it by doing something about it. Beat the sadness down like its a fist fight. Go through it. But don’t let it take you down.




Golf


Once they were both stuffed with various breakfast foods, the duo headed to the nearby golf course. It had always been a favourite pastime of Jeremy’s, and though Noah had suggested it was a bit boring for a final day, Jeremy had wanted to play one last game.

Suffice to say, it wasn’t going as well as he’d have hoped. His last round had been a while ago, and whilst he’d been able to send the ball three hundred meters on a good drive, now he was barely managing a hundred at best, and had to catch his breath after each stroke. Both of these frustrations had built up to severe annoyance; he’d forgotten how exhausting the sport was… or was that a physical change in himself? And this, despite all that medication...

Even before Jeremy had a death sentence, Noah had been dragged out here before and it always ended up the same. No matter the circumstance it simply could not keep his attention for very long. Jeremy always ended up putting more effort into than Noah. He couldn’t understand the rules, the swings, what club was what club and ended up getting distracted by a weird looking shaped tree.

“Has it always looked this crooked?” Noah asked out loud, he didn’t even really mind if Jeremy actually paid attention. Though Noah thought this would make a great piece on one of his art demonstrations. Perhaps put a bra and a pair of undies, where the two knobby parts looked like breasts.

Jeremy glanced over at Noah’s question, still frowning. Maybe he’d been selfish in trying to bring Noah golfing... maybe he’d wanted to relive some glory days that weren’t accessible any longer. His friend had agreed to it, sure, but he probably wasn’t enjoying himself.

“I think it’s gotten a bit more crooked since I was last here,” Jeremy considered, glancing over it himself and eventually nodding. That tree had been old before his father was born, or so he’d heard, and the irony was that it’d probably grow older still well after today. That said, Noah wouldn’t just point it out unless... “What did you have in mind for it?”

Noah turned his attention to Jeremy quickly, “You know who plays Golf the majority of the time?” Noah pauseed. “And this isn’t against the Jere Bear. Rich shitheads. Who like to touch people without their consent. In this case women. These two knobs look like breasts, and this would be a great place for big underwear.” He began to hysterically laugh, “Like a big tree version of grammy panties.”

Jeremy first chuckled, then began hooting with laughter at the mental image. “God damn it, Noah,” he called, “this is a civilised sport!” His laughter continued for a second or two, only to segue into harsh, hacking coughs, a fit that brought Jeremy to his hands and knees as he struggled for air. God damn it, indeed; they had a whole day planned, he couldn’t die now!

Luckily, the moment passed, his breaths rattling with mucus before he choked it up and swallowed it, but ultimately under control. Slowly, he brought himself back to his feet, shaking his head. That had not been fun, and he was feeling drained all over again.

“Uh… pardon me,” he stated, blushing ever so slightly despite himself. “I guess the golf was a bad idea for both of us?”

Noah didn’t feel anxious during Jeremy’s fit, it didn’t make him uncomfortable. It just became something normal as he grew weaker. Plus it was easier to deal with it if it was something normal. Of course he felt bad and of course he hated to see Jeremy this way. There was a comfort though, in knowing how Jeremy was going to die and when, letting him know that he’d live through today. So he needn’t worry.

“You always thought you were better at Golf than you were anyway,” Noah told him. “Your swing is bad.” He wasn’t sure if that was true. He just repeated something he’d heard Jeremy’s dad say once when they were teenagers brought here by his father. To show them a man’s sport. He never had the attention for it then as he did now.

Noah clapped his hands excitedly.

“How about we go to the Arcade then?” Noah remarked, “I know we weren’t supposed to after this, but... I’m dying of mind numbness and you’re actually dying.” Noah wasn’t sure if that came off in poor taste. He just didn’t want to sit through reminiscing about the old days, he wanted to create one last day to commemorate their friendship.

Jeremy snickered at his friend’s words. “Like you’d know how good I am,” he ribbed with a grin, before his face fell at the thought of his impending doom. He’d declined, in his game and his health... and he wasn’t going to get any better at either. He’d had a good run at the sport, but best to cut his losses, perhaps.

“Alright, let’s go, then,” he yielded with a half-mock sigh. “I’ve gone and tired myself out; maybe kicking your backside in a few rounds of Street Battler will suit me better.”

Jeremy didn’t think he noticed that look. This wasn’t supposed to be that time. This was a celebration of twenty-six years of life. This was a commemoration of their friendship and the things they had overcome. Jeremy was the only person who ever stuck around. Everyone else never stuck. It was probably his fault because of the way some people saw him and his behavior.

Noah gave Jeremy a cheeky smile. “Where I may not be able to swing a club on the golf center, I have an unnatural gnack of hyperfocusing on Street Battler. You sir are going down and I am going to get a thousand tickets to get their most expensive prize. Then I’m sending you off with it. A PS4 or something like that.”




Arcade


The arcade wound up being far more fun than golf had, much to Jeremy’s surprise. He suspected Noah had let him win a couple of rounds of Street Battler before “hitting his stride” and flooring him ten times in a row; by contrast, a five-race tournament in Grand Prix X ended squarely in Jeremy’s favour, a full ten seconds ahead of Noah by the end of most of them.

“Noo,” Noah sobbed as he lost again in a race of Grand Prix X. Hugging the steering wheel a little, he asked “Why would you betray me? It’s this gas pedal, it’s sticky with soda.” Noah slung his head in defeat, then sighed deeply.

“That’s like blaming other people’s lag on your performance in Horns, Noah,” Jeremy admonished with a cheeky shoulder pat. “You had Street Battler, I’ve had this. And you have a promise to keep, my friend!”

“Lag matters,” Noah defended proudly. “Lag and performance do go hand in hand.”

After that, Noah buckled down hard on his word. Just an hour after the GPX tournament, he’d already earned countless hundreds of tickets, and dramatically spouted his intent to earn far more than that - something he was trying to make good on by claiming a massive jackpot in an arcade version of Wheel of Millions.

“Seven-thirty-seven,” a voice interjected, as they stood around Wheel of Millions farming tickets. Noah turned his head to a fresh faced high schooler, wearing a polo shirt with the Arcade’s logo on it. He had piercings and a neck tattoo. His hair was dyed in an assortment colors, but under the harsh, dark blue lighting of the arcade you couldn’t make out any of the details.

Couldn’t they see the moment he was creating here? And couldn’t they see he was basking in his own defeat? Seven thirty-seven? Oh. Oh.

“That’s what some call me, others number the rest of the numbers, othas call me Tetris and others call me Tetyais,” Noah snorted a laugh. “Watcha need?”

The kid beamed. “I’m a huge fan. I watch your feed.” He looked to Jeremy and said, “You must be lucky to know him.”

Sometimes, Jeremy forgot that Noah had a bit of a cult following for his street art. It was, he considered, good for him that he was starting to be recognised. Maybe he’d become the next Banksy, if he kept that work up... though he might become more well-known for his sometimes-bizarre arrest record. What had it been last time? Right, burning a pile of Monopoly money in Wall Street after spray-painting “WHERE HAS THE MONEY GONE?” all over it.

And yet, for all his quirks, he couldn’t have been a better friend. Who else would set up a Patreon, who else would gather and save and thrift, all to ensure somebody would enjoy their last day on Earth?

“You don’t know the half of it,” Jeremy murmured with a distant gaze, just a tad overcome with emotion, before shaking his head clear as he had a thought. “Hey, since you’re a fan, you want to help us get this jackpot?” he asked the teen. “We can split it half-and-half.”

The kid smiled.

“Sadly I am working-” the kid pointed to his shirt- “But tell you guys what. The Boogie Club tonight has a huge event going on. I know the bartender that works there.” He handed Noah a card. “You guys should come. I want to show seven-thirty-seven to my friends. They won’t believe me if I tell them I saw you with no proof.”

Noah snorted a hysterical laugh and shows Jeremy the card, The Boogie Club, the B formed by a woman bending over and lifting her leg up in a sexy pose. “We have to go!” Noah said excitedly. “Last look at breasts.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes just a little at the card, but couldn’t help but smile at it. “Yeah, alright, I’ll think about it,” he offered. It was all well and good seeing a nice chest or thirty, but worse than worthless without some, ahem, payoff.

And speaking of payoff, Jeremy had realised something about the current state of the game. “Noah,” he pointed out, “if you can get the wheel to land there, and then follow up with an immediate answer, you can get that jackpot unlocked for the endgame. You want... a medium amount of spin, I think.”

Noah looked to Jeremy, replying “They don’t call me the Wheel of Millions god for no reason, sit back Jere Bear and watch the wheel spinning master.” Noah laughed maniacally as a joke, as he rubbed his hands together and span the wheel for that sweet sweet jackpot.

With baited breath, Jeremy watched the wheel spin, spin… and land on the million dollar space, which translated to more than one and a half thousand tokens if he got it. Seconds later, he’d answered the question and secured the space, along with a substantial chunk of in-game money in his own right, practically guaranteeing his entrance into the final round.

Holy crap, Jeremy thought to himself as his eyes widened, he might actually get that jackpot.

Soon, the final question loomed. Noah drew the in-game card; picked his letters; answered the question with seconds to spare... and...

Blaring lights and sounds in an already loud arcade, as JACKPOT shined with multi colored lights. Wait? He actually got it?! Of the many times he had farmed tickets from this machine to get things to pawn, this was actually the first time he got a Jackpot. The machine loudly declared his big win on its speakers.

Noah fell to his knees for a second and raised his hands up to the ceiling, “I take everything I ever said back about you,” he told whomever was watching from the Heavens. “There is a God!” he declared. As tickets began to spill out from the slot.

Hardly able to contain his own excitement, Jeremy fell to his knees next to Noah, clutching the man’s shoulders as he laughed with unadulterated joy. Admittedly, laughter failed him as he began to hack and wheeze for the second time that day, choking for nearly half a minute before he could breathe again, but even in spite of this reminder of his mortality, he was grinning like a madman. They’d gotten the freaking jackpot. Fate itself couldn’t have been kinder.

“Well done, Noah, you grand man, you,” he smiled, practically hugging him. “A Wheel of Millions God you are! Now let’s get those prizes you wanted.”




Lunch and Niagara Falls


Both men continued riding the high of their arcade victory as they ate lunch in the car, their prizes safely nestled in the boot. They’d grabbed a sandwich each from a nearby Submarine, then stopped on the way up to Niagara Falls State Park. Alas, Jeremy had had only a couple of bites before the two breakfast sandwiches from earlier had his body insisting that he was full. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d downed them earlier, given his recent low appetite, but he wasn’t going to push his luck.

“You know the staff died inside when you made them sing the song, right?” he uttered, glancing over at Noah with a renewed blush of embarrassment. Apparently, today was now his birthday, and thanks to Noah, everyone in the store knew it. It was a bit special, but also a bit unnecessary in his mind.

Behind the wheel he had already given Jeremy shit about Niagara Falls being on his bucket list. Here they lived in New York city and they had to take the drive up to the state park to look at a huge body of water dump into another huge body of water and it was called a World’s Greatest Wonder. The sad fact is Jeremy was in New York and had never seen Niagara Falls. He hadn’t touched much of their lunch either. But the fact he got some people to sing happy birthday to Jeremy was worth it.

“I love it,” Noah told Jeremy as he parked in a crowded parking lot. “I love watching them feel their own mortality.”

“I kind of wonder if they could sense the death on me,” Jeremy quipped in response, giving a grim chuckle afterward. True, he’d done his best to look nice today, but in the end, he looked exactly as haggard as he felt, if not moreso. Terminal illness was a bitch like that. “I can’t imagine they’d be too pleased to learn how much longer I had, either. At least I’ll live on in your memories, though,” he added whimsically, throwing a crooked smirk in Noah’s direction.

Noah just snorted.

“A dying guy and someone who must have a drug habit walk into a shop and ask for a birthday song,” Noah began to laugh.

Still Noah looked up towards the stairs as the tourist trap awaited them. “Are you good to face the crowds? I can’t save you if some Chinese woman comes up to you and starts speaking a language I can’t speak.” That was no racism card. Just the truth. A lot of foreigners he’d love to ask questions to, who didn’t all speak English.

Jeremy barely held back his laughter at Noah’s quip, wanting to avoid another choking fit for the day. It wasn’t that the medication wasn’t helping, but as close to death as he was, there was only so much it could do for him. He envied his former self a fair bit, frankly... speaking of which.

“I’m sure they’ll avoid us both like the plague.” Or like he had the plague, or at least something just as infectious without inside knowledge. “I’d be a bit more concerned about whether I collapse on the stairs or not. It’d be a damper on the best day of my life if I spent the rest of it in hospital, don’t you agree?”

Noah scowled. It was probably the first time he had scowled in a long time.

“You’re not really taking this with tongue and cheek,” Noah mumbled, “you’re already serious. Can you lighten up more? That was the whole point of this day and all you bring up is hospital and death. We already know this. Can we make this more fun? You’re not really being...” Noah sighed and rested his head on his steering wheel, taking out his keys. “...this is suppose to be a celebration and a commemoration.”

Jeremy’s face fell a bit as Noah turned serious. He only got really serious when he was upset, as he knew full-well from their school days. After a moment, he nodded, then forced a grin on to his face.

“Alright, I apologise. Maybe I’m being a tad morbid...” he murmured back, putting an arm round his friend’s shoulders. “But hey, cheer up. We’ve still got time with one another, and... well, you’ve taken time out of your day- hell, out of your life to get me here. How many of my other friends did that for me, one or two? You have done so much for me, I... I, uh...”

Jeremy took a moment to inhale and exhale, keeping himself from breaking into tears at the thought. “Anyway, you’re right,” he continued with a bit more composure. “I should be taking today with a bit more humour. Besides, if I faint, you can just puppet me around on your feet, right?”

Noah started to laugh. “Hello I’m Jeremy, I’m always serious, yes harrumph. I cannot stop harrumphing.”

“Yes, I am always completely serious. This is my serious face, which I’m always wearing due to how serious I am.” He made a serious face, before breaking into light snickering at Noah’s joke.

“Alright, fair enough, your message is received,” he sighed. “Let’s get to Niagara Falls, eh? I’d like to arrive before the sun goes down.”

“I’m going to buy you awful souvenirs to take with you,” Noah laughed, “you know over your Sunday Best suit is an ‘I <3 NY’ shirt.” Noah began his fit of hysterical laughing, as he did whenever he found something more funny than he should.

“Your mom would be shitting the bed so hard if I had that happen.” Noah lost it and snorted. “Okay, we can go. Let’s go look at the world’s greatest puddle.”




Laser Tag


It turned out to be quite a great puddle, despite Jeremy’s lingering fatigue throughout the trip. He’d recovered somewhat by the time they’d driven back to the city, but what came next was going to be far more exhausting than even that: laser tag had never been his finest game even when he was healthy.

“Come on out, Noah, or I’ll come to you,” he yelled, leaning against a wall as he tried not to suffocate again. At least he was expecting to be bad at the game this time, unlike with the golfing earlier, but at least they had a buggy to drive around the golf course on back then.

He wasn’t very good at laser tag either. He suggested it only because Jeremy needed to live a little. Bad word choice? Even before Jeremy was dying, they already spent hours at the library or somewhere with little sound or something to hold his attention. Standing next to Jeremy who was yelling to his left Noah snickered, “Yo Jeremy.”

He was fatigued, not paralysed. Hearing Noah’s voice, Jeremy whipped his gun around and shot the jokester, scoring a point against his companion’s arrogance. “Cower in fear, for I have none!” he exclaimed, making to escape before Noah’s gun came back online… a slow escape, but even so.

“Oh now it’s on. SPLINTER CELL BITCH!” Noah laughed hysterically. He didn’t follow Jeremy instead he snuck around using the walls to conceal his presence. He wondered how some might sum up this day in writing. Two grown men reliving their nostalgic childhood. Reliving their glory days or something like that. Now he was getting inside his own head right now. The one wish he wanted for Jeremy was that tomorrow he could have the final laugh. That’s all he wanted to know, was that Jeremy was comfortable and happy.

Jeremy wondered at Noah’s thought process when he seemingly vanished. Splinter Cell, huh? Which meant he’d be sneaking around in an effort to catch Jeremy out... which meant, if he hid himself into a corner, he could out-match Noah without even moving too much. If he could get to such a spot, and if he could shoot Noah first...

Well, maybe not. He’d need to be pretty well hidden for all that to work out. Though he had found a decent corner; sequestering himself there, Jeremy waited, attempting to minimise his huffing and puffing to catch Noah off-guard.

He had scanned the area in front of him beforehand. The way the corners slanted and the walls were slightly triangled together. Jeremy would most likely be somewhere trying to corner him. The only thing Noah was ever good at was not being noticed. The only time they actually played laser tag was back in middle school during Chelsey Rayman’s birthday party and the only reason Noah was fifth place was because he opted not to play-play. By shooting people who didn’t notice him and hiding.

Sneaking up on Jeremy again, Noah shot this time without hesitation. “Bzzzzap.” Something about this didn’t feel right to him though. Noah just scowled, “Are you having any fun with this? I remember us cowering in a corner as a team during Chelsey’s birthday. And shooting people who tried to get close.”

Jeremy “hmph”ed with a slight smile as Noah hit him, then frowned before realising what his friend was implying.

“Oh- no, Noah, don’t worry,” Jeremy soothed, walking up to Noah and patting him on the shoulder. “Listen, I know it looks like back then...-” For a second he considered how to word himself, then just decided to be blunt. “I am enjoying myself, I promise. You wanna know why?”

Half a second later, Noah received a laser to the gut, and Jeremy smirked just a bit. “Because I can still get cheap shots in. No, no, I’m joking, it’s... you’re here, with me, we’re playing this, and it’s... it’s fun, you know? This is a good time. Thank you for bringing me here.”

“Cheap move Jeremy,” Noah said with a smile, “I give oh master gunslinger.”

“Come on, no need to do that just because...” Jeremy’s words caught as his breathing hitched, his eyes widening as he stopped breathing momentarily. About ten seconds later, he finally managed to force some air into his lungs, inhaling and exhaling with a harsh rattle to his breaths. At least that didn’t add to his ongoing pain, despite highlighting his proximity to the end.

“...alright, maybe I’ll accept the win here. Let’s… let’s move on to the next thing.” He scrunched up his eyes and shook his head, then made to move out of the laser tag arena. He really did hope Noah’s vision was as accurate as he claimed.




->Strip Club


The Boogie Club’s bright neon sign was fairly well-designed, if standard: as the b became an l, the woman would lift her leg up and wink in blinking lights. Noah howled in excitement, “Would you look at that? It blinks!” He laughed hysterically for a second as a group of high schoolers eyed him. He waved at them. Written on a chalkboard, 18+ night, no booze, and dance open.

“You made it,” a familiar voice standing in line called out. “Come on. I don’t think anyone will mind a celeb cutting a little. My friends are going to totally love you.”

Noah looked at Jeremy. It was still his night. Day. His Life. They took some time to rest in the car after laser tag. There were still things he had left for Jeremy to take with him. Something Noah had been working on. Something important.

Jeremy couldn’t help but squint at the neon sign’s apparently-humorous glare. Did they have to crank those things to be so bright? Or was it at normal brightness, and he was just too sick to look at it properly?

“Hey, early entry’s always nice,” he murmured, taking a moment to lean on Noah as they moved forward. At least they’d have seats inside... a couple of minutes passed before they got to the front of the line and were ushered in. The sight was, as expected, very much like a usual strip club, though with more clothing on the dancers than one would normally expect of an establishment like this.

“Alright, let’s give you something to work with. Anyone you fancy the look of?” he asked, glancing around himself just in case somebody took his fancy first.

It was so shiny in here. Neon rainbows dancing around all the walls, creating glittering effects. They would swap colors in an instant, before fading in some effect that honestly looked like a screensaver from the late 90s. It didn’t bother him, it was honestly what caught his attention first. He only half caught Jeremy’s question as he was fascinated by a star design that imploded and spread out into rippling colors, “The lights are fancy!” Noah told Jeremy excitedly.

Heh. Of course he’s more attracted by the lights than the half-naked girls, Jeremy pondered with a smile. They were some very nice patterns, of course, albeit just as glaringly annoying as the one outside... that said, after a moment of ponderance and shaded eyes, he decided that one of the nearby dancers who looked like she wasn’t getting much attention at the moment seemed quite attractive. Clear skin, nice hair, pretty good figure - he didn’t like judging people if he could help it, but since that was rather the point of a strip club anyway, he decided she was a very solid seven, if not an eight.

“Come on, you,” he said, pulling Noah away from the light show he’d been drawn into by one arm and toward the dancer in question.

Noah was being dragged away from the glittering, shimmering wall, goodbye lights as Jeremy dragged him to a half naked woman. There really wasn’t much fuss, most of the dancers were quite clothed today and there were a lot of teenagers just dancing and ignoring many of the actual dancers. Then he saw it. A sparkling orb, when it caught the other lights, it turned the walls into a wash of silver light.

“O mah gawd!” Noah said. “It is the greatest thing I have ever seen.”

“The best part is, you can buy those in a lot of places,” Jeremy pointed out. Disco balls were pretty commonplace, and whilst he was sure Noah would get a kick out of having his own, it’d probably distract him from... well, life. His street art, no less.

That said, if it was what Noah wanted to look at, then by all means, Jeremy would let him look at that. As for himself, he’d take a seat at the base of the dancer’s stand, silently watching her pour herself into her movements, erotic and titillating as they were. Somewhat, at least.

Noah gasped and grabbed Jeremy’s shoulder, “You’re so right!” Noah said excitedly. “Where do you think I can get one?” He only noticed the dancer when she started moving, he stared for a second. Hips moving, he could see the movement around her. Invisible strings that called to his muse, colored in glittering lights. Where was he? He couldn’t remember.

“Drink? You want a drink?” Noah asked near as excited as he was earlier for something he couldn’t remember exactly what it was.

“Uh... sure, Noah,” Jeremy murmured, drawn out of his observation briefly. He’d probably tail the guy, to be honest; he rather suspected he’d wind up lost or distracted otherwise. Nonetheless, he said “I’ll have a coke. Make it a rum and coke, if they’re letting you buy alcohol with an ID.”

Noah nodded and walked to the counter. The bartender gave him a stare. Obviously Noah was not his usual crowd. He was sure the man expected him to frequently visit some queer bar. Dude was ripping with muscles and looked like he should be replacing his job with the bouncer up front.

“Yeah,” the man barked at him, “can I help?”

Rude. In a perfect world he’d stand on the stool and use his persona, do you know who I am? In reality he just walked back to Jeremy.

“Out of everything,” Noah told Jeremy.

He’d managed to keep an eye on Noah as he wandered over to the bar, then wandered back with... nothing at all. Jeremy frowned for a moment, then raised an eyebrow, then finally just shrugged.

“I doubt that, but I’ll take your word for it,” he acquiesced, returning to look at the dancer as she started to put on a bit more of a show. Specifically for him? It almost seemed like that could be the case, what with the sultry looks that nobody else seemed to be receiving. They wouldn’t amount to anything, of course; he looked half-dead, and she wasn’t paid to sleep with her clientele.

“Hey, did I ever mention how I think strip clubs are essentially designed to blue-ball their customers?” he asked, leaning over to whisper in Noah’s ear before he got distracted again.

Noah ended up hysterically laughing in his way and he snorted. Didn’t know why Jeremy whispered it when he found himself bringing the attention of people’s eyes from his laughter alone. “Jeremy you’re thirsty,” Noah whispered back after gaining some control of himself after his laughing fit.

“Maybe I am, Noah,” Jeremy pondered, “maybe I am...”

This problem, as it happened, would be solved shortly by a good dinner at a high-class restaurant. Noah’s meal was quite sumptuous; Jeremy’s was less so, and yet came close to being wasted despite his very light lunch. They talked about their likes and dislikes all over again; Noah described his ideas for more street art; and the waiter serving them was tipped very generously when all was said and done.




Big Surprise


It wasn’t as difficult as he thought it would be to walk behind Jeremy and guide him up some hills behind an abandoned park. It was a quiet place, lots of trees, lots of scattered memories, old coke bottles from ages ago dug into the leaves, but there was one special place he wanted to take Jeremy. This was what all his money amounted to in this moment. He had Jeremy go up one more rock, to a clearing, towards an abandoned parking lot and a building. Jeremy blindfolded and dumb to his plans, he stopped moving.

He had managed to snag one dollar cups earlier today before they met at Lenny’s, and he bought a couple of bottles of wine on the way.

“Okay, take the blindfold off,” Noah said with a mischievous laugh.

Jeremy did as he was asked, blinking as he glanced around, before his eyes settled on what appeared to be an unlit billboard before them.

“So, I take it we’re going to be looking at adverts tonight?” he asked jokingly, smiling half to himself. Chances were Noah had something more elaborate planned, but even if he hadn’t, he’d be happy to spend that time alongside the man.

“Nah,” Noah said eagerly, dashing to the other end of the billboard where he’d stashed a generator back there. Please the fuck work. Plugging a bit into the other bit, the billboard at first slowly blinked on, until a bunch of colorful Christmas lights in red, green, blue, and yellow all lit up. Reading in bold, wrapped around iron, it said ‘Goodluck in Heaven’.

“Tadah!” Noah said, raising his hand in the air as a delayed big reveal.

For a moment, all Jeremy could do was stare. This was... this was... exactly the sort of thing Noah would set up, when he thought about it, typo and all.

Overwhelmed, he fell to his hands and knees as he laughed joyously, shaking with it for a few seconds before he managed to pick himself up and stroll over to Noah. By the time he’d made it there, his laughter had diminished to silent mirth and a shaky smile; and yet for his apparent laughter, tears had streamed down his face like waterfalls in that time.

“God fucking damn it, Noah,” was all he managed to get out before wrapping his arms around the artist and squeezing him like a vice. This time, he shook as a result of his quiet sobbing, interspersed with quiet “thank you”s repeated again and again. What else could he say to a grand gesture like this?

“I figured it’d be big enough for you to see when you’re up there,” Noah smiled, he was glad it made Jeremy happy as much as it made him happy, “So...you know whatever is after life you do not forget I am still here.”

“I won’t, I s-swear I won’t,” he promised, crying into Noah’s shoulder. He held his religion as a somewhat minor part of his persona, but of course he couldn’t forget, not after everything he’d done for him.

“...thank you so much,” he finally uttered with some force once his sobs had died down. “This has... listen, Noah. In spite of my illness, this has been one of the best days of my life. I couldn’t have wanted a better sendoff than this... and I couldn’t have gotten a better friend than you to set it up for me. Thank you.”

Noah smiled and took out a bottle of wine he bought. “Should we toast?”

Pulling away from his hug, Jeremy smiled back, eyes wet with emotion. “Let’s.”

Noah laughed and took out the cork opener he also brought. Popping it open, the air hissed, and he waited for it to breathe before he poured it into red plastic cups. It wasn’t quite fancy as the crystal wine glasses they drank from earlier at dinner, but it was better this way. He handed Jeremy a glass and he held his glass.

“To Jere Bear, you have always stuck with me like that 90’s goo toy we used to throw at the wall and when you go to Eden or Paradise or Heaven, you’ll be going in style cause I have your back and I ain’t going to let them have no paradise without a few treasures,” Noah laughed. “To your life. And to your friendship.”

Jeremy laughed in kind, exalting in spite of himself. “To my life, to my friendships, and to you, Noah.” He tapped his cup against Noah’s, and drank of it.

For the next hour and a half, they drank, and laughed, and made more ostentatious toasts to one another. At some point, midnight came and went, and eventually, Jeremy found himself lying on the grass, Noah to one side, glancing alternately between the billboard and the stars above him with a smile on his face.

The smile faded, and he grimaced for a mixture of reasons.

“I’m scared,” he admitted in a small, hollow voice. “This is going to sound sappy as anything, but... could you hold me, please? At least my hand?”

Noah looked at Jeremy, before hesitantly taking his hand.

“Remember when Bobby Roberts wanted to fight you,” Noah told Jeremy. “You were scared then too. Remember what I told you back then? Punch Bobby in the fucking nuts. Jere, I’m scared too. I don’t like seeing you like this. You did not deserve this. And I hate myself for knowing the fact before you did.”

For a moment, Jeremy looked over to Noah, coming to an understanding of what he meant - though there was no punching terminal colonic cancer in the nuts, he didn’t need to be scared. Whatever came after, whether it was Heaven or Valhalla, or whatever, he’d face it with dignity.

“I’ve never blamed you for that, Noah,” he explained gently. “There was nothing you could have done about it, and you did as much as you could anyway. Thank you, so much.” He meant to say more than that, but found he no longer had the strength to say so; turning his head back to the sky, he gazed up at the stars one last time before closing his eyes.

As he drifted off into slumber, he wondered if he’d open them again.
Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Frizan Free From This Backwater Hellsite

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The Winner of RPGC# 17: Singing in the Rain



Silver Linings by @Mattchstick


"Huh, so it begins again," a certain man said aloud to no one as he stood on the sidewalk and glanced up at the sky. The gentle blue was being rapidly hidden by grey and black clouds, signalling the start of yet another rain storm. For you see, it was always raining here. The Sunless City, some called it. Statistically, it was very much like any other modern city; dense buildings, costly housing, and terrible traffic at certain hours of the day. It would have been a decent enough place to live if not for the weather. Some liked the rain. Some did not. Almost none liked it for at least three hundred days every year. Take into account the lightning strikes and occasionally power outages, it was not a very happy place to live, and more than a few struggled with retaining happiness.

The man on the sidewalk was not one such person. He saw past the clouds to the cheery sun that was still glowing overhead, and anyone within earshot would invariable hear a "silver lining" to whatever situations and storms had come on that particular day. Not a single thing had happened in his life that he had not found a way to look over or around to it eventually dissipating.

He was not a particularly fortunate man at that. He was merely a blue-collar worker with a simple job, one that he had retained for going on forty years. He lived alone in a small house with just enough income to pay the rent and feed himself, yet he managed to stay positive. This was a trait that had followed him from the womb, since his name was, of all things, Bartholomew Goodheart.

Anyway, dear Bartholomew had been on a morning stroll to enjoy a rare sunny day. There were still puddles and dripping eaves, but at least the glinting rays gave the water a lovely golden shimmer. He had glanced up at the bright blue expanse with a twinkle in his eye and had given it a proper smile.

"Huh, a good bit of sun in the city. Pleasant change, it is," he said in his strange form of speak. As usual, a passerby gave him a strange look for a moment before continuing on their way, phone pressed to ear as they engaged in a bitter conversation. Bartholomew watched them pass, then shrugged his shoulders.

"Ah well, there's a silver lining. At least the man is being productive. More so than myself, I should say."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the clouds began to return to their place. The man audibly grumbled as he attempted to open an umbrella without hanging up his phone.

"Ah well, at least ye have an umbrella," Bartholomew called to him, showing the man his empty hands. All he had was a brown leather jacket and ragged pants, as he had left his own umbrella at home. The other fellow rolled his in a most rude manner and scurried away. The first of many raindrops splattered the shoulder of his jacket as he began to walk back across town. He had traveled some distance, you see, and was not within running distance of his place of residence, and so he did not bother. He hummed a tune that was almost impossible to hear, now that the rain was in full force.

"Ah well, at least there's no lightning," he said.

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a brilliant bolt of electricity flashed across the sky, soon accompanied by a deep roar of thunder.

"Ah well, at least it's air-lightning," he said.

A moment later, a similar bolt flickered through the sky, drawn to a rod on a nearby building. It crackled loudly, causing him to wince ever so slightly.

"Ah well, at least we have the lightning-poles to keep it away from the ground," he said, increasing his pace.

To his surprise, a third bolt of lightning tore its way through the air and hit a nearby street lamp, causing the bulb to for a fraction of a second glow brightly before bursting into a shower of glass fragments.

"Ah well," Bartholomew said after a long pause, making a turn and heading into the last straight towards his residence. "At least I'm within eye-shot of home and heat."

He jumped as a car zoomed by him, swerving across the road and, to no one's surprise but his own, crashed directly into his house. A large portion of the car was now occupying his living room. The engine came to an abrupt halt and, with a grunt, the driver shoved the door open and climbed out, apparently unharmed. Bartholomew nodded at him in approval.

"Ah well, at least the driver's not hurt."

The driver looked down at his stomach, turned very pale, and collapsed dead on the pavement. Bartholomew stood still for a moment, then shrugged.

"Ah well, at least the car can be towed. Shan't be an easy repair but it's only a building after all."

A quiet crackle came from the vehicle as a loose wire in Bartholomew's home sparked, making contact with the gaseous fumes that had been spilling into his house from the now empty tank beneath the car. With a brilliant glow that would make the sun ever so slightly jealous, the house erupted in flames.

At this point, one would likely stop pressing their fate and perhaps seek shelter elsewhere. Bartholomew Goodheart was no such man. Absolutely refusing to turn aside his stance from five or six consecutive coincidences, he spoke again:

"Ah well, at least I've got a little money in me pocket."

"Oh?" a harsh voice said beside him. He turned and found himself facing a man in a hoodie who had just emerged from a nearby alleyway. He had covered half his face with a scarf and was wielding a rather large pistol that was aimed in the direction of Mr. Goodsoul's head.

"Hand it over. Now."

Bartholomew raised his hands in surrender, then slowly removed his wallet and tossed it to the man, who scooped it up and shoved it into a pocket. He turned to retreat into the alley as a voice called to him.

"Ah well, at least I've got good health."

The robber turned back around in surprise, still waving the gun haphazardly. He was a rather inexperienced sort of robber and, as a result, did not have the safety engaged. He shot Bartholomew in the leg, causing him to collapse to the ground in a poorly-placed puddle. Wincing in pain and grabbing the injured limb, Bartholomew searched his mind for a good thing to find about this situation. He admitted that he was running short on them by now. The robber was still standing nearby in shock, seemingly unsure of whether he should run or call for help before his victim bled to death. Bartholomew caught sight of him and forced a smile.

"Ah well," he said weakly. "At least I've only been shot once."

The robber shot him again for, at this point, no real reason. Somewhere deep inside Bartholomew, an organ exploded.

Aware that he likely only had minutes to live, the poor man uttered one final positive observation. One that absolutely could not be altered. One that was so conclusive that it was at this point in history no more than a joke.

"Ah well...at least...Hitler is dead."

The robber paused, then lowered his gun and removed his hood and scarf. Bartholomew's eyes widened in shock as he saw a familiar cut of hair and mustache, one that had not been seen for many years. The man grinned an evil grin, staring him down with dark, sinister eyes. He said the last word Bartholomew Goodheart would ever hear:

"NEIN!"
Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Frizan Free From This Backwater Hellsite

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The Winners of RPGC# 18: Adventure Calls



Nomen by @Vocab

My name is. Or my name isn’t. A jumbled mess of other across a blue and cracked screen, like spider webs. It didn't say much. Just my name. Though it didn’t say that either. I can’t read what it says; I can’t pronounce it either. They didn’t teach me how to read weird symbols and corruption. Corruption. Files and text that can’t be observed, or opened. My name cannot be opened. Do I not have a name? They call me many things. Nothing sounded like a name, as much as I tried to listen to them. What is a name? A symbol, of status, of power, of representation. It is belonging. I don’t belong anywhere.

I try and write, but it is hard. The way the pen moves doesn’t make sense with the letters I need to write. My name I need to write. How can I write my name when the pen doesn’t move? Try and move and try and move. This is a book, a book I found in a house, a house without walls or ceilings, and without chairs or tables or computer screens to display ruined, corrupted corruption or names. The corrupted corruption of corrupted names on corrupted screens corrupting names. The pen moves but when it moves paper corrupts. Ink corrupts. Black and fluid, then dry and corrupt. I corrupt.

My name isn’t something you say. You write it down. It is letters and numbers. One and two and three and five. Four? I saw that symbol in reports, the squigly with the dot. When they ask questions. Can it corrupt devices? Does it react to water? Sound? Lots of reports, about me. My name. I want to find my name. I took the reports. Know the reports. Will help me find my name. I need a name. How do you talk to people without a name? They need your name. Names go first in sentence. Sentences? Go first in sentences.

So I am doing what the reports do. In the book. The book I use. Took. Found. Am. The book I am. Or were. With the pen. Writing the words. Then when I find my name I can put my name on the reports like the reports with my name. Because my name isn’t my name I can’t use my name on the reports for the reports on my name because the name isn’t my name. And I can name it, with my name. I have more books, but the other books have names. And more reports.

The glow went away before. There is a report that says the glow in the blue is called “Sun”. Sun goes when the day goes, so the reports end when Sun goes. This will be the last report of this Sun, then I will start anew next Sun. Cannot see well when Sun is gone. Moon is there but Sun is gone. The glow helps me write the reports about the Sun. So this is report one.

~

The sun brought the glow back and now I can report again. There is lots to report this Sun. I left the house with no ceilings or walls for the Sun and saw dusty. Like sand. Fine particles. Of stuff. Like dust. The landscape is of dust and sand and fine particle. Sun is very glow and hot, so hard to stand in dust because it is hot also. So I took back to the house, but without the ceiling the Sun got me. I had to keep moving then or the Sun would continue to get me. Like the game of Tag. But I can never get the Sun.

When playing I saw more houses, but they had ceilings and walls and doors. Some had chairs. They let me take inside so the Sun couldn’t get me. Many things were inside, like uncorrupted screens and boxes and chairs. Lots of other houses were there too, so I could take and not get got by the Sun. One of the houses had bones in them, but they looked like the nameless so I left them alone.

Another house had a people inside. The people wasn’t happy. It had a big thing and tried to get me like the Sun so I left them like the bones. I was happy to find a people on my second Sun, but now I am not sure. The Sun seems nice although hot, so why can’t people by like the Sun? I thought the people would be more Sun than Sun. One report said about people contact and warmth. Emotion. Warm but not hot, like the sun but not like the sun because warm. They wanted to play tag I think but you can’t use big things for Tag. Those aren’t the scripts Sun and I use. What are you it said and I said I don’t know I don’t have name. Maybe having a name is very important to people?

There was also a water but Sun was leaving again. Harder to report but the water was nice and water. I can get water. I feel water. Odd things floated in the water, but they must have been being watered so I didn’t ask them why they were floating. The water had a colour too, but not the blue like the Sun’s home. A weird red. Like blood. Like blood. Blood from the animals. Nameless animals that bled and didn’t give me my name.

~

Of course! I didn’t put down the name! There is a facility to the West. The report told me that Sun goes to sleep in the sky, and that that is West so I follow Sun. I hope it doesn’t mind. I might finally be able to get Sun back and win Tag. But it will be hard, because Sun is very hot. The report says Sun is so hot, nothing could get near it. It explains why they are so good at Tag.

Today I found a trees. But not just one trees, there were many. Since trees are made of wood I could call this a wood of trees. Like a flock of birds. The wood flocking together like a flock of birds flocking together in Sun’s house called sky. Flocking and flocking and flying like a flock. But I thought the trees were meant to have leaves on them, on the long thin parts. There were no leaves. No grass either. Not anywhere. Without the leaves the wood is like a house. The house I found. The house with no ceiling. The animals in the wood call the wood their home. Maybe that is why they are gone. Because they have no ceiling, and Sun beats them at Tag.

The wood also made me think of the bones. But they wood has a name, and the trees have a name. The bones had no name, so I didn’t explore them, but since the wood has a name it could help me find my name. Or I thought so. I spent the entire Sun in the wood but I didn’t know my name. Even the dust bugs didn’t know my name. There were lots of dust bugs in the dusty wood. Woody dust, dusty wood, the wood of dust without leaves. Was the dust leaves? Was the ceiling a floor? Right-side upside down. Spin spin in the dusty wood.

But Sun has gone to sleep, and it is cold now without anyone to play Tag with. So I end my report.

~

I left the wood before Sun awoke so I could look around more. I found a big place with lots of houses to explore, but there was a big wall around it so I couldn’t get in. I spent so long trying to go around it that when I reached the door Sun had awoken. I tried to knock on the door but someone yelled at me from on top of the wall. What the fuck are you. They said that, but I don’t know what a fuck is. It doesn’t sound like a name, so I must not be a fuck. I wonder if they once knew a fuck and mistook me for them?

The houses were very pretty, though. They didn’t have doors or windows but they had lots of other stuff, like more people and things to eat. Also they had more of those weird things the people from before tried to use on me. I didn’t know what they were, but they seemed scary so I ate them. They didn’t taste good. I don’t think they had names, so it didn’t help me, but I ate them anyway. I ate a lot of them. There were other things that had names, so I ate those. I think if I eat more I might find my name.

So I tried eating one of the reports I had. It was called experiment number zero zero two four one candidate four seven two see explosion test. Even though I ate it I didn’t learn my name. But I looked at it and I know what a explosion is. A? Or an? The reports say both and I don’t know which is right. Maybe both are right. But an explosion is a big thing. Apparently the report was immune to explosions. The report was very lucky, since explosions sound like something really bad. Bad. Not nice. A not nice explosion. I should avoid explosions, they might be mean to me.

Sun was already going down when I left the houses and the wall. The people inside were very kind, but didn’t help me learn my name. I tried very hard but nothing helped, so I left. Sun is getting tired a lot quicker than they used to I think. They go to sleep much sooner than before so I wonder if maybe they are sick. Sick with tired so they get more sick. Maybe I keep Sun up too much and make them do too much during Sun. We should play less Tag. Sun might get more sleep that way.

~

Today is very dusty. I keep going West where the sun sleeps but there is always more dust, just more dust. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be the case or not. It’s like the dust just keeps on going and never stops, and never will stop, because it can’t; it is just a far reaching expanse of nothing. It might not even have a name. If that is true then we are the same - we don’t belong.

The dust actually makes me feel more at home. I know homes are houses and houses usually have ceilings and walls, unless you are the dusty wood, but still, I feel I share something in common with the dust. There is just nothing. Nothing at all. I learnt today that I don’t need water to keep going. Even though it is very hot and the sun insists of playing Tag all the time, I don’t need to drink to keep going. That means I can keep searching for my name without fear!

That said, I do have to eat. That I am aware of. I haven’t been able to eat much today, though, since there is very little edible in the dust. I am very hungry. Perhaps I should have saved some of the food from before for today, but the small bugs are enough at least for a little while. When I finally get out of the dust I’ll have to find something more substantial to eat. Substantial… substantial like the animals in the cages…

~

There’s something wrong. I can’t write proerpyl properly. My hadn hand isn’t moving the way it should and I can’t write the words very well. I need please help to find something proper to eat soon, I think… My body is starting to feel slow and heavy and my know isn’t fucntoning functioning. I am making so many mistakes this Sun… What is hapening happening to me?

~

I didn’t report for a whole Sun! I can’t believe I didn’t do something so important! I think I finally made it out of the dust, but now I don’t know where I am. There are lots of hills, and also lots of houses for me to look at it. Most have ceilings and walls but not all of them do, which is sad, because that means they aren’t houses. Or are they? The dusty wood was a house, and it had no ceiling or walls… maybe you don’t need them to be a house?

But I looked around them anyway! I also found lots of things to eat, lots of animals to eat. I think it’s okay to eat the animals, because that’s what they said. They said it was okay to eat them, and the animals told me to eat them as well so it’s okay. I cleaned everything up too so that the houses didn’t get dirty.

There was a lot of stuff for me to look at here. Lots of chairs and tables and uncorrupted screens. But there was a lot of corrupted stuff too, like corrupted water and corrupted plants and corrupted and nameless bones. Lots of bones. I made it a rule not to play Tag with the bones, but Sun doesn’t listen to that rule. He plays with them anyway, which is rude but they don’t seem to mind so I won’t interrupt.

How far West I am I don’t know, but I think I’m getting close to my name. I get this feeling sometimes when I’m moving that my name is really close, but I just can’t see it. I hope the place the reports talked about is nearby… I’m getting really tired of moving about all over the place. Playing Tag with Sun is getting boring too, but I would never admit that to him. Everything looks the same wherever I go - more dust, more houses, more peoples. But the peoples never talk to me. Do I need to do something for them to like me? Do I need help me please to be more friendly?

~

You’re not going to believe what I saw today, report! I don’t know what it was but it was so cool! I came over a hill and saw these houses, but when I looked closer all the people that were in the houses were running away. So I thought Why are they running away, and why would they abandon their houses like that. The air felt really strange, all tingly like the lightning they used on me.

I heard someone shout something, too. Silence! They shouted Silence! Maybe it has a name? I wish I could have asked how it got its name, but I never got the chance. While I was watching the houses this really loud boom appeared, and one of the houses just fell down. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing though, because the house fell down, but there was another house in its place when it fell!

But then, when I was about to turn away, there was another boom and that house fell down too! Except it didn’t fall down, it broke. Like, it split open. The air looked like it was tearing, like a piece of cloth, and from within the crack spilled out this huge wave of energy. It was writing and crushing everything it touched, destroying all the houses. Part of me felt a little sad, but another part of me felt like a monster I was really happy because it was so cool.

I don’t know what the Silence is, but I would like to meet it again. By the time the tear had closed all the houses were gone and there was just nothing. Nothing at all. Everything was silent until some people came back. Maybe that’s why it is called that? But I went to talk to the people. They weren’t very helpful, but they gave me some food, which was nice of them.

You killed them.

~

Something strange is going on. I was reading back through my reports, and there were some strange words in them. I know I didn’t write them. Things like You killed them. I haven’t killed anyone. I don’t understand the word: killed. I think somebody has been writing in my report while I’m asleep, but I can’t tell. I haven’t noticed anyone following me so far…

In other news, I think I’m getting very close. I was making my way along a long, winding, asphalt road, covered in cracks and hot from the sun. The walk was long, but I’m making decent progress, much better than anything of the previous days I have journeyed. I just can’t help but wonder what this facility will look like, or where it will be located. A sign on the road said “Ersatz Labs Newton Facility”.

Ersatz Laboratories. Their name is on my reports. Their name is everywhere, I think. I keep seeing it but I don’t know what it means, not really. They’re some kind of omnipresent organisation. Everywhere I look and turn, their hallmarks are there. Their logos are there. On weapons and food and buildings… it’s strange, but I get the feeling they are watching me, even when I am alone, in the middle of nowhere, or in a dusty wood or a desert.

Somehow they are important. They have done things, and they know who I am. They know my name. So I need to find this facility and make them tell me my name. How? Well, I’ll ask nicely. Like you did with everyone else? Everyone else? Everyone I have met thus far has been very nice. They have given me advice and food, so it is only natural that I should be nice back to them. Bullshit.

~

This cannot be right… I am here. This is the lab. The facility. This is where my name should be, and yet… Nothing is here? There is nothing. Nothing at all. Everything is… is gone. Only a sign remains. “Ersatz Laboratories”. Impossible. Impossible. There’s no way! Maybe they heard you were coming and made like Silence. Made Like Silence? What does that mean? Erase all traces you were in a place and get the fuck out of dodge. Get out of dodge…

That’s right… what if that thing had come here!? The Silence?! What if it destroyed everything? What if… what if it destroyed my name..? What do I do then? How do I get my name?! What was the point of this journey? Why don’t you just name yourself? What? Name myself? Yeah, just give yourself a name. How about “Cunt”? I think it suits you well, Cunt. That isn’t a nice thing to say… You shouldn’t insult people like that, you know, especially ones who haven’t done anything to you.

Hah, people? Is that what you think you are, a person? Don’t make me laugh! I am a person! I am a real person, who is friends with all the other people! I just… I just don’t know my name. You don’t need a name to be a person. Exactly! So you can’t say I’m not a You’re not a person, you’re a MONSTER! I am not! You killed everyone!

You’re wrong. You’re wrong you’re wrong you’re wrong you’re wrong! I didn’t kill anyone! Stop saying things like that! I am Nomen and I am a person! Nomem? No...men… Nomen. Is that my name? Nomen… I don’t know… It sounds right, but at the same time wrong. I don’t understand… why isn’t my name here? I was meant to find my name here, so where is it? You found a name here. Nomen, right? Just call yourself that. Nomen… Yes…

I suppose that will do.


And The quest for the Golden Fish by @Calle

It is said that under the thick ice of the permanently frozen Ice Lake lives a fish the size of a grown man. Its scales are made of gold and its flesh nourishing and sweet.
Five fishermen heard about it and decided to leave their village behind and seek out this fish, for it would bring three desired F’s in their life: Fame, Fortune and Food.
One could argue that Fortune will result in Food, but the fisherman loved to eat fish. They had tasted all the fish known to them, except for the Golden Fish.
So, they packed their bags, kissed their wives and gathered at the northern exit of their village.

Five fishermen walked north.

They walked over an earthen path, cart wheels had left deep furrows in the ground. On their right side were meadows where white and yellow flowers had opened their petals to welcome the rays of the sun. On the left a small stream ran along the path and willow trees bathed their roots in the water. A gentle wind moved the long branches from left to right, some of the longer ones drew lines in the water as they moved in harmony with the others.
One fisherman didn’t look where he was going and sprained his ankle. He told the others to leave him behind, he’d make it back to the village.

Four fishermen walked north.

They walked through a thick forest, the leaves on the branches kept the path hidden from the sun. Only when the wind blew strong enough would the leaves allow small openings through which the rays of the sun found their way down, until the openings closed again. The thick bushes on either side of the trail seemed impenetrable. The forest itself was full of life, insects buzzed, birds twittered and chirped, and a bear roared. One of the fisherman got scared and ran back to the village.

Three fishermen walked north.

They reached a lake, the surface as smooth as an eel’s skin. Dragonflies flew just inches above the surface and mosquitoes happily buzzed above the still water. A fish jumped up, violently disrupting the surface, and devoured one of the dragonflies before it disappeared under the water again. They walked through the tall grass, going around the lake. Mosquito’s saw in them an easy meal and swarmed around them. One fisherman couldn’t take it anymore and fled back to the village.

Two fishermen walked north.

They walked over a vast plain with sturdy grass and patches of moss. Small rocks and giant boulders were scattered across the field as if some bored giant-children had played a game to see who could throw the furthest and who could throw the heaviest rock. A chilly wind blew over the grass, pushing it down as it moved along. The fast-flowing river curled through the land, not caring about anything but its final destination. One fisherman was exhausted and told the other to go forward, he needed a break.

One fisherman walked north.

He followed a path up the mountain, a trail littered with gravel. The higher he went the less vegetation there was. After he left behind the final tree there were only patches of grass, adorned with small flowers, growing between the rocks. Eventually only rocks remained and soon he stepped on the first snow. The higher he went, the thicker the snow became. The trail ended at the edge of a sheet of ice. The Ice Lake, he had found it. Now he could search for the mythical Golden Fish. If only he had brought something to get through the ice...
The fisherman turned around and walked back to the village.
Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Batten Valley by @Silver


The silver light of morning wakes you, just like it always has.

A gentle breeze ruffles the blinds of your room, casting shadows like barcodes on the bare plaster walls. The draft sends a chill down your spine and you rise from the floor, discarding your thin, moth-eaten quilt. Somewhere in the distance, a raven cries out in fear or elation. You brush aside the blinds and close the window with a yawn.

The living room is empty, which comes as little surprise. Clover and Tom are probably out foraging, or they might have woken Mary in her hammock to make breakfast. She hasn’t slept indoors since you found the rat nest. You want to tell her that the forest is full of far less pleasant creatures than a rat, but doing so would likely spark another nervous breakdown, and that wouldn’t help anybody.

The door creaks open in the wind, causing the hair on your arms to stand on end. The moment of apprehension passes when you remember that the archaic latch on the cabin door rusted through weeks ago. Tom said he’d fix it. He hasn’t yet.

You tread softly across the wooden floor, over the cots and past the wood stove. Clover rigged the chimney to diffuse the smoke, marking a dramatic improvement from life in the woods. It made the cabin smell like burnt oak almost every day, but it greatly diminished the heat signature and was virtually invisible from the air. You learned long ago that Clover was a useful and skilled survivalist. You push aside the open door, a reminder that Tom is not, and step outside.

The air is chill with dewy frost, and you shove your hands into your pockets involuntarily. Through the trees, you can see the wooded curves of Batten Valley. Or, at least, what Mary pointed to on the faded maps in her backpack and referred to as such. Topography confuses you, so you took her word on it. Batten Valley is remote and serene, somewhere in upstate New York. It’s the sort of place that people like you had always hoped to find. The abandoned cabin is the only sign of civilization for miles around. Perhaps that’s why you’re still alive.

You were too young, perhaps not even born, when the war started. Both memories and stories are fuzzy, contradictory. No one’s ever been able to give you a clear impression of the last century. Mostly, you’ve pieced it together yourself, a patchwork of narratives at times fantastical, more often disturbing. Some stories tell of metal behemoths crawling over hillsides, crushing entire cities beneath their treads. Others whisper of an intelligence gone mad, bent on wreaking havoc upon its helpless creators. The concept that sends shivers down your spine is that of mechanical doppelgangers, indistinguishable from their human counterparts, slipping into an unsuspecting society until there were no humans left.

You slip your hand along your belt until it finds the hilt of your knife, and you feel a little better.

Stepping carefully around the rocky peak, you pass the front of the cabin and clamber up to the stand of chestnut trees where Mary set up her hammock. You like Mary. She has a laugh like water falling over rocks, and she can read. Most of the stories you’ve heard came from her. As you pass under a low branch, you can see her hammock swinging softly in the breeze. Perhaps she’s still asleep after all.

A twig snaps under your feet as you approach the hammock. She won’t mind if you wake her. She’s always been easygoing and cheerful, even in the most harrowing circumstances. Maybe she’s curled over on her side already, reading a book by the light of the morning sun. She’ll smile at you with her lemongrass eyes and offer to read it out loud.

The hammock is dripping with blood.

You gasp in shock, frozen for only a moment before lunging to the side of the hammock to peer inside. Mary’s lifeless body swings back and forth, her skin a shade paler than you know it to be. Her throat is open; no other word for it arises in your mind, just open. The wound is jagged--- claws? A blade? Your eyes drift down to her torso, where several smaller wounds perforate her body, soaked in blood. It’s your worst nightmare. It must be a nightmare. You want to wake up, wake up, wake up.

Tom’s baritone laugh ricochets through the forest.

“Clover!” you yell, hoarse with fear or grief or just the mundane throes of the morning. “Clover, come here quickly! Come…” your voice trails off, replaced with a series of staccato sobs.

In seconds, Clover comes bounding over the rise and into the glade. She has a dead rabbit draped across her shoulder, a bundle of kindling sticking out of her backpack, and a rusted hatchet in her hand. She comes straight to your side. The words stick in your mouth as she stares at Mary’s bloody body in the hammock. She doesn’t need you to say anything, though; Clover’s always known what to do in every situation. Her gaze lingers a few moments longer on the corpse, then she pulls you close to her chest and hugs you tightly. You feel a tear run down her cheek.

A few moments later, Tom crests the hill, carrying a basket of dark berries. He takes one look at the hammock and drops the basket. His eyes bulge, and he looks more helpless than the rabbit over Clover’s shoulder. He staggers towards the hammock, barely even glancing at Mary before turning away. He seems like he might vomit.

Clover steps back from you, clearing her throat. “When did you find her?”

You manage to collect yourself enough to answer. Clover has that effect on people.

“Just now. I found her and I yelled. Just now.”

Clover nods, still looking at the body as if turning it over in her mind, searching for a hidden message. She looks at Tom, who’s begun to scoop the berries back into his basket, apparently trying to distract himself.

“Tom?”

He drops the basket again, looking up at her in silence. She addresses him again.

“Tom, did you check on Mary before we left to check the snares? Did you talk to her, or even come through the grove?”

He shakes his head. She looks at me, guessing I’m more alert than Tom at the moment.

“She might have been like this all morning. God, she might have been dead all night. And we didn’t hear a thing.”

“What do you think killed her?” I hear myself ask. We’re years past ‘who.’ It’s a what that killed Mary.

“I don’t know, but I don’t want to wait around to find out. Vance, I need you to get anything useful out of Mary’s bag. Don’t get any blood on you; they might be able to smell it. Tom, take down the hammock as carefully as you can and search her pockets. When you’re done, find me in the cabin. I’m going to break down anything we can carry.”

She doesn’t wait around for a reply. She turns on her heel and marches towards the cabin. You wouldn’t be surprised if Clover remained as the last person on Earth.

You kneel down and unzip Mary’s bag. Unlike yours, everything is tidy and organized. In the front pocket, you find a flint and steel on a keychain, attached to a metal fob that resembles some sort of tower. You take the maps as well, and a bundle of dried meat from the bottom of the main pocket. It feels wrong to pilfer your friend’s belongings, but it’s the way of the world. You decide to leave the books. She was the only one who could use them, anyway.

Next to you, Tom fumbles with the knot of the hammock and it slips off the tree. Mary’s head bashes unceremoniously against the ground. Tom mumbles a curse under his breath and shrugs the hammock aside, his hands shaking.

“What the hell was that?” you demand. “You dropped her, you fucking idiot! Be careful!”

He doesn’t reply, instead continuing his task with shaky persistence. You watch his bony hands pat down her shirt, her chest, her legs, looking for something to steal. He reaches into her pocket and pulls out a wooden tobacco pipe. You both look at it in mild astonishment. You never knew Mary to smoke; where would she even find the leaf? Going through the secrets of her life seems a violation of everything sacred. Tom throws it over his shoulder and continues his search.

You grab his wrist. He looks up at you with shock and fear.

“You treat her with respect, you hear me? She was worth ten of you.”

To your surprise, he jerks his hand back. He picks up the half-empty basket of berries with a huff and starts to walk away. He doesn’t seem the least bit remorseful. In fact, you can’t tell if he’s upset about Mary in the first place. You stalk up behind him as he passes out of the glade onto the overlook and smack the berries from his hand. He whips around, anger in his eyes, but says nothing.

“Maybe you don’t miss her at all,” you say, the gears in your head turning. “Maybe you’re glad she’s gone. One less mouth to feed, right?”

“You’re crazy,” he says, and picks up the basket. You smack it down again.

“No, no, you’re right, that’s not it. There’s always been something off about you, Tom. Something wrong. And you’re going to tell me what it is.”

“You’re talking nonsense, Vance,” he says, looking over his shoulder. “I’m gonna call Clover.”

“Why, so you can kill her too?”

“Shut up, shut up!” he yells. You’re starting to get to him. He tries to walk past you but you shove him back, and he almost falls. To your surprise, he swings a fist at you. You sidestep it effortlessly, hooking your own arm around to punch him in the jaw. He staggers backwards with a shriek, but it’s not good enough. You punch him again, and again, then grab him by the shoulders and push him backwards.

He tumbles over the edge of the redoubt, his screams silenced seconds later by a resounding crunch that seems to echo across the valley.

You turn, and Clover stands a few yards away. Her bag is on the ground and she brandishes her hatchet, her raven hair ruffled by the breeze. She looks at you with horror.

“It’s not what it looks like,” you say. “He was one of them, he killed Mary!”

“How the hell do you know that?” she shoots back. You’re startled by the tone of her voice. You’ve never heard her so angry.

“He… you’ve seen him! He’s never been right. Always glancing over his shoulder, never talking unless we asked him something. He’s been plotting this whole time, and I fucking knew it!”

“You’re a madman, Vance. If he ever looked frightened it was probably because of you.”

You seethe with anger. Clover should know better, she’s always known what to do. But now she looks at you with revulsion. She points her hatchet at you.

“Don’t follow me,” she says, her voice dripping with violence. “Don’t take a step towards me, or I swear to whatever monster that runs this world that I will kill you where you stand.”

No, not like this. You won’t last a week without Clover. She knows how to set snares, how to clean water. She’s the only reason you’ve made it this far. But she’ll see reason. You take a step forward.

“Clover, just listen---”

Not another step!” she screams, and cuts a wide arc across the air with her hatchet. You instinctively reach for your belt and draw your knife, holding its protective edge between you and your companion.

The morning sun glistens on a film of red. The blade is caked in dried blood.

“No…” you whisper. “No, no, it wasn’t… I didn’t, I swear I didn’t…” You gesture wildly over the cliff. “He did it! He killed her while we slept and he, and he put the knife in my---”

Clover turns and runs, leaving her bag and the rabbit and you behind. You scream out in desperation.

“Wait, please!”

You drop your weapon and run after her, the cold air like a jagged knife, stabbing your throat again and again and again. You've lost sight of her already. Tears stream down your face as the trees fly by. You're running out of air, you must be, your head screams with the most bizzare


#!/skr/log/bin
08:13:44 aug. 17. 2170. remote.trace/[Batten Valley] (42.990612, -73.349759)

Error // Unit Compromised // Recall To Facility [omitted]
Error Code 110833246-B // Hostile Discovery

#!log/cache/terminate
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Winner of RPGC #20: Gratis



The Good Samaritan by @Briza


Her hands were shaking as she pulled a few pounds from her wallet. I watched as they trembled and carefully placed the brass into the hands of the clerk, standing behind the wooden counter. There was no warm mead to be had in the establishment, but the cold would do just fine for her. I felt the need to remove my cloak and wrap it around her, but instead I thought, No, her son, the one who had all her attention and heart. I shall clothe him instead, as she seemed to be so distracted by him to not realize how tremendously beautiful she was, standing there stricken cold in all of her simple attire.

I kept thinking to myself, How could I, a man too much of an elder, come across her without seeming as some rich fool or jerk or contrarian to my own philosophical and theological endeavors? A man of my honor had no need for a lady, nor a used one at that. However, I still found myself quite intrigued by her very nature. We had spoken slight words prior to our meeting at the shop, and she had seemed a bit dazzled by my outfit. Though, I thought her simple form, spent in underweight peasantry, was all the more delightful to admire. There was something about her. Perhaps, it was her personality. Whatever it was, I wanted to know, but first, I would put my cloak around the boy.

She was overly grateful for the cloak; black silk with rabbit fur, gold piping, and equally rich buttons. As I tied the cloak around the boy, I heard the ticking of my pocket watch, and was reminded of my own childhood. There were men just like me at every corner in my own day-to-day. Why was this? Because I had been raised in the most eloquent of homes, with the most eloquent of families, with the most eloquent of manners. I had everything handed to me, if not on a silver platter than on something even more lavish. To see such poor creatures, notably aware that my lifestyle existed, pulled my heart into believing this one gesture would be something to give them warmth. If not for a lifetime, then for at least today.

“The pleasure is all mine, madam,” I said with the finest style of speech I could muster; having found that my back was feeling chilly already, no longer being sheltered from the breeze. Thankfully, I had my goblet, and I awaited to see if the lady would say anything before I took a sip for some warmth. She said nothing daintily, and I went onwards with the same chivalrous curiosity that had driven me to comfort her boy with my cloak, by comforting her with my words. “I would never wish to see such a fine young lad as yours fall ill from such a lovely winter. Such tragedy happens all the time, and I shan’t see it happen today, not to yours, anyhow,” I was a unsure if she understood my gesture. She was unusually docile with certain things, and I could tell we were certainly of different classes.

“‘Comp’ment’d ya attire ya m’ments ago. ‘Eally, ya too kind f’r all’o’s, s’r,” she replied with unstable shyness, and I wanted to lift those spirits for the moment, as there was embarrassment in her manners. She seemed too afraid to say much more, and she had a speech impediment that made it a bit hard to clearly know her wording. I thought perhaps she was from a foreign country, or she had never been taught proper English. I was lead to heavily believe the latter, but as a gentleman, decided not to make assumptions about her, even if the given sin was written all over her. However, With a sudden realization that my status had always made me feel insecure for reasons such as these, I chose to turn a blind eye, as men of my stature did not have the best reputations for treating women in her position well. I am not God for Heaven’s sake, and neither shall I resort to being a Pharisee who had Christ, His only begotten Son, nailed to the Cross. Today, I believed I could change that, at least for myself, and I followed and supported her gratefulness by begging the question, “Would madam mind if she and her son accompanied me for a scrumptious supper?”


Fin.
1x Thank Thank
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Winner of RPGC #21: How The Guild Saved Christmas



The Midwinter Demons by @Calle


On the shortest day, before the longest night,
we prepare the celebration for the return of the light.
With candles and cakes with the sunflower seed,
and evergreen plants, and bottles of mead.

Be careful this day, for demons arise,
they sour the milk and steal all the pies.
And the cakes and the candles and the evergreen plant,
And corrupt all the wishes they ‘graciously’ grant.

A mother had made a sunflower bread,
It was rather small, but it would keep them all fed.
The children were happy, for this was a treat,
it was special and more than they normally eat.

The demons they hate the laugh of a child,
the thought there is joy will make them all wild.
They sneaked in the house and stole the small bread,
when they saw it was gone, the children were sad.

Tradition requires the sunflower seed,
to summon the light that is what you need.
Who wants to sit through midwinter without,
when the demons roam free and show us their snout?

The youngest child, who only was eight,
the bravest of all, she was not afraid,
she went in the cupboard and put salt in a bag,
quickly she left, before her mother would nag.

She went to where the demons would dance,
she knew this was it, she had but one chance.
Watching their faces filled her with dread,
but she kept her eyes on the freshly baked bread.

The girl sneaked through the tallest of grass,
when they saw her, they taunted the lass.
She faced them with courage, her head held high,
they pulled on her hair, but she did not cry.

They came closer and showed her the bread,
ignoring the taunt, she smiled instead.
She opened the bag and the salt she threw,
cringing in pain, they all withdrew.

She picked up the bread and quickly returned,
going back home, that was what she yearned.
Her family was in awe when they saw what she had,
the children rejoiced and were no longer sad.

Together they sat through the longest night,
And the next morning, they greeted the light.
Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Blood On The Rocks by @Kalleth


Water poured down the flagstones of the castle’s courtyard, which in the reddish gloaming kindled a likeness to blood. The wind rushed through the gates, torn asunder by some mighty blow, and produced a keening howl to put the fear of God in men. Such was always the way with these things, and though it made my stomach twist to face the horrors beyond, I girded myself. Steel to cut, flesh to split, and a wicked thirst… Ah to hell with it, I forget the rest. So I stepped up to those great yawning gates, and readied myself. Sword at hip, armour tightly fit, and my teeth grit against the sheets of rain.

I stepped through the threshold, and cast my gaze around, feeling my breath hiss between my teeth. A terrified scream, pitched high and dainty despite itself, met my ears. I caught a flash of light-coloured fabric from the parapet of the massive stone keep’s balcony. Something had pulled it back, though the accompanying flash of lightning revealed an opening far above, and a sensation of being watched rushed down my spine. Whatever hateful thing there lurked, I told myself, would be first to meet my blade.

The main doors to the keep were no obstacle, and I tried to listen for more cries as I stalked through the dimly lit hall. The table had been set, but the food remained untouched, and it still gave off the gentle vapours of freshly cooked food. Of the cook I saw no sign, and thus continued on, my appetite waning. The main staircase wound up in the center of the keep, a great stony pillar climbing through the air. Tapestries hung from these steps variously, depicting scenes I averted my eyes to, though I knew that in all likelihood a man with a morbid curiosity would linger. I am no such man.

The bedroom door, when I came to it, was open slightly. A flicker of candlelight shone through the opening to illuminate a silhouette standing just behind the door, peering in. From within came the sound of gentle sobs, and the sadness embodied in those pitious moans gave my hands a righteous tension to draw my weapon. The blade hissed loose of the scabbard, and the silhouette turned, a gasp of surprise breaking the quiet. I rushed, low and taut, arm as sword and sword as arm. Blood spattered the carpeted floor, and a thrill of excitement caught my breath. Run through, the villain sagged on my arm and a last whisper passed his lips.

“Why…”

Weapon forgotten, I strode into the the room. It was opulent, and there was some blood splattered off the door. It pooled inward from outside. Thunder rumbled distantly, when I saw her, all soaked and drenched from the downpour. She lay against a four-poster bed, frightened eyes staring out at me. She was much unkempt from what seemed a recently ended bout of crying, and her bleary gaze spoke of an innocence lost. Ignoring the manifest jewels and riches splayed about the room casually, as though to ward off the poverty of mortal existence, I crept to her side and knelt down in front of her.

“Come, sweet thing, all that must come shall pass, in time.” I extended a hand to her, and she stared for a moment before taking it.

“Cold.” She murmured, and I hushed her. I led her over to the massive hearth where coals flickered fitfully. A cursory examination of the mantle provided me with a flint and steel, which I handed over to the woman. She took them, though her eyes were far away, and her fingers had gotten stained from where she gripped the bloodied piece of steel I had given her. I added a couple large pieces of lumber into the fireplace, but a full minute passed between me and the woman.

“On nights like these, a fire can provide warmth where only cold would otherwise linger.” I prompted her softly. She blinked and set to work lighting the wood. It took longer than it might have, if we had had kindling, but there was none. When the flames finally caught, it was with much smoke and an unpleasant metallic stench that pervaded the room. The woman sat back finally and muttered something.

“What was it you said?” I asked, stepping back toward the flames and out of the shadows of the room.

“When I said cold, I didn’t mean me.”

“I’ve only just come in from the storm outside, which was quite chilling, as I’m sure you’re aware.” I nodded to her still damp dress, which clung to her form in a very revealing manner. She seemed to notice this fact and shifted her gaze, most likely looking for a cover.

I reached over to the bed and pulled away the downy quilt, extending it to her. She took it and wrapped herself in it, turning back toward the fire. My eyes roamed over to the growing pool of blood, and lingered there for a time, as I lost myself in idle thoughts.

“Why did you come here?” The woman’s voice jarred me from reverie, and I saw she was standing taller than before. She seemed to be regaining her strength.

“I came because I heard a monster had stolen into this castle, ravished the lord’s daughter, and begun all manner of devilish machinations.” I said this all as matter-of-factly as I could, for it was the truth, after a fashion. Her face twisted, and she glanced down at her hand, sticky and red.

“You look quite monstrous as you stand there, sir.” I couldn’t help but grin, and she took a step back, eyes wide.
“I suppose I do, all blood-spattered and pale. Though you must forgive me the first, the second is a result of my birth, and hardly a matter of devilish interference. No, I was born far from here, in a land of pale men and women. It is not so unusual for us though, to get a storm like this, all dark and fierce. And the sun shines not quite so strongly when the clouds blow away.” The woman seemed mollified by this, though she kept eyeing my mouth with the same frequency of young lovers yearning to kiss, with none of the tenderness.

“He beat me, you know. Ceaselessly. Always said it had to do with my face, though I never looked uglier than after he was through with me.”

“Who?” She frowned at my question, sniffling.

“My father, the man who you…”

“Oh him? He’s dead, he’ll bother you no longer.” That same keening cry, so very much like the castle gates where they hung askew, grated my ears. “Whatever is the matter? You said it yourself, he beat you. I’ve made him stop. Aren’t you relieved?”

I watched her turn about several times, a wild look in her eyes. Tears poured down her cheeks anew, and where she grabbed at her face she left a pinkish-red smear that reminded me of the rain on the flagstones below. When she tripped over the blanket in her frenzied movements, she fell perilously close to the crackling fire. I stepped forward to help her, but she screeched at me.

“Back with you, devil! I want no part of you!” Her flailing hands splayed with her fingers curled away from her, in some poor imitation of claws.

“The devil? Well that is plainly untrue, and I find the very thought offensive.” I reached into my cuirass and withdrew something shiny on a chain. I took a step forward even as the woman shied away, and held the object up against my flat palm in the firelight to better show her what I possessed.

“You see, I, am a man of God.” I proclaimed solemnly, taking my turn to admire the small silver crucifix that dangled from a long chain of the same. Where the metal brushed against my skin, a faint sizzling could be heard and small trails of smoke rose from my palm.

“Fire burns things like you,” she whispered, though her words echoed like thunder to my ears. “Silver poisons, and I’ve heard it said that all that is good and true in this world is your kind’s bane.” She was babbling now, and I watched her stumble, scrabble, and crawl toward the balcony. I followed her, silent as the dead, and listened without quite hearing her desperate murmurings.

“I’ve slain the monster, and now I’m to rescue the lord’s daughter and whisk her off to a lovely new life. Would you like that, sweet thing?” I bent at the waist and reached to twirl some of her raven-black curls. “Or have I truly come too late, and has that villainous fiend already turned you away from all that is good and true in this world?” She offered me no reply beyond her chittering madness. Poor girl. A shame I was too late.

We reached that same parapet from which I’d first spotted her, and as she clung to it, a raving fear upon her lips and in her eyes, I could not suppress a chuckle. The rain was beginning to subside, or the storm had chosen to quieten for a time, at any rate, the clouds parted. Sultry rays of moonlight washed the balcony in a passionate crimson, and the reds of blood grew redder.

“I’ve just remembered a little rhyme somebody told me a long time ago, back before I left my old life behind. Would you like to hear it? I haven’t been able to call to mind the ending in a mortal age.” The woman, balanced precariously on the parapet, was silent at last. Her vacant eyes stared back into mine, and it would be difficult to say whose gaze held less humanity.

“Steel to cut, flesh to split, wicked thirst and appetite. Keep your silver, sermons, fire, and hope the night will never bite.” She fell back into the void somewhere between the first and the second verse, but even with all of my magnanimity, I had in fact committed a small injustice. A pittance really. I lied about having remembered the rhyme, and I’m not even certain how many verses there are.

Afterward, in the courtyard I drank from the flagstones as a parched man inches from death. The water, such as it was, reflected cold reddish hues where it pooled in places. The blood, such as it was, burned like fire when it ran down my throat.

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Hidden 2 yrs ago Post by Frizan
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Frizan Free From This Backwater Hellsite

Contest Mod Seen 18 hrs ago

Winner of RPGC #24: Tactical Espionage Action



The Army Destroyer by @Calle


Brown and beige tents were put up in neat rows spiralling away from the big tents in the centre. Soldiers wearing simple bronze chainmail over red leather worked hard to get the camp set up before dusk would settle and lead the way for the evening to come. The air was filled with the smell of moist dirt, sweat and oil; and the sound of talking, shouting and grinding of blades being sharpened.

A soldier walked through the camp, smiling to greetings, saluting superiors. He tried to act naturally, casually, and dropped a bag behind a tent. Without pausing he went in a new direction, his fingers stroking the wood of the handheld crossbow he kept under his cloak. Sure, these people had their Army Destroyer, but his people had been able to downsize crossbows to a more manageable size, without sacrificing a lot of piercing power or range.

His eyes took in the metal-and-wooden structure that was their secret weapon: a moving catapult that was pretty damn accurate and fired big rocks, flaming coal, and flasks of oil at the same time. It was certainly capable of doing a lot of damage, but it wasn’t in the same league as the City Destroyers the dwarves had used during the last war.
The Army Destroyer moved slowly, but surely. It was pulled by oxen, but a set of gears made it easier for the animals to pull it. Another thing left behind from the war against the dwarves, who had invented those. Their machines had run on coal and water and hadn’t needed any animals for pulling. That was something humans hadn’t been able to replicate.

Around him soldiers were talking amongst themselves and he listened to the bits and pieces of the stories and complaint, but his attention was focussed on the moving machine. They had just finished making camp and the Army Destroyer was on its way to the designated location. Steve smiled and nodded to one of the enemy soldiers as he passed him, so far no-one had seen through his disguise. The enemy army was large enough for soldiers to know their own unit by name, the closest units by face and some by name, and the rest, well, it was good everyone wore the same uniform. He noticed how some had removed their chainmail, while others kept it on. And aside from those who had to patrol, most seemed to relax and take their time to clean or repair their armour or weapons.

“Hey, from what unit are you?” someone asked.

Steve turned to face him, taking in the scarcely decorated chainmain and clean leather pants. This man hadn’t been marching. He saluted the officer. “Twenty-four blue, sir,” he said.

“And what are you doing here?”

“Delivering a message to the legas of green ten, sir.” He showed the man a closed letter with the name of the legas on it.

The officer subjected him to a scrutinizing look and after a moment held out his hand. “I will take it, report back to your legas.”

“Yes sir.” Steve turned around and walked back, but when he was certain the man wasn’t looking he snuck between some tents and quickly went back in the direction he had been going in before. That was the only letter he had; it was best to avoid being stopped by anyone else. He moved quicker now, he needed to do this before the Army Destroyer would reach its place and come to a halt. He looked at the machine that towered over everything else, still moving steadily.

Only special troops were allowed near the Army Destroyer, but that didn’t matter. His goal was unguarded. He reached the tree closest to the machine and climbed in.

“What are you doing?” one of the enemy soldiers asked.

“Just getting a good view,” Steve replied as he pulled out his crossbow.

“What is that?”

Steve didn’t answer and took aim. There were two confirmed weaknesses. One only worked if the enemy would approach them on the battlefield, but the other was within range. As someone shouted “Hey, stop!” below him, he fired an iron dart. It pierced the air and buried itself in the gears that allowed the machine to move. The gears came to a grinding halt while the gears on the other side still moved, causing the large weapon to turn. For a moment it seemed the large machine would topple, but the drivers managed to stop the oxen in time.

Too bad.

Two hands grabbed his legs and Steve smashed the crossbow against the tree, to make sure the enemy wouldn’t get their hands on his weapon. He didn’t have any more darts with him anyway, he knew before coming here there would be enough time for just one shot.
They dragged Steve to a tent and pushed him against a pole. Steve coughed as the blow forced the air from his lungs and took in a deep breath as the soldiers tied his hands behind the pole with a rough rope.

The heavy fabric of the tent let very little light in. It took a moment before Steve’s eyes adjusted to the darkness around him. There were very few items here. A table and a chair at one side, a crate filled with ropes. And three poles, one of which was still empty. His eyes rested on the other prisoner in the tent. They looked at each other but didn’t speak.

***

“Grand commander Bendul,” a man barked as he entered the tent. Judging by the ornaments on his uniform he was a high-ranking officer. Steve silently observed him while he addressed the other prisoner. There was some grey in his black hair and despite the evidence of a good life around his abdomen he seemed to be in good shape. “Is this one of your men?”

“I don’t know all soldiers by face,” Bendul began, but was interrupted by Steve.

“I am. And you must be marshal Doruk.”

The marshal turned to him. “Did you really think that little stunt of you would stop us?”

“It should delay you,” Steve replied, his voice calm and he smiled at the man. “But, to be honest, that was just a message from first major commander Andrus. A warning.”

“Andrus,” Doruk grumbled. “I’ll have his head on a stake.”

“He said that you would say that, and if you would then I had to tell you that his left side is his best side. And that if you would place his head so that the sun is always on the left, he’d make a stunning ornament.”

The grand commander groaned, and the face of the marshal turned red. “I will put his head anyway I want to!” he bellowed, turning around and stomping out of the tent.

“Was that why he sent you?” Bendul asked. “So that you could taunt Doruk in his place?”

“No, sir. I came here to rescue you.”

Bendul let out an amused sound. “That’s not really going according to plan, is it?”

“To be honest, sir,” Steve said, lowering his voice to a whisper as he started wriggling and turning his wrists and plucking the rope with his fingers, “after studying the knots they use a lot, Trevor tied me up with a knot they use most frequent and left food with me, telling me that if I was hungry I had to get it myself. It took me a day, but I found a way to untie myself. Then of course I had to do it again, but faster. Then another knot…”

“That sounds like Trevor,” Bendul sighed. “If he’d still be an officer I would have demoted him for that stunt.”

“But he’s not, and that’s probably why the first major commander requested his assistance. The first major commander didn’t know what Trevor did though.”

“Of course,” Bendul said, but they both knew Andrus knew exactly what Trevor had done.

The ropes fell to the ground. “Maybe it is unethical to tie one of your own up and withhold food from them,” Steve went to the grand commander to untie him, “but it worked.”

Bendul decided to let the matter rest, he would pick it up with Trevor personally when he would be back at their side. “I suppose you have a plan to get us out of here too.”

“Yes, sir.” Steve walked to the back of the tent and lay down on the ground. He lifted the fabric and peered through the opening. Three set of boots marched on the other side of the tent and he waited until they were gone. As far as he could see there weren’t any boots or shadows of people within eye range and he grabbed the bag he had dropped there earlier, pulling it into the tent.

“Missionary cloaks,” he said as he opened the pack. “And two daggers.”

Bendul took the green cloak made of plants and feather and put it on. After he pulled the hood over his head, he turned to Steve who also had the cloak on. “Lead the way.”

Pulling up the hood, Steve opened the tent and stepped outside. When he saw a couple of soldiers he quickly made the blessing symbol with his hand and waited for the grand commander to join him. Together they walked through the camp, their hands clasped as all missionaries seemed to do, their eyes cast to the ground. They managed to walk through most of the camp, giving blessings to those who requested them, but they were stopped by a soldier.

“Missionaries aren’t supposed to be in this part of the camp,” he told them.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Steve said, his hand disappeared in the cloak and his fingers wrapped around the handle of his dagger.

“Show your hands,” the soldier said, putting his own hand on his sword.

With a swift movement Steve drew the blade and lashed out, but the soldier evaded it. Before he could shout for help, Bendul grabbed him and slit his throat from behind. The man grabbed his throat, blood oozing through his fingers, and Steve started to pull him between the tents.

"Hey, you two!”

“Damn,” Steve muttered, dropping the dying soldier. “This way, sir!” He started running through the camp, followed closely by Bendul. He pulled down a stack of crates, dove between some tents and rushed into one of them. Quickly he removed the cloak, pushed it in an open barrel, and grabbed another bag as Bendul removed his cloak too. They ran out the other side, Bendul just a step behind him, and sprinted through the camp, diving into another tent and went for the two soldiers who were drinking beer. Being caught by surprise they couldn’t grab their weapons or shout for help before they were overpowered by the two soldiers. With their daggers they stabbed the soldiers as quickly and silently as they could. Blood mixed with the spilled beer, creating a brown puddle and leaving a strong sour and metallic scent.

Steve panted and gave the bag to Bendul, who opened it and pulled out red fabric. “Enemy uniform. Quick.”

They both cleaned their hands and Steve removed his chainmail while Bendul changed in the red uniform. It was good the blood barely showed on his leather armour; Steve didn’t want to explain how it got there. There were orders being shouted on the other side of the tent and Steve listened to what was going on there.

“You were prepared,” Bendul stated.

“I prepared a few things, yes.”

When Bendul was ready they left the tent, carefully closing the flap so the dead soldiers wouldn’t be noticed instantly. Steve looked at a few soldiers who were searching for them, making sure to hide his worry deep inside and keep a more casual pose, as if he belonged here.

“You two,” one of them said, stepping closer to them. “Did you see any missionaries?”

“I think two went that way,” Steve said, pointing to the north. “Why?”

“They killed one of our men.”

“Quick then!” Steve started running in the direction he had pointed to. “They can’t be far!”

Together with Bendul and a handful of enemy soldiers, Steve lead the search for the two missionaries. They looked in tents and behind barrels, but to no avail. At one of the junctions Steve stopped and turned to the soldiers. “You guys go left, we’ll go right.”

The enemy soldiers nodded and ran to the left. Steve quickly turned right and together with Bendul ran through the camp.

“What’s up?” someone asked.

“Two missionaries killed soldiers!” Steve explained. “We’re looking for them. We must bring all the missionaries to the main tent and confirm their identities. Help us do that.”

The soldiers complied and relayed the orders to other soldiers they came across. Steve watched them disperse and turned to Bendul. “This way, sir.”

They reached the outskirts of the camp and when one of the guards asked what they were doing here, Steve told them they were send on a mission by legas Uli. He wanted to drink tea again. The guard rolled his eyes and with a gesture of his head allowed them to leave the camp. The tea obsession of Uli was well known among the soldiers, Steve had heard a few things about that during his exploration of the camp when the soldiers were still putting it up.

Once they were far enough from the camp, Bendul turned to Steve. “Did you plan for transportation?”

“At the river.”

“And what are the current strategies for the upcoming battle?”

"The first major commander decided that the strategy we used against the City Destroyers will work just as fine now.”

“So, he’s letting his men dig really big holes,” Bendul concluded, using the exact words Andrus had once used when he had proposed the idea for the first time.

“Yes sir, we are preparing trenches.”

Bendul showed his approval by nodding. “Let’s make haste, we have to be a good distance away before they find the missionary cloaks in the barrel and find out two soldiers left the camp.”

Together they started running to the river.

Hidden 11 mos ago Post by Calle
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Calle Rainbow Writer

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Winner of RPGC #25: I Can Show You The World



untitled story by @Candlelitsoul


Streaks of red lit the night sky, crowds of people thronging the city streets in costumes, both ancient and modern, to partake in the yearly celebration. Torches and bonfires danced in the cool winds, sending orange sparks skyward where they disappeared by the light of the full moon. Music of old graced the proceedings, bringing a sense community and spiritualism on the heels of pride and family. In this time, no one was immune to the charms that Scotland portrayed. Tourists and natives shared stories of the past, memories of loved ones near and far, and sent love to the afterlife for those watching over. On this night, when the veil was thin, souls crossed the threshold to join the gala and revel in the freedom the earthly plane provided.

Scattered through the town, bands played songs of their own composing as tributes to their ancestors. Street vendors cooked and sold delicious foods meant for this celebration; Boxty, and Fairy Spice Cakes, Colcannon, Golden Herb Rolls, and pumpkin breads, coupled with bitter ales, spiced teas, and wines specially brewed after harvest. Customary merchants sold incenses of cinnamon, dragon's blood, and sage; loose and in sachets to carry as you wandered, as well as masks and bags to stock up on the various treats. Traditional items included altar kits to pay homage to family, symbols painted on wooden discs, wands, straw men, and remembrance cookies, each shaped like a miniature person. These could be eaten or placed around a ceremonial bonfire as an offering to the departed.

Processions wound through every cobbled street in the capitol city of Edinburgh, 414 miles from London. The stone buildings danced in the fire light, swaying as the holders walked, shuffled, or danced in time to the music, each clad in their own variant of deity or creature; bodies painted to seem otherworldly, wearing clothes of their ancestors, goddesses with towering tiaras and headdresses, gods with painted symbols, while most adorned masks and simple clothing to stave off the cold. Children, it seemed, were both spectator and participant, connecting with their ancient roots, and enjoying the lively atmosphere. Generations of all walked this solemn night and continued the practices that had once been snuffed by religious wars.

They had sought to crush the tradition, but it had become so much more.

Leaning against the pillar of St. Giles Cathedral, dark eyes watched the procession in silence, staring at each participant with wonder and pride. Another year gone by and people still flocked to the old ways; fires, tunes, gaiety, and comradery that seemed sorely lacking in today's age. Complete strangers honored the ancestors of old and made offerings at each stop so the dead could roam easily. Through the ram mask and headdress, the scene was like a theater; all the players were precisely where they needed to be, with new ones joining every hour, though not to be seen by those still walking the mortal plane. As she pushed from its safe point and took the stairs back to the streets, the hoodie/cloak wafted in the breeze and the feeling of happiness rushed through the ethereal form; it was good to be home.

This vacation came once a year, and it was a chance Andras could never miss. Each time she visited, humanity was one step ahead, and new fashions came into being; women wearing pants instead of gowns, mingling as equals, cars to replace horse travel and best of all, connecting through handheld devices to share the spirit of the season with those abroad. It was strange, the blueish glow coming from a simple black device, but it brought them joy. In the realm beyond, they had nothing as divine, though powers still outstripped their primitive technology.

As a Psychopomp, she was able to step through the veil and be at a person's side as the last breaths were taken. She'd seen the most beautiful sunsets on every continent, heard the outcries of loved ones left behind in all languages, and never had to wait for transport. Yet, there was nothing like that special link; the ability to instant send and receive such messages of people you wished to hear from, or capture, in complete essence, the majesty of the natural world. Civilizations had come and gone, and now, only existed as photos in her memory. To be able to share that… Such gift was priceless, and they would never know it until it was gone. Though, in their defense, their moments would forever be cemented on their individual pages and websites as reminders for their future families.

If they knew, could only see, the faces that stood beside them now. Would they be so apt to hide their identity and walk the grounds for trinkets and distractions? Grandparents and parents, siblings, cousins, children, and fallen friends, roamed mere steps behind their lineage and talked among themselves in states of pride or sorrow. The gray specters nearly gleamed in the dancing lights, the veil having broken hours before, and it was heartwarming to witness the generations come together and find the comfort they'd been denied. If only for this short time, the world had been righted, and she could revel in the normalcy of being.

Outside of the bright lights and orderly chaos, throngs of living and dead wound their way across dirt roads to the Calton hillsides where another show was taking place. Set in an almost Grecian temple, steeped in tradition and lore, an intense standoff between the Summer and Winter Kings saw characters in bright red face those in white. Spectating this battle, the Hag Goddess Cailleach, keeps her gaze sharp, but fair. As the tale unfolds, it will be her that decides the fate of the kings and brings in the change of season. The woman, grey haired and aged, had always been revered for her judgement and wise action, and this night saw no change.

Music and dance surrounding a large bonfire lend their own atmosphere and feeling to the night. Once upon a time, this performance was the main event of the season and townsfolk far and wide came on foot and horseback to partake in the joy. Homebrewed cider was passed between families and they'd spend the time following in reverence to their ancestors. Though most chose to ignore this, the cemetery they'd passed had been filled with altars and smaller parties and they chatted amiably of times past.

How she hated to see this come to an end. The ones who were gifted and could discern the silver shimmers in the darkness had cause to shed tears and stay in these hallowed sections until the daylight broke the veil to renewed life. It was their one night, a last chance, perhaps, to say what you'd missed in their life and find the peace ones heart so desperately needed. After all, she'd stayed at the bedsides of these individuals as they drew their last and watched the pain the ones behind suffered. The cries were always heart wrenching, but it was only for a time. Eventually they'd move far enough on to continue living, but their minds were forever burned with the memories. How short a time it was until they were reunited and the smiles reigned as they cross the bridge to their loved ones waiting arms. She was both fortunate and not to watch the cycle; she was the Ferrier for anguish and joy. Her consolation was the isolation from personal experience and she stayed forever thankful.

As dawn came to peak over the horizon, Andras slid the mask to rest on her head and opened the veil to the other side. The translucent beings said their goodbyes to the mortal coil and stepped back to their everlasting heaven. Another year come and gone, but there was now tranquility. Homage had been paid, fears laid to rest, and the sides pressed on. They'd take this knowledge and bide for next Samhain.

For herself, it was a return to her labor; shepherding new souls, and to repeat the ceaseless dance that had been bestowed at time's creation. She'd walk the lines of life and death as a goddess to some and a devil to others, but forever a goddess in her own right.
Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Calle
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Calle Rainbow Writer

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Winner of RPGC #26: All that glitters belongs to me



The Dowry of Böðvildr by @Kassarock


I awake to the pain of your absence in my bed, that cold and empty space beside me that should be warm to the touch with you. Moonlight spills in from the open window, the sill is white with snowfall and bright beneath its silver rays. I hear the fluttering of wings and my heart surges with joy. But you do not come, just a nightjar searching for milk to suckle. It knows... I breath to myself before it takes flight and disappears into the night once more.

My hand reaches down beneath the coverlet and traces the curve of my belly, the swelling sign of the love that we had once shared. I feel our child press against my skin, reaching out to me, reaching out to grasp the golden ring that you had set upon my finger. I know he shall be strong and quick and clever like you, though thinking of who he shall be makes me weep, for I also know my father shall take him away from me even after I have already lost you.

I am discarded by him. I am discarded by you. My sorrow is only eclipsed by my hatred.

My consciousness climbs out from the languid pit of despair I have wallowed in since you tore our world apart. Why should I linger here after all that has been done to me? Why should I accept the fate laid out to me? I am the heir of Níðuðr the cruel and I shall not be subject to another man. I make my decision, it shall be tonight. Tonight I shall claim the dowry my father has laid out for my husband to be.

I rise from the bed and stretch the last of my sleep away. I do not pick up the mourning rags hanging from the back of the chair by dressing table. Like a sleepwalker still in a dream I walk naked to the door and pull it open. Dark tresses sway against my milk white body, I feel our child kick inside of me, he already knows that I am about to do.

The hallway outside is dark and empty. My father's guests and servants all sleep. His guards keep their wary watches outside to study the sky with fear, watching for you, they will not see me stir from my bed. Silently I pace the shadowed stone halls, searching for the place where my father stores the treasure you made him. It is hidden in the farthest reaches of his palace, well away from the rest of his gold, for he cannot bear to look upon and my mother could not bear to part from them. I know the way already. I go there to look upon the things you made. Sometimes I go there to speak my brothers.

The stone floor is like ice and my bare feet grow chilled against it, but I do not stop. Through the half closed doors I hear the snores of the suitors come to claim me as their damaged prize. I let them sleep on, blissfully unaware of me, the ghost that stalks King Níðuðr's halls tonight. It gets colder and colder as I leave the last of the warm hearths behind until I finally stand before it, the mean stone cell where my brothers sleep amongst gold.

The door is not locked, all except my suitors know the secret of the treasure, and who would dare steal treasure with secrets such as these? No man would want such cursed things in his home. But I am no man, and they are my kin. They lie there, my brothers, in a chest of oak and iron. I kneel before them and lift the lid, feeling our child stir once more as my thighs press against my abdomen. I reach into the chest and draw them out one by one, my brothers and all the precious things that you made for us, made for me.

I pick up your goblets first. Silver set wide shallow bowls I had once seen my father and mother drink wine as red as blood from. Neither was regular or perfect in their design, but instead their contours followed a natural, almost organic, flow. Their stands were splays of silver struts that grasped around the cup, you had them bound together with silver wire, before having spread open again to form feet. Metacarpals and metatarsals cradling craniums, all used in your savage and beautiful craft. My brothers bones made beautiful.

Next I take out your necklace. I stare at them as they stare back at me. Golden chains linking four sapphire blue globes. Your art and magic turning my brothers' eyes to crystal stone. My mother had wept when you had told her what she had been wearing. I do not weep now as I take your gift and drip their sightless, tear-less, eyes around my pale neck.

Then there is brooch that you made for me. I am silent while I consider it, conglomeration of gilded ivory plucked from the mouths of princes. These teeth would never play with cheek and jaw and tongue to form tender loving words ever again. They would hold their silence forevermore - I do not mind, even silent they are my family still. I go to pin the brooch to my clothes before I realise I wear none. I drive the pin through the flesh of my breast instead and let my blood tickle down onto the other relics I have gathered against my skin.

He reaches out for them. Your son reaches out for them.

My brothers. My dowry.

His uncles. His inheritance.

But there is one last thing at the bottom of the chest. One last treasure you had created for us. The magic golden sword you had used as your lure to draw my brothers to your smithy on your lonely prison isle where you had suffered so long, tendons cut and bound to earth. I draw the sword from its sheath, feel the weight in my hand, touch one edge of its shining blade to a finger and watch as the blood wells up. This is your twisted Weregild. Blood for gold and gold for blood, shed in its own creation.

I shall make one more visit tonight.

I gather them up, the remnants of my family that you left me. The goblets I cradled against my side, the necklace I draped around my throat, the broach that pierced my breast still, and the sword, the sword I clutch in my fist. I take your final gift with me under my skin, hidden inside my womb.

Back out through the door, I retrace my steps in the pre-dawn dark. I know the door I seek now. My father's door, Níðuðr's door. I know that this will be your final revenge upon him, it shall completes your ruin of our family, but I do not care - I will not let him take my brothers and my son away from me.

Dripping in your gaudy treasures I push open the door his chamber and approach his sleeping form. I raise the sword above my head and bring it down into his belly. The bed fills with his blood. I have killed my King, killed my father. I crawl into the bed and lie next to him among the butchered and brutalised remains of our kin. This is the craft that you and I have worked together. This and the son I carry within me. Viðga I shall call him.

When I finally sleep again, I dream that you are there with me. You have finally come, your wings of beaten bronze holding you aloft at the tower window, your eyes like fire gazing into my soul. Mighty smith, maker and breaker of all things. I call out your name:

"Völundr!"

And then I awake.
Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Calle
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Winner of RPGC #27: To the sky!



The First and the Last by @Anza


Somewhere high above, there lies a shadow upon the wind. The bird feels it in the brittle hollows of her bones, in the faint chill that sweeps across her tail-feathers, and in the ancient, prickling certainty that something is watching with malign intent. She has not seen it, she cannot be sure of it, but still she knows that it is there.

Her small, dark eyes twitch at erratic intervals, sweeping the surrounding skies. A slight change in the sun’s light, or a faint blur of movement off in the distance; these might be the only warnings she receives before clawed death comes hurtling at her out of the blue. A predator’s eyes are better than hers, sharper. They’ll have seen her long before she ever sees them.

She flies onward, time inching forward moment by straining moment. A cold breeze cuts across her path, and she turns to greet it, riding the cool air and taking its speed for herself. Gravity is ever-present, its greedy pull faintly weighing on her even as she soars, but her wings are firm and wide, her flight muscles full of strength. The earth has long since lost its power over her.

So she does not fear the fall. She knows that true danger lies overhead, in the fleeting black W-shape now glimpsed at the corner of her vision. Her wings begin to beat with all their strength, her heart thundering with fear; she has less than a second to move before it is upon her.

***


Sometime long ago, she had crawled up onto the edge of her nest, staring down at the mossy expanse stretching far away below.

Gravity waited there, jaws spread wide and waiting. One wrong step, and its tongue would snap out and wrap around her, drag her from her perch and dash her fragile body against the hard, flat earth. The young bird’s wings ruffled nervously, her head shrinking back into its mane of downy feathers. This did not seem like a good place to be. Better to retreat, to squeeze herself back into the center of the nest with her siblings and wait for her parents to return with food.

Yet something, an inexorable force at the back of her mind, kept calling her here. That great open space, the air on every side, whispered in her head with a temptation as irresistible as hunger itself. Pushing against her wariness and self-preservation, she stepped a little closer to the edge, wings slowly unfolding and stretching out wide to either side of her. She flapped them, just a little. It was a good feeling.

Her mother alighted on a nearby branch and tilted her head to one side, cooing encouragement at her daughter’s progress.

And for just a moment, the young bird chose to look back, wondering if her parent had brought a meal to reward her bravery. Just a moment, but it was enough: her balance faltered, her feet lost their grip, and she tipped forwards off the nest and into the empty air.

Panic clenched her like a vise. Her wings fluttered desperately, churning up winds all around her and turning a gentle fall into a wild tumble, spinning her every which way—

To no avail. Gravity’s jaws snapped shut around her, and she crashed to the ground.

***


Somewhere high above, a shadow strikes in the space of an eyeblink. A monster, a thunderbolt, a black blur moving faster than she can see, open talons punching through the sky just inches away from her wingtip. She is sent flying, tumbling, cast aside by the wake of something much larger and faster than she.

The bird is no longer a novice, however. Her wings move with a deft and easy power now, overwhelming the windy currents around her and quickly reorienting into a stable flight.

She can see the shadow below her, already leveling out of its barely-missed dive and climbing fast in pursuit. A young grey falcon, sleek and swift and strong. It closes in with every passing breath, the long strokes of its wings seeming effortless in comparison with her own desperate flight.

She flies on nonetheless, her long adult feathers giving her a lift and velocity she could only have dreamed of in her youth. Her heart is a mad rhythm of fear, her muscles burning bright with the force of her exertions, and yet it’s still not enough, not even close. The space between them narrows, gleaming talons drawing ever nearer to their prize, and she has no weapon with which to defend herself, no hope left but for one final reckless maneuver.

She pulls her wings in tight against her body, and lets gravity snatch her away.

***


Sometime long ago, she had struggled upright, shrugging off specks of dirt and leaves to look out all around her. Somehow, in spite of everything, she was alive. A little bruised, a little dazed, but not hurt so badly that she couldn’t move around. Lifting her head, she beheld the world from a new perspective: the bark-laden pillars of creation now stretched upward rather than down, and the floor around her seemed to extend on and on into an unseen distance. She could walk as far as she wanted, she now realized, and never have to worry about falling again.

But walking had never been what enticed her so.

Her old nest hung far overhead, so tiny from here. On an overlooking branch, her mother chirped appreciatively down at her. She took a few steps, gathering courage, and then unfolded her wings once more.

A hop, a flutter, and a short glide that soon came to a sudden and ungainly halt. This time, however, there was barely any distance to fall, and gravity brought her down with a calm and gentle embrace. She tried again, flapping hard and fast without quite lifting off, testing the power and limits of her wings.

And then she leaped up off the ground, and did not come down.

It would only be a few seconds before she landed again, still weak and uncertain in her own ability. For that tiny sliver of time, however, the air belonged to her. She could still feel the earth’s pull, tugging away at her, but now it was no more than a simple constant, to be obeyed only at her own pleasure. She swam into the sky, up and up toward the glimpses of blue peeking through the canopy above, and understood then in her tiny brain that an infinity beyond all imagining lay open and waiting before her.

***


There is no room for error, no path she can take that will allow her to escape. The open sky closes around her, cold laws of physics binding and sealing her fate.

She dives straight down, plunging fast as the wind itself in a final moment of defiant grace. The sky is hers, the fall is hers, her wings and weight and streamlined feathers bending the air in perfect synchrony to carry her anywhere and everywhere in the world.

The shadow follows, stronger and faster and heavier. Its talons close around her like a cage, and with a quiet snap and crack she is reduced to a small and ugly thing, feathers sticking out at ungainly angles from a mass of broken flesh and bone. Her mind fades slowly into cold and darkness, her last thoughts of infinity ticking down to a simple, empty zero.

The falcon spreads its wings, levels out, and glides away into the open blue.

-end-
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Calle
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Calle Rainbow Writer

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The First and the Last by @Salenea


There she was.

Tristan looked at the woman sitting on the steps of the building across the street. The busy four-lane road congested with cars and the equally busy pavement didn’t make a great setting to lunch in but she made it all worthwhile. Just like him, she was sitting on the steps of the building she presumably worked in. Reading a book outside in the nice spring weather while having lunch.

He first noticed her a month ago. He had been eating and reading outside for a couple of days in the early spring when he looked up once and saw her sitting there. His heart skipped a beat before making up for the lost beat by going in overdrive. His tongue had dried and he was just baffled. He must have stared at her for minutes before he realised he was staring. She hadn’t noticed, he thought, but he had blushed nevertheless.
The next weeks, whenever it was dry outside, he kept having his lunch on the steps of the building and, much to his delight, so was she.

*

There he was.

Sarah glanced towards the building across the street. Yes, he was looking in her direction again. Her lips curled upwards in a slight smile. She could see he was holding a book and it was obvious he was having lunch outside just like she was. She was pretty sure he worked in the research facility across the street. She didn’t really like the noise from the traffic but everything was better than to sit in in the library’s canteen listening to the endless chatter of her co-workers.

She had first noticed him a week or two again. With the distance between them, it was difficult to make out much but she almost felt him looking at her. Much to her amusement, every time when she locked eyes with him he diverted his back to his book real quick.
Every day, when she was having lunch on the steps, she tried to look as stealthy as possible in his direction and had noticed he sat there every day if the weather allowed. Sarah lifted her head and looked at the man directly for a few seconds before she got up and entered the library again.

*

She looked at him.

He almost choked on air when his heart rate went up. A blush crept up and his eyes shifted in every direction for a few seconds. When he noticed she got up and went back inside he sighed and also gathered his things and entered the research facility.

He walked back to his floor, put on his lab coat back on and went through all mandatory proceedings before sitting in his chair with a sigh.

His co-worker and friend nudged him. “And? Was she there?”

Tristan nodded and sighed again.

“You should walk up to her and ask her out,” he said. “It’s obvious you like her, take the chance.”

Tristan glanced at Duncan, “I-I know…” He took a breath. “I-I j-just don’t k-know how or w-what to say.”

Duncan grinned after he waited patiently for Tristan to finish the sentence, “How about ‘you’re the most beautiful woman I ever saw, you are a dream come through, an Angel descended from Heaven, would you do me the honour of going out with me?’ That usually works.

Tristan shook his head. “M-maybe for you. I-I’m just not that eloquent.”

Duncan chuckled, “And yet you know words like eloquent. If you can think them, you can say them. You’re a smart guy, probably the smartest in the entire building.”

Tristan nodded, feeling more and more uncomfortable. Luckily Duncan noticed and dropped the subject. Again.

*

He was also going inside.

Sarah put her hand against the door but waited with entering until the man from across the street had entered his building. She put her things away and walked to the stack of books that needed to be put back.

Unfortunately, her co-worker was already standing next to the cart looking expectantly at her.
“And?” she asked, “was he there again?”

Sarah sighed irritated and nodded. Christine had the ability to not notice any irritation, hints to go away or any sign Sarah would much rather not talk. Christine had deemed them friends and therefore friends they were.

Christine looked through the windows at the research facility. “And?” she asked impatiently.

“And what?” Sarah asked. “I had lunch, I assume he had too, I read my book. Nothing happened,” she said while she rolled her cart and continued her work.

Christine looked at Sarah and shook her head. “Oh Sarah, we don’t live in some costume drama or regency era book. You know in this modern time it is allowed for women to walk up to the guy they fancy and ask them out. You don’t have to wait for men. Just cross the street, wrap your arms around him, kiss him like you two are the only souls on the planet and ask him out.”

Sarah groaned. “Christine, please. I’m definitely not doing that. The guy already doesn’t know where to look when I look at him, what do you think will happen if I march up to him and declare my interest in him?”

Christine’s eyes started to sparkle amused. “So you are interested in him, good to know,” she said. Christine turned triumphantly around and walked to her check-out desk.

Sarah felt like banging her head against the wall.

*

After work, Tristan waited for the bus.

His bus would stop at the library bus stop.
He looked at his watch and his eyes drifted to the underground parking exit nearby. Any minute she would emerge from there on her bicycle.
Standing even more upright when he saw her coming from the exit. He looked at her when she passed him, he started to raise his hand to greet her but decided otherwise halfway and let his arm drop again.

He stared in the direction she went and jumped back startled when the bus stopped in front of him and opened the doors to welcome the tired people and help them on their way home.
Tristan took his usual spot near the door in the middle, next to the window. The first street they crossed he could just make out a flash of her dancing hairs in the distance to his right.

*

After work, Sarah went to the underground parking to get her bicycle. She unlocked it and walked to the exit.
In the shade, she could see him standing at the bus stop. But he couldn’t see her, a precious minute in which she could observe him from closer.
She knew which bus stopped there, when it stopped there and what it’s route was. She had studied it and learned it by heart.

She mounted her bicycle and cycled out of the underground parking. She noticed a weird hand movement in the corner of her eye and wondered what it could be.
Sarah looked over her shoulder when the bus stopped and he entered it before turning right.

*

The next week was rainy and Tristan had to eat inside. He looked longingly to the library more than once.

One day he had an hour of free time because his project was finished but his supervisor needed to check it once more. His friend had urged him to go to the library, even if it wasn’t to talk to her he could always lend a book or do some research there. Maybe he could catch a glimpse of her.

It took Tristan fifteen minutes to decide, ten to cross the street and five to get enough courage to even enter the building.

Christine looked up when he asked her stammering if he could see some research papers.
When she learned he worked across the street she smiled knowingly and would have fetched Sarah right then and there if she wouldn’t have other people to help, but for now, she could only give him directions.

Tristan looked around more than he was looking for whatever he asked for, he couldn’t even remember what he had asked the lady behind the desk.
He returned to his work after walking around aimlessly and gave a brief report to Duncan, who was trying to get every bit of information out of him.

*

Sarah detested the rain, she couldn’t read with her co-workers constantly talking to her. She couldn’t sit outside and see whoever might also be outside.

One day she was working on the floor upstairs and, when she looked through the window, saw him standing outside his building, crossing the street and linger in front of the library.
she felt a peculiar shortness of breath and was sure her heart beat faster for a couple of minutes. He was here!

She slowly walked to a window where she could see the ground floor entrance and Christine’s desk. She followed him as well as she could with her eyes when he was walking all around the building, stepping back if his gaze lifted upwards.

When he left again she walked downstairs to get the inevitable over and done with.
Christine looked at Sarah. Letting her know her mystery guy had been here and that he looked very cute but awfully shy. Couldn’t utter more than two words properly, the poor guy.
Sarah listened silently and when Christine examined her friend she was very sure she could see a faint blush and her friend definitely seemed more out of breath than the exercise of walking down the stairs could explain.

*

“I’m going to do it.”

Duncan looked up from his work and lifted his eyebrows. “You are doing what Tristan?” he asked.

Tristan swallowed hard. “I’m going to do it,” he repeated a bit less sure of himself.

Duncan grinned and raised his thumb up. “You got this Tristan,” he said encouragingly.

Tristan grabbed his book, took a sip of water but left his lunch as he was too nervous to eat. He walked outside and almost ran back in but Duncan had followed him down and motioned him to go forward.

Slowly but steady he made his way across the street, toward the steps leading to the library and to the woman of his dreams.

*

He was coming.

Sarah looked up from her book and her jaw almost fell. He was walking down the steps of the research facility, crossing the street and walking towards the library.

Sarah swallowed as she put down her book and reached for her water bottle to take a sip.
She tried to keep her composure but her rapid pulse was visible in her neck and a slight colour on her cheeks gave a hint of her turmoil inside.
A quick glance over her shoulder learned that Christine saw it too and put her two thumbs up grinning as big as she could.

*

He stopped a few steps away and tried to find the right words. He looked in her eyes and forgot everything he had been rehearsing while coming over. Stuttering even worse then usually he managed to press out a greeting.

*

She was glad about the hesitation of the other and his looking for words gave her time to recollect herself and look at him from up close. When he looked in her eyes she felt a strange sensation in her stomach. She hoped she looked calm on the outside but feared she failed that enormously.

*

Tristan cleared his throat. She looked so calm and examined him quietly, his anxiety levels rose and he tried to speak a couple of times but had to break it off as he stuttered too much
“I’m Tristan and I work over there and I wanted to meet you.” he managed to push in one breath. He blushed and stared to the ground. After, which felt like hours, he heard her reply he looked up again and felt he was doing something he hardly ever did, grinning.

*

Sarah instantly fell more at ease when Tristan finally spoke. She liked the sound of his voice, didn’t mind the stammering and when he looked down she smiled.
“Nice to meet you Tristan, I’m Sarah. I work here in the library. I’ve seen you having lunch across the street.
Sarah tapped on the step beside her. “Do sit down, what have you been reading?”

*

Tristan was thankful Sarah didn’t mention the stammering and as exalted when she asked him to sit down. He was immensely grateful to start a subject they could converse about.
After talking a bit he glanced at his watch and was surprised to see that the lunch break was nearly over. “C-could we perhaps, ehm, c-continue this later today, after work p-perhaps?”
he asked, mentally crossing his fingers.

*

Sarah enjoyed their conversation and when Tristan looked at his watch Sarah examined hers and instantly her mood dropped, she didn’t want it to end now.
When Tristan asked if they could go out Sarah smiled and nodded. “I’ll meet you at the park after work,” she said, knowing the bus would pass there and it was only a slight detour for her. She got up and slowly and reluctantly she went back inside. She prepared herself mentally for the questions Christine launched at her. She turned to look at Christine when she stopped to take a breath and grinned with sparkling eyes. “I have a date.”

*

Tristan somehow managed to squeeze out a coherent reply before he walked back. It felt like he was walking on clouds. When he entered the building Duncan was still there, waiting to hear from Tristan what happened.
Tristan grinned with sparkling eyes. “I did it! And she wants to go to the park after work to continue our conversation!”
Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Calle
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The Light That Leaves No Darkness by @Lady Selune


A woman rode into the abandoned hamlet, wide-brimmed hat and upturned collar deflecting the rain away from her. She gazed up at the moon, blinking once as a droplet struck her eye, and then turned towards the church, raising the lantern she carried a little higher. The hooves of her steed carried her towards the church with ease, trotting over twigs and puddles without any annoyance in its movement. Once her beast had come to the entrance, she gave the reins a simple tug in order to halt it. Before her stood the doors of the church; once stalwart defenders to any that had needed to take refuge inside, now rotten, the corpses of trees now twice-corpses in their dissolution.

Sighing, she twisted the reins about and tied them to a post by the church, making sure her mount was securely in place before turning her attention towards the building. Reaching into a pocket, she drew out a small handful of shimmering powder, using the water that had fallen onto the stone porch to make a gritty paste, then, slowly, dragging three fingers about the destroyed entrance. Her fingers ran across hard stone and rusted iron hinges, leaving a gleaming trail behind. Once it was complete she tossed the rest of the paste against the floor, brushing any remaining flecks off on her jacket.

Then, she stepped past it, into the desecrated house of worship. The pews were set astray, the altar’s white shroud moth-eaten and crumbling. Unceremoniously wiping her boots off on the flagstones, the traveller would set the lantern down atop the old stone and take a moment to shake the rain from her hat, looking about. “I know you’re here.” Her voice was clear and level, even as her lantern-light quivered at some unseen force.

The shadows closed in around the woman. She looked up, towards the leaden windows and saw as the moonlight shrank away, to a place more deserving of it. A slight scowl would spread across her face and she turned to one of the pews, taking a seat there and leaning forward on her knees. Reaching past her jacket, she would pull a simple symbol from beneath her shirt and let it dangle free, the carved wood displaying a shape similar to a Y, the arms of which had had holes drilled through for a string to serve as a necklace.

Still, there was no response from the presence in the church. Her scowl deepening, the woman pressed her hands together and licked her lips to brush away the dryness. She began to speak, lips forming the oft-spoken words easily. “On sn-”

”Faith has no power here. Not any longer.” The voice finally growled out, and the woman knew only she heard them.

“No, but you were so stubborn with ignoring me, I thought a small prod was in order.” The frown faded in an instant, the woman instead leaning back on her hard wooden seat, nonchalantly placing her hands over her stomach.

”Awful bold for you to come here alone.” The voice was almost mocking in its tone. Let it be; she held the cards here.

“I’d think you’d be happy for the company.” She felt her back stiffen as the pew’s hardness forced it to adjust; there never was a moment of comfort for the faithful. Just as she rose to stand, the edge of the wood biting into her muscle, the voice halted her.

”It is a… Change of pace.” The statement seemed to have been given almost reluctantly, and what had once been a frown on the woman’s face was now most certainly a smug sort of smirk. ”Although still a mistake for you.”

Once he had finished, the woman would nod with satisfaction to herself. It was in the main church; not speaking from some other area of the ruined building. This building held an ossuary in its bowels; where the last preacher had hidden his profane deeds. That meant there was an entrance to it. Rising to her feet, she took measured, even steps, every now and again pausing to tap her foot against the floor to check the sound.

Eventually, after perhaps a minute of quiet searching, she found what she desired. A fake flagstone with a cleverly concealed metal ring. Once again her fingers dove into her pocket, pulling out that shimmering powder and slowly dragging another circle out around it. She could feel the presence strong over her shoulders now, as if peering down to look at what she was doing. Then, she lifted the ‘flagstone’ up with a low, dull groan, dust falling into the vacuum of light that had appeared below. Carefully now, making sure not to disturb her previous work, she would let the trapdoor rest, returning to where her lantern sat on the altar. Lifting it up, disregarding the presence in the room, she sank down, the only comfort to her the lamplight as the cold and damp pressed in around her.

It was hard to feel comfortable when dead men watched you. Every alcove; every cubby, every nook and cranny had another set of skulls, and they all seemed to be staring at her. How many generations of villagers had long since settled into the Comforting Embrace? How many hadn’t settled?

Once her head had fallen below the church, the presence vanished, replaced instead by the rank stench of decay. This was not the smell that brought carrion to feast, no; this was the scent of the last few fragments of flesh finally succumbing to the flies. She turned to look at the stairs she had descended and could only shudder when she realised that the space underneath was filled with limb-bones, lined up like so many bleached-uniform soldiers. Another step, and another, her nose carrying her forward.

Then the whispers started. They brushed past her mind like cobwebs, and past her periphery vision like the first wisps of smoke from a campfire. Five? Eight? They were moving too quickly, their surprise at a mortal too much for her to draw a bead on their numbers. Not that it mattered for their bodies would tell her that. The scent drew closer, the whispers more insistent. How long had the preacher cursed them to this existence? Every footfall echoed with her frustration; at the fact that she and her comrades had failed to do anything for these people.

Finally, she reached them. Among the neatly ordered bones, the disarray stood out almost as much as the colour. They were yellowed and covered in a film of muck; viscous and brown. “The Embrace will come.” She said the words with a distinct finality, drawing a phial of clear liquid out of her coat with a soft clink. Uncorking it, she let the unction pour out, nose crinkling at the sensation of the perfumes struggle to overpower the decay.

The true power of this was not in the smell, of course, but in the symbolism. What they had not been given in life, she would provide in death. Each of the skulls received a small amount of the liquid, spilling down their crowns and in rivulets running through their empty eye sockets and noses. She held her lantern up high, opened the glass shutters, and closed her eyes, hearing the whispers pull together, and just as the flies had flitted towards their bodies, so too did they go towards the flame. Then, with a gloved hand, she would reach for each of the skulls in turn, placing them in a neat line one after the other, brushing fingers past where eyelids had once been.

With liquid still dripping from her hand she turned towards the stairway once more. Her lantern’s light was blue-white in its intensity, burning with a radiance that surpassed the natural. Her feet carried her naturally away from their final resting place and up, towards where her business would be concluded.

She emerged into the church again, and turned towards one of the great wooden beams that held the house of worship together. Wiping her hand off against it, she would wait for the voice to return.

”Did you find them? The works of this village? The works done in my name?”

“You denied them the Comforting Embrace.” She said it in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. “So now I shall grant them freedom.” She closed the trapdoor carefully, and gave one last check to the warding circle around it. Still intact. “And I shall return you to your rightful place.” One more phial would be drawn out with her spare hand, each of the wooden beams receiving a small daub of the oily liquid.

“What you have done here will become a memory, and when I pass to the Embrace, they will trouble this world no more. Throw your form against my mind; mayhaps it’ll raise my spirits now.” There was the sound of a chain rattling as the woman drew out a far grander symbol than the one that sat around her neck. Burnished silver, beaming in the spirit-light, it rang out a clear message in this desecrated house. Step by step, the symbol jingling with each one, the woman let her lantern-flame grace each of the daubed marks on the pillars, the glowing flames leaping outwards with unusual hunger.

”You dare?!| The voice held none of the confidence it had before- now it practically screeched at her. She ignored it; it deserved none of her time. She would lift the symbol up higher, swaying it gently from side to side as she strode towards the next pillar.

”You desecrate holy ground!” The voice had damned itself with its lies. There was no holiness in this place- elsewise the presence would not be here. The first pillar’s flames had already begun to devour it, so hungry were the flames.

“You cannot escape.” Was all she would say to it as she continued. “The door is warded. The ossuary is warded, so you cannot disturb the dead further. The stones will bury you, the flames will consume you, and their fuel will escape beyond your reach.” The fangs of fire began to bite at another pillar, the old, dry wood burning without much smoke.

The voice continued to screech, wretched thing that it was, but she disregarded it. What more needed to be said? What more needed to be heard? Nothing; nothing at all. Let the fire do the rest of the talking for her. Each of the vast wooden posts would stoke the righteous light and she strode across the building’s threshold confidently. Outside was a mounted host- men and women dressed similarly to her, illuminated by the flames rising up from the rest of the building’s houses.

Wordlessly, they watched as the supernatural light faded from her lantern. Past the wards, there was nothing to keep the souls away from their most deserved enjoyment of the Embrace and they would dart away, their last mission completed.

“On snow white streams the spirits fly, towards the veil beyond the sky. Take up with you our souls to keep, lay with them in Eternal Sleep. Preserve them well throughout the night, watch over them with blessed sight.”
The host would utter the prayer in respectful murmurs, and by the time the prayer had finished and the words had been washed away by the rain, the church was fully engulfed; a holy pyre to drive out the infernal rot that had grown into the roots of the building

Untying and mounting her steed, the woman would close the shutters carefully to preserve the now-natural flame. “We carry the faith,” the man next to her would say, the light reflected in his eyes even as he urged his horse to turn, the group trotting past the burning hamlet and beyond, to the next blighted grove.

“We carry the light that leaves no darkness behind.”
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Calle
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Calle Rainbow Writer

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Winner of RPGC #30: Celestial Lights



God Is Great by @V a s h


Syria

Faariq wiped the sweat from his brow and waited. He watched patiently, moving slowly as one of his friends, Jaamil, managed to break away from an opposing player. Jaamil skillfully handled the ball, and pressed forward. After so many nights like this one, Faariq and Jaamil had come to know what the other was thinking before they acted.

The kid who was supposed to be watching Faariq had a mental lapse. It was a brief thing, where Faariq noted the boy's feet were misplaced, and the distance between himself and Faariq was too far. Faariq pounced upon the moment, and surged forward as fast as he could. He kicked up dust from the dirt beneath his feet, breathing heavily. He could hear the opposing team declare their desperate warnings.

But, it was too late. Jaamil knew what to do, and sent his pass away right where it needed to be.

Faariq received the pass, and watched the goalie. It was one on one, but Faariq had all the momentum. The ball screamed off of Faariq's kick, and it whizzed between two rusted trash cans. Game over. Goal.

Faariq and Jaamil met up together, catching their breath, but smiling. The rest of their friends joined in, slapping fives and laughing. All the boys wanted to play one more game, but their fathers who provided light in the night with their cars would not allow it. There was school tomorrow, after all. The boys did not disobey their fathers, as was God's will.

One by one, the boys went to their respective cars and left. Faariq said goodbye to Jaamil, and when he was the last boy on the dirt field he went over to the silhouette of his father lit up by the truck. Except, when he got closer, Faariq knew this man was not his father. It was his uncle.

"Uncle Kaabir?" Faariq said, feeling uncertain as he always did around his Uncle. Kaabir was a stern and quiet man, devoted to Allah in a manner that shrouded him in a cloak of intensity.

Kaabir blew out a stream of smoke, tossed his cigarette to the ground, and put it out.

When Kaabir said nothing at all, Faariq spoke once more. "Where is my dad?"

"Come." Kaabir said.

Faariq obeyed. He moved with the intention of going to the front seat of his uncle's pickup truck but Kaabir denied him this. There was another man in the front seat, a man that Faariq did not know well but had seen with Kaabir and his father in the past. His uncle pointed to the truck's bed. Faariq climbed up, full of questions that received no answers. Faariq wanted to say more, to ask more, but his father had instilled in him a strict obedience to elders, especially to him, and also to men like Kaabir.

The drive went longer than usual. Getting home was usually a journey of no longer than fifteen minutes, but an hour had passed. Faariq had no choice but to look up at the clear sky, listening to the truck's engine, and contemplating every star in the dark night above.

Where was his father? Why had his uncle not answered? Where were they going?

The silence invaded his thoughts, and turned his stomach over the hot coals of nervousness. Before Faariq could truly be overwhelmed by his fears, the truck stopped and his uncle got out. Kaabir told the other man to stay.

"Come." Kaabir said to Faariq for the second time that evening.

Faariq followed. His uncle had taken him past the edge of what Faariq knew as home. Here was pitch darkness, lit only by the truck's lights and the heavens. He continued behind his uncle's trail until Kaabir stopped well beyond their road. It was just Faariq, his uncle, and the desert wilderness around them. The vast scenery and darkness made Faariq feel alone, and his fear swelled once more before being quelled by the strength of Kaabir's voice.

"Do you know why I am here?"

Faariq wondered to himself. What did his uncle expect him to say? "No," he spoke hesitantly. Then, thinking of his father again, he tried to ask about him, but his question was cut off by the raising of Kaabir's hand.

"Do not lie to me, Faariq. You do know why I am here."

"I did not-"

"Silence, boy." Kaabir did not shout, but he spoke so firmly that Faariq dared not raise his voice again.

His uncle turned to face him, meeting his eyes. In that gaze was a power so solemn and grave that Faariq felt no choice other than to relent, making himself stare at his own feet.

"No." Kaabir said. "Look me in my eyes like a man."

Faariq continued to look at his feet, but then did as he was told.

"Good." Kaabir said after a moment of staring. "It is good for you to look a man in his eyes, nephew. Do not let me, or anyone else break your will, no matter how volatile a situation can get. You may be a boy now, but you will soon be a man." He paused. "Now, I know you lied to me. You know why you are here, because you felt it in your stomach for as long as we drove here. Am I correct?"

Faariq, unsure, but feeling as if he understood, nodded.

"Yes, but you do not yet know how to voice what you feel. This is the boy's way, but it is not good enough for the man's way. You felt fear, Faariq. Do you disagree?"

Faariq shook his head.

Kaabir nodded. "It was death, nephew. You felt the fear of death. It twisted your belly into knots. It put the entirety of the world in your chest. It made your heart beat heavily, and clogged your throat to the point you felt the need to scream out for release."

Faariq began to feel that same fear again. Death, cold to the touch and devoid of understanding. Death simply was, and there was no arguing with its hand. He thought of his questions. Of his father. He wanted to look away from his uncle's intense gaze, but he forced himself through his discomfort. His cheeks were hot, his heart was weighted, and his eyes felt the still unrevealed prospect of sorrow.

"Yes." Kaabir said.

It was an answer. Faariq knew what that answer was. A confirmation to his worst fear, and the realization tore away at his presentation of calm. He tried to fight against the tide of sadness, but he failed to prevent the tears from falling. Faariq attempted to choke down a sob. He failed.

Faariq expected Kaabir to remain as he always thought of him. Aloof. Distant. But, his uncle opened his arms.

"Come." Kaabir said for the third time that night, but this time he lead his nephew to his arms.

His uncle hugged him. Faariq sobbed into his uncle's chest, letting his sorrow run freely, and hotly down his cheeks. The pair stayed that way for a while. Kaabir said nothing except for the comfort and solace of a familial embrace.

When Faariq could shed no more tears, his uncle released him. Kaabir rested his hands on his nephew's shoulders. "Is it out of you?"

Faariq weakly nodded.

"I am sorry to bring you this news. But it is good you feel this way about your father. He is my brother, and I feel the same. I already miss him. It is like a hole in your heart, yes? A hole in your life?"

"Yes." Faariq said as his uncle wiped away one of his tears.

Kaabir looked away from Faariq's eyes, and aimed his sight to the skies. Faariq did the same. The world above them was alight with wonder and starlight. It was hard for Faariq to admire its beauty, and dream upon its visions like he would with his friends late into the night during the months where school was no longer in session. His pain was too fresh, and dreams felt more distant than ever.

"How," Faariq began, conjuring the strength to speak, "how did he die?"

"He died like a warrior." Kaabir said with little doubt. "He died like a man. A good man. Never let anyone else tell you otherwise. Tomorrow, tonight, it is of no matter. You may hear the papers, or the heads on the televisions speak of tragedy. They will speak of violence and terrorism. Know this, Faariq. They lie. Of our home, everyone respected your father. You have seen it for yourself, yes?"

Faariq knew this to be true. People were deferent to his father. They always spoke to him with absolute respect and admiration.

"It is the mark of a man with honor. A man of God. For only a man of God can navigate this strange world, with all its chaos, and all its cruelties. To be a man is to dedicate yourself to something beyond yourself, and your father was such a man. I want you to know that there will be many who will tear down your father's name, but they will only do so because it is the 'safe' thing to do. They do not want to create unsteady waters. They fear the waves of conflict, even when conflict is necessary."

His uncle's words gave Faariq comfort. He took solace in those words, that his father was brave, that his father was hero. A hero! He was the son of a hero! Is that not what boys dreamed of?

Kaabir pulled Faariq close, arm around his nephew, hand on his shoulder. "Look." He pointed. "Look at those stars above us. Look at that vast sky! The heavens shine! Do they not? God is good. God is great! Praise Allah, the Lord of all lords! Even now your father looks upon us. He is one of those shining stars now, a guiding light for you, for me, for all of our people, the people who choose to truly follow the path of Allah."

The passions of his uncle stirred Faariq's soul. He could see now, even on a night as dark as this that the light of the heavens were luminous. No matter how dark the shroud of this world could become, the essence of the divine still shines. His father was there, in that vast chasm of the divine unknown, where man could not tread until he stepped beyond the bounds of life. His father was there, shining, watching, a beacon for God's glory.

"God is great." Kaabir said.

Faariq wiped away the last of his tears. "God is great."
Hidden 13 days ago Post by Calle
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Calle Rainbow Writer

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Winner of RPGC #31: Amnesia



What the Heart Remembers by @Salenea


She entered a dimly lit room, filled with smoke and the smell of spilled alcohol. There were lots of people talking and laughing, arguing and boasting. It was almost too hot and way too loud. At one of the tables was her team, sitting, chatting and drinking. Living their last carefree evening they would have for a while. The time to act crept near, they had to be ready.

Cassie placed herself on an empty chair. With a gesture to a nearby waitress, she ordered a round for the table. “Somehow you guys managed to find the loudest, smelliest bar in all of Port Freedom.”

“We picked it especially for you, we knew you’d love it here.” the man beside her replied as he lifted his nearly empty glass as a greeting.

Cassie rolled her eyes and stomped his arm playfully. “Geesh, thanks Vince, you’re too kind.”

Phillip took Vince's head in a headlock and rubbed Vince’s head with his knuckles. “Squirt here has quite a taste.”

Vince wrestled free with an annoyed “hey!” and glared at Phillip.

When the waitress brought them their drinks, the two males instantly started squabbling about at whom the waitress smiled the longest.

The other female of the group shook her head. “It’s been ten years and I don’t think Vince and Phillip grew up at all. Cassie, we’ll have our hands full with them.” she sighed, “But let's give him a break, there isn’t exactly much open. Most establishments have closed since the battlefield is nearing this port. The SpellSphere is inching closer every day.”

Cassie nodded. “Quite right Erin, I think we had pretty much the same conversation back then. Including having a last drink before we set off to do our job.”

Erin smiled, ”At least Thomas was there to smash their heads together when needed. Remember…” Erin stopped mid-sentence when she noticed Cassie's face grew gloomy. She reached and took Cassie’s hand. “I’m sorry, I was reminiscing. Don’t worry, we’ll get him back safe and sound too.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about that,” Vince chimed in, “The love you two share goes so deep, he couldn’t possibly have forgotten that too. Even if he doesn’t know you, or us, I’m sure he’ll still feel it deep down.”

Cassie managed to squeeze out a small smile. “Thanks guys,” she said with a tremble in her voice.

“So about Horacio”, Phillip started after he downed his drink and put down his empty glass. “Can we defeat him for good this time? Not that I mind another break that lasts a decade but it’d be more fun if we could get rid of them once and for all.”

“We just go for it like last time,” Vince said enthusiastically. “It worked, I mean, sure we broke his power and sent him to the Third Dimension but that was only because the spells hadn’t been completed at that point but waiting would have been disastrous. They are ready to use now.”

Cassie shook her head. “we’d be foolish if we assume he hasn’t learned anything new. I doubt it very much Horacio just twiddled his thumbs for the past ten years,” she paused and continued in a softer voice. ”And let’s not forget, he managed to capture one of the team so we are down a man.” her voice broke as and she had to swallow a lump in her throat away. She clenched her hands to try and stop them from shaking. She still didn’t exactly know how it happened and what Horacio had done to her husband. She could guess the reason, but she would do anything she could to not let it cripple the team. They could still beat him. For good this time. She was sure of it.

*

The morning fog hid everything under a cold, wet blanket. Footsteps were dimmed and shadows could be seen scurrying around, disappearing as quickly as they would be spotted.
Sounds of hammers hitting nails from people who nailed up their windows to try and protect their houses from the impending fighting.
Hardly any other sounds could be heard as most people had fled, finding shelter deeper inland. Only the foolish and the brave remained. It was time.

Cassie waited in the town square. One by one the members of her team joined her.
In silence they stood together, no words were needed, they all knew what they were up against, what was at stake and what needed to be done.
“Let’s go,” she said and they ran off in the direction of the harbour.

They didn’t try to be quiet, there was no need for it. The enemy hadn’t left the safety of their bubble yet and Horacio knew they arrived at Port Freedom the minute they passed the first house. The charm had been obvious but Phillip had tracked who picked up the charm’s activation and knew where Horacio was, he wasn’t going to be here today, he was too far off.

*

They stopped near the warehouse closest to the harbour. A bit more careful they went in through the back door. The two males walked to the front and peeked through a window, the females made a round of the warehouse. It was a mess, broken stuff everywhere and even holes in the walls, floor and ceiling. Some real fighting had happened here.

“Why us?” Erin asked when they went up the stairs to check the attic. “I didn’t understand ten years ago and I still don’t understand now. The Mages are so much more powerful than us. They can use real, dangerous magic. Or the Fighters, or the Stealths. They are so much better trained to deal with threats than us.”

Cassie Glanced at the other female. “Because we aren’t the best in a specific field but we are the best for this task. We are Resonators. We are a half-full barrel so to say, we have room for resonation and make a spell stronger by letting it resonate. The same empty space makes us have more room to absorb spells, which makes us kind of spell resistant or at least spell retardant. Let’s not forget our advantage that we can do all of the three Major Skills to some extent instead of excelling at one so we are quite versatile.”

Erin didn’t look convinced, in her opinion, three who were the best in their fields could do a better job than a group with mediocre skills and abilities at best. Their failure a decade ago didn’t prove they were the best for the job. “Two of my children are Resonators too,” she stated stoically, before giving in to her frustration by kicking over a box, scattering its content over the floor.

Cassie held Erin’s shoulder sympathetically, “We’ll make sure they won’t be needing them anytime soon.” she assured her. Cassie started picking some stuff up to put it back in the box, it belonged to someone and that someone might return here one day. The warehouse looked like a warzone as it was already, even before the actual fighting would be taking place here. Her eyes drifted to an item still in the box. With a gasp, she pulled it out. Her husband’s jacket. Astonished, with eyes full of questions but frozen on her lips she looked up to Erin, Erin shook her head in response to the unasked question. She had no clue how it got here either. Cassie slowly put on the jacket, she could even feel some personal items still in the pockets.
Erin watched silently and Cassie squared her shoulders, “Maybe he’ll recognise this jacket or some of the items if he doesn’t remember me.” she said softly. She couldn’t stop some tears from rolling down her cheeks. Erin helped Cassie down the stairs. she could feel the team leader trembling as she tried to keep it together, and couldn’t help wondering if this was where Thomas had been captured or if the jacket was planted here purposely.

Vince and Phillip were astonished as they noticed the jacket on Cassie and started firing a lot of questions and remarks, only to be silenced by a deathly glare from Erin.
“You ok?” Phillip asked, getting a nod from Cassie.

“This is not going to break me or get my focus off our task,” she said, although she could feel it nagging in a corner of her mind. “Whether or not this jacket was put here on purpose this won’t get us down.”

The others nodded but were all glad she hadn’t found it during a more crucial moment.

“Let’s move on, what is looking like in the harbour.” Cassie said decisively.

“Not good,” Vince said, Hybrid, henchmen and supplies have gathered on the water behind their pretty protective bubble.

“On the water?” asked Erin worriedly.

Phillip nodded, “Yep even Vince can walk on water now, <evilguy> seems to have reached the stage of power that the water gets solid where it touches the air. A lot quicker than last time too.”

Vince stomped Phillip, he didn’t always like it that the majority of the team could even walk on water when the water wasn’t under the influence of magic. He had other abilities, of course, but the running on the water always seemed so cool to him.
“So, we go by the plan?”

Cassie looked through the window, over the harbour, over the water, to the cliff on the headland on the far side of the bay. There, up the fort, they would have to perform the spell so carefully made by the Mages. It was a given it wouldn’t go down the same way as the first time. The place was the same but all similarities ended there. “We go by the plan. To the dike to meet up with our guys, we’ll have to hold the dike as long as we can and keep them on their side. Once the signal gets given we march up to the headland. You all know what to do.”

None of them was worried about the SpellSphere, they could pass through as if it wasn’t there. They were glad it was still up, although it gave the enemy time to prepare it also gave them equal time to prepare. Port Freedom would once again be the centre of attention, and if the name Port Freedom would stay or that it would become Port Downfall would be decided in only a few days.

*

They made their way out of the warehouse, this time under their own cloaking bubble so they wouldn’t get spotted right away. They needed to join their forces first now and riling up the enemies by showing their faces wasn’t going to work to their advantage. They silently watched the people walking over the water as if it was land. Stacking up boxes and organising their supplies. It was eerie quiet, not one of the sounds that the ones on the inside of the bubble were making could be heard on their side.

Cassie stopped dead in her track as she recognised one of the henchmen working picking up boxes. Frozen she stared at her husband’s face. Unable to speak she watched him talking to his peers. She turned to her team. “Go ahead,” she whispered, “I have to do this.”

The team looked at each other in various degrees of worry and conflict. The Mages, the Fighters and the Stealths all had their concerns about how the fifth team member would be used against them, how it could throw them off the objective. It was a calculated risk to let the remaining four go on with the mission. They wanted the team to ignore the missing fifth if they would come across him and stick to the original plan.

Erin reached out to Cassie “Honey, please…”

Cassie looked down and shook her head, “Don’t, please. I have to try, you know I have to. Any one of you would try to at least talk to him if you’d come across him. We talked about the possibilities.”

Phillip shrugged, “plan B it is, be careful.” he said and he walked on, the other two had no choice but to follow if they wanted to stay under his protection.

Vince turned around and locked eyes with Cassie “Make the most of it, try to get as close as you can.” he said quickly but urgently.

Cassie nodded and walked to the barrier. She pressed her hand against it and phased through it. On the other side, a cacophony of sounds bombarded her. Shouting, gnarling, clashing of metal on metal. She walked over the water to the group where her husband was standing.
“Thomas!” she cried out.

He stopped and turned around, looked at her and frowned. He gestured to the others, who had picked up weapons and were ready to strike, to stay put.
“Yes?” he asked coldly.

Cassie felt her heart drop as she took that blow. “Thomas you may not recognise me, but I know you have lost your memory. I know there are a lot of blanks that you crave to be filled, hear me out.”

Thomas crossed his arms but stayed silent, not encouraging but not discouraging either.

She swallowed before she rambled about some shared history, frantically looking in his face for any sign of recognition. Starting to feel more and more hopeless she paused.
“I’m your wife, I love you,” she concluded, not knowing what else she could say right now, hoping that statement would at least give a glimmer of some emotion other than this cold, distant look.

His lips curled in a humourless smile and shook his head. “They said you were going to say that,” and he turned around, the others laughing at her agony.

Her legs trembled and she sank to the ground, clutching her stomach, trying to breathe normally instead of gasping in bits of painfully sharp air.
“Thomas," she whispered.

Loud steps behind her made her snap out of her grief. She turned and stood face to face with a Hybrid. A massive buffed one, some were built for speed, others for strength. This one was definitely built for strength. The bull-like head had a massive pair of horns. She stood up and faced him. She knew one thing, the moment he would be able to get a grip on her she was finished.

With a battle cry that made the solid water under them move he charged towards her. She jumped out of the way and rolled to safety. From the corner of her eye, she could see her husband watching silently as the others were having a great time watching the spectacle.

She avoided his hits as good as she could. He was surprisingly fast and agile considering his size. She tapped into her abilities so she could jump higher and further. She had to get away.

The Hybrid clearly enjoyed hunting his prey. “I’ll crush your bones and deliver you as a carpet to our master.” he sneered. “You’re an insignificant bug.”

Cassie plotted her way towards the dike, towards the edge of the SpellSphere. They had specific weapons against Hybrids but she had to reach them first. Dodging and jumping she brought her fight closer and closer to the edge, movement at the group her husband was part of broke her concentration and a hit landed, making her soar through the air and slam into the dike. Dazed and in pain she tried to get up, she noticed the bubble had burst and it didn’t take long before she felt the massive hands of the bull-like creature around her throat.

What felt like an explosion sent both of them hurling back to the water. In a corner of her mind, she registered that it had been a sonic blast from Vince. She tried to scramble on her feet as soon as she could to create some distance between herself and her attacker. She looked around as she readied herself to sprint away. Horns were blowing, battle cries uttered and shouting told her the battle started.
Almost instantly she felt as if two iron bars were wrapped around her. The arms of the Hybrid were like a steel grip around her and she could hardly move. She tried with all her might to get some wriggle room. She fought against the pressure on her ribs. She could hardly breathe as the Hybrid tightened his grip with a sardonic grin on his face. She saw her husband coming closer with a sword in his hand.

The Hybrid chuckled. “Don’t worry dude, I got her. We’ll present her dead rather than alive to our master.”

“So I see,” replied Thomas as he calmly watched. “Don’t get over-confident and give her that potion.”

The little interaction made the grip a little looser and she felt she slipped down a bit. Relief instantly washed away as she felt him reposition his grip around her throat instead. Gasping for air she struggled.

“When they get purple they are ready to harvest,” The hybrid chuckled as he cut her with a blade covered in a substance. “There, happy now? She’ll be dead before it’ll work though, I’ll promise you that.”

Her vision started getting blurry and her ears rang. She heard a metal sound, a ripping sound and a loud cry just before she dropped on the water.
Filling her lungs with the much-needed oxygen she watched astonished as the Hybrid was gripping his cut arm and her husband plunging his sword in the neck of the Hybrid.
The creature dropped dead and Thomas towered over her with the sword, looking down on her accusingly. Her head began to feel like it filled up with cotton.

“I still don’t know you,” he said angrily, “but somehow, I couldn't stand by and watch, I don’t know what it was but I couldn’t let it kill you yet. I'm bringing you in alive,” He turned and watched the stronghold in the distance. “I have to get you to the stronghold before anyone will notice I killed one of us,” he added, his voice without remorse.

His voice sounded further and further away. She could feel that she got lifted up but soon she lost her consciousness. A few episodes of partial gained consciousness made her a bit aware of them still being on the way, and even though they were on the way to epicentre of enemy activity and she was being brought into the lion’s den, she felt safe being so close to the love of her life. At this point, she didn’t think about his amnesia, about the battle going on and the danger she was in. She only felt his arms supporting her, she felt the jacket she had been wearing earlier on him. Her voice of reason was nagging in the back of her head that she should snap out of it, get a grip and escape. But she couldn’t, her mind was too fuzzy, her eyes too heavy to lift and her body too weak.

*

“...good... hordes…Horacio...threat...kill…”

She tried to focus, someone was speaking. Her husband's voice was murmuring a reply. The cold of the stone floor underneath her crept up. Cassie slowly became more aware of her surroundings. She was in the stronghold and she recognised the voice talking. Brody was speaking to Thomas; he praised him for catching her while at the same time he tried to make sure Thomas was still under their control.

Pleased by the answers Brody grinned and administered some more of the potion. “Bring her to the dungeon, this will keep her calm and sedated till Horacio returns and dispose of her as he pleases.”

Thomas bowed slightly “It will be done,” he said.

Cassie felt herself drifting off again, she tried to fight it but all awareness of her surroundings slipped away.

Something cold tickled the inside of her mouth and instinctively she swallowed the liquid.
Confused, she tried to grasp where she was. She didn’t feel the stone floor in her back but soft fabric. Her head ached but it didn’t feel like it was filled to the brim with cotton balls.
Slowly the past events bubbled to the surface. Dungeon? wasn’t she supposed to be brought to the dungeon? Dungeons usually didn’t have warm, soft beds.
Cassie opened her eyes and sat up straight, dizzy she reached to support herself and found her hand resting on an arm in a familiar jacket. She looked up and looked straight into Thomas's face.
“Thomas, what happened?”

He looked away before she could read his eyes and stood up. “I don’t know, something doesn’t add up. I don’t know you, you are a stranger to me. I’ve been warned about you and some of your friends. For some reason, one or more of you would come to me and tell me some wild stories about me belonging on your side. Horacio was genuinely worried about me as it would be part of a hex to get a wedge in.” He paced up and down the room. “But for some reason when I saw you getting strangled something I can’t define roared inside me. Something flared up. It confuses me.” At the window, he stopped and let his gaze go down the cliff, over the water to the harbour in the distance. The battle was coming closer towards the stronghold. He glanced at Cassie, “I gave you something to counter the potion. Go. Join your friends and do whatever little plan you have. Whatever you have planned it won’t work Horacio will win, he has a surprise planned for you and your team. He’ll be ready in three days”

Cassie stood up and walked over to Thomas. She rested her hand on his arm. While his words had serious consequences for their mission, she could only worry about his safety right now, everything else seemed so far away. “Will you be safe? What will happen when they find out you helped me?”

Thomas looked at the hand on his arm, tentatively he reached for her hand but he only let his hand hover above hers before he pulled his arm back and put his hands in the pockets of his jacket. “They won’t know I helped you. Hardly anyone is here, they are all outside or with Horacio. As far as they will know Brody gave you either too little or the wrong one. You knocked me out with your signature ‘Goodnight spell' and there was nothing I could do. You brought me here so you wouldn’t get detected too soon.” He looked like he was already enjoying the moment where he could yell at Brody for messing up.

They locked eyes for a few moments before he broke eye contact. “Go, before I’m going to regret this decision. Next time we meet you won’t confuse me again and I will have my priorities straight. You will not hex me and make me believe I belong on your side. I am where I belong.”

She opened the window and looked down, so he wouldn’t see the flash of pain that went through her eyes. She assessed her situation and plotted her escape route. She could make some jumps and get down safely. After that, she could go from one camp to the next. When she figured out the best route to join her friends she turned to Thomas, “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised they told you about my signature spell.” she said with a small smile.

He shook his head. “They didn’t.” he frowned, looked at Cassie pensively and shook his head. “They must have told me.” he turned around, he needed to leave. Now.

Cassie grabbed his hand before he walked away, “Thomas...” the words choked in her throat and watery eyes she pressed a kiss on his hand. She released his hand and with one hand she formed an orb. The other she lifted to him. Cassie released the orb outside. It spun, grew bigger and exploded in a thousand smaller orbs that went in all kinds of directions. “I gave the signal,” she said smiling, “Good night,” she whispered as she used her signature spell on him with her raised hand. He sank on the floor.

Cassie went through his hair and brought her lips to his cheek. “I love you, Thomas," she whispered in his ear before she jumped out of the window and made her way through the enemy lines stealthily so she could regroup with her team to march up together and storm the stronghold like they planned, although a small adaptation was needed. In three days, at most, this would all be over.
She looked over her shoulder once more, as she thought she felt his eyes on her, even though she had just knocked him out. It hurt he didn't know who she was but there was a glimmer of hope. Next time they would meet, she would be ready.

In three days she promised herself, in three days everything would be as it should once again.
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