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The Note (Pre-Time Skip) Though the meeting at large had more or less concluded, Lane had decided to stay in the hall, writing ideas and comments about the meeting down, for a few reasons. One was that he wanted to get his thoughts on parchment while they were fresh, and he knew that, with the impending training, he wouldn't be able to later on that night. The other was to see if anything needed to be addressed regarding the note he had left Reign. It might not have been the clearest, he figured. Sure enough, the note did warrant some explanation, though Reign had to get Sirius back from Zachary, first. With a heavy sigh, the nomad stopped a few feet from Lane and gave him a concerned look. "Are you sure about this?" he asked, glancing down toward his coat pocket, where the note was tucked away. Thinking back on it, it seemed impossible, using the term loosely, but given what the group had gone through up to this point, nothing could truly be considered impossible ... and more likely than not, it was just a case of mistaken identity. "Dark blue hair, brown eyes, right?," Lane asked, looking up at Reign from his writings. "I'm fairly sure, if what I've heard about him is correct. The information matches up, to some extent. The other parts I can check tonight." He paused to put aside his quill, then continued. "What do you want to do about it? Even if we hold it back, it'll no doubt come out eventually." Blue hair was common enough, as were brown eyes, and even that combination of the two, but still ... it was worth looking into, just to be sure. They didn't have a whole lot to do until the Paladin was ready to be transported over to Neviskotia, anyway. "It's probably better to be absolutely sure," Reign said, still mulling over the odds, "otherwise we might just give everyone a big jolt for nothing." As for what to do specifically, some excuse for a plan was starting to come to mind. "I don't mind helping you scout the place to try to find him, again. I know his face and his voice, so if it's really him, I'll be sold. After that, we should probably at least tell Nika and see what she thinks." After that, they'd probably have another meeting to discuss it, and their options for making contact. "I guess it might be a coincidence, so better safe than sorry," Lane said, frowning for a moment before covering that up with a smile. "We'll have to scout sooner rather than later, because if this turns out to be true, and he shows up, there'll be chaos." As he thought more about it, the more the magic user became certain that it wasn't a coincidence. Not with who the man was speaking to in mind, and certainly not with the location in mind. "We should be careful, all the same, since I don't think the Wrathites are really cordial to our group right now." "We never did get along with that bunch," Reign agreed, "but a scouting run's a scouting run, and I know my way around a disguise. When did you want to go check the place out? Tonight or tomorrow?" Reign didn't plan on taking Sirius along since this was at least a little dangerous, but the idea of leaving her with Zach specifically wasn't ideal. He wasn't a bad guy, just overly attached. His paternal instinct was even stronger than his libido, it seemed. Raquel was probably the best choice, amnesia or no. "Tomorrow," Lane said immediately. "I'm working with Raquel on her emblem abilities tonight, like what was mentioned in the meeting. I also want to spend some time in the Archive. Besides, if we end up being caught sneaking about in the night, we'll have a harder time getting out of there without fighting the Wrathites head on." "Alright," Reign nodded, "I'll make sure to be ready by then. Is anyone else coming along?" Lane paused for a moment, to think about that question. "I can bring Tonya along, for some security. If you have anyone else in mind, I don't see a problem with them coming along," he said. "We just have to be careful about it." Both, the man thought, because more people could be made out, and because this couldn't leak just yet, for the sake of the group's stability. "She's the one from that fight in Ursentius, right?" Reign asked, just to have a matching name and face from now on, "That's fine. Just the three of us should do." It was a scouting run, after all, not a normal outing. Best to stay light on their numbers. "Yes, and I hired her on as a guard," Lane said, nodding. "Alright, well, since that's settled, is there anything else you wanted to talk about around this meeting?" Reign shook his head at the question. "I was just curious about the note. If anything else comes to me, I'll be sure to track you down, again," he smiled faintly. "Won't be too hard to find," Lane said, as he gestured to his robe. "Okay, then, take care." A Plea Hell was coming. Tatiana Rusayev, one of the younger representatives on the Neviskotian Conclave, and friend or associate of no fewer than one hundred military and political figures, could only sit at her desk and write, hoping her words would be heeded before it was too late. The Fallen Empire, slightly better known as the nation of Corvus by those living in the northeast, was preparing to launch a coordinated incursion into the three largest nations in Sardius, Neviskotia included. According to Tatiana’s sister, and her associates, this distant empire of winged nightmares planned to use spatial bridges known as ‘siege gates’ in order to send massive armies to strategically critical points and begin their overwhelming assault. Victory, if it could truly be called that, lay in preventing the completion of these siege gates, wherever they were. This latest letter was addressed to the Grand Marshall, and the message was simple enough; in so many words, Tatiana was pleading with Grand Marshal Milena Sokolovna for military aid in locating and destroying the siege gate intended for Neviskotia. This was the young Rusayev’s last resort. All other channels were unavailable for the time being, or hopelessly bogged down in current affairs. Tatiana would have no choice but to leave everything on her father’s shoulders if the Grand Marshall was unable to lend them aid. Thinking back on her numerous failed attempts, perhaps Tatiana’s most frustrating endeavor to acquire the personnel and resources her family and newest allies needed was the Conclave, itself. Bringing up the issue during a regular meeting, despite outward appearances and various reassurances, had been a dead end. Local issues, the unsettling movements of the rebel fleets, and the loss of the Basilisk, Neviskotia's most powerful war vessel, all trumped the threat of an unprecedented, and thus, ‘unlikely’ incursion. Tatiana and the few others that agreed with her, were able to at least force the issue to the forefront long enough to get it some real consideration. In the end though, the majority of the Conclave members agreed that convincing evidence of the impending incursion must be presented before any action could be approved by the body. Not willing to waste her own or anyone else’s time, Tatiana inquired what evidence would be considered ‘convincing,’ and unsurprisingly, the responses were mixed, vague, and in some cases, precluded prior examples. One of her fellow representatives even suggested bringing a fallen with in depth knowledge of the plot to give testimony in Kievan Rus. Veronika, Tatiana’s sister, was in contact with Prince Steinn, one of the Corvian royal family members, but that approach wouldn’t work. If one of the royals of an empire hell bent on invading Neviskotia showed up on their doorstep, they would be lucky to just be taken and imprisoned someplace secure and used as a bargaining tool. Such a tactic would ultimately fail, but the problem was in the attempt itself, and doubtless Steinn was aware of this all too likely outcome. Not only would the prince not risk his own safety, but he also wouldn’t risk that of his bodyguard. There was no trust between the parties, and even Steinn’s written testimony, offered during a special follow up meeting on a different day, was ultimately shelved in favor of the current government debacles. Much as she hated to waste time, Tatiana realized the testimony approach had been dead on arrival. Having given up on the Conclave in favor of going directly to those with the resources to help them, as well as the inclination to do so, Tatiana tried to get in touch with the Petrov family at one point. With Aleksandr, the younger of the two brothers and army colonel, still deployed in the west, Tatiana was only able to get in touch with Aleksey, the older brother, and the co-engineer of the Basilisk. She wasn’t just looking for men and supplies to prevent the fallen incursion, but also strategic advice from certain keen minds. Aleksey was in short supply of nothing. However, as with the Conclave, simply painting a grim and compelling picture of the situation wasn’t enough. Aleksey, for reasons he couldn’t divulge, wouldn’t be able to directly assist her. All Tatiana was able to get out of him in the end was that he had an assignment that was more important than any unconfirmed rumors, at least as far as his superiors were concerned. Thankfully, Aleksey at least believed Tatiana’s story, offering to request reassignment once the truth came to light. Until then, of course, they were on their own, albeit with a fresh perspective on smoking out the fallen in their own territory. This pattern of hopeful requests being crushed by immediate problems that, to Tatiana, seemed so much less important now, continued much the same way as she worked through most of her connections. People were either too far away to reach, or too busy to help. Most gave her the benefit of the doubt, at least. That had been somewhat heartwarming in the days following the fiasco at the Conclave. So then, it now came down to this, whether or not the Grand Marshall would also give her the benefit of the doubt, as well as a large enough force to head off the invaders. If this didn’t work, and Tatiana’s father and his men proved inadequate to counter or at least delay the threat, the Fallen Empire would condemn everyone; the nobility, the commoners, the merchants, the dragons, and especially the Conclave representatives, all of them, to a brutal new reality many wouldn’t even live to see. Fortunately, Milena was in the area. Tatiana wouldn’t have to wait more than a day or two for a response, assuming the Grand Marshall sent her reply on the day she received this important letter. “Gods help us,” Tatiana gritted her teeth as she signed and sealed her formal request to the Grand Marshall, “we are not ready for this, yet …” Indeed. Hell was coming. Day 74 The news Tatiana received on that fateful morning was nothing if not shocking. She’d been awaiting--with a bit of anticipatory dread, admittedly--the Grand Marshall’s response to her plea days earlier. Instead, an aide informed her that a special meeting had been called by none other than the Grand Marshall herself. Had that been her response? Rather than some private back and forth between the two of them, she planned to bring this up as the sole topic within the Conclave? If that was her plan, it was bold, but well within her limits, especially during wartime. In theory, the Conclave was always at its weakest during wartime, as the various generals and their superiors gained special powers to fight said wars as effectively as possible, with minimal external interference. With the rebels and other major threats in the mixture, however, and with some members serving on the Conclave also being active or former military officials, things turned out much different in practice. With Neviskotia nearly always in a state of war, either with Ursium, or extremely large internal factions strong enough to pose a threat, the Conclave managed to secure some wartime powers for itself by holding votes on priority tasks for both the army and naval branches of the military. It came down to either branch to work out the details of how priority tasks were dealt with … but they had to be dealt with. It was this influence on the allocation of personnel and resources that ultimately left the Rusayevs dealing with the threat of the Fallen Empire by themselves, while the military was stretched thin between countless ‘priority’ assignments, the war with Ursium in the west, and the war with the rebels in the east. Knowing she would likely find most of the important people she was looking for in the dining hall having breakfast, Tatiana made her way there to deliver the potentially good news. She wouldn’t hold her breath; the Grand Marshall was bringing due attention to the problem, and giving them one last chance to win the argument, but if Tatiana couldn’t convince them of the severity of the threat, this might all have been for nothing. At least her own father, Mikhail, wasn’t currently on any assignment. One division of troops was dicey, and Tatiana didn’t want her father shouldering all of the risk any more than her mother did, but if things fell through here, the most they could add to their strength were mercenaries and volunteers. It might not be enough … “Good morning, everyone,” Tatiana greeted those present as she entered the dining hall. Not ‘everyone’ was there, but everyone that was needed to hear what she had to tell them. “I have some news, though whether it’s good or bad depends on the outcome. There’s a special assembly happening today. Grand Marshall Sokolovna gave the summons. I was hoping for a direct reply from her, but I guess getting tossed up front and center to plead our case again will have to do.”
All relevant information on the RP can be found on RotE's google site, and for those currently participating in the RP, on Roll20. Getting Started ACTING GMs Phoenix -Cynthia- CURRENT NEWCOMER POOL: 1000 SIGNUPS Below is the signup template newcomers should reference when setting up their character for approval. Originally, stat spreads and items would be included here, however, now that Roll20 is required to participate in battles, these aren't needed for initial signup. Instead, newcomers will finalize their stats once they join the campaign itself. Intended stats and equipment can still be posted along with the rest of the signup, but they're no longer required for approval. This signup format also applies to NPCs. Name: (Full name or alias can go here.) Nickname: (Optional.) Sex: Age: Class: Occupation: (Optional.) Appearance: (Guidelines: eye color, eye size, hair color, hair length/style, skin tone, build; generally what said character wears. Reference pics are also acceptable.) Nature/Disposition: (Optional.) Hometown: (Optional: Check the map and read up on the nations before picking a hometown. If you'd like a name for a marked location or would like to add a new one, consult Phoenix.) Connections: (Optional: list of people this person knows and their relations with them. These can be expounded on in Backstory if desired.) Backstory: (Its important that the backstory doesn't conflict with any established canon and is reasonable. It's good to ask for help or information if you need either.) (All optional: But we love mounts) Mount Name: Mount Nickname: Mount Sex: Mount Species: Mount Age: Mound Appearance: Mount Personality: Mount Relations: Mount Backstory: Q&A Q: Why have everything on a google site? A: There's a character limit for every SF post and I'd prefer to have just about everything in one easily navigable area. Hence, google site. Enjoy. Q: Is Roll20 required to join the RP? A: Not strictly, but your character (PC or NPC) cannot participate in stat battles outside Roll20. Q: Can I make a custom player or non player character class? A: No. Q: Why do we have to start with a specific set of stats? A: It was that or hard stat caps. This allows for better customization overall while only being a minor nuisance. It was only ever going to be an issue for early joiners since anyone joining after Chapter One would almost certainly be starting at a higher level and therefore have extra stats to distribute. Q: Can I suggest some new items? A: Suggestions for items are welcome, but there is no guarantee that they will be implemented, and even if they are, they will almost definitely not be added in their original form. Also keep in mind there is a huge selection of items already and they cover most aspects of the setting and combat mechanics as it is. Again, suggestions are welcome, but the complete item list ought to be completely examined before new ideas are brought up. As a final note, for balancing reasons, suggestions for new AS and SPD boosting items are very unlikely to be implemented. Q: Can I sign up a non-human character? A: Dark Avians are the only available non-human race currently for PCs, but others may be accepted as exceptions if we feel the person making the signup is cooperative enough and very familiar with the lore. As a general rule even among exceptions, dragons aren't allowed as PCs (too large). Q: Can I make a non-human npc character? A: Yep, but you'll be expected to be on top of any relevant lore. Read the avian, fallen, and (coming eventually) dragon articles when you've got the time. If you haven't read them, the character won't be approved on principle. Q: Can I start with a ___(item/weapon)? A: Only if you can afford it. It'd also be a good idea to make sure your character can wield it if that's the goal. Q: How do items get unlocked? A: Team leaders unlock items in towns, cities, and major ports the groups visit. Typically each notable stop will see at least a couple of new items unlocked. Items can also be unlocked by beating Challenges. Q: How are battle averages calculated? A: Point averages are calculated individually, like so: With 5 characters being counted ... Jade: 27 Jeb: 32 Jill: 36 John: 42 Julius: 45 The battle average would then be 36.4 = 36 Point averages round up to the nearest whole number from 5 and down from 4.
[spoiler=Nine] Lilith found herself being pulled aside by her sister. She wouldn't learn why until they were on the far side of the throne. She wasn't sure how that would allow for privacy in the somewhat small inner chamber. Perhaps privacy wasn't what Nyx was going for. If not, though, then what? "She said you had a vision. Last time something like that happened, you turned on Lord Wrath. You understand my curiosity." So that's what this was. Lilith grimaced, her gaze leaving her sister and settling on a random book on one of the lowest shelves. She couldn't even make out the language of the words on the binder. "When I lost my spirit spring," she met eyes with her sister, again, "I became an emblem wielder. A proper emblem wielder. Raquel had opened herself up to that conniving son of yours at the time. I was briefly connected to her, almost the same as he was ..." "You had access to powers beyond the abilities of normal wielders, just like he did," Nyx summarized, "and that is where the visions come in." Lilith nodded somberly. "Yes. As for the visions, themselves, I saw nine different places, and nine people, myself and Raquel included." "So then," Nyx tilted her head slightly, "seven regular pieces, Raquel, and the core you forced into the Purgatory, which Obelisk likely has, now. Am I correct?" "He has it, yes. In order, I saw Raquel, then the core, surrounded by shadows. Obelisk, of course. Then myself ... and oddly enough, I was still wielding Ascension. Next, that Raquel lookalike. After that, I saw an avian girl with a box, and then one of the fallen ones. Then a man standing alone in a dark hallway. The last two I saw were a woman on some kind of ship and a man standing next to a beast I've never seen before. Nyx grinned mischievously, "I wonder which one you'll turn on, this time? Perhaps everyone else you listed?" "That's not funny." "I find it quite funny. You already know that nine pieces is nothing for Lord Wrath," Nyx said more seriously, "he'll gather them in minutes, not hours." "He will ... I'm sure of it, " Lilith hissed between clinched teeth, "I need time to come up with a solution. I was sure there were more pieces out there than that. The smaller fragments must have been consumed by the larger ones at some point. It's not much different from what Raquel did, earlier." "The emblem is going to assemble itself at this rate," Nyx said, "which means Lord Wrath is going to show up well before the year is out in order to stop anyone else from claiming it. For the second time he's coming here early to nip a rebellion. Hopefully this time things can be resolved." "I am not going to let that happen," Lilith locked eyes with Nyx. The latter wasn't reassured. "I won't let it happen," Lilith insisted. "I know you'll try, but you've lost a great deal of power, already. Why don't you just focus on Obelisk for now? Stopping him will buy us a little time, at least." "Fine," Lilith sighed. [spoiler=Reunions and Introductions] This was awkward, Jethro decided upon seeing Cassandra for the first time since his near death experience with Samael. He had been asked to leave his daughter in the hands of Nature and Nyx bu the former and he wasn't about to refuse a goddess. To his surprise, he was now face to face with Raquel's doppelganger. It was more than just her appearance. With Raquel's more recent memories missing, Cassandra was a closer approximation of what an adult Raquel would be like. Even she wasn't quite like the original, though, due to her training with Burke and her general view of herself. Cassandra couldn't quite keep eye contact with Jethro, but she still managed to step in and hug him. Jethro, too caught up in the moment to do anything else, hugged her back. For a brief moment, he was able to let go of all the wild events that had dragged him along for the ride. Once their hug ended, Jethro remembered that it wasn't just him and one of his three daughters all by themselves. Thanatos had brought him here, to Weyland's estate, just outside of Europa, along with Erion and Amalia. The dining hall was by no means empty, and Cassandra hadn't been the only one to greet them, either. A man with long, extremely pale blue hair, and Morgana Wyght, a noblewoman originally from out west, were also there. Morgana cringed. "I'm sorry, Thanatos. I wish we could have done something to help before things got so out of hand, but that was well beyond any of our abilities." "Wait, Morgana, you know him?" Jethro asked. He thought she was here because of Weyland. Suddenly, her dark long coat didn't seem like such a coincidence. The other man was dressed vaguely similarly. "Not as well as she'd like," Dominik smirked. By some miracle Morgana kept herself from reacting to Dominik. Instead she scowled at Jethro, and then looked at Thanatos. "They're keeping their memories, aren't they?" "Of course they are," Cassandra snapped. She understood why Morgana was concerned, her connection to Thanatos being revealed and all, but there was no way she was going to let her father's memories be tampered with now that, for all intents and purposes, she had him back. "Hello there," Dominik turned his attention toward Erion and Amalia. "I'm Dominik, sometimes known as The Destruction, other times known simply as 'monster.'" he held out a hand to shake either of their hands. "You seem to be in the know, so know this. Morgana and I are servants of Thanatos. If you're as deep in this mess as I think you are, it's better to just be upfront about these things." This time, he got a faint reaction out of Morgana. [spoiler=The Servants] As far as Raquel knew, today had been the most interesting and overwhelming day of her entire life. Even now she couldn't fully appreciate what was happening to her. She was now working alongside the new avatar of the Goddess of Nature on the kind of project she never would have dreamed of. The two of them sat side by side just outside the archives, at the heads of two bedrolls Raquel had materialized out of thin air. She didn't know how to make them, but allowing Nature's will to flow through her brought them into existence with almost no effort on Raquel's part. The next stage of this project would be more complicated, Raquel thought. Those bedrolls were there for a reason. Two men brought back into physical life would be occupying them, soon. Raquel didn't have the foggiest idea how to create living people. Nature obviously did and would once again be guiding her through the process. "Close your eyes," Nature instructed, "no more distractions." Raquel did as she was told, feeling relieved that someone, anyone, trusted her with this power at all. Had it been this way from the start, she wondered if she might not feel so bitter about the situation as a whole. She should have been happy to find any form of trust, especially in a goddess, but instead she felt little more than relief. "Follow my movements as closely as you can," Nature said, her voice narrowly above a whisper. "Don't panic if you feel your motions are inaccurate. Remove the concepts of time, and limitation." "Remove them?" Raquel opened one eye to peek at Nature. The avatar's eyes were closed, but she raised a hand up to point at one of them. Raquel got the hint and closed her eye. "Remove them, yes. It doesn't matter how long you think this will take, and it doesn't matter how inexperienced you are. Shut out these concepts so that you can work without any distractions." Raquel wasn't sure how to shut them out, exactly, so she decided to pretend they didn't exist. She envisioned herself as a powerful, shapeless force that was free from the constraints of time and space, and too powerful to be saddled with something as petty as 'limitations.' The idea of being that powerful, that omnipotent, brought a smile to her face. Before she could dwell more on it, she saw a shiny golden thread appear in front of her. Her eyes were closed but there it was, not something in her imagination, but a clear and bright thread. It hung there, its needle thin end pointing straight upward, while the rest of the thread seemed to come up from infinity. Raquel stared at it, wondering what it was. "Follow," Nature said. Suddenly a second thread appeared, one that Raquel herself could sense. It was as if the emblem's energy had been condensed and woven into a single thread. Upon focusing on that thread, it began to move and react to her. She could control this one. "Remember," Nature said, "there is no time or limitation." Raquel nodded, her eyes still closed. "Let's go." The first golden thread raced off, and reacting on pure instinct, Raquel compelled her own thread to follow. It caught up almost instantly, and no matter how far the two threads traveled together, Raquel's perspective of them stayed the same. There were endless twists and turns involved in following Nature's thread, and as Raquel glanced down, she saw a massive tapestry of golden lines forming. The whole thing reminded her of a runic pattern. It wasn't until, perhaps hours later, that Raquel began to wonder how long she had been watching one thread and mirroring its motions with the other. "There is no time," Nature repeated part of her earlier statement. Raquel got that hint, too and focused back on the task at hand. It wasn't that she was getting tired of this tedium, she was actually enjoying it. It was somewhat cathartic. There was simply this nagging feeling in the back of her mind that things weren't entirely as they seemed. It wasn't until Nature's reminder that Raquel even remembered what they were doing. This wasn't an exercise in weaving strange patterns over and over again, they were supposed to be creating bodies for two men. Raquel wondered when that process was going to begin in earnest. She had a sudden urge to open her eyes, but quashed it quickly. Patience, she told herself. There was purpose and meaning here, and she didn't need to understand all of it from the get go. Nemesis and Hypnos watched from just outside the entrance to the inner chamber, as golden light began to form two bodies simultaneously. The light moved from the tops of their heads to the middle of their torsos, revealing flesh and blood bodies of pristine quality. "Which one of those bodies is Raquel working on?" he quietly asked his older sister. "I think she's working on both of them at the same time," Nemesis clarified. "Nature's power isn't flashy like the emblem's, so this is probably all Raquel." "At the same time, though?" Hypnos cocked his head. "They must be hopping back and forth between the two," Nemesis concluded. By that point, the golden lights had left thighs and knees in their wake. "No wonder she warned Raquel about time," she winced, "they're weaving those two together atom by atom. This would take centuries if she was thinking about the timing." "Ah, true," Hypnos smiled. Lilith and Nyx appeared behind the two siblings. "Marvelous work," Nyx smiled. Lilith was far less enthusiastic about what was happening. "And it looks like they're just about finished." "I don't understand why she's letting Raquel experience so much of this power," Lilith said, "How is she going to be of a mind to give it up in the end?" "For you of all people to say something like that ..." Nyx gave her sister a knowing look, "You couldn't convince her to lay down that power, so leave this to the Goddess. Let's you and I focus on Obelisk, like I suggested." "Fine, but this ... I'm worried this will come back to haunt us," Lilith conceded. The bodies were fully formed and clothed, both from head to toe in black. One wore robes, the other, a long coat. The first's hair was brown, and short. The second's hair was white and quite long in the back. The style of cut matched Hypnos to the strand, though the color left Hypnos somewhat confused. "Why is his hair white?" "So we can tell you two apart," Nyx teased her son. Hypnos doubted that was the only reason, but it was a fair point all on its own. "My son's alter ego, Morpheus, and my servant, Lane Novak. It would have taken quite a while to make bodies for them on my own. I'm glad she took the opportunity to do me this favor and instruct Raquel." "Mother," Hypnos' expression suddenly changed, "do you sense that?" "I do, and keep your voice down, Hypy," Nyx reminded him. "It's a spirit spring," Hypnos said, keeping his voice as low as he could. Lilith was even more shocked than he was. "It's forming inside of-" "It will be alright," Nyx soothed. "Are you joking?" Lilith glared at her sister. Raquel could feel something strange, but familiar as she kept her thread in step with Nature's. It was a gathering of power, a gathering so immense that if it were any other type of magic, it would have already become critically unstable and destroyed the entire building. It was too much to ignore. "What's going on?" she asked Nature. "This is a spirit spring," Nature replied. Before Raquel could object, she added, "we are not creating a vasilus. Just as my siblings and I created the vasili to serve us, some of the vasili here on the Earth created servants for themselves. These servants have spirit springs of their own. They are known as manaketes. There are only a few that live in Sardius. They outnumber all but the humans in their homeland, however." "So he won't be as strong as a vasilus?" Raquel asked, turning her head slightly toward Nature, but making sure not to open her eyes. "This spirit spring cannot fully match the power of a vasilus. Give Morpheus a chance to prove himself to us," Nature said. "Alright," Raquel nodded. The threads raced on, weaving more and more patterns as the power Raquel sensed began to surge. Eventually, it began to calm, and the growing power seemed to fall into some kind of pit, all of it, all at once. It was contained, and yet it was still growing, somehow. Was that what a spirit spring was, some sort of ever-growing power held in check by an unseen force? "This work is finished," Nature said, just after opening her eyes. Sure enough, there they were. Raquel opened her eyes and was dumbfounded to see two living, breathing men just lying there in front of her. All of those random patterns they had been weaving for hours led to this? "That was the fastest forge I've ever seen," Nemesis smiled, "Great job." "Fastest?" Raquel repeated. It wasn't the word she would have chosen. "You two have only been sitting there for a few minutes," Nemesis said, noting that Raquel's sense of time was probably torn to shreds for the sake of the project. "Look on the bright side, you gained time instead of losing it. That's rarely the case." "Yeah," Raquel glanced down at the two men. Both began to stir, causing Raquel to gasp. "They're waking up? Is that okay?" Nature simply nodded and stood up. "Are they going to be feeling alright? "They will be just fine," Nature assured her. [spoiler=Spirit of the Nobleman] With Blake gone, their ability to keep tabs on Raquel was diminished. The truce was officially over. That wasn't what was on Clover's mind right now. She was far more concerned with what Desmond had told her before, that Lord Wrath had salvaged something of the late noble. Whatever it was, he had offered it to her in the hope that it would help her. Emotionally? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Mementos affected people differently. Clover didn't see herself being spurred onward by anything like that. She stopped just outside of Desmond's office. She'd been summoned back sooner than expected. Fortunately, she was composed, and ready for whatever assignment she might receive here. She knocked on the door twice, just loud enough to be heard by anyone inside. "Come in," Desmond's voice came back. Slowly, Clover opened the door and stepped inside. She gently closed it behind her and approached him. The Avatar of Wrath was standing in front of his desk, arms crossed, and facing off to the bookshelf on the left wall. He seemed to be contemplating something important. Rather than pry him from his thoughts, she decided to wait patiently on him. Eventually, he glanced at her, trying to read her. He seemed more interested in that now than anything on the bookshelf. "Clover, how are you feeling?" "Not particularly good," she admitted, "but if you need me for something, I'm ready." "I spoke with Lord Wrath and asked him if you could bear what remains of Blake's spirit. He decided to allow it. You may not have noticed the change, but it's already been bound to you." "Bound to me?" Clover repeated, a little dumbfounded, "his spirit?" "What remains of it, yes," Desmond nodded. "He was none too thrilled about joining us, at least not in the beginning, however, Lord Wrath was able to get through in the end. I can only imagine he showed him exactly what will happen to our worlds if the emblem is claimed by anyone but a god. What else would convince ordinary people?" "I'm not sure what to think of this," Clover frowned. "Blake's spirit is with me, now ... but I didn't even notice a difference." "Rest assured, Clover," Desmond nodded, "there is a difference. Call to him, and he will come." There was no reason to believe Desmond's suggestion wouldn't work, but his wording was vague, and Clover wasn't sure how to interpret them. Without a body of his own, Blake couldn't even speak, much less appear right in front of her. Or perhaps he could. Lord Wrath had placed the late noble's spirit in her. That was his doing, so why limit her god in this or any other area? She decided to call to Blake, and see exactly what Desmond meant. There was no need for interpretation. She would see with her own eyes. Blake, please, she closed her eyes, clasping both hands together, come to me, now. She was shocked out of her plea as a pillar of crimson flames burst forth from the floor right beside her. They writhed and twisting themselves into the shape a man. When the flames suddenly vanished, they left a fully armored warrior in their wake. From head to toe he was covered in armor, each plate fitting to him like the scales on a dragon. The man's helm obscured his face completely, but Clover knew exactly who this warrior was. She had no words left and could only smile up at the man. "He will protect you as you neutralize the emblem wielders, Clover," Desmond said, glancing at Blake afterward. "Please keep in mind that your greatest priority is to keep Clover safe. If you can do that, then by all means, handle the emblem wielders however you see fit." [spoiler=Lois and Behold] Finally, Gabbie had found her. She'd had to leave the fortress and head almost five miles north to do it, but she'd found her. Like they'd suspected, the Org had at least a minor base in the northern suburbs, and Lois was not only there, but well guarded. Gabbie also managed to find Zerachiel, but she wasn't surprised to find him there. What she almost regretted knowing, due to the fact that passing along the message would be difficult, was that Samael wasn't there. He in fact, was closer to Fortress Nature than she was. Much closer. She couldn't do anything about him except warn them when she got back, assuming she could return before the artificial made his move. "Can't stick around here much longer, either way," she noted, knowing the local authorities would get curious about a wyvern rider messing around on the rooftops sooner and not later. "Tacito, we're going back," she told the wyvern as she jogged over to him. She mounted up and took a deep breath as she looked in the direction she'd sensed Lois and her captors. "Just hang on a little while longer, alright? I'll come get ya myself if I have to." But let's see if we can come up with a decent plan first. Tacito took off carrying Gabbie south and back toward Fort Nature. Knowing where Lois was and that she was still alive was such a relief in and of itself that Gabbie was actually able to take in the spectacular view of the city. She had all but ignored it the first time, seeing the sea of architecture and people as more of an obstacle than anything else. Only now did she remember that she was in Ursentius, a modern day marvel, and a testament to human persistence. The city was so large that its full radius exceeded the range of her spirit seeking ability. Not even Kievan Rus was so expansive. While it was an amazing city, its sheer size was working against nearly everyone, now. Their enemies were hiding all over the place. At least now she knew where the most crucial of their enemies were, as well as their captive. She just hoped they could rescue Lois unharmed. "Lois ..." Zerachiel gently smacked the girl's cheek a couple of times. He got no response as Lois continued to stare off at nothing. Some part her body seemed to cringe every other second, and she was sweating profusely. Her breaths were shallow and came in brief bursts, as if she was crying. "Lois!" Her eyes finally met his, and he winced at the paralyzed desperation he saw in them. "Do you understand what I'm saying? Just nod." She nodded weakly as a single tear rolled down her cheek. "P-please ... it hurts all over." "Yeah, I bet it does," Zerachiel said, glaring over his shoulder at her handlers. He stood up to his full height, away from her and the chair she was tied to, and turned to face them. "Explain this," he demanded. Both handlers knew that Lois and their boss would be the only one left alive in this room if they didn't, so one of them took a fateful step forward to make the case for them both. "Sir, the usual methods weren't working, and it's impossible to get what we need from her through plain torture, so we decided to ..." he trailed off, afraid to say the rest aloud. Zerachiel nodded at the man, having put the rest together on his own. "So that's how you got her to design the rest of the upgrades for the new toy. You got her completely hooked on opium. Let her have a little more every time she completes a certain step in the process. Brilliant ... except you drop the ball and now she's a mess. So can we do anything for her?" "We can't give her anymore," the other shook his head, "finding the right amount for what we needed was half guess-work, and this latest attempt was bad. I think all we can do is give her light infusions to keep her from getting worse ... but that won't deal with the pain. At least I don't think it will." Zerachiel turned back toward Lois and knelt down in front of her, waving his hand in front of her face to get her attention. "I know it's the last thing you wanna hear right now but you're going to have to tough this out for a while." "Please no," Lois coughed. She inhaled sharply. "I haven't told you about my chambering idea, yet." "That can wait," Zerachiel sighed. Normally he would have loved to hear about it, but right now he was trying to think of a way to get her back to some semblance of normal. She was just an asset to him, but even he couldn't stomach seeing the feisty rich girl reduced to a desperate, incoherent mess. "Just try to bear with it for now." "No, it's a really good one," Lois urged between quick breaths, "I know it'll be worth a fortune, just please make the pain stop. I can write it all down, just please help." She gasped once she ran out of breath, "I'm going to die ..." "Sir," the first handler spoke up cautiously, "too little won't make a difference; too much and she'll be even worse off next time." Zerachiel didn't look back at either of them. His eyes were on Lois, and her gaze begged him for relief. "Hell ..." Lysandra "Well this is a nice place," Anna grinned, "at least on the outside. Here's hoping this isn't a waste of time." Gabriel shook his head in amusement, "If there's anyone to come to for information about them, it's her." He paused as they drew close to the house. "Then again ... it's been ages since she's had any run ins with them. Suffice to say, she knows plenty about the old, and I know a little about the new." Anna squinted at him. "She used to work for them, didn't she?" "No that would be me, in a sense," Gabriel said as he came up to the front door. His hand froze just in front of the door. "If she's not in right now, do you want to wait around or are we going to go after them, regardless?" Anna sighed and crossed her arms. "Mmm ... half an hour, then we need to head back and get ready. Any information could help but I don't want to miss this chance." Gabriel nodded his understanding and then knocked on the door. Settling In Following Lieutenant Colonel Miguel's order, Langley's forces managed to relocate all of their tents, supplies, and even their two tanks inside the fortress. The courtyard was beyond crowded, now, but not by soldiers. The tents were all kept a certain distance apart to allow people to pass between them with relative ease, which left just enough room for very small clusters of people to pass through them. The tanks were kept right at the entrance, ready to roll out onto the main road at any time if they were needed. Archers and mages now lined the walls, and the pegasus knights were on the lookout for any suspicious movement from the surrounding suburbs. Langley herself was being kept in the restored medical tent set aside specifically for her, and though she was awake, now, she was hardly in any condition to be doing anything more than listening to regular reports on the situation and chatting with Princess Athena between those reports. Set Aside Blake's body couldn't remain as it was forever. After having a word with Prince Athrun, and receiving the royal heir's promise that his people would find all of Frode's assets and notify his next of kin and beneficiaries, she ordered that his body be moved out of the barracks. Since she didn't much care about the mercenary guarding him, Isabella was able to oversee the move. Belo herself stayed behind as the soldiers began to wash away the blood and restore the barracks to some semblance of normal. The soldiers soon reached the area where the bodies of the dead were being kept. It was a well shaded area toward the southeastern quarter of the fortress, in the rear courtyard. The soldiers put up a relatively small tent specifically for the fallen noble, so there would be no trouble finding him, later. Once they were finished, they began to slowly drift away, back toward the more lively areas. Seekers "Nikoooo," Olga called into the stables as she walked around. Some of the horses were making noises in response, but that was all. "Okay, you check this isle," she pointed at the one to her right, "and I'll check this one," she gestured at the one next to it. "You don't have to go inside, but check every stall. He might be in one of the empty ones or he might have gotten in with one of the horses. These things are about as secure as a bank guarded by monkeys." Speaking of monkeys, Chip was watching the two women from the top of one of the stalls. His gun was holstered on his back, but was thankfully unloaded. He recognized Robin and that made him somewhat wary. As much as he would prefer to stay out of human hands, he was getting very hungry, and humans seemed to be the only ones to know where and how to get good food in this environment." Return Abrams As Reign opened up the sack he smiled at the infant vasilus within. She was still asleep, thankfully. Somehow that ruckus earlier, hadn't been enough to wake her. He knew it was too much to expect all infants to be heavy sleepers, but he hoped if he ever had to take care of another one, they would sleep the way this one did. Having checked on the precious cargo, he closed up the sack and made his way toward the Veronika, Nadine, Zachary, and the new recruits, who seemed to be chatting up the Red Wolf. He decided to head over and say hi or something. Unfortunately he was still being closely followed by one of Belo's grunts. "Well, we found your equipment," Miguel told Veronika and the mercenaries, "you can head on over to what's left of the armory to pick them up. Just look for the rubble and the row of tents. Far side of the main build-err rubble ... main rubble? ... pff, you know what I mean. Gods, this place is going to need some serious work." The boss smiled. "My bow was in no shape to use but at least I'll get everything else back." "Nice," James grinned, "whoa, who's that guy with the bag? Looks like nomad royalty ... that's not a thing, is it?" "I don't think that's a thing, but it's interesting," Zach said. "Looks like he's taking fashion tips from Griffin, now." "I approve," Nadine made a gesture at the approaching mage.
[spoiler=Dragon Hunt]"Still heading northwest?" General Mesoa winced at the news one of her scouts had brought her. She'd been worried for awhile now; the dragons, Boscov and Schwartz, weren't heading exactly where she predicted, and she wouldn't be comfortable until she learned why. She suspected their knowledge of the Ursian northeast was extensive, since, by heading northwest instead, they would easily evade notice from all but those who were actively searching for them. They would miss any rendezvous they likely had planned, but might buy themselves time to recover. The strike team she'd assembled would have to move quickly if they wanted to close the gap before that happened or the two found a way to cover their tracks altogether. "Go tell the Major General that we're going to split the party and try to finish this. If we're unable to catch them in a pincer maneuver, we'll at least drive them back toward the plains, where it will be easier to bring them down." "Ma'am," the scout saluted before trotting off on her pegasus. "Elfriede, Elfrieda," she called over two young officers in green. "You two will be going with the Major General so you'd better get going as well." Both of the sisters looked at each other for a moment, then the shorter haired one, Elfriede, replied. "You're sending us with the second team ... but aren't we your best fighters?" "You two are among the mere handful of banshees with any experience fighting dragons. That's why I'm sending you with the dragon slayer, herself. I'll be taking the others who fought those two with me. Anything that clings to life can be destroyed with a bit of preparation and a direct hit from one of my spells." "We understand, General." [spoiler=Interference]The site had been chosen, a forested area, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There was wildlife and vegetation everywhere, however, perfect for gathering the resources needed to sustain a large army that knew how to make use of it all. Empress Urd was pleased with the location, and had even sampled some of the food the area had to offer. There were one or two squirrels that would never make it home and some fruits that were no longer accounted for. While the empress oversaw the construction of the siege gate intended for this part of the continent, Architect Valor spent his time exploring the forest itself, picking out decent spots for supply buildings and defenses that would have to go up virtually overnight once the gate was opened. It was difficult deciding such matters without exploring from the air, but visibility of the forest was heavily obscured from the sky, and he didn't want to risk alerting anyone to their presence in the region, even if there wasn't anyone around for at least a couple of dozen miles. Then again ... <"Hm?"> his gaze snapped to a direction somewhat west of where he'd been facing. <"What was that ...? It was as if a powerful dark presence was nearby and then suddenly ..."> The architect decided to head back and check on things at the camp. When he returned, he found the empress sitting on a boulder. She was wiping her hands clean with a cloth after her snack, the remains of which were scattered around her feet, tiny bones and little else. <"Valor,"> she smiled at his return, <"Have you found a suitable location for my quarters? I would return to Tartarus the moment our army takes control of this region but I'm beginning to feel that it would be best if I remain here beyond that time. Fervor assured me that Leandros would be under my guidance and that I can summon him without the gate ... if I so chose. I would like to see this through to the end if I can. Freyya can watch over the little ones a while longer."> Valor smiled right back at her. <"Milady, I suspect that you simply haven't grown tired of my company, yet,"> he said, approaching her and stopping just shy of their boots touching. She slowly reached out to him, long, sharp, and very well kept nails donning each of her fingers. He leaned closer so that she could reach him, and as her palm gently pressed against his cheek, she said, <"You are a truly beautiful creature, Valor. I appreciate everything you've done for me during this expedition. I'll have you know that I'm considering keeping you around once this is over."> <"Oh?"> Valor was genuinely surprised. He'd suspected he was just meant to be some kind of toy for her to address her boredom while out here, but perhaps she would make him a more official asset of the Devlinos family after this was over. That would be a great honor, even for someone like him, who was already quite well off. <"Keeping you all for myself, I mean,"> she clarified with a mischievous grin. <"Hah,"> Valor laughed at himself. Of course. Still, he enjoyed helping her satisfy her various whims and cravings. It was the least he could do for the mourning empress. It wouldn't preclude him from anything or anyone else, so it really wasn't a problem, he decided. <"I would be honored. In fact, since you've just finished with your meal and things here seem to be progressing just fine, why don't I show you some of the area? You can pick out your quarters and perhaps keep our skills sharp by removing a few of these unneeded trees."> <"And then what?"> her grin widened and her eyes narrowed. Suddenly her expression changed entirely; she sensed something very close by that couldn't have been friendly. Valor sensed it too and moved between her and the presence as she got off of the boulder. <"What is that?"> <"Is that what I sensed earlier? Perhaps,"> Valor mused as he kept himself between her and the roaming sense of dark magic in the distance. Eventually, it appeared. In a puff of dark energy, a large black dragon appeared just beyond the rock. <"No ..."> "So this is what fallen look like," Schwartz greeted the two of them with a mischievous grin of his own. "Relax," came Boscov's voice, "We mean you no harm ... at the moment." Boscov emerged and was quickly surrounded by fallen workers and warrors alike. The empress and architect had been so preoccupied with Schwartz's energy, they hadn't noticed Boscov approaching from a different direction. That was when Valor realized that the latter dragon had rid himself of the excess energy in his aura, which made him much more difficult to detect. Valor was still just plain insulted that such large creatures managed to get the jump on them in a forest, but that was an issue for later. "What is it you want, beasts?" he asked them in common. That was the language they were accosted in, so at least a language barrier wouldn't cause problems here. "We want to know what you're doing here, in Ursium," Boscov replied. "And why we shouldn't kill you all right here," Schwartz swiftly amended. "Interfere with my expedition ... I will kill you. I will kill you and feed your mangled bodies to the hounds," Urd threatened them both. Schwartz leaned back, feigning surprise. "You'll destroy me? You winged ones pack quite a punch when you try hard but you won't kill me announcing your intentions like that," the shadow dragon smirked. "Now listen, I've got no love for Ursium, and you buzzards might even make a good distraction for those pegasus grunts chasing us, but if you plan to extend this little 'expedition' to Neviskotia ... at any point in time ... well then, I might as well nip this little nuisance in the bud and slaughter the lot of you right here." "Schwartz," Boscov grimaced. Perhaps a language barrier could have done them some good in this situation. There weren't a lot of fallen present, not by Kigenese standards, but a dragon's biggest weakness was a numbers disadvantage, if only because the stronger enemies could use the resulting chaos to sneak in devastating blows. <It seems they're leading the natives to us,> Valor silently informed Urd, causing her expression to darken further. Any possibility of a peaceful resolution was long gone, but now she was furious, knowing that the location she had picked out was already compromised thanks to these arrogant interlopers. She wanted them killed and ground up into dog food, and no longer in that order. <"Get them,"> Urd hissed her orders to the other fallen scattered about the area. They swarmed the dragons like crazed hornets. Even if they couldn't subdue the dragons on their own, Valor was already preparing to enter the battle, as was Urd. No matter which side won out in the end, it wouldn't be pretty. [spoiler=The Just Interloper]The trip to the cathedral was uneventful enough. Actually getting inside, however, was quite the hassle, as there was still a large amount of people around. Once Blake had accomplished that, and had made it to the Hall of Wrath it only took a few minutes before he was escorted to the door of the Avatar's office. As the escort knocked, the swordsman continued to collect his thoughts. This was probably going to take a while... "Come in," came Desmond's disinterested voice. The escort complied and showed Blake into the office. Inside, Desmond was staring down at a box on his desk, a relatively ornate looking thing with its various carvings and pale emerald hue. "What is it you want?" he asked, his voice becoming anything but friendly. "Hello, Avatar. Interesting box you have there," Blake said, ignoring Desmond's blunt question for a moment. "I think you know why I'm here. How much of the conversation did you overhear?" The escort disappeared behind a closing door, not wanting to overstay his nonexistent welcome. Desmond's irritable gaze was leveled on Blake, now. "Here is a hint: Exactly what makes you think I will allow you people to turn part of Europa--however small and isolated--into a warzone?" "Among other reasons, the two to three emblem pieces. at the least on the wielder that they possess. Potentially one less wielder as a result," Blake said, flatly. "The capture or death of the man responsible for the destruction of the Celeste, two months ago, which aids relations with the public. Further information pertaining to said individual's organization, with which you may be able to root out any moles in the Order. Potentially some goodwill from the group I'm working with. The ability to control or limit the damage, by being present. And if you have the means to prevent the bombing, by all means. It is needlessly destructive." Desmond slowly stood up from the desk. "The only reason I have not already dealt with these people is because I do not know the location of their hideout; I won't march warriors through the streets and tip them off before closing the circle. Find their hideout and carry out your 'rescue', but know this: I am not a respecter of persons and everyone involved here will be held accountable for their actions, especially Valcyn." "The hideout has been found. However, the person who does know where their hideout somehow knows of the link, and thus will not be willing to tell me directly. However, there is going to be a signal sent from a short distance away from the complex. If the warriors wear cloaks, both to protect from the rain and to disguise their armor, the organization will not be tipped off until they're on the scene," Blake said, bluntly. This could be going better. "I'd rather have them there, even if that means swifter accountability." While he waited for a response for that, the Ursian decided to inquire about the box. "... If you don't mind my asking, why does that box interest you? You never were one for fanciness over practicality." "I do mind," Desmond replied. "And I don't think you understand fully just yet. I won't leave a situation this volatile to chance; I will be the one leading this contingent, which means all that we require is your presence at the site." "I see," Blake said, mind racing. That would mean that the Organization cell will be dealt with, without fail. But, if Raquel and the others did go through with the bombing... "You of course mean, with Valcyn. Understood. Is there a chance that you won't kill their leaders outright, so that information could be extracted from them?" How was he going to be able to stop the bombing? Trying to talk Raquel out of it already failed once. It probably would fail again because of the distrust between her and the Wrathites. Maybe tampering with the explosives? But that could just end up killing him, and rendering the arrangement void. "If there is a way to safely restrain them," Desmond replied, his eyes narrowing, "I won't risk any of these people escaping and causing even more problems. Frankly, I would love to have one of them brought back here. Alive. But if I don't see that happening, I will make certain they are all executed on sight." "Noted. I believe one of them is severely injured," Blake said, avoiding eye contact. He was not going to bring up the emblem, not while Desmond was already livid enough about the bombing. That left... "One last thing. I am going to visit the Archive of Truth before I return to accompany Valcyn. Is there anything that the Order requires knowledge about? I can act as a proxy to obtain that knowledge." "The names of all potential and realized emblem wielders alive at the moment, as well as any information on their whereabouts," Desmond replied almost instantly. "That should save us some time if you can manage it." Blake took a moment, to repeat the question to himself, then nodded. "Understood. Farewell, Avatar," he said, before he began to leave the room. "And be sure to tell the woman there to stay out of this as well," Desmond added. After that, he sat back down and went back to contemplating the box sitting in front of him. [spoiler=Unforgiven]Cassandra had worked herself into a frustrated heap trying to figure out some way to lure Jethro into the net without giving away the fact that she had most of Raquel's memories or clueing him in on what to her seemed like a certain attack, and not just a probable one. When it came right down to it, even as supposed allies, they had nothing legitimate to say to each other. Perhaps they would if Jethro was curious about her origins, but if that were the case, he would have asked by now. Maybe he didn't want to know. That made more sense to her than him being too shy to ask; he wasn't too shy to injure her, she reminded herself. "Are you okay?" came Silvia's voice. When she rounded the corner to find Cassandra hunched over with her forehead and arms against the wall, she knew something must have been bothering her. "I'm just frustrated that I couldn't catch that woman," Cassandra lied easily. "Me too," Silvia looked away, somewhat embarrassed. "That's two for two and I still can't beat her. Don't take it too hard, though ... she's clearly had some serious training and I get the feeling that despite how strong you are, you're pretty new at this. Am I right?" I guess ... "Mmm ... I suppose? I was trained pretty thoroughly ...." "You can't be more than a couple of months old, though, right? Er-never mind. It's really none of my business. I'm just saying, opponents like that one are going to be really tough until you've got more experience." "I'm not really interested in overcoming strong opponents, really. I only wanted to stop her because-" Cassandra cut herself off, realizing she was about to reveal a somewhat incriminating ulterior motive none of her 'allies' should know about. "Because you were ordered to, right," Silvia finished the thought for her. She was wrong ... and yet right at the same time. Cassandra had her own reasons for everything she did here, but in the end, to maintain her cover ... orders were orders. "Yeah." Silvia took a spot on the wall next to Cassandra, resting her back against it and crossing her arms, a dreadful look on her face. "I really wish she hadn't done that to Sardis. He didn't deserve that." Cassandra made a bitter face, just out of Silvia's view. Of course he deserved it; he deserved far worse as far as she was concerned. Still, she could understand why Silvia would feel the way she did after seeing Sardis lying on a table, bandaged from head to severed thigh. "I don't ..." Cassandra paused a moment, still trying to decide if she should finish such a blatantly neutral thought. In the end, she decided to take the risk, if only because she was speaking with Silvia right now, one of the least likely to jump to any conclusions about her. Still, she chose her words carefully; Silvia was one of Sardis' staunchest supporters along with Hayato. "I don't think life is about what we deserve, Silvia. Sardis is just lucky to be alive." "Yes ... he is." There was a long, strange silence after that. Eventually, Silvia came off of the wall and turned to Cassandra. "I'm going to go see him, again. Will you come with me, Cassandra?" "What for?" Surprised by the question, she came off of the wall too, but made sure to do something about the awful look in her eyes first. Suppressing the bitter emotions she held for Sardis, she said, "Why me?" "Because I ... really shouldn't be alone with him, right now. I don't want to be alone at all right now. It's too easy to start thinking about how I could have stopped all of this if I just hadn't gotten distracted." Cassandra nodded. "Okay." It turned out, though, that Silvia wouldn't have been alone with Sardis; when she opened the door into the room where Sardis was being kept, she and Cassandra both were dumbfounded to see Jethro standing over Sardis with a sword held dangerously close to fallen warrior's neck, ready to slit his throat at any moment. "What are you doing?!" Jethro spared them a menacing glance at first, and then, as his gaze settled back on Sardis, he explained, "He asked me to do it. I don't really care why at this point. The truth is that I never forgave him for going after my daughter so relentlessly. I may be on your side now, but I don't think I'll ever be able to just let that all go. Believe me, I tried, and I thought I was making some progress, too, but I'm not. Since Sardis, the one behind it all, has a deathwish, and I can't forgive him for what he put Raquel through, no matter how much I try and pretend otherwise ... it might as well be me who ends this. Maybe once he's gone ... maybe then Raquel will change her mind about this." As Cassandra took in everything that was happening, her body began to tremble uncontrollably, barely noticeable to Jethro or Silvia in the heat of the moment, but to Cassandra it felt like her body was beginning to shake itself apart. Sardis is about to die ... I don't know what to do. Should I stop him? I ... no, Raquel wanted him to go to prison, but ... ... I don't know. This is happening too fast. "You can't," Silvia snapped rushing over to Jethro. She didn't try to get the sword away from Sardis, if only because the struggle might have caused the blade to do as much damage as a straight cut would have. "Jethro, if you do this, Hayato will never forgive you, and the first chance he gets, he'll kill you. Don't you see you're not going to fix anything if you go through with this!" "I already told you, it's what he wants," Jethro snapped, "The little kigenese brat couldn't take me before and he sure as hell can't take me now, so I'm not worried about him." "Cassandra, we have to stop him," Silvia said, pleading to her this time. I don't know what to do. Maybe ... "This is a terrible idea, but ... but what did ... what did Sardis say, exactly?" Jethro glared daggers in her direction, something almost as painful to her as being physically stabbed. Again. "If you really want to know, he told me that his death was inevitable now. Everything has come full circle and where I was once a victim, being hauled off as a ransom tool, I'm now in a position to end his life and free Raquel from this vigilante mission of hers." "That's not going to work," Cassandra replied. She still remembered that the battle at the old fortress changed everything. "It isn't just about Sardis anymore, remember? Samael threatened to kill Raquel's family. Even if that doesn't include you, whether or not Sardis dies, this is far from over. He'll never let Raquel join us after that fiasco." "Right. Because why bother with her when he has you?" Jethro hissed at her. "Not to mention, Samael's got quite the grudge against her for everything that's happened," he smiled grimly. "Maybe it really is hopeless." He slowly brought his sword away from Sardis and sheathed it on his belt, his smile replaced by a clear grimace. "I wanted Raquel to have a normal life, but neither of us can escape from this, now. I wanted her to at least join us so we could work together toward a common goal ... the goal I had all along and thought I'd never be able to attain ... buuut ... just like me, she couldn't forgive Sardis here," he looked down on the man as he began to open his eyes. "This doesn't look like the other side of the Gate. If it is, then ... it isn't quite what I imagined," he weakly greeted them all. "Sardis, listen to me," Silvia quickly said, kneeling down beside his face, "you have to hang on. I know this is the worst state you could possibly be in at a time like this but you have to stay with us." "You do," Cassandra agreed. "Hayato seems to think Samael's trying to get most of your men killed. Even if you die and they all transfer to Samael's command, he still might let the people who had this done to you thin out some more of them before actually abandoning this place. I'm not sure why else we would still be here after being so easily infiltrated." "This isn't the time for internal conflicts," Jethro muttered, clinching both of his fists. Maybe this was her opening, Cassandra mused. "I'm going to go have a word with him; I'll deal with Sardis when I get back." "No you won't," Silvia warned. "Actually, I'd like to talk with you in private, Jethro," Cassandra said, trying to sound cryptic, "It's about this situation, actually." "Not interested," he immediately replied, causing her to flinch slightly. "Well I'm interested," she demanded, "If you want this to get resolved without matters getting worse, you should hear me out." That barely fit with what she was actually saying, but hopefully no one else would notice in the heat of the moment. For now, she just had to get him to agree to speak with her elsewhere. "Listen to her, Jethro," Sardis chimed in, as weak and feebly as the first time he spoke, and much to Cassandra's surprise. "Samael sees her as one of his own kind, someone to be taught, protected, cared for. She may be able to bridge the rift between the artificials and everyone else. We're supposed to thrive in chaos as we remake the world, not become its victims. In order for that to happen, we need to start caring for each other again. That's what he would want ... isn't it? Isn't that ... what he told you, Jethro?" "Something like that, yeah. The artificials are supposed to be humans of superior intellect and lifespan, with individuals able to lead our forces centuries into the future, never losing sight of the our overall plan. Samael and Layla, though ... they could care less about us. I figured that's why you're here, Sardis. Even though you were once a fallen, he saw potential in you that the two of them just don't have. It's actually a shame that we're going to lose that ..." "We won't let you kill him, Jethro," Silvia insisted. Sardis smiled as he stared up at the ceiling. "Perhaps I'm ... just afraid. I'm in no position to defend myself, my people are to be left to a commander who sees them as little more than a nuisance, and it seems that Valcyn of all people is going to be the one to finish me off." "Hey, you asked me. I'm just going along with it because it makes sense," Jethro raised an eyebrow at him. "Maybe I'll even get some closure." "N-no," Sardis shook his head slightly, "I meant Raquel. Maybe I would rather be killed off by a real warrior ... and not by a frightened child." "No, I don't want her to get any blood on her hands. She can't handle something like that," Jethro refused the very notion. "If you die, it's going to be at my hands. That's all there is to it. Cassandra, I'll come find you later on, after I have a word with Samael, not before." With that, Jethro made for the door. Things weren't unfolding anything like what Cassandra had imagined, and the situation was becoming almost desperate now, on multiple fronts. For now, she decided to remain with Silvia and Sardis. [spoiler=Face the Night]Once the meeting had concluded, Blake took some time in the cathedral to inquire about the archive. He was directed to seek out the priestess Io. That should have been easy enough, but it took longer than expected to track her down. By the time that the swordsman had found the priestess, and they had made it to the entrance to the archive, an hour had passed. From the entrance, he could see that the door to the archive itself was not blocked, but there were three knights in the area: one far to the left of the door and two to the right of it. That was not promising. "I suppose I'll have to fight them to gain entry?" Blake asked Io, pointing towards the knights. "A group of companions of mine came through earlier, and that was how they were allowed in." He must have been involved with the larger group that tore through this place earlier, Io sleepily noted to herself. "You could just offer a contribution of some kind," she offered with a shrug. "Or didn't they tell you? Even a one on one might be a bit much for most people ..." If he'd rather fight them, she wouldn't stop him, but that really did seem a bit much. "Oh? They didn't mention that," Blake said, curious. "What would the contribution be in specific, some knowledge? I'd offer it, if I knew what exactly would work." As much as a one on one might be a learning experience, it wasn't really the time for such things. "Contributions come in all shapes and sizes," Io explained, suppressing a yawn. "Whatever you're willing to offer or share should be considered. You never know what might be deemed valuable here." "I see...," Blake said, beginning to contemplate his options. "... Alright, then. I have something in mind. How would I then offer the contribution, in that case?" "Very carefully," Io stated grimly, memories of the water mage's series of blunders coming to mind. As soon as she opened her eyes again, the doors to the archives began to open, slowly but steadily revealing Nyx and her pseudo throne of books. Sitting on the forward bench at the bottom of the throne was Nadine, who had a book sitting beside her and a strange metal object in her arms. She looked up to see who was coming in this time and was suddenly wondering why she was surprised it was another familiar face. That was... interesting advice, but before he could react, the doors opened, and there, upon a throne-like structure made of books, was the woman who had to be Nyx, given what the others said. She looked awfully like Io, so much that Blake had to look beside him and back to the throne to make sure she hadn't just warped over there or something. Then, when he looked back, he realized that Nadine- Raquel's friend- was at the foot of the throne, on a bench. That was... surprising. "Thank you for your assistance Priestess," Blake said, to Io, before he approached the archive. He nodded to Nadine before turning his attention to the vasilus. "Hello. I'm not sure how to offer up the 'contribution'. Should I say it or them aloud, or would reading my mind be easier?" "You're welcome," Io smiled, fighting back her sleepiness just long enough to do so. After that, and as Nyx began to descend from the top of the mountain of books, she considered heading back. She hadn't actually left yet, though, not by the time Nyx's feet were on the ground. "You just did," Nyx replied, grinning slightly as she approached him. "But first, tell me ... what is it you want? Why did you come here?" So entry worked out well enough, but now Blake was being asked about what he wanted and why he came here. That was.. more complex, especially with Nadine here. "I came here to seek out some specific knowledge regarding the emblem," Blake said, bluntly. "I need that information to save a friend at some point in the future, and I believe that my best chance to get it would be coming here." Nyx glanced back at Nadine for a moment; the mage didn't notice, as she was back to inspecting the metal object in her lap. It looked something like a shoulder plate, and the material was black with gold trim, just like the armor of a rune knight. "If you'd rather, I can always find out the details this way ..." she paused, slowly reaching out toward him with her hand. "That might be better," Blake said, seeing that Nadine hadn't caught on yet. "Go ahead." With Blake in agreement, Nyx drew closer. Just before her hand came to the spot she wanted, she felt something that caused her hand to stop cold and flinch. "... Wrath," she hissed. She looked utterly disgusted as she said, "What did that little boy do to you?" A rhetorical question, but she wouldn't have minded getting some details. For now, she decided to just go through with the memory delve. Wrath's presence was all but infuriating, but it wouldn't hamper her in any other way. "If you mean the Avatar, he placed a link on me," Blake said, glancing towards Nadine for a moment. "I'm a bit surprised you weren't aware of that. Regardless, the memory should still be around, as well as one of a message he wanted me to deliver, if you're curious." "I'll do as I please," Nyx irritably replied. Apparently, she'd gotten the message from him, already. "You should know ... you're the first person this has ever happened to, at least ... that I'm aware of," she noted. " Understood, and that's... interesting," Blake said, surprised. This hadn't happened before, to a vasilus's knowledge? He had to wonder if it would've been the same had he not intervened at the meeting. And why that was the case, seeing as this probably the first time the emblem was being contested. While Nyx continued to sift through Blake's mind, there was a somewhat awkward silence in the archives, one Nadine thought she'd already gotten used to. Apparently it was different when it was just her and Nyx here. She turned the object in her hands so the narrow edge was facing up at her. She smiled faintly as she imagined a pair of emerald jewels embedded on its armored surface, like a pair of eyes for the face of a bird. Her attention was drawn back to the exchange when Nyx ended the silence. "Hmph, I have little incentive to do the new avatar of Lord Wrath any favors, but I will help you, Blake," Nyx decided. "The power she held before likely supplemented and then eventually replaced many of your friend's bodily functions. Given enough time, it may even begin to sustain her completely. Abruptly separating her from that power could be the end of her, just as you fear. You'll have to instead wean her off of it slowly in order to allow her body to return to its natural state," she explained. "However ... I have my doubts that she will willingly choose this." "Look, I know you guys are talking about Raquel, alright?" Nadine muttered. She wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or worried when Nyx chuckled at her in response. Nadine was apparently aware that they were talking about Raquel, so that attempt at subtlety failed. She hadn't reacted to the conversation otherwise, though, so the Ursian man decided not to press. "... You're right, she probably wouldn't choose to do that, willingly. Especially considering how she's reacted in the past," Blake said, as he remembered the battle with the Neviskotian rebels. "That's going to be a problem, considering the circumstances. But, there must be a way to convince her. It'll be hard to find, no doubt, but I'll find it." He had to. The dependency wasn't an immediate problem, unlike the explosives, but it was just as serious. Though, he supposed, allowing the dependency to grow could also be a solution. But that meant... "I have another question, about that power," the swordsman continued, shaking off that thought for the time being. "Is there a way to negate or temporarily disable some of the emblem-powered abilities? I ask this for a few reasons, but the main one is that I don't want to feel helpless against a wielder again, like at the fortress." There was also the Dragon head to consider. It had acted in defense of them, but it hadn't followed along with Hypnos after the battle. What would happen later on, when the raid was to happen? If it appeared and attacked Raquel or the others, right now there was nothing he could do to prevent harm to them. And that gave him a horrible feeling.. "Convincing Raquel to give up something like that over health issues? Good luck with that," Nadine chimed in again, her frown hinting that it might be even harder than Blake was expecting. "Unfortunately your little friend, Desmond, has the right idea," Nyx began her grim explanation, "The best way to suppress the emblem's power is to deal with the wielder. If you don't want to feel helpless against that kind of power, consider stepping out of the shoes of an ordinary man and into those more befitting someone in your situation." "Are you going to ask him to join you?" Nadine raised an eyebrow. She'd asked, not only because Nyx seemed to do that quite regularly, but also because she herself had just received a startling revelation about her life ... that is, her life going forward. She spared the curved metal object another glance as she recalled Nyx's words. "If you want to change the hearts of other people, you'll have to guide them to that conclusion. It is impossible to truly control others, especially on a spiritual plane. You must walk the path of a commander ... so I'll start you off small and simple." Small and simple, yet the object she held in her arms had a spirit contained within. She thought she could feel it staring back at her through the metal. It was an eerie feeling, but probably one of her own making. Nyx finally shrugged. "It would be interesting, especially in the short term," she admitted. "The emblem wielders have so much ... control over their destinies ... and yet, so very little, as well. The choice is yours. Continue as you are ... or derive power from someone or ... something, willing to take you under their wing." "... Will it interfere with what's already been bound to me?" Blake said, referring to the link. That link was the only thing that stopped the Wrathites from going after Raquel and her family, so he couldn't just abandon it, as much as he'd like to. "Well ... becoming my servant means your life belongs to me. It isn't just grand rhetoric, it's legally binding. I can remove or leave the link as I see fit after that. That's how things work among my kind," she explained. Then, her eyes narrowed. "I would remove it; the wrathites won't be allowed to monitor my activities or those of my people. I know you don't want your sacrifice at the ball to be in vain, but with the path you people are on, a confrontation with the wrathites is inevitable. That is, unless you actually believe you can keep Raquel from involving herself any further with the Fire Emblem." "... I don't think we can avoid further involvement, not with how deep we're in already...," Blake said. Nyx was right: They were heading to a clash with the Wrathites, especially given Raquel's attitude, Sure, it probably wouldn't happen before the Organization was defeated, but it would happen. He'd be forced to go from basically spying on his comrades to actually fighting them, at that point, if he didn't join Nyx. In the meantime, there was no indication that the Wrathites would help with the wielders.On the other hand, if he submitted to the vasilus , then yes, the whole ball incident would be in vain. That was an issue only because it meant his employer's family would be in danger, and the mercenaries would be pursued by the Wrathites until at least the border, Which, while he didn't care much personally, wasn't fair to do to the others. The silver lining there would be that he would be able to be somewhat useful against the emblem wielder and the organization, and he presumably wouldn't be betraying the group to the Wrathites. Then again, Blake wasn't even certain that he'd make it out of the building, if he did have that link removed. Time to ask a few more questions "You're still reading my mind, correct? Is it possible for me to ask questions, that way?" he asked, conflictedly. "It is possible," Nyx replied immediately, already having discovered the man's questions. "If you choose to accept my offer, removing the link will require little more than a flick of my wrist," a figurative exaggeration, but it was still a trivial matter for her, especially since Wrath wouldn't move against the process. "As for the timing. You must be here ... in this chamber. I have no intention of leaving the archives at this time, not even to travel the fairly short distance you'd prefer," she chose her words deliberately to disguise Blake's true intentions, "but I could exercise a bit of patience even though that 'link' is such a detestable little thing. I wouldn't expect a transition like yours to be a smooth one." "In that case," Blake said, with a frown, "I believe you know what my answer is." Nyx's neutral expression faded into a scowl. "I do," she replied, irritably. Nadine wasn't surprised, turning down Nyx seemed pretty popular, but in her case, she was glad she accepted. "I hope you're ready for them, Blake, because without the power and the resolve to oppose your enemies, Raquel will eventually be defeated. No ordinary man can protect that girl from what's coming ...." The Operation Is About to Commence! The Dauntless was in the workshop, and the Paladin wouldn't be ready anytime soon, so the only replacement Raquel could get in time for the mission was a regular old combat transport. It was nothing like the Dauntless or a regular supply wagon. It was meant to move foot soldiers and foot soldiers alone. Having been designed to get them to their destination without exposing them to direct fire, it had several layers of wood that could stop anything short of siege strength spells and cannon fire. This extra thick hull made the transport's weight considerable, and unlike the Dauntless, there weren't any devices in place to ease that problem. Fortunately, the horses that would be hauling this thing were well suited for it. Unfortunately, that meant Sandrock would have to remain at Weyland's estate until they got back. Raquel was riding Riley currently, figuring they could save space if she could move around on her own. She hadn't decided whether they would go to Ursentius after this mission if it was a success. She just couldn't think past this mission anymore; for her, everything was riding on it. She was at least thankful that the rain had begun to relent at least a little bit. Instead of hard rain, it had been reduced to light, intermittent showers, and the lightning occurred very rarely. When Reign rode out of the stables on Sandrock, Raquel was almost amused, feeling she should have made that suggestion herself. Instead, Reign had apparently just decided to make sure they brought both horses. Normally, for something this dangerous, she wouldn't want them anywhere near the violence, and she wasn't planning on bringing them onto the complex grounds in either case, but during the retreat ... they would definitely need as many options as they could get. "Hope you don't mind," Reign rode up beside her, "but I personally think my chances are better with Sandrock than without her. And I don't think anyone but you can ride Riley, so ..." With a small approving nod from Raquel, Reign was cleared to use Sandrock for the mission. "Heh, feels good being on a horse, again. Anyway, let me get this straight, we're going to all stay back at first?" That was still somewhat suspicious, if only because the rest of the plan was even more vague, but he already knew there was more to this than Raquel or Gar were letting on. "Yeah," she nodded. "Gar and I have to make sure the bombs are ready before anything else happens or something's bound to go wrong. We'll ... try to negotiate," she added with way too much uncertainty in her voice. Reign figured she was lying or just didn't want to bother. "I don't think they're going to cooperate with us, but I'll try, first. Once we get my father and Hayato, we're going to try to fall back and set off the explosives and then ..." "Take down anyone who comes after us ... assuming negotiations break down. Got it." He didn't like the plan, but as a former army officer, going along with things regardless of his own opinion was just natural, so he'd do that here as well and hope next time the situation wasn't quite so urgent, or the people getting bombed were the fallen or something. He'd heard enough of the plan to be satisfied, so he nodded to Raquel and trotted off toward Faatina. "I think I'll keep riding Sandrock until she and Riley get hooked up to the Paladin. We seem like a good fit and I'm sick of going everywhere on foot." Meanwhile, the Weyland employee who had been chosen to drive the transport, settled into the driver's seat and tried to prepare himself mentally for the possibility of combat. He'd been told that the transport would only bring them close enough to quickly reach it on foot and get back just as quickly, but he needed to be ready for any eventuality; there was a rifle, pistol, short sword, grenade, and a novel, all in orderly arrangement toward the right end of the driver seat.