Animus Lost

To Honor Your Way

It was nearing nightfall the evening after the Jottun slaughter when Nameless glanced out his “window” – a literal hole in his wall. Fey and Beastmen sat in circles around dim fires in the open areas near the main building. Those who did not choose to fight a ravenous forest chose the unfamiliar company of fellow captives, the world outside the fallen fence too foreboding to consider. He noticed Quinlan almost the moment she came into view. She was easy to spot as she approached the ramshackle, roofless building they called the barracks, dragging a large basket behind her and glaring at anyone who came near.

Or… maybe that was Scary Horse’s normal, off-putting expression?

Nameless continued to watch, unmoving, from the second story room of the building. A few feet before she reached the door, a particularly brave Beastman moved to block her way. Quinlan’s expression did not change as she stopped and appraised him. The horse-Fey stood motionless, staring at her, clearly expecting something from her. Nameless shifted to get a better look at what was happening and just as Quinlan gave up glaring and started to move around the horse-Fey, he made a bizarre face at her; his upper lip peeled back, blocky white teeth exposed. He reached his arm out across her chest, grasping for her.

Quinlan’s initial surprise melted the moment he touched her. Her spine tensed into something serpentine and she struck out, biting the man’s forearm. He recoiled and looked as if he suddenly didn’t know where he was. Quinlan’s shod hoof slammed against his chest and flung him backward, the impact of which would clearly leave him bruised.

A very equine snort concluded their interactions as Quinlan dragged the basket inside the building. He could hear her pulling it up the retrofitted stone steps toward the rooms the mercenaries had appropriated, and continued to drag it down the hall towards him. She stopped short, and he could hear her speaking to Albin and Ro in the room adjacent to him. After a short exchange, he heard celebratory roaring so loud the noise distorted in his ears. Thankfully, the noise quickly subsided to bouts of excited talking and laughter.

He almost left to investigate when there was a soft knocking on his wall, swiftly followed by Quinlan’s inquisitive head popping through the curtain. They locked eyes, and hers slid downward.

“Dang.” She muttered, seeing his armor, “I’d hoped.” Smiling, she let herself in and offered him a pile of red grapes. “I made you all something. You caught me starting it yesterday, but now I’ve finished. They’re wine grapes. Probably not something you’re used to, but they’ll get you drunk as a duck in no time.” When Nameless didn’t immediately reply, she nervously kept talking. “I don’t know if you’re interested in drinking…er… eating? But I’d like you to try one anyway. I grew them using cheater farming, like one of my Riders would have said, using Vulcani magic and aged using Pact. Sooo… not only is it alcoholic, but a nice, aged wine. Try one?”

After a moment, while Nameless tried to digest what she’d been hoping for, he leaned forward and accepted the outstretched basket of seemingly ordinary grapes. There was a long silence while Quinlan stared at his mouth, wide-eyed and awkward.

Had he not known that the fruit was altered, Nameless would have spit it out thinking it had soured. Instead, he pushed through the strong taste and allowed the juice to wash down, coating his tongue, then went back for more. Quinlan eased a bit and began to nibble at her own.

“What is it like?” Nameless asked, curiosity getting the better of him, “Being first-generation?”

At first he thought she wouldn’t reply, and second-guessed his phrasing. As he took a breath to try again, however, she spoke up, “It’s confusing.”

Afraid she might not elaborate, he stood very still and raised an eyebrow.

It worked, “Well, you’re talking to the Quinlan, er… the Quinlan part of me, but I was talking to Champion and she says that it’s not an equal partnership. One of the two is always dominant over the other. What’s confusing is I think it’s the horse.” Quinlan stopped, as if suddenly realizing what she was saying. Scrunching up her face in frustration, she continued, “It’s not a merging, either. We’re both here. All of us. I mean, it’s not like I get the best of both or we lose anything it’s just… both. All the time. I’ve lost my legs.” She flapped her hands at him, “I’m wearing these legs on my chest and I know exactly how to use them. I want someone to get on my back and ride me, and I also know that sounds really weird.”

Nameless smirked a bit, turning so she wouldn’t see it, and began speaking to cover the silence. “How do you feel about it?” He paused, reconsidering, “I mean, it is unlikely you enjoyed the process or the outcome. But now that it’s happened, what does it make you feel? About yourself?”

“I’m going to die.” Her face crumpled and she turned away, “Skygoat… I don’t know how long until I die. I thought I had centuries. I’m dying and it’s almost like I can feel it.” Nameless thought she might try to leave again, so he tensed – ready to reach out for her. Then, she turned back, eyes pleading, “You could find out yourself.” Quinlan offered her hands to him, just like she had the night on the zeppelin, before the crash.

Without hesitation, he moved forward and took her hands in his.

The drop was immediate, and it burned. There was no gentle build-up of pressure before the release, only a wild, desperate falling. When he found himself on the other side, there was none of the serene confidence he’d felt before. She was overflowing with needs. He felt like he needed to run. He needed to fight. He needed to fly, to taste, to burn, to…”

The ground came rushing back, and it caught him back in his own body. The momentum took him down, and he pulled her with him. Her knees buckled and she fell onto him, straddling his waist. Her fingers immediately found the clasp of his breastplate, and she loosened it, then placed it on the ground and pushed it far to the side. Nameless sat up, put his back against the wall, and put his hands on her shoulders. The cloak he’d given her was barely fastened, just enough to keep it around her shoulders. He touched the brooch that kept it closed, and it dropped away around them.

Nameless lowered his hands to her waist, and took hold just below the line of her undershirt. Their eyes met, his questioning. Quinlan beamed, and nodded. She gripped her shirt, and slowly lifted it. His hands trailed the hem up her body…

View
On Perspective

Part One – Me

I am sitting on my bed, in my room. The room is not mine, technically, as I share it with three others my age, but I still think of it as my room. In particular, the area around my bed—upon which I now sit, as I mentioned—I treat as my personal space. I come here when I need time to myself, as the others are often busy with their duties throughout the day. My chores, however, are limited, and usually completed early. I am something of an anomaly, in that regard.

Actually, I am an anomaly in many ways. I am an anomaly because I was not given to the Abbey by my parents, unlike the other children here. Most of them come from families unable to support a child, but I would imagine that they all have their own interesting stories. I have never asked. I am an anomaly in this way because I was found as a baby, apparently abandoned, and taken back to the Abbey by the two that found me. I am one of few here that is actually a literal orphan, but I am the only one that was brought here by Abbesses, not pawned off on them.

I am also an anomaly because I am not here to learn the ways of the Abbey’s religion. As the sole one brought in by Abbesses, I am treated much more like a child than a student. I am allowed more freedom, and have fewer duties, as I mentioned before. I typically spend this time sitting in on classes anyway, but the fact remains that I am not expected to be there, which sets me apart from the rest.

Finally, and perhaps most dramatically, I am an anomaly because I have just used Blood Magic. I got excited at a gathering, and let my emotions run a little hot. Due to an unfortunate experience I’d had just a few months ago, I refused to let my Frenzy take over, and my emotions were forced to find a different outlet. I understand what it is that I have done, and I understand that it is very wrong, but I am not yet at the point where I understand why. I am still too young for this.

I wipe my sleeve under my nose and sniffle a bit. I am not crying any more, but I have been. I never meant to hurt the girl, but it just sort of happened any way. When Vera and Celeste enter the room in a few minutes, I will struggle to explain the event from my perspective, as I still lack understanding. It will come out as a rushed jumble, which will ultimately frustrate me, and send me back into tears. Celeste, overcome with the motherly instinct for which I have become her outlet, will come over and take me in her arms. I will cry into her robes for a good while, before finally calming down.

But this has yet to pass. For now, I am trying to calm myself, and trying my best to rationalize what just happened. I keep revisiting the fact that I never wanted to hurt her—it just sort of happened. This emotion, and the effect it had on me, will linger with me for many years. I focus so hard that I bite my lip open. My mouth fills with the coppery taste of blood, and, remarkably, much of my regret fades. I do not recognize the phenomenon at the time, and am unable to properly attribute it to the Magic, which is now working fervently on seizing a large part of my conscience.

As foretold, Vera and Celeste come into the room, and sit down next to me. We work our way through the prescribed conversation, and I end up sobbing into Celeste’s Abbess robes, the linen gradually rubbing my eyelids and cheeks raw. Shortly after I fully re-ground myself, Vera explains that the Cartographer’s Guild has shown interest in me, and wants me to come down to Cliffport for an assessment. She mentions that, if they like what they see, I’ll be taken on as an Apprentice Cartographer, and will get the best education in the Empire. I am overcome with joy at the prospect, failing to realize the implication that taking the offer will mean leaving my whole life behind.

When I do finally reach that conclusion, several hours later (after my initial elation has waned), my anticipation fades into anxiety. My nerves at leaving the only life I have ever known stay with me through the week, and into my journey south. It is only after my assessments, as I am being handed my robes, pack, and supplies, that my excitement returns. It never once occurs to me that Vera might have been lying to keep me safe, and that the Guild hadn’t actually shown any interest in me at all. It never dawns on me that joining the Guild was meant to be a punishment for my Magic, designed to keep me at a safe distance from the only world I’d known, to that point. I never realize how crucial it was that Vera did this.

As a consequence of my lack of understanding, I never thank her for that.


Part Two – You

You giggle into your hand, the spoonful of soup previously destined for your mouth now forgotten in your bowl. He’s looking at you quizzically from across the table, making an effort at being oblivious to the two green beans he impaled on his tusks. One of them falls over part-way as he talks—and eventually goes up his nose—at which he recoils, and drops the act. Your giggling grows into full-blown laughter at this, drawing the attention of many nearby, though you never notice it. You eventually calm down, and manage to return to both your meal and the conversation.

Your courtship is long and fraught with significant moments, but you will always remember this one as the point when you started to truly feel something for him. Prior to now, you’ve known how he’s felt about you for quite some time (the boy’s never been good at hiding his feelings), but it wasn’t until this moment that the word “love” ever entered the ‘words-I-might-use-when-referring-to-him’ part of your lexicon. In later years, you’ll find it humorous that your emotional turning point revolved so heavily around improper use of green beans. Humorous, but oddly appropriate.

A few nights later, he tells you who he really is, and you find yourself flustered at the reveal. You understand his rationale for keeping it from you, but you make him work for your forgiveness, which you are slow to offer. You eventually come to understand that your anger does not come from him or the fact that he kept a secret from you. Your anger, you realize, stems from the fact that you fell in love with him, but didn’t tell him before he had the chance to tell you his secret. He stood naked in front of you, trusting you—yet not knowing how you really felt, and you were upset that you could have made it easier, but didn’t. You eventually forgive yourself for this, but not until long after he has done the same.

When you return to your room that night, the temptation is strong to pack your things up and return home. You’d received word from your father a few weeks prior that your uncle—a man you neither loved, nor knew—had passed away, and his position as the House Treasurer had opened up. There were many eligible candidates, but your father wanted to offer it to you first, in what you imagined was his version of an olive branch. Your gut reaction was to throw the offer in the man’s face, disgusted that he cared so little for you or your interests, but in light of what you perceived as your newly-sabotaged relationship, you considered taking him up on it. You fell asleep resolving to give it a few days’ thought.

The next afternoon, you run into the boy after class. You turn to walk away, but he says that he’s not there to apologize again, which catches you off-guard. He tells you to walk with him, and says that he has something to show you. You reluctantly oblige.

You walk in silence next to him, doing your best to keep your anger at a low simmer as he talks. He explains that the night before, after you left, he debated leaving the Guild and trying to find work in another town. The revelation that you both had similar fears about your worth to the other is sufficient to make you decide to stay in Cliffport. If nothing else, you admit internally, the boy is devoted to you, and you do love him.

When you arrive in the arboretum, he turns to you and asks you to point out your least favorite plant. After leading him to a bellis perennis, he plucks a single flower from the bed, and holds it in his hand. He closes his eyes and grimaces a bit as your ears begin to thrum softly. The flower leaves his hand and starts to float in the air between you, wilting and turning to ash as it does. When there is nothing left but dust, he opens his eyes again, and finds your gaze. “This is what happens when I take the easy way out,” he says to you. “But this,” he says, gesturing to your knee, your ribs, your shoulder, and your face—indicating the areas that had been the most injured in your fight, so many years ago, “is what happens when I work for something.”

‘Father can shove it,’ you think to yourself, as you lean forward for your last first kiss.


Part Three – Him

Sleep is difficult, when the world is trying to kill you. The larger world is not actually trying to kill me, but the forest that I’m in the middle of is, which is—as far as I’m concerned right now—basically the same thing. I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept at all in two days, and I haven’t slept well in almost a month. I could go on for hours about how tired I am, but I won’t. There wouldn’t be a point, really.

I get up, and walk to the edge of the camp, which isn’t all that much, as far as camps go. Albin looks up as I plod by, and asks where I’m going. I give him a noncommittal “nowhere,” and continue on my way. I assume he accepts it, because I don’t hear him get up behind me. I guess that he wants to say “be careful,” but decides the best of it. I approve his decision.

After a few minutes, I can no longer hear Goldie’s snoring, and figure I’m by myself. The gentle babble of a stream somewhere ahead of me beckons I continue, and I oblige, until I find it. With great pain, I nestle myself on a rock, and dip my feet in the cold water, which comes as an oddly soothing sensation. For a long time, I sit there, doing, saying, and thinking absolutely nothing at all.

“I saw what you did, back there.” His comes from behind me, and I start, practically falling into the river. I steady myself on the rock, and take a minute to collect myself. This was not going to be pleasant.

“It was a mistake,” I explain, not turning to face Him. “You’re wasting your time.”

“I don’t think so.” A pause. “I think you wanted to save Fritz, and you knew the best way to do it.”

He has me there. Lying to Him is pointless, as it should be, and his conclusions thus far are valid. “Yeah, well,” I begin, then trail off.

He chuckles a bit. “You’re a good physician, Archibald. An excellent one, in fact.” He gestured towards my leg, though I didn’t turn to look. “But it’s high time you realize that they need more from you than just that.”

“That’s not true. We all have our roles.”

“Yes, you do. You have yours, and they have theirs.” He pauses just long enough for the moment to land before continuing. “And, their roles are all multi-purpose. Albin can smith with the best, but he can also take a hit like a champ. Goldie’s got her helpful magic, but she’s also the scariest warrior this side of the Spine. Fritz is a master tactician, but he could also shoot the fleas off a dog. What else can you do?”

I squeeze the crutch tightly, refusing to look away from the river. I don’t want to give Him the satisfaction. “I’m the map guy, I know more history and science than any of them, and I help Albin in the forge, when he’s making stuff for the others.”

“And that amounts to fuck all!” He shouts at me, coming in close to lean over me. “How many times have you cowered in the corner, uselessly? How many times have you ran away, when blows start flying? How many times have you gone fucking limp, Archibald?”

I could feel my heart gently clawing up to my throat, and my nose started to flare as my breathing moved to the shallow end of the pool. “I’ve been reading up on how to negotiate, for when we—”

“For when you what, Archibald?*” He cuts me off, still shouting. “Get to Cliffport? Need I remind you that you’re fucking dying?” He poked me hard in the shoulder, causing me to sway a bit on the rock. “How much longer do you think you’re gonna last?” He turns his back on me quickly, and takes a step away, putting a palm to his mouth in frustration. After a moment, he turns back. “You’re living on borrowed time as it is, Archibald. Banagher didn’t last long, Danagh didn’t last long, no one in fucking New Turath lasted long. Your time is running out fast.”

It takes me a long time to bounce back from that one. For almost a minute, I stare silently into the river, before finally getting up and replacing my crutch. “No,” I say. “I don’t need it. I’m a physician, and a smith, and a Cartographer, and an Orc, and a friend and a son… and I don’t need the Magic for any of that.” I swell my chest a bit, kinda proud of that one.

He hangs his head, and licks his lips as he shuffles his feet. “Maybe you don’t, Archibald. But what about her?”

“Cyleena? How?” I ask, indignant.

“Not Cyleena. Quinlan.” He pauses as I wrap my head around his meaning. “She, and your horse, were taken by Jottun, Archibald. Jottun. You think you’re gonna get the chance to play ‘nice guy’ with them?” He takes a step towards me, and bends his back just enough to stay in my gaze as I try to look away. “You think they’re going to give you even the slightest fucking quarter? Because they’re not.” He takes another step, now uncomfortably close. “You’re going to need every single tool at your disposal, if you want to even have a chance of saving her.” He straightens up, and claps a hand down onto my shoulder. He’s no taller than me, but the crutch forces me to slouch a bit.

“Or, you can hide behind a tree stump, like you always do.” I shut my eyes as he talks again, not wanting to hear what I know he’s about to say. “You’re good at that.”

I open my eyes again, and he’s gone. “I hate you,” I whisper, to the same empty river bank that had always been there.

I hate Him.

View
On Doing One's Homework

“We’re gonna get in so much trouble,” Cyleena mumbled, barely loud enough for Arkh to hear. “Just being in this part of the library is enough to get us kicked out of the Guild.”

Arkh reached into his pocket, not bothering to look away from the book he had open, balanced in his other hand. “That’s why…” he said, fumbling in the pocket, “we have…this!” He pulled a slightly crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, and held it up for Cyleena to inspect.

Cyleena snatched the paper from his hands, and immediately began smoothing it out on a table nearby. “How’d you get authorization?” she asked, studying the page in the dim candle-light.

“I… acquired it.” Arkh replied, still not looking up.

Cyleena eyed him briefly, then looked back at the paper in front of her. “Wait a second, this authorization is for Senior Cartographer Gyarr.”

“He was done with it,” Arkh shrugged. “I figured I’d put it to better use than taking up space in a wastebasket.”

Cyleena dropped her voice to an angry whisper and lowered her head, despite them being almost completely alone. “This isn’t gonna get us out of trouble!”

“Well, not like that, no.” To that, Cyleena tilted her head, confused. Arkh continued, “I need you to change it, so that it has my name on it, instead.”

Cyleena pulled her head back, and let her eyes widen a bit. “Oh, do you?”

Arkh finally looked up from his book. “I got a package from the Abbey a few days ago. Among the assorted goodies in it, there were a couple of sprouting plants.”

Cyleena’s anger quickly turned into curiosity. “What kind of plants?”

Arkh shrugged. “I don’t know, that’s not my specialty. I was gonna give them to you, in thanks for helping me out tonight.”

Cyleena slouched a bit, sighing as she did. “Okay, fine,” she said, after a moment, “I’ll doctor the stupid paper.”

“And you said those Cinderfell Documentation classes were worthless. You’ll make a fine thief yet, milady,” Arkh said, tauntingly.

“Watch it there,” Cyleena warned. “This is still a favor.”

“As you wish, milady.” Arkh responded. “I’m gonna go grab a few more books. Let me know if anyone gets curious.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Cyleena waved him off, already focusing on the document. “Go get your books.”


“Apparently, it all goes back to a woman named Vasha,” Arkh said, flipping through his notes. “She was the daughter of a Dragon and a Mortal, and the fact that she even existed broke a lot of rules.”

“So… the magic just came from her?” Cyleena asked. She was laying on her stomach, looking over Arkh’s shoulder, who was on the ground at the foot of the bed.

Arkh shrugged a bit. “Not quite. She had certain advantages, but everything I could find made it sound more like the magic was something she came up with later on.”

“So you’re her descendant?”

“Probably not,” Arkh offered, a little unsure. “At one point, she used her magic to create a sentient being: a woman named Daesei. Daesei was the one that figured out how to pass the magic from parent to child, and I think Vasha died before she could learn the secret.”

“So you’re her descendant.”

“Probably,” Arkh nodded. “At the end of the Second Age, Blood Mages were hunted down pretty zealously. Daesei and Vasha had caused a lot of trouble for folks, and most people weren’t interested in letting any other Sorcerers do the same. I’d guess that my grandparent, or great-grandparent, or whatever, must have survived the witch hunts.”

“Okay…” Cyleena said. “Then what?”

“Then, it disappears completely. No one uses it, no one has it, no one can even trace their lineage to one of the two original Sorceresses. For almost a century, it just doesn’t exist.”

“And then you?”

“No,” Arkh shook his head. “Then Jarl.”

“Jarl Eagleface? The guy from the Dawn Patrol?”

“The same.” Arkh flipped a page. “Apparently he started showing that he had it some time around the Battle of Thrones. Accounts of what he actually did are pretty varied, but they all agree that no one had any idea, up to that point.”

“Weird.”

“What’s even weirder is that no one really reacted. No one else in the Dawn Patrol seemed to care much, and people at the time just kind of shrugged. Like it was the logical course of events, or something.”

“You’re right,” Cyleena agreed. “That is weirder.” They sat in silence for a moment, while Cyleena pondered everything he’d said up to that point. After a minute or so, she spoke again. “But that’s all history. What else did you find?”

Arkh deflated visibly as he sighed out his nose. “Well, I found out why it’s so illegal.”

Cyleena’s ebony ears literally perked up at this. Not that she was excited, but Arkh’s tone indicated that he was very unhappy about something he’d found, and she didn’t want to miss a detail. She didn’t want to make him repeat himself later.

Arkh flipped a few more pages, then drew in a breath to speak. “The magic itself is very powerful, rivaling Dragon and Demon in terms of raw destructive capacity. But, if blood is spilled in service of the magic, it gets exponentially more impressive. The more horrific and painful the ‘blood price,’ as the books called it, the more powerful the Sorcerer becomes. There are stories of Sorcerers leveling entire towns by themselves, with nothing but a dagger and a few helpless victims.”

Cyleena took a moment to digest what he’d said, then responded. “Okay…” she said. “That’s pretty bad, but so far I’m not hearing anything that Pact can’t do. It’s just better at the bad stuff.”

“Well, there’s more,” Arkh said, his voice heavy with regret. “The magic itself is… aggressive. It corrupts those that use it, over time. It teaches the Sorcerer to become more and more dependent on it, and it breaks down their resistance to doing certain things, like burning down villages.”

Cyleena frowned at that, and chewed on her lip pensively. “But you’re not like that, Archie,” she said, after a moment. “You’re a physician, you care about people. Magic isn’t going to make you evil.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure, Leena,” Arkh said. “From everything I’ve read, the magic doesn’t like it’s Sorcerers trying to play the good guy. It comes at them sideways, and plays nasty tricks on them, to break them down. Tricks like undermining their confidence, or making them feel useless. It plays on fear and doubt, and it is, apparently, pretty relentless.” Arkh fell silent, at that.

Cyleena reached a hand out towards Arkh, and rested it on his shoulder. “You’re scared,” she said. “You’re scared of the magic.”

Arkh nodded, wordlessly. He set down his stack of notes, and took her hand in his. “I’m scared of what it’ll do to me.”

They remained like that, in silence, for a long time. Hand in hand, their minds both went to what it would mean if Arkh ever fell victim to the magic—not only if he ever got caught using it in Cinderfell, but what it would do to him, personally. Without speaking on it, they both reached the conclusion that such an outcome would, both figuratively and literally, be a one-way journey for Arkh, from which he could never recover, or return.

“Well,” Cyleena said, after a long while. “While all of that may be true, you’ve got two advantages over the magic.”

Arkh turned to face her, at that, slightly confused at her remark. “And what are those?”

“Well, for starters, you’ve got the prettiest Dren to ever walk Vulcanica on your side.”

Arkh chuckled for a moment, and let the smile linger on his face. “And the second?”

“You don’t want the magic. You want to be a good man, a good doctor—a good Cartographer—and you don’t need the magic’s help for any of that. You’re gonna do just fine on your own.”

Arkh closed his eyes, and nodded softly. “You’re right, Leena.” After a moment, he opened his eys. “Thanks, for that.”

Cyleena nodded, and pulled her hand back. “Of course.” She sat up, and straightened her robes. “Now, I believe you owe me some plants?”

View
On Being Helpful

The buzzing got louder.

Climbing atop the remains of a broken fence, Fritz started barking orders, attempting to muster the newly-freed prisoners into something resembling a militia. And, much to everyone’s surprise, the prisoners listened. In minutes, the camp went from panicked chaos to—admittedly apprehensive—determination. Where weapons were available, they were distributed and set against the coming charge; where they weren’t, the Beastmen stepped up with tooth and claw, ready to fight to the last.

And the buzzing got louder.

From somewhere in the line, Ro stumbled forward of formation. He looked around, realizing he’d broken rank, and burped a bit—despite being practically four days sober. He immediately straightened up, as if the burp had presented him with an unexpected revelation, and adopted a wild grin. He inhaled deeply, turned away from the formation, and exhaled a massive Breath, setting fire to the ground in front of him. He rotated on his hips as he spouted flames, laying down an impressive line of red and orange fire across the battlefield. As he worked, Champion and some others stepped forward, adding to the already impressive display, turning the intimidating conflagration into a terrifying inferno of defense.

And yet, the buzzing got louder still.

The Jottun crested the tree-tops, and by the Martyrs, there were a lot of them. Their insectoid wings thrumming out the dirge of their arrival, they bore down on the camp with the fury for which they were so reviled. The smoke and fire made their approach difficult, and consumed the less cautious of them before the lines even met. Despite that, however, the lines met anyway, and they did so with all the hatred and rage both sides could bring. In seconds, the ground ran crimson with the life’s blood of both sides, and the air filled with screams of the dying.

Seeing what had become of Quinlan… what was left of Quinlan… had caused tremendous pain in Arkh. He’d known her for barely a few days before she was taken, and hadn’t been particularly fond of her—no more so than he would be of any new acquaintance—but he’d never expected that their journey together would put her in the path of the Jottun. After seeing what they’d done to her—after seeing the wonders of modern medicine and magic corrupted and twisted in such a vile way—he’d nearly gotten sick all over her. The pain and shame of what he felt he was responsible for was too much to bear, and he’d chosen to shut it all out than carry it.

He stared numbly at the arriving Jottun horde, and watched with dull, glossed-over eyes as they bit into the ranks of their own prisoners. He looked down at his broken leg, hobbled and malformed in its splint, and felt no pain at his condition. There was no anger, there was no hate, there was no suffering. There was only a feeling of numb uselessness.

Useless.

The word rang in his skull like a brass bell in a long, lonely stone corridor. It echoed through the halls of his memory, and carried his soul to another time, another place. Every time he’d been passed up for a field mission, every time he’d cowered behind a rock while the mercenaries fought. Every time he fell asleep at the end of the day, wondering what good he’d actually done.

“Useless.” The thought wound through his mind, though he felt as though it was not his own. Almost like when Cerlissa had spoken to him, but not quite. “Useless,” the thought came again, this time, almost frantically. He tried to ponder the thought, but found his mind instead drawn to his wrists, his neck, his heart. The gentle thumping of his pulse hammering out the cadence of his life, pumping blood through his body like soldiers on the march.

“Useless,” the thought came for a third time. “I have been useless for so long.” His pulse began to quicken, as his fingers jerked and tingled with the sudden rush of blood. His vision reddened ever so slightly, and he found himself abandoning the crutch at his side, the Frenzy giving him the stability he was about to need.

“But I am not so useless any more.”

A few dozen yards ahead of Arkh, a Jottun had gotten separated from the main force, and was slicing through the force of Beastmen that opposed it. A soldier behind the Jottun had approached its back unnoticed, and—seizing the initiative—stabbed it through the chest. The blow wasn’t nearly enough to kill the wretched creature, but it was enough to startle it, and cause it pain. Distracting pain. It would do just fine.

Reaching out with his magic, Arkh touched the Jottun’s mind. It was a twisted and vile thing, exuding enough rage and contempt that merely connecting with it made Arkh feel ill. It was distracted by its pain and surprise, and wasn’t prepared for Arkh’s onslaught. In a split-second, the Jottun was at Arkh’s mercy, and Arkh wasn’t feeling particularly merciful.

Acting quickly, Arkh commanded the Jottun to sever it’s major arteries and autoexsanguinate. In Arkh’s head, the Jottun screamed and refused, letting loose a thousand spiteful insults in Norscan. Arkh ignored it. Ultimately, the Jottun had no say in the matter, and the fact that it was an unwilling participant would only make things easier, in the end. It’s mind refused, but it’s body obliged. In seconds, five grisly wounds had appeared across the Jottun’s body, spilling forth a sickly black blood. Reaching out with his magic once again, Arkh commanded the blood to obey his will. The blood was eager to comply.

Arkh felt as though, up to this moment, he’d been pushing a boulder up a hill. His whole life, he’d struggled and fought it, trying desperately to push the heavy weight just another step. As the blood’s power washed over him, he felt himself step aside, and let the stone roll to the ground. His strength had been wasted pushing a boulder, and—in this moment—he was no longer burdened by its dead weight. He was not so useless any more.

The Jottun under Arkh’s control erupted in an explosion of black ichor, and the blood immediately made its way skyward, where it spread into thick, dark clouds. The world dimmed as the sun disappeared behind Arkh’s malice, and the air in the camp ran cold. Arkh’s breath became ice in front of him, and his eyes glowed red with the dark magic that was now wholly and completely subject to his will. A small, white cloud poured from his mouth as he spoke, turning to vapor as it floated away. “Die.”

There was a soft rumble, like a distant landslide, from the dark sky. There was a swirling within the clouds, and then there was silence.

Then, there was death.

From the sky, dozens of flaming rocks plummeted to earth. They rained down upon the Jottun force, hammering their line to dust. Many of those that survived the initial pummeling found their legs and arms entangled by tendrils of darkness, pulling in all different directions until their limbs were no longer attached. Some gasped helplessly as the air in their lungs decided it had better things to do, while others still came face-to-face with visions from their worst nightmares, clawing at their own eyes and ears in an attempt to escape the torment. In seconds, the Jottun had lost 6 of every 7, and the rest did not last long. The few that managed to completely escape Arkh’s wrath had no chance against the vengeful horde of Beastmen that now washed over them effortlessly. What had initially promised to be a long and brutal battle was now over, barely minutes after it had started.

Arkh closed his eyes and exhaled, releasing the magic under his command. The dark clouds dissipated, and the brisk-yet-comfortable air of the Valirauran afternoon returned. He reached down for the crutch at his feet, and let his Frenzy fade away as the pain in his leg returned. He limped over to an exposed rock, and let himself collapse atop it, grunting in pain as he did. A pleased smile crept across his face as he caught his breath, proud of his contribution—proud that he’d saved so many innocent Beastmen from a death at the Jottun’s hands.

But then, from the corner of his eye, he noticed the field. His smile faded as his eyes found the Jottun’s bodies, maimed and disfigured from his magical assault. They were not prepared for Arkh’s magic, and many of them had died terrified, and in great agony. Indeed, Arkh had meant for it to be that way. They were monsters, true, and the things they’d done to the people in this camp were unforgivable, true… but not even they had deserved this.

And just like that, Arkh missed his boulder.

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To Take a Step

I don’t even know what my name is… she thought to herself as she worked. She was trying to keep her mind off of the day’s events, but it just wasn’t working for her. She’d had so many names in her past… pasts… Scary Horse, Quinlan, Abhaya, Olaudah… Will this ever get easier?

She scrunched up her face and willed herself not to think about it. She was trying to keep from igniting her project when something caught her eye, causing her to flinch and stand to face the threat.

A Beastman stood there. Curiously, another horse. He seemed to be shaped very much like her, though he was sorrel to her piebald. He had some noticeable scars, which meant that he’d been there a while. Training. The Jottun here were skilled and created the Beastmen without scars… a point that Scary-Quin (as her friend Goldie had been calling her) was a little upset over. While she may have hidden them under her leathers, she liked her scars. She even liked her tattoos.

The Beastman continued to stand there, looking unsure of himself.

“Well?” She called out irritably.

He flinched and took a step forward, but seemed to change his mind and moved along.

“That’s right, buddy, move along.” she decided not to think anything more of it and squatted, returning to her grapevines. That wasn’t the first time one of the other horse-men showed up today, and she didn’t want anything to do with them. She didn’t know if it was supposed to be some kind of plea for belonging or what, but “horse” wasn’t all she was and she wasn’t going to let her beast define her.

She escaped the labels ‘Ivy,’ ‘slave,’ ‘demon’… well, maybe not that last one. At least not where the Holly was concerned. Regardless, ‘horse’ wasn’t going to put her in a box either and those stallions could stuff it. She didn’t see any of the lady horses coming around to chat.

Just then, she felt a hand on her shoulder and she immediately spun around and punched Nameless in the knee, who let out a startled shout and landed hard on the ground.

“Oh no!” She dropped the bushel and, wide-eyed, moved to look at her goaty visitor. “I’m sorry, I thought you were…” realizing she didn’t know how to explain it, she trailed off awkwardly.

When Nameless only smirked at her, she pushed him so he fell back onto his elbows and went back to what she was doing. “You know, I find I’m a lot stronger now, Skygoat, you should be more careful.”

He only continued to smirk and sat up to rub his knee, then looked past her to the thick, twisted patch of vines.

“Oh, you weren’t supposed to find me here, I’m making something.” He still didn’t say anything. When she turned back and picked up another vine to continue working, he reached out and took her hand.

A bit startled, she blurted, “For some reason I thought you might not like me as much this way, Skygoat. Grounded and furry.”

His expression darkened to something almost reprimanding. He looked vaguely… disappointed.

“Not what you came to chat with me about?” she hesitated, hoping he’d jump in to tell her that she was needed somewhere, that Champion was seeking her out. Anything. When it didn’t come she became quickly irritated and tried to take her hand back so that she could leave.

He didn’t let go, and that infuriated her.

“Oh NOW you won’t let me go?” She spat, “Where was THAT before you went off to plant the seed?” His brows twitched together in slight confusion, and she picked up on it immediately, “I watched you run off to fight the creature with Goldie after she’d already hacked it apart. I NEEDED YOU! SHE DIDN’T!”

Nameless seemed stunned for a moment, then his eyes widened in realization. She saw it and suddenly she wished she hadn’t said anything at all. She wished he’d just go and leave her alone. She didn’t want his damn pity. She tugged at her hand, hard. Hard enough that she nearly hurt herself, but he was barely moved.

Suddenly, she could feel the tears burning behind her eyes. She struggled halfheartedly against him, hoping to crawl back to the numb, distant place that she’d managed to stay in all day.

But she couldn’t. He wouldn’t let her run, so she tried to fight him instead. She flailed at him, hitting him with balled up hands and pushing him. Screeching, she scratched and shoved and tugged randomly until she found herself exhausted. Her forearms bruised from his armor.

Still, he was silent. There was nothing he could say to fix it, but he could be there. Finally, she gave up. She dug her fingers between the plates of his armor, laid her head on his chest and screamed her frustration out until she cried.

He held her, silently, until she slept.

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On Fear

Arkh clutched the ropes he’d tied around the pillar, desperately trying to give himself a small measure of confidence. He’d stood in defiance against a horde of Fu, in order to keep Fritz safe—why was this airship such a problem for him? Albin and Nameless rushed past him and climbed the ladder at his back, pumping Demon fire into the balloon. Watching them hustle to the ship’s help didn’t give him his answer.

The sudden surge of heat gave Arkh some of his courage back, and he loosened his grip on the ropes as he felt the ship begin to rise once again. Its upward pitch was significant, however, and Arkh watched as a small, wooden dowel rolled past him, towards the back of the ship. Fritz took notice at that, and shouted “the gear!” as he raced towards the stern. He struggled on his own for a moment, the others occupied with helping Quinlan keep the ship afloat. As much as he hated it, Arkh knew what he had to do.

He was still afraid, he realized, as he hustled towards the Elf, and held up his hands in a ‘throw it to me’ gesture. It wasn’t that the fear had left him, it was just that, thanks to the Frenzy, he didn’t care any more. He caught the box that Fritz chucked, and tossed it further up the deck, to the other side of a safety net near the prow. Without the Frenzy, he would have struggled to throw the box even a few feet—but to him now, it felt like a child’s toy in his hands. Fritz and he repeated this several times, until they had managed to secure everything loose on the deck.

The moment had distracted him, however, and he’d failed to notice that they were once again losing altitude. He’d barely had a moment to celebrate his contribution before Quinlan’s voice carried over the wind. “Brace for impact, guys.”

Hitting the trees was not a real impact, so to speak, but Arkh didn’t have the time to secure himself properly—he’d merely planted his feet and lowered his center of gravity. The sudden slowing had yanked him off his feet, and he clocked his chin against the wooden deck when he fell. He’d been about to drop the Frenzy, but the sudden meeting of body and ship made him realize that an increased pain tolerance might be a good thing here, pretty soon.

Despite colliding with the tree tops, the ship was still moving at impressive speeds, and hadn’t slowed by any noticable amount. As it began to pass below the tree line, branches started whipping at the interior of the ship, snagging on support lines and smacking the ship’s hapless passengers. Arkh, already flat on his back, suffered somewhat less of a beating than the others, in this particular stage of the journey groundward. At one point, a rigging line caught for good on one of the branches, causing the ship to careen sideways. The forward momentum was too strong for the ship to truly ‘turn’ at this point (as much of a turn as it would have been), causing the deck to instead list sideways, and spin rapidly as it hurtled towards the ground with all the grace and poise of a rock. At some point, one of the crates from the prow came loose and tumbled backwards, slamming into Arkh’s chest as it moved, knocking the wind out of him and cracking, he guessed, at least one of his ribs.

He was still gasping for air when the ship smashed into one of the tree trunks. Well, ‘smashed into’ probably wasn’t as accurate as ‘glanced off of,’ as the ship immediately careened off to the side. Albin and Nameless were thrown from the ship when it struck the tree, tumbling—almost harmlessly—into a large pile of dead leaves. Arkh didn’t have time to register his jealousy, however, as the ground had finally arrived to the conversation, and it had a few things to say to them.

The impact didn’t really hurt, or even startle Arkh. He’d seen it coming, if only for a second, and had the chance to mentally prepare himself for what was next. Smashing head-first into a rock, and getting partially impaled on a fallen tree trunk, however? That part hurt pretty bad. Arkh barely had time for his thoughts to find Cyleena. He didn’t have time to say goodbye. There was black, and then, there was nothing.


If luck were held in a reserve somewhere, and if it were something that multiple people might be able to draw from, Arkh used up everyone else’s, in that moment. He came to not long after the landing—as much of a landing as it was—in a rather contorted state. True, he’d cracked his skull in multiple places, and, true, his leg was probably borderline permanently useless, but he was alive. Between the Frenzy and his tremendous amound of luck, he’d somehow survived.

Arkh’s thoughts immediately went to the others. He’d seen Fritz and Goldie land in a clearing, though he couldn’t remember seeing Quinlan. Triage training kicked in, and he immediately began to prioritize the ones he could help.

If he could only walk.

His right leg, broken in several places, and partially impaled on a rotting branch (likely infected by now), was—for all intents and purposes—completely useless. He could tell that he had also broken many other bones, and was likely bleeding internally. Judging by the pained and misshapen state of his torso, he guessed that he was also close to having a punctured lung, as well. In any other situation, he’d be the one getting the doctor’s immediate attention. But, today, he was the doctor, and there were friends that needed him. He dipped his scalpel in the jar of Slive venom (praise to Ash it survived the crash), and applied it to the most damaged areas, taking care to avoid anywhere he might need to move and perform surgery.

In a matter of minutes, the pain had become substantially more controllable. Arkh’s newly-paralyzed chest wasn’t particularly interested in allowing him to get up, however, and it was an awkward-and-painful few seconds before he managed to sit. He quickly wrapped gauze tightly around his head and chest, to stop any further blood loss and prevent anything from jostling out of place. Then, being liberal with the Slive venom, he set to work extracting the shards of rotted wood from his leg.

An agony-filled five minutes later, Arkh was on his feet, hobbling awkwardly towards a collapsed Goldie, his freshly-operated-on leg still bleeding into the gauze and splint he’d hastily assembled. Looking her up and down, he judged the damage was mostly centralized around her head and neck. She was still conscious, however, and had noticed his arrival, so he tried running a few diagnostics to help him figure out what needed to be done. “Goldie, are you alright,” he asked, his concern showing through.

From the corner of his eye, Arkh saw Fritz stir. He sat up, looked around, and, upon seeing Arkh and Goldie, immediately calmed down. From Arkh’s position, Fritz didn’t look any worse off than she did. Arkh sighed in relief. He’d see to Goldie before moving to him.

“Arkh? You’re not a bear.” Goldie’s response sounded more confused, than anything else. Arkh feared a concussion, but then realized that such a response was—all things considered—probably a good sign, for her. He pressed on with the questions, checking her body for other major wounds.

“Goldie, do you know what just happened?”

“Quinlan ran out of fire, and we crashed.”

“Good, very good,” Arkh said, confident that she wasn’t too bad. She had a lot of small wounds, but she wasn’t losing blood fast enough to worry him, and her shoulder—though disloated—wasn’t going anywhere. He moved up to her head. “Goldie, I think you might have a concussion. I need to look at your eyes.”

Arkh stretched Goldie’s eyes open, which began frantically swinging around as they adjusted to the real world. After a few seconds, they calmed, and focused on his face as he studied them. They focused quickly, and neither looked any more dilated than the other. Arkh let out a small internal sigh, as Goldie spoke again.

“Arkh, why are you crying?”

Arkh hadn’t felt the tears on his face—a side effect of having practically a quarter-ounce of Slive venom in his system—but as he noticed the stains on his shirt and sleeves, he realized he’d been probably crying for a while. He wanted to lie to Goldie, and say something to calm her down, but he couldn’t thing of anything to say fast enough. So, he just told her the truth. “I was afraid.”

“That was a scary ride,” Goldie admitted.

“No,” Arkh said, unsure why he was correcting her. “I was afraid I’d lost more friends.”

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Day Five in Ivy Territory

Goldie’s Log- 5th Day in Ivy Territory

Gosh, Blood Mage, it sure was nice of you (for a Blood Mage) to volunteer to trans grube this log for me. I mean, I don’t usually write things down, you know? So, you’re writing down everything exactly as I say it? What if I said bargle hargle jangle spank? Would you write that? You just did? Oh, it doesn’t look like words. I mean, not how I think words are supposed to look. I don’t know. Are you writing this down, right now? Weird! You’re not doing it right! I don’t think that’s how trans grubing works. It’s what? Transcribing? Then why did you say grube before? No, you definitely did. I heard you say it. I guess I can’t expect more from a nasty Blood Mage. Nooo, I’m sorry. Please trans grube- I mean, transcribe- my thing for me. Even though you use blood magic, I guess that doesn’t affect your writing skills. Maybe. Anyway.

So, it’s been five days now, and I’m really sick of walking in the woods. The goat and the Blood Mage are having weird dreams and my friend cut open a tree and a Fey last night, Albin doesn’t have his seed and I bet he misses it, Fritz is shooting things that aren’t even there, and I’m just doing my best to keep everybody fed and happy. It really comes in handy that I brushed up on my foraging because food is hard to find. It’s been getting worse the last few days, but today I couldn’t even find bugs for us to eat. I didn’t tell anybody, but I was putting bugs in the hardtack biscuits to add some prozene and make it healthier. It’s what? No, prozene, the stuff that grows your muscles. Listen, who is the one who can forage and use an axe like a completely awesome awesome person, and who is the Blood Mage? ANYway. There’s no more bugs around. No squirrels, none of those funny rabbit-looking things that cried like human babies, no more bears like Hamlet, nothing. I haven’t found any bodies, so it’s like the animals have all just left, which makes me real nervous. Gets my neck all hair-standy-uppy, you know? That is TOO a word. Stop correcting me! Note: at this point, Goldie began making bear noises and attempted to cuff transcriptionist; for his own safety, transcriptionist resumed the dictation after Goldie had eaten some berries.

Sergeant Stumpy is whining all the time, and the kittens won’t come out of the Blood Mage’s sack anymore. I don’t know why they trust you, but any port in a storm I guess. I’m worried that if this goes on for too much longer, with the no animals to eat I mean, that they will die because they won’t have any food. There are still plants around, of course, and we can eat those, but the dog and the kittens can’t. Most of the kittens are skin and bones, but it’s hard to tell with the dog since he’s almost as hairy as Albin. Even this wouldn’t be so bad if the trees and grass and stuff would just leave us alone. If I had claws like a bear, I’d just claw them all up and then they’d know that they should leave us alone, but I don’t so I have to use my axe. It’s a good axe, but it isn’t made for cutting up plants. It’s made for cutting up bad guys, like these filthy Jottun. They’re even worse than you, Blood Mage. I will kill every one of them for what they did to my family, and for taking my friends. Quinlan and Scary Horse don’t deserve to be eaten or whatever it is that those bastards are going to do to them. We’re going to rescue them, I know it! And if you don’t think it’s poison, I’ll feed all of their bodies to my kittens and my puppy. Then they can just end up as poop on the ground, like they deserve.

Even the stupid PLANTS grabbing us all the time wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the buzzing noise. It’s still pretty faint, but it’s around all the time now. I think we must be getting closer to where the Jottun lair is, but the noise is terrible. It just goes on and on and it hurts my head and my teeth and my bones and it makes me feel like crying all the time. It makes us all grumpy, and with that and not being able to find any real food, we’re in pretty bad shape. If I die, feed me to the kittens, and don’t use any of my blood for your nasty magics, okay? I’m trusting you.

Hold on, let me look at your bag, the kittens are acting weird…

The littlest kitten just died.

My head hurts.

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Nameless - Set on Vengeance

How Nameless Joined the Cartographers Guild
(This is continued after the night in the graveyard)

The streets of Halton are chilled as Nameless shoulders his bag, and leaves the home he and Wanda built. On his index and smallest finger, he puts white paint, and draws a simple design on the door of his house, marking it as abandoned. Any traveler or Beastfolk traveling through town could now wipe the mark off and begin to live there. This is how sure he was that he would not come back.

The sun wasn’t up – it was just a thought on the horizon, a dim red line that threatened to blaze a new day.

For now, he felt the crisp chill of night – so cold his breath turned to mist and froze the fur on his face. The only belongings he felt he needed rode on his back – some food, for the trip to Crossing, a bedroll to help with the cold, and some carving tools to spend his spare time on. Currently, he had no plan. All he had was a face, and a memory.

The few people who had repopulated the town did not notice one of their own leave the city gate for the first time.

None, except for Revered Storyteller. She waited at a clearing just a mile down the road, a fire burning hot under a medium-sized black pot. The cover trembled, its contents simmering just enough to move it.

She did not smile at him as he approached, or say a word. Nameless simply knew to sit, and take a bowl.

They sipped the stew for a while, watching the sun rise. It painted fire across the sky, lighting the clouds with the brilliance of a new day. Off in the distance, they heard the town wake up.

Revered Storyteller the last of her bowl at the same time as Nameless, slurping loudly with satisfaction. Now, she smiled a small, painful smile.

“I have one thing for you, before you go.” She reached behind the trunk she leaned on, and pulled out a very simple sword sheath. It was long, almost as tall as the Beastman she gave it to. “There is a smith in Crossing who will recognize the craftsmanship of this sheath as mine. Give it to her. She is no master craftsman, but she will forge you a hardy weapon.”

Nameless accepted it, and slid it underneath his bag. The weight felt good on his back, and it felt like the pressure gave him strength.

Revered Storyteller picked Nameless off the ground, and pulled their shoulders together. Their heads touched, a Beastman sign of good luck, and goodbye.

As they pulled apart, Nameless said, “I will find him. Even if it takes my entire life. Even if it takes my life. Even if he has renounced all evil and sheltered himself as a hermit distant in the spine, I will find him.”

The words echoed in Revered Storyteller’s head as he walked away. The Beastman’s eyes were dull when he spoke it. His tone flat, unboastful. He did not say it as if he was going to try his best, he did not leave room for error, or admit the possibility of failure. This wasn’t a prediction of the future, this was a Beastman who knew what he was going to do. It was the the quiet patience and conviction of the Wolf that guided this Beastman.

As he left her sight, she shivered.

Crossing

The craftsman that Nameless took the sheath to saw it on his back and knew immediately what was expected of her. He took off his pack and gave it to her. She lay it on the counter, gathered metal – and begin to pound it.

Nameless watched her work, and admired the process. He read a book left on the counter, and read it while he observed. The word itself, blacksmith, is clever. When smithing, there is a layer of material that forms on the metal that turns the entire product black. Hence, the black. Smith is simple, taken from very old Estanic, and it meant “to smite.” Literally, a blacksmith is someone who smites black metal. Watching this Beastwoman work was the epitome of the word blacksmith. Her arms worked with a brutal efficiency, her strength turning a piece of seemingly unbreakable metal into something malleable was very quietly inspiring to Nameless.

After a day of work, she handed the finished greatsword to Nameless, and smiled. “The Reverend Mother was staying with me when it happened. She left when she found out, and was there for the other that escaped. She brought the other one here, and they worked with me for a while. After seeing the both of you, I know the butcher of Halton will die. And keep an eye out for him… If you ever run into the other Beastman, you would make a frightening team.”

Nameless nodded, a grin breaking out on his face. They gave each other the shoulder-hug, wishing each other the best. And then he left.

Crossing – The Next Day

The Slurred Swan is the busiest bar in town. Everyone he asked pointed in its direction, and laughed him off as a tourist who knew nothing. Nameless simply smiled and followed the fingers, and found a quiet corner in the bar.

The waitress were almost primarily Fae, and paid him exactly as much mind as his appearance implied – that he was a poor Beastman looking to forget his troubles. Still, they brought him a drink, and were embarrassed when he tipped them very well.

Mostly, Nameless was looking for mercenary companies that would take him in. His bottom line was food and companions to travel with, yet strangely, no company was taking new members. A particularly black company gave him the stink eye when he asked, and told him to piss off.

It wasn’t until the bar was shooing people out the door that a very short human pushed his face in, asking to put a poster up. The tired waitresses shooed him out, right past Nameless.

The Beastman walked outside, and followed him. After small distance, the short man glanced over his shoulder, and saw the sword on Nameless’ back. His eyes widened and he turned.

Nameless held his hands up.

“What is the poster for?”

The man exhaled deeply, apparently relieved. “You’d think it would be easier to find mercenaries looking to travel with us in this city, but I have had almost no luck.” The man shoved the poster to him.

Nameless gripped the poster, but ignored it. “Where is your group traveling to?”

Shorty stared at him, like Nameless had gone immediately and irreparably insane.

“We aren’t – we aren’t one group, its not just one area – I…” Shorty sighed deeply. “Have you really never heard of the Cartographer’s Guild?”

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A Dream is a Wish...
...A wish a Beast makes

Nameless is fast asleep when his dreams take a vivid, disturbing turn.

…Where am I?

These past few days, as I’d been marched to exhaustion, I’d sometimes thought that I was somewhere else. That I was searching for something. That I was tall and powerful and in control.

Wishes, I suppose.

The green-tinted sky was visible through the canopy as I lay against Scary Horse. I was worried for her. She hadn’t gotten up since we were put in here yesterday. I can’t say I wasn’t grateful for the meager comfort she provided. The march here was swift and hard. Stopping for only minutes at a time for rest. Were these the creatures that Goldie hated so much? The demons of the North? Why were they here?

I tried to think about it, to figure it out, but my mind always wandered back to my own regret. We had been just about to cross the threshold to the grove when I was taken. No doubt they planted the seed without her. Not much of a chance that I’d have the opportunity to witness it again. Especially not now.

I lifted my injured, seeping leg up to rest on Scary Horse’s shoulder with my back against her flank. She only turned her head to look at me a moment before resuming her sleep. Or whatever it was she was doing. I reached out to pet her side. She seemed to like that. I reached lazily for the blistering heat of my new Pact or the fresh-air of Vulcani, but even my empowerment was suppressed.

That was the worst part. I was well used to working through the night, but I was always empowered. I hadn’t stayed awake for so long without it since my slave days.

My line of thought derailed when the buzzing, clattering noise that signaled the creature’s approach paused near the gate that held us in this pseudo stable. I’d heard what happened to whoever was in the stall nearby yesterday afternoon, and I tried to come to grips with that fate, but I couldn’t. I had just lost everything, only to be given back an opportunity to gain even more. I couldn’t cope with the idea of dying.

Scary Horse was moving, shifting in a way that forced me to scoot away from her. I stared at the door. What was taking so long?
I probably shouldn’t have asked that question, even in my head. Why was I so impatient all the time? This, this I could wait for.

I didn’t have to wait long.

Two of the creatures opened the door, and with it came a wave of Dragon magic that was so oppressive I nearly fell asleep. It was hard to breath, let alone gain the strength to fight them, which was likely the point.

I felt, more than saw, them enter. I managed to sit up, and heard Scary Horse scream before I saw the thing reaching for me. I instinctively put a hand up to block it, but it was a feeble attempt to save myself.

It didn’t even have a weapon, or a tool of any kind, but its fingers dug into my shoulder like knives and it pulled off my gloves, then my goggles. Blinding light made me turn away, feeling naked without them.

I kept trying to push it away, prying at its nasty, biting fingers, and was rewarded with a blow to the face that shredded the leather wind guard. It would have left me disfigured for life had it not been present. Then it put its chitinous palm on my face and tore the wind guard off entirely, snapping the strap from the pressure on the back of my neck.

It had no mouth. What was it? What did it want?

Without any emotion that I could perceive, it continued to remove my clothes. Scary Horse was screaming in protest. I twisted around to see her being tied to the ground with a thin rope that tore into her flesh when she struggled.

I hadn’t changed any of my bandages or removed my leathers since the last time I’d seen Arkh, and I could feel the heat of my tears running down my cheeks when it peeled off the scabs that had grown attached to the material. When it removed my boots, shredding the straps with its fingers and pulling them off with clinical indifference, I couldn’t stop from crying out. If the gash in my leg opened again, I didn’t think I had enough blood to survive it. They wouldn’t let me reach my magic to replace it any more quickly.

I fought. I kicked and bit and screamed at it. I was an echo of Scary Horse, who’d fought the whole time. It wasn’t expecting me to hurt it, and the crack of its finger breaking as I slammed my fist into it was incredibly satisfying. It recoiled, looking at my face for the first time.

It regarded me for a moment, then it tore off the last of my favorite hand-made leather flying suit.

Despite the blood that spilled freely now, despite my fear and nakedness, my heart broke when I remembered that.

My zeppelin was gone. Dead.

I’d never fly again. I’d never see his delighted face again. I’d never figure out what a beastman really looked like, or what a netherbeard was. I’d never get the chance to be a part of that.

To belong somewhere.

I’d never fly again.

I couldn’t fight it anymore. My head spun with grief and pain and blood loss and I felt I could accept whatever torment it inflicted on me as long as I kept that in mind. If I could remember it as if I was still there.

I turned over to empty the meager contents of my stomach. My hand hit something that made a soft noise and I looked over to find the bell. It must have fallen out of my glove. She said that she was coming for me. I reached out and grabbed it. I didn’t know who she was, or if she was capable of stopping this, but it was something.

Despite its earlier roughness, the creature wrapped its long, sharp hands gently around my torso and picked me up. I remained limp. Even Scary Horse was quiet now.

I was surprised when I felt her vast, prickly warmth against my back. I opened my eyes to see the creatures busily tying knots to stakes in the ground. One of them paused as it clattered by, suddenly noticing the red-stained grass.

They don’t even walk… they have swords for legs.

It moved closer and said something, then it took out a long, curved needle and began to jab at my leg, Holding it down at the thigh. Pulling away only caused more pain. I thought I might pass out soon if they didn’t stop.

As quickly as it started, it left. my leg aching more than ever. Crude, awful stitches making Arkh’s original work look like the seam of a fine gown.

I couldn’t understand. They didn’t ask any questions, they didn’t demand me to do anything, and they didn’t just kill me. What did they want?

After Scary Horse was secured, they lashed me down as well. They didn’t tie me to the ground, but directly to the horse. The thin rope cut deep if I tried to move against it, but it was hard to breath. Everything hurt.

I’d never fly again.

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Day Four in Ivy Territory

Day Four in Ivy Territory

Albin jerked his head up as Fritz found the group, already walking without him, trusting in his tracking instincts to find them.

“Yer a shit.” Albin threw a crossbow bolt at Fritz and pointed to a heavy ding in his armor. Arkh unconsciously rubbed an old wound.

The Elf picked up his bolt and shrugged. “Sorry.”

They walked. They kicked plants off their feet. They avoided the trees as best they could. They finally found a scattering of rocks. They sat, exhausted, and lay on the rocks. Albin took first watch through an unspoken understanding. Nameless would be next.

Nameless took a while to sleep. He rolled over, and several times, he would swear he was falling.

And then once, he fell into a dream. He felt it as if it was real, smelled the blood and grit his teeth as he was callously lacerated with knifelike limbs. He could feel the hopelessness. He could feel the loss.

Nameless woke screaming in the night, startling everyone awake. His eyes were wide with frenzy and restless anger – he needed an outlet. The beastman gripped his greatsword and roared at a massive oak tree nearest him. Fur bristling, he cut through the trunk in one tremendous swing. The crackling and destruction noises of an ancient tree laid to earth shook the camp and split the ears of everyone in the camp.

Nameless exhaled deeply, and leaned on his sword for support. He looked up. Behind the tree he had cleaved stood one single Fey. His expression was frozen in shock and fear. His stomach was torn wide open. The goat slammed the flat of his blade against the Fae’s head, and rendered him unconscious.

To Arkh, he said, “The first wound was an accident. The concussion is so he won’t be awake when he bleeds out.”

To the rest of the group, “I’ll take next watch. I will not be sleeping tonight.” He avoided any eyes that may have tried to meet with his, and sat on a rock, stoically gripping his greatsword.

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