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[r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come [18+]

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Widdershins
(@widder)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 698
Topic starter  
Paperwork: not what comes to mind in the middle of a war camp. Yet, Prince Messino Di Andalari crooked his neck over a stack of parchments, and each crick and cramp counted the hours he assumed the sedentary position in his tent. Notes from his advisors, notes from the king, notes from the frontline, proposals for treaties, proposals for campaign funding, proposals for campaign defunding, war propaganda, anti-war propaganda, letters of complaint from citizens, letters of praise...

When had he become the paper slave? 

Mechanically, he took the quill and scribbled and scrawled, signing his approvals and disapprovals over to the king for notarization. The parchment rattled as he slammed one form on the desk to trade for a more menacing piece, almost black from the flurry of words that resented its prison of pulp and rallied the entire Campira language to break down the barriers and spill out to freedom. 

He wanted to eat the words and somehow gain the power to hone them into weapons that would spray from his mouth in a volley, immobilize the Tadasuni troops, and win the war. Surely, he had enough of them for each soldier, their squires, their horses, and the words implanted on their important documents desk--for they could not have a more vocal bunch of people than in Andalari. 

If only he trusted his advisors, his own men, and his so-called "allies"! Maybe they'd lend their ink-bereft hands for the soiled, sodding cause, but he learned early from life and from his own experiences that to trust a soul, any soul, was to condemn himself to death...eventually. He'd made the mistake of ladling a few spoonfuls of trust in the past and it hadn't killed him--only his reputation. It took the entire recrafting of his image to move on from defeat, an exhaustion that about killed him in other ways. From then on, the only trusts he doled were as false and rigid as his deal-making handshakes. And he was damn good at pretending. 

Messino doodled circles in the upper corner of the parchment when Lieutenant Renalto called out from the other side of the tent flap. 

"Your Highness, the Rigas reinforcements have arrived."

Nothing like haughtiness incarnate to add needless words to his overstuffed mind library. 

"Bring them in!" he said, dropping his quill and half-wondering if he could pretend the black of his hands were frostbitten. He discounted the story: too far south and near sea level for the phenomenon. Just a typical case of writer's rot. 

Light flooded inside Messino's abode as Renalto marched in with the aforementioned reinforcements. He squinted against the very bright reminder that the day spanned on, endless, and that silken bed in the corner floated farther away from him like the moon he wished would rise. 

Renalto arranged the four Rigas's like playing cards, all fanned out and as similar to each other as the color schemes on the deck. They all dressed in blue, white, and gold, they all sported blonde hair and blue eyes, and they all looked rather gender neutral with only small lumps beneath tunics distinguishing female from male, of which Messino identified two of each. However, one stood apart from the other triplets, bronzed from the sun and with a harder line rimming his luminous eyes. A small bulk cocooned his arms into a muscle the others did not possess, as if they shunned the very idea of grunt work over magic. As if in rebellion, a splash of a different color trimmed the edges of his short cloak: a deep forest green.

He was the only one who bowed.

"Your Highness," he said, and the others mumbled assent.

"We have come to lend aid to your army," a triplet said, stepping forward to take her place as the de facto leader of their little troupe. "Our noble Rigas blood holds with it unparalleled magic that will serve you amply and with the highest capacity of success." She droned on with all of the pride for her product but with none of the verve that even street hawkers could achieve. "Four of us will more than suffice, if you are wondering of the quantity." 

"I've no doubt of your prowess, miss--"

"Chara. My colleagues are Davos, Tivia, and Alster." She pointed to the outlier. 

"Yes. Very good, then. Thank you for your support, and the continued support from your most venerated family." He contained the sarcasm that threatened to topple the ink pot at his side. "My Lieutenant will escort you to your living quarters. Tomorrow at dawn I will speak with the troops and we'll assign you all to a unit. Until then," he paused, glanced at his hand, and jutted it forward, "rest easy, my friends."

The sticky ink pooled around in the dimples of his palm, wet in places, and it hovered atop the immaculate white of Chara's gloved hand. She blanched and her lip quivered, as if reacting to a slap of disrespect. After some hesitation, she interacted with his hand, participated in the customary pump, and pried it away before the salt of her glove darkened into pepper. Inside, Messino smiled, and was surprised to see its manifestation onto Alster, who watched the proceedings with conservative glee.

Like pearls on a string, the Rigas casters followed Renalto in single-file, clearing the tent with another sunburst into Messino's eyes. 

Well, that encounter wasn't too painful...yet. 

Give it time, he thought, and for once he was glad to return to the methodical calm of his papers.

 

**

The stars danced around Alster like fireflies as they hovered in wait for their placements in the sky. He used both hands to conduct each bulb of heat and gas into constellations, with a precision that came from meticulous mapping of the heavens each night. They winked when he slotted them back into their proper homes. The entire battalion followed suit, flashing in staggering patterns as he simultaneously took groupings of stars and threw the disorder into order.

When he completed his task, a diaphanous sphere encased him, a near-exact replica of the World Above. 

"Impressive."

Alster turned to see Valente's standing shadow gleam with the light of a million stars. He entered the bubble and nodded at his son's handiwork. "That took me ages to perfect," he said. "You're almost there. Pah--and at a younger age than me! I thought I was the prodigy around here." 

"Not a fair comparison," Alster said with a snort as he spun the sphere around the them, inducing a rotation over their heads. 

"Power means nothing without skill." Valente shrugged. "You have that power in scads. If you wanted to, you could blast yourself a new sky. Any caster in your position could do so with no measure of training. However," he pointed a finger to the twin universes, "Skill, precision, and mastery are artful disciplines, and they try the sanity of many a caster. Creating is in honing. Power by itself, with no regard for its cultivation, will careen and sputter and destroy on not your command, but its own." He lowered his brow, leveling his eyes at Alster. "So when I say 'impressive,' boy, you better take my damn compliment." 

"Long-winded, as usual." Alster grinned a row of teeth at him. "No wonder Mom calls you Fartbag." 

"I don't see what farting has to do with my tendency to orate. Really, your mother has no understanding of the nom de plume, and she's the wordsmith around here." 

As they talked, the night lifted, the sphere dispersed...and the sky fell.

Alster stood in a ring of serpents biting their own tails, unable to escape. He tried, but the magic choked within himself, and the rest washed away with the cascade of blood and gore, losing the will to spark when the sparks in his parents' eyes flickered out like all the other stars before them that no one cared to track. 

Dead. Dead. Their eyes slatted lengthwise, splintered pupils, acidic and exacting. Tongues forked around them. Hisses swelled where screams dispersed into the earth. 

The hissing never stopped.

He found himself back in Andalari. In Stella D'Mare. The city that abandoned him. The family that hid him. Their eyes all blinked the same, narrowing lengthwise, hissing and spewing venom and injecting their intentions into his veins, down down deep down...

They all spoke in unison.

"The pride of the Rigas family. He couldn't even keep his parents alive."

"Well, I'd feel bad for him, but this is all his fault." 

"It's pretty pathetic what happened with his magic."

"-p. Wake up! Alster!"

Alster rolled his eyes open, staring into a blur that focused into the predatory hunch that belonged to Chara. She hooded her gaze, hawklike, and screamed into his ear.

"Your eyes are open but I don't see you moving! It's dawn. Don't shirk your responsibilities just because you don't want to be here!" 

"Dammit, Chara!" He planted a hand in her face and moved her aside, which she took about as well as expected. She sent a shock of electricity up his arm until he shivered his hand away with a yelp. 

"Dammit, yourself! I could have roused you like that, but I'm considerate!" She pushed herself from his cot and rose, looming over him with the most impressive vantage point up her nostrils. "Remember what we came here to do! Now move it!"

 
 

**

Alster did not forget their purpose--their main purpose. 

"Stella D'Mare once belonged to the Rigas family." Adalfieri loved to whip around that little tidbit, scarfing it up like table scraps to a dog. "The royal family supplanted their capital here, and expected us to move aside. We never did. We gave them the illusion of rulership, and quietly pulled their marionette strings from the shadows. No more hiding! We take back our legitimacy---and this war will provide the perfect distraction." 

His speech spurred the family in predictable directions. Rigases stored their pride in their chests and they inflated like roosters about to crow to a city still in slumber. They jumped at the opportunity for usefulness. 

Alster hadn't a choice. 

"I'm sending you to Prince Messino's command," Adalfieri told Alster. "Like the other casters who have volunteered, you will spy on him, his troops, his battle formations, his weaknesses, strengths--everything you deem useful. You will report your findings to me. We must all do our part." He raised his hand for silence before Alster could protest. "You, especially. Your image is failing. If you one day hope to take my place as Head you must rebuild rapport with your fellow peers."

"What about--"

"You and I both know there is nothing to be done about the 'other' situation. You, so out of touch with your magic? What do you hope to accomplish in Stella D'Mare? Why," he added, chuckling as if he lost the conviction to lie convincingly, "perhaps this little soiree will reawaken your latent abilities."

Alster joined Chara and the others in the center of camp. A wide swathe of tamped down grass comprised the whole of Prince Messino's troops: sizable, but not a terror-stomping force of immensity. They, the Rigas's, inhabited a place of honor in the inner circle of the arrangement, where Prince Messino stood in the nucleus, wearing a cuirass over his night things, his hair wild and stirring in the breeze.

He was eating an orange. 

"My breakfast," he said through his dedicated chewing, spraying bits of juice on the unfortunate who lingered within his spitting range. His men, one half of the circle, laughed their endearments to his presentation. The second half, mostly mercenaries, stared straight ahead, daring themselves not to react.

"You'll excuse my mess." Prince Messino waggled sticky fingers in the air and popped the last orange slice into his mouth. 

"Why can't that man ever keep his blasted hands clean?!" Chara muttered beside Alster, watching their questionable commander the way one watches a child in case he tries to jam seeds up his nose or consume a cockroach.

"Well," Prince Messino grinned orange pulp at his men, "on to business. For my new arrivals, you will soon understand that there is only one rule in my Command: follow my lead. Simple. He who asks for clarification is a fool. This means," he paced, flinging his orange rind in the air like a slashed up ball, "you are to remain on your guard. Always. I will move camp whenever I so fancy it. I will change battle plans on a whim. Keep. My. Pace. Or I will leave you behind. Watch. Listen. Observe. If you demand more information, I ask you this: what is the point of details if you cannot follow simple instructions? There will be no hand-holding or spoon-feeding at my command!"

Alster's arms and legs stiffened. The Prince knew of spies in his midst. Why else would he take such extreme precautions?

"Understand? Good. On to my next order." He sashayed to the Rigas's like a peacock on a mission. "We are blessed to have received the aid of four Rigas casters." He placed a gluey hand strategically upon Chara's shoulder. She looked about to summon a storm with her eyes. "A most esteemed honor. I have devised a special unit--if they are willing to partake."

"What do you have in mind, Commander?" Chara said with orange-sweet pleasantness. The hand upon her shuddered. 

"As of today, I am establishing the Compound Unit, an amalgam of soldiers and magic-users working in conjunction with each other. The magic-user acts as support for our soldiers, casting them defensive and offensive spells from afar, reinforcing and heightening their abilities. We pair off, one caster per soldier. If all goes well, it will boost our attack strength exponentially and double our projected man-power."

"If I may speak frankly," Chara began, a lambasting ready on her prideful tongue, "that is a waste of our talents. We would better serve you in the Casters Unit. We are not support." Her hand smoldered and a small flame appeared. "We are your fire."

"Of course. I am remiss to believe otherwise." Prince Messino winked at her and removed his hand, possibly to avoid an imminent scorching. "Be that as it may, I welcome volunteers. From the Elite Guard, mercenaries," he whirled back into the center. "Anyone, really."

The circle quietened as the Prince paced, searching for victims. Alster looked at his hands, once tools of great power and skill, now reduced to ghost flecks in the sky that claimed to be clouds. He clenched them, feeling the strain of each individual finger, hoping to squeeze the power back. With a resigned sigh, he released them and stepped forward, into the circle. 

"I will volunteer."

"Excellent!" Prince Messino spun on his heels, facing Alster. "And a Rigas, to boot!"

Behind him, Alster felt a trio of glares threatening to carve out his back and pluck out his spine. The thought made him giddy with defiance. It tingled something alive in him; while not magic, it sated his inadequacies, however temporary.

"Do I have a warrior willing to partner with this caster?"

Alster wanted to snort. Good luck. A Rigas was far from a desirable partner.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Mar 15, 2015 8:34 pm
by Requiem
“Elespeth Suria Tameris.”

She didn’t budge. She didn’t have to hear her name to know she was being addressed. She didn’t need to look sideways to know that, in this room full of people, there was not a friend in sight, not even among those who shared in the very blood that coursed through her veins.

The crown prosecutor continued. “You stand accused of negligence to your duties—the very duties into which you were sworn but a year ago, as an ordained knight of Atvany.”

Still, she said nothing, her stoic visage betraying not a sentiment towards her bound hands and the cloaked figures behind, beside and before her. This was nothing more than a dramatic pause in the white-haired judge’s monologue; she had no real say, and even if she did, well… She had nothing to say to these people, in any case.

“Your task was, according to your commander, not beyond your capabilities. You were to escort Duke Herizon back to his home in the mountains, only to be overwhelmed by an ambush of brigands. Simple-minded country folk who craft weapons from wood… And yet, somehow, Duke Herizon’s blood is now a red stain against the white of the snow. We are all eager to hear your explanation in your defense.”

Elespeth wanted to snort—almost did, in fact—because it couldn’t have been more clear to her that regardless of what she said, they had already made up their mind; every single person in the room. But that was not the worst part. The once-imperial knight of Atvany also stood before her own self judgement, in a quiet feat of introspection. They were right; her task had not been beyond her capabilities. If anything, it had been an insult to her almost unrivaled combat skills… which, unfortunately, did not play in her favour, in this case.

The truth was, Elespeth hadn’t intended for Herizon to die. But when the opportunity presented itself… Well, she wasn’t entirely sure that she hadn’t let it happen, that her subconscious hadn’t caused her to hesitate for that split second that cost the Duke his life. She could not in good faith tell the judge, her commander, and everyone surrounding her that she was innocent.

Just as she could not tell them about the way the old Duke had always leered at her, making inappropriate passes that she, each and every time, refused. Or that he had sworn he’d frame her family for treason and have them locked away for life if she continued to shirk his advances. Because in both instances, not a single person in the room would believe her.

“Well?” The judge’s fat lower lip jutted out as he frowned. “What say you, traitor?”

“With all due respect,” Elespeth sighed at last, meeting the old man’s eyes and quirking a brow, “We were ambushed on a particularly tricky turn, if I recall. Had the carriage’s cargo been lighter, I think we’d have made it past the brigands with little to no damage, and no lives lost.” Shaking her head, she added—and only because she already knew she was condemned—as she tied to hide a smile, “To be honest, had this trip not killed Duke Herizon, then a heart attack likely would have, and soon.”

The room came alive with incredulous murmurs, fingers pointing in Elespeth’s direction. Only the judge, his hammer and his raucous voice was able to cut through the din, to deliver the sentence she had been expecting. “Elespeth Suria Tameris, you are hereby found guilty of manslaughter and negligence of the duties you swore on your life. For that, the penalty is death.”

Stripped of her weapons and title as imperial knight, Elespeth had been escorted to the dungeons, but her stay there was not long. It was both a blessing and a curse to be a woman underestimated; she’d had to work twice as hard to become a part of the imperial guard, but locked away in that dank cell with its rusty bars, her best hope was that they saw her as nothing but a misguided and selfish girl who cared as little for her own life as she had the Duke’s.
Wouldn’t they be astounded, then, when come morning as they delivered her meagre meal of stale bread and water, they found her gone, with the rusted bars of the tiny cell’s only window chipped away (they’d failed to confiscate the butter knife in her boot) until they had snapped off completely. A hole hardly big enough for a man, but not so for a slender and determined young woman.

That had all taken place three years ago, and even now, Elespeth’s renegade status earned a pretty large sum of money in exchange for her live capture. It had likewise been three years since she’d tread Atvanian soil, so she couldn’t know for sure, but the last he heard, the reward had gone up by half. Atvanian nobility’s thirst for revenge was just that notorious; as a precaution, her ventures took her further and further from her homeland, secretly making her way through Thorndel and Kelledan, before putting up her weary feet in Andalari.

But those nomadic feet never rested for long. Money was difficult to come by, and frankly, odd jobs were not Elespeth’s style. Stripped though she might have been from her title as a knight, her attachment to her sword hadn’t waned, nor had her willingness to use it to the benefit of others—for a price, of course.

Trainer, bodyguard—hell, even jumping into the ring to face a rowdy opponent for the chance of winning gold whenever the chance arose, Elespeth made good temporary use of her skills in order to wake up day to day with some financial assurance. For her safety, she’d assumed a number of different aliases so as to provide clients with a name, changing it up every few towns she passed: Suria, Ele, Su, Beth, Meris… Recently, at a small village in Andalari, she passed herself off as Tam, a sellsword from afar. But it had been two weeks; inns were expensive, cash was running low, and it seemed as though no one in Andalari cared for the services of one in possession of a sword, and the skills to match.

So Tam the sellsword made the decision to simply pass through, and onto the next empire, where she’d hopefully find word to replenish her quickly dwindling coffers. And she would have followed through with that plan, had it not been for a conversation she overheard one morning at a pub, where she spent the last of her coin on a good meal, one that would hopefully last for a while before hunger ravaged her body.

“Don’ wait up for Fenwick. Last I heard, he was off to be part of Messino’s army.” A balding man shook his head and downed the last of his early morning ale. “Thinks he’s still good with a bow, after all these years… hate to say it, but I doubt we’ll see him again.”

“Ye really think Messino’d hire a geezer like Fenwick?” The man across from him laughed, his round belly jiggling. “He must be damn desperate!”

The other man replied; “And that’s the truth! I hear he wants manpower and’ll take whatever he can get; the weaker ones are likely just cannon fodder. Like I said, doubt we’ll be seeing Fen again.”

“Excuse me.” While Elespeth did not make a habit of eavesdropping or weighing in on conversations, she decided to make an exception to her general penchant for politeness. “So sorry, forgive my rudeness… But would you mind telling me what you know of this Messino and the army he is forming?”

The initial speaker took one look at her—a young woman—and snorted. Elespeth didn’t mind; she was not only used to that kind of reaction, but often, she used it to her advantage. “Prince Messino di Andalari believes that Tadasun, the empire to the south, is planning to wage war on this kingdom. So he’s gathering an army to mold the standards of whatever odd strategy he’s planning… You know someone who’d be interested or somethin’, little lady?”

“Something like that,” Elespeth shrugged as the other man snorted his laughter. “Where might I find this Messino and his army?”

“Two hours north… wait a second.” The balding man paused, glancing at the blade strapped across the young woman’s back. “You’re not thinkin’…”

But the ex-knight was already on her way out the door, waving without so much as glancing over her shoulder. “Thanks for the tip!” It felt like eons since she’d drawn her sword. Serving nobility had been her soul purpose her entire life; she only hoped that this particular noble deserved it more than the Duke. That was a mistake she could not repeat.

The two hour trek north was not Elespeth’s greatest ordeal in the days that came. On her arrival at the war camp, she hardly set foot upon its overly trodden earth before being accosted by a handful of who she expected must have been Messino’s generals. “You must have lost your way,” one heavily armoured man declared, holding a helmet under his arm. “This is a war camp, girl.”

“I know. I have come to offer my services to Prince Messino di Andalari, in his mission to deflect the forces of the Tadasuni.” She even offered a small bow, despite that they were not the ones deserving of such a gesture. “My sword and skills are his to command, should you allow it.”

The two generals exchanged looks before turning back to the sight of the girl, in her torn and worn travel attire. “You’re serious,” the other one said at last, and shook his head. “Listen, lady, you can’t just walk in looking like you do and expect anyone to believe you ca be of any use. We don’t even know who you are.”

“Oh—of course! I don’t expect that.” Her mouth stretched into a wide grin as she stepped forward with confidence. “You can call me Tam. I’m a traveling sellsword, and I would be more than happy to demonstrate my skills.”

“You’re real determined, aren’t ya.” The second general, an older man with graying hair and bushy eyebrows angled his head, appraising her with a curious eye. Without another word, he drew his own sword from its scabbard at his back. “Okay then, Miss Tam. I’m General Rixon, the one in charge of Prince Messino’s swordsmen around here. They take the front lines, so I’ll warn you, we don’t let novices into those ranks. Take on me, and we’ll see if you make the cut.”

Not five minutes later, a crowd had gathered around a panting, sweating and fallen General Rixon, before which stood the newcomer, a woman called Tam. Swordsmen, archers and magic users alike gaped in awe and confusion; even Rixon’s slightly younger counterpart, the general who had first addressed her, seemed uncertain as to whether they should allow her in the ranks, or take punitive action towards her aggressions.

“Rixon! All hells, man, are you all right?” He hurried to help the other man up, the lines of his face sinking into deeper confusion when Rixon erupted in laughter.

“Unbelievable! I haven’t lost so quickly since I myself was a novice, over forty years ago!” He bellowed, dusting of the armor on his defensive shoulder.

There was never a good reason to gloat, however, and Elespeth knew better than to draw too much attention to her feat. Humbly replacing her rapier in its scabbard, she rolled her shoulders back and put forth the simple question: “So, then; do I have permission to serve Prince Messino de Andalari in his ranks of warriors?”

Image

Lilica hadn’t any aspirations to fight on the side of Messino’s army. War was neither here nor there for her, and taking orders from some higher power by blood was not exactly her forte. Yet for one who went to such lengths to keep a low profile, the prince of Andalari’s forces seemed to have no trouble in finding her.

“I understand that you were not born as a citizen of Andalari,” the recruitment officer struggled to keep up with the dark mage as she made her way through the winding streets and alleys of the small village she had come to inhabit. If he wanted to speak to her, then it was his responsibility to keep up with her. Lilica D’Or stopped for nobody, gave no one the time of day. 

“I was born in Garjenah,” She replied for clarification, stopping at a market booth to purchase fresh herbs for a tonic that she was working on. Darkness was both her gift and her curse, but her recent endeavours in herbology was an attempt to veer from that path. Finally, after struggling all her life to identify with something other than the yang in the universe, she was beginning to make headway. Only for that asshat, Messino, to catch wind of her unrivaled prowess in the darker arts, with the expectation that she would use them to his benefit. “But I have traveled all over. Just because I happen to currently reside in Andalari does not mean I claim it as my home.”

“And yet, here you stay, with no warrant.” The recruitment officer went on, his cheeks going pink at the lackadaisical way that Lilica seemed to pay him so little heed, refusing even to make eye contact. “Do you even pay taxes, young lady?”

“So if I understand correctly,” Lilica said at last, trading the merchant coin for a large assortment of herbs. “You are trying to threaten me with legal action should I refuse to serve in Messino’s army. Simply because I do not identify as a resident of Andalari, despite residing here.”

“I expect, Miss D’Or, that should I choose to investigate, I could find ample reason to resort to legal action, above and beyond the fact that you are not a tax-paying citizen of Andalari.” The connotations there were clear. While no magic, dark or otherwise, was outlawed throughout the empire, its usage required certified licensing, to ascertain that its usage was not intended to facilitate any sort of illegal activity.
Lilica, of course, had never sought certification, as the requirements varied from kingdom to kingdom, and it made little sense to jump through those hoops when one led a life as nomadic as hers.

Tucking the herbs into the basket hooked in the crook of her elbow, Lilica heaved an irritated sigh. “You mean to tell me your prince doesn’t have enough herbologists to satisfy his strategies? Because I am still learning the art, and I can’t imagine he would want to make use of my other talents, sir. And if he does, then he has no idea what he is getting into.”

“I cannot speak on behalf of Prince Messino di Andalari’s intentions, Miss D’Or, but I can assure you that your agreement to aid his army will not only earn you the certification to use magic that you are lacking, but you will be handsomely compensated.” The recruitment officer grinned, stepping in front of her to interrupt her stroll. “What do you most desire? Perhaps your own fortified home, sturdy as the king’s palace, in a quiet and remote area of Andalari? Where you might practice your arts in privacy, and with enough funds in gold to last you the rest of your life?”

Lilica’s eyebrows knit together. Money was always a commodity, and she was no less drawn to it than anyone else. And while she had never thought to exchange her humble, wooden hut for something more remote and more fortified… she could not deny that the idea did intrigue her. “I feel there are only two reasons why the prince would reward my participation so handsomely,” she began, her voice low with a wary edge. “Either he is willing to invest in my alternate abilities because they play into his strategy, or he is certain that I will die in this battle, and he will owe me nothing.”

The recruitment officer stammered a moment, at a loss as to how to reply, before he cleared his throat. “Every war has its casualties, of course, but to my knowledge, few of the prince’s magically adept recruits possess abilities such as… well, those that make you… unique. I am willing to bet that he is, in fact, already very invested in the possibility that you will participate. And—pardon me if this comes across as rude or presumptuous—but from what I’ve heard of you… Sometime tells me you would not fall so easily in battle.”

He had a point; for all of the lives that Lilica had ended at the hands of her dark magic, her own life, for as long as she’d known, had never been in danger. Used the right way, dark magic could render its user untouchable; for a price, of course, which more often than not tended to be his or her health, in the long run. It wasn’t exactly something to brag about, when you sat down and thought about how many years you’d shaved of your life, by cheating death again and again.

“Well? What do you say?” The recruitment officer interrupted the dark mage in her moment of thought, coming forward with a quill and what looked to be a contract. “With your mere signature, I can guarantee everything I promised you.”

Including incrimination should I refuse, Lilica thought sourly, realizing that this man hadn’t come all the way from the prince’s war camp to make her an offer; this was an ultimatum, if ever she had seen one. Pressing her lips into a flat line, she raked a hand through her dark hair and grabbed the quill. “I very much hope that your prince lives up to the promises that you have made me on his behalf,” she said, looking the man in the eye, watching the colour drain from his face as she added. “For your sake.” 

Image

Neither Elespeth nor Lilica knew just what sort of part they were intended to play in this comparatively small army of prince Messino’s—the latter more than the former. While Elespeth was one among many capable sword wielders, it did not take long to confirm that Lilica’s source of magic did not resemble those of the other casters within the ranks. When the day finally came that the prince would reveal his strategy, both were eager to attend, Elespeth for her zeal to use her sword again, and Lilica for the sake of her curiosity.

Both stood within their respective troops, neither any more aware of one another’s presence than they were any other stranger among them, as they listened to what Messino had in mind. While most certainly eccentric, Elespeth did not feel as though the prince was a particularly dangerous man in any shape of the word. ‘Immature’ was a word that had come to mind, but not necessarily mean-spirited, or vicious; his intentions seemed to span no further than that of any other monarch preparing for war, and she had to commend him on his immediate involvement, as opposed to hiding away within an ivory tower while men and women alike died for him. There was no real harm, she figured, in fighting for this man’s purposes; if, down the road, she discovered some ulterior motive, then she would quite simply take her leave quietly in the middle of the night. Until then, she was more than willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt.

Lilica, on the other hand, was not so quick to be quite as trusting. In the short time she’d spent within the war camp, after reluctantly signing her life away on that contract, she was quick to establish that she trusted and meant to trust no one, and in turn, the majority of the other casters did not trust (nor particularly like) her. That was just fine; she wasn’t there to make friends, and anyone stupid enough to blindly follow a man like Messino was certainly no friend of hers. He acted like a child, not like someone worth trusting to strategize for an entire army. To think that he’d be dictating her actions in battle… That alone would be the only reason she could see herself becoming a casualty of war.

As soon as he brought up his ludicrous idea of what he called a ‘compound unit’, the dark mage could hold her tongue no longer. “I assume that you intend this for your revered Rigas casters alone,” she began, the corners of her mouth turning downward. “Because back-up is not my style; it is a waste of my time and talents. I do not wait for things to happen, your highness, I make things happen.”

Elesepeth shook her head at the outspoken mages. What was it about magic users and the hubris with which they all seemed burdened? Personally, she found this idea of compound units curious, and potentially useful. To fight as a pair, to have someone watching your back… Why, it was far more sound a strategy than she had ever expected from a personality such as Messino. At his command for volunteers, the ex-knight only took a moment to think it over before stepping forward.

“I’d like to volunteer,” she confirmed, coming forward. Elespeth knew little of mages alone, let alone any of the Rigas, who were native to this kingdom. But they were people like any other, and frankly, this strategy made her curious. “Tam; not long a resident of your kingdom, your highness,” she introduced herself, knowing full well that he wouldn’t have remembered her name or face from days ago. His attention span seemed too distracted for that. “Should you see fit, I’d be more than happy to be part of this strategy.”


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Mar 17, 2015 9:08 pm
by Widdershins
Messino caught the sweet winds of dissent against his ears; he smiled behind the orange peel he chewed while in waiting for volunteers. When the crowd parted away from the singular voice and revealed a woman with an aura most reviling and viscous, he knew he'd located his dark mage at last. Her arrival at camp had been surreptitious, like a shadow phasing and reshaping under the sun's transit. His men had trouble finding her in time to arrange a private audience before his briefing, yet they assured him of her existence. They'd report sighting her at the training grounds, in the mess tents, within the sleeping quarters--but even he wondered if she had conjured herself a convincing illusion as her proxy while she relaxed in a cozy hovel somewhere far and away, laughing herself to sleep.

"I am forcing no magic-user to participate in what they believe is beneath their skill-set." He spread his hands with a magnanimous flourish. Time to mollify the magic-users, he thought. "I only ask for volunteers from any background. Dark mage, you are free to apply yourself wherever most complements your performance. This unit will not concern your preconceived predilections. Carry on."

"You presume we were hand-picked for back-up?!" Chara lurched forward to seek out the aggressor in the crowd. She brushed aside Alster, ignoring his presence now that he assigned himself as "back-up" and no longer mattered. "And what makes you exempt from the same request of us? I demand to know your family lineage if you think yourself so superior--"

"QUIET!" Messino threw his voice against the nearby mountain. It returned with the force of a landslide, all abrading rocks and raining pebbles. "The army is out there!" He thrust a finger in the fields beyond camp. "I am not attending to children with petty quarrels about the size of their magic staffs, ladies!" Satisfied by the restored order returned to its rightful place, he continued. "Stand down, both of you. Volunteers only will stay in my inner circle." He urged Alster back into the ring and coaxed out his secondary volunteer, a lady warrior, with a come-hither hand. "You as well, Tam. And you--" He gave the Rigas caster a once-over. "Your name eludes me."

"Alster, your Highness."

"Ah, yes." He threw up his desiccating orange peel. "I am your Commander before I am your prince. You may drop the honorific, or," he gave a pointed look at his men, "Mad Mess, that will suffice. Now how did that name come about again?"

"The Battle of Rintare, five years ago," said Lieutenant Renalto, tilting his chin heavenwards in recollection. "Those sinkholes. How can I forget? With that freak accident?"

"Oh, wasn't it?" Messino tittered. "Lucky for you all, there's no sinkholes from here to Tadasun. That we know of. But here I go rattling off." He stroked his chin while regarding his only two volunteers. "The two of you will partner up. And as you both were brave enough to volunteer first, consider yourselves in charge of the unit."

Alster quailed at the very thought. With such little magic at his arsenal, he'd be outed as a fraud or become a laughingstock of the unit--should anyone else volunteer. One thing at a time, Alster, he thought as he observed his partner in question, sucking in a courageous breath when he checked, double-checked, and triple-checked Tam's status as a woman. Of all the warriors available for partnership, he had the rotten luck to be paired with a sex with which he had trouble communicating. Chara and the Rigas family line--no problem. They were unavoidable. In avoidable cases, however, he was quick to wander in the opposite direction.

He couldn't call her out in the middle of the crowd, or demand another partner without appearing chauvinistic. With his mind racing, he half-turned towards Prince Messino, seeing Chara's face in his periphery, her lips curled into a sadistic smile.

"Commander," he began, meek at first, "if we are to be squad leaders, may I address the crowd?"

Messino blinked in disbelief. A non-opinionated Rigas asking permission to speak? "By all means."

Clearing his throat, Alster directed his eye contact away from Tam and that dark mage who reminded him too much of a Rigas caster to address at without devolving into sputters and mouth gaping. He focused on the wall of men from far beyond the inner sanctums of the circle; with a burst of confidence, he began.

"For those magic-users who believe their talents would be consigned to back-up in this arrangement, that is not altogether true. Some spells take preparation. Wouldn't you want someone watching your back while you prepare? It works both ways. We magic-users are not as infallible as we lead ourselves to believe. Why else do swordsmen often take the front lines while the casters follow up the rear? How is the Compound Unit any different? After all, it's named 'Compound,' suggesting equal participation of both parties. Think about it," he concluded hurriedly before his speech deteriorated into ceaseless babbling. Of course, he'd pinned some ulterior motives into place when conceiving of his discourse; one reason in particular would ideally attract volunteers and give him options for a partner swap. 

And one by one, a few volunteers offered their participation.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Mar 19, 2015 4:22 pm
by Requiem
Lilica wasn't one to run short on patience; she simply didn't have any on which to run short. Messino's flat assurances did little to placate her, and the insolent mage, all blonde hair and incredulity, not only caught on her last nerve, but aggravated every other nerve in the fiber of her being that was already stimulated. "Well, I can't speak for you," Arms folded loosely across her chest, she eyed Chara with apathy and disinterest, having decided before the girl even spoke up that she wasn't worth a modicum of emotion, fury or otherwise, "But I,for one, was most certainly hand-picked. As far as I'm concerned, lineage has very little to do with it; if your blood truly runs so superior to everyone else's, then by all means, escort me to your podium.

With the room's attention divided between the scene between the mages, and the sudden interest and consideration for Alster's reframing of Messino's plan, the ex-knight could only shake her head at the quarrel. What was it with mages? Was inflated pride a prerequisite to using magic? Not that sword wielders and others who favoured physical assault tactics couldn't suffer from such a chronic case of hubris, but in Elespeth's experience with mages, necromancers and any others who called on the elements or the fabric of the universe as part of a unique skill set, she hadn't yet been acquainted with one who did not think themselves to be some gift of the deities.

Then again, she hadn't yet--technically--been acquainted with this Alster.

There was uncertainty about the male Rigas mage, of that much Elespeth was already aware. And yet his small, logical and inspirational take on the situation suggested that he at least believed in the concept. She had to admit, functioning as a single unit was beyond what she had been trained to do; as to how she would fare, covering for another person and vice versa, remained to be seen. When it came down to technicalities, though... Was that not basically what she had sworn herself to as a knight? To fend off adversaries of a protectee, to fight with likeminded comrades for a cause that was at least better than the given situation?

Well, she had no idea just how likeminded she was to any of these individuals. But she'd find out, sooner than later, and there was only one way to do so. Fortunately for Alster, she did not share in the awkwardness incited by the opposite sex.

"Well, you certainly seem impassioned about Messino's tactical brainchild." Elespeth waited until he finally turned to face her before offering a smile and quirking a brow. If she didn't know better, it almost appeared as though he was avoiding her, or at least wished to avoid her. While it had been a handful of days since she'd seen a mirror, the fugitive from Garjenah hadn't thought she would come across as quite so intimidating, or unappealing, for that matter.

For good measure, she offered her half-gloved hand. "Tam. Alster, is it? Why am I getting the impression you're holding out for another warrior?" Unfortunately for the mage with the uncertain expression, the volunteers offering to participate in this tactic--particularly the warriors--sought out other magic users, assuming that Alster was, technically, already spoken for. They wouldn't have been entirely wrong, considering Elespeth had assumed the same, being the first to offer her skills in this compound unit. "Well, if it assures you any, I've been training with a sword for a pretty long time. I'm not one to let people down; you don't strike me as being that sort, either. So?" Raising her eyebrows, she rolled back her shoulders. "What do you say? Give me a chance. If you don't like what you see--er, if you don't think I'm suited to be an efficient partner, then by all means, I'll find you a new one, myself."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Mar 20, 2015 6:27 am
by Widdershins
Chara seethed under the imperial order for quiet just a note after that undignified nobody of a mage spouted such diatribes against her and her family! Certainly, she saw the uprooted shuffling of Tivia and Davos mirroring a perfect double of her indignation--and of course, Alster had sallied forth on his own crusade, irrespective of the consequences of his family honor. Why, he ran that honor aground with the mere implications of his idealized drivel! Rigases did not deign to bandy about their weaknesses like some common clucking street fowl! His magic deficiencies notwithstanding, pegging the Rigases down to his level was a most egregious error on his part, and she would get to the bottom of his horrid choices. If they were not in line with their primary directive issued by Adalfieri, she'd lob him at that delinquent dark mage and they could have each other--or she could eat him alive. It'd do him and their failing reputation one boost of a favor!

Until then, she waited out the little charade of Messino's army all gathering together like toy soldiers improperly wound up and unpolished. Her grin towards the tattered derelict signaled a promise that she'd fulfill. Very soon.

At watching the sudden influx of volunteers drift and jumble into the circle, Messino discarded his orange peel as if it were causing the previous stop-up and then regarded Alster, the secondary reason for the unclogging, with a curious air. The man had an angle, a motive: different from the single-minded tactics of his family. A Rigas acting anything other than condescending and pretentious concerned him. After all, enemies not acting like his enemies usually piqued his caution --and he'd always considered the Rigases the shadiest of his adversaries. Just a bias of yours, his father always assured him. No. He didn't think so.

"Well," he piped up, over the din of volunteers rummaging to the circle like cows to pasture, "it looks as though you have the situation properly handled. Not that I would expect any less from my instinctual choosing of natural-born leaders!" He laughed and clapped Alster on the shoulder. "Do me proud by this unit. Everyone else!" He announced with another rock-grinding roar, "you are dismissed! Go, carry on, train, eat, sleep, and do resume the throttling I've so rudely interrupted, oh mages!"

Alster watched Messino depart the circle with his his ranks in tow, leaving behind an ample cut of breathing and wandering space. How he yearned to sprint to the sunnier side where a mass of humanity wasn't kicking up dust clouds and where he could breathe in the willpower to actually speak with the woman who seemed insistent on his partnership! The other volunteers bypassed him and Tam with wide berths, suggestive of their reservations towards any Rigas association--or they assumed his commitment with whatever fate dropped onto his person. In this case, Tam.

He at least owed her some explanation, however malformed and fighting to stay alive in the cruel world of its creator. Coughing and clearing his throat in preparation to speak, he stared at the ground, at her feet, ignoring the hammering of his heart that in turn hammered his fingers into little pings against his slippery-slick palms. He focused on her good qualities--she seemed nice. Upstanding. Almost knightly, and willing to cooperate. Different from the women in his life. Different from the women who sneered their way through his presence with pinioned fangs and a bite to match.

With a nod, he summoned his head to look towards her, his mouth to open...

And he spoke words at her. 

"No. Probably...yes. Alster. Err. Rigas. But you...know that." He laughed away the stupidity. Oh, if only he actually laughed the entire concept of stupidity from his being! No measure of magic could aid him in this endeavor. He chose not to take her hand; the thought of making physical contact was enough to render him into a rock formation.

"B-believe...I ah, I believe you. I just, well...you probably don't want to work with me. Many many many reasons. Many. I mean, the reasons really are..." he counted them on his fingers and held out his hands. "...Eight. Could be ten. Or more than fingers. I mean..." With a frustrated groan, he thrust his hands into his hair, hiding the fire within his cheeks that threatened to spark free and immolate him to a crisp.

"Hah!" Chara chirped in from behind him. "Like an adolescent boy. The shame. Oh, good luck with him, Tam." Alster lowered his hand in time to watch Chara saunter past him, a tune on her lips and a ball of etherea hovering over her palm as she approached the dark mage.

"What in the hells is she thinking, that pickled puss-sore princess!" Alster stalked after Chara until he realized Tam was still there...in which case he clamped his mouth shut with wide eyes and scampered to Chara's side.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Mar 21, 2015 3:38 am
by Requiem
Ah, an awkward one... Elespeth did not let it get to her that her outstretched hand was left unclasped, for it wouldn't be the first time. Women did not shake hands; they curtsied. Yet in the absence of robes or gowns (and considering she'd been socialized by the same chivalry that her male counterparts in the imperial guard), it felt friendly, and suiting. Perhaps he was one of those quirky individuals who feared the passing of illness and disease through contact with skin... and the meeting of gazes, for that matter. Alster appeared just as reluctant to look at her as he was to shake her hand, although something told her not to take it personally. After all, she was relatively new to Andalari and its customs. For all she knew, her gestures expanded beyond social expectations, and in that case, it would make anyone uncomfortable.

The ex-knight's suspicions were confirmed at the mage's rambling, and an eyebrow arched on her behalf. She knew little of the Rigas family, and while Messino appeared to hold them in high regard, lineage meant little to Elespeth. Her own lineage had betrayed her and disowned her on the allegations that she'd neglected her duties as a knight; the severance still hurt, some mornings when she'd wake up and remember she was wholeheartedly alone, but she was quick to move past it and look on to other duties. Right now, that duty appeared to be finding a way to put this strange, wayward man at ease. It wasn't haughtiness that defined his persona, but rather, a keen lack of confidence. Were there time for pity, she might have offered sympathy. But, alas, this was war.

"No, I can understand; don't get me wrong, I have my own faults." Elespeth shrugged one shoulder. "I'll admit, I'm very quick to act, sometimes without premeditation. I am often guilty of oversleeping and wasting good daylight snoring. Um... what else... Oh!" She snapped her fingers, a grin spreading across her face. "I've been accused of being too stubborn. I'm not entirely sure if that is true, but in this case, I think I'll live up to the accusation and insist that we give this a try." Placing a hand on his shoulder, she leaned in, lowering her voice to a whisper. "Please? You're the first magic wielder I've met whose ego doesn't rival the size of the sun--"

Her thoughts and plea were interrupted by the peal of laughter from Chara, the haughty blonde who had taken to arguing with the stoic and cold brunette. A peal of sympathy pricked the contents of her chest the way she so easily put down Alster. Sure, he was far from a model mage, his mind too bloated with self-doubt to make room for any confidence. That would definitely surface as a problem when it actually came down to combat. But that only made him all the more qualified to be part of a compound unit and, in a way, it struck her with that familiar urge to protect. Elespeth didn't want a partner who bested her; she preferred one whose potential she could help bring to the surface. Fugitive or not, chivalry still ran thick in her blood.

But that would have to wait. One disaster at a time.

"Whoa... hey, now. This isn't the time." She almost didn't act fast enough. Magic flickered in Chara's palm, and the ex-knight didn't miss the tendrils of darkness, like coal-black smoke, leaking from the cracks of Lilica's clenched fist. One on one, she might have allowed them to go at it and kill each other off, but other people still milled about, and were at risk of being caught in the crossfire.

Without another thought, she drew her sword in the tense air between the two of them. "Which side of this war are you two fighting on?" She asked, looking from one mage to the other--night and day, personified. "We are all allies, here. Let us start acting the part, hm?"

"Last I checked, I am not here to take orders from a woman who feels that drawing a sword opens her up to entitlement." Lilica's words were like razors on flesh, and immediately, Elespeth knew it would be unwise to make an enemy of this woman. "Step aside."

"I won't. And there will be witnesses if you harm me, or one another," the ex-knight pointed out, shaking her head. "Really, what is it with you mages and your pride? Pride kills. Review the fallen heroes of your history; I am willing to bet that 8 out of 10 of them lie in the ground before thirty years of life, on death by hubris."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Mar 21, 2015 9:58 am
by Widdershins
As Alster repositioned himself near the fray where Chara and the dark mage had chosen for battle, he thought of Tam's last words and accompanying shoulder pat (that still tingled from the unexpected touch) before he'd bounded off in desperation for a greater distraction. Not that the distraction wasn't a legitimate reason for which to attend; nonetheless, he turned his back on one disaster to favor the other. At least the former seemed willing to right itself in the quest for understanding. Tam hadn't responded to his nervous bout with a snort of derision or a series of bitter haranguing. Rather, she offered up some weaknesses of her own in an attempt to placate him. Then, she uttered those words: You're the first magic wielder I've met whose ego doesn't rival the size of the sun and he wondered of the truth. Had he lost his ego because he spent much of his life apart from the Rigases? Or had he lost his ego because it died along with his magic? 

Or was it because he understood, firsthand, how magic could utterly destroy the lives of those who were privy to its demands? Carelessness in magic presented monumental consequences. No one being should hold enough power to destroy cities or lay waste to armies--because no one being could respond to power with any sense of responsibility or proportion. Unfortunately, magic-users held the keys to unlock the world's doom--and their awareness of it radiated like the halo of the sun. Simply put, magic-users were heliocentric because their collective abilities could very well destroy the sun.

"Oh, what a riot!" Chara's ball of etherea tittered in tandem with her mouth in response to Tam's sword-wielding interruption. "You shan't delve deep inside your own archives to view the same of your ilk, or better yet, of warriors succumbing to the wiles of a magic-user because they could not unseat themselves from matters irrelevant to their legendary nosiness. Do you wish to lose your nose, warrior?" Chara cocked her head to one side in that hawkish way she favored, clucking ideas in her tongue that sounded out like ellipses in the air. The ball of etherea shifted shades in her hand, a visible change of form and intent, and her fingers twitched in conspiracy to her thoughts. A shift in tactics. 

"Catch!" She screamed and whizzed the ball towards Tam's face. It touched a shiver of air that surrounded the warrior like gossamer, ricocheted, and hurtled back to Chara with a speed she barely deflected in time. As she dissolved her spell, she snapped her neck at Alster, whose hand shimmered with the same consistency. 

"I was only having a lark, Alster!" She barked at him, her skin puffy-red like the sheen of a pimple come to a head. 

"Your spell had all the innocence of a rock disguised as a dirt-clod," Alster said, dissolving his own spell with a practiced flick, an exactitude he still exuded with precise form and skill, despite the iota of magic he utilized. "I'll not let you harm my partner in any way." Hot ire plumed from his chest and with it the conviction, rushed forth by magic, to cast his lot with a warrior whose actions had called him to take up arms and fight. 

"You dare speak for a peasant over your own blood!?" Veins spidered their way through her temples like the wisps of a spell designed to self-destruct.

"Hmm. Why not?" He said with a tug of a smile, a noncommittal answer that infuriated her the more. 

"You....you are no Rigas!" With sparks of electricity dancing off her skin, Chara fluttered away like a butterfly who thought herself a stomping giant. 

Alster deflated with a sigh. Shaking out the pinpricks of his hand, he regarded Tam with apprehension and dared to move in her proximity. After a minute of arranging, rearranging, and making last-minute arrangements to the rearranged sentence, he said, "Are you all right?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2015 2:54 am
by Requiem
I'll not let you harm my partner in any way. Elespeth had brought up the steel of her sword to stop the flicker of magic in is tracks, the light fizzling out just inches from her surprised face. Only a moment ago, the wayward magic user was grasping at any and every excuse to put distance between himself and her offer; she'd truly thought for a moment that she repulsed him, by the way he refused to even look at her. Up until just now, she'd considered consulting a mirror for the first time in about a week, unsure of how presentable she seemed, but whatever uncertainty had turned his head in the other direction dissipated at the first sign that she was threatened.

The ex-knight couldn't help but crack a grin. Someone who shared in her sense of chivalry? She could work with this man; he'd do.

"Well, if you want to speak to technicalities, my blood doesn't exactly run to the extent of that of a peasant's..." Elespeth corrected the haughty blonde, lowering her sword as she had no intention to fight any of them.; not even the dark-haired dark-mage, whose fist still leaked tendrils of black smoke. "But what's the point in splitting hairs on insignificant matters? We're here to fight, but not each other. I'll not raise my sword at an ally; like it or not, we are all equal on this playing field."

"Keep telling yourself that. If it helps validate your pathetic existence." Lilica glowered, the tendrils of dark energy dissipating from her fingertips. Anger was a waste of energy on these people, and these people were--frankly--a waste of her time. She was not long in following Chara outside to escape the foolish audacity of the she-warrior. For all she didn't seek the other mage's company (unless she truly was interested in coming to blows; it was never a waste of time to deservingly teach someone a lesson), their tents were, unfortunately, located in the same vicinity. As if Messino thought she'd integrate with the elementals, a yang to their ridiculous yin. Didn't the fool have any idea that adeptness to magic did not breed kindred spirits?

"Watch yourself," was all she said to the Rigas mage before their paths parted. She contemplated returning the possibility of Messino giving her a private tent at her request; as far as she knew, she was the only of the mages who dealt in dark magic. He should have known she wouldn't mesh with the Rigas brats from the moment she set foot on the soil of this filthy encampment.

Elespeth was by no means about to chase after either of the female mages in their heated departure. Perhaps they'd cool off enough to stop seeing red, and realize that the fighting for which they were all destined was not meant to be among one another. At least, she was willing to be optimistic. "Partner, huh?" She flashed an appreciative grin at Alster. "Thank you for that intervention. I might have swordplay down to a science, but I daresay I wouldn't know the first thing about defending myself against magic. So--are we two halves of one unit, then? Or are you going to make me do something foolish like make me prove myself to you?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 8:02 am
by Widdershins
Keeping his interests aligned with the ground helped Alster approach a semblance of conversation with Tam. Sooner or later, he'd have to communicate sentences and orders with her--and sooner would approach before later. What better way than to continue thrusting himself forward? After all, this was war. He hadn't the luxury to ignore women or unpleasant persons--all to feed his discomfiture. And with Chara and the dark mage's departure, relief massaged his aching joints, encouraging him to engage--to know the woman. To work with her, not against her.

"Yes," he said, deciding to break down his speech patterns in small clumps. To prevent overwhelming the sputtering shocks to his system, he compartmentalized the words and organized small segments, which he would utter, a little bit at a time. "Two halves. Yes," he repeated, but refused to berate himself for losing control over his already failing system.

Then she mentioned proving oneself, and he devolved into an impassioned string of words like yarn, wrapped over itself, and slowly unraveling.

"Don't be silly! Rigases are full of hot air. They'd float away if their big heads didn't tether them to the ground! They do not represent magic-users as a whole--do not for a second believe we are all a group of blowhards who catalog our importance with the biggest and brightest of the stars! On the contrary, my fathe--" He severed the string. It was too early in the day to be thinking about him. About them. With a cough that did nothing to hide the stigma of shame scrawled on his face, he tilted his head toward the training grounds, where members of their "unit" traveled--now that the vagaries of the almost-mage-battle fizzled into the mists of early morning.

"We should...ah. Follow suit. Shall we?" He returned to the collected monotone of his speech. It was safer than his bursts of unpredictability. That's right, he thought. Treat conversation like a spell. Break it down to its constituent parts and practice. Hone. Perfect. No surprises. 

Surprises kill.

They reached the borderline of the training grounds without much fanfare: Alster made certain of it. The unit, some sixteen strong, turned heads at their arrival, as if awaiting direction, or--he inwardly panicked--a demonstration. Challenges arose in their eyes. They were sizing him up, examining his worthiness for a title he believed was only honorary. No doubt they directed the same treatment to his partner. A Rigas caster and a lady warrior. A ridiculous duo, he realized.

"We'll figure out the most effective methods through simple trial and error," he said into the stare-down silence, hoping his false confidence translated into a man with a plan, and they'd leave him and Tam to their devices. 

They didn't. 

"Why don't you both show us what you have in mind?" An earth mage shouted from the back of the small crowd, an antagonizing simper etched upon his face.

Tam hadn't needed to prove herself to him, but she apparently needed to prove herself to them. Magic-users were doing a fine job disharmonzing his defense of them to her just earlier!

"We're in the same boat as you," he reasoned. "We've yet to practice. We haven't a technique, but once we do--"

"--We saw you two earlier," the mage interrupted. "Certainly it's no imposition at all for a high-and-mighty Rigas to impart his magical superiority upon us peons. Or do you only show off for the ladies?"

Another man, a warrior (Alster thanked the gods) said with a chortle, "if only she were a lady."

"Lady?" Another warrior joined the heckling party. "What lady?"

"You mean the Rigas brat?" 

Damn it. There wasn't much choice. Respect required earning, and they hadn't much to give by simple virtue of being. He gripped his hands into fists, imagining his magic pulsing through his veins with the white-hot vitality of days long past. ...But he only felt the pulse that every creature shared to stay alive. 

No matter. He'd make do. 

The impulses pounded his brain like dough, yearning for release. For manifestation. 

Frankly, he was peeved. 

"Well then," he said with a fire still possessed within him, "I don't see any of you jumping to volunteer to take us on."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Mar 30, 2015 2:18 am
by Requiem
Whatever barrier had kept Alster's camaraderie from her reach seemed to have quickly dissolved in light of her stubborn optimism. Flashing her new partner a smile. Casting a casual glance at the training grounds, the ex-knight rolled her shoulders back in a shrug. "Right. Let's go see what they're up to. Maybe they'll teach us a thing or two... Or vice versa." 
At Alster's look of bashful confusion, she simply added, "What? Hot air or not, I feel privileged to have a Rigas on my team. You show me yours, I'll show you mine, and we'll see where we can meet in the middle, hm?"

She was, of course, referring to their unique abilities, it never crossing her mind once that it could put the poor young man more ill at ease than he already was.

Far less than she'd expected Alster to warm to her and trust her so quickly, given his quirky uncertainty, was the reaction of the other mages and fighters on the field. The barrage of jibes and disrespect was unlike anything she had ever witnessed. Among her former brethren, the knights of Ilandria, there had been nothing but brotherhood and camaraderie. The occasional playful pranks or criticisms, but never such hateful remarks as those spewed by men and women who were supposed to be on her side! This was unacceptable; there was a war happening. They should not be fighting amongst themselves, but if this posed as some sort of initiation...

"You're right; were I, by title, a 'Lady', I certainly wouldn't have volunteered to take part in this dirty battle," Elespeth confirmed, arching a brow as her green eyes scanned the crowd of a dozen and plus people who were supposed to be their allies. "And neither is my partner, for that matter. Though were it true on either of our accounts, your asses would still be on the line by the time we'd be done with you."

"Oh-ho! Those words sound like a challenge to me, if ever there was one." The man who stepped forward--easily twice her age and weight--brandished an axe before her. "I'll take you on, little girl. You and that pansy little Rigas you call your partner. Hope you can hold your own, 'cause he sure as hell won't be backing you."

The confident grin on Elespeth's face did not diminish in the shadow of the man, and the tall, regal-looking mage who stood next to him as his equal. "Well, I suppose we'll see, won't we?" 

Simultaneously as she drew her longsword, the fugitive from Ilandria took a step back, until her shoulder was flush with Alster's, allowing her to pass on a hushed whisper. "I'll take on this axe-handler. What are the chances you can boost my weapon's prowess, huh? Make it a little more than the steel it's made from."

There was no time to form a true strategy, and that quick idea was all she had, for Alster to interpret as he may. The burly axe-man came at the swordswoman with a frightening zeal, such that she hardly had enough time to pivot out of the way. Blows to a sword by an axe were devastating; this man, like her, had a talent for thrusting his weight in just the right way, familiar with the feel of his weapon. What she also suspected was that the way a breeze suddenly picked up, his mage must have been using the force of the wind to curb his turns and thrusts just so, to maximize accuracy.
All the while, her blade remained unaffected.

"Alster...come on." The ex-knight breathed through her teeth, just as something caught her eye. The steel of her straight blade was glowing faintly, as if it had suddenly become a source of light. There was no time to spare a glance at Alster with an axe just inches from her face. What was supposed to be a simple block, steel against heavier steel, ended with the axe's tarnished blade meeting the soil at their feet--in two pieces.
Her sword had cleaved the axe in half, rendering her opponent, well...

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this means we win." Elespeth's pride for herself and her partner swelled at the look on her opponent's face, and that of his partner mage's--not to mention everyone else in the small crowd. Everyone had doubted them; nobody had thought they'd come out on top. "Any more volunteers?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Apr 01, 2015 6:54 am
by Widdershins
At Tam's verbal lambasting, a continuation of what he helped prod into being, he realized that he never consulted his partner to participate in the "demonstration" he took a little too personally. He flashed her an apologetic glance, but she had the situation well-covered: so much so that she coaxed out two volunteers, a warrior and wind mage duo. When they approached, his mind raced ahead of him, strategizing all possible ways to subdue them with what little he harnessed. By then, Tam had sidled up to him, her sword arm grazing against his shoulder, and he had to focus undue dedication to her words to combat the jitters of her proximity and the jitters of his upcoming performance. Before he could answer her, the axe-man barreled forth with his wind-powered attacks. 

Alster assessed the way the wind moved in patterns that tingled at his arms; with his unbroken magic, he could scramble the mage's helpful breezes with a barrier similar to what he cast on Chara, bouncing away those streamlined attacks and confusing the direction of the wind. Ideally, this would stymie the warrior and slow him down in time for Tam to take the upper-hand before the mage devised a counterspell. Alas, he hadn't the power, and Tam's previous suggestion required what was beyond his current ability to conjure. 

With a sigh, he peeled off his fingerless gloves, for maximum dexterity, and flung forward his hands, crossed and crosshatched with innumerable scars that would make many a magic-user cringe. He began to draw in the air, quick, jerking motions that he hoped no one wouldn't notice. As he worked, he kept one eye on the battle, monitoring Tam's movements with a muttered plea to hold on a mite longer. A faded light shimmered before him, not from his aura but from the translucent drawing that weaved through his fingers. At his activation, the spell engaged Tam's sword and it hummed in blue-glowing fury--hot as lava but firm as steel. It sliced through the warrior's axe like warm butter, and the dramatic result seemed to sate the captive audience.

Until he realized the audience was paying rapt attention to Tam.

"Well," a shy voice spoke into the ensuing silence, "she sure can move."

"Oh wasn't that an eyesore!" The earth mage, who relocated to the head of the crowd, croak-burped like a bloated frog after feasting on flies. "A Rigas, using rune circles? Innate users wouldn't dare perform a technique that even non-gifted people could learn with ease! You must be all dried up!" Alster could see the dead flies in that contemptuous grin, blackening and blackening until his teeth was one big black hole and oh how he wanted to fold him up inside that gaping maw for the crime of speaking the truth. 

Truth or not, he wanted the mage to suffer. 

"How about another demonstration? If you claim to have inherent celestial magic, let's see it!" The mage parked behind his partner, a lithe-muscled warrior with striding legs and a grip on twin scimitars. 

Ashamedly, he fell for the earth mage's bait and curled his fingers in anticipation to surround Tam with a spell to replicate her sword arm in a mirror image, an illusion capable of dealing a shock of damage and some confusion to her opponent who had been blown hunks of dirt and given natural armor by his dirtbag of a mage.

Nothing happened. 

He tried again. A spark limped out of his fingers like a worm drowned out of its burrow. 

He opted for a simple fire spell. A flame coughed into his palm, flickered once with blue pallor, and choked on its own color.

The earth mage roared with delight. All the while, the dirt-armored warrior clanked and cleaved at Tam, and Alster kept at his failures, twisting his fingers until he heard them pop and strain under pressure. Something--anything! He couldn't let them down. Or Tam...or himself. His parents...

"STOP!" Alster shouted into the fray. In conjunction with each other, the scimitar man and the earth mage ended their barrage and seized their victory. 

"So you show us your true colors, hm? The cowardice of a Rigas--all talk and no skill to back it up. What frauds!" The earth mage said, a gloat bobbing in his inflated throat--then he gurgled and gaped at Alster's hand.

It was brimming with the black hole darkness of the mage's own waggling mouth. A mass of it. A blur. Like a rip in the sky, and it twisted with mocking grace, reaching for the mage, desiring to lick away his lifeforce and chew it into grist. 

"D-dark magic!?" The earth mage retreated at the shadow puppet that slithered and stretched a forked tongue out to skewer his soul.

Alster blinked. The spell dissipated, leaving him with a tremor that cramped his hands into the contortions of spiders with only five legs. He averted his gaze, feeling an illness that increased with every hollow stare, every receding step, every unspoken word that breathed more anathema into his veins. 

"C-carry on," he blurted.

He turned from them. From Tam. First he walked. Then he ran like he had wings on his back that would pump him into the sky, far and away.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 3:03 am
by Requiem
"Hey, now--runes or not, magic is magic, am I right?" Not that Elespeth knew the first or the last thing about magic, but her logic was sharp enough to discern that the sudden cobalt sheen to her sword could not be explained by the steel by which it was crafted. She had done the footwork, put forth by the result of her lifelong training that led her into knighthood, but even the best warriors and swordsmen could face the limits of their own weapons. And her shortsword had been a constant enough companion over the years that she knew well its limitations.

It did not glow, did not cleave through steel or iron twice its mass and weight. And this... this was precisely why Messino had seen fit to create a system of compound units. Twice the power meant twice the potential; more birds would be hit with a wide variety of more stones.

Still, it was not enough for the haughty mages before them, and their companion warriors. About to look over her shoulder and inquire as to how Alster felt about a second match so soon (did the use of magic exhaust the wielder the same way that swordplay made her arms and back ache?), but before she could draw breath to speak, she was faced with twin scimitars, and only a split second to react.

So the ex-knight resumed her footwork and movements, so engrained in her muscles that it felt nothing short of choreography at this point, one against two as she faced off dual assailants of yet another of Messino's brand new compound units. But as she waited for Alster to step in with more useful parlor tricks, she began to lose her edge. This team was good; they had already fallen into a comfortable rhythm with one another, as her imminent defeat served as evidence. Elespeth's foot slipped on the dirt, taking her leg in a direction that would have put her neck directly in range of the twin scimitars, when she heard the mage call from behind her: Stop!

Heart beating in her throat, she waited until the scimitars were lowered to spare a glance at Alster. A dark, smoky substance leaked from the cracks in his tightly clenched fist... 
She just like that, he was running in the other direction. Collecting her sword from the ground, the fugitive from Ilandria sheathed it, scrambling to her feet. "Hey! Alster! Wait!"

But he didn't wait, and she had to sprint in order to catch him by the shoulder and slow him down. "Hey--what's wrong? Didn't you see us back there? We don't even have a strategy worked out, and we still came out on top!" The look on Alster's face, however--embarrassed, uncertain, and strangely taken-aback--dissolved the smile on her lips. "So we didn't exactly come out on top during round two. I've seen enough to know we've got potential. That is, I mean... if you're still willing to work with me?"

His magic had slipped, that second time, but then, so had her feet. In terms of being a let down (if that was really what concerned the young mage), they were on equal footing.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 8:38 am
by Widdershins
A Rigas caster, if accomplished in form and blessed with a generous share of inherent magic, could summon wings of etheria and hover off the ground or fly for some small distance. Alster knew how to harness those wings--before the loss. If only he could regain his latent abilities, just for an hour, to cast those wings and desert the war effort, then he may hope to live his days...feeling no better than he did now.

His sprinting legs waddled for release and his heart, carrying the twin burdens of physical and magical exertion, drummed such a rapid-fire tempo that he expected it to rupture. Black dots assailed his vision, blocking his periphery, muddying the row of tents within his wayward route. All the while, he heard his name, distorted as though he were submerged underwater, bear closer and closer...

A sudden force lurched him backwards, in time before he careened into a canvas-sided tent wall. He whirled around with the last of his effort to regard Tam standing near him, radiating a sunny-faced optimism that further agitated the black dots conspiring to cast a death shroud over his eyes. With a wobble he could no longer repress, Alster collapsed upon his feet, not caring that he exhibited his weaknesses for the entire camp to behold. As if to confirm, he looked at his hands, streaked bloody with the open wounds of his failed spell casting and shivering from the aftershock. 

In spite of what happened at the training grounds, what naive and misconceived bits Tam had thrown at him, and the breath that never recovered in his lungs, he laughed, an airy little wheeze that not even the wind on the worst of days would admit to producing.

"There are so many damn things that are wrong; where do I even begin!?" He said after regaining his second wind, and laughed again. The blood from his hands dripped onto his clothes, but it, like his unruffled words directed at Tam, didn't faze him. He was simply too run-down to concentrate on his blundering of social decorum. One failure at a time. 

"No. You have potential. I, on the other hand," he hesitated, "am dried out. I've lost it...it's gone." He curled his fingers into a fist, biting into his injuries and re-engaging the blood flow. "Just that cursed chthonic magic. And silly cantrips. That's all I've left."

"Go. Find another partner." He stared into the yellow grass, wishing he could lay upon it and never awaken. "...You really don't know how much I've fucked things up."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:42 am
by Requiem
Alster's self-doubt sailed past Elespeth's usually very attentive ears like a breeze. Her attention, instead, was captivated by the blood on his hands, which struck a chord of concern in her still-chivalrous heart. Losing her place as a knight would never take the knight out of her blood, and that she'd walked away from those silly skirmishes unscathed, while he bled from his hands, did not sit well with her. "Your hands! Is that a result of your magic?"
Before he could answer, the fugitive ex-knight grabbed him by his wrists, mindful of the open wounds in his hands, and pulled him to his feet with more ease than any woman should be able. "Come with me--come on, Alster! I am not going to leave you bleeding and wallowing in the middle of this encampment."

Without waiting for a response, Elespeth dragged the woesome mage toward the medical tent, worried he'd lose consciousness through the gaping wounds in his palms. "How do you think to survive a war when you cannot even take care of yourself?" Her reprimand was laced with the same concern mirrored in her green eyes. Completely ignoring the medics that cast them a curious glance (for she did not want Alster to suffer the indignity of explaining he'd been hurt by his own magic), she gathered gauze, antiseptic and clean water on her own. While she was certainly no surgeon, wrapping wounds was child's play.

The ex-knight was silent as she pressed a clean rag to his bleeding hands, the white turning pink quickly enough as it soaked up excess blood. Even when the silence was too much to bear, she was loathe to look away from her task. "Your potential is as strong as mine, you know." Smearing an herbal salve on the gaping wound, she pressed a wad of gauze against his palm, taking care to avoid his fingers as she began to wrap it. "Otherwise you wouldn't be here. You're a Rigas, aren't you? Doesn't that mean something? Let me see your other hand."

With his left hand tended to, Elespeth took his right palm onto her knee and repeated the process. "Listen, I realize we hardly know one another. I don't exactly know your strengths and weaknesses, and you don't know mine. And, frankly, I don't care about what you've 'fucked up'; because this is the here and now, and the here and now is what matters. This war, this partnership... It makes no sense to write yourself off as a lost cause before we've even seen the limits of our potential."

Both of Alster's injured hands were securely wrapped and staved from infection, the ex-knight straightened her back and stood from the stool on which she'd been sitting. "You're going to have to find other reasons than wallowing in self-defeat to break this partnership. Believe me when I say I've worked with causes far more lost than you, Alster Rigas."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:19 pm
by Widdershins
Alster received a full-on pump of renewed energy when Tam grappled his wrists and settled him on his feet. Somehow, those deadened parts of his brain jolted awake and fired up in manic bursts, responding to her touch, their connectivity...the proximity. He shuddered and squirmed in her grip, relying on the pooling blood that slicked his wrists to slip free, but her hold was solid and his muscle power and willpower, whatever was left, failed to deliver. Despite the red blooms in his cheeks, he concentrated on the staunch protestations throbbing on his lips. How much further could he fall? How much further did she expect him to fall by flaunting all his misgivings so!? 

"I-I'm fine!" He used his mortification as a means to direct his anger. "I have rune spells; I can heal this on my own. I've done it before!" He dragged his heels into the dirt, but the woman in all her behemoth strength lugged him forward with the ease of a sack of feathers. "It's a common problem! Very easily solved. Just---dammit, ease up!" 

Despite his appeals for release, she bullheadedly charged into the medical tent. Alster maneuvered his body to enshroud himself within Tam's presence, hiding so that he may retain even a modicum of anonymity and dignity--though he was certain the latter was an nonrenewable resource. 

While she could ignore the medics, he kept looking over his shoulder at them until the sting of pressure snapped him to the task that she elected to do and he couldn't escape. She mopped the blood away, revealing the ugly welts that overlapped over the old welts--all of it a testament to his gross inability to function as a Rigas well should. "You can't sincerely think it's a good idea to mummify a caster's hands like that!" His fingers twitched when she applied the gauze and began wrapping, monitoring the process with an unsatisfied huff as she completed one hand and demanded the other. 

"Look, Tam," he said, his dysphoria wearing away with every leeching of his blood and vising of his twisted palm-flesh, "while I appreciate the optimism, let me be frank with you, since you don't seem to understand. You deserve as much--to know some of the truth." He lowered his voice, mindful of the medics lurking in the background. "That display of dark magic back there--at best, it can cost me everything. At worst, it could cost me everything and my life. You're right. I'm a Rigas--part of the oldest and most exalted family of celestial magic-users. Dark magic manifestation from a Rigas will single-handedly destroy the family name. That means my head." 

When she completed the wrappings of his right hand, he turned it over and scrutinized it as if belonging to some marble statue, cold and white and petrified, than to himself. "We're on two completely different wavelengths, you and I." He sighed, but with that sigh, frustration grumbled in his voice like a brittle snapping. "You can forgive me if our partnership or this war are not foremost on my list of priorities." A self-satisfied smile crossed his face as he stood in time with her, his wrapped hands flouncing at his sides, fighting their bindings. "...Is that reason enough?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Apr 27, 2015 12:30 am
by Requiem
"Can your magic not penetrate simple gauze?" Her question, while it might have had an air of a challenge to it, was in all reality innocent. Elespeth was relatively ignorant to the nature of magic and how it manifested. Such an awesome force, she'd have thought that simple gauze and bandages would not serve as any great barrier to its effects, but in the event that she was wrong, it had occurred to her to ask. Unfortunately, Alster's pride was already too damaged, and her attempt to help (driven by mere concern, in her defense) did more harm than good.

Tam's helpful hands fell away from his bandages as the caster went into hushed explanation. Her thin brows knitted together in a mixture of confusion and concentration. "No, you're absolutely right: I don't understand," the ex-knight confessed, just as quietly. "But--and correct me if I'm wrong, but it is no secret throughout this war camp that Messino has specifically recruited a dark mage. And--correct me if I am wrong--but such a title would lend the assumption that their field is that of dark magic. That dark-haired woman... do you remember? The one who seems to have taken issue with your sister. If my memory serves me well, she has been very open about her abilities and her role in this war, and yet she is not penalized. So... so why, Alster, would a trace of dark magic sully your reputation in the eyes of your family? Or, for that matter, endanger your life?"

That, however, did not appear to be a circumstance of his life that he wished to divulge. Not that she could really blame him; beyond that small pang of disappointment at the obvious lack of trust that she'd taken for granted, of course. The two of them, caster and master swordsman, were by no definition "friends" or "companions". They were soldiers in a mutual warm, partners in a unique scheme, but nothing more. This was the difference between having a title and being a pawn, it seemed. Back in Ilandria, before she'd forsaken her own name, the royal guard to her had been a band of brothers. Such was not the case in Messino's war. She knew that now.

"...so to speak, I have been disowned by my own family." The comment was tossed out with a mere shrug of her shoulders, as if it didn't hold quite as much weight as it actually did. "It was... over a major conflict of interests. Ever since, I've been traveling, doing what I can to make enough coin to survive. When I caught wind of this--" Tam spread her arms, indicating the war camp as it stretched from one end to the other "--I couldn't pass up the opportunity to use my skills and make some money doing it. Similar to your case, this partnership and this war are also a means of an end, for me. I don't fault you for it, Alster, and whatever reasons you have for being here, they are yours to keep."

Rising from the stool upon which she sat, she wiped the remnants of the caster's blood on her slacks until her fingers were clean. "I'm sorry to cause you so much discomfort. If you'd prefer to be paired with someone else, then I'll understand. Or, at least, I'll try to." The ex-knight attempted a smile. "I guess it would probably be better for you if you did. Regardless of what you think of yourself, you're a Rigas; you're held in high regard. I'm a... I'm..." But she had nothing to say to that, not without the risk of revealing her real name and the treachery attached to it. In the end, she only offered a shrug, and made to move past him. "Nothing much, I guess."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Apr 28, 2015 3:26 am
by Widdershins
Alster listened to Tam's discourse with varying degrees of response: disbelief at her ignorance in all magic-related manners, impatience from all the wrongs he had to correct, frustration that his voice and his situation couldn't reach her--and of course, the requisite feeling of his nerves firing at full fluster. With lack of preparation, he sputtered the first words that developed the quickest. 

"Chara is not my sister." As if to further ferment his new source of unrest, he continued to saunter on down to his babbling breaking point--with flailing hands to guide him to his destination. "And no, gauze won't stop an accomplished caster--but I'm talking about dexterity. Maneuverability. Different hand positions--like sword positions. It's not just in the fingers--the entire palm is involved. Squeezed. In and out--and it's just an annoyance to have anything covering the hand when casting and--especially with the wounds already there and--she's my betrothed." And just like that, the babbling brook stopped, only to be dammed up with stagnant waters of the truth washing to shore. 

It was no point of contention that he and Chara were engaged--that had been arranged since they were children. The fact that he could still say they were engaged proved that the Rigases hadn't yet disowned him--that he still belonged, in the most basic sense of the word. As much as he enjoyed railing on the Rigases, their high-flung attitudes, and their legendary exclusivity, being without them meant that he had lost every member of his family. And what then? Where could he go? Who would care? 

If word spread quick as wildfire, after today, he was certain that he'd forfeit all ties to the Rigas name. 

The pit in his stomach stretched to bottomless depths at the thought.

As his hands and his burst of restless energy waned, he dared to look across at Tam--with full-on eye contact. He didn't realize how much he wanted, nay, needed, someone who cared. Someone who offered an ear to listen, no matter how untrained or uneducated the ear to his very specific circumstances. Even he wasn't certain of all the multifaceted layers that added to his impressive tower of troubles. She'd been receptive thus far, and whether or not it was her optimism that rubbed off on him, he was willing to adopt a more open stance to her honest--albeit dense--inquiries. 

"I'll give you the short of it," he offered, leading her outside the medic tent when he could no longer stand the watchful eyes in the background. "This is common knowledge among the people of Andalari and of its capital--Stella D'Mare. Long ago, Rigel--our founder--defeated a Serpent that rampaged this land and commanded vast amounts of dark magic. But he could not kill the beast. Instead, he sealed it away in an inescapable tomb far below the earth." He wandered behind the tent, away from prying eyes and better hidden from any passersby. "It lives--but in a deep slumber. Any Rigas with dark magic is seen as having been marked by the Serpent. An usurper. And I already have a bad reputation." He raised his hands to play with the frayed ends of the gauze, to give himself a task, any task, not directly related to his rotten lot in life--that he only brought upon himself. "So everything's gone sour for me, now. Not like it hasn't already, but you know. Actually," he tilted his head at her, a tug of a smile fighting its way to the fore, "you do know. You've your share of sour moments, haven't you?" He worded it as less of a question, more of a segue. He looked upon her again, an additional scrubbing of scrutiny. With wrinkled brow and a hushed voice, he said, in a parallel to mimic her own speech, "correct me if I'm wrong, but were you a Knight of Illandria?" He paused to let his words sink in, enjoying, for a time, a surrogate to his magic--knowledge. 

"I'm well-traveled and have an ear for accents, if you're wondering. Everything else--your distinct fighting style, your worldview and impressive skill-set--speaks for itself. I'll consider your discomfort as revenge for this," he waggled his bandaged hands at her. "You're definitely not nothing much."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Apr 28, 2015 5:37 am
by Requiem
Aside from her skills as a swordsman, over the year, Elespeth had become good at hiding. Hiding in spaces big and small, hiding her name, hiding her identity--hell, at times, she even managed to hide her gender, when she found herself among people who thought it too odd that a woman could master a sword the way she did. Paired with her nomadic lifestyle, she had remained one step ahead of everyone, playing up different names and inventing both vague and extravagant back stories.

Had she known her bloody past would catch up to her so easily, pausing to rest as she did at this war camp, she'd never have come.

A shade of pigment drained from her face as the swordsman froze, turning to face her caster partner once again. There was no other way to describe the sensation of dread that spilled over her; like being caught and suffocating in your own skin. How long had he known? And why had he waited until now to let her in on this dangerous knowledge?

Shifting her weight from one leg to another, Elespeth's face was a somber and serious yang to the yin of her supposed partner's smile. "It was a long time ago; at least, it feels that way." She shrug her shoulders as if it meant nothing. But that could not be further from the truth. "And it was fun while it lasted... but things change. Ultimately, I suppose I got selfish, and that selfishness won out... and now, here I am."

Pressing her lips into a firm line, she took a bold step towards the caster, who was not nearly as awkward anymore. Not now that he realized the magnitude of the power he held over her. "You're right, though. Things went sour for me, and I can't say much has improved. I still wake up every morning with the ambition to fight for my life, because were it not for that, I would be long dead. Ilandria is unforgiving of what they perceive as misconduct among their imperial knights.

"So, it seems, we're both at risk of being touched by a certain serpent. Maybe we have more in common than I thought." A ghost of a smile tugged at the corner of the ex-knight's mouth, but the muscles in her jaw jumped. It was difficult to maintain such a guise of composure. "But I don't believe in blackmail. That is not how I operate, and I hope you are of the same mind." Closing the distance between them, she placed a hand on his shoulder, and brought her mouth close to his ear. "Elespeth Tameris. That is my prosecuted name, and I give it to you in confidence, and as an offer for trust."

She hadn't spoken her given name in years. As far as she was concerned, Sir Elespeth Tameris had died back in Ilandria, years ago. All that remained were fragments, shadows of her former self. The name, in fact, no longer felt as if it belonged to her.
Taking a step backwards, she clasped her hands in front of her. "Forgive me for assuming Chara was your sister--I do hope, when this is all said and done, that the two of you will have a happy and fulfilling life together. In any case, you know my secret, I know yours. And I'll fight to protect you and your secret, if you promise to do the same for me. Do we have a deal?"

At first, she held out her hand for him to shake. That was until the gauze around his mummified digits registered, and she sheepishly let her arm drop to her side. "It... feels good, you know? Sharing a secret... I should be worried, but instead, I feel lighter. You've taken a weight off of me..." 
Alster was not the only one who sought to be heard. It had been so long since she'd had anyone she could call an ally; and now, this partnership offered her just that. 

"Keep that name to yourself, won't you?" She added, before turning to walk away. "For me, it is literally the difference between life and death."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Apr 28, 2015 7:47 am
by Widdershins
Perhaps Alster had enjoyed the feeling of rolling someone's life between his fingers a little too much. At her paling complexion, her shortened gasps for air and the struggle to suck in a lifesaving breath of composure, he needed to shield away his own sick satisfactions lest he display them like fancy baubles, impractical in their lavish designs, and certainly more wicked than beautiful. Why, she's just like me now, flouncing and everything, he told himself, and promptly banished the thought. Cathartic as her response had been, he hand-delivered that hearty heaping of distress to her; and in the end, when the power waned, the aftermath of his small victory vised him with the guilt that followed in the wake of every decision made, good and bad. Not worth it...you're right, Father. 

However, before he opened his mouth to apologize, she confided in him the truth he'd practically wrenched from her like the pits from a lemon. At first, when she approached him, he half-expected a swift slaying, or a clunk on the head (her fist would surely subdue him; he was a lightweight in all ways). But her words poured out, and he understood them. Hells, she recited from a page in his own book. With a sigh intermingled with an almost sucking of breath when her mouth whispered a name--her real name--into his ear, he realized that he had effectively tied their lives to each other. 

"We're both fugitives, then," he said, with an air of conspiracy animating his arms into a flutter. Anything to undo the bit of his damage--even when she outright stated the relief of breaking a secret to someone. "If our deal is to be solidified, I'll grant you a little more leverage. We'll make it interesting." He spread his fingers out, sketching patterns into the air as he spoke. "I am under Rigas protection. If the public were made aware of my hand in the mess that occurred in Stella D'Mare some years ago, I'd have been long dead by lynching. Threat of death--it's nothing new." The pattern turned circles around his right hand, embedding itself into the skin beneath the gauze. "The Rigases took the fall for me. And dark magic--that's my swan song. They will help me no longer. So--I am well aware of this fragile dance between life and death. And of struggling to survive in a world that wants you dead more than alive. Perhaps," he unwrapped the bindings on his spelled hand, "this partnership is important. And I will shake on it." He thrust his palm forward, marred with old scars--and an addition; pale-pink jags, tender, but otherwise healed. "Imperfect at best. Always leaves scars. But not to worry," he swayed his bound left hand into view. "I'll keep this one properly smothered for now."

Alster reached for Elespeth's hand, his own a shaking thing that, despite the promises made with such strong convictions, flailed with uncertainty before the anchor of her grip steadied his swaying. "To you, I offer what little I have to see you safely through this war. And I promise, Tam," he spoke her alias, but he mouthed her true name, "to keep your secret." 

As he released her hand and watched her walk away, he called after her, a smirk hooking its way across his face."Tomorrow. At dawn. Training grounds? ...We have to put those boil-brains in their places."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri May 01, 2015 12:32 am
by Requiem
He could have felled her, then and there.
Depending on how deep Alster's understanding of her situation ran, he could have taken that knowledge and turned it into money. With the money that Ilandria would have handed over as a reward for her return, alive or dead. Or, even for lack of deeper understanding, simply picking up on the fact she hailed from Ilandria, a kingdom with a monarchy that yielded a reputation for being particularly tyrannical when they did not get what they wanted, he could have turned her over to alternate authorities. 

Something told her that Messino (though she could be wrong; and she hoped she was) might not have so strong a moral framework as to not turn her over to Ilandria, himself, should the news reach his ears that surrendering her could translate into money and fair relations with another strong empire...

Fortunately, Alster was--as she had suspected--a better man than that. Nothing could spell out her relief like the way colour returned to her face, the way her shoulders relaxed or the sigh that she breathed, expelling air from her lungs that she hadn't realized she'd been holding in. Elespeth stared at his proffered hand for a beat, as if she were assessing whether or not it was real. When at last she shook it, her smile was genuine, and far more relaxed. "I wasn't suggesting that you had to even the deal by telling your secret," she said, "but I'll keep it all the same. That goes for the dark magic, as well, but Alster... if, for some reason, the Rigases do happen to make the discovery, know that I will have your back. I come from a background of knighthood and chivalry, and if I know anything, then there is value in backing a brother in arms."

But it was not safe to continue to commiserate over their newly found commonality or their partnership. Nowhere was safe, in a war camp, considering that privacy was a luxury not awarded to soldiers, regardless of whether they wielded steel or magic. They were lucky if no one had heard their whispers or seen their handshake just then. Turning to retire for the evening, the ex-knight paused in step as Alster called at her back. She shot him an affirming grin over her shoulder.

"Tomorrow at dawn. Don't be late, Rigas; I hope you're as eager and chipper a morning person as I am."

Elespeth was a morning person by necessity, however. It came with the territory of being illegal, being hunted, and the price was the sleep she sacrificed being perpetually alert. Yet somehow, the Ilandrian fugitive still managed a broad smile when Alster wandered onto the training grounds the next morning, squinting against the early sunlight. "And here I was betting you would sleep in," she teased, playfully shoving his shoulder when he approached. "So I think we need to devise a real strategy. Maybe hone what we had going before? We're partners, but we're still, in Messino's eyes, considered a single unit... I wonder if there is a way we can work together to combine our strengths to make us one superhuman."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri May 01, 2015 7:28 am
by Widdershins
As allayed by and even grateful for their handshake of brotherhood, Alster knew that he'd have to make additional precautions regarding the exposure of his dark magic--if word already hadn't spread from the Compound Unit to the rest of camp. 

That evening, he poked his head inside of Chara's tent. As the de facto "leader" of the Rigases in Messino's army, she not only commanded her own tent, but it was the largest and most flagrant of eyesore-elegance. Silken canopies draped overhead, garlands of color serving no purpose other than the flaunting of wealth and title. A ball of etherea floated in the center, rotating and flashing pinpoints of starry light against the cathedral ceiling. 

"Did you really need the high-vaulted ceiling?" Alster spoke to the shadow in the corner who lounged on a palanquin-type construction, festooned with pillows. 

She shot up from her seat of self-awarded honor. 

"Who told you to barge in here?! I'm still furious with you, you know; making a spectacle of yourself reflects poorly on our family's prestige!" 

"Then you're not going to like what I'm about to reveal. In any case," he released a noxious black mist from his unbandaged hand, "I beseech your cooperation."

**

The following morning, Alster arrived at dawn, as promised, yawning away the droplets that formed in the creases of his eyes. He preferred the evening, when the stars could poke out of the dark like a multitude of pinholes. But the stars reminded him of what he lost, and lately, he wished for the sun and the clouds to swab and outshine them into forced hibernation. By default, he became an early-riser and an early-sleeper.

He spotted Tam in the fields; they were among the first to gather and Alster saw no traces of their unit poking out from tents or behind rocks or the sparse, scattered trees. For now, he and Tam could concentrate on their strategy, hone it, and display it with confidence by the time the naysaying mages arrived with their constipated faces of doubt.

And fear. Disgust. He needn't forget; they witnessed his chthonic magic, watched it spiral and retract fangs with all intents to kill the target. No mage would silence what he saw. He accepted that his dramatic reveal would not remain a secret within the confines of the camp, but he needed the information to stay within the confines of the camp--and never leak to the Rigases in Stella D'Mare.

Alster about quailed at Tam's rough-play, not expecting her physicality so early after he'd braved passing her a handshake. But he gauged her proclivity to touching and bodily contact, and assured that his palpitations would cease over time and familiarity. He hid his blush.

"Betting I'd sleep in so that you could turn around and return to bed, hmm?" He waggled a finger at her, tsking. "You may be chivalrous, but that doesn't mean you wouldn't be glad for a no-show. Sorry to disappoint," he said, returning her smile--mostly to hide the redness rimmed around his eyes. Last night had been rough on him; a result of yesterday's events, no doubt. And nightmares defined themselves in more than just shapes sailing across his subconscious; they followed him to wakefulness and manifested into pressure that sat behind his eyes and squeezed. 

"My celestial magic is unreliable," he said, refocusing his attention on their nascent strategies. "I'll be utilizing rune spells. I've an entire book of them, and I can always conceive of more. Unfortunately, they're not as powerful, and there's a delay involved because it takes time to draw them into activation. Fortunately," he added, spreading his hands--one rebandaged with fresh gauze, the other pocked with unfresh scars, "I've taken the time to learn how to dual-cast. That may cover for any gaps on my end. I recommend we add range to your attacks--or find a way to draw them closer to your blade."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon May 11, 2015 7:29 pm
by Requiem
Elespeth flashed a quirky smile and shrugged at the mage's light-hearted accusation. "Well, who doesn't like the thought of catching just a few more hours of sleep?" The appeal of such a luxury was not lost on the former knight. Not when sleep in and of itself had been such a precious and rare commodity over the past handful of years. Often, she feared that the shadow of dark half-moons beneath her eyes was enough to give her away, that someone would think to take advantage of the awareness she lost with those hours of sleep that escaped her desperate grasp.

Fortunately, Alster was not someone who would take that advantage. That alone, and the potential for their camaraderie, was enough to keep her eyes wide open at the crack of dawn, this morning. 

"Rune spells, huh? I'm going to have to familiarize myself with your different magics." Hands planted on her hips, Tam squinted into the brilliance of the early morning sunlight and lent her ear to her new partner's explanation. When he finished, she tapped a thoughtful finger against her lips before replying.
"Interesting. Sounds as though you've really done some thinking on this. But listen, Alster; don't feel as though you need to carry the full brunt of this strategy because you're the one adept to magic and I'm the sword-wielder. It's just as much my job to cover for your 'gaps' as it is for you to cover my shortcomings. If dual-casting is your perceived solution, then I'm open to it, but should it drain you too quickly."

With the offer to compassion and equal contribution in their strategy, however, the fugitive ex-knight was excited to move on to the crux of their new strategy. "Range to my attacks, huh? Well, I certainly must admit I can only reach as far as the tip of my sword will extend." Elespeth's blade was neither stunted enough to be a swortsword, nor lengthy enough to contend with a longsword, settling somewhere in a comfortable middle. Should the opportunity arise, she was more than capable of handling something twice the length...
But perhaps overcompensating for range was not the answer. Not in and of itself, at least.

"What about both? Listen, do you remember how your magic intensified the impact of my blade yesterday? But then you faltered, and the others felt as though they had the edge?" Elespeth's grin widened. "Let's stick with that, for now--or, in a premeditated way, at least. You're worried people don't think you're enough? Well, people don't think much of me until they see me fight either. So why not use this to our advantage?" She draw her blade, the tarnished steel glinting sunlight into her eyes. "What do you say, we hold out until the last minute? Fight like a couple of novices, before taking everyone off their feet. Literally or figuratively. If you can think of a way that your magic could serve as an extension of my sword, then you can leave all the choreography up to me. Does that sound feasible?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu May 14, 2015 7:34 am
by Widdershins
Tam's strategy, while intriguing, put him ill at ease. Already, he lived his days with that fear, nay, the truth, of being a let-down to his family and to himself. The strategy hit him where it hurt the most, where admittance and acceptance of his misgivings would wrench themselves to the fore. Once present, it was uncertain that he'd rein in the doubt when it ran rampant, giving him no opportunities to prove himself better than the niggling in his head that reminded him: you've lost it all. Everything that matters. There is no act, no play-fighting. You are weakness. 

Perhaps that's what made the strategy so effective.

"That's not much different from what I'm doing already," he said with a self-deprecating smile. "What does it hurt to keep at it? Just don't blame me if my whole weakness 'act' lasts for the entire battle." He glanced at Tam's blade, silently calculating its length versus the distance by which his magic could expel if attached to its surface. "All boo-hooing aside, I may be able to use your sword as a launching point to bounce certain spells from. And if our enemy is, well, convinced we are weak, and comes in for the final blow, he'll get a nasty surprise from your sword, point blank. Our act will give me time to set up those finishing spells, and at the same time I'll use my other hand to cast faulty celestial magic--as a distraction." To demonstrate, he overturned his hand and a sputter of sparks, loud and airy, popped and crackled like a fire with too much energy and not enough fuel. "Nothing like a flashy and loud spell failure to both confuse and embolden the enemy."

**

Chara marched on forth to the training grounds with a purpose in her step. Each stride pulled her foot down in crushing motions, as practice for when she'd grind that black magic hellion into pebbles--pebbles with sensory organs that would feel every one of her kicks from here to the other side of the world. 

She hadn't slept a wink after Alster arrived with his off-the-walls revelation last night. The conversation repeated itself in her head, ad nauseum. Short of plugging her ears or somehow muting her mind, she hurried out of her tent and blasted at the sky with soundless, lightless etheria (she was angry, not daft!) But the words trickled down like a leak in the roof, and she was privy to them, drop after drop, until she made the decision to attack the source of her frustration--the dark mage. 

Bits of the conversation returned with a fervor that manifested into a biting headache, one that Chara would surely transfer to that accursed ink-stain--and blot her out of existence.

"--Chthonic magic!?" Chara gaped at the sight and, jaw relaxing, she massaged it with words aplenty. "...This is no joke, Alster! I hadn't realized you'd anger still at that spell I threw at your little darling splinter-wielder. But this is low, even for you. Why, simple smoke and mirrors. You've always been clever at illusions whenever it suited your agenda. Stop it now this instant! I am no longer amused nor have I ever--"

"Chara." He silenced her with a tonal injunction; a voice from out of the dark. Did he speak, or did the chthonic masswork of threads speak through him? "I am not joking."

"Then the Serpent...you--"

"I've had it since birth," Alster admitted, dropping his hand and dispersing the offending clumps that writhed and taught the comfortable shadows of her tent to writhe as well. "My father--he had it, as well. A well-kept secret between the two of us. I..." he slumped his shoulders, and the darkness dwindled in light of the Alster she always recognized. "I can't keep it any longer. It's escaped. I've always been careful in the past, but," he sighed, and she read the implications buried in that sigh, "not lately."

"What," she said, a croak that sounded before her thoughts aligned with what she uttered, "am I able to do? There is no being or object powerful enough to leech that magic from you."

"No. There isn't. Not really." He said his last words like an afterthought, and his head turned upwards, a gesture that worried her. Ideas bloomed in his head, no doubt. Bad ideas. "I just need you to keep this knowledge from reaching Outside. From Adalfieri. From any of the Rigases."

"You're asking me...to betray my family--for you?"

A defeated smile tugged on his lips. "No. That would be presumptuous of me to ask such a favor from you." He turned from her, raising the tent flap into the night. "Keep your reputation unblemished, Chara Rigas--because if you stand by me, things will go horribly wrong."

Damn it. Damn it all! Manipulative bastard, playing on her emotions so!

By luck (and a little bit of magic), she detected the dark mage practicing her sordid arts away from the unit to which she belonged. Of course--for who would willingly stand by a dark magic-user? 

With no warning, she lobbed a ball of etheria over the mage's head, where it exploded and sizzled in the tree not far behind. Once she had the woman's attention, she stormed into her space, all lightning flecks and a drop in pressure--a tornado in the making.

"You!" She shouted, feeling the wind cumulate through her fingers and halo around her hair. "What have you done!? Your kind shouldn't exist. I should obliterate you now! You...all of you...Ruin lives. You're all Serpents!" Holding back tears of rage, she formed a lightning cloud, the spirit of her fury in one unstable sphere. "Die."

She threw the ball at her.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun May 17, 2015 6:29 pm
by Requiem
While it had once been her captor, solitude was now Lilica's treasured friend. Especially among a field of strangers. The expanse of the filthy, empty field after hours of training was a bigger cynosure to her eyes than the luxury of the tend that Messino had offered her, for her participation and cooperation in this scheme. In such a small encampment, it was almost impossible to earn the privacy she needed for the concentration her unique magic required.

That was in addition to the fact it was all precautionary; there was never any telling just how chthonic magic would affect bystanders.

It hadn't taken long for Lilica to realize that her ticket to maintaining her sanity in this muddy war camp was to keep her distance. Ultimately, that decision would yield the best temperaments for both parties, and the fewest casualties. But wouldn't luck just have it that the dark mage was not lucky at all, and secluding herself from unwanted interferences in a place where privacy was a luxury afforded to practically no one was a wish that, if granted, seldom lasted.
And today appeared to be one of those days.

Hopelessly distracted by the din that surrounded her, Lilica was struggling with meditation when the ball of searing energy came sailing her way. She felt it before she saw it (and Chara's cries beforehand), and fortunately turned just at the right moment to catch the sphere of fury in the depths of a dark miasma-like cloud that formed between her curled palms. Chara's charged attack fizzled out, dissolving in the darkness like sugar stirred into black tea.
But it didn't have to stop there. Lilica could have expanded that cloud. She could have reached deep inside herself to that core centerpiece that made her what she was, and mustered the strength to swallow this haughty Rigas brat whole. It wasn't impossible, and it wasn't beyond her.

But that was precisely why she had stopped practicing her art in the first place. And only on that brief self-reminder did she remember to reign in the darkness leaking from her hands, and take several safe steps away from the angry blonde.

"You, Rigas, have a simple and limited way of thinking." Lilica inhaled and exhaled slowly, regrounding herself in the here and now. People like Chara could never understand what it was like to have to defy your own nature in order to function from day to day. Those like Alster, on the other hand... "I take it you've caught on that I am not the only one capable of wielding this energy. But you can't take it out on him, so you're unleashing your rage on me."

The dark mage counted her exhales quietly, until she was reassured that she was not about to unleash her fury the way this Rigas woman had.That small accomplishment, in light of how much the woman infuriated her, would become her best feat of the day. "Yes, I know what he can do. Like calls to like, and there are so few of us now, thanks to the witch hunters that condemn and kill us, that it's like a beacon in a storm. But perhaps what you should consider is not the nature of any given magic, but the fact that we will, ultimately, all be using it towards the same goal. Did that not occur to you?"

Taking a bold step forward, she brushed her long hair over her shoulders, as the last tingle of chthonic energy left her fingertips. "Under any other circumstances, I'd likely prefer to just do away with you. And I'd be lying to say that my time and power is not being wasted for this stupid cause. But if you are too foolish to forego your tunnel vision of binary good and evil, then pack up and go." With a jealous frown, she added, "because at least you have the luxury to do so. Which is more than I can say for myself."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon May 18, 2015 5:54 am
by Widdershins
Her magic swarmed into the vortex of that hellish maelstrom with such a slurping intensity that Chara about clutched her chest in sympathy pain. The link between magic and its host body formed a sacred bond, one forged through the lifeblood. The lifeblood belonged as much to the self and to one's identity as it did representing the trigger for spell conjuring. Everything was connected. Therefore, that fiendish witch ate a little bit of Chara, and she felt the sting, like the wringing of her flesh into reams of blood.

And now, it was personal--once the image of that ravenous nightmare swallowing drops of her purity left her mind.

"How dare you presume that I am simple!?" She held fast to a rope of etheria, as a handhold, feeling the energy wash her hands clean of the residual filth of chthonic magic crackling in the air. It remained a lifeline for her--a clutch of courage to stand her ground against a veritable serpent in human skin. "I am doing the world a favor by eradicating your kind. With your death and the death of others of your ilk, you'll release the hold you have on him. He is a Rigas. While that means nothing to you heathens, he cannot be allowed to endure the indignity of your tempestuous abominations." Before she could dispense with silly sentiments, or lock them away and deny their existence, a few choice works leaked from her mouth. "He has suffered enough."

Promptly, she bit her lip and lowered her head, pretending to concentrate on wrapping the sinews of etheria around her hands--all while hiding the flushes that burned her cheeks with well-timed rope-flares. Dammit! Why did she dare flub about Alster's affliction? It mattered not that the dark mage knew; it damaged Chara's sense of propriety and of keeping family business strictly family business. 
But she had already forfeited her discretion when she sought the accursed woman out of pure spite.

...Was that the only reason she was sought?

Electing to focus on other matters, she ground her teeth and spiraled the etheria around her hands with the skill of a juggler bouncing water in lieu of balls. "I will tell you what has occurred to me. Neither you nor I wish to be here. You may philosophize all you'd like about all magics finding common purpose in matters of warfare or otherwise, but no being can control the nature of their magic any more than a lion could become a lamb. Regardless of where or how you focus your magic, it will always be dark. Chaotic. A detriment to the progress of society and civilization."
Silencing her juggling motions, she recycled the etheria into a model of the earth, which she rotated about on her finger. "Feel superior if you must, believing I have no color in my worldview. But I beg to differ! My view is progressive. There is simply no want or need of your magic outside of war. That is the only reason you are here. ...Feel free to prove me wrong." As she clenched her shoulders with the anticipation of her unorthodox request, all her magic dispersed. She hated the raw vulnerability, the fear of tackling something she didn't rightly understand nor could defeat, but she hated more the feeling of uselessness...of asking for a favor in the throes of desperation, sans magic.

"...Help him." Her voice lost its verve, the commanding vibrato accustomed to seeing results at her directive. "If chthonic magic is not bane from the Serpent , then help him."


Quote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 838
 
by Requiem
"No one and nothing has any hold on your dark companion." Lilica spoke in a monotone, giving the impression that she cared little to nothing for whatever ailed the hot-headed blonde. In reality, she knew the hard truth of what Alster suffered: dark magic, if conducted by all the wrong means, could turn its wielder into little more than a vessel. Joy and pain alike would be stripped from their life, such that the only stimulant became that of wielding the magic that consumed them.

She would know. For it was not long ago that Lilica D'Or had fallen into that trap and, in many ways, continued her struggle to not fall in again.

A moment later, the dark mage amended: "Nothing has a hold on him but his own nature. I don't deign to discredit what you say, but here is the truth: if you can control the shadows, then you suffer. Anyone who ever has done so has suffered, and that is likely not to change, not by anyone's efforts." Would it matter if she told her that she could understand the suffering? That for years, she had drowned in her own darkness? That every day she had gone without using it was nothing less of an astonishing accomplishment?
Perhaps. Perhaps it would make a difference, make her more human in Chara's eyes. But owning up to her own suffering meant that she had to relive it. And Lilica wasn't prepared for that--not at that moment.

Unfortunately, Chara decided it was an ideal moment to poke a finger into those wounds, anyway. She didn't need this lecture, and frankly, the dark mage wasn't interested in hearing it. And it was enough to tear the truth out of her. "I am an herbalist." Such a simple statement, and one that might not appear to be appropriate to their given conversation, until she went on to explain, her words pulled as taut as her muscles. "I study herbs, their dangers and their potential to be remedies. I have for the past five years. Until I was blackmailed into fighting for Messino. That is my occupation now, not... not magic. I never wanted to do this."

It was far from an obvious truth, but if she and Chara had something in common, it was hiding behind a facade of bravado and pride. And the Rigas woman had just dropped it; all for concern for her bumbling Rigas companion. That was a bond that Lilica could hardly understand, and should she have chosen, she could have sharpened her edge and left the woman in her proverbial dust, bemoaning the nature of Alster Rigas. Whatever it was that convinced the dark mage to act otherwise, even she didn't understand, but something about Chara's plea struck a cord that could only be experienced by someone who had been (and, in many ways, still was) Alster's decision.

"I can't. I wish I could, but I can't. If it were as easy as finding someone to 'help'..." Frustrated with the truth, Lilica sighed audibly and raked her fingers through her dark hair. "Chthonic magic is a part of him, and it always will be. Resisting it is not the answer; it will build under his skin and fester until it seeps through his pores. Don't look to me for hope, because if there was any, then I would not be here right now. Perhaps... perhaps I wouldn't even be here at all." But there was no point in getting into her origins, so she went on. "Darkness is darkness, but it is not always a curse. It is the way that it is used that determines the future of its wielder. Some uses strengthen the magic until it is on the wielder's control. But if he can find a means to use his magic that serves as an outlet, it can be controlled--do you understand? It can be controlled, so that it will not control him. And that," she raised her hands, and then dropped them emphatically, " is the best hope I can offer. But if it brings you any solace, if someone of my nature can control it, then I have no doubt that a Rigas should succeed."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun May 24, 2015 9:12 pm
by Widdershins
Something crept up inside of Chara, something hairy with many legs that scratched and abraded against her nerves. They pricked themselves alert to the unease dripping from the words of the dark mage that formed into fangs. The more she talked, the more Chara's insides twinged and twisted. 

"That cannot possibly be true," she said in defense, but any attempt at an assertive response bled away with each silken wrapping of the thing inside her that spun and spun with those pinioned legs. "The Serpent has a hold on him; he is but a victim of unfortunate consequence. You are buggering with me!" Her hands roared to life, but they mimed harmless little flicks into the air. Chara wanted to grasp that air and twist it until it exploded from the pressure, but a thought she fought to ignore blossomed into a flower with thorns for petals, and they attached to her skin like burrs. What if...the dark mage spoke truth? She didn't seem the type with a particular motive to withhold or spin the information in a backwards arc. No nonsense; that was her approach. 

With a dry, tickling gulp, Chara's mind coughed out a horrible conclusion: Alster was in league with the Serpent. The sickness called chthonic magic perhaps wasn't a sickness at all, but himself. His nature. A nature of that level could not bode well for any unsuspecting person with the misfortune of being in the way. What further confirmed Chara's conclusions was how the dark mage distanced herself from her own magic. 

"If you are trying to prove me wrong about chthonic magic, you are doing a horrid job," she huffed, and returned her hands to the sides, which clenched in frustration. "You chose the path of an herbalist to escape your stigma, seemingly with the knowledge that your magic is harmful and corrupt. The way you describe it--if a dark magic user cannot conceive of its merits, and denies her previous vocation, then how are we, as a collective magic community, able to look at chthonic magic as anything positive? As anything above swift annihilation? Why else have hunters stamped down your kind? What have you all to offer that is not your own doom--that is not the doom of others?" 

An image of Alster popped into her head, an innocent face displaced by a world-weary traveler--a victim of fate. For years she discredited the rumors that his intentions to unleash the Serpent were malicious, instead of an unprecedented accident. Perhaps, the truth sat on both sides. Already, the darkness had imprinted a great deal of damage upon his soul--and already, he lost control long ago. Without his celestial magic buffering the regression of his morality, she feared the worst. And ultimately, she was afraid...of him. 

"It is already controlling him," she muttered, staring at the grass and the fresh dew that clung to each individual blade. "He has been resisting it all his life." A hard edge returned to her voice. "It sounds like you, too, are resisting it if you have denied its usage until this moment. If not for Messino's war, you would have remained an herbalist--idealistically speaking, of course. How do I know you truly have it under control, aside from all those surface deep shadow puppets you've strung along? I've no hope of his recovery--excuse me, "mastery"-- when you are the sole speaker of this despicable art." She wrinkled her nose at the dark mage. "You are only painting yourself in a more unfavorable light. Excuse me...an unfavorable shade of black."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed May 27, 2015 12:12 am
by Requiem
"I'm sorry if I'm not telling you what you want to hear. If you prefer lies, then you should have said something." A flush had crept into Lilica's face, but it wasn't one borne of mere anger. Chara and her haughty attitude, for however little she really knew of chthonic magic, had a knack for instilling shame and guilt. Well, the dark mage had stewed in her own remorse for long enough. She didn't need some radical magic user of noteworthy pedigree to force those feelings to resurface. "But, your mood swings aside, something tells me you're not unleashing your bad on me just for sport. So if you're actually looking for bona fide input on something that you clearly know so little about, then leave your childishness behind and come with me. It isn't safe to talk so openly when we're in earshot of others."

Turning away before the hot-headed blonde could get another word in, Lilica turned and made for the privacy of her tent. Whether or not Chara chose to follow mattered little to the brooding dark mage, but her penchant to accommodate the woman's whims and temper was thin and finicky, at best. In fact, she was rather surprised when she turned around and found that Chara had, in fact, decided to follow. A strange sense of self-consciousness washed over the dark mage then, one that you only ever experienced with unexpected company. Her tent, like the others, were relatively spartan. It was the fact that she had her own tent at all--a small touch of Messino's to better guarantee her cooperation--that made her uneasy. As if she wasn't already singled out enough, being the only known dark mage in his army. That she also received different treatment from her other mage colleagues did not help in her desire to simply blend into the background.

"Before you open your smart mouth, I didn't ask for this--any of it. Not the private tent or a 'premier' position in Messino's army." Lilica went on to explain, dropping her voice a few decibels lower, even in spite of the privacy of the canvas over their heads. "But that doesn't matter to you. So I'll indulge you on something that does, if you care to keep quiet long enough for me to explain."
Unlatching her cloak where it gathered at her throat, Lilica tossed it onto the cot behind her. While still far from comfortable, it wasn't quite as threadbare as what Chara might have been assigned. The blatant difference in treatment might have triggered jealousy in the Rigas woman, but for the dark mage, it only triggered nervousness and suspicion.

"Since when is any magic the same in any two people?" Although she posed the question to the only other person in her presence (who, too, was magically adept), it was obviously rhetorical. At Chara's pause, Lilica furrowed her eyebrows and nodded. "Exactly. It isn't.What I have... what I experience and what your companion experiences might be of the same nature, but they are not the same thing. You keep referring to this... Serpent. I have never heard tell of it or anything like it; my demons are the shadows. The gathering dark that is not distilled by light. It is always there, I will never be rid of it. But it does not mean I heed it. Even if I can control it."

Where anger had been etched into the lines of her face only moments ago, weariness had replaced it. This woman and her problems exhausted her, and it wasn't as though she hadn't her own ails. "I am not going to try and convince you that there are not dire consequences for this breed of magic. I will never live those consequences down. But I know little to nothing of your chthonic companion, and unless I were to gain insight into how it is uniquely manifest in him, I cannot offer neither you nor him options. If you want to rest assured of alternatives, then I'll... I need to see him. I need to see what he can do. And we can take it from there."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed May 27, 2015 9:36 pm
by Widdershins
"Childishness!?" A low hiss rumbled from her throat. "It is through no fault of mine that you wish to be uncooperative in all your hopeless twaddle. I will pay my dues to you now, however, for making a proactive decision in our relocation. That is wise." She crossed her arms as she trailed behind the dark mage to the predictable enclosure of her tent. "Never let it be said that a Rigas does not deign to show clemency or bestow compliments." During their short excursion, Chara trailed behind the mage with her head held high and her tongue poised at the roof of her mouth, readying another string of filtered words. If anyone discovered she was more or less in alliance with such a questionable individual, she would have to answer for plenty of contention. Until then, all she could do to protect the Rigas name was parade along a vainglorious disposition. Always assume control--especially when the control risked slipping through the fingers like ice. 

She entered the mage's tent--a squat, muted little eyesore that reflected the resident's personality quite well. Whether in a war camp or not, Chara believed in carting about a little bit of home, for she surely missed her cozy quarters in Stella D'Mare. Having such baubles in her private space made no sense to outsiders--and unfortunately, to Alster--but they improved her morale with a daily reminder of why she fought. What she beheld inside this tent, with its flat colors, uncomfortable bedding and boxy furnishings, caused her mood to plummet, grounding itself with the dirt and worms. 

"Oh, I beg to differ," Chara opened her "smart mouth," whilst ignoring the ratty chair that looked to be winking at her in the shadows. "A deplorable tent is no thing of privacy when at every angle, the walls threaten to scream at you. If I actually fancied you, I'd offer you a little decor."

Before she cared to ramble about the importance of one's own sanctum and how decorations were extensions of the self, the mage readdressed the topic of discussion, which, in relocating from open field to stuffy tent, she had blotted out of her head. 

"I will agree that what he possesses is not what you lot typify. His demons began externally and worked their way within--penetrative and invasive. At least, that is what I understand." To prevent from fidgeting, she kept her arms crossed, but her figure-eight posture tightened and gripped itself into knots. Should she untighten them and reveal a truth better left unsaid? With a regretful sigh, she nodded. Needling desperation uncrossed her arms and with that, her reservations. "The Serpent is a major demon in his life. It is a real entity. A literal beast our family is sworn to keep imprisoned from generation to generation. It wields dark magic and as a result, we protect ourselves and others from its influences." A sigh accompanied her next part. "I will tell you this much. Alster and the Serpent are deeply intertwined. The Serpent...it awakened." She said in vague undertones, casting her eyes downward, at the folds of her tunic she'd gathered in bunches. "It killed his parents and stole the magic of his birthright. The Serpent is safely imprisoned again, and slumbering--but the damage has been wrought."

When she returned to some semblance of awareness, she found herself seated on the ratty old chair with her legs locked together at the kneecaps. "Of course, the biggest challenge for you will be to speak with him." Unbidden, a humorous little chuckle parted her lips. "That will make itself quite apparent." Finding vestiges of her pomp and circumstance still within her, she rolled it all up into a healing ball and used it to revitalize her agenda. "By the way, I do not believe in charity cases, nor do I expect you to work for free. Everything in this world has its price. If you do this for me," she leaned forward in the chair and lowered her voice to a whisper, "I'll find you a way out of this war."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu May 28, 2015 6:51 pm
by Requiem
"Externally?" Lilica's thin brows met in the middle as she frowned, leaning forward with interest as the celestial mage proceeded to explain. "So you mean, other than figurative... this Serpent... It is a real entity?"
As it turned out, that was precisely what Chara meant. If it were possible for the dark mage's fair complexion to pale further, the blood that she could practically feel drain from her cheeks would have showed. Nonetheless, the concern was obvious in the widening of her dark eyes and the tightness around her mouth. All of a sudden, what she had thought to be a mole hill had revealed itself to only be the tip of a enormous mountain. This was not simply a case of yet another adept of the dark magic learning to come to terms with a force that sought to control him; this was a matter of something horrible and insurmountable that was already out of control.

It killed his parents. That was something with which the young woman was all too familiar. Forever would she be haunted by the memories that manifest as nightmares of the her father's body, long dead by still bleeding out in front of the pantry. And of her mother's corpse, neck bent at a grotesque, unnatural angle, broken swiftly from her fall to the bottom of the cellar stairs. Worst of all was the image of that little girl, no older than ten, with stringy black hair and cold eyes who had walked away after what she had done. Who hadn't chosen to look back on it and never look back, not until just a few years ago, when her life had taken a drastic turn due to unforeseen circumstances.

Darkness killed. Whether it manifest as a Serpent or an all-controlling, amoral state of mind. But in this respect, Lilica had something upon which she could empathize with Alster.

"I... have no experience with chthonic magic that has manifest in such a way," she admitted, but the desperation in Chara's blue eyes prevented her from turning her back on this cause completely And when the blonde leaned in from her seat and met her eyes with conviction, the proposition that she put forth was too good to turn down.
Lilica blinked rapidly as she replayed the words in her mind, thinking she must have misheard. "You think you can do that?" Her voice cradled fragile hope, and was hardly audible above a whisper. "You think you can really get out of this? Out of here?"

It was possible she was being played. Chara was desperate to help her wayward mage companion, and the desperate would promise anything. But the dark mage was not one to be deceived; she paid close attention to eyes and bodies and voices, and even if this feat were not possible for the Rigas woman... well, Chara at least thought that she could do it. This had nothing to do with deception, and had everything to do with hope. And for those so seldom encountered good fortune, often, it had to be enough.
"You have a deal," Lilica said at last, offering her hand and clasping Chara's in a confirming gesture. "And don't worry; he can be as silent as he wants. I have ways of finding out what I need to know. Rest assured, he'll be fine."

Sure enough, early the next morning, as soon as Alster was awake and mobile, and on his way to meet Elespeth, he was seized by the arm and dragged towards a supply tent. "Alster Rigas." Lilica was firm, no nonsense, and had no intention of letting him go until he cooperated. "Your better half sought me out in regards to certain aspects of your gifts that you might find troublesome." She met the startled man's eyes, lowering her voice, though she was sure no one was eavesdropping. "Believe me when I say it is in my best interests to help you. So, right now, you need to tell me about the Serpent."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri May 29, 2015 12:32 am
by Widdershins
"We are stewards of the Seal, for a millennium since Rigel chained the wretched beast to this land. I assure you--or in this case, further distress you--the Serpent is real." She frowned at the reaction given forth by the dark mage. While she understood the rigors of her stark request, the level of worry displayed by Alster's "guide" put her ill at ease. "Consult the old Andalarian texts if it helps to solidify this threat, for it is here to stay. No one, not even Rigel himself, has uncovered a method to exterminating the beast for good. Therefore," she added, crossing her legs in a bid to exude a casual, unruffled air, "I am not surprised by your self-proclaimed lack of credentials for this undertaking. Any matters concerning the Serpent are shrouded in mystery. It is an anomaly. But we, at least, can focus on what we do know. You and Alster have chthonic magic. Regardless of how it has manifested and what has triggered its usage, as you have said, the nature is the same. The two of you already have common ground."

Chara gave a little half moon smile when the mage visibly brightened from the details of their inner dealings. So there was a little light in her, after all. Even the darkest of persons, soot-covered from sharing the opposite end of burning ambition, still bore a clean spot of hope, however small. "Do you forget that I am a Rigas? In all but name, we are the monarchy. Messino only believes he has command over his armies. So...yes." Her smile widened, displaying the magnanimity of a benefactor to her ward. "I can do that."

**

Morning came with blood trails in the sky, leaking from clouds that sickened in their pallor. Alster wandered from his tent, both hands unburdened and bandage-free. No new wounds, no new scars. Yesterday, he and Elespeth walked through a few strategies. He played on the safe end, using only rune spells and trick angling to compensate his weaknesses for when they shed their wounded deer charade. As members of the Compound Unit milled through the field to practice, they noticed him, but chose to ignore his presence. Silent contempt, he gathered. By no means was he unlearned in the different appearances of hatred, for he had experienced all forms. Fortune favored this form the best, while Alster liked it the least. The likes of the earth mage and his active-aggressiveness was something to combat, however infuriating, but nothing brought him more unease than those who eyed him from afar with hate in their eyes. 

As Alster strode towards the training field, his footfalls faltered and his senses sharpened. Someone was watching him. Chara always downplayed his hyper-awareness, calling it paranoia, but it wasn't paranoia if proven right. 

He was right. 

A sudden swooping motion grappled his arm and yanked him through the flaps of a tent before he could summon a running start or an explosion of failed celestial spells. In the muted dark of his new locale, he managed a small flare with his free hand and held it to his assailant's face, preparing to smack it at them point blank. When he saw the dark mage, and listened to her loaded words, he froze, and the flame fizzled to nothing. 

Already, she had lambasted him into submission--with the bite of her tongue. Frantic with confusion, of events spiraling way too quickly for his mind to comprehend, his mouth waddled audible syllables before he had the chance to formulate anything resembling an answer. 

"C-Chara? This is her...what? I don't.. Are you--? What do you... I can't--" He struggled to twist his arm free, but it was as if Death's hand was pulling him to his grave. And nothing stopped Death. Why could he never escape the clutches of stubborn women!? 

In the end, he did find a nonphysical handhold and used it like the rung from a ladder to propel himself to a higher state:

Serpent. 

"...What do you know?" The unbroken sentence spilled like a cascade, coursed with anger and apprehension and mistrust. Chara would never ask for this woman's help! Just the other day, she wanted to stuff her into a black hole! No force of nature would bend Chara to the mercy of a dark mage. 

Except for...

"And what do you want?" he blurted before an impossible thought finished collecting a few key components.

Perhaps...

Perhaps Chara...

Perhaps she actually...was fond of him.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun May 31, 2015 2:39 am
by Requiem
Well wasn't he a jumpy case. Perhaps it didn't help, taking him by surprise such that he'd nearly seared her face with magic sparking from his fingertips, but it was easier to nab these skittish types unawares, or else you ended up chasing them all over hell and creation. Lilica would know; she used to be one of them. In many ways, she still was. "I don't know much. If anything at all," she admitted, only releasing her vice grip when she was confident he wasn't going to bolt. "I don't want anything--at least, not from you. Your Chara simply thought that someone else with an inclination towards the chthonic might be able to help you."

With a quick glance in either direction beyond the flaps of the tent, when she was confident that no one would take notice, Lilica reached up and pulled loose the ropes holding them back. Early morning sunlight gave way to the shade of the canvas shelter, making the sharp lines of the dark mage's cheekbones stand out all the more.
Not the best effort to not come across as intimidating, perhaps. But that was not the point of this meeting anyway.

"Let me make this clear for you: you Rigases are as good as royalty. Chara was quick to remind me of that fact." The more she spoke the woman's name, the less it tasted like bitter venom on her tongue. There was something to be said about keeping your enemies closer than your friends. "The truth is, I never wanted to be part of this war. The only reason I am here is because I was blackmailed; I can't talk my way out of here. But your significant other has significantly more sway than I do, and has assured me that, if I am able to help you, she will help me get out of here. So don't think for one moment that any of this is about charity or one tortured soul yearning to help another, but if you'll let me, I think I can grant you more restful nights, with better control and understanding of your dark magic, if you'll let me."

One thing was for certain: Alster was no middling nave of a caster. She could tell by the energy surrounding him that there was far more to him and his potential than what he seemed to think of himself.

When the tent flaps were suddenly pushed aside, spilling daylight onto the startled faces of the two dark mages, Lilica quickly adjusted her posture as if she meant to go on the offense--despite that she'd never let darkness leak out of her fingertips, if she could help it. "What business have you here?"

"Weapons; we need them for practice." The straight and assured form of the swordmaster, Elespeth, strode past the two to examine the pile of blades and their sheaths, pushed carelessly into a corner. "I thought I heard our commanding officer tell us intimate encounters were prohibited among units; I'm not one to rat on fellow comrades, but you might want to find a better place than a public tent."

"You know very well that is not what is occurring, you asinine imbecile," Lilica snapped, colour rising to her cheeks regardless of the falsehood. "But that doesn't matter, because none of this concerns you."

The swordsman picked up a shortsword, testing its balance on her fingers before pulling it free from its sheath. "Alster is Chara's other half by marital engagement; he is my other half by virtue of the compound unit that we make." There was nothing outwardly threatening about her stance when she pivoted, turning her body to face Lilica and Alster, sword unsheathed and in hand. It was, perhaps, just the knowledge of her adeptness with the weapon, and the fact that even though everything about her sense of honour might prevent her from stepping out of line with her offensive prowess, there was still the possibility that she could. "Lilica, you are really the only one whose 'business' here is questionable."

"I'm trying to help him. Ask Chara," the dark mage snapped, lifting her arms and dropping them to her sides in a dramatic motion. "And only because she's agreed to help me in turn."

She could have been lying; and for all Elespeth knew, Lilica was. But the dumbfounded yet slightly hopeful expression on Alster's face gave her pause to consider otherwise. "You're okay with this?" She asked her partner, as a way to disguise the offer of her support if need be, whether that meant walking away and leaving them to whatever they were discussing or guiding him safely out of the supply tent.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2015 10:03 pm
by Widdershins
When she released his arm, he arranged it against his body like a sling and rubbed the area of contact, checking for any lasting effects. Listening to the beginnings of her explanation filled his cheeks with the same fire his hand wielded just moments ago. "Please don't call her that," he sputtered, focusing beyond her head and giving the battered tip of a halberd a rather intimate stare-down. It shimmered and faded with the dropping of the light, and the entire tent succumbed to the darkness that Lilica insisted on dredging to the surface. A reflexive shiver passed over his shoulders. Instead of thinking what made him the most queasy, he clung to what gave him the least amount of queasy reactions. In this case, it was any mention of his and Chara's relationship to each other. 

"She is not my..." An embittered sigh scratched his throat, and he strained out the rest. "Cousin. She is more my cousin than..." In defeat, he dropped his arms and attempted involvement in a conversation he'd rather not have. "Chara has less sway than she believes. She does not speak for the family." He searched the crowd of weapons for the halberd, but it since lost its shine, and nothing now could distract him from the hard truth. "We are all here against our wills. Personally, I would love a free pass out of this war, but even we 'royalty' are used as pawns by those who are actually in control. The key is allowing us to think that we are. She is not, and she is disillusioned." He snapped his conclusion at her and felt the strings loosen from the taut anger he had roped around himself. While he was still peeved by what she had arranged behind his back, pushing the megalomaniacal Chara off her high horse helped him to reconcile his reservations on the whole affair--because the affair would fall apart once Lilica learned she hadn't a reliable escape from the war. "So, your side of the bargain won't be necess--"

The morning sun shot through the tent like an arrow, and before he could prepare a defensive spell, a silhouette stepped through the threshold and reformed into Elespeth. Rays from outside danced along the openings of the tent until the flaps swished closed. He wanted to laugh. The imagery was just too heavy-handed.

He stood between darkness and light. 

As expected, darkness and light bickered at each other. 

He listened to the back and forth, wanting to interject but finding no opening to cut through the din of dueling voices--nor had he felt up to the task. His tongue teased into his mouth, hissing from the inside, desiring to speak the words that would stand his ground and aid him in fighting his own battles but knowing he'd stammer himself into unconsciousness. He could only watch the situation play out. All the while, he spun scenarios in his head and hoped an opportunity would gift him a chance to represent himself--as a person, not a pawn.

A moment had arrived, allotted by Elespeth, who asked the question he'd been struggling to answer. 

While the entire prospect of a chthonic "teacher" intrigued him, even swayed him with the idea of control and harmony with the fears he wished to disperse, he already made his decision. Shortly after the death of his parents, he approached the leftovers of his magic and discovered the dominant aspects of chthonic magic swirling around his lifeblood. He tapped into it, could even harness simple energy balls of black smoke. Once, he held the essence of a tree in his hands. He dispersed the cloud, intending to pull the magic inside himself, whence it came. 

The entire forest had died. 

...Following that sensation, in the height of his chthonic casting, he saw sickness and disease and flashing slits for eyes and death, deaths he caused, mutilated bodies with heads carved open, spilling black blood that slithered, that vised around his heart, that killed him slowly...

He would never again wander down that road. 

"First off," he bit into the silence tailor-made for him, "I don't care what arrangements were made between you and Chara." He cast a glare at Lilica. "I was not privy to them. Tell Chara I am as good as helped, since you're both bosom bodies now. Would you like to marry her?" The string of anger reattached itself, this time around his head, where it throbbed and constricted something fierce. 

"And that's another thing. Leave my engagement out of this. Both of you. This is a war, not a blasted wedding reception!" He huffed aloud and ran a hand through his hair, trying and failing to assume mastery over the spike in his emotions. 

"I am a celestial magic-user. My father had chthonic magic. He did not lose control. It did not break open and spill and make a mess he had to clean. He focused his energies on his birthright and taught me thus. That is what I will continue to do. Call it denial. I call it progress."

He turned to face the tent flaps, his back to both Lilica and Elespeth. The escape route marked itself clearly, with halos from the outside forming a vertical slit that could expand and engulf him and set him free. 

"I unleashed the Serpent," he said, flat and matter-of-fact as he glanced over at Lilica. "With celestial magic. I was tired. I was angry. I was sick of my family. In turn, it killed the two most important people in my life. I don't need chthonic magic to complicate matters. There's already too much I'm responsible for. I can't afford the risk." 

Without another word, he pulled apart the flaps and faded into the dawn.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 11:27 am
by Requiem
Lilica was helpless but to stew in silence as Alster proceeded on the tirade that had likely been building up inside of him. To say that she hadn't considered exactly what sort of weight Chara's will and opinion had on Messino, let alone any of their commanding officers, would have been inaccurate. Sure, she'd considered that the hot-headed blonde might have lied to her to meet her own ends; and, honestly, had it been a matter of deceit, she might not have felt quite so stung.
But this wasn't deceit, not if Alster's appraisal was accurate. Chara had thought she had made an honest deal with the socially solitary dark mage; and for that, Lilica had fallen not for the celestial caster's lies, but for her own, unadulterated ego.

That said, if Alster thought he was beyond needing help, then he was just as foolish. She saw it in his eyes, heard it in his, that very seed of uncertainty surrounding his control of the chthonic that she had harboured (and, for all intents and purposes, continued to harbour). He truly thought he could fake it until it was real; belittle its hold until it could hold nothing. But magic did not work that way, and darkness was far too cloying to be brushed off your shoulder like dust. And, worse, it did not appreciate being ignored... for which, often, dire consequences resulted.

Beyond all ego and self-importance, Lilica wished someone had taken her aside at her darkest hour and promised to help. The simpleton had no idea the opportunity that he was passing up... But if this was his decision, then she as happy to leave him to deal with the consequences.

"If you think you've already done your worst, with the chthonic or otherwise," she hissed, as Alster turned his back and proceeded to leave, "then I will not take it upon myself to prove you wrong. But know this: you are."

Elespeth found herself standing alone in the storage tent just seconds later, her mind struggling to comprehend what she had just walked in on. Alster's chthonic magic was apparently not as secretive as she'd originally thought, but what gave her pause to worry wasn't the fact that someone such as Lilica D'Or was aware of it. It was that someone as proud and defensive of her name as Chara Rigas would seek Lilica's help on Alster's behalf. How much did the caster really know about his potential, let alone his magic?

Before he could get too far, the ex-knight hurried out of the tent to catch up to her partner, leaving a beat of silence between them as she thought of what to say. "Back when I was still a knight, part of my oaths I'd taken encompassed backing my brothers in arms," she began, and there was no mistaking by the hesitant tone of her voice that it was an apology. "To have one another's back at all cost. Unless, of course, you fail in your duty and are arrested because of it... In that case, all bets are off, and no one cares anymore."

The gentle upturn of her lips was sardonic at best, but it did not reach her words. "What I'm trying to say is... I didn't mean to make you feel so dis-empowered, back there. I just happened to see the dark mage drag you into that tent, and while I'm certain you can handle yourself, I'd never have forgiven myself if something horrific had transpired, and I'd simply chosen to let it unfold and not intervene."

But it wasn't just that she might have tread upon Alster's ego and agency. He was worried; he had already expressed the worry that his chthonic magic inspired back when they had revealed mutual secrets. And for him to sweep it all under the rug in a contained pile of bravado only emphasized this suspicion. "...don't think for a moment that I am advocating for Lilica, or even Chara, for that matter, but... are you certain that it is wise to turn down help? I'm not trying to patronize, I'm simply curious. It just seems as though you've changed your tune, a little, from the last time we spoke of your magic."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jun 02, 2015 11:15 pm
by Widdershins
Alster expected that his dramatic exit wouldn't deter Elespeth and her morale-boosting pep talks. He stopped mid-stride, somewhere between the tent of snubbed opportunities and the field of deceptive relief, and awaited her arrival. In the meantime, he chewed Lilica's ominous proclamation away like fingernails, leaving only the ragged half-moon nubs. Lilica spoke the truth, but his life was already a worst case scenario; whatever choice he made would end in disaster. To save what precious little humanity remained in him, he had to keep denying.

"I should have known I wouldn't have chased you away with all my Serpent talk," he said to the slowing footfalls of Elespeth. He presented a smile when he turned to greet her--disarming and free of anger. It wasn't, not really, but if he was going to play up the whole denial game, it had better be thorough. Belittling the situation was the first step forward. Or backward. "I mean, it's nice to have support, unlike whatever support someone who believes I can do worse than a Serpent-triggered earthquake that killed hundreds and the deaths of my parents would grant me. But, you know, if you look at it laterally, I could do worse. Wouldn't surprise me at all!" A shrug rippled his shoulders and a misplaced laugh skewed his head with the weight of a sound rarely used of late. It darted across the camp with all the raucousness of a drunken seagull. Stopping its trajectory took more than a clamp to the mouth; it took the realigning of his common sense. It was too early to be losing his mind! 

He relocated Earth and made contact with the ground. This time, he opted for a little more discretion when out in the open air. "You're only backing me because of undue influences that bind us both together," he said in a whisper, overcompensating for the bellow of his uncouth cawing. "Nonetheless, if I snapped at you, that was not my intention. There isn't much you can do to disempower me that I haven't already done, myself. So I can't fault you for stepping up and looking out for me. If I could," he hesitated, lowering his head to drain away the color that boiled his face, "I-I...I'd do the same." 

As they resumed walking toward the training fields, Elespeth voiced her opinions on what transpired in the tent, and the hand that Alster swung like a metronome ceased into a caesura. 

"I appreciate your concern," he said, concentrating on the tops of the rock-strewn mountains so as not to devolve into what other mixed-bag of reactions his mind had in store. With a sigh of defeat, he directed Elespeth to a rock outcropping at the base of a small hill. After scanning the fields and the camp for any passersby, he confirmed an all-clear. Sinking behind the rocks, he erased all strategies of denial and belittlement in place of an explanation. 

"I haven't changed my tune," he hushed into the rocks. "I know that it is wise to seek help, but...well...it's complicated. I will fully admit that I'm terrified. I don't want to know what's mucking about in my head, trying to escape. I've already seen vestiges of what's in there and I doubt I'd survive an encore performance." He rolled a loose pebble around his fingers. "All this time, I've been playing it safe. I can't sacrifice the stability I've built over these years for the off-chance to fix what's never been a problem until now. And..." He trailed off. And I don't want to become a Serpent.

The pebble dropped from his fingers, clanking against the gray-green flecks of the granite jags that formed a crown at his feet. "It was never meant for any one person to wield two or more disparate magics. If it occurs, one magic will dominate and the other will recede, remaining dormant. My celestial magic is fleeting into dormancy. If I can't stoke it back to life while I can, chthonic magic will have a choke-hold over me. I will become an enemy to the Rigas family, and my life is forfeit unless my legs are fast enough to escape. But," his voice chipped and honed into a hard edge, "I refuse to run. I've set out to kill the Serpent, however impossible, and I will do what is necessary. Unfortunately, necessity calls for the snuffing of my dark magic. So, it does make me wonder," he said conspiratorially, "if Chara is naive...or if she has a secret agenda."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 11:53 pm
by Requiem
"Alster..." She wasn't frustrated with him--she couldn't be, for a multitude of reasons. Elespeth's patience was practically unyielding; she was convinced that she might not still be alive were it not the case. Her caster companion was stressed, and for good reason, but that did not stop her on calling him out on his inaccurate interpretations of her intentions. "Certainly, we are both here to be part of something aside from friendship, perhaps myself more willingly than you. But are you so quick to forget that, even after you were hell bent on convincing me that you were worthless and that you would be of no good help to me, I held my stance in this partnership?" Pressing her thin lips together, the ex-knight shook her head once. "My concern for you is not limited to our partnership. Make of that what you will, but I will maintain it until I cease to draw breath."

She followed him to privacy at the base of a hill, where they were shrouded in shadow and not the first things to be seen by onlookers. It was as though everything they discussed, every conversation that unfolded was in secret... But, given their unique backgrounds and circumstances, that was likely for the better.
Picking up a pebble, Elespeth examined its pristine smoothness due to years subjected to corrosion as she listened to her other fighting-half try and explain. "I cannot speak for Chara--I'm sure no one can, save for the woman herself," she replied at last, as soon as Alster had lifted the weight from his chest. "Personally, I don't find it difficult to believe that someone such as her might be harbouring intentions not otherwise known to anyone but herself, but... if they do involve you, what I do have trouble believing is that she would enlist Lilica to help you, when it wasn't about your personal well-being..."

Then again, Elespeth had been raised with the tendency to assume the good in everyone, unless proven otherwise. Chara was hot-headed and stubborn, but she felt that the blonde caster wouldn't bother to seek help for Alster if she didn't care for hm by even an inch. And then there was Lilica, who for all intents and purposes should have been on her radar as bad news, simply due to where she was situated on the spectrum of magic. And yet, there had been something genuine in her willingness to help, despite that her offer had been borne of smart bribery.
Alster perhaps had far more support than that of which he was aware...

Shifting to settle her weight on one leg, the fugitive ex-knight brushed her hair out of her face as a gust of wind took it, grabbing the follicles in a tight hold before proceeding to weave a quick braid. Her parents and everyone ever affiliated with Ilandria's imperial guard had cautioned her about the dangers of long hair for one expected to fight. Keeping those lengthy, chestnut tresses was likely the only rebellion (aside from fleeing her country to save her life) in which she'd ever engaged. "Is it possible that there's another way? Other than struggling to extinguish your dark magic for good. Could there be a way to balance it in that you wouldn't be struggling to resist being consumed by it?"

With her limited knowledge of magic, Elespeth was essentially throwing daggers in the dark, and with Alster's wildly fluctuating mood at the given moment, she feared that one of those daggers might hit too close to home and send him storming off again. But what use was she as a sounding board? Nor to mention, if he was too focused on suppressing the chthonic in favour of boosting his celestial abilities, how were they to properly function as a compound unit? It was imperative that all thoughts and energy be focused on a mutual endeavour; they had yet to experience the turmoil of real battle, real war, and at this point, the ex-knight was not convinced that they ere yet prepared...

Tossing aside the pebble she'd been examining, Elespeth turned to face Alster, arms folded casually across her chest. "It isn't my place to convince you either way, Alster, but I do see value in at least consulting with Lilica. She might know something that you don't. And, if you don't like what she has to say, then you can walk away. What do you think?" Try though she might to maintain it, the ghost of her smile faded with the severity of the predicament that resonated with her words. "I don't want you to lose the battle before the war has even begun. And I speak as your friend, not as your other half in a compound unit."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:39 am
by Widdershins
"It could be a trick." Alster rested his head against the smooth rock, tilting it towards the welts in the sky that bruised into early morning. "Chara was never one for tricks, or overt deception. In fact, she's quite one-note, but we've something of a history, and I've snubbed her one or two times in the past. Sending Lilica in the form of help could be an elaborate plan to surrender my birthright and name by accepting chthonic magic into my blood. Then, it's no more Alster Rigas and no more marriage." He shrugged at his out-loud assessment. "Sounds plausible enough." After all, it was much easier to accept that the world and its inhabitants were inherently self-serving, and that kindness was an afterthought. A silly ideal. Even Elespeth, with all her candor, plagued Alster with a touch of malaise. Her convictions and her bid for their friendship pumped a wellspring of hope into the dry landscape within that he allowed to wither. And hope...that was dangerous. With hope came belief and relief, unyielding trust, togetherness and unexplained happiness...

...and wanton destruction of the soul. 

He dared a direct look at Elespeth, watched the wind tousle her long locks into waiting hands that plaited her them with the grace of a caster in motion. He imagined the trouble of hair-length to a warrior, and of its maintenance, and why she bothered to preserve what others deemed a frivolity. Even Chara kept her hair short, and casters needn't worry as much about close combat or use of their hair as a potential handhold for resourceful fighters in the heat of battle. Perhaps Elespeth's hair waved as a banner of resistance--a last stand in the face of those who would peg her down by way of her gender. What served as a detriment to most became her strength.

He could get behind such a cause. 

Realizing he stared all too familiarly at her, his face heated and he whipped his head away with a snap that rammed against the rock he'd been using as a headrest.

"Fuuck." He sucked in a breath and cradled a hand over the tender spot. "I'm fine. Just...I apologize. I uh...well...that was brilliant. At this rate I'll batter myself before the battle even begins." Forcing a tunnel vision mindset on the last of what Elespeth mentioned, he honed in on a proper response despite the renewed pattering of his heart that drummed in tandem with his head-throb. 

"There's always another way, but I'm ill-equipped. It takes enormous skill to juggle both magics. Incredibly taxing, as well. Could stop the heart. Too risky, and I need to stay alive." He viewed Elespeth, this time from his periphery, and his heart pattered anew. "But...I, well, as a...friend," a smile came over him, "I'll consider your counsel." 

A set of frantic horns blowing from the distance near threw Alster's head into the rock a second time. He ceased the knee-jerk reaction of his body before he concussed himself out of commission and shot to his feet, leaning an ear against the wind. 

"Tadasun's forces approach. They always like to make a damn show of it." He listened to the repeated staccato blasts and gauged the proximity of the sound. "We've an hour. Maybe two." 

**

Within moments, Messino gathered his army in the collective crop-circle made just days before, during his first briefing. Unlike his first briefing, he donned his finest brigantine and pauldrons, dressed as so for a battle and not for breakfast. 

"Tadasun's army plans on pushing back our offensive." He spoke to the crowd, grasping the hilt of his bastard sword, the pommel glinting with the head of an owl. "We cannot allow them to gain the upper-hand this early on. We march on the defensive. Then, we push through like we're emerging from your mother's bloody womb!"

He crossed over to the Elite Guard and assigned stations. He seldom prepared for a strategy beforehand, preferring to improvise on the fly. Less chance of a subterfuge. Spontaneous and intractable. 

"Guard, you're out front. Keep an impenetrable wall. Shields high. Fighters, you follow--crouched and swords at the ready. Casters--watch their backs. Take advantage of any openings in the ranks--and fire away. You are our range. Compound Unit--flank. Make sure none escape. You are the back end of our wall. Close it on them." He clasped his hands together. The sound of a thunderclap rumbled forth. "Dark mage, you're with me. I have a task for you. Everyone else! Places! Now!"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 11:31 am
by Requiem
All stood at attention and in complete silence as Messino paced, shouting out orders as he appeared to be forming his strategy on the fly. There were many uncomfortable faces within the crowd, and far more who felt wholly underprepared to take this siege head on. Elespeth stood apart from Alster, hand at the hilt of her rapier. The Commanding Officer of the small army's offense had insisted on the use of pristine weapons for their sharpness and balance. The ex-knight worried that the unfamiliarity of this brand new, shining blade would throw off her game, but there was no room and no time for indecision. Not when they had less than an hour to prepare.

"Well, we're not directly at the front," Elespeth murmured to her partner, casting Alster a sidelong glance. The Rigas mage looked pale, and beads of sweat formed on his brow, despite the chill in the day's breeze. "I guess our biggest weak point is that Tadasun is attempting to catch us unawares... We don't know how much time they've had to prepare. And Messino doesn't seem to give a donkey's rear about our own formations."

She was used to order and protocol; it didn't appear that either of those words had a presence in Messino's lexicon. While his strategy wasn't the worst she'd ever had to follow, it also wasn't flawless. "We need to keep our eye on Chara and the other casters," she whispered to Alster, gaze straying to the small array of casters--his fiancée included. Despite their brave face, the former knight could smell their fear from afar. So wound the Tadasun. "If they are quick to read into this arrangement, they will seek to take out the magic users, and then deal with the fighters when their back-up is gone. If Messino thinks that those at the front of the mob will be the most vulnerable, he is wrong."

"Is there a problem, Tam?" He commanding officer blocked the sun with his large shadow, arms folded against his armored chest. There was no hint of either amusement nor patience in his stance and voice.

Elespeth straightened and held her chin up at attention, but at the invitation for concern. "Sir... Is it possible to have the casters don armor?" Compared to her, in her chestplate and gauntlets that easily came to a quarter extra of her weight, Alster and the other magic users seemed so... vulnerable. "In the event that Tadasun's offense sees fit to attack our range--"

"I think you should leave the strategizing to your superiors," the big man interrupted. "And stop doubting your other half. We've seen these casters in action: they know best how to stay out of harm's way and take care of themselves."

Colour rose to Elespeth's cheeks, but she offered no more words of concern and, waiting until the commanding officer moved down the line. "It isn't doubt. He has no excuse not to equip you equally..." Gnawing on her lower lip, the fugitive knight pressed a sight of defeat from her lungs. "Even if you're behind me, I'll have your back."

Lilica stood apart from the others, her skin even paler than the rest of the nervous array of casters as they took their places. "So then you already know what I'm capable of." It was a fact: not a question. Or else she wouldn't be here, and this discussion would not be taking place. "Then you need to know I must stand at a focal point far apart from the others... I can't emphasize this enough. Don't worry about it making me a target; believe me when I say they can't touch me."
But gods help the souls of anyone who ventured too close...


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 3:32 pm
by Widdershins
While the camp scrambled to prepare their weapons and their wits, Alster stayed near Elespeth, flexing the fingers of his scarred hands. Hands were not the only receptacle through which magic could flow, but they represented a weapon unto themselves. Sure as warriors fancied a sword or spear to channel their strengths, Alster favored the hands, their connectivity to the earth and their motions, which ebbed and flowed with the tide of lifeblood. At its most serene, spellcasting was a form of meditation. He tried it now, forming a wisp of etheria between his fingers and directing the little comet tail into complicated patterns, steadily increasing its speed until it collapsed from the pressure. 

It exploded, a mini supernova on his palm. 

So much for meditation. 

Pretending he hadn't witnessed a small-scale prediction of the coming battle, he perked up when Elespeth spoke. He hid his hands behind his back along with the small, bleeding scratch that blossomed in the shape of a comet tail. 

"Speaking from someone who knows," he said to her in a whisper, "the prince is exercising super-vigilance. It appears he's aware of traitors in his midst and his defense against insurgents and informers is to uproot the army. Leave us without any sense of stability or balance. If we're in confusion, so will the Tadasuni. His strategy is chaos, and no one can pin that down." He watched a few soldiers pass, wondering if he'd see their faces again. Or if they would see his. "It's hit and miss. More miss than hit."

He scanned the crowd for Chara and her Rigas doppelgängers. Looking didn't take long. The three blowhards wore blinding white and gold tunics emblazoned with the Rigas sigil. Chara caught him staring and wrinkled her nose at his burlap sack of an outfit. At least he blended with the dirt, not with the side of a palace wall. 

"Noted," he told Elespeth. "If they're trying for intimidation, I don't think it will work." Unless...if Adalfieri back home made arrangements with the Tadasuni, perhaps wearing the Rigas sigil would entitle them to immunity. Whether true or not, Alster would rather exercise caution. For Elespeth's sake, he would fight--and fight to kill. As far as the Rigases were concerned, he already had defected by choosing to stand by the compound unit--and by her. 

"Tam." He waited until the commanding officer distracted himself with some other logistical error brought to his attention. "Be my armor, and I'll be your shield." Realizing what he uttered, he wrung his hands--still clasped at his back--and stiffened not unlike a soldier at attention, but for different reasons. "I mean...I meant...Well, I meant to say the same." Feeling eyes searing into his skull, Alster turned his head to see the rest of the compound unit looking at and beyond him. The earth mage in particular gave him the whale eye, showing him all whites and the pinpoints of his contracted pupils. Nerves assailed him anew. 

He forced his concentration over to where he spotted Lilica with Messino. The heavy pall that surrounded the two reflected back a white fear that shone from the dark mage. She was terrified. 

Messino nodded at what Lilica said of herself, confirming how he planned to use her expertise. "Exactly what I need from you. When we march, wherever we meet Tadasun's army, I need you stationed at the highest vantage point. I give you free rein, to clip the enemy as you please. But I advise you to concentrate your ability towards any who attack or plan to attack the casters unit." He leveled his gaze at her, his lips pursing into a thin line. "Wipe them out."

At his last words, he wandered away from Lilica and repositioned himself between the spokes of the wheel his army had formed. "Whether you're prepared or not, we march now! Officers, to your stations. Let's bash the living daylighting out of this lot!" 

His rallying cry elicited a cheer from some of the veteran soldiers. At least a share of Messino's forces believed in his command--somewhat. 

They marched. They marched until they met with an undulating line of faces and metal, which glistened like a mirage in the hot morning sun. 

Tadasuni troops had stopped advancing beforehand. For a significant time, they stood in position. 

And waited. 

"If they're up to any tricks, we'll snuff them out," Messino growled aloud. "Head-on. They're expecting intelligence. Let's give them a mob. Go!" He spurred everyone forward. "Trample them down!"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jun 07, 2015 12:07 am
by Requiem
So Messino's strategy was chaos, and his hope was victory. And there was nothing that any of them could do but comply.
Nodding at Alster's appraisal, Elespeth pressed a profound sigh from her lungs and nodded. "So we have to roll with the punches and adapt. A tactic that will work better for some than for others..." She only hoped that Messino's troops were prepared to be unprepared, because the battle could belong to anyone.
Resting her hand upon the hilt of her unfamiliar sword, the ex-knight smiled and met her fighting partner's gaze. "I'll be your armor, Alster. On that, I you can depend."

Following the cheer that resulted from Messino's brash and hardly motivating speech, Elespeth took up position and marched onward with her allies, towards victory or certain death, and it was anyone's guess. In the distance, she could make out the fair-haired Chara and her Rigas look-alikes among the other casters, and even further, the solitary form of Lilica, whose dark hair contrasted her pale skin. Fleetingly, the fugitive from Ilandria wondered just how many casualties it would take for the mad prince to realize that despite their long-range attacking prowess, the mages were not invincible, nor impervious to the bite of steel. If it comes down to it, she thought, daring another glance at Alster, I'll be your armour 'and' your shield.

The shining blades and breastplates of Tadasun's army came into view all too soon, the gleam of steel enough to make Elespeth squint. The troops were eerily still and silent, as if they'd been waiting... As if they'd been prepared. The words flying from Messino's lips brought no comfort or confidence to the ex-knight, but there was no time to ponder morale. 
Not when they were ordered to charge.

And the chaos began. 
Fighters at the forefront immediately came to arms, steel meeting steel in war's morbid symphony. Those on the offensive front met with others of the enemy, steel to steel, while those flanking the back--namely the casters--sought the strongest and most dangerous, and the air was awash with their magic, whittling away at the Tadasuns' endurance one by one.
And then there were the compound units, dangerous at all angles, small armies-a-pair, in and of themselves. With a fighter and a caster a piece, their backs were not priorities for the other casters to watch.

Elespeth was aware of this as she and Alster flanked the Tadasun along the sides, far less thick a wall, but no more inefficient. The majority of the opposing army was focused on breaking through the guard or tackling the brazen fighters; for the most part, few knew what hit them before their world went black. The compound units' offense was, indeed, the best defense, and the ex-knight did not hold back. Her sword was an extension of her arm, the blade turning crimson almost as quickly as she'd drawn it from its sheath. Always several paces before Alster, she ascertained that no enemy steel was to touch him, and he, in turn, laid siege to those who were not within Elespeth's immediate reach.

The problem with relying on spontaneity, however, was that there was no guarantee to the edge that they might have had. People fell, Tadasun and Andalari, inevitably fell, the former moreso than the latter at first, until Messino's haphazard formations became apparent. It was only by accident that Elespeth, on felling a man with a broad axe, caught a glimpse of the way the Tadasun troops were advancing; beginning to ignore the threats they could reach--the offense--and seeking to destroy Andalari's range. The casters.

"Alster!" She hissed, indicating the unarmed casters. "They're going for the unprotected! They're--"

But that was when she noticed some of the Tadasun men who clutched their throats or grasped at their chest, and then... fell. Many of them appeared to be harmed; in fact, quite the opposite, they were the stronger of the Tadasun, having forced their way from the back to the front, like secret weapons unveiled. 
That was when, out of the corner of her eye, Elespeth took not of a figure in the distance--someone who stood atop a hill far behind the Andalari troops. From her vantage point, it was impossible to discern identity... but there was one person who she'd noted to have not marched at the same pace as everyone else, someone who had remained purposely behind. That was when the spontaneous deaths began to make sense.

Lilica...

But the dark mage's help wasn't enough. Not of she was only picking off soldiers one at a time, and not while for every Tadasun that fell, a path became clearer for others to march over the fallen, ducking under the guard, evading the offense and going straight for the casters. "They've figured it out!" She cried and, completely against orders, turned and made her way towards the back. "We need to reposition--they're going after Chara and the other casters!"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jun 07, 2015 4:07 pm
by Widdershins
While the Tadasuni populace nixed the practice of magic from their doctrine of priorities, they were not without a little dash of help. Alster noticed flashes from weighted arrow-tips, stunning any soldier in range. Small explosions rattled from leaden balls, rolled with careful precision and timing to detonate at the feet of those caught unawares. Tadasun was home to powders and tinctures, potions...and explosives. Their arsenal proved an impressive counterattack to the whistling overhead: a chaotic stream of fire, etheria, wind and sparks and sailing rocks that hit the clouds and the birds beyond more than anything that ruminated on the ground. 

He partitioned away the screams, the smell of burning eyes from the flash-arrows aimed to bite the face, the clumps of severed feet rolling around with sinews of gore trailing behind like morbid wicks. They played a more muted role in the background, secondary to what lay directly before, behind, and around him and Elespeth. Bursts of color erupted near any threats needing swift annihilation. Strategy fell to the wayside when survival ignited within him like a needfire. Clipping enemy forces, however, wasn't as easy as the muscle memory of innate magic doing the work for him. Clunky rune circles spilled from his hands with a notable time delay. He kept them writing, moving, a blurred mess that somehow activated spells in the correct direction. He bounced an optics spell off Elespeth's rapier, disorienting the vision of a behemoth in her way. Twin spires of static pulses induced temporary paralysis to a spearman's arm. An invisible hand wrenched the gut of a footman who bowled over and vomited. Cantrips. All cantrips. 

Meanwhile, Elespeth toiled to resist every enemy that dared dwell in his vicinity at all. She reached beyond her range to fell what belonged in his range and closed tight around his quarters, making it difficult to spread his fingers and cast. Dammit, I'm powerless! he thought. I need it. Need more power!

And power, true, raw energy, almost snagged him with its tingling death. All around him, Tadasuni soldiers floundered and foundered, stabbed to silence by an unseen force. It radiated a soupy, viscous tar, languid and...familiar. Chthonic magic. Lilica's magic. 

He faltered a moment, staring at the result, wide-eyed.

...And strangely, in awe. 

When he looked up, Elespeth had gone. 

"El--Tam! Wait!" He shouted into the fray. Realizing she headed into the thick of the battle, towards the caster unit and the surrounding advance of enemy troops, he ran to catch her--cursing in his head. 

There's not enough of us. What do you think we're able to accomplish, Elespeth?

"Compound unit!" He bellowed at any who would listen to him. "Recovery! Casters unit!" 

As he charged ahead, Tadasuni men gathered to block his path. He slammed them down--with something. He didn't know what. 

Elespeth had slowed, as if aware he were missing. 

...Or aware that a group of men proceeded to mob her with swords and axes and cruel, jagged cutlasses. 

She fought. Of course she would fight. She moved like a whirling dervish. And he moved to reach her, but he felt so slow, encumbered by a weight that would not lift. A rune spell on his fingers stretched like slug-trails against dirt. Too timely. Too costly. Could she fend them off herself? 

I'm your shield, whether you believe it or not...whether I believe it or not.

...Shield. 

A syrupy, smoky mass leaked from him. From the ground. From dying men. It hissed and forked and stretched, forming an amorphous plate of volcanic glass that pressed against his hands. It pushed forward and overhead and slid between Elespeth and her assailants. 

The smoke from his hands melded with the smoke from their skin. It burned and sloughed away to reveal bone and their mortal yowls shredded into pieces, like their bodies. 

The plate dissolved. And so did he. 

Alster rushed over to Elespeth, fear dictating his every move. Did he kill her? Melt her into a skeleton? Brand her to oblivion? 

Please, please...I can't have done wrong again. I can't...Please let her be all right.

Chara and her team performed with every intention to kill, following orders from their true commanding officer. Make your participation look convincing, Adalfieri told them. Even if you must kill. Tadasun is aware of the bigger picture. They will not mind the loss of their fodder if it means keeping allies in strategic positions. Even so, while harm is minimal to you...do not be afraid to die.

Bogged down as such with Tadasuni men who broke through the ranks, pointing all manner of weaponry at her, she wasn't convinced of Rigas immunity. But this was war. With the unpolished savagery of Messino's attack, refined promises made outside of the battlefield died on the battlefield. 

She took a more serious investment to the battle and blasted etheria on an individual basis, chipping away at her unit's invasion with tiring fury. 

Not today. I will not die today!

Not far from her, she descried a bulbous shadow-screen eliminating a number of men into bones. Lilica's magic, no doubt. But she saw Alster emerge from the carnage--and she redirected her objective. 

"Tivia! You're in charge! Man your station!"

She hurried to him--before anyone else would do the same.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 1:56 pm
by Requiem
She had gone against orders, once again. Elespeth abandoned the original plan, pulling herself out of sync with Alster and his magic as she hurried to defend Chara and the other casters. Adrenaline was a tricky substance, altering judgement and motivation, and it was safe to say that the ex-knight's veins were full of it. The tip of her rapier, no longer synchronized with her compound partner's magic, cut through anyone in her way, wounding as opposed to killing, but her primary concern was reaching the caster unit. This shouldn't have happened, she silently seethed, clenching her teeth so hard that her jaw ached. This was reckless planning... Messino is a goddamned fool for letting this happen! 

The trouble with fury, however, was that it revealed nothing past shades of red. And, through red, it was difficult to take into account what was going on in your peripheral vision.
Elespeth failed to take notice when the Tadasuni suddenly closed in on her, finding the opportunity to surround her, four against one. Gone was strategy and tact, and the fugitive knight found herself embracing the very chaos that Messino preached, moving and blocking and swiping in all directions, feeling nothing, seeing nothing, simply reacting to the danger. I won't fall, she told herself. Not now, not this early, not this easily...

Perhaps it was the adrenaline, or exhaustion that she wasn't yet aware of, but her assailants suddenly seemed to... melt, before her eyes, a strange smoke eating away at their skin, muscle, their bone... Forgetting their target, the Tadasuni cried out in fear and pain, their voices so raw that Elespeth stumbled away from them, away from the smoke, in fear. "The hell..." She breathed, her heart in her throat, hardly able to comprehend the scene that had taken place before her eyes.

That was when she took notice of Alster, standing just feet away, his face pale, stricken. Bewildered. "A-Alster... was that..." She didn't have the right words. There were no words to appropriately what she had witnessed, nothing that could make sense of the burned human matter that littered the ground. The grip on her sword weakened and trembled, but for the vigor of her white-knuckled determination, she did not drop her weapon. "Did you..."

She never had a chance to finish her question. Suddenly Chara was beside the both of them, winded and panicked, but seemingly unharmed. "Chara--you're all right? Are the other casters unharmed? I saw that the Tadasuni were..."
What she had just witnessed in Alster's wake, however, was nothing compared to what her wide green eyes took in as she returned her attention to the advancing Tadasuni. They were not advancing anymore: the entire army was retreating, running from what looked like an invisible enemy that snatched them from the ground up. It looked like fire, but it was no fire that she had ever seen--ebony and violet-tipped flames that consumed the enemy one inch at a time. Inextinguishable. Her first thought was, of course, Alster, but the mage looked on with just as much awe as she. 

And that was when her frantic mind calmed enough to remember that there was more than one dark mage in this army... 

It wasn't enough.

Lilica watched from her vantage point with her mind's eye, input from her telesthesia allowing her insight into who was the most dangerous, where, and when, at any given moment. She prioritized her attacks, psychically crushing the hearts and throats of those who neared her comrades with the intent to kill. But their range weapons, those arrows and explosions, changed the game very quickly, to the point where even she wasn't able to keep up. 

One by one, Tadasuni soldiers dropped. But in the time it took them to fall, two Andalari were attacked, one fallen. Her tactic had lost its value--she had lost her value.
Unless...

Forgive me, she prayed to no one in particular. In fact, it was her own self from who she hoped she would receive forgiveness, as the dark mage reached deep into the dark pool that was her own existence, and projected her caustic aura. As if a looming entity cast shadows on the terrain, darkness crept towards the battlefield--and it did not discriminate. Anyone, Andalari or Tadasuni alike, who happened to step within its line of fire ended up consumed by it. 

On the bright side, it had the effect that she desired. Moments later, after the death of dozens of men at the hands of her toxic aura, the Tadasuni were ordered to retreat. And as they did, Lilica struggled to rein it back in, to draw the shadows back into her body.
They resisted. Just like she'd feared. "No... no, you will not control me again," she hissed, trembling as cold sweat trickled down her back. "I command you... I command you!"

Slowly but surely, the shadows dissipated, until all that was left her the bodies of the fallen, and the hasty footprints of the Tadasuni, who were no longer in sight.
This was, for all intents and purposes, victory. But it didn't feel like it. Spent and exhausted, Lilica fell to her knees in the dirt, lightheaded and parched. Something never existed of nothing, and the dark mage couldn't even begin to comprehend just how much of herself she had put into the offensive. Or how much of herself she would get back, and how long it would take.

"Gods..." Elespeth breathed, watching the Tadasuni retreat, in awe of a victory that no one had anticipated. "What... what in hell just..."

Cheers rose from the Andalari army, as commanding officers sought out their units, barking out directions concerning the fallen and the wounded. "All able-bodied and physically capable," the fighters' leader hollered over the cheering, "Give aid to the wounded in helping them return to camp. We will come back later for the fallen."

"No acknowledgement for those who gave their lives in this battle..." The ex-knight breathed, adrenaline finally draining from her blood as she reconnected with cold reality. "None at all... This army has far to go. Come on, let's--"

One step, and suddenly, Elespeth's body met the ground horizontally. Pain shot through her leg, warranting a grimace, and it was with astonishment that she noted the left leg of her slacks was drenched in blood. It didn't feel as though that blood belonged to those she'd felled, given the gash that she noticed, half a foot long and jagged down her thigh. Where and when she had acquired it was a mystery; such was the effect of battle-ready adrenaline. Enough to boost immunity to pain, but only long enough until it was safe to finally fall. "I'm fine," she insisted, either to herself or to Alster and Chara, remained a mystery. "I'm fine, just... just give me a hand up. Please."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 11:20 pm
by Widdershins
Good. Elespeth stood tall and straight, shaken from the spell but otherwise unharmed. His shoulders slumped to release the weight that had perched on his back, but its sharp, clinging talons remained with claws embedded to twist his flesh raw. A hand crept up, uninvited, to ascertain the tangible qualities of his injury and it came back with a bloody imprint. Whatever had marked him, it cracked open the skin but didn't venture far. 

What did, however, was his magic. It ventured all the way to the bone. Bled through their insides. Cooked them. A pile of steam rose from their pyre like a banner, but it blended so well with various horrors that none would notice the memorial or the cause of death. Just that the dead had died. 

He turned away from the sight and the malodorous stench that flumed into his nostrils and threatened to burn him from the inside. Or empty him of the burning, through his mouth. Instead, he concentrated on Elespeth. Her wan features. The way she regarded him with fear. Her unfinished inquisition. 

All he could do was nod, a feverish little flap in the wind. 

Chara reached Alster and his partner with time enough to experience the unforgiving stench of the bone-pile before it blew further downwind. She covered her mouth to prevent a more visceral reaction and sidled between Alster and Tam. "Are you--?" She muffled to Alster, a fragment of a question she'd been unable to finish. 

"We're fine," she said to Tam, dropping her hand with hesitation. "We've lost some casters and there are plenty wounded, but we're holding back the brunt of the advance and--"

A strange drop in pressure silenced her talk. The air felt scratchy and thorny, and pricked the back of her neck. Cold and heat lit both ends of whatever headed in their direction. A nebulous purple, dark as the galaxies and bright as an aurora, flashed through the battlefield like a wayward bolt of lightning. Its bottomless appetite swallowed victims whole. Hunger hadn't any alliances. Only one single-minded goal. 

Consume everything. 

Before she or anyone chose to run from its slinking path, the flames lessened and died. The final plumes flickered in the air like a forked tongue tasting its victory. 

Tadasuni soldiers stampeded back to their home-base. 

And just like that, the battle had ended. 

Alster stared at the blackened patches where the underworld fire had raged. He couldn't fathom how Lilica had conjured up such an intense conflagration without suffering serious repercussions for her actions. When the battle had gone sour, she turned the outcome and saved them. With chthonic magic. However destructive and tortuous, its dark properties served them well. It had served him, too, and prevented Elespeth from injury...

Until he watched her fall to the ground. 

"Tam!" He crouched beside her and held her aloft by the shoulders. Glancing over at the gash in her leg, he worried on his lip, wondering if his careless magic had sliced her open. Of course it wasn't flawless, he thought. But I can't afford flaws. I have to be good enough.

A low, exasperated sigh rattled out of Chara, as if responding to his thoughts. 

"Bloodsport in war. Bound to occur. You also have an injury, Alster." She rolled up her sleeves and lowered herself to the ground, lifting Tam's injured leg over her knee. Without waiting for consent, Chara ripped the clothing away from Tam's gash and laid hands over the wound. A silken thread of etheria stitched the wound closed. "This is not permanent. You must have your injury cleansed of impurities. We will reopen the stitching once we return to camp."

Together, she and Alster lifted Tam from the scorched earth. She slung the warrior's arm around her shoulders and carried the weight of her injury. 

"Don't think I didn't forget you." Chara pointed to Alster and his back wound. 

"I'm perfectly capable of tending to it, myself." Alster snapped and, seeing as he was not needed (as Chara would not renege on a task once begun) backed away from them to stare out at the battlefield. He lifted his hands and drew upon the air, simultaneous whorls that depicted different shapes. The shapes blared with light and color. When he completed the sketches, the sigils of Andalari and Tadasuni illumined the sky. On the left, the owl and stars of Andalari shined in a bright blue. On the right, the hawk and sun of Tadasun glowed dusky orange. He lowered his hands and head and whispered prayers to the fallen, Andalarian and Tadasuni alike. 

When he completed the prayer in the harsh notes of the Tadasuni language, he acknowledged Elespeth and Chara with a nod. "That will have to do, for now. I'm...I'm going up to check on Lilica." He shuffled away from them, awkwardly, and scaled the hill upon which Lilica was situated. Chara watched him depart, tsking as she did.

"What a show-off." 

Messino strolled down avenues of the deceased, making notes along the way in a small ledger he carried. "It looks as though we've had less casualties this go-around," he told Renalto, who trailed behind him. The prince had participated in full during the battle, hair matted down with blood and his twin swords humming with the residual energy of stolen life-force--now tucked away in their sheaths. The Elite Guard hadn't suffered any casualties; their talent to sway with the vagaries of the battle aided in their continued survival. 

However, the Guard was not infallible. Even Lilica, who was an indispensable investment, could not always hold the result of every battle with her fire of the furies. Alas, he was a betting man, and seldom satisfied. Such was the way of royal living in a rich country whose only threat was Tadasun to the south and a sleeping Serpent with the vaguest of sinister undertones. 

And Rigases. 

Messino knelt by an Andalarian deceased, his body in tact save for a gaping neck injury that had long-since bled him dry. 

"You will have to suffice," he said to the soldier. Drawing one of the humming swords, he pressed the pommel into cold fingers already submitting to rigor. 

One by one, the fingers moved of their own accord, wrapping themselves around the unusual warmth of the sword. 

Messino smiled and pulled the sword free. The fingers stiffened back into rigor. 

"Renalto, collect all the weapons once we reach camp. ...I think it's nigh time we experiment."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jun 09, 2015 2:16 pm
by Requiem
It was all Lilica could do to get to struggle to her knees, just as Alster's lanky form climbed the hill to meet her at its middle. "Don't touch me--!" She warned in a hiss, tired eyes ablaze with fear and anxiety. "Don't come near me... I-I might not be safe..."
Her concerns were readily assuaged, however, for the simple fact that her caster counterpart stood only feet away, and did no melt, did not catch flame, did not disintegrate. So she had managed to rein in her hungry aura just in time. The rapid return of her caustic magic had taken its toll on her energy resources, as if it were taking revenge on her for allowing it so short a leash, if any leash at all.

Swallowing a dry lump in her throat, her dark eyes studied the concerned and curious face of the Rigas mage. The only other mage in Messino's army capable of chthonic magic, and who thought he could outsmart the dark shadow of his identity but concealing it with light. Who had turned down her offer to help, which would ultimately be at his own expense. "I didn't want to do that," she explained, as if on the off chance that he might have perceived the way she'd had them achieve victory as underhanded. "I didn't want to... I wasn't supposed to. It wasn't supposed to unfold like this, but ultimately, I had no choice. Do you understand the primary difference between the chthonic and the celestial, Alster Rigas?" It was a rhetorical question, one that she answered before he could open his mouth. "The celestial is passive and at the discretion of its user. The chtonic is in and of itself an entity that senses when it is not enough. And it will compensate, all on its own... and it doesn't care who it has to take down to achieve what it wants." 

What she was trying to get across was that the feat that had caused the Tadasuni to scatter and flee had not been her conscious doing. Not insomuch that the fear of defeat had been enough to cause her aura to flare, project, and cover all the ground it deemed necessary.

Pressing air from her lungs, Lilica extended her hand expectantly after a beat. "There's something I need to show you. The result of unbridled chthonic magic on its user... help me up. What are you waiting for? If you're not already dead in my presence, I can assure you my flesh will not burn you alive."
Though agitated by Alster's hesitation, she really couldn't blame him. Not after she'd practically painted herself as caustic and dangerous as the Tadasuni's exploding arrows. When at last he saw fit to take the chance, wrapping his fingers around her wrist and pulling her upright, she made no move to conceal the grimace her features expressed. Reacting almost as if instead of helping her up, he'd struck her.

Which was precisely the point she sought to make.

"Look," she urged, holding out her hand after Alster's fell away. Everywhere his fingers had touched, everywhere he'd applied pressure, he'd left a developing bruise in his wake--dark, violet and indigo spots, in the shape of his fingers as they'd squeezed her wrist. Lilica waited for the astonishment and confusion to sink in before she ventured to explain. "No, you weren't squeezing to hard... this is the result of what I cast. Don't think for a moment that the chthonic doesn't steal resources from its user, especially untethered," she began, gently rubbing the pale skin surrounding the bruising. "I let it loose, and it stole from me. In a day or so, I should be fine. But if I fall off a step, I'll tear my knee open and probably break a bone. And even if I had any inclination to embrace anyone, their reassuring touch would leave bruises. You can't fucking cover up this blowback, Alster. You can't pretend your celestial magic will trump all, and the sooner you come to realize that, the better."

Pressing her lips together, she folded her arms across her chest, an unconscious gesture to protect herself from the world that, given her weakened state, could destroy her. "This is why I jumped at Chara's offer to get me out of this war. This is why I was so quick to make you agree to let me help... Say what you will about my intentions, but if I can prevent another person from mistreating and misunderstanding their chthonic magic so that they don't end up like this--" at that, she motioned to her hand again "--then it is worth it."

She had been winded before her lecture, but after her fervent plea to get Alster to understand, the dark mage was downright exhausted. As if she'd stumble, were she to put one foot in front of the other, and having already explained the dangers of this 'condition' to her comrade... "...I need you to help me back to camp. Please." Though her tone had grown soft, the urgency was there--right next to the distinct loss of dignity, in having to ask for help of that nature.

---

Thanks to Chara's help, Elespeth painstakingly made it back to camp, her injured quad muscle practically ready to give out by the time she was administered to the medical tent. Where her wound was not the gravest, Chara's stitches had to hold for another couple of hours as the medics and healers dealt with more life threatening injuries.

When the time did come to tend to her leg, they offered her ale for the pain, though she was quick to refuse. The last thing she needed was the imbalance and light-headedness that accompanied inebriation, even if it meant the pain would be lessened. The ex-knight settled for biting down on a leather glove as the healers went through the process of thoroughly cleaning the wound, and then stitched the raw skin with durable thread. The pain was no small matter, but Elespeth astonishingly didn't make a sound.

No sooner was her thigh bandaged, however, that she was on her feet and ready to leave.
"Warrior! Sit back down, you fool, the sutures will tear!" One of the medics chided her, an incredulous look on his face. "Are you listening to me? You need rest!"

"You have my word that I'll be careful, sir," the fugitive knight replied, an obvious limp in her step despite her astounding ability to keep herself upright. "But I must have a word with the captain of this army. I'll rest as soon as those words are exchanged."

Injured leg and all, Elespeth made her way slowly to Messino's tent. She ignored the man who asked her if she had a scheduled audience with the prince, and pushed through the tent curtains, where she found her commanding officer speaking with Messino himself. Both exchanged a look of confusion to see the injured swordswoman standing before them with determination in her green eyes. "Sir. Your Highness." She greeted the both of them with a nod; it hurt too much to kneel. Forgive my intrusion, but I must have a word with you."

"Tameris," the commanding officer frowned, eyes on her injured leg. "What is the meaning of this? You are in no condition to be standing, let alone demanding permission to speak."

"I simply wish to be heard, Sir; I won't consume too much of your precious time." Turning her attention to Messino, she offered another nod, in lieu of a bow. "Your Highness. I wish to express concern for the battle strategy earlier today. I believe we could have had a cleaner victory, with fewer casualties, had we not resulted to chaos."

Before Messino could speak, the commanding officer was quick to come to his defense, and Elespeth's chiding. "Soldier. It is not your place to question how this army is commanded," he snapped, a frown turning down the corners of his thin lips.

"No, Sir, I realize this," Elespeth went on boldly. "But you must agree that there were flaws. Keeping the casters to the back did not protect them--they had no armor, and they had no chance--"

"Tameris. It was reported that you abandoned your compound unit," the man snapped. "You went against orders and formation. If I were you, I would be thankful that His Highness does not see fit to formally reprimand you."

Pressing air from her lungs, she nodded. "I did. For concern for our casters, sir. Their vulnerability distracted me--had they not been vulnerable, I could have more easily focused on my task. Your Highness," she turned once again to Messino, who appeared... what, amused? At this exchange? Were her concerns truly fodder for laughter? "I beseech that you take this into consideration before we face Tadasun again. We cannot rely on the same strategy--not that they now know Lilica is our secret weapon. They will take her our, and then our unprotected casters. The fighters and compound units cannot be looking over their shoulder to keep an eye on the magic wielders while simultaneously going on the offensive. It is not... forgive me, but the formation is not sound."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 12:46 am
by Widdershins
The farther up the hill Alster climbed, the more conscious he was of his exhaustion. His legs braced for the impact of rocks, which his feet bumped clumsily. The blood from his back wound had clotted, but the stickiness had glued the tunic to him with help from the inexorable humidity that drenched him from head to toe. A stifling breeze reached him at the summit, and he stopped to catch a cool thermal--which placed him in Lilica's vicinity. He kept a wide berth around Lilica, who warned him of the same while she struggled to stay upright. 

If he felt exhausted, then she transcended the very idea, and developed it into an art form. She had a stare that was almost comatose, but she still blinked. She appeared not to breathe, yet she drew breath to speak to him. She had utilized unfathomable power, yet only looked ready for sleep, and not for death. From one magic-user to another, he was impressed by her unparalleled stamina and ability to stifle some of her pains. 

Though he worried for the toll that spent magic taxed from the mind...and would come to collect. 

"How much did that inferno take from you?" He questioned aloud, but clung to her comparisons of celestial and chthonic magic, and distracted himself with the discrepancies. "That is but one interpretation. With every magical ability, there is temptation. Lack of control. Manipulation. We don't speak of it," Alster hesitated, "but in the Rigas family alone, there are those who fall to the whims of their celestial magic--myself included. There are those who think themselves above its influences, and die because they are unprepared. But we are affected. By the sun, by the moon. The stars. Every fleck that streaks across the sky. Every celestial event, be it minor or major. It can...warp our abilities. We're in constant flux. Our magic is alien and invasive--like a meteor--and the entire world responds to it with defensive anger. Chthonic magic has its place here on this planet and on both sides of the spectrum. Passive and active. And every case is different. Yours, mine...my father's..." He trailed away and cleared his throat, squinting up at the sun in hopes to blink away and redirect his commentary--with the possibility of not inviting the dead to join the conversation. 

That was when Lilica held out her hand and implored him to grab hold. He hovered a hand over her own with varying reasons of reluctance. He seldom responded to touch in a calm and consistent manner, especially with so intimate a connection. And what if he hurt her? He of all people knew the sensitivity of hands--doubly so for a caster. With a shallow nod, and half-aware of what to expect, he closed his fingers around her wrist--ignoring the concentrated heat upon his cheeks--and hoisted her from the ground. The flinch elicited from her made him all the more flustered. With an apologetic murmur, he withdrew his grip once he'd seen her safely upright. Bruises purpled all over their point of contact, creating a shadow-contour of where he laid his hand just moments before. With wide eyes, he stared at his palms, believing his magic had done her harm, but all logic pointed out the truth: it was her magic. 

"I have realized it," he said after a long pause, processing all that Lilica had explained and appraising her hand-print bruise with burgeoning apprehension. Did chthonic magic siphon his energy to leave behind those raking tears of flesh upon his back? "I've realized it some time ago, but I chose to ignore the facts. I'm making amends now. I've no choice." He viewed the fresh comet scar on his palm for confirmation. "My celestial magic is gone. Receded. I used chthonic magic today. Willfully. Threw up a shield to protect Tam, but it protected her by melting her assailants down to their bones." He closed his eyes and shuddered. "I've different views on chthonic magic, and a different purpose in mind for its use. And I will not allow it to control me. So..." he opened his eyes and stared at the ground, shuffling his feet, "I...I mean, if the offer still stands, would--?" His tongue flattened itself against the roof of his mouth, but he sputtered the words forth, forcing more air out of his lungs and spattering spittle as a result. "Help. I mean...I would appreciate your help. I hope I'm worth it to you," he said, then he blushed, kicking a pebble to alleviate some of his discomfiture. "But--yes. Of course." Partitioning his mind from the task, he led her down the hill and back to camp, careful as possible with the handling of her ravaged body. 

*****

No sooner than Messino retired to his tent did Officer Sergio blunder in to discuss odds and ends specific to their clunky victory over Tadasun. Messino realized how their strategy, or lack thereof, affected those enmeshed in it, but they hadn't his perspective on the situation. Not like his perspective would matter, of course, because it was unadulterated madness. None would understand the soundness of his propositions--or whether they were sound or not. Let them all think that war is structured, he thought. That there is some purpose as to why they kill and how they kill. In the end, we're all dead.

And the dead surrender to the capriciousness of life. 

A circle of connectivity. Nothing dead truly died, and nothing alive truly lived. 

Messino was interrupted from ignoring Sergio when the same lady warrior who volunteered with the Rigas brat limped right into the tent. Well...wasn't this unprecedented. 

He listened to the back-and-forth between her--Tameris--and Sergio, allowing them to play out their course and tire. They bounced well against their abrasive walls, but they both had too-similar views on the mechanisms of war--when there weren't any to be had. Not on his watch. 

"No." He waved off Sergio. "Even mercenaries are welcome a say at my command. You express legitimate concerns, Tameris," he said, straightening up behind his desk and pressing his palms together in a gesture of patience and magnanimity. "Though I have made my viewpoints abundantly clear on day one, some are not quick to enforce them, like our commanding officer, here." He shook his head at Sergio as if he'd been a grievous disappointment. "Here is the trick. The formation isn't supposed to be sound, because there are no formations. It is but a guideline. You are allowed to wander where you feel most needed, and you have done so. No reprimanding is necessary for so-called abandoning of post. You only but transferred your post." He shifted in his seat to grab the pen lodged in his inkwell, to busy himself writing gibberish on a blank page. Nothing looked more official than faking an officious demeanor. 

"Furthermore," he said, "I am not without some pre-planning of my own. For example, Tadasun is aware of our not-so-secret weapon. Most-likely, I will not have Lilica participate in the next battle. We will have them biting their nails in anticipation for a threat that does not exist." He scribbled nonsensical sentences on a line, reveling in the scritch-scratching of the pen, which punctuated the silence hanging out to dry in the tent. "The first battle is simple testing of the waters. Now I know better what to expect--and so do you. As for the casters--armor for all is above our budget. But if the Rigases wish to provide the expense, I am more than willing to ensure that every soul is well-equipped." There. Diplomatic enough. Flippant enough. He looked up from his "writing." "Does that allay some of your fears?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 1:28 pm
by Requiem
The trek back to camp was slow and tedious, and more tiring than the entire battle as a whole. Lilica walked in silence not far from Alster, keeping him within arm's reach in case she stumbled and fell. Fortunately, she only lost her footing a couple of times, but at the expense of acquiring the violet and blue of more bruises, she was at least successful in remaining upright. It incited an uncomfortable sort of gratitude towards Alster; he didn't need to help her. And yet, he did, shadowing her every step all the way back to camp.

"The offer is still open," she assured him. "Whenever you're ready... that is, after I've had a little time to recover. Just give me a day or two of bed rest. It isn't anything I haven't fought off before..."
As they were approaching Messino's tent--located conveniently in the middle of camp, as if to keep an eye on everyone, Lilica caught the familiar sight of blonde hair in the near distance. "Chara," she said, in hopes of getting the Rigas woman's attention. "You're all right? They didn't happen to neglect to provide you with armor, too, did they?" I heard..."

That was when the familiar timbre of a female voice filled Messino's tent, reaching the ears of any and all who heard. Lilica raised her eyebrows and attempted to peer past the tent flaps, but she need not see the woman to know who it was. "I think you'd better run some quick interference before your compound half gets her tongue cut out," she advised Alster, glancing to Chara. "Would you mind lending me a hand back to my tent? I've already spoken with Alster, but I have something to discuss with you."

---

It was as though she was being heard, and yet not heard at all, simultaneously. Officer Sergio's comments glanced off her like water on a duck's back; he could say what he wanted, and she knew how to respond, in kind. He was a military man like any other... which was more than she could say for their Captain of the army, His Highness, himself.
At first, Elespeth was astounded at how quick he was to dismiss Sergio's pompous and dismissive remarks; that had not been something she'd anticipated of the eccentric prince. It was almost as though he saw her concerns as valid, worth considering, to the extent that he would take them to heart and apply them to next battle.

That is, until he dismissed them--particularly the bit about the casters and the armor. For someone with character like Elespeth, who had pledged her life to brotherhood with comrades and having their back, irritation was not commonplace. The feeling of heat rising into her cheeks as words rose from that hot center in her chest was uncomfortable, particularly because she knew she was in no position to argue. With a hidden identity and a bounty on her head in another nation, it would have been best to forego the compound units entirely, focus solely on survival, and overall walking in the shadows of others as an invisible hand. Play the game and get out alive.

Unfortunately, a sense of honour and dedication stood in the way of staying her tongue.

"I am glad that you do not share in Officer Sergio's disappointment about my last minute switch," she began, choosing her words slowly. Carefully. "But the truth is, your Highness, that I should not have needed to abandon my other half. The compound units were your idea--and a brilliant idea, so long as they can remain a compound unit. Alter and I, in the end, were only another caster and another sword wielder. Not two parts of an unbeatable whole like you'd imagined. The compound units can't focus on interdependence when comrades who could use their help are dying at their feet."

Struggling to step forward, Elespeth placed the flats of her hands on Messino's desk, partially for balance, but primarily to make a point. "With all due respect, your Highness, we are playing with lives, here... Tossing people onto the battle field and observing what happens in order to formulate a better strategy the next time around is reckless. And if providing armor is too far above your budget, then I daresay that sounds an awful lot like you simply can't afford to provide your troops with the best chance of success." The feeling of heat and vigor flooded Elespeth's limbs and mind, no so different from the adrenaline at war. "The fallen, your Highness--did you even know a single one of their names?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jun 10, 2015 10:12 pm
by Widdershins
He and Lilica didn't speak much on their return to camp, a concentration reserved for keeping basic motor functions in tact while traversing rocky terrain. Alster hovered near Lilica, but to assuage her pain as much as possible, he only touched her when she stumbled or teetered over the edge. As nerve-wracking as the return trip had been, Lilica had granted him the smallest bit of absolution for his chthonic magic. A grateful smile aligned his face as they trekked forward. 

"Thank you." 

They encountered Chara on their way into camp. She pretended to fiddle with the sleeves of her tunic, which had transformed from white to rust-brown, but he saw how she positioned her head with an ear out for gossip. Specifically, gossip that transpired within the flaps of Messino's tent. 

Lilica's greeting startled her to attention, but she relaxed when she spotted the two of them. "I'm uninjured, but I can't say the same for you." She noticed the hand-print bruise on her wrist and her eyebrow raised with confusion and alarm. "We Rigases do well for ourselves on the defensive front." She moved as she spoke, over to replace Alster at Liica's side. "A triple-enforced barrier spell. Very effective against armaments!" Underneath her braggadocio, she whispered to Alster, "Her Holiness is going to get herself killed," and jerked her head over to the tent. "Lilica!" she enunciated with the honeyed-notes of one who was inviting a friend for tea, "I shall assist you to your quarters. Come!" She led Lilica by the shoulder with a gentle hand, and, after giving Alster a pointed look, sauntered away, leaving him with damage control duty. 

Messino bobbed his head to his writing as Tameris opted for a more brazen approach in her rambling little discourse. How he loved it when soldiers thought themselves above reproach simply because their commander fancied hearing a word or two from their waggling mouths--as a courtesy. Even when idealistic twaddle fouled their words. "As you have stated, the compound unit is, as it is designed, meant to represent two halves inhabiting one position. It is not my responsibility should you choose to leave your half behind to embark on some other endeavor. And if you are to leak your bleeding heart over every soldier and caster in need of saving, you, instead, will suffer their fate. Do you understand me, Tameris?" He dropped his pen against the parchment and leaned forward to intercept her silly table-leaning threats. Who did she think ran the operation? Did she expect to use intimidation to sway him to her favor? "War means that we will suffer casualties. It does not matter if the strategy is a masterful work of art: people die the same. In fact, masterful strategies often rely on well-timed sacrifices and misdirections where people, in fact, die. It is a natural phenomenon of life," he said, speaking with languid precision in case she'd gone daft. 

"You will have a difficult time as a whole if you cannot compartmentalize your tasks. Focus on you and your partner. Then, your unit. How will you contribute to this effort if you cannot remember your own objective? I daresay your distracted mind will stay your sword, and we will have one less able-bodied soldier for this army." He met her gaze with one patient enough to battle with her all day long if need be. Petulant behavior provided great fuel for him. Made for verbal target practice. And he soon wouldn't forget her name--or shades of her own history that she unwittingly dredged for him to sniff and exploit if she proved too...difficult to cooperate. 

"May I ask--do you know their names? I know them by their actions. They fought bravely for me and died for me. How will sentiments aid us further? War is a playground of lives. A chessboard consisting of pawns fighting on behest of their king or queen. Many don't know why they are fighting, only that they must by royal decree. Do you think war any different? Honorable, even?" He chuckled and patted her cheek with an ink-stained hand. "I admire your naïveté, but it will not win us this war. As for supplies--we. Shall. Procure. Them. Now, you--" he raised his head when a ruffling of the tent flap signaled yet another uninvited guest. What use were guards if people were going to come trampling about his damn tent, regardless?! 

"Your Highness," said the intruder--her Rigas brat of a partner, "you will forgive my intrusion, and forgive my partner. She has sustained a painful injury and requires bedrest." He slithered his way to Tameris, but kept his attention on Messino. "I could not help but overhear, however, that you require financial aid from the Rigases. Consider it done." He dropped a fat pouch on the desk, clanking with noisy greed. Messino pulled back the drawstrings and scooped up a small handful of heavy gold coins. "I expect this to be more than sufficient for the purchase of armor--for our casters." 

"...Yes," Messino said, in a daze from the generous weight and donation. 

"I will touch base with you later, to ensure our order is a successful one." He bowed and, without waiting for dismissal, pulled on Tam's arm (with some hesitation), and guided her out of the tent. 

Messino glared at their backs as they retreated. 

Damn Rigases. 

Once free from the tent, Alster gasped for air, receiving little in the stifling canvas chamber. Together, he and Elespeth walked a good distance from the center of camp and settled near the outskirts of the living quarters. 

A few good breaths later, Alster narrowed his eyes at Elespeth. 

"What are you doing?!" he said in a harsh whisper, keeping track of whoever crossed their path. "You can't afford to draw attention to yourself, especially to Messino! He's of a mercurial disposition; he'll have you hanged for insubordination or worse." With a sigh, he deflated his nerves and took her to the tent he shared with Tivia and Danos, ensuring first that they were absent. "Look. I know you care deeply for preservation of our troops, but you can't go barking demands to someone that unhinged. We'll make our own changes." He lowered his voice despite the (relative) safety of the tent. "We plan to."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jun 11, 2015 12:42 am
by Requiem
If Elespeth had learned anything about survival in the years that she'd been on the run from Atvany, it was that to shrink before someone--anyone, despite what power they held--was often the same as giving up. The ex-knight was more than a little convinced that the reason for her life and health (or relative health, at the moment) was due to picking her battles and knowing just how and when to assert herself when necessary.
And, over ninety percent of the time, Elespeth Tameris was not far off on her good judgement. Ninety percent of the time, however, she wasn't in pain, suffering blood loss, physical exhaustion and dehydration. 

It didn't even occur to her that she's effectively gone on the defensive, like a cat that couldn't retract its claws, and on the worst possible person to antagonize.

That is, not until a fourth party made himself present in the room. Elespeth's brows knitted together in surprise and confusion as her battle partner so readily apologized for her, for himself and for the situation at large--on to of piling coins atop Messino's desk. No! You shouldn't have to provide the funding for this army, that is not the point! She wanted to argue--wanted to shout at him--but before she realized what was happening, the conversation had come to a close, and she found herself escorted from the tent, back into the overcast evening of an upsetting day.

"You shouldn't have had to do that--give him the money," she chided Alster, her limp causing her to struggle to keep up as he ushered her away from the Prince's tent. "That isn't your..."
Alster wasn't the one deserving of reprimand, however--and he was quick to point out why. "I... the entire formation, this morning... And he continued with such a laissez-faire demeanor..."

Elespeth trailed off, as soon as they passed through the flaps of Alster's tent. No, there was no intelligent rebuttal for his comment; there was no excuse for her actions. How was it that, in so little time--had it even been a couple of weeks since they'd registered at the encampment?--she had almost entirely forgotten that she was continually at risk? That the slightest misstep could have her hanged or, worse, back in Atvany to suffer days of starvation and neglect before being put out of her misery before her family, and the very people whom she used to call friends?

The swordmaster had gotten careless. And she had become careless only because she cared.

"I'm sorry. You're right, that was ridiculously stupid of me." Sitting down upon one of the cots to take the weight off her injured leg, El raked her fingers through hair that had long since come free of its tidy weave. "I am... I know what war is. I know war means death, but you must understand, I was raised to fight with honour. To fight with respect for my brothers in arms, and Messino... we are but pawns to him. He has no honour, no sense of camaraderie, just a goal that he will attain by any means. No matter how many lives are lost, or how many..."

As the Rigas caster's tone grew quieter, however, Elespeth grew more aware of it. Regaining her composure (and, therefore, her character), she eyed her partner skeptically at the loaded comment. "What exactly do you mean?" She asked her tone of voice matching his near whisper. "It sounds as though... But you're not... Do you mean--" The Atvanian fugitive held her breath as several pairs of boots passed outside the tent. When all was clear and silent again, she went on. "It almost sounds as if you are suggesting... conspiracy, among the troops. Do I understand correctly?"

Of course, he didn't answer right away. Alster had divulged something very deep, perhaps in hopes that she was too far gone from her own mind with bloodloss to register it properly. But now it was out in the open, and it could not be taken back. "You already know who I am," she pointed out, as the caster struggled with weighing the benefits and setbacks of letting her in the know. "And that is more than I can say for anyone who I have ever encountered since I fled Atvany years ago. If there is something that you plan... then you should already know, from my most recent antics, that I swear no allegiance to that warmongering madman. I haven't sworn allegiance to anyone, since I learned that it earns you nothing, and is akin to signing away your soul."

Shifting on the cot, still a bloody mess as she had yet to seize any opportunity to scrub the dregs of war from her body, Elespeth turned to face Alster head on. "You know you can trust me; you have my vow of silence. But Alster, if we are to survive this war intact with our bodies, let alone as parts of a compound unit... then secrets are far too dangerous to harbour. And you'll find no more secrets on my part."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jun 11, 2015 11:04 pm
by Widdershins
"Yes, I did," Alster retorted to Elespeth's concerns about the money, but did not elaborate on the matter. It was only when they sat inside his tent, both on different cots and near touching each other's knees from the proximity, that he focused on an explanation. Mostly, it was to buy him time from the blunder of speaking secrets aloud. In the aftermath of his rendezvous with Messino, which still hammered his heart into little dings against his chest, his concentration had fizzled. Loosened his tongue. He bit on it as punishment.

"I gave him the money for reasons beyond supplying us with armor," he said, creaking against the cot to hear more than one squeaking voice. "I bought his temporary defeat. His prestige depends on following through with my request, and the money is a warning that he better not step out of line--or he'll lose his supporters. As much as he abhors the Rigas family, he fears them more--because they--we--are his equals. Not his subjects. 'Your Highness' is but an honorific to us--but it holds little clout." He stared at his filthy fingernails, blackened with muck and blood--little crescent reminders of the battle that weighed him down with thoughts of sleep. To curl up atop his cot and forget this entire affair. Alas, every organ inside of him thrummed with reserve juices and refused to shut down. And he knew sleep was no friend. "To understand what we are trying to accomplish, you must learn a little of the power struggle between the Di Andalari and the Rigases." 

I can't believe I'm telling her this. Am I so careless to blab family politics to the uninitiated? True, he and Elespeth suffered together and bonded together in a short period of time-expedited by the necessities of war. But the ease in which she acquired intelligence about him and his family worried him. He had himself to blame for his lack of reservations and questionable judgment calls. But he had gone too far. Invested too much. Practically handed her a lifetime's worth of trust and expected her to honor an unwritten pact. Knight or no knight, people were not inherently faithful. Was he so desperate for support that he would sell family secrets in exchange for catharsis?

I hope I'm making the right decision.

"Stella D'Mare, the capital of Andalari, was once a great city-state all its own--run by the Rigases," Alster began, an uncertain rattle in his delivery. "Andalari sat to our west, a newborn country with ambitions. They eyed our stretch of land--our pristine waters, our silver and gold mountains, sapphire streams...They wanted our riches. At first, they forged an alliance. We traded ores and gems for arable land, vineyards, and citrus groves. For sheep and goats. They protected us from invaders. Always quick to our rescue. Always helping--rebuilding, gifting, defending. Until we became indebted to them. Reliant. Dependent. And slowly--as if this were the plan all along--they absorbed Stella D'Mare into Andalari. Moved their capital and settled there. Changed our government. Politics. Unseated the Rigases. We stepped aside, out of a sense of loyalty. However, we never allowed them to forget: this is our land. They're just borrowing it. And one day--we'll take it back." 

"So it has been this way for countless generations," Alster concluded. "But the Di Andalari have never been able to conquer us--nor us, them. We remain in thrall with each other--waiting for weaknesses...waiting for the other foot to drop. This war--it's just a facade. A distraction. It may not be ideal for you," he paused, trying to gauge her reaction beforehand, "but we wish for chaos. For anarchy and dissent and for Messino to lose grip on his tactics--should he have any at all. I know you fight with honor--but you'll find little honor here. We're just settling an age-old score--by any means necessary." He glanced over at the tent flap, watching the loose ends waggle in the breeze and freezing in place for fear of Rigas interference. "If you wish to leave--before this situation grows uglier--now is the most opportune time."

By the end of his historic retelling, he had crushed his hands together, fusing fingers with fingers and digging into the fresh tissue of his comet scar. Again, he searched through the shadows of their small enclosure, and listened for outside, and listened to his heart, which never ceased its unyielding thump. 

"You're right. About secrets," he said, a dead calm skating over his voice, despite the turmoil enclosed within. "I've told you my mine. I've even told you that which is not rightfully mine to give. As a sign of good faith...what are yours? Why--may I ask--are you a fugitive?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jun 12, 2015 3:01 pm
by Requiem
Elespeth would be the first to admit that her knowledge of the kingdoms beyond Atvany was sparingly little; in her incessant travels, she learned what she had to, and focused on little else. Andalari was no different from any other nation through which she had passed, and the history would have been entirely lost on her, were it not for the lesson that Alster spelled out for her, then and there. To think that the appropriation of Stella d'Mare, so insidiously absorbed into Andalari... 

She couldn't blame the Rigases for wanting it back. This coup was not to be an act of vengenace; it was a reclamation, as he had said, of what was rightfully theirs.

"I see no dishonour in your plight," she commented when it was her turn to speak. "You... your family has been diminished by Messino and his reign. Understand, Alster, that I do not fight battles of vengeance. But this is not about revenge; it is about correcting a wrong that has long since been overlooked. And you will not see me take off you, or any of this, just because it might get ugly. I do not abandon brothers in arms."

But he was right; it was only fair that, with his story laid bare, that she reciprocate. Lowering her voice, the ex-knight leaned in, for what she was about to tell him was just as sensitive and just as dangerous as his own game plan. "I was a sanctioned knight of Kingdom of Atvany, a privileged member of its Imperial Guard. I had been raised as such, for my family has served the kings and queens for generations. My predetermined path in life has never bothered me, because I desired it. And I felt at home among my brothers in arms--that feeling of truly belonging, and knowing that there were so many people you could trust, you couldn't even count them on all of your fingers. To fight alongside them... I was meant for it.

"Perhaps I would still be there, among them, today, had I not failed in my duties. There was only one person in this entire world who I wished would cease to draw breath... and I was assigned to guard that person." El's posture became unmistakably uncomfortable, then. Her shoulders tensed and she dug her fingernails into her arm, recalling a memory that would continue to haunt her. "He was nobility, but he was far from pure. He liked to have his way with women, and their own desires did not matter to him. The countless lives and marriages that he has ruined... I can't even count them. He had no honour, and did not deserve mine."

Exhaling, long and slow, Elespeth straightened her spine, finding herself unable to look at Alster as her lips spilled the guilt that weighed her like lead. "One day, it was my duty to escort him to another nation. But we were ambushed, and I... I could have saved his life. And I am not sure that I chose not to, but... I hesitated. He died." Finally looking up, she tried for a wry smile, and failed. "I had officially failed in my duty to protect. I was held accountable for his death out of negligence, I was found guilty, and I was officially sentenced to death. Not one of my brothers in arms stepped up in my defense... not even my own family."

Lifting her stiff shoulders in a shrug, the ex-knight raked a hand through her tousled hair. "It was flee or die. So at my first opportunity, I fled. I have since heard there is now a bounty on my head, should I be captured alive. But it has been so long since I've lingered anywhere near Atvany that I cannot say whether or not the bounty has gone up." Hold her hands palms up, as if to indicate she was empty of solutions and hope, Elespeth finally concluded. "So now, I find myself here. Far enough from Atvany that my family name, Tameris, is hardly recognizable. It's been a long time since I've been able to use it, but I still hesitate to provide my given name. You, my friend, happen to be the only one here who knows."


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Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 838
 
by Widdershins
For practical reasons, Alster hadn't the same enthusiasm towards reclaiming Stella D'Mare under the Rigas herald. Through deceit, Andalari had forged an unerring relationship with Stella D'Mare. The once proud city-state lost its convictions and bowed to its benign captors with their necks exposed for beheading. But in the long-run, Stella D'Mare embedded fangs into Andalari's flank while their horns had pinned Her tail. And thus started a symbiotic relationship borne between two giants outsmarted into defeat. Should Stella D'Mare separate from Andalari, both city and country would fall. Having leaned on each other for so long, forging towards the future would spring them countless generations behind, into the past--to as they were, not as they would be. 

In so doing, surrounding nations would sniff out their blood trails--and eat them while fresh and newborn.

The alternatives were few. Stella D'Mare could remain connected, and foster peaceful relations with Di Andalari. They could unseat the monarchy and replace them with a new elect. Or...they could take Andalari by force--and absorb it into Stella D'Mare. As revenge. 

Alster foresaw the latter plan belonging to Adalfieri's grand scheme. For that reason, he withheld his suspicions from Elespeth and her outdated code of ideals. Her support, while unnecessary, did comfort him, and...he wanted it. But at what cost would this uneasy solace afford him, in the end? 

Not another death. He'd make certain. 

"At any rate," he stared at his hands, watching a bud of blood rise from his picked-apart scar, "I advise you to stand down. This is not your fight, and Andalari is no home to you. Your loyalty...it should be to yourself. Foremost. If you change your mind, and wish to flee, I'll," his face heated, "I'll miss you, but I'll help you escape. Because Rigases, they--we--are not much better than the Di Andalari. If anything...we're worse."

After his ominous warning, he listened to Elespeth relay the details that redirected her path, which ultimately led her to Andalari. His habitual scar-picking ceased as he engrossed himself in her words and found a great deal of empathy for her plight. In many ways, their disparate stories overlapped. A close-knit family, a Serpent unleashed, the ensuing backlash...the resentment from those you once trusted...

All for the sake of honor. Honor. It never once served him or protected him. Never did it invite him into its fold with warm arms that embraced and welcomed, that cared for his well-being and steered him away from the darkness. Before...

Now, all that he saw when he closed his eyes were those flickering slits lodged in a pool of acid. One look and he would dissolve. 

Deserve. He deserved it. The dissension. The abandonment. The honor that forsook him...

Yet somehow it found him--too late--and expected to make amends through immense foolishness in human form. Elespeth...I may never hope to understand why you continue to stand by me.

With the intention to brighten the black-tar pits of deepening despair between them, Alster cracked a smile--in remembrance of a ridiculous appellation that, from an renewed perspective, he thought mildly amusing. "No--I don't blame you. The man was full of scales--a vile serpent. A Rigas insult, to be sure--they refer to any non-Rigas as a vile serpent. But this man--definitely writhing around in the chthonic reaches of hell. ...That's another Rigas favorite. But I digress." 

"It's ridiculous. For them to sentence you to death due to 'negligence'...remind me never to return to Atvany. Nice country--but if they caught wind of my own crimes, their entire justice system would devolve into an angry lynching mob." He laughed away his own vileness--however much the truth still stung. For that, he had little choice but to laugh. "It really is no laughing matter...I apologize. I cannot fathom of their skewed sense of...well, honor. They tout it around like a badge that deserves earning, yet will strip it away just the same if you, as the bearer, no longer reflect their beliefs. What good is there, then, in the entire concept, when it's nothing more than a vacillating title? Personally...I see little of it in this world. Honor, that is. A tired old thing--admirable though you are for living it, and--" He clamped his mouth shut--but not before biting his tongue a second time. With an even hotter flush flaming his face, he shrank into himself--and hurried yet more apologies.

"Not my place to tout my own philosophical agenda. I'm sorry. I...I'm just..." he shied away from an explanation, fearing another nonsensical rant that would circle back to yet another round of sputtered apologies. "Tameris." He locked on her name and its long-standing associations with Atvany and knighthood and...why had she carted it around with her to Andalari?! Sloppy trails made for easier tracks. And she'd already crossed a powerful man...with knowledge of the nations. "Tameris," he said again, enunciating the name. "Why did you...Andalari is well-aware of the existence of Atvany. You may say...that we're old adversaries. That name...it's not safe here." He scanned her face with widening eyes. "Especially now."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Jun 13, 2015 2:14 pm
by Requiem
Alster, however unnecessarily, seemed to be taking a good deal of this to heart--both his own, secret stance in Messino's war and his feelings towards Andalari, as well as the plight that had led her footprints all the way to where she was now. And while she was far from making light of it, in many ways her own war was behind her, while Alster had yet to fight his. Not to say that she didn't suffer the consequences of insubordination every single day that she remained alive, but for now, she was free, and relatively safe, and every day was just another leaf unturned.

But Alster faced a future of uncertainty, on cloaked in black magic and betrayal. He knew what he had to do, and he wanted no one else to become unnecessarily caught up in the whirlwind of his plans. He might have spat at the concept of honour, but there was more honour in his genuine concern than he gave himself credit for. Leave it to knight (well... technically an ex-knight) to notice.

"Alster. Even if I did not believe in what you and your family feel you must do to reclaim what is yours... I cannot just leave. Imagine how suspicious it would look; and gods only know, I've already drawn too much attention to myself." Elespeth shook her head, and pulled her loose hair over her shoulder to be replaited. There was something therapeutic about that mundane act. "It is more difficult to live a nomadic lifestyle by odd jobs and a concealed identity than I'd ever imagined--I was raised almost like a noble. Imagine the culture shock the first night I had only the moss beneath me as a cushion."

She shook her head with a grin at that awful memory, how cold and afraid she had been. Those days did not feel so far behind her. "I've toughened up a lot, since then, but there have been weeks I've sustained myself on little more than water. As I was moving through Andalari, and caught wind of this war... Well, I knew that if I could see it through and come out alive, I wouldn't have to worry about money for quite a while--provided that Messino meant to come good on his compensation. This was an opportunity that I really couldn't turn down."

The Atvanian fugitive lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "But that is neither here nor there anymore, and given what I know now... I wouldn't walk away, even if I were not guaranteed a penny. I might not be a knight anymore, Alster, but my sense of duty has not changed. The only difference is, now I am fighting for a cause--and, frankly, for people--who I feel I can believe in. And I am not talking about Messino." The corner of her mouth tugged into a sardonic grin. "Above and beyond your cause, I've heard some unsettling things through the grapevine of this encampment... allegedly, the dark mage, Lilica, is only here by virtue of the fact that should she refuse, she will be arrested. If helping you means liberating people like her from the unfair clutches of overzealous law, then I am happy to be of assistance.

She was staying; that much was no longer up for debate, no matter how many injuries she sustained, or how much Alster would urge her to do otherwise. But the Rigas caster did bring up a valid point with the distribution of her name. At that, Elespeth's half-grin diminished, the dimple in her cheek disappearing with it.
Justifying her desire to stay and finish this fight was one thing. Her name was quite another.

"When I joined this army, I attempted to register as Tam. For as long as I've been traveling, I have never used the same alias twice. But..." He fingers hovered near her shoulder, where she would typically draw her sword. The ghost of its presence was always there, although she'd left it back at her tent. "I got unlucky. Another sword-wielder happened to recognize the make of my blade; I think he himself was a blacksmith, but must have also been familiar with Atvanian nobility. Because he managed to put two and two together, an derived Tameris from Tam." Elespeth sighed, her face painted in an utterly helpless expression for perhaps the first time since setting foot on Andalarian soil. "It was in the presence of my commanding officer, and I was at a loss for excuses. But not all Tameris are sworn into knighthood in Atvany, particularly not the women; so I simply said I'd left Atvany so as not to remain a stubbornly unmarried burden on my family. Made no mention of being a knight, but... who knows. It may just be a matter of time before someone else calls me on it--in which case, that would be the only reason you would see me flee this encampment and nation. And should that happen, you'll have to forgive me by abandonment."

Scratching the back of her neck, El caught herself digging her fingernails into the prone flesh out of anxiety. She didn't want to think about the possibility of being caught and arrested; she didn't have the energy to expend to worry about it. "What about you Rigases, though? Are you alone in this, or are you counting on the chance of any allies of Stella D'Mare who were not in favour of its absorption into Andalari to come to your aid?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jun 14, 2015 1:39 am
by Widdershins
"Not suspicious at all--if you faked your own death," he said with a sloppy grin, a purposefully obtuse comment. "Then I could place coins on your eyes--and you'd have money enough to go forth in relative obscurity." He shrugged off his facetiousness but, should events spiral out of control that required her swift departure, he didn't think it a bad idea to have a sound plan in the making. 

"Concealed identity--odd jobs--culture shock--I can commiserate." He raised his head to the small vault in the tented ceiling, recalling his own nomadic lifestyle with a dash more nostalgia than disdain--but always lined with regret. He'd gained what he desired most from in life--escape--but with the loss of lives miring his entire misadventure with pounds of sacrificial blood and flesh. "For forty-odd years, we lived like vagabonds. Sleeping in midden piles by night and shoveling frozen muck by day-- herding sheep and milking cows and selling wares like hawkers on the street...character building exercises, my father called them. Also, punishment. We stayed with nobles--allies in varying nations, for a time, but we could never linger for long. Oh, right..." he followed the shadows from the apex of the tent, guiding him back to the ground where Elespeth awaited his return. And in case she appeared flummoxed by the obscene number he railed off to her, he added, as an appendix, "I'm ninety-seven." 

Before he could further explain, he distracted himself on the subject of money. With a shift of his hand, he could draw from his enchanted pouch great stores of gold, savings of which he hadn't completely relinquished to Messino, and grant her what she wished. After all, what use was he as a Rigas if he could not his influence for an unselfish cause? Alas, he could not bribe her out of the war. As such, she might see charity as an insult, if other aspects of her knightly code flared as bright as her honor.

To hell with it. 

"Messino may well short you..but should you need it," he tapped the pouch buckled to his belt, a flimsy, deflated thing, "I have a few coins in reserve. May it be some sort of reminder--though monetary--that Rigases...well...some of us are trying. But I can't say the same of Lilica's fate should she fall into Rigas hands." He chewed the inside of his lip, ruminating on his gums and the circumstances. "Between incarceration and possible execution, I believe the former is more merciful. Remember--Rigases will not stand for any resurgence of chthonic magic. Myself and...strangely, Chara, may understand, but not those in power. Not Adalfieri, or his council." He remembered the council: a number of goons, bobbing heads that mumbled in assent to his schemes, however hackneyed. A collective hive-brain that deferred to, in this case, their king. 

With a dismissive shake of his head, he followed Elespeth onward to her talk of an unfortunate run-in with a blacksmith who knew too much of his craft. "Well, what's done is done. For now, avoid Messino. If he should seek you out, play dumb. Insist that your injury bled you out of common sense. Whatever will placate him--until we muster our offensive. Tadasun is already on our side, though we must pretend otherwise. They're age-old enemies and would fain watch the country burn. But common foot-soldiers know nothing of the insurrection and will fight us to the teeth. We've also steady alliances in Mollengard to the North and the Fallow Isles in the South."

"My father," he scratched behind his pointed ear, in need of some distraction to keep him as unruffled as possible, "was an ambassador for the Rigas family. He traveled around the North and East quadrants and forged good relations with like-minded nations. It's only recently I realize the reason: for this moment. Otherwise," he hastened along to less personal affairs, "we've the support of Old Town. There's a noticeable schism taking fold in Stella D'Mare. New Town is where Castello Di Andalari sits. It's an annexation of Stella D'Mare proper, and it's brimming with Andalari loyalists. Traditional families reside in Old Town; they live under the shadow of the Rigas estate. There's more of us than there are of them--and many practice magic. After all," he said, slapping his tensed-up knees as he leaned forward, "Old Town is not referred to as The Arcanum for nothing."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2015 12:26 am
by Requiem
"Like I said, it's not about the money... not anymore." Elespeth couldn't say it enough, although the seemingly near-infinite supply of coin in Alster's pouch was as worrisome as it was intriguing. Not so different from Alster himself. The more she learned about the Rigas caster and his heritage, the more she feared--though she would never admit it--that she was in over her head in this war.

But she would not be the only one. Alster, Chara, Lilica... None of them could foresee the future with certainty, none of them were without their own unique complications. And now, knowing them as she did, the stubborn righteousness that spread through her veins as thick as lifeblood left her unable bear the thought of what might become of them, should she turn her back now. Many a person could walk away from the troubles of others far more easily than their own troubles; Elespeth Tameris was not one of those people.

For she would dream of it, in the aftermath. And they would be among the others who haunted her in the twilight; the people in Atvany who she had let down. Who would never respect her again.

The thought of respect was far out the window, however, when the caster began to relate his life to her own. His very eclectic, very eventful... very long life.

"What?" The Atvanian fugitive's eyes widened and she leaned forward, wincing as she accidentally put the weight of her palm on her injured leg. "Bloody hell, you're... but you're... I mean, you look... Are you... I mean, you're a Rigas, but you are human, right? Right?" Beyond the absurdity, El found herself feeling incredibly dwarfed by the information he had just shared. Ninety-seven?! Yet with the face of a youth?

Drawing a deep breath into her lungs, the ex-knight straightened her spine and cleared her throat. "Were my grandfather still alive, you'd be older than him," she quipped, her mouth stretching into a hopeless grin. "I apologize, just... I never would have thought. And I'll admit, in taking that in, I..." El's words trailed off in a sudden wave of fatigue. She pinched the bridge of her nose and squinted her eyes shut, waiting as it passed. "This conversation isn't over--rather, we're not done talking. Or planning. I'm in this with you, Alster Rigas, whether or not it is my battle to fight, and whether or not you like it. But right now... I don't think I've ever needed to rest so badly."

Elespeth as not alone in that need. Chara couldn't have helped her back to her tent fast enough. As soon as she reached her cot, the dark mage all but collapsed into its stiff canvas. She looked as if struck by influenza, pale with a cold sheen of sweat coating her forehead, tendrils of black air sticking to her cheek. If Messino wanted her back on her feet by morning, then he'd be faced with a very harsh reality.

"He didn't agree. Not at first," she explained to the blonde Rigas, fixing her tired gaze on Chara's face--referring, of course, to Alster and her offer to help him control the chthonic before it learned to control him. "But I think... after today, I do believe I've convinced him. And I am still willing to help, even though... He mentioned something to me. That you don't hold as much sway over Messino as you claimed. Was he... is that accurate?"

Had she been in any other condition aside from positively spent, Lilica might have been angry. Hurt. Disappointed in herself that she had invested so much trust in the blonde Rigas brat. But there was no room for emotion when she could hardly focus on her own thoughts. "If I stay... If Messino uses me to his advantage, then this... it will only get worse." By this, she meant her current state, gesturing with her palms up with a helpless sigh. "It isn't that I'm afraid of death. I've already lived an entire lifetime, to tell you the truth... it wasn't real, none of it. But it was my reality, until I woke up from that dream... Anyway, dying in this ridiculous war is not the worst that can happen. What Messino doesn't understand is that he is forcing me to let my magic go unleashed to serve his purposes. And if it continues, it will consume everything--and everyone, not just the Tadasuni alone. And the same will happen to Alster, if he doesn't learn what it means to tether chthonic magic to prevent this sort of disaster. I do not want to be the undoing of my own comrades. I am sure Alster would feel the same."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jun 15, 2015 11:12 pm
by Widdershins
He found it rather satisfying to witness Elespeth fidget about so much when learning of his actual age. A smile crossed his lips, and he hoped it read with the mystery and a touch of the devil-may-care attitude that had snagged him into various troubles all those years ago--before the "Incident." Never had he received such a reaction: not in Stella D'Mare, where matters of enhanced age hadn't bothered the magically-inclined: and not on his travels, when age was seldom worth mentioning. What did bother him about his age, however, was that he couldn't enjoy it in the safety of a household which aged in unison. Outside of the Rigas estate, he watched flowers and people wilt and die with such speed of finality that he had difficulty tracking the season of the year in which specific deaths had occurred. Oftentimes, he couldn't remember his own age. What before seemed like a gift stretched onward like a near-endless plain. And in those thoughts of regular mortality, he contemplated his own. He led a long life, by human standards, but now that it careened towards an uneasy conclusion--swallowed up by the Serpent--he wasn't sure he wanted it to end. Not yet. And not in that way.

"I'm human. Well...maybe," he rubbed a finger under his chin with uncertainty. "We aren't sure of Rigel's heritage. Elf, demigod, lesser god--Whatever the case, we believe he parsed out his age to his progeny--his future family legacy. In doing so, he surrendered his immortal life so that we may all enjoy an elongated lifespan. He conceived of a complicated spell-form that allows us to live up to four-hundred years. This was done not only to grant us more time for magical study but to preserve our family name for much longer--so that we may always guard the Serpent seal. And our legacy has survived--for three thousand years. So," he shrugged, trying now to allay her sudden-onset stress (in lieu of continuing his empathetic pleasure in it), "I may be ninety-seven in number, but I'm the equivalent of twenty-four. But I'll grant you the time to recuperate. My apologies for dropping all this dirt onto your lap." He rose from the cot and helped her to stand, guiding her to the mouth of the tent. "Rest now. We'll talk more about this when we're both struggling not to keel over. Besides," he frowned as he touched the tender splotch of torn flesh from his back, "I should probably get this patched up." 

In the meantime, Chara ushered Lilica to her quarters with a sort of burnished pride when her peers in passing gazed over at them and whispered. If she raised her head high enough and paraded herself with deadly grace, they may cease their babble and leave them to walk in silence. 

Oh, but that never worked. She turned down her head and glared little lightning bolt sparks in their direction. 

The remainder of their walk was met by welcome silence. 

Inside Lilica's tent, she watched the dark mage hobble to her cot while she returned to that ratty old chair--but not before dragging it closer to her cot-side. I'm not a nurse, she berated herself as Lilica's breathing rattled like a death-adder--a white serpent with a cold, dry, scaly appearance. Stuck in torpor for the winter. Not a nurse, oh no. Not when she looks so reptilian.

"Of course he would not hasten to agree," she retorted with a snort, once Lilica rummaged the strength to speak. "He is a Rigas. We are conditioned at birth to reject Serpent magic. I am forever left nodding in agreement--especially after today." She thought of the violet plumes that slurped away both armies, and any warmth still left in her bones sloughed away to the floor. "That was," she fished for words, "unseemly. Perverse." With defeat, she sighed, "terrifying." Even more terrifying--that after such a display, Alster wanted to tackle the responsibility of his chthonic magic. It could run away with him like a wildfire. Lessen the deeds of the Serpent uprising. Worse yet... Chara wanted some of that power for herself. 

A celestial version, of course. She wasn't that far gone!

"He would say that," Chara blathered on to a less polarizing topic. "He probably wanted you out of his hair. The truth is that I cannot set you free--but Adalfieri will. He is our family head. I only need to send him a message. We as Rigases do not fancy the Di Andalari--and we can utter such treasonous thoughts without causing trouble. It is a stance that we have shared with each other for many generations--as equals. Therefore," she lowered her voice, "to cause a stir, Adalfieri may very well release you from this war." 

Only Adalfieri saw the full scope of his plan, but he shared what he wished of her involvement. Take from Messino his wildcards. Unseat his powerful toys. Throw his favors off balance--however you see fit.

She saw fit to use Lilica against Messino. 

"An entire lifetime--in a dream?" she said aloud, not quite understanding if Lilica spoke in a figurative or a literal sense. "I myself am ninety-four, but I do not believe that is what you mean." She'd heard stories, of magic enfolding its user into a stasis that deferred aging for a certain number of years. Itself, the spell was difficult to master, and activation could trigger an early death--or a coma from which the user may never awaken. Often, the pros never outweighed the cons. If Lilica managed such a feat, and survived the incurrence....Chara paled. Exactly how much power did Lilica harness? And to what extent could it rage out of control?

"While I cannot predict the trajectory of your magic--and we shall undergo whatever preventative measures we can to avoid such a tragedy--I can at least speak for Alster when I say this: his greatest asset is in his control. Even when," she faltered," even when he awakened the Serpent, he did so through intense study and practice. With this combination--perhaps the two of you can learn from each other."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 12:00 am
by Requiem
The corner of Lilica's mouth turned upward ever so slightly at the Rigas woman's mention of her name. "If I had to guess, I have you beaten by about sixteen years... Although, I take it you those ninety-four years that you have lived have been among the conscious." She wasn't sure if it was curiosity or intrigue that sparked Chara's interest on the topic, and to her own surprise, she realized she'd never discussed it before. Not since awakening to a world she barely knew anymore, and with few to no contacts.

To whom would she have recounted the tale, exactly? The last flicker of companionship that she remembered was from a life that had never been real. She was more an outcast in her own skin than what might have been imaginable. 

Placing her palm flat against the cot, the dark mage pushed herself into an upright position, though not with expended effort; her arms shook under her own weight. "Do you know what it means to be born into hate? I'm assuming not, as you have family--alive and well." She tucked her dark tresses behind her ears as her memory toyed with a time that she wished she could forget. "When I was young, my own parents died at my hands. I had no siblings, and I cared for no one. In a way, it was almost easier to live such a life... no concern for anyone but yourself, and your continually beating heart. Until you come to realize that such a way of life is hardly living at all. All of the people I'd hurt..."

She trailed off a moment, wondering if it was even worth divulging. Ultimately, she'd already said too much to go back on. "To make a long story very short... somewhere along the line, everything violent thing I'd left behind me became too difficult to bear. I had no family, I didn't trust myself around anyone, and it came to the point where I couldn't live with myself. So I decided to get creative and toy with the concept of curses." Her mouth drew into an ironic smile. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to curse yourself? No, probably not, as you'd have to be adept in dark magic to have that familiarity. But I can tell you, it is not easy. Who'd have thought that I could manage to mess up an attempt on my own life?

"Because I wanted death, you understand--not pain, and the coward that I was, I couldn't take a knife to my skin. I thought a curse would be easier, more painless." Lilica's shoulders shook in a chuckle at her own failure. "It was a curse called reve du mort--death dream. A sleep that is supposed to steal the victim's life with every second that they fall deeper into unconsciousness. I fell asleep, all right... for eighty years, in a stasis, without aging. To this day I am not sure what went wrong, and I don't care to investigate it, but for better or for worse, it changed me. Because in that sleep, I was... it was almost as if i was awarded the chance at different life."

Dark eyes flicked to Chara. Whether or not she cared for an explanation this long was irrelevant; getting this off her chest really did feel like a weight lifted. "Do you think I was lying when I told you I am a herbalist? The entire reason I chose that path is because, eighty years later, when I opened my eyes again, I already knew it all. In my dream, I was still me, but... not me at all. There was no magic, no curses. I had a family, friends, and even the capacity to fall in love; gods help me, I even had children, and grandchildren, of all the absurdities. I'd chosen the life of a herbalist, and it was so nondescript that I daresay it verged on plain... No stupid wars to chthonic magic with which to contend. I lived it, was satisfied with it, grew old in it... until that version of me died, of old age and natural causes. And then I woke up to the nightmare that was my reality."

Those first few days were days she would never forget: the confusion and anxiety, the shock of how her world had changed in eighty years, and the realization that she was still burdened with her own magic. There was no worse feeling in the world that suddenly seeing everything you thought you'd invested in unravel, and knowing everyone you'd ever cared about wasn't real. "All I could do was strive to replicate what I thought I'd always had; I went into herbalism, tried to live that life that wasn't real... But anyone born with magic knows that there is no living without it. The worst part it all is that, three years later, I still find myself myself looking for the people of that world that didn't exist. It's become too much of a habit to break."

Shifting so that her legs draped over the cot, Lilica leaned her elbows on her knees. "If Alster doesn't learn how to anchor his chthonic magic to his own will, it will either destroy him, or everyone he loves--or both, and not necessarily in that order. I know the theory behind how it's done... but it is too late for someone like me to anchor it safely, even if it were possible." A hundred and ten years of living with it coiling beneath her skin, after years of its constant practice and misuse... There was no hope for it in the dark mage. But Alster was a different story. "He has what I don't: a link to the celestial, which gives me hope, if he can learn to keep it balanced. And I will come through on helping him, if you can promise me a way out of this war. Before I end up reliving old traumas. But, Chara Rigas..."

The lids of Lilica's hooded eyes dropped ever so slightly, as her hands curled into small fists. "If I find out that your part of the bargain was all an insidious lie, then I will happily fall at the hands of my own magic, eternally. And I will take you with me in doing it."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jun 17, 2015 11:44 pm
by Widdershins
While Lilica's lips took a rare upturn, Chara's mouth drew dour with the dark mage's announcement of her age. She and Alster both enjoyed flaunting their pain--whether they were aware of it or not. As for age--while Chara often immersed herself in competitions with her fellow peers, she found age competitions to be wasteful and frankly, pointless. Unless Lilica fancied herself a fluent speaker of sarcasm, Chara was left unamused.

But what transformed her frown to one of near-hostility was Lilica's dismissal of her own family complications. While not as extreme as killing off her own parents, she hadn't an unblemished lifestyle--and not all her family were "alive and well." 

"Did you know that the name Chara translates to 'joy'? I assure you, the name was an ironic choice." Her voice sharpened into ice shards. "Do not speak to me about hate. And do not belittle me again." With an exaggerated flourish, she spun her hands into a continuing gesture, then crossed them with her arms. She was a listener, yet far from a passive one. On the contrary, every word she uttered reinvited Chara into the annals of her own childhood: caring for little, a helpless runt, a forgotten strand of the Rigas legacy--an unwanted stain. A bad year. 

Bad years never achieved the status Chara now enjoyed. 

That thought had placated her. As for the murder of Lilica's parents...Eerie. Almost evil. Vile. Like a Serpent. And Alster. His parents, their deaths---evil and vile and serpentine...

The similarities. Creepy and uncanny. A reflexive shiver enfolded her arms closer to her body. Some details of Alster's story hadn't made exact sense. How could the Serpent kill his parents unless through projection of Its consciousness? But into whom? Did chthonic magic act like a beacon to other chthonic magic-users? 

If so...

Perhaps Alster was not so innocent as his claim. 

"What is it with chthonic magic and the ease in which parricide occurs?!" she blurted without thinking, but dipped her head and allowed Lilica's detailed travesty of a life take the floor, uninterrupted. 

Except for one point. 

"Celestial magic, if you knew anything about it as you so obviously do not," she said, adopting Lilica's belittling words, "does have its fair share of curses. Ever wish to know what it's like to sit trapped in the vastness of space, surrounded by nothing and everything all at once? Feel yourself pressurize and expand until you're little more than dust and star matter? We simply call it the Infinity Curse. No happy dreams to occupy the mind. Only you. Forever." Of course, she didn't know how to enact the Infinity Curse, much less on herself...but she had the feeling that Alster knew how to bring about that sort of oblivion. On both ends. 

Chara absorbed the rest of Lilica's story, and while she tried for impartiality and apathy (for she hadn't wished to bond with the woman or hear of her plight so!) she found herself feeling a stab of sympathy for the dark mage, however fleeting. She couldn't even fathom awakening from a lifetime only to discover another lifetime unfinished. 

"Your dream-world--it was real, Lilica. Because it was real to you." Why am I saying this to her? "There is an interesting theory we Rigas believe. Everything in life that happens to us, be it on a conscious or a subconscious level, is, coming from a dimensional viewpoint, valid. Your peers, your romances, your children, your profession, and--importantly--your happiness--that is not false, for the emotions you felt have traveled with you to this life. Faces, people, and experiences repeat. However, they do not repeat in the exact same pattern. And you are doomed to fail if you force that pattern to replicate. It is admirable to follow a dream--but do not live the dream. Be happy that it happened. It did not cut itself short. It ran its course, naturally. But it is over. And you are here now." She smiled, grim and tight and stark. Little assurance--but they didn't exactly frolic in a field of flowers under an azure sky. She would not trivialize war. But the reality, and Lilica's new reality, resided in a filthy war-camp nestled between the border of Andalari and Tadasun. The disputed lands. Had Chara been asleep, she doubted that wakefulness would bring her any sense of joy at all. 

Chara uncrossed her legs when mention of Alster floated back into the conversation. Barring her small outburst from earlier, she nodded with a spike of enthusiasm. "He will learn. Though he will not admit it, he is a prodigy. And if he can teach a lost cause to hone her abilities," she pointed to her chest, "he may help you yet. For, you need help from those who are willing to offer it. Otherwise...it may be too late for you. Like it was for my mother. Like it might have been for me."

She was about to elaborate, about to open up to her own experiences in her shorter life...

But Lilica had stoppered it. With a threat. 

Needling from the inside and the outside, Chara stood with such force that the chair knocked itself backwards. "You dare threaten me?! Do you understand who you threaten? By the time you make good on that promise, the Rigases will have ground you into dust. You will die alone--without me as your leverage--and friendless. And hated. And before you dream yourself another life, consider yourself Infinity cursed!"

Without further warning, she proceeded to stomp out of the tent.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jun 19, 2015 2:55 am
by Requiem
Your dream-world--it was real, Lilica. Because it was real to you.
She hadn't registered them at first, but as the haughty blonde mage stood to leave, the words suddenly resonated painfully in Lilica's chest, like a sob that wished to tear free of her lungs. Chara might not have had any idea of the ache that accompanied recounting the story and memories of her life that had never been. Then again, neither had the dark mage, as it was the first time she had ever recounted the tale.

Regardless, she knew with painful certainty that it was easily the first time she had never been on the receiving end of such a validating comment. Chara had every reason and opening to ridicule her on her fanciful dream life. Instead, what she'd received was dangerously akin to understanding... and to a means for hope, even when everything amid this ridiculous war coloured her already dark world in further shades of night.
Understanding and compassion: perhaps the first she had ever received in the very fabric of this reality. And she had spited it with her own selfish insecurities in the form of a threat...

The celestial mage was already a few paces beyond the tent before Lilica reacted. She wasn't even sure as to what had spurred that reaction--a reflex, perhaps, something her body understood that her mind had yet to grasp. As soon as she stood, she fell to her knees, practically feeling the bruises form under her skin as she grabbed one of the tent poles to haul herself back to her feet. How she thought to pursue Chara in this ridiculously weakened state was beyond her current considerations, so on her weakened legs, she hurried as quickly as she could to the front of the tent. The late afternoon sun glinted off of Chara's stark blonde hair like a beacon, several yards away, and before she could think twice, the dark mage heard herself shouting.

"Chara! Wait... wait. Please."

But the hardheaded celestial mage didn't stop. Daring her feet to take her further, Lilica rushed to catch up with Chara's long, measured and steadfast strides, managing to grab a fistful of the mage's sleeve when she was close enough. "Please. Wait. I... I shouldn't have..." What was she even trying to say? What did she want to say? Something trite as an apology? Maybe a justification for her behaviour?
She and the Rigas mage might have had more in common in terms of pride and obstinacy. Perhaps they were equally guilty of it in comparable measurements; but right now, it wasn't Lilica who was holding the cards. She had a hand full of nothing, and this stubborn blonde was likely her only means of ever having a grasp on anything ever again.

"I don't care if I die friendless and hated. I am both of those things already, and they are far from the bane of my existence..." Her trembling fingers only released their vice grip when she was sure the celestial mage wouldn't flee or turn her away. "I'm not asking your forgiveness. Gods only know I've never deserved forgiveness, or help, or anything of the sort, and that fact keeps me wary. It keeps me doubting the intentions of others, and when Alster said that you were gloating beyond your actual ability to help me... I was apt to believe him. Deceit is so much easier to believe in than good will or promises. But if I'm wrong... and only if I am wrong, do I offer my apology."

Though she had long since reserved herself to a lost cause, Chara Rigas did not strike her as someone who toyed with fanciful possibilities. And if there was just as great a chance that Alster could help her, in return for her own aid... This was not a chance that she could afford to botch. For the first time in as long as she could remember, Lilica D'Or felt something akin to hope.

"I'll no further belittle or ridicule you if you will grant me the same respect," she said at last. "I'll help your dark Rigas kin to the best of my ability, as promised. If there's... if there is even a modicum of possibility that I might..." Pausing to exhale slowly, Lilica rerouted her words. "I went into this war thinking that I would not see the end of it alive. If that path can not only be avoided, for the better of all of us... then I guarantee you my cooperation." The corner of her pert mouth turned upward in a ghost of a grin. "If... I don't have to struggle to live my dream to make it real... I'd like to explore other paths."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jun 19, 2015 5:40 pm
by Widdershins
Chara! Wait...wait. Please.

Those words...they had found her before. Over forty years ago. Why had she walked away from them? A literal cry for help that rang through the Rigas halls rang now through the war camp. She had ignored the first cry, reeling still from the hurt he'd thrown at her with reckless disregard. That cry, unanswered, turned in on itself. Stewed in loneliness and abandonment--and fed on hate. 

That innocent, desperate voice had awakened the Serpent. 

All the while, she lived her years denying her role. Her knowledge. 

She could have stopped him. She could have helped him. But pride angled her head to the sky and the stars and assured her that nothing on the ground was worth touching. Even Alster Rigas--too weak to handle his own affairs. 

By then, Lilica secured a grip on her arm, sputtering explanations that broke off into fragments, and died on her lips. Keep going, she urged herself. What are you waiting for? She is not worth your time. Her elbow lifted, preparing a shove-away from the parasitic attachment that crawled all over her arm. Break free now. Escape with dignity. We must not sway from our decisions lest unsavory sorts detect weakness and take advantage. Waver now, and you'll waver forever.

No. She lowered her elbow. I will not walk away! I will never again do that to another person! She half-turned to Lilica, watching fresh bruises float to the surface of her skin like blood in the water. If that makes me a fool, then so be it. But I can never forget where I started in life--and all the backs I rode to get where I am now.

Her feet anchored to the well-trodden loam of the earth. The mud squelched beneath her boots, sinking her into the muck as she faced Lilica head-on. Captive by the earth and by Lilica, she'd imprisoned herself to their collective will. And listened. 

"Alster speaks from a place of truth--perhaps more than he realizes." She sighed and lifted her newly-liberated arm to brush her hand against her crooked fringe. A pointless activity: her hair had gone limp and frizzy from the battle. Even so, she welcomed the mundane distraction. "A long time ago--we were both but children--Alster sought me in the hallway. We had not spoken to each other in quite some time. I thought he had turned his back on me; in reality, our paths diverged. However, I was livid with him. How dare he show up now, beseeching my help!?" She shook her head, the blonde strands she'd affixed bouncing back into disarray. 

"As I've told you, he is a prodigy. As a child, many of the family looked to enhance his abilities, including his mother. They pushed him too far. Exploited his power. And him. In their bid to secure his highest potential, they robbed him of his potential. His mother squared the blame on him. He didn't 'want' to improve, she said. When he came to me, he wanted a friend. Someone to listen. He was almost hysterical. He told me he was losing his grip on reality. The pressure--he felt himself unraveling. ...I walked away. Not my problem. We Rigases do not indulge weakness. So...I left him." Leaning forward, she whispered in Lilica's ear, "The Serpent took him. I didn't speak with him for another forty-five years." 

Clearing her throat, more as a palate cleanser than as a need to reenergize her voice, she returned to the subject at hand. "I may not have the ability to help, as he has stated. I could not help him when it mattered most. However," she raised her head and found Lilica's eyes, "I want to help. I have influence and I will use it. That is my new promise to you, Lilica." She proffered a hand to shake, but lowered it mid-rise at viewing the handprint-bruise on her wrist. In place, she drew the Rigas sigil in the air with a spark of etheria--a physical manifestation of said promise. 

"I do not plan to die in this war. It is a means to the end--not the end. You will not die, and Alster will not die. You will live to see another dream. Whether that dream is a a nightmare or not is yet to be determined. However," the sigil disappeared into a flutter of cinders like little pinpricks of stars, "I will no longer walk away. And, if at all possible," a smile crossed her face, a flicker of life and hearth-light, "I will pull us towards a better future."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Jun 20, 2015 12:47 am
by Requiem
Lilica's pale visage mirrored a mixture of astonishment and relief as Chara stopped, turned to her, and spoke again. Spoke without turning away, without throwing insults like stones, without questioning her or accusing her or belittling her. Not only did she acknowledge her words, but for the second time that day, related to her on a level that was unmistakeably human. Even if neither of them was certain as to whether or not the blood in their veins ran human at all.
She listened, just like Chara had listened to her--and it made sense. Chara, for the first time since laying eyes upon the haughty, blonde mage, her with her perpetual yet bemusedly attractive frown and sharp eyes, made sense to her. Because they were more alike than perhaps either of them cared to admit.

"You were children." It was neither an accusation nor an excuse, but rather, a statement. And spoken so softly that it was almost a whisper. "We were all children, once. And imagine if we all held against our self worth, what we have done wrong in childhood, where it is easier to walk away and run away than to want to help... You are beyond that. The past is stuck as it is, but it does not mean that you have to be. It does not define what you are, nearly a hundred years later."
Advice that she wished she could apply to herself, but there was a difference between guilt and remorse. With remorse, there was the hope--and space--for redemption. Guilt was just a heavy, endurable burden, and once it settled upon your shoulders, pushing it off was a feat that many simply couldn't perform.

Lilica had death and blood on her hands, and that was difficult to wash clean. What Chara experienced was more indirect... But she was not about to trivialize something that had been holding the blonde woman's heart hostage for so many years.

The breeze picked up the dark mage's ebony tresses, which she brushed from her face with a swipe of her hand, not once looking away from the solemn promise on Chara's face and on her lips. "I think we both have a lot of tracks we'd like to cover. Many that are worth regretting... and forgetting." If forgetting was possible. Although even with magical intervention, some scars never faded. "Here is my promise to you. That in this better future, when this war and Messino are less than even a memory, so to will be what plagues us now. You'll have Alster's forgiveness--in fact, I would be surprised if you don't already have it. And I'll..."

You'll what? What could possibly lie ahead for a cold blooded murderer and a coward? The only answer was, of course, hope. And a chance at living another lifetime that would not leave her with any further regrets. "Maybe," she finished, after a thoughtful pause, "maybe, I'll forgive myself."

---

Only an extensive amount of herbal remedies to treat pain and disruptive wakefulness allowed Elespeth to sleep that night, exhausted though she was. Following the battle, her diatribe in Messino's tent, and then some shocking revelations about her compound-unit partner, her mind was wide awake, and so were her nerves. It didn't help that every time she moved, she could feel the tug of her stitches--which, she found out on revisiting the medical tent the next day, would keep her off her feet for the next handful of days, for the very least.

When at last she had both the energy and the mobility to train with Alster again, some days later, the sutures had yet to be removed, and the wound had yet to fully heal (without a literal 'magic touch', that could take a weeks, she'd been warned), but she was no use to anyone, bedridden. So with a promise to the medics to keep her footwork light, she went in search of the wayward Rigas mage to discuss the future; or, at least, potential formation and plans for the next time Tadasun attacked.
And perhaps, beyond that, the future of Andalari and Stella D'Mare.

"Alster!" The ex-knight called across the encampment, noticing the mage's pointed ears from yards away. When he turned her way, she picked up her stride, feeling the pull and sting of the healing wound, but not enough to deter her. "Sorry I've been out of commission for almost half a week. That gash ran deeper than they thought, so I was ordered to rest with minimal movement." By the exuberance she practically exuded, just being out in the open air and on her feet again, there was no doubt that remaining stationary for so long had begun to drive her stir-crazy. "I thought maybe we could do some training--keep it light, or I'll get yelled an earful from the medics, but we could rework our strategy. Last time, we... well, I strayed from the original plan... and I apologize if I let you down."

Glancing left and right, noting that no one paid the swordswoman or the mage any heed, Elespeth lowered her voice to add, "And... I wondered if you, Chara and the other Rigases have had any further discussion about, well... the future beyond this war. If there is anything that I can do to help--I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again. I'd like to be of assistance to you and yours in this cause." Her mouth quirked into a wry smile that unsettled her otherwise placid features. "If I bleed again, I don't want it to be for Messino. He is not the cause that I care to whom I care to dedicate myself and my skills."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Jun 20, 2015 4:53 am
by Widdershins
Sometimes, when Chara closed her eyes, she found a pair of similar blue eyes staring back at her, youthful yet lined with exhaustion, crushed and broken and sinking further and further into his head as she vaunted further and further away from that visible sign of her betrayal. And sometimes, when she caught Alster's gaze, she found that same betrayal lodged deep inside, like shards that had ground themselves into particle-sized daggers with the capacity to cut and bled. Perhaps Lilica mentioned a valid point and he had long forgiven her; he was the same dumb bloke that blamed himself for the shortcomings of others. Eyes, however, conveyed a different interpretation of events. Consciously, she was forgiven. Subconsciously, they would forever reflect her misdeeds, as certain as losing glass dust in the iris of an ocean--the last infinitesimal hurts. 

And that--never completing her rigid goals--drove her crazy. No amount of helping Alster in the present could deflect the damage from the past. 

Redirection, however, served its purposes. Just as Lilica wished for forgiveness, Chara wished for absolution. She too required a new dream--or she would be doomed to look over her shoulder for experiences that meant little to the current reality. 

She would move forward--to the future. Prepared or not, she hadn't a command over life or its faulty flow of time. It would proceed with or without her cooperation.

"I will never forget. Forgetting will weaken my resolve," she said, and her body swayed little to the strange chill that blew between them. "'Maybe' is no promise, either. A promise must exude confidence, or it is a promise that will fall and falter at the first sign of failure. Even if you do not believe--especially if you do not believe--you will nix out 'maybe,' and say this to me--'I willforgive myself."

**

Alster did not forgive himself. Should he chronicle all his faults that might deserve forgiveness, he would still lose track of the count, and later surrender to the belief that it was not worth the effort to clean his conscience. Nothing rang more unproductive than laying awake at night and lamenting over his general awfulness as a person. He hadn't many options, at this rate; he was too exhausted to move, yet too awake to sleep--and too afraid of the string of perpetual nightmares that greeted him at the border between the two worlds. Sometimes, that border blurred, and the nightmares would find him through open eyes. 

Counting shadows on the transient walls, intermixing with darkness and the fires from camp, granted him a welcome distraction from the constant torrent of raindrops that sizzled the ground in his mind, up from a cloud that resembled a face, and it dripped and melted and pitter-patter pitter-pattered like a roving pack of wolves painting puddles with the blood of their victims...

Alster discovered the strength to scramble out of the cot. His back wound, freshly cleaned and stitched, pulsated like a star in the sky, and with it the white-hot intensity to burn and melt his flesh in agonizing seconds. 

He pushed aside the tent flaps and stalked into the night. En route to nowhere, he paused by Chara's tent...contemplating. Should I--?

With a shake of his head, he wandered on. Without intending to, he gazed to the sky.

Too many clouds curtained his view. A severance to the celestial done without leaving sloppy trails. Hope for the stars was far crueler.

On his way back to the tent, he saw one: Debine, the beak of Kormoranos, spearing through the clouds. 

"Why that one!?" He said aloud to fate, or to whatever bump in the night fancied a loner's monologue. 

Debine was his mother. 

**

By some miracle of human endurance, Alster stood without keeling over from sleep starvation. While always a poor sleeper, the last few days taxed him of his ability to do much else beyond eating and breathing. With Elespeth and Lilica on bedrest and Chara preoccupied with avoiding him (for some reason), Alster whiled away the days by watching the compound unit train. They danced and hobbled in a collective mass of uncoordinated motions. Oh, wouldn't Messino be elated. As pairings, harmony persisted. As a unit, they lumbered along like competitors in a three-legged race. 

On occasion he joined the fray, offering to partner with a fellow warrior or spar with a mage, but they skittered from him like mice from the jaws of a...

...Well, a Serpent. 

"Your secret is well-kept among our ranks, Rigas," said the earth mage to him, the apparent spokesman and new appointed leader of the unit. "So why do you insist on hovering about this unit? Dark mages work alone. You'll fry us all, otherwise!"

"This is where I am assigned. I belong here." Alster checked his tongue. "Belong" was too strong of a word.

"Messino will discover what you have, or someone'll rat on you," the earth mage spat before he walked away. "Then you won't have to worry any longer about where you 'belong.'"

He was right, of course.

Damn earth mages. 

As he observed the compound unit from afar, a great bellow of his name jerked him to the source with an almost-yelp. When he spotted Elespeth from the distance, he relaxed--and berated himself for his unnecessary jumpiness. 

"You are looking better. I mean, your leg looks better. Not that I can tell, since you have it covered, but your gait is more balanced and so I assume you are healing. Well--eventually, we all must heal. In one way or another. I only wish I had my celestial magic. Now, celestial magic is not known for its healing prowess, and Chara never picked up on the art, but I was able to stitch together flesh wounds with some degree of competence and...oh, I know you've seen me heal my own gashes, but that particular spell only extends to myself and...welcome back," he finished with the requisite heating of his face and scuffing of his feet. Only several days had elapsed, and already he lost the ability to chat with his battle partner!? After detailing the complexities of revolution and magic theory without fault, he was left stymied by an orthodox greeting after a casual reunion. 

He waited a few beats before attempting to speak again. "Keep it light--I'm in agreement. Sleep is a difficult commodity for me, nowadays," he said with a shrug and a dismissive smile. "No apologies are required, by the way. In a way, your wanderings granted me a healthy connection to the chthonic. Well--I suppose. I'm working on the...aesthetic." In other words, I don't wish to melt faces. 

"For now, we're trying to blend. Nothing drastic. Not yet." He spoke in vague fragments in case any birds happened to pick up on their treasonous liaisons. "Just...well--do not pick any more fights with Messino. That's a good start. If you bleed again, and must alleviate your rage, I'll shoulder that abuse. Better me than him." At that, he cracked a small grin. "I'm used to Chara stringing insults at me. At your worst, you can't possibly compare to her...ah...'candor.'


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Jun 20, 2015 10:50 pm
by Requiem
Elespeth laughed. She couldn't help it, the way her partner in battle prattled on, covering any and every topic she could have thought of to bring up. Admittedly, she found the mage's tendency towards awkwardness endearing and disarming; it was good to see him again. "Thank you; it is good t be back on my feet. I am feeling extensively better than before--and yourself? I can only assume that for the fact you don't wince when you turn, that you're not suffering too much pain."

She hadn't forgotten the wound on his back, one that he had likely acquired during her moment of distraction during their encounter with the Tadasuni. Of course, she should have known that he wouldn't accept her apology and sooner than he would accept her guilt, but one thing was for sure: the ex-knight had learned a hard lesson from her folly, and would not be abandoning her partner in the throes of war again. Chara and the other casters could look out for their own, and as soon as Messino came through on providing them with armor to protect them from physical offense, the majority of her worry would be assuaged. All that was left would be to perfect the formation and tactics of the compound unit which she comprised.

"Well, I'm glad you think that there can be a healthy connection to the chthonic," she said a moment later, tucking stray tresses of hair behind her ears. She'd woven it in such a hurried brain that morning, eager to be on her feet again, that the tresses were already coming loose and hanging to the length of her collar bone. "Perhaps even healthier when you've spoken with Lilica... you still plan to seek her advice, yes? That is, if she's able... Word around the encampment speaks of her having been on bed rest, but I'm not privy to the details." 
Some asserted she had been wounded in battle; others claimed that she had run, and was simply faking it to be kept out of battle. But nobody could confirm, as the dark mage chose neither to see nor speak to anyone.

As Alster proceeded to fill her in as to where he and the Rigases currently stood, she motioned for them to start moving, perhaps more out of ear shot of their comrades--if they could call them their comrades. It was difficult to determine, now that she knew the Rigases had actually allied themselves closer to the Tadasuni, for their mutual desire to overthrow Messino and to re-elevate Stella D'Mare. It did make her wonder, though... At what expense would this all come? Or, more importantly, whose expense? Were they more concerned for the people in this encampment, or for the Tadasuni who they were expected to fell, and without hesitation?

Ultimately, it was a question better left for when they were not out in the open.

"I... couldn't agree with you more, at least in part. With regards to Messino." Elespeth bit down on her lower lip as they made their way towards the training grounds, which didn't appear to be unbearably occupied. Not with a good quarter of the infantry, at the very least, recovering from the assault carried forth by the Tadasuni. "I don't know what came over me. It isn't the first battle I've fought, but it was... something about that man and the ease at which he brushes off strategy, substituting it for pure chaos. And his lack of regard for the lives of the very people fighting for him, I... I lost my temper. And I promise that it won't happen again, if for no other reason than the fact I don't want you to have to shoulder the abuse."

As to Chara, it wasn't often she saw the two Rigas mages interact. The blonde woman was certainly haughty, that much was obvious, but it hadn't been lost on the Atvanian fugitive that Chara cared for Alster. In her own, unique way, perhaps, but the ghost of affection was there, all the same. "We are hardest on those who have our hearts; for we never know if it is in the right hands." Elespeth grinned and gently nudged Alster's shoulder with her own. "That is what my mother used to tell me as a child, to justify the tones she'd take with my father, who was the gentlest man you could know. I don't know how much of her motto rings true... I've never entrusted my heart to anyone. But it's a possibility; if she didn't care, perhaps she would never insult you."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jun 21, 2015 4:17 pm
by Widdershins
Uh-oh. Elespeth laughed. Laughed at him. Well, of course she would laugh! In fact, he was surprised to see her laugh at him only now, and not when they first met--or during all subsequent meetings. Even politesse had its limits, and on this day, he bore witness to the breaking of Elespeth's stupidity tolerance. However, she seemed genuine in her responses, and in good humors, even if her amusement came at his expense (and he didn't blame her; he often laughed at himself!) In spite of the lingering hot-spot activity on his face, he waivered the nitpicking of his inner commentary and focused more on her words--and not her actions. 

"Well, I expedited the healing process a tad." He pinched his forefinger and thumb together, for emphasis. "All but gone. Otherwise, I'm standing. I'm functioning--somewhat." He quirked a smile. "That's all I can ask." He chose not to detail his late-night romps around camp, or some of the meditation exercises he practiced--in opening his mind to the dead, and the essence of death, the energy that kicked around the expansive fields like dust with nowhere to go. And in that expanse, that dust-storm, there was one cloud he wanted to reach. But it was far. Too far. And possibly lost.

"Well, I don't see why chthonic magic can't provide benefits to its user," he said, shaking his mind free of weighty distractions. "Whatever they are, I intend to research and utilize the possibilities. First, to weed out the undesirable." He spoke of chthonic magic like a puzzle with an easy solution. Thinking that way helped him to conceive of a solution in lieu of cataloging all that could--and would--blow up in his face. And fearing the worst. "I still plan on consulting with Lilica once she recovers. She is on bedrest." He chose to omit the details of her specific ailments: that everything she touched turned her into a bruise. For his own sake, as well, he wished to hone in on more practical endeavors, and it was impractical to worry about a chthonic-casting outcome that he'd yet to encounter on his own. Best to approach Lilica with realistic expectations. Every magic was, inherently, a discipline, and he would approach it as such.

As they started moving, Alster regarded the dwindling perspective of the compound unit fighters and wondered of their concerns about him. Could he maintain his participation, fighting alongside Elespeth, and harness chthonic magic? Or would he end up standing on high vistas, purpling into a blister, while victims melted all around him? 

Not if he could influence his outcome. 

"Commanders like Messino plan to win at all costs, damning the casualties," Alster said. They meandered around the field, tamping down the few remaining bushels of burnt-yellow grass that slanted upright, then withered into surrender and joined their fallen comrades on the ground. "The best defiance against such a commander is to voice your dissent--as you have--and then survive. Every. Single. Battle. It will drive him mad. He can't raise a hand to harm you, because you are winning his cause. Yet, he will despise you all the same. It is a certain power you are able to exercise over him. It will not spare lives, no, but as I've told you, this is not the kind of cause where one fights to spare lives. ...This cause is powered by the loss of lives."

The words died on his lips, however, when Elespeth unabashedly discussed matters of the heart. He froze in place, choking on the ghosts of thought that had yet to materialize into communication. He found himself tugging on his tunic to avoid looking over at Elespeth--or her facial expression. 

"Oh, well--most mothers have some adage or proverb stashed away for convenience sake. My mother's favorite phrase was Those in disgrace are undeserving of love.. ...I suppose that explained her stance on most things." He shrugged, then rubbed one shoulder self-consciously. "Chara feels beholden to me for many reasons. She might mistake paying it forward to...well, something deeper. Besides," he unfroze his legs and attempted to walk, "I think she is avoiding me."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jun 21, 2015 6:21 pm
by Requiem
Alster had a valid point. Dissent and survival were the biggest slap in the face that one could administer to authority... She would know, as it wouldn't be the first time she'd turned her back on the bigger man, and lived to tell the tale. After all, this very much the case in terms of where she stood before Atvany. They didn't want her back because she had failed her family, her people and her king in her duty as an Atvanian knight; they wanted her back because she had defied the crown and was still alive, to their limited knowledge. That is not to say she wasn't confident that, should she return to the place she had once called home, either by will or by force, that Atvany's law wouldn't end her life. So long as they were to the one to do it, and to revel in seeing her suffer beforehand, that was all that mattered.

Yet it was all a moot point, because she was never, ever going back. Not while she still had two legs and a heartbeat.

"You can bet, Messino will see my defiance. He already knows where I now stand," the ex-knight agreed, the corner of her mouth quirking into a grin. "Ironically, I don't take much issue with ending a life. I've been required to do it many a time... and only once has it ever haunted me." A fact that bothered her more than she cared to admit. But to say she didn't harbour remorse for the feat had had earned her permanent excommunication from her family, stripped her title as a knight and had sentenced her to death had not weighed on her was a blatant lie. And Elespeth Tameris didn't make a habit of lying about anything more than her name. "But I will decide which lives I have to take, and which I have to defend. And this time, I promise you, I will not fail in being your shield--and your armor, if that asinine fool fails to provide you with any."

The mage's recount of his mother's proverb stung his battle partner in a place that she hadn't thought could hurt. Perhaps it was her heart, or just the effect of such a blatant rendering of de-personification on the code of personal morals and ethics that kept her upright most days. What a thing for a mother to say to her own child...! Even her own mother, one who would sooner spank than praise, somehow managed to make it clear that she loved and respected her many children (Elespeth was, in fact, only one of six).
That is, until one of her children came into the utmost disgrace with Atvany's law. The last time her mother had so much as looked at her had been before that fateful day when a life had been carelessly lost, under her guard.

Pressing her lips into a resolute thin line, the Atvanian fugitive reached out to place a tentative hand on his shoulder. "Forget about your mother for a moment, Alster--in fact, forget about Chara, and forget about every other Rigas in existence. Take a moment to think only of yourself." Turning her head, she waited until he looked up to meet her eyes. The pain and uncertainty mirrored in his irises nearly made her ache. "Do you really, truly believe yourself to be undeserving of love? Or of anything good or positive in your long lifetime? Even though you so clearly care and worry for the well being of others? Even though the reason I am likely still standing is because you cut down several men in my path, men who could have killed me, when I was so foolish as to get distracted at just the wrong moment?"

But the more she spoke, the more Elespeth realized that the source of that ache was not limited for her sympathy towards Alster. No, it struck a much more personal note, one that, she realized, she purposely pushed from her mind each and every morning. "Tell me the truth. Do you think that disgrace warrants--and only warrants--suffering and loneliness? And suffering in that loneliness? Because, Alster Rigas, you are not the only one who stands here in disgrace."

Sliding her hand from his shoulder, she spread her arms, as if presenting herself. "I like to think I can justify what I did. That it was all meant to be, somehow, since Atvany finally contradicted my morals and pushed me too far, but... I let a man die. It was not a conscious decision, but nonetheless, and unconscious one. I am no better than guilty of manslaughter, a failure as a knight, and I brought a world of disgrace upon my family and the House of Tameris. I live in disgrace, Alster; I try to run from it, but I never will, because it is part of me. And while I might not have awoken any Serpent, I did much worse, in creating trouble and dismay where there should have been none. I have no chthonic magic... I have no excuse."

El's smile was despondent, her words ceasing for a moment for the tightness in her throat. "Tell me the truth--tell me what you really think. Because if those who fall from grace revoke their right to be deserving of love... then if I do fall, in this senseless war, I hope that no one will shed a tear for me."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2015 12:14 am
by Widdershins
Debine Rigas modeled her life after strict observance of the Rigas disciplinary code. Always strive for the highest potential. No one accomplishment represents the pinnacle of one's talents. Reach. Stretch. Pop your bones. Exhaust all efforts. Then, collapse and repeat the process anew. 

As far as he knew, Debine was never pleased with his progress. Progress, in fact, implied weakness to her. One should exist in the image of perfection--always. Take one misstep and Debine made certain that the step shall never miss again. Even if it took hours. Days. Weeks. 

Therefore, Alster reasoned it was only a matter of time before Debine vocalized more than flagrant disappointment, which she already provided in scads. No, she combined unworthiness and tied it to love. Love: the only tool left in Alster's arsenal. He fell from grace, disentitled and discarded to the winds, and with only his parents for support. But she made certain he would not mistake her support for love. For, he broke a cardinal rule of the Rigas estate and it was by the "unyielding mercy" of Adalfieri that he should live. 

Foolish children serve me little, she often told him. I only wish to complete your training. Your magic is the only iota within the filth of your soul that is worth saving.

What would she think of him, now? Deprived of his celestial magic, there was nothing left in him to save. And, if Elespeth assessed him correctly, and love filtered through the hollows of his heart, it wouldn't matter to Debine. That love would go nowhere. No one would dare catch something so sour, coursed through with wasted talent and tainted so by the venom of the Serpent. 

Connected as they were, through hand to shoulder and eye to eye, Alster took another moment to think upon Elespeth's words. He concentrated, not on his insecurities or what others believed of him, but what he believed of himself. "I did, once. My father, he..." trailing away, he released a shaky breath and closed his eyes, severing their connection. "...But he's dead. They're dead. I don't feel undeserving of it. Rather, I find that love is wasted on me. Also, I am providing a service to you, Tam." He spoke her alias in case of eavesdroppers--and to detach himself from his speech. "It is an agreement. I protect you, you protect me. Don't forget that, either--that I am also your shield and your armor." He opened his eyes and felt the resurgence of the care and worry he stupidly thought he could toss aside--all to further darken and besmirch his character. 

Not when Elespeth enfolded her tribulations with his own. Dammit. He didn't want to pull her with him to the existential abyss. "N-no. No. Disgrace compacted upon itself will only cause further distress. And further disgrace. For one, I'm grateful for them: My father...my mother, as well. I didn't suffer alone. If not for them...well," he stared at the ground, "I'd be dead, or far worse instead. But my past misdeeds, they came back around. ...I don't want to hurt anyone else, and for that, I will believe my mother's words. But...not you. Don't believe them. For you are not me." When Elespeth released her hand, he'd normally ease up from the uncomfortable sensation. But her warmth, it provided a comfort, and he planted his own hand there to incubate the heat signature she left behind. It failed, and his own aura, cold and clammy, reclaimed the spot. 

"You believe in justice, Tam. You want a more ideal world. One that makes sense. The fact that you can justify your actions means they were not inherently wrong. They were only wrong by context--by your nation's own sense of order and morality. What I did--by any context--was malicious." That cold hand traveled up to his hair. He pulled through its stringy clumps, mired down by the perspiration of another humid and sticky day. Sticky--but not warm. "I was aware of what I set down in paper to do. I wanted them to suffer for how they treated me. I wanted chaos. Destruction. For the high and mighty Rigas to tumble and fall. It was...vengeance. Petty vengeance--because I disliked my lot in life. I, too, had no excuse. Chthonic magic didn't influence me, either. I am now and forever responsible for my actions." His hand dropped, like a pendulum, slicing at his side. "The addition of magic does not validate what I did."

It pained him to see what a careless sentence had wrought on Elespeth--her face...the breaking of her words. He couldn't even speak without harming another person! "What I really think--is that you deserve every tear." With a dash of courage, he moved his hand and cupped it over her own, feeling the bastion of warmth that radiated from her skin. "The disgraced can love each other." ...Wait. What did I just imply?! His face heated. "I-I mean..." 

He smartly shut his mouth.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2015 2:23 am
by Requiem
It was already clear to Elespeth that her battle partner's self-loathing was borne not of logic, but of commitment to the belief that his soul was inherently dark, and that nothing--no possible atonement--would shine light on it again. The belief might have begun with his mother's words, but it had spawned so much further from that seed, such that the binary of right and wrong, good and evil, applied only to him, and him alone.
Nevermind she had taken lives in the name of a kingdom she no longer believed in. Or the fact that she had let let a man die, when it had been well within her power to save his life.

Alster Rigas had wronged, but he was not wicked. Yet how he could deny the part of him that sought redemption, and disavow its importance, and yet find excuses for her own misdeeds... Whether or not he realized it, Elespeth Tameris knew what it felt like to be alone with the demons that one created in the wake of their own decisions. They were not company; rather, like his Serpent, they were a reckless force that sought to pick apart their maker, one piece at a time. And, for whatever twisted reason, they always sought to attack the heart first, as if they believed it to be their one and only passage to the soul--where they would take over.

And then, there would be nothing left.

"Alster... if you did not believe in justice, either, then you would not be here right now," the ex-knight reminded him, voice dropping to the gentle cadence of an above-whisper. "It's been... how long? You're nearly a century old... how long have you carried this opinion of yourself? This belief that you've committed the utmost evil deed that anyone could even imagine of executing? You can't... you can't carry this with you any longer. It's too heavy, and you..." She pulled her lips into a thin line, green eyes drifting to the scuffed toes of her boots. The stitching was growing week along the side of the right one; it was always the first piece of footwear to go, given her tendency to block with that leg. "You need to let go. If you don't learn to let go, it will destroy you. And then what does it even matter, to be worthy of love, if your existence is snuffed out by the defeat of your own spirit?"

El wondered if her words were enough. This man had almost a century to wallow in his misdeed and draw his own conclusions... Who was she to think that her mere twenty-six years of existence warranted enough wisdom to change his mind? How did you convince someone that they were inherently worthy of love and respect, when they couldn't even describe themselves within that frame of reference?

She felt the warmth of his hand before she saw it, and had to avert her gaze to confirm. His palm felt damp, undoubtedly a symptom of his perpetually nervous nature, and yet it reassured her. Because it was a direct link between two lonely, desolate islands. And it reminded her that even when she was alone in a crowd--well, in the end, she wasn't. Not really.

Elespeth didn't realize her cheeks had grown warm until a welcome breeze cooled her face. A smile, unbidden, tugged at the corner of the mouth, and she covered Alster's hand with her free palm. "Then the disgraced can also believe in each other," she added. "I'll believe in you. Even when you refuse to believe in yourself. But that's no excuse not to train to be stronger as a team--so come on."
Her hand slid to his wrist, a gentle hold that urged--but didn't force--the mage to follow. "And, Alster?" The swordmaster tossed him a glance over her shoulder, her expression lingering on an awkward line between jest and all seriousness. "Don't ever shed a tear for me. Even if you think I deserve it."

By the time Lilica wandered from her tent and into the daylight, in search of the cause that she had promised to help, she happened upon Alster as he trained with the other half of his compound unit--the swordswoman, Tam. By the perspiration on their brows and their quick intakes of breath with every movement, the looked to have been at it for a while. Good; so she wouldn't have to feel guilty interrupting their session. "Alster Rigas," she called, standing just to the side of the battle grounds, not wishing to get swept up in any magic or weaponplay recklessly taking place. "If now is as good a time as any, I'd like to talk to you."

Elespeth, blade in hand, turned her attention to the dark mage in the distance, her dark hair pulled away from her face in a tight, fishtail braid. It would appear as though she were off bedrest; the Atvanian fugitive wondered how long she had been. "This is important. You should go," she urged Alster. "We can resume this tomorrow. I should go and rest my leg, in any case."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jun 23, 2015 12:47 am
by Widdershins
Alster recalled the events following his disturbance of the Serpent only too well. In Its awakening throes, the mighty beast thrashed its body against the walls of its imprisonment in an effort to escape. The ensuing earthquake caused by Its ponderous motions knocked down rows of hovels that encompassed Stella D'Mare's slum. The slapdash roofs caved in and the porous walls cracked and buckled. Many souls had their premature burial under the rubble of where they called home. 

Over a hundred people perished that day--including some ten Rigas volunteers who braved the death trap so that they may survey the area and cordon it off in case any other hapless fiend decided to break the seal to the cave, and finish the job.

The stares--they still haunted him. Conveying so much with so little. Each pair of eyes eviscerated him, scalded him, drowned him and then electrocuted him. They quaked him until he too lost his foundation and sundered to the abyssal jaws of the Serpent, where he would fall forever.

No one, no matter their resolve, could blacken out the memory where tragedy spelled out your name. No one, with such ties to the event and with a hand in its conception, could simply let it go. 

"I am not here by choice," he said, staring at a pointed rock that reminded him of a sharp, cruel fang. "I wished to stay behind, in Stella D'Mare, to research methods by which I may hope to defeat the Serpent. I can't let this go--but I also can't let this go on. I know what I must do. To prevent incidents like this from happening ever again, I will sever the source of evil. If I can't succeed, I will offer up my life as penance and appeasement. You say my spirit wrests in defeat. I say my spirit is doing whatever it takes to make things right. Well--the past can never mend, but at least, the future won't have me to muck up progress. At most, the Serpent will cease to exist." He clicked his tongue, tasting venom in his mouth. He looked away from the pinioned rocks. "It's been forty-eight years. Time to clean up my mess."

His focus roved back to their hands, a bridge between their two different worlds and a contact that combined their like-minded disgraces into something not so opprobrious, after all. A smile whittled its way into his face when he noticed the color that blotted her cheeks. "Well, I can't begrudge you that. Let's take all this belief we have for each other and harness it into energy." With a compliant nod, Alster followed Elespeth to their veritable proving grounds. "That is not up to me, Tam," he retorted, rolling his words forward with a facetious barbed tip. "That is up to my defeated spirit." 

Training had collected together in harmonious syncopation. Whether from their soul-baring walk or from the few days' reprieve since the last time they gathered, they about danced across the field, magic and sword weaving through like extensions of each other.

War would never capitalize on the synchronicity of two fighters. Too many factors embittered technique, transforming it into raw desperation attempting to follow an arrow-shot of precision. But for practice sake, and for utilizing only rune spell forms and circles, his arrow never shot truer. 

In the middle of wrapping a whip of blue fire around his person, Lilica wandered to the outskirts of their little performance. And watched. 

His fire spell choked and sputtered and, were it possible, immolated itself until it roped into smoky tendrils that wisped away, far far away, from Lilica.

Alster hid his reaction with only marginal success than the grandiose failure of his spell. By marginal, it meant he didn't try to light himself on fire. 

But he choked. And sputtered. And reached fire-level temperatures. 

"Lilica. Ah. Yes. I will--yes." He scratched his head and scratched it with a purpose, just to give his mind some distraction other than the death knells in his head that announced: This is it! Chthonic magic training! ...You won't stand a chance. You're doomed.

Legs that lost the ability to function as legs lumbered and flopped and shuffled forward while the rest of him lagged far behind. Some godly force up above had bludgeoned the sun, for it hung against the sky, bloody and throbbing and moving almost retrograde--for the time it took to reach Lilica stretched by in a matter of hours. 

"Sorry." For what, warping time? "I'm here." Of course you're here, you blithering idiot! "Let's go."

With an awkward wave of farewell to Elespeth, Alster trailed Lilica, hooking his thumbs behind his belt to hold his arms up from sagging to soggy pieces on the floor. 

"So..." His voice lost all its moisture and it abraded against his tongue like sandstone. "How--are you faring any better? Physically--at least? Your bruises...seem...faded. So that's a good sign."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jun 23, 2015 11:48 am
by Requiem
The dark mage watched Alster stammer and stumble over his own words. All this blushing at his own blunders, no more able to talk a straight line than he was to walk one... Was this man really Chara's fiancée? The supposed pridogy that she had solemnly promised could help her in return for helping him?

A week ago, Lilica would have fully expected Chara to be lying to her. Now, she doubted that to be the case, and even if this Rigas mage was not the answer to her troubles that the blonde wielder of celestial magic thought he could be... Regardless, for whatever reason, Chara genuinely believed that he was. The woman was too proud and far too self-assured to be wrong; the only other explanation was that she was crazy.
Aside from the possibility, of course, that she might be right. Lilica had little more at her disposal than to have faith in Chara's promise.

"I'm fine." They were the first words that she uttered, after he was finished tangling himself in his own string of words. "The blowback of my magic fades in a matter of days if I get adequate rest; it's never permanent. Not as of yet, at least." Sparing a glance over her shoulder, she eyed the so-called prodigy with curiosity. "Your chthonic magic doesn't appear to have any such after-effects... probably to do with the way you are using it. Bear in mind that that might very well change. But allow me to assure you... though it may not seem like it, it is well worth the control you will gain." Or it might not occur at all--a thought that struck her with just as much jealousy as it did relief. For all she knew, she might be the only one to suffer the painful blowback.

Foregoing idle conversation, she led him back to her tent, ignoring the various and sundry glances their proximity warranted. What was the dark mage doing with the Rigas caster? they seemed to say. They were, of course, at liberty to think what they wanted, though she expected that none perceived it as an otiose afternoon stroll. Lilica did practically nothing at leisure; it always needed a purpose.

"We're going to need an environment free of distractions for this," she ventured to explain at last, when they reached the small, lone tent towards the end of the casters' barracks and pulled the flap aside to grant them entry. The noise beyond was only faintly muffled, but it was the most privacy to be found around the entire encampment.

Without another word, Lilica took a seat on the ground, tucking the hem of her long tunic around her knees. "Have a seat. Try to get comfortable... it could very well be the only comfort you derive." She waited patiently for him to sit in front of her on the cool earth before bothering to explain.

"I can't help you if I don't know the very roots of your magic, from the inside out. Just because we both share in chthonic capabilities does not mean they stem from the same source; that would be impossible, in fact, as he we were under completely different conditions." Without further preamble, she extended her arm, cool fingers pushing aside the collar of his shirt to find the pulse at his neck. "If you think it will feel invasive, then you're right. I'm not going to tell you that anything about this is at all comfortable, no more than you could imagine it being when someone picks at the fabric of your soul. What I can guarantee is that you won't come to harm, even if it might feel that way. And... if it makes you feel better, my own comfort will not be spared in this."

Exhaling slowly through her nose, she pushed her dark locks behind her shoulders, exposing her own, pale neck. "We need to create an open connection; a free-flowing circuit, so that I am able to explore all necessary corners of your magic's existence. In turn... you are technically able to do the same to me. But you will not." She pulled her lips into a tight line, brows furrowed in displeasure. "This is not about me, and delving into the fabric of my existence will not help you. Don't go through that door, even though you feel like you can; keep your mind open, but your mind's eye closed. And, most importantly, don't resist the intrusion. You're going to want to--it's a natural defense mechanism, but just remain calm and trust that you aren't in danger."

The caster hesitated, of course; it was likely a lot to take in, and Lilica hadn't awarded any effort into conveying it as a comfortable process. But honesty was the best way to prepare him; nothing would be gained from taking the Rigas caster off guard.

"Give me your hand--and wipe that look off your face. I'm fine, you won't cause bruises." Impatient, she took one of his hands, guiding the fingers just under her chin, where her own life pulsed through her arteries. "It isn't difficult. Just close your eyes and relax, and focus on my pulse. Give your mind freedom to wander where it will, and you'll know when you're in the connection. Just linger there, do not go through door... I can't stress that enough."

With her own pulse humming rapidly with trepidation, Lilica closed her eyes, and focused on the steady rhythm against her fingers, working towards opening the gates of that preternatural connection that would allow her access to everything that Alster Rigas wanted to forget.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jun 23, 2015 11:03 pm
by Widdershins
From as far back to his infancy, Adalfieri and the Rigas elders had evaluated Alster and the pulse of his celestial magic. Like a star on its own, it outshined its chthonic magic brother, which dipped behind the cosmos and crouched, like a black hole in wake. Alster was born on a "good year," marked by heightened celestial activity and the death of the old to refill the collective pool upon which every Rigas, at birth, received a share of magic. Not only did Alster's birth soak in the power of the solar eclipse, but the phenomenon, and his new existence, funneled resources from the pool, and about bled it dry. Every subsequent year was a "bad" one. And Chara just happened to follow him not far behind. 

The Rigas family jumped on the opportunity to cultivate the magic that churned within Alster's lifestream. The ease in which he learned the craft delighted his peers, and they started flinging the word "prodigy" about as if it meant something. For a while, it did, and he tirelessly worked to preserve such an honor--for prodigies often washed themselves out and faded into the oblivion of night. 

Alster's oblivion had occurred. Nothingness took hold, carting away his silly ideals of the past. To complete the circle, the hidden chthonic magic, basking in the light of its spectacle of a brother, swallowed it whole. And now, he had a whole other darkness, a literal one, to placate. Before it swallowed him next. 

"That's--good to hear," he said to her lamely, however much he meant those words. If Lilica represented what he would gain and lose as a chthonic magic-user, he wanted to monitor her conditions so to better understand his own. "I siphoned energy. Took it from another source." The volume scratched low against his throat as they passed a few nosy onlookers with their noisy stares that spoke even when their mouths pursed shut. "At least, that is what I believe," he whispered once they cleared the obstruction and wandered over to Lilica's tent, the outlier in a sea of similar, yet close-knit waves that lapped together and traveled together. 

He entered the tent, and the draft of cool air he received reminded him more of the inside of a cave. A reflexive shiver pimpled his arms, but he set upon his task without much distress, and seated himself opposite her so that their knees touched. As much as their proximity unnerved him, he accurately predicted a meditation session and prepared for the inevitable human contact.

After giving himself a few experimental shifts, he silenced his movements and listened to Lilica's explanation. It made sense; he had done the same to help Chara tap into her magic's characteristics all those years ago. However, he had approached the situation in a different way. Less...invasive. Speaking of invasive--his entire body petrified to stone at Lilica's probing neck jab. Breathing came in shaky, clumpy jolts. He tried to route his mind to somewhere dead and neutral and muted, but hyper-awareness shut down his attempts at a pre-meditative phase. With a soundless sigh, he managed a nod of compliance. 

Although Lilica stressed the importance of not rummaging through her own cellar wherein her magic dwelt, and the fear of disobeying her stringent rules for privacy squeezed out another nod and a stifled "yes," a rogue thought streaked across his mind like a comet. To comprehend the varied and tumultuous conceptions of chthonic magic, wouldn't it behoove him to learn of her history? To observe, to gather data, to analyze--for his benefit. And possibly, her own.

Sometimes, a clear perspective, away from the headache of his own inner bedlam, was all that he required. And if she would foray into the darkest recesses of his matter (a thought which near caused his heart to eject from his chest), he, in turn, wanted leverage. 

Lilica gripped his hand to position it in such a cutthroat manner under her chin. He resisted the urge to pull back, to slink away, and to forget the entire enterprise. But he filled his lungs with a rejuvenating burst of air and, within time, steadied his breathing to a long, humming rhythm. In following the slow yet erratic beats of her pulse, he closed his eyes and slipped into a dark fuzz.

Images coalesced. A sparse forest. Cypress trees towered overhead, yellow-green pine needles cushioning the bed of the earth. The sea brine from the ocean drifted across the knobby little hills in the distance and pushed purple and blue wildflowers into a wayward flutter. 

The forest. That forest. 

A shadow slithered among the trees, warping everything in a dim filter. It reached and expanded and blotted out the sun and still it reached...

It reached--out of him. 

Screams scattered the winds. Blood painted the trees. Grisly bodies, mangled into ropes laid down a new path for him to follow. A trail of gore, leading to some unholy place beyond the trees.

He dared not look at the bodies. At their near indiscernible faces. At the violence that pressed him to walk over them. 

No no no no no.

His bloody hands formed claws. The shadows imitated the gesture.

And his hands turned into claws. ...No. Fangs. Slathered in venom. Dripping down and blistering the skin, eating and chewing and dissolving and reforming.

The skin sloughed away. Revealed scales. Obsidian black. Reflecting everything and yet nothing. 

He ran. Ran from the forest, the mountains, the trees. The...murder. 

His murder. 

But he could not run from the transformation. From who he was, not so deep down inside. 

In running, he found a door, etched into the mountain. Wooden. Utilitarian. An escape. 

He opened the door.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jun 24, 2015 12:16 pm
by Requiem
The snake was the first thing that Lilica saw; and it frightened her so that she was nearly startled out of her own meditative state. Fortunately, she was practiced enough to recognize that it was not real. That the bodies at her feet, the trees stained with human blood, were all but memories, and allegories of those memories, as the mind tended to build or diminish details over time as it saw fit. And that realization, much like a lucid dream, granted her the power to pick and and dissect whatever she pleased.

This was a dark place, darker than she'd imagined the Rigas mage could possibly harbour. Bloody hand prints on the trees and corpses eerily resembled the size of Alster's hands, while the dead, their bodies otherwise inanimate, murmured his name on their lips.

"This is exaggerated, though..." Lilica murmured to herself. It was real, but not in the sense that Alster believed. The symbols revealed, clear as day, that he felt responsible for each and every life that had died at the Serpent's wrath. As if that indirect responsibility burdened him just as much as it would, had his hands literally, directly, taken these lives.

Guilt. Guilt fueled his magic, but so did something else, something that emanated from the bloody corpses at her feet. As the Serpent passed, their hands reached for it, springing forward like morbid daisies at a grave.
That was when it occurred to his. "His magic. He draws it from--"

But suddenly, that door closed, as another door opened.

The forest was gone. A familiar hard wood floor appeared beneath her bare feet. There was still bodies, but not faceless, not nameless; a man, familiar but whose name she'd never known, and a woman with sleek, ebony hair, and full lips. Blood trickled from the corners of their mouths, indicating a clean and quiet death, but the sight brought no solace to the dark mage. "You made me do it..." Her voice--it sounded years younger. On looking down, she observed the hands and feet of a seven-year-old. "This is your fault... you made me!"

Lilica turned and ran then, out the door and into darkness, which gave way to a street full of people coloured in grayscale. They didn't look, didn't acknowledge her as she ran, but each and every one she so much as accidentally touched in her flight fell to the knees and bled. She didn't have time to look at them, all she wanted to do was run...

The street seemed endless, at first; there didn't appear to be an end in sight. Not until a wall appeared just yards from her face; stone, solid, dark. The people on the street disappeared. Lilica found herself in an enclosed room with no exit, just four dark walls, a cot, and a table with a knife. She stood taller, now, back to her older self. And as soon as she saw the knife, realization hit. "This isn't real... It's not." Turning this way and that, the dark mage turned her gaze toward the ceiling. "You can't make me do this! Not again!" She cried, as if she expected someone--or something--to hear. "I am in control, here...I am! This doesn't have to happen again."

Yet unlike a lucid dream, nothing changed. Lilica was faced with two choices, one that involved remaining trapped in those four walls, or getting out. She knew how to get out--but what it required... 
Dark eyes drifted to the knife on the table, then to the cot. She hadn't succeeded in taking her life when she'd tried... But there was only one way out.

"Fine...fine! Is this what you want?" She grabbed the knife, tears leaving tiny streams down her pale face as she shouted into the darkness. "Because this is what I deserve? Then you win."

Moving towards the cot, Lilica laid her body on the straw mattress, holding the tip of the knife to her throat. "Only one way out..." She whispered, heart racing. Without another thought, the dagger met its mark, all the way up to the hilt...

She opened her eyes.

Lilica sucked in one breath, and then another, feeling as though her lungs hadn't drawn oxygen in days. Her hand no longer rested at Alster's pulse; it clung to his shoulder, shaking, with the rest of her body. "You went through the door," she hissed drawing back and wrapping her arms around her chest, suddenly freezing, despite the warmth of the humid day. "I told you not to go through the door! None of that... It was none of your business!"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jun 24, 2015 10:31 pm
by Widdershins
Alster pressed against the door when he closed himself into another reality, feeling his hands shrink to normalcy. Five fingers on each, all fleshy and slender and straight. "Out of that nightmare..." He was ready to believe in out of sight, out of mind. Whatever prevented the breaking apart of his skin and the horror of his monstrous shape-change, however transitory in the realm of the subconscious. 

The hardwood floor upon which he trod darkened at his feet, not by shadows, but with blood. "Not again," he hissed as he skirted the blood pools, determining a route around. But all routes led to the inevitable carnage. A man and a woman. Married? Parents? ...And a little girl who wavered on her heels, surrounded by a spiderweb of dark threads.

Lilica.

He made it through Lilica's mind-door. 

This is your fault...you made me! The little girl shouted and the air about them shivered, like the drop of a stone into a pond. Murdered...she murdered them. Them--her parents? He grappled his arms, checking for scales beneath the skin--if they had reacted to the news. Unmarred...but prickly. Something in him wanted to bridge a connection, an association between their two realms, but he left that forest behind long ago. Another world away. Another door away. Out of sight and out of mind.

A new vision replaced the death-house: a grayed-out street, monochrome and drear, save for the spurts of crimson that afflicted the crowd with rivulets and rivulets of liquid rust...

The street darkened into a room with no windows or doors. Despite the lack of natural light, an eerie glow emanated from the knife with a wicked point. He saw Lilica buzz about the cell like a disoriented fly hurling itself against all edges of its confinement. He waved his hands at her but she didn't see. Just a ghost--a visitor--in her lucid nightmare. Useless, he stood at the corner between the knife and herself, dreading the worst. The knife seemed to smile and wink as she lifted it to her throat. A repeat performance of the past--or was it? 

He flinched as she jabbed it into her throat, which gurgled a bloody smile to counteract the friendless curve of steel. 

Hatred. Hatred had guided her magic. And a feeling of imprisonment perpetuated the hatred. A figure-eight with no conceivable end.

For now, she had broken a cycle, even if only in a dream-state. He succumbed to darkness once again.

And opened his eyes to the sight of Lilica clutching his shoulder, on the verge of hysteria. As she retreated inside herself for comfort, he felt a pressure behind his eyes and committed to having it stay hidden--lest he too lose control. 

"I'm...I'm sorry," he breathed. He wanted to help her, somehow. Reach out and channel some warmth into her freezing joints. Empathize with her plight--if he could remember that connection he made between what he forget in the forest and the corpses of her parents. The cuts in her heart bled through him, yearning to breach his skin and trickle free. How the itch had pained him! But he wouldn't scratch. He invited what he himself had willfully wanted.

Besides, it was an itch that one could never relieve. 

"I'm sorry," he repeated, but with a little more confidence. He pulled resources from all his reserves, summoning the convictions to convey his reasoning. "I needed to know. No...that's not good enough. ...The stirrings of your magic--this goes without saying, but...hatred powers you. It powered me, once. In pursuit of the chthonic--in order to better know it and to know myself...I defied your request." He checked his arms for scales. No scales, but they slugged and snaked around his body, awakening from their torpor. "I know you're here to help me. But we can learn how to combat this magic together--if you want to bother, after what I did."

With a less inhibited hand, he drew a fire spell into the air. A blue flame cradled itself between his fingers, a warming light powered by his lifeblood. "You and I...are a lot alike. Let me... let me try to help you, too."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 11:59 pm
by Requiem
"Of course it is. You think I don't already know that?" Lilica hissed, at his observation. Nobody knew hatred more intimately than she did; it had been the only thing at her disposal to draw into her heart as a means of protection. And it had protected her. The only reason she was still alive, she truly believed, was by meeting hatred with hatred, and somehow coming out on top.
Well... that and a botched attempt to take her own life, that is. But the latter had little to do with survival and who she was then, and more to do with who she was now

Rubbing the cold from her arms, the dark mage pressed her lips together, staring at the space between them on the ground rather than meeting Alster's eyes. "I know it feeds on hatred. The problem is, it doesn't like to be redirected and draw from something else... When I try, it punishes me. Makes me fragile for a time, bruise easily... My magic isn't compatible with any other feeling than hatred. Which means I am torn between having others suffer and walk away unscathed, or using it for the better, and ending up no more useful than any other fallen soldier on the field."

Let me try to help you, too.

Just as Chara said--and not so differently from how she had said it. It had been shocking enough that the proud, blonde Rigas caster had expressed desire to help. To hear it from this so-called prodigy, it made her wonder if the Rigases truly had some sort of ulterior motive in their offer. That it was not quite so altruistic as they'd like to make her think...

No. Stop thinking that way. You'll never be rid of the hatred if you don't trust...

"Chara... she said you... well, that she..." Lilica reeled in her words as soon as she realized she had no idea where they were going. Had she really come to expect resentment so readily that asking for help was so physically draining? Collecting her thoughts, she tried again. "I don't know if you can--I don't know if anyone can. I was born into darkness and have only recently, as of these past few years that I've learned to defy it and live by my own means. You... you are adept with the chthonic. But it is not who you are; only as much as you allow it to be, and it is your guilt that ties you to it. Not your blood... not like me."

Hesitantly, the dark mage placed her pale, thin hands inches over the small fireball in Alster's palms, its ethereal heat enough to thaw the chill of her fingertips and promote circulation once again. "I think I might know where we can begin, though. In terms of your own magic. I saw... if I'm interpreting correctly--and I think that I am--you are drawing on energies embedded in the earth. Not of the earth itself, however, but in the decaying tissues that are laid to rest in the ground." The eerie glow of Alster's fire cast a ghastly hue to Lilica's pale skin. As if to both emphasize and mock the very nature from which she wished nothing more than to run. "You are, effectively, a necromancer's worst nightmare. Alster Rigas. For the energy on which your chthonic magic draws--in part, at the very least--is the dead."

She shut her mouth, then, allowing him time to digest the possibility of her observation. Such a strange adeptness for someone who possessed abilities beyond chthonic magic... Then again, these Rigases appeared to be full of surprises. And something told her that the surprises had yet to come to an end. A mere glimpse into his soul only offered a snippet of the truth, and even that was up for interpretation. Based on what she had witnessed, however... The bodies, the way those hands reached for him as he passed... Lilica had a feeling she was not wrong.

"There's still a lot that I don't know; and that you don't know, I imagine. But the next step is being aware of yourself and your surroundings when it manifests." When at last her hands had absorbed an adequate amount of heat, she folded them in her lap. "I realize this may not be easy, particularly not in the midst of battle, but it is crucial to pay attention to what influences and hinders it. Emotions, people, environment... I am sure you know that magic doesn't express itself in a vacuum. And learning how it plays, external of your intended influence, is the most important aspect of learning to control it... Or, more specifically, commanding it."

Bringing one warm hand to her face, she stared into the leaping, indigo flames, somewhat mesmerized by the fact that it didn't sear his flesh. Something so simple shouldn't be so astounding; it was just the fact she was unable to mimic that trick that made it so. "My magic stems from hatred--as you have already seen. At least, that is where it wants to stem from. It so much easier to kill with a bitter sense of revenge than for fear of the lives of others... That last battle, I wouldn't have ended up in such a fragile condition if I'd felled those men in hatred of their very existence. But it wasn't hatred." Her expression turned to one of weariness. As if the very thought of that battle was exhausting. "I acted out of concern for the lives on our part that were being lost... but the chthonic doesn't like that. In my case, at least, I defied its nature. And so it punished me."

Slowly getting to her feet, Lilica stretched her muscles, cramped as they'd become in that sitting position. "Whether or not you or anyone else can help me remains to be seen, Alster. But I can guarantee, you are by no means a lost cause. For as long as I can survive, I think... I can help you."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2015 3:03 am
by Widdershins
He fluttered back at her admonishment, but only for a moment. He understood that her words channeled from a place of frustration--from the aftermath of her tragic life in review. "I know you do," he said, the fire in his hand pulsating to the rhythm of his voice. By her explanation, her magic had tied itself into impossible knots, with her in the middle, and no amount of tugging would undo the bindings. A deep-seated situation, with depths as far as the ocean and no surface light to tender her to shore. 

"You have given your magic a voice. Magic is a tool, primarily, but it likens to emotions, especially those under duress. Emotion-based casting is far more powerful, but draining, and control is limited--though we don't always have a choice as to how our magic decides to manifest. Unfortunately, your magic has a mind of its own. But we musn't enable it, for, at its core, the magic is youand not some foreign entity that has come to roost in your mind. We shouldn't depersonalize magic--especially in your case. It is not an 'it'. It is you. You punish yourself. You're not compatible with any other way, because you may not know another way. Truths are hard to swallow, which is why we reroute the blame to something more blamable, like magic." A pause allowed him to wet his tongue, dry with the length of his lecture. "Alas, the answer is not as simple as changing your frame of thought or your perspective. You may have to change your entire magical identity--and build it back from the ground-up." In analyzing all of the possibilities, he nearly didn't hear Lilica murmuring Chara's name in midst of broken fragments. A common problem--for him. It mollified him to see another person stumbling to speak, and encouraged him to carry-on with his own bursts of vocal unpredictability. 

"Chara? What did she tell you about me this time? I hope she's not relaying embarrassing stories to you." He about rolled his eyes heavenwards, but stopped the motion when Lilica shifted her dialogue. "I will be honest with you." He sighed. "Your path to reinvention--it's difficult. Tedious. Sure to tear the fabric of your being. Could very well destroy you before you obtain any favorable results. However, it's not impossible. I've seen it done. And, as much as I may have denied it before," he waggled his fingers around the fire, casting shadow puppets on the ground...that resembled snakes, "chthonic magic is in my blood, as well. It does not pump as strongly, but I have ties. All my magic is inherent. It," he hesitated, "it is a part of me, and I alone am in control of how much or how little I allow myself to use. Guilt may have manifested the magic, but guilt will not perform my magic for me. I will not be at the mercy of my emotions any longer--aside from the emotion of needfire." A fanciful belief. A story he read to himself every night. Guilt would forever rule him, but if he could at all help it, he would keep its vile influences partitioned from the hand that channeled his magic outward.

The fire that fed on his essence, hot and burning from natural causes within, lowered towards Lilica for easy access. He gazed to the earth, in wonderment, apprehension, and a sense of knowing, at Lilica's assessment. His free hand brushed through clumps of dirt and the sinews of plants decomposed from long ago. A tingle of energy awakened his fingers and shot through his arm. The color of his fire darkened to a deep navy blue. "I think you're right. When I created that shield in battle...I could feel death...all around me. Sometimes, at night," the focus in his eyes blurred; for a moment he saw nothing but the contours that comprised Lilica in the flicker of the low flame, "I hear them. Fresh voices. Those who have recently passed. They murmur now, but if I meditate, their voices cry for mercy. They relive their last painful moments on this earth--eternally. I suppose it's apt," he said, covering his pensive observations with a stifled laugh. "To suffer the voices of the dead--and to take from them beyond their lives. As if that weren't bad enough, I'm taking away their death, as well."

If anything, guilt would hold back his power. Why would he encourage further carnage if that carnage meant fertilizer for him to grow? Unfortunately, necessity called for action. Wartime would exploit his power, and he wouldn't have a choice. The guilt would compound upon itself with each drawing of his chthonic magic--and he'd find himself stuck in his own infinity knot, just like Lilica. 

He had a lot of work to do. 

"I'll have to unleash it--to practice," he said, more as an extension of his inner thoughts than a direct response to Lilica. "I can no longer hide behind rune spells and cantrips." As if to confirm his decision, he dispelled the fire in his hand. It winked out, sinking them into a darkness made darker by the sudden snuffing of the light. "It wants to protect. No--I want to protect. Tam was in danger, so I threw up a shield. It...well, it made a mess, but it was a shield, nonetheless. As for the death I take--energy cannot be created nor destroyed, though I fear the form I shift that energy into is much darker than its inception. That will change--to the best of my ability. Anything to deflect the guilt, so I will not be ruled by it." Voicing his tentative plan, however simplistic, inspired innovative thinking and distracted the self-loathing corner of his mind with the intricacies of problem solving. He had plans, ideas, and a course of action. In a sense, it reminded him of the days where celestial magic bewildered him with its broad-sweeping mosaic of infinite possibilities, in which he toiled to create the patterns that facilitated smooth, uninhibited spell-casting. 

Just think of it like a puzzle. ...A puzzle with more at stake.

No pressure.

"Do you only receive blowback when your magic 'punishes' you?" He said, redirecting the topic back to her own unique brand of chthonic magic. "The magic seems to be conditioning you. The mind wants what is easy and will condemn any progressive thinking. Perhaps, if possible, you can utilize your magic and stem it from a place outside of hatred, as you have done before--but on a smaller scale. The blowback will be less intense--and if done on a regular basis, it is possible that your 'punishment' may lessen. In any case, it's just an idea." He shrugged and then shrugged himself upright, cracking the cricks out of his neck and straightening the spine that had hunched forward for far too long. "You may not be as lost as you believe, either. I better understand the hurt which powers your magic--however much you spurn me for my peeping." He gave her a disarming smile. "We help each other, by virtue of learning together."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jun 26, 2015 1:47 pm
by Requiem
It is you.
Perhaps he didn't realize it, but Alster had put before her one of her greatest fears--and a long-time suspicion that grew far more real with every use of her chthonic magic. If it were possible for any colour to drain from the young woman's already pale face, then it did, traveling from her cheekbones, down to her neck, returning to her still racing heart. Of course this was the case: after all, Lilica D'Or had not been borne by means of natural conception. She had been her mother's own curse... born from darkness, and into darkness. She was the nature of her own magic, and the nature of her own magic was a result of who she was, and that maelstrom of emotions that she kept carefully under lock and key.

You punish yourself. He wasn't wrong; in a way, her century of isolation had been a punishment in and of itself. Before she could stop it, a tear trickled down her cheek; warm, until it met its end at her chin, cooling on her chilled skin.

"I don't think... you quite understand." Her words were quiet, reluctant as she was to give them voice. Thin fingers brushed her dark hair behind her ears, something of a nervous habit. "I was born a curse to my mother's womb... I am a curse. I am darkness, manifest. And that cannot be changed. Not so long as I live in this skin... You, however. It seems as thought you have already come farther than you give yourself credit for."

Lilica's attention averted back to Alster, curious at the look of conviction on his face. He was so strong; so strong in will and in mind, and yet he didn't see it. He continued to doubt himself, all because guilt continued to weigh him down. Was that truly his only demon left to defeat? Aside from his Serpent, of course... The dark mage found herself almost envious of the awkward Rigas prodigy. If only guilt were the only shade of black on her soul...

"It sounds as though you know more than you think you know, Alster Rigas," she said at last, with an affirming nod. "And you've realized the most important thing: what has power over you. Along with the fact that it has no power over you at all. Now, all that stands in your way is the confidence and conviction to put one foot in front of the other, make your words into practice. If you want to protect, you can; you blood does not control you. It serves you. As do the energies of the dead... they reach for your like a sunflower reaches for the sun. It is not that you take from them, because they desire, for whatever law of attraction, to serve you."

Ugh, that smile. Lilica frowned and looked away from the Rigas mage's charm. Damnit all, what 'was' it about the Rigases that made them so inherently charming in the first place? He was so sure he could help her. She wanted to believe it. But she couldn't... not right away. The results of his suggestion had yet to be seen. "I will take into consideration your perspective on what you were never supposed to see," she told him at last with a decisive nod. Chara said he could help. She wanted him to help. And she was no so proud as to turn it away in light of doubt. "As for your concern for the dead... I would not be concerned at all. But if this war comes to an end, and we still have our lives in tact, I may know of someone who you can talk to. Someone who is far more familiar with the dead than I."

Attempting to rub warmth back into her arms, Lilica made for her tent flaps, glancing over her shoulder at Alster. This session was over, for now. "You'd do well to meditate on my suggestions as well. We can reconvene in a few days' time. Oh--and one more thing." She sought his gaze, and beyond the stern gleam of her dark eyes laid a plaintive plea. "Speak not of what you saw in the recesses of my darkest memories to Chara. Or to anyone, for that matter."

Without further conversation, she left, in pursuit of that one person who's favour she was (oddly so) reluctant to lose. She found Chara among the other mages, at least one of them also a Rigas, discussing the strengths and best uses of their magics. The conversation diminished to a murmur when the dark mage walked on to the scene. But of course it would; she wasn't one of them.

"You seem to have lost your place," A tall caster with dark hair suggested, the tone in his voice unmistakably conveying disgust. "Because it is not here."

"I have no business with you," Lilica replied, but her eyes were on Chara. She lowered her voice as soon as the haughty, blonde Rigas shared in joint-attention. "We've uncovered some important information. I thought I might discuss it with you."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jun 28, 2015 3:39 am
by Widdershins
A glisten in the shadows alerted Alster to Lilica's state of mind, manifest. A tear. To see the cold and austere dark mage express something so solitary and sorrowful wrenched his insides with guilt. What had he said!? Was it what he said? A dash of panic shivered through him in waves. It had to be what he said. How insensitive of him! There he sat, blathering on about magic as one collective being, careless in the way he essentially placed fault on her for the unruliness of her chthonic magic. Now his words had gone and driven someone to cry! Could he ever do right by anyone? 

"I'm sorry. I-I didn't--I meant...it is my understanding that a healthy relationship with magic begins with acceptance and attributing it as something beyond yourself will only...I'm making it worse, aren't I?" He dipped his head over his chest to shield the hammering of his heartbeat with its visible syncopation. But she mollified him--with talk of her sordid inception. A range of reactions flowered out of his head; he hadn't a chance to arrange the torrent according to importance before his mouth translated the mush.

"A curse? Curses, in general, serve an express purpose. To bring darkness into the world is not specific enough--and probably a weak curse to begin with. As a curse, have you already, well, 'succeeded' is too harsh of a word, but, has it been fulfilled? If so...I would wager that you are no longer a curse--for you have lived beyond that 'goal.' If not...well, curses are combatable. And darkness--it's just a shade. ...I was meant for the light," he said, lifting his head when his heart had stabilized. "After consulting the star charts and constantly observing solar activity, I was conceived. Even so, with everything perfectly aligned for me to succeed and thrive, I still erred. If light can err, then dark can avail." 

Simple enough of a statement, but for her sake, he wanted its simplicity to speak truth. To begin life not only cursed but as a curse, breathing life into a world that scorned your existence--it rattled his nerves. Just as his birth brought about exaggerated expectations, her birth instilled the same: the expectation of destruction. Upheaval. They were both received into a world of extremes, and suffered by those extremes. 

"Confidence and conviction. My downfall." He quirked a one-shouldered shrug in an attempt to make light of the heady globs of information that needed sorting through meditation. Too much solemnity and he would crack from all the strain. Lilica, too, seemed ready for a reprieve. After their foray into the ether, and the following conversation that worsened with his every word, he didn't blame her. "I will uncover the extent of my energies in connection with the dead. And if my, well, 'conviction' wavers, I'll know who to consult, by your recommendation. At any rate, I'll let you go. No need to worry, either." He placed a hand to his chest, a silly salute the likes of which a knight would gesticulate. Had he been too exposed to Elespeth and her chivalrous inclinations? "I would say that your secrets I will take with me to the grave, but that no longer seems appropriate." After a click of his tongue, he remedied his words. "...I will not tell a soul."

Chara, meanwhile, had gathered with the somewhat dwindled numbers of their Casters Unit. With Tivia at her side, the two hosted an informal strategy session, as word of Messino's apathy towards independent planning spread around the encampment. A hush caught the throats of every caster in her vicinity upon the viewing of Lilica's approach. While liaisons behind the scrutiny of their peers were not quite discreet, Chara was floored to watch Lilica up and strut right to her and loudly proclaim their open involvement with each other. She narrowed her eyes at her specific conundrum. Respect and cooperation; she needed both from her caster companions in order to succeed--to stay on top. She could not afford to slam down their opinions regarding the resident black sheep, no matter their alliances or promises. A Rigas would never yield to a dark magic-user, or even entertain the idea of compliance. Then again, war-time brought about a whole other set of circumstances. Age-old enemies became allies under the banner of a bigger threat. Their threat--as far as anyone knew--was Tadasun. 

"We cannot forget, Jarden, that she is likely the reason we have not suffered further casualties. As much as I hate to admit," she added, souring her lip in a show of exaggeration--though not quite exaggerated. She did hate to admit that such a dangerous, all-consuming hate that blazed around the battlefield had contributed to their victory. The fire had licked clean the lives of Andalari soldiers, as well. Lilica proved a perfect asset for Messino and his chaos theories, but for an army bent on survival and structure, she was but a reminder of their own mortality. Who would she take, next? 

"Nonetheless, I shall deal with this interruption. Do carry on." She waggled her fingers at the perplexed casters and sidled over to Lilica. As they exited the earshot and eye-shot of the unit, Chara whispered out a spray of harsh susurrations. 

"Where is your discretion!? We musn't speak in such conspiratorial tones before a crowd of dissenters! They already suspect too much and I'm the one having to conceive of excuses to placate them!" With a frustrated sigh, she looked about the camp for any eavesdroppers. At the all-clear, she directed Lilica forward and through avenues of tents."We'll go to my tent today."


ReplyQuote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 838
 
by Requiem
Lilica would not pretend that her inconsideration of her tactic hadn't been disruptive; but on the same wave, she didn't much care. Chara had a silver tongue and a strong presence to carry her words where they needed to be heard. The dark mage was convinced the Rigas caster could talk her way out of anything, and a small interruption such as this wouldn't reflect on her. It did come as a surprise, however, when she jumped to her defense in the face of the other caster's accusation. A warm sensation bloomed temporarily in her chest, combating that perpetual sensation of dire cold; unfamiliar, but not unpleasant. Any stronger, and it would have brought a tinge of colour to her pale cheeks. 

"You shouldn't defend me," she said at last, contrary to how that small act had made her feel. The very words from her lips were enough to extinguish that warmth, returning her to that everlasting state of chill. "Let them hate me; let them think you hate me, even if it is only true by a fraction. They won't suspect you if you share a common enemy among the troops." A sad truth, but true, nonetheless. "But, you're right... I shall keep discretion in mind from now on. I only wanted you to be aware that I was engaging in my part of the deal."

She followed Chara all the way back to her tent, which was mercifully vacant, likely due to the gathering of casters from which they had just walked. Tucking rogue tresses of hair that had escaped the frenchweave she had hastily arranged after waking that morning, she then folded her arms and clutched her elbows, hoping her palms would offer some semblance of warmth. "Alster opened up and allowed me a glimpse into his soul today. It..." Lilica trailed off, dark eyes scanning the ground, as if it would give her the words she sought. "He harbours more guilt and turmoil than I'd expected. And I wasn't allotted a lot of time to explore, but I saw enough to get a feel for the roots of his chtnonic magic. Some of it came as a surprise, but the rest, not so much."

So the dark mage took the next part of an hour to relay, as best she could, the nature of Alster's subconscious mind, the very essence on which his soul bordered. Chara shouldn't have any problem understanding, acquainted as she was with the nature of magic, and knowing Alster as well as she did. "His guilt is what anchors the chthonic magic, and possibly influences the way it manifests. But where it draws from... I never would have guessed, because I have never seen it before, myself. But it comes from... As far as I can tell, he is drawing on the energies of the dead."

This, however, put her rather at a disadvantage. Given his strange, anti-necromantic abilities, and how uncommon such a manifestation of dark magic was, the dark mage had begun to doubt her ability to help. Fortunately, she was not at a loss for solutions. "Frankly--and this is only in my own opinion--but I feel that what anchors his magic is more crucial to deal with, right now, than the energies on which it draws. Guilt can be tackled; and while I cannot say with confidence that I am the best person to help him tackle it, I will try all the same. Although, I am sure that encouragement on your part would prove astronomically helpful, as well.

"If his anti-necromantic ability is truly a burden to him, I know of someone who he can talk to," she added, after a moment. "Although it would be easier to simply shoulder the burden than to seek that help. Regardless, that should not be priority, tight now, as it is neither here nor there. But... it's a start."

Lilica lapsed into a silence, then, tying up her encounter with Alster and finding there was nothing more she had to tell Chara. So long as the blonde Rigas knew that she was keeping her end of the bargain. About to leave, she hesitated a moment, before turning to ask, "Alster mentioned something about the alignment of the planets, during his birth. I don't know much about the impact of celestial events, but... What is done under circumstances can most easily be undone under those same circumstances. It's something to consider, though I cannot guarantee the plausibility."

Placing a hand on the tent flaps, she turned her back to leave, paused once again by her thoughts. "I recall my mother telling me, the night I was born, the sky was radiant with stars. Until it began to rain fire, and an entire forest went up in flames."
She wasn't sure why she felt compelled to tell Chara, this; maybe it wasn't even true, or that her mother had exaggerated. But, if it was true, then she felt it would be a long time before the sky rained fire again.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jun 29, 2015 4:03 am
by Widdershins
Their hurried walk to the tent slowed her gait when Lilica spoke the very concerns Chara fought to reconcile in her head. It would be far easier to go on hating her, whether apocryphal or true. She could not reason away her increased involvement with the dark mage, however. Flippant shrugs and continued talk of Lilica and her crazy antics would not further serve her in the eyes of her peers. No, she required a different strategy. One of cooperation. An alliance of convenience. Tolerate the dark mage, but only as far as the war effort demanded. If she could demonstrate such an initiative to the casters unit, they may follow suit and treat Lilica with a modicum of understanding. If not, they, at the very least, would accept Chara's methods and think little else of the matter. 

That was her hope. 

"No. That is no longer an option," she said, her legs pumping forth to its original speed. "We have been seen together many a time. I aided in your convalescence by walking you to your tent. They have spotted you with Alster. They realize our connections. We only need to show cooperation in the public view--but not respect. I will solidify my perspective to the casters. If we are too busy infighting, we may never achieve togetherness as a unit--and our lives mean little if they are gone."

She pulled back the flaps to her surrogate home, elegant and plush in design, and invited Lilica to sit atop a weaved carpet beset with silken pillows. When they first arrived at camp, Chara brought her own tent, refusing to abide by Messino's rules. He hadn't contested her on it, while she made it abundantly clear that, as chosen dignitary and speaker for the Rigas family, she deserved her own tent. As she tucked her knees under her own corner of pillows, she listened to Lilica's "report," keeping silent for the better part of an hour--absorbing every tidbit of information that the dark mage presented. At its completion, Chara frowned, speechless during the overhang between the dispatch and her expected reciprocity. Guilt had plagued him--no surprise to her at all. As for how his magic had manifested...it made...sense. Eerie sense. The shivers ran all over her back with the implications. To envision Alster, a veritable celestial master, harnessing death energy like puppets on a string...

She gripped her arms, feeling a chill she could not shake. 

"Encouragement. Of course." The voice tickled her throat with its unfamiliarity. It emerged as tinny, uncertain--afraid. She cleared her throat and tried again. "His guilt is certainly hard to shake. He's carried that burden for near to fifty years. However, you bring up an intriguing point. Are you suggesting he may regain his celestial prowess through the influence of a celestial event? No doubt he has tried that. If you mean to suggest such an event may improve upon or somehow change his chthonic abilities, then you must elaborate."

In a sense, she had elaborated--by mention of the circumstances behind her birth. Chara uncrossed her legs and stood, in part to escort her to the exit as a hostess well should, and in part to hear her more clearly. "Raining fire...a celestial event. Are you insinuating--has such an event influenced your chthonic inheritance? Enhanced it, even? Alster--he was born under an eclipse. Could that have impacted..could certain celestial events have...My apologies. I am speaking my thoughts aloud." How unprofessional. Uncouth. She turned her head away, to hide her pallor or any other adverse reaction. She must remain impartial. "Thank you for your thorough investigation. It could not have been easy for you. I...Take care, Lilica." To shield any breach in her impartiality, she spoke her final words with a brusque edge--and then whirled away to enjoy the relative safety of her tent.

For the first time in many moons, she gnawed on the smooth veneer of her nails. 

**

"Alster!"

She caught his arm before he could even turn to acknowledge her cry. Lashed to his back, he carted the rolled-up canvas that had comprised the quarters of Tivia, Danos, and himself. Messino had given the order to pack and move camp an hour ago; they were to depart before noon. The sun throbbed in the sky, almost directly overhead--and her tent stood, as of yet uncompromised, inviting the unobstructed light of day. 

"Chara--what is it?" He looked at her with his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. She was unkempt, her hair in disarray, her clothes in wrinkled bunches from collar to ankle. Alarm rose in his eyes; he seldom saw her so disheveled. In such...distress. "What's wrong? ...Why haven't you packed?"

"I...wished to speak with you this morning, and this--" she threw an arm at the breaking down of camp, as if done purposely to annoy her. "...I must tell you something. I realize it is horrid timing, and you will hate me for my observations--but it pertains to your parents."

**

Why?

Why would she tell him such things?

Why now?

What had changed her tune? Although reluctant, Chara had wished for him to hone and understand his chthonic abilities. It was due to her damn interventions that Lilica approached him in the first place. And now? 

I fear for you.

You command death. There must be a reason why your chthonic magic manifested as so.

...I sense that it was responsible for the deaths of Debine and Valente.

Ergo...

She implied...

I killed them. 

Alster followed the mass of humanity from the giant mud splotch that once housed a tent city. They marched onward, farther south, into the thick of Tadasun territory, advancing so as to retain their advantage from their first battle--that Lilica had won for them. 

He trailed along the outer rim of the army, the rolled-up tent pressing against his back. He traveled alone and far from any company, mired down in the thoughts from that morning. 

What now? 

Would Chara withdraw her support of his training? Either way, he hadn't a choice. Commitment sallied him forth to whatever destination his dark energy prepared for him. ...However brutal.

Could he live with himself if he uncovered the actual truth? 

Squeezing the straps of his pack, he floated along the slow-moving stampede and into a mindless march, of which he remembered nothing and felt nothing.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jun 30, 2015 1:46 am
by Requiem
Nobody had anticipated the move that Messino ordered early one morning, as soon as the majority of troops were adequately recovered from their last battle. Front guard and weapons bearers and anyone with working muscles were dragged out of their bunks hours before dawn to help with the lifting and moving, since the Prince wanted the camp mobile by not long after lunch. Complaining was rampant, needless to say. but the officers were far harsher on those with sharp tongues that those who sucked in their guy and complied.

Elespeth, despite that her own muscles had begun to ache long before the rest of the camp had awoken, certainly knew better than to open her big mouth this time around. She loaded weapons and armor onto the convoys for hours, alongside older and far burlier comrades who criticized her for being 'too slow' or for 'not carrying her fair share of the weight'. It was annoying, at times exasperating, but fortunately, the ex-knight was no stranger to hard, menial work. Odd jobs that she'd taken since escaping Atvany had required more of her, under far more dangerous circumstances; the generals kept the bullies in line, at the very least, but anger was rampant when morale took a dip.

The sun was high in the sky when they began to march, and there was still more complaining to be had. By then, disgruntled attitudes had averted from aggression towards one another to discontent with the fraction of the work that the casters had been required to do--particularly the Rigases, who carried their heads too high, who walked with too much ease, who had others to lug the majority of their belongings.

Elespeth, contrariwise, wasn't keen on taking part in the passive aggressive (or outright aggressive) bout; frankly, it was more draining than energizing, and she was more inclined to want to share company with the people in question than criticize them. When it didn't appear as though anyone would take notice, the Atvanian fugitive slipped away from the other swordsmen and arms-bearers, hurrying to the front of the large mass of bodies, where the casters walked, carrying significantly lighter loads.

It wasn't difficult to find Alster among them, from the way he carried himself as if he wanted to shrink into the backdrop, to that faraway look he wore while everyone else appeared so focused. Heads turned when the sword wielder's intruding presence made itself known among the magic units--gods forbid, her kind setting foot on their turf--and made her way to Alster's side. Such a strange, territorial bunch, these casters... Was he really the only exception to the rule?

"In approximately two hours, I'll have been wide awake for twelve hours; how do you think Messino gets away with it without being confronted by hundreds of angry weapons wielders?" The ex-knight certainly looked as though the past ten hours had not been kind to her, with dark half-moons beneath her eyes and signs that she'd been pushing her body well beyond its normal training routine.
But she wasn't the only one. Alster's face, so lost as it had looked in thought, suggested he, too, had seen better days. "Don't tell me Messino had you up before the sun as well," she mentioned with a frown, but something told her this had little to do with physical fatigue.

In the distance, a familiar dark-haired figure who walked apart from the other casters caught Elespeth's eyes. Suspicion prickled her tired mind, and she lowered her voice, conscious of others within earshot. "Have you and Lilica come to any useful revelations?" She asked, only realizing after the fact that it might well be something he might not be keen on discussing. Not if it made him look as bad as she did after ten hours of heavy labour.

"I don't mean to pry; we don't have to talk about it," she was quick to amend, but not without a hint of worry in her eyes. In the afternoon light, they appeared more green than they did grey. "You just look as though... that is to say, far less well than the last time we spoke."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jun 30, 2015 10:56 pm
by Widdershins
Moving camp had differed for the casters. A firm rule set in place by the majority, a majority that hailed from privileged families in Stella D'Mare, insisted that they not handle what was not theirs in the first place. Therefore, weapons and arms, armor, anything related--off limits. Enforces of such a "rule" often tried to justify their stance on the matter, as if they feared an uprising from the soldiers--or worse yet, forced labor. 

We are not built with the muscle to cart around rusty weapons!

You need us for something more dignified!

I hail from a family who derive our ancestry from fae. We are allergic to iron!

However, some progressive casters aided in packing away rations and provisions--although they tackled the lightest loads, the ones filled with meal and hardtack and grains.

Alster had, during the morning rush, volunteered his services to help pack weapons into the convoys. When he arrived, the soldiers on duty leered at him, then a gout of laughter spurted from each one like a gargle gone wrong.

"Look, a Rigas has come to police our work!"

"Stand aside, little boy. We can't let you play with knives."

"Go back to your dippy caster party since we all know how you enjoy la-de-laing about!"

He had stormed away, after trying and failing to cooperate with the bawdy soldiers who shared more with the casters in pride than they cared to admit. Already, the camp had fallen into old prejudices between units--and it didn't end among the casters, themselves. 

"Alster," said Danos, batting at the side of their canvas tent as a cat would with a toy, "you're stronger than us. Take apart this tent and carry it, will you?" 

"What are you doing in the meantime?" Alster said, narrowing his eyes a touch at the flippant attitude from his own blood. 

Danos inflated like a puffer-fish. 

"Don't argue with me! You've no right, Serpent Bane. You're only here by the grace of Adalfieri! And just because Chara fancies you does not mean I shall exercise the same patience. I outrank you--so pick up the tent!" 

But that had been hours ago, in another lifetime--before Chara relayed him the news that shut down the sectors of his brain...all but for the part that controlled basic motor functions. He stayed upright, shuffled his feet to the beat of a thousand men, and bobbed along the sea with the rhythm of monotony. 

Then, Elespeth appeared at his side. 

He turned to her--as did half of the casters unit, who gawked and pointed accusatory glares at him. Curb your soldier! they seemed to say, hisses lolling around their forked tongues. As she spoke, he regarded her, a reality he left behind. A reality that turned the sun back on and made him aware, painfully aware, of everything he yearned to snuff into blackness. He noticed how the vagaries of camp had treated her body, so ready to fall that he about expected to catch and guide her towards their new site.

The stares intensified. 

"He didn't," he said, an uninspired response to Elespeth's little inquiry. "But I was awake, anyway." 

Insomnia kept him awake most nights. The wails of the dead had grown louder, their voices still inconsistent. Meditation did naught to numb them. Alas, they only intensified--audible fingers poking and prodding him until he sundered to exhaustion. And yet, despite the events of last night and that morning, only one solitary thought, one fear, scrolled across his mind in repetitious infinitude.

I killed my parents.

"I don't want to talk about anything right now," he said, commanding the sudden flux of his emotions to remain cold, numb--distant. He could never tell Elespeth. She might have dismissed his role in awakening the Serpent--for it was near to fifty years ago--but his parents had...died...three years ago. As much as she touted loyalty and support for a brother-in-arms, would she really abet in aiding a cold-blooded murderer?

No. Best to push her away now--before she learned the truth and pushed him away. 

I'm sorry, Elespeth.

"Worry about yourself, Tam." A stifling breeze blew from the valley they approached, pushing strands of dirty blond hair into his face. He lowered his head-- both as a deterrent against the wind and a reason to look away from her. "You can't be here. Go...go back to your station."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jul 01, 2015 2:30 am
by Requiem
Worry about yourself, Tam. Those words were not so surprising, coming from the self-deprecating Rigas caster who had yet to realized his own worth, to himself and to his cause. But the following did strike a chord of unease in his sword-wielding battle partner: You can't be here. Go... go back to your station.

It was a feeling akin to those silly cliques everyone experienced as a child. Where those bold enough to approach an elite group would try to be friendly, share their toys, find reasons to foster companionship, because weren't they all just human in the end? But this was a clique to which Elespeth Tameris would never, ever belong, and it had little to do with a matter of personal preferences--although she did suspect they came into play, somewhere.

Nonetheless, he was right. And perhaps it was that realization that hurt the most.

"I've embarrassed you; I apologize," she said, heat creeping into her cheeks, burdened as she was by the hindsight of her simple act of camaraderie. "I... you're right. I am completely out of my element; this isn't my place."
And what had she hoped for? Casual conversation? Someone to whom she could relate for all of the woes that accompanied moving camp, when he hadn't been required to carry anything? The last she'd seen of him was before he had gone off with Lilica, for however it was she meant to help. Immediately, her slate green eyes searched for the dark mage in the crowd, finding the ebony-haired caster walking apart from the others in the near distance. As if she felt her eyes on her, Lilica turned, and for a moment, they shared an uneasy glance with the swordswoman, one that impelled Elespeth to look away.

Whatever had happened, even if Lilica was the reason for Alster's somberness, she was not so stupid as to confront the dark mage. None of this was even any of her business.

Without another word, Elespeth fell away from her fighting partner and returned to the back of the moving crowd, shouldering the heavy packs on her back. "What was that, huh? You think you're too good for the rest of us?" A tall man bearing almost twice her load grunted. "So that you're gonna go walk with the bloody casters?"

"No. No... I'm not too good for you at all. Or for anyone." she replied, and the truth of the statement sunk in. The disgraced can love each other. Hadn't Alster said that, or had she only imagined it in the delirium of the rush that had followed the last battle? 
If not, then perhaps it was that she simply was not the right kind of disgraced.

Lilica had watched from the corner of her eye, overhearing the conversation between the Rigas and the sword-wielder. Her first sentiment was, of course, to take offense at the look that Tam had cast in her direction. How dare she! Wielding darkness did not make her responsible for everyone's woes. But... there was something more about that look. Concern that the soldier reserved for Alster alone, and quiet hurt when he turned her away, greeted only with accusations from her own kin.
Not so different from what Lilica herself felt among the casters. Whether she liked it or not, she could relate.

Slowing her pace until she fell into step with Alster, the dark mage addressed him without looking, her voice low to avoid prying ears. "What do you mean to achieve by pushing away those who want to be there for you?" She asked him. "Or does it not occur to you that those same people might be reaching out to you, in turn?"

Tresses of hair stuck to her face from wind and perspiration. She tucked a few unruly strands behind her ears. "I get it; something is bothering you, and you're afraid to talk. I can practically feel it in the air around you. But you are only fueling your dark magic to run rampant like a forest fire by harbouring those sentiments alone. So stop... if not for your own sake, then for those of your allies and comrades."

Having said her part, she wanted to walk away--she should have. But the heaviness of Alster's aura practically held her in place, as if waiting for him to send her off, as well. If he had the gall to do so, that is.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jul 01, 2015 4:21 am
by Widdershins
I've embarrassed you; I apologize.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Since he set foot upon that blasted encampment, nearly every caster, including his own, had snubbed him. They belittled his magic, his family name, and nitpicked every little detail on display that appeared wrong, or weak, or uncharacteristic of his prestige. Elespeth, however...she viewed him as an equal and never discriminated. Although she could not understand the intricate underpinnings of his magic-related plight, on an emotional level she commiserated and even empathized along with him. 

He had considered her...a friend. One that he would never have encountered during his long and eventful life. And one he would never have again. 

Could he salvage all that they built? Could he risk her seeing such darkness from which may burn upon her soul? 

No. ...Hate. He was terrified of her hatred of him. Hatred and fear, the latter of which blinked in her eyes during the last battle. His shield--the melting faces...

This world of casters and magic--she didn't deserve such mental torture. 

This isn't my place.

How many times have people uttered similar words--to him? You don't belong. Why are you here? This isn't your place...

He clutched his chest, feeling the sting like the barb from a bee. He hadn't wanted to imply exclusion, or rejection. 

But he did.

I don't want you to leave. ...Say it. ...Call her back, you idiot!

"I'm sorry..."

The whisper died on his lips...and he let her go. 

Those in disgrace are undeserving of love.. and he heard his mother say it with more clarity than when she last uttered it--alive. 

He tried to lift his head, to find some horizon line, some strange puffy cloud in the distance, a rock formation--anything at all to distract his quickly deteriorating mind.

What he found, instead, was Lilica. 

Where Elespeth had been standing mere moments ago, the dark mage trampled through the residual aura and replaced it with her own: hairy and spidery and black as the ocean deep. He shivered despite the breezes that belched oppressive heat coursed through with the blare of the ever-expanding sun. 

He was desperate to speak with another being that ladled him with not-so-negative attention. Mere moments ago, he wanted nothing of the sort, but he hadn't realized how wide of a fissure had cracked through his faulty foundations when Elespeth departed. Now, he teetered, and he would welcome any support--even from the likes of Lilica, who always looked ready to knock down any sort of structure with only the flashing of her eyes. 

"I don't...I don't want to harbor anything alone," he said, his head realigning downwards, to the unenthusiastic ground and its mottled brown and ashen pallor. "I...wanted her to stay. But she can't know the truth, the possibility that I..." he took in a breath of toxic air and coughed, as if his very surroundings threatened to suffocate him if he spoke those grim words aloud. 

"Many times I've tried to meditate upon that day. The day my...well, their deaths." He kept his voice to pin-drop levels of quiet as he darted a few glances towards any curious onlookers. "Something blocks me. A wall. When I try to touch or phase through the wall, I feel like a hand of knives is clutching my heart--and squeezing. That immense pain...it always prevents me from proceeding. But," he wiped his brow of sweat not altogether caused by the weather, "the other day, when you delved into my mind--I am sure I witnessed it all. How it happened. But when I awoke, I could not remember. If...if it is at all possible, I would like to return there. I need to know..." he hesitated, swallowing a clump of dried-up spittle and the taste of blood, "if I killed my parents."

His eyes widened and his steps faltered. The weight of the tent about toppled him forward, into that uninviting brown muck. He caught himself in time, but the near-fall deadened him to a halt. 

"This is me reaching out to you...to make up for who I was too afraid to reach. You may choose to walk away if you wish." The most pitiful of smiles ghosted upon his face with a grisly memory from long ago. He had been in such a position before. Reaching out. Asking for help. 

Please, Chara...I don't know what else to do. I can't concentrate. I can't breathe and I fear that I'm losing...losing my mind. Losing faith...

You're smart. You'll figure it out.

"It's no less than what I deserve, at any rate."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:28 pm
by Requiem
So that was what had the Rigas caster moping, dragging his body through the mud like a fish out of water. Patricide; matricide. Did a day go by when she hadn't thought about her own, in all fairness? The difference was, Alster didn't know for sure... and that could be far more frightening than actually knowing the truth.
And the truth could put him over the edge. But, eventually, so would ambiguity. If this was what he needed, and if she could help...

Well, damnit all. She'd made a promise to Chara, and one to him, in turn. Lilica was left without a choice.

"First: do not doubt the extent to which others will listen to and understand you," she began, rather reluctantly moved by his confession that he hadn't wanted Elespeth to leave. "You don't know that she wouldn't bat an eyelash at what you have to tell her. Do not alienate your friends... It invites darkness to fill the void, there they would otherwise stand." She was both figurative and literal in that statement: for hadn't she just taken up the place beside him where, a moment before, he swordwielder had stood? "Like it or not, you need to keep connected with people. They will ground you, even when darkness threatens to pull you off your feet."

He knew that, though. He knew, or else he would not have turned to her with such a raw plea. To think, someone was actually desperate for her help... Lilica wondered if she should be flattered, or concerned for the caster's judgement. Ultimately, however, she was his only other source for the chthonic.

"Don't be so absurd," she all but snapped, her cheeks colouring ever so slightly. "I already told you I would help; I wouldn't bother to talk to you if I didn't have reasons to be interested in your well being." Whether or not he knew, by now, that this pact was largely tied to her deal with Chara, she didn't know. But that was irrelevant; he needed the help, and she would help him. She needed an out, or at least protection from Messino's blackmail, and Chara had agreed to help her--or at least, incite the help of someone more capable. 

Coming to a halt when the Rigas caster fought to maintain his balance, Lilica furrowed her brow in seizing a moment to think. "It sounds as though it is not that you cannot venture into that part of your mind," she observed at last. "It is that you will not. Something--I will assume it is fear--is so intent on holding you back that it threatens you with pain, whenever you make the attempt. You can continue to fight it on your own, I suppose, but given what you have told me of you lack of success thus far... It might not hurt to have an extra force to pull you through that wormhole." 

"Hey, move it, will you?" A handful of casters pushed past the two, whose paces had slowed considerably in their conversation. Lilica ignored them, waiting until they passed before lowering her voice and continuing.

"So here is what I propose: we will open up that part of your mind again, and I will enter this wormhole with you--I will push you through, if need be... The pain isn't real. It is a manifestation of your own fear." A pain to which she might also be subject; this venture would be far more tedious than the last, even if he resisted walking through that door to her own subconscious mind. "We will face it together. I will stand as another pair of eyes, but realize, Alster, that you must have yourself under control. Try your best to be a passive observer, or else your emotions will manipulate what we see into metaphors and allegories that we frankly do not have time to dissect and interpret. Look on as if this is not your story at all, but someone else's, the way you... you observed my tragedies."

To say she wasn't still angry about that, even by a fraction, would be a lie. Yet part of her was simultaneously relieved that Alster had defied her and saw what he had in the recesses of memories she no longer wanted to face. It had taken weight off of her shoulders, having someone else in on her darker secrets... But this time, it wouldn't be about her. They couldn't afford to get distracted, not if they wanted to glimpse at the real picture.

Not if they wanted to discover the truth behind Alster's parents, and their untimely demise.

"And... Alster." Lilica bit down on her lower lip, hesitant to refer back to herself on related thoughts that she would rather keep to the back of her mind. "You already know what I did; you saw the bodies and the blood. I will not pretend that I don't deal with remorse every day of my life, even if, in part, I had acted out of self defense. But, what I mean is... what I am trying to tell you... Regardless of what we see, it is done. It cannot be changed, only accepted. Do you understand?" The dark mage put a hand on his arm to ascertain she had his full attention. "If we do this, then you must promise me you will make an effort not to dwell on the truth. Guilt is your enemy, and if you continue to give it such free reign... It will consume you. And it will consume anyone and everyone for whom you care." Elespeth, Chara... Even if he kept them at arm's length, his darkness, his guilt, might eventually find them.

And then he would be forced to shoulder the heavy burden of taking them down with him, in his descent into darkness.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:25 am
by Widdershins
He muddied through the figurative and literal slurry that mapped a similar route: a winding, bleary road forward, pocked with holes and winding slopes. A difficult stretch of terrain that indicated no end. Unlike his literal road, that figurative road would expand further, warping and diverting and wobbling deeper and deeper into a punchbowl valley--if he allowed it to control his direction. The road may be harsh, but it didn't have to be unbearable. After all, Lilica had responded, affirming her help and advising in kind. At this point, he didn't care about the extent to which Chara promised Lilica an out from this war--so long as she delivered. For her to guide his wretched soul out of the valley, only for her to gain nothing in return, whether from a failed transaction or something more sinister at play...at the very least, he'd make certain she would find freedom. In one sense or another. 

Despite the surge of hope from her confirmation of help, doubts continued to bloom alongside that road like nasty weeds beset with thorns and spines. "How will I know that she'll remain my friend once I tell her whatever truth I discover? I see the way she looks at you. I saw the way she reacted to my chthonic influences. It's...too much. She cannot ground me if I unground her. Perhaps I'm not applying enough faith in her strength, but..." trailing away, he shook his head. "I don't want to drag her down with me." Perhaps it was too late for her; whether he pushed her away or not, what would end up dragging her down was, ultimately, the darkness. Be that as it may, he didn't want to take any unnecessary chances.

"Thank you, by the way," he added, noticing the huffiness in her snap response and wishing to placate her. "I expect you don't hear those words very often, but--I appreciate your aid. It cannot be easy for you. ...I understand that fear is what consistently drives me from reconnecting to my past," he continued in response to her assessment, "but even with all my awareness and wherewithal set in place, I'm still ejected...by that pain."

Realizing that he and Lilica had paused to engage in their involved conversation while becoming obstructions themselves (and therefore noticed by all), he spurred himself forward, reengaging his languid trudge. "I will not open your door, this time," he vowed whilst trying to choke down the guilt bubbling to the surface in conjunction with his words--a reminder of his dismissal towards her specific request. "I'll try to remain impartial. And I promise to redouble my efforts...however difficult." However impossible, he had wanted to say. But thinking on levels of impossibility would not serve him. This time...he would try to have faith in himself. In fortitude...in assessment of what he had done. To prevent a catastrophe in the making, he would attempt any tentative solution--however much he suffered. "I will not be consumed...and I will not consume others." Closing his hands into fists, he glanced over at Lilica. "I can't afford such sloppiness." 

**

The march to the new campsite pattered to a halt around late-afternoon--a good five hours' march under the bake of the sun. Nestled in the hills and flanking a small stream, the area provided a measure of protection against the elements and against enemy interlopers. The valley acted like an amphitheatre, locking the sound within the confines of camp--a useful trick of discretion considering their more centralized location...in the thick of Tadasuni territory. 

Haraldur had followed alongside the convoys, grateful for the shadows that stretched across him with patches of their ephemeral relief. Often, he traded with other soldiers who had wished a reprieve from the weight of the ever-stretching day. 

When they arrived at camp, he jumped on board the convoy once the horses had slowed to a halt. The officer in command, too exhausted to care, focused his attentions on staying upright on his horse before directing orders to setting up the site. 

Within short order, the level ranks of Messino's army devolved into chaos as the ripple effect traveled the expanse of the army. Swaths of men roved around the site, surveying the land and recreating the contours and interiors of the previous arrangement. 

General order restored itself, in time, as everyone spilled into a formative routine once tasks were doled out and assigned. As Haraldur hammered down the pegs into the grommets that would soon hold the supply tent upright, he noticed a woman soldier who appeared out of sorts, meandering through the area with an unfocused gait to and from the closest convoy. 

In concern, Haraldur dropped the mallet and wandered over to where she had paused; she appeared overtaken with a paralyzing rush of thoughts. An uneasy sway on her feet prepared him to take action. 

"Are you all right?" he said, clutching her shoulder as a point of contact and for stability, in case she keeled over from heat exhaustion. "Do you need water?" Without waiting for a response, he unclipped a canteen of water from his belt and handed it to her. "I'll have this tent poled up in a few minutes--if you want a rest inside for a while."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jul 03, 2015 1:54 am
by Requiem
It was no surprise that Elespeth was beyond exhausted by the time they stopped marching and finally began to set up camp at Messino's. Nearly everyone who had been up hours before the crack of dawn was about ready to drop, and there was still so much work to get done. But that surge of quiet optimism that typically fueled the ex-knight even when she had no physical energy left on which to run had diminished significantly since her quick exchange with Alster, and everything that was already difficult suddenly seemed immensely so.

Nonetheless, necessary tasks kept her mind from reading too much into the the cold shoulder that the Rigas mage had turned to her. She had taken to unloading weapons from one of the convoys, carrying armfuls of steel (mainly swords) towards the newly pitched weapons tent, and leaving them for someone else to sort through and organize. But with every trip to and from, the weapons began to feel heavier, and the distance between the tent and the convoy felt as though it was increasing.

The muscles in her arms began to tremble with fatigue as she ventured to carry yet another load a swords, but a overtired misstep very nearly sent her and the weapons flying. Fortunately, someone anticipated the disaster before it could take place.

"Thank you," she told the stranger, and knelt to place the swords on the ground before her tired arms could give out and drop them on her foot. The last thing she needed was a broken toe after a day of hard and heavy labour. "I sure I'm... well, I suppose some water wouldn't hurt."

Moving her long braid over her shoulder, Elespeth took the proffered canteen. As soon as the water hit her tongue, she was apt to drain the vessel dry of the precious liquid, having not spared a prior thought to just hoe dehydrated she was, on top of the physical and heat exhaustion. Reluctantly taking it from her lips before she could drink it clean, she handed it back to the kind man who had offered it. Despite the cramped quarters in which Messino kept his soldiers, there were too many faces to get to know everyone personally. She wasn't even convinced she had laid eyes upon his face before.

"I'll be all right. Honestly." The ex-knight offered a convincing smile and brushed some stray tresses of hair from her face. Some stuck like glue from perspiration; she couldn't remember the last time that ever inch of the fabric on her body had been stuck to her skin from hours of exhausting work. "Just tired... really, really tired. But I'm sure you're in the same boat. My name is Tam, by the--"

Just as she began to offer her hand in greeting, the Atvanian fugitive realized that the skin of her palm had cracked and begun to bleed, stained and sticky with old and new blood. Heat crept into her cheeks, and she hastily returned her arm to her side. "Huh... Lots of rough lugging will eventually get the best of you, after a while, I suppose... nonetheless, thank you for your help, ah... I don't believe I caught your name."

She was about to say something more, likely inquiring into his identity, but an intense dizzy spell stopped Elespeth short. And before she knew it, exhaustion caught up to her, stole the strength from her legs, and then her consciousness.

----

Meanwhile, Lilica watched in the distance as her tent was pitched and refurnished. For all her presence was merely due to blackmail, she was rather impressed that they only really expected her to lift a finger when it came to battle. All the same, she was picky about the arrangement of furniture; he cot had to be placed facing the sunrise, or some mornings, she had trouble waking up. And it couldn't be too crowded, with only the bare necessities of items. Too much clutter was distracting, and her tent was only a place for rest and meditation. A quiet place to escape.

She noticed, in the distance but not too far away, that the Rigas's tents were well on their way to being pitched and ready to be slept in. The dark mage hadn't seen Alster since they'd arrived, as he'd been called on to help his Rigas brethren; naturally, she chose to stay out of the line of fire, knowing deep down that both he and Chara didn't want to make a habit of being seen with her. So she had simply left him with the offer to stop by later that evening, when everyone was settled in.

'Later' came sooner than expected, of course. The entire camp was exhausted from the move; many of the weapons wielders that had shouldered the burden of loading and unloading were in bed before the sun set, skipping their evening meal in favour of sleeping for at least a good twelve hours, if not more. Hell, she had witnessed people fainting left, right and center in the dire heat of the day--Alster's battle partner included, if her eyes didn't deceive her. She wondered if the Rigas mage knew; not that it was her business. And it wasn't her responsibility to tell him what he was missing while he wallowed in his pit of guilt and fear.

When the sun finally went down, and the camp began to quiet after the day-long move, was when he finally showed up, looking this way and that to see that he wasn't noticed. Lilica rolled her eyes. "Everyone is too tired to care how scandalous it looks coming to my tend at night. Come on." Only a couple candles were lit on the inside, and this time, there was no rug to buffer the feel of the cold ground. But perhaps that was to their advantage; to be connected to the earth physically could keep Alster's wild imagination from flaring up with too many metaphors. "I know you're tired, but that is actually optimal. It means that inner sanctum of your mind might be more tranquil and won't twist your memories into something less comprehensible."

Kneeling on the cool grass, Lilica forewent the preamble and found the Rigas mage's pulse with her fingers. He knew how it would go down, "And, Alster?" Arching a brow, she leveled him with her dark gaze. "Leave my inner sanctum out of it, this time. It won't do either of us any favours; I won't ask you again."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jul 05, 2015 6:29 pm
by Widdershins
With fortunate timing, Haraldur had caught the lady warrior before she took a nasty fall with all her weapons in tow. While she knelt to set the burdensome load clattering to the ground, he kept his hand hovering near her shoulder in preparation for a repeat performance. "Why don't you keep that canteen?" he said, pushing it back into her hands. To deflect any signs of protest, he patted the gourd-sized water skin hugging his hip. "You have to stay hydrated. Don't be making excuses for yourself or your body will certainly surrender." Though his words sounded like an admonishment, he uttered them with a touch of concern. Too many warriors wagered their strength and endurance against the elements and hard labor, but took no precautions to ensure their prideful claims. Where were they, now? Unconscious--or dead. 

"Strength will fail you, will fail everyone here, if you don't pace yourself," he said. He looked at her bloody hand and reacted little. What had flustered her so? Blood had graced the hands of many a warrior since the long day had begun. "And you are not all right. Honestly. Here, I'll take you to the medics. They should have pitched their tent early o--"

At that point, Tam had buckled and sagged into his waiting, expectant arms. The light blinked from her eyes, as many had before her, into the realm of unconsciousness. Within moments, he had lifted her up, and within minutes, he carried her into the newly-pitched medical tent. 

**

On arrival to their new campsite, Alster hadn't said a word as Danos and Tivia bossed him into pitching the tent and arranging the furniture, as well as raising Chara's tent. She had protested, much preferring to enlist the aid of an able warrior or two, but Alster silenced her with a glare and bent to his work. All throughout the process, he caught Chara in his periphery, her face a shroud of fear and wracked with guilt. Well that makes two of us. 

When he completed her tent, she stepped inside, but not without grazing him with a look, wide and uncertain and bubbling: I'm sorry.

Later, when aiding in a convoy about which certain casters cared enough to unload (food and rations), he encountered the earth mage, whose bloated squirrel cheeks inflated with the knowledge he had hoarded inside of them. 

"Hey, Rigas! Did you hear? Your little lady fighter fell under a heat spell. She's out of commission. Doesn't that make you want to swoon? The two of you can lay side by side in the medical tent!" 

Alster set his jaw, said nothing, and resumed unpacking the convoy. 

That evening, before meeting with Lilica, he wandered over to the medical tent and peeked his head inside the flaps. He saw her there in the fade of night, stone-still but for the steady rise and fall of her chest. After scanning the small space for medics on the move, and detecting none, he sneaked inside and stood, for a brief moment, at her side.

"This is partially my fault," he said to her in a whisper. "I never meant...forgive me. And forgive me in advance." His eyes glistened with tears. "For I don't know what will become of me. Or what I will do." 

He departed, then, and reached Lilica's tent with the same covert sneaking he had exercised when visiting upon his previous destination. With a wearied nod, he listened to her snark and entered her little sanctuary. He seated himself upon the earth and watched the candles flicker to their own erratic heartbeats. 

"I know what needs to happen," he said in a hollowed-out drone of a voice as he reached for her pulse. "Your inner sanctum is safe." 

It didn't take him long to reach a meditative state. Between the grounding earth, the rhythmic breathing, and the pulsing flashes of candle-fire, Alster found himself standing in the oft visited cypress forest of his dreams--where it all began. 

He tried to move, to wander the environment and observe the scene of the crime before the crime occurred, but stillness crept over his muscles, and they felt stiff and wooden and petrified. His feet jammed themselves so far into the ground that no amount of wiggling could set them free. It was then that he realized: he was a tree. 

Before long, they materialized. Debine and Valente--and himself. No. Not me. I am a tree. He is Alster.

The three of them relaxed in the shade of the cypresses, enjoying the breezes that lolled up from the nearby ocean. Debine was in a better humor. She smiled and hummed a little tune and a bushel of bluebells waggled their heads, thinking themselves actual bells. Valente unrolled a crisp of parchment, bridging distances and consulting routes upon a map of his own creation. 

And Alster--he trailed behind the two, a placid face of contentment. Then--a turn. Those blue eyes grew dark. Acidic. Slitted, like those of a serpent. 

A horrible pain shivered through the tree. Hacking motions. Splinters flew. He felt for his roots, holding on for dear life. The chopping stripped at his bark, left deep gouges throughout his hardened body. The images--of Debine, of Valente, of Alster--they shimmered into more pronounced blurs, devolving into mere colors, splatters of paint upon canvas...

No! he wailed. The tree shuddered. I will not lose myself! The tree twisted itself into knots, squeezing him into ribbons. Bring it back! I must know! I have to know!

Now!

A clap and the tree returned to normal. Debine, Valente, and Alster reconstituted themselves, from the abstract into concentrated images. The tree watched as Alster, eyes full of confusion and hate and fear, lifted both hands outward. He grit his teeth. Bit down on his tongue until it gushed blood. Fingers crackled in protest against the energy that spurted forth like a gush of oil from the ground. That same oily matter flumed from his hands, forming grotesque shapes: engorged, warped, contorted. A head appeared. Fangs. A slithering tongue. The figure stretched and coiled and split off into yet another coiling, stretching figure. Twin serpents. They struck with the speed of a diving falcon, and snatched them--Debine and Valente. Snatched them both. The darkness constricted and constricted until their victims bled from every orifice, and nearly rent in two. They injected a poison that bubbled the skin until it ate away and left sinew that roped and roped around until that, too, boiled into nothing. 

The snakes disappeared. 

A pile of gore was all that remained. 

And the tree, it drooped and withered and rotted inside, deteriorating with every mortal scream of terror that rattled through Alster who, on his hands and knees, waded in a puddle of blood. 

The tree crashed, into Alster, and they became as one. At once, thoughts assailed him like a squall of ice shards.

I killed them. I killed them. They're dead because of me. Because...I am a Serpent.

The world shattered like glass, and he shattered with it.

He woke up wheezing, with tears streaming down his face. 

"I-I..." he tried to speak, but instead he bowled over on the ground and started to dry heave.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jul 06, 2015 10:53 pm
by Requiem
As soon as Lilica entered the forbidden depths of the Rigas caster's mind, she ceased to exist. At least, her physical body did not manifest, but her presence was as real as Alster's. But she could only assume he stood somewhere to witnessed the scene unfolding in front of him, as his own physical presence appeared missing. It was never guaranteed how someone would appear in the realm of the subconscious, not even their own.

"Alster?" she murmured, when the scene began to manifest. Two people--a man and a woman, and Alster, himself. But as soon as she spoke, she realized it wasn't Alster at all, but a shade of who he used to be--of his past.
And, for a moment, all the dark mage could do was look on in envy. Two parents, and their child, sharing a placid moment--none like she had ever known when she was young. Had her mother ever looked on at her with such fondness? Had her father ever looked at her at all? Alster had what she'd wished she had experience, but what had never been an option, for her.

For a moment, Lilica selfishly wanted to lose herself in Alster's memory. She wanted to sit down with the people of his past, be part of it. Experience the warmth that felt just beyond her reach, as if she were watching through a pane of glass. She wanted to forget her objective and become one with the environment, and she wanted it so badly, she was almost oblivious to the sudden change in atmosphere that accompanied the look in young-Alster's eyes.

That was when everything went dark. And what unfolded felt akin to what she had done to her own parents. That twin-headed, serpentine shadow, the screams, the blood... No, she had seen this all before, time and again. Not in quite the same manner, or with the same people, but she was no stranger to any of it. Blood was still blood, and death was still death... tragedy was tragedy. As her dark eyes took in the pile of gore that had, moments ago, been Alster's parents, she could just as easily picture her own mother and father, lifeless corpses by her own hands.

The difference was, she'd had well over a century to come to terms with her travesty. Alster, on the other hand...

She was forced from the memory with a start, coming to with tear stains on her cheeks. To witness something so beautiful, be destroyed so quickly...
But there wasn't time to ponder the tender moment prior to the death of the Rigas caster's parents, or to feel sorry for herself for the fact she'd never experienced an inkling of the memory. Anyway, as to how much of it was illusion or metaphor was unknown. She recalled vividly that Alster had said his mother was ruthless and relentless in her criticisms of him... Which, she reasoned, had likely been the source of the anger and the hatred that had summoned the the serpentine darkness that had taken his parents' lives.

"Alster..." Wiping the stray tears from her cheeks, she turned to the Rigas caster, and fear gripped her heard. No no no... If what he'd seen had broken him, if dragging him in to the recesses of his mind to face his deepest fears had shattered what little barrier between his sanity and utter, overwhelming despair had shattered, then Chara would never forgive her. Worse, Chara might very well blame her, and hope of escaping this war alive would completely dissipate.

Biting her lower lip, the dark mage put a hand on his back, feeling his body tense with every empty heave, until he practically exhausted himself and fell back on his knees. "Alster--you listen to me, understand?" Moving in front of him, she took his exhausted and distraught face in her hands. Lilica's expression was as severe and sharp as a knife. "Let go. It's over. Let go--do you understand me, Alster? Absorb it, but don't hold onto it. It will only hurt you. It will consume you. Calm down, and let it go."

Consolation was not her strong point, but this catalyst wouldn't have occurred, had it not been for her interference. So she waited out Alster's tidal wave of shock with all the patience she could muster, until he was too exhausted to think, and she was nearly too exhausted to think anymore. There was no point in dragging him back to his own tent at that point, and she wasn't even sure that she could haul his unconscious body halfway across the new camp with her scrawny arms. Ultimately, she got him settled on her cot and stood outside to catch her breath after that ordeal. No sooner did the sun peak over the horizon that she headed to Chara's tent.

Under any other circumstances, she would have known better but to wake the celestial mage from any form of slumber, lest she be on the receiving end of her wrath. But Chara would find out about the catalyst that had just occurred sooner than later, and if she had to hear it at all, then Lilica preferred to be the first source. "Chara--you need to wake up. It's Alster. He... we..." She bit her lower lip, meeting the Rigas mage's sleep-addled gaze with a mixture of concern and guilt. "He saw something. And I'm not sure when--or if--he's going to recover from it..."

---

Elespeth didn't wade from unconsciousness until late the next morning, when the camp was slowly falling back into its typical patterns. Confusion was the first thing to dawn on her as she surveyed the tent, where several other exhausted soldiers lay, out of commission and some wearing bandages. The medical tent... but what am I doing--

It came back to her in a rush. The heat and exhaustion of the previous day, that had pushed her body to its limit. And that stranger who had offered her water, concerned for her well being, before...
Is that how she'd ended up here? Of all the embarrassing things to happen... 

Throwing her legs over the side of the bed, the ex-knight stood, unsteadily at first, but managed to get her bearings quickly enough. She was awake, now, and there was no point in taking up a bed in the medical tent that someone else could very well use. There was still work to be done... And gratitude to express. That is, if she could find the one who had helped her...

Squinting against the sunlight as she pushed past the flaps of the tent, it must have been sheer luck that she took notice of the familiar face near the weapons tent. The tent that she had bee restocking the other day, before the world had gone black. "Hey!" She called, waving to catch his attention. When their eyes met, she hurried over. "I believe I owe you thanks... and, maybe, an apology." Lifting her shoulder in a shrug, she offered a half-hearted smile. "I hope you weren't made to pick up my brunt of the work after I... fainted, yesterday." Truth be told, she was not quite yet feeling a hundred percent recovered, but the only way Elespeth Tameris would agree to bed rest for more than an evening would be if she were tied there. Especially after being put up from her injured ankle, beforehand...


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jul 07, 2015 2:05 am
by Widdershins
He heaved and heaved until his chest bellowed like a fire it could not disperse. He heaved until his mouth ran dry. He heaved until he collapsed onto himself, backwards, and from his cloudy vision he saw the dancing flames, like will o' the wisps sealing his fate. The bog water had lapped from his knees to over his head, and in the muck and grime, his own flame had sputtered into smoke. 

He long-since separated his mind from its interactions with his body. They were two entities connected only by a frayed string. One tap and the string would rot in twain.

From a distance as far as one end of a gorge to another, he heard a voice, echoing from the rift in time and space.

Let go.

How?

Calm down, and let it go.

Simple enough words--but they meant nothing. Hollow as the inside of the tree he once inhabited. 

He remembered more than their murder. It flooded back to him upon awaking. The emotions that overtook, roosting in the darkest crevices of his soul, awaiting the opportunity to crawl out of the cracks...

You were never around when I needed you most, Father...

Gone. Always gone. 

You waited too long.

One of his earliest childhood memories--the back of his father's broad shoulders. The sound of his footfalls receding into the immensity of their home. 

Why didn't you love me sooner?!

By then, only the smell of his cologne lingered in the air where once he roamed--eyes trained forward and never behind.

Why was I never good enough for you, Mother?

The old masters, his teachers, had praised him. But she always looked off in the distance, disinterested. 

You never looked at me as your son. Only as a problem...

Everywhere he went, anything he did, he always felt her judging eyes boring into his conscience.

I awakened the Serpent...for you.

A flash of yellow-orange slits blackened his memories into a charred ruin.

Now it's peaceful, the voice hissed, but it cooed in equal measure. Soothing. Reassuring. As forked as the tongue that uttered it, he was willing to listen. Listen to the silence...and sink.

He sank. Into night. Into the slumber of oblivion. 

**

Chara lay among her innumerable pillows and felt little comfort. The soft, silken rustle of her sheets seemed to chafe at her skin. The cooling breeze that billowed through her tent stabbed like side-swiping rain. The ceiling of stars that her magic had conjured spelled ominous messages before the stars themselves flickered and disappeared. The entire wing-tip of the constellation Aerione vanished like words from a spilled inkwell--and with it, the star of Alster. 

Gasping, she sat up in her cot, only to discover Lilica hovering in her periphery. 

"What are--" she began to sputter indignations at her bed intruder, flustered still from her waking nightmare, when she heard the dark mage's news and felt all the warmth drain from her blood. Frost slushed in her veins, slowing her heart to slow, imperceptible beats. Not a nightmare. It was worse--reality. 

"What...what did he see? Did he--I knew I shouldn't have spoken a word to him!" She gripped handfuls of her pillows, a comfort she now desired. "I fear that this is my doing. I am the catalyst." Inviting Lilica to sit beside her on the cot, she sighed and dispersed the sky full of stars. Though they returned to normalcy--including Aerione--she shuddered to look upon them and their mercurial disposition. 

"I had...suspicions. Alster had relayed his version of events to me, and I knew...something was amiss. When he accepted your aid to hone his chthonic abilities, I...began to doubt this path for him--and I tried to divert him. Discourage him. I told him my perspective--that I thought that he, that his magic..." she trailed away. "My fears...were they true? Did chthonic magic kill his parents?" She tore at the fine fabric in her hands, gripping fistfuls of her frustration--and guilt. "I should have known he would have taken such extreme initiative to uncover the truth, but all I wanted...I just wanted him back before any of this had ever started occurring!" Her fingers relaxed as her mouth hung agape. Did she voice--to the dark mage, no less--such a private thought? Nonetheless, she could not stopper her tongue. "My selfishness...did this to him. I have to...I have to see him. He'll stay here in my tent. He will recover," she said, but with a lack of confidence to back her words. "He will. ...He will."

**

Work kept on puttering along from the day Messino's army reached new camp. While the brunt of the labor had been more or less completed, little details escaped the grasp of many. Haraldur could not fault any soldier for the oversight, when the scramble to recreate camp took as great a toll on the army as any battle with Tadasun might engender. 

At least, they had survived. Worse for wear, but they breathed and they moved and he didn't need to bury anyone. Yet. 

To help his fellow man, Haraldur continued work on those small, fleeting details. The weapons' tent was left in disarray. Every conceivable blade and pole-arm lay scattered all over the floor of the tent, nothing arranged or cleared of obstruction. A tripping hazard and a goring hazard ready to happen. Taking as many spears that his large, callused hands could hold, he began slotting them into their wooden racks. 

He paused when he felt another presence behind him. 

The woman warrior from the other day--should she be up and about this early on in her convalescence?

"Hello." He turned to greet her, freeing his arms after positioning the last spear in place. "Tam, was it? How are you faring?" He gave a quick sweep of her appearance, from head to toe, ascertaining her well-being--in case she required an escort back to the medical tent. 

"No apologies are necessary. You were not the first to faint, nor the last, and there is no shame in your body's need for rest. The camp is up and running. Just working on a few finishing touches." He grabbed a bouquet of daggers and hopped over a small obstacle of fallen axes en route to a shelf. "My name is Haraldur, by the way." He sorted through the daggers and stacked them accordingly. "Just another sellsword." After wading through another entanglement of weapons, he reached her and thrust out a hand. "We'll try this again." He smiled.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2015 2:36 am
by Requiem
"Chara Rigas. For all of your pride and self-assurance, I want you to listen to me, right now."

Condolence and reassurance were not Lilica D'Or's strong points. Spending a wakeful and stress-filled evening with Alster, just to ascertain he wasn't about to claw his skin off or cease to draw breath had taken a large enough toll on the dark mage. She was hardly able to help herself--how in the world could she be expected to pick up the pieces of the chthonic-adept Rigas mage andhelp his celestial cousin hold herself together? Who had been there to hold her together when she had attempted to take her own life?

But it was the very answer to that question, she soon realized, that kept her feet firmly planted in Chara's tent. Lilica had had no one, not even by some illusion, to help her navigate the dismal abyss that was her magical potential. She'd had no one to pick her back up every time she fell, no one to stop her before she'd hurt someone in hopes that bearing witness to their pain would make her feel better about her own pathetic existence.
What would have happened, had that all played out differently? Could she have been saved? Gone through life, slightly less scarred?

There was no way of knowing, but she wanted to believe it. Because if it were true, then Alster was far from a lost cause, despite what he might have thought or felt at the given moment. If it was true, the Chara needn't live another hundred years with nothing but guilt and a sharp tongue to show for it. Nobody had made a difference for her; she would make a different them.

So long as she was forced to remain within this encampment, she would, for once, be the difference between hope and despair. If she could help it.

Taking a tentative step forward, the dark-haired mage took a seat upon the various and sundry cushions surrounding and beneath Chara's agitated form. Funny, how someone who seemed to have everything could yet so quickly decide that it wasn't enough--that it didn't matter, if the people in their life were suffering. "You are not the catalyst. There is no way of knowing whether or not Alster would have looked into this himself, in years to come. Or that it might not have unveiled itself to him in some dire moment. I realize this seems contrary to the logic of here and now, but it is for the better that he knows. He's become acquainted with the pain of the truth, and let me tell you, that is more important than you can imagine."

Folding her hands in her lap, Lilica pressed a sigh from her lungs before continuing. "I felt nothing for almost twenty years, after I killed my parents in a fit of hatred. I felt nothing but hatred; it is a buffer for everything. Pain, sorrow, discomfort... but also happiness. And humanity." With a shake of her head, she lifted on hand to rake it through her hair. "It wasn't until I was able to stand back and to feel that pain that I began to reclaim myself. It hurt; it hurt enough that I wanted to die, but I didn't. And now I'm here, and now I can see that hope lurks in cracks and crevices where you would never think it could fit...

"But the difference between Alster and I is that there was nobody there for me. I saw no other option but death to expel that monster inside of me. But Alster... he has three contacts of support, from what I can see. He has me, via our agreement to help. He has his battle partner, who has exhibited such a genuine concern for his happiness and well-being that you'd think the fool had feelings for him that extended beyond this war. And he has you." She put a hand on Chara's shoulder. "He will recover, and not in spite of you, but because of you. You've set the wheels in motion for him to recover. The truth is out; all that is left is the future."

The dark mage even went to far as to offer an awkward smile, one that was wholly unpracticed and didn't look comfortable. Lilica did not make a habit of smiling. "I am the selfish one in my desire to envy him. That he has three people watching his back and picking him up again when he falls... And I had none. Or, if I did, then I could not see through the shades of red that blurred my vision. Maybe it was my own fault, maybe not, but I was alone. So I... I guess I dreamed of people who cared. I should have realized all a long that the stuff of dreams are what they are only because they cannot be a reality."

No, Alster was not doomed. In her endeavour to reassure Chara, she was further reassuring herself. Alster Rigas had far too much going for him to turn to dust. As soon as he learned to stop being his own worst enemy, perhaps he would realize this. "Give him his space, for now. He is asleep back in my tent, for the moment; if he prefers it to himself to pick up the pieces, then he is welcome to it. Between the two of us and, no doubt, his fighter partner, his needs will not go unmet. But... Chara..." She tugged on her lower lip with her teeth as she contemplated her words. Tact was, also, not Lilica's strong suit. "You told me not to live a dream, but to build a different dream within this reality. Alster... Alster is going to be all right. But it is not fair to either of you to hold out for a version of him that may no longer exist. He has changed--he will change more, I can guarantee, from the man you knew. But that goes without saying for everyone, regardless of the nature of their demons."

Giving her shoulder a sympathetic squeeze, Lilica stood, returning to the Rigas mage's her personal space. "As hypocritical as it sounds coming from me... be kind to yourself. Help him, but don't become caught in your own web of despair and insurmountable guilt. We have both seen where that leads..."

---

"Yes--Tam. A pleasure to meet you, Haraldur." This time, when she shook his hand, Elespeth was not compelled to fall to her knees, driven as she had been by exhaustion. It was reassuring to stand as strong as she liked to think she sounded. "A sellsword, you say? Huh. I never did consider the word... although I suppose you could say the same for me."

Bending, she picked up a handful of heavy spears, waiting to be sorted and properly mounted. Her arms screamed with the strain she'd endured the day before, but she would be damned if she dropped a single one of them, this time. Over fourteen hours of sleep (or so she'd guessed) meant that she was at least six hours behind the work that was expected of her, and she was not about to delegate her responsibilities to someone else who worked just as hard. "Are you native to Andalari?" She asked her new acquaintance, out of curiosity. "Your name is not one I've become familiar with in this region. I am--or, was--a traveler, myself." A necessary confession; if her accent did not betray her alien presence, then her name (even her alias) certainly did.

"I'd also ask what persuaded you to fight for someone like Messino, in all of his... unconventional military tactics," she went on, careful not to insult the Prince, in case Haraldur truly did believe in the man. "Then again... that is also something I find myself wondering, day after day."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jul 08, 2015 10:06 pm
by Widdershins
The bark of Lilica's voice shot her head forward and up, in time to see the mage hunker down in a cloud of cushions. The cot shifted with the added strain of two, but she didn't deride her dubious company, however much she was expected to act as representative to her family. Whether contractually obligated or not, this woman had done more for her and for Alster than many who shared in her own blood. For one who had experienced such darkness and crushing despair, alone in the world without another soul, she shined with a light all her own, radiating from her own source. And Chara felt more compelled to listen.

"What I fear," she said, a quiet strain pulling on her words as she waited for a gap in Lilica's discourse to speak, "is that the pain will shut him down. You have already stated the length of time it took for you to open your mind to your emotions. What if....support is not enough?" She looked down at her shuffling feet. "I don't wish to discount Alster's own inner strength, but I know he is susceptible to his moods. He retreats, and often. More often than before the start of this war. What if his hurt destroys him? I do not know what I will--" she paused upon noticing the hand that Lilica had placed over her shoulder. The gesture, along with a statement of confidence seemingly summoned out of Chara's mouth and into a far different receptacle, placated her rattling thoughts. The dark mage was not one to bloviate or create fanciful lies, and for her to spout such a message of hope warmed the freeze in her veins. Unbidden, a smile of her own appeared, a reflection of the awkwardness alight on Lilica's face.

"I want you to be correct. I've beaten that self-pity out of him before, when he returned to the Rigas estate two years ago. I'm able to beat him up a second time. As for his battle partner," she frowned, not quite enjoying the idea of a nobody non magic-user like Tam as a bastion for support, "I suppose she will have to do. In the meantime...I'll wait for Alster to awaken. Whether he wants me or not, I will remain nearby. I know that my reality doesn't align with my desires, but," her shoulders slumped under Lilica's touch, "I am rather fond of the imbecile and I...I don't want him to transform into a whole other breed of imbecile." That was the closest she would admit to...loving him. Lowering her head to hide a blush in the dark, she fiddled with the fingers that had transitioned upon her lap. 

When Lilica passed on her last bit of advice and rose to stand, Chara stood in unison, staring at her feet as a different kind of blush roosted in her cheeks. "This is difficult for me to express. I...thank you. This may sound presumptuous of me to say, considering we are benefiting from your aid, but I believe you are well on you way to finding that new dream of yours."

**

When he and Tam locked hands, he first offered a wary pump in case of an adverse reaction, but regained the confidence to follow-through with the physical exchange. Dropping his hand, he repositioned it to scoop another set of daggers from the ground. "Sellsword, mercenary, freelancer, soldier of fortune--I've used every term possible. When you make a career out of fighting others' battles, you find there are a dozen different ways to describe your vocation. Whores of the battlefield--that's another one." Haraldur followed Tam to where she brought herself to task, keeping an eye out for her but speaking no word against the proffered aid. 

"I am not native to this area, no." He crouched in order to sort through a particularly messy pile of battle axes and short swords. "I am from the Wilds. I suppose that's what this region refers to the hulking stretch of land West of the Vassair Mountains." In the years following his birth, the Vassair Mountain range designated the border between East and West. The East utilized those grand peaks as a symbol of cutting all ties with those grand nations that once dominated the West. Civil and political unrest spread like a conflagration from Vassair all the way to the Western coast--bringing with it an unrelenting drought of twenty years ongoing. Lack of food and stability turned nations into anarchist hideaways, littered so with bandits and crime and warring tribes vying for wasted territory. The last stronghold of the West, St. Thorne, was besieged just five years prior and left to crumble. 

"My homeland hails west of Mollengard, up north. Mollengard has accepted us into their country as refugees--though the Kingdom of Astrador ceased to be some time ago." With a shrug, he resumed collecting the axes. "Like you, I've been a traveler. Still am. I happened to be in Andalari when word of war spread from tavern to tavern. I have no loyalties to any one nation--a necessity borne from losing your birthplace so many different times. I fight to fight. There is no deep, entrenching reason for my participation. And I've fought under the banners of loonier men, before. However," he ceased his work to glance upwards at Tam, "you seem to be voicing doubts. I don't blame you. Between the Mad Prince and the legion of complaining casters, it's not the tidiest of war campaigns. You know that first-hand, right? I believe you are with the Compound Unit." He declined to mention the rumors of her defection from weapons wielder to caster disciple. Every war camp loved their gossip, he thought with the shake of his head.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jul 09, 2015 11:30 pm
by Requiem
Gratitude was not something that Lilica's ears were used to hearing, at least not with respect to anything she had done. And to hear it coming from someone as proud and headstrong as Chara Rigas--of all the Rigases possible... it almost felt surreal. And, for that fact, it resonated more than she'd thought it would. Warmth blossomed in her chest--an intensely alien sensation--and she couldn't quite meet the celestial caster's gaze as she smiled. No one smiled at the likes of her. It felt... too surreal.

Times like this, Lilica D'Or wondered if she was still dreaming.

"I'm not really on the market for a dream," she said quietly, lifting her shoulder in a shrug. "Just... some peace. The dream will come after that, I hope." Moving towards the tent flaps, she spared one more look over her shoulder. Even newly awoken, with her golden hair twisting every which way from the throes of sleep, and her eyes half-lidded with fatigue, the celestial caster still managed to look the epitome of lovely. It was both infuriating and, curiously, charming. "Don't worry about Alster; I'll keep an eye on him for a few more hours. Return to your rest for a little while... No sense in wasting precious time. Even if you are older than a century, and time has less meaning."

With one more unpracticed smile, the dark mage nodded, leaving the Rigas caster to her thoughts, space, and sleep.

---

Haraldur's tale of 'home', or what he had made his home, was intriguing to Elespeth. Even as a traveler, hearing tales such as his made her realize just how small the world really was. All she had walked away from, truly, was her name; Atvany didn't feel like home anymore, hadn't for a long time, and she'd happily indulged in various and sundry sobriquets as her identity varied from place to place. But her nomadic lifestyle was purely out of necessity, a means to stay alive (as in, avoid execution by her own homeland). Not a result of tensions and economic instability between the East and the West.
For all of her misfortune, the ex-knight was never at a loss for reasons why she considered herself lucky.

"Well, I feel as though you are in the right by swearing no loyalties," she commented; naturally, she was a little bit biased. "It feels as though nothing and no place is stable enough anymore to warrant loyalty. In fact, I'd never have known that Andalari and Tadasun were at war, had I not happened upon the chance to participate in it--purely for monetary purposes, no so unlike yourself." Of course, that was only a half truth. Her motivation had changed significantly after meeting Alster, and learning of his cause...
Even if the Rigas caster no longer wanted her help. It did not change her conviction. 

Arranging a broadsword among a plethora of other blades, the Atvanian fugitive paused at her comrade's sharp observation of her suspicions surrounding Messino. "After how awry the last battle turned out, I have lost all faith in our primary commanding officer," she admitted, her tone a tad quieter."The casters weren't provided with armor, and there was no strategy. But yes, I am--was... As far as I know, I am part of the compound units. Unless our Prince decides otherwise; not like he can make good use of his own tactic, anyway..."

Just as her thoughts drifted to Alster, and how miserable he had looked when she'd seen him the other day, who should pass by the weapons tent but his haughty, blonde-haired fiancée. An opportunity hit Elespeth like a stone to the forehead, and she immediately made for the flaps of the tends. "Don't think I'm bailing on the job," she told Haraldur, tossing him a smile over her shoulder. "I'll be right back, I promise!"
Without further words or warning, she slipped out, sprinting to catch up to Chara Rigas.

"Chara!" She called, hoping to catch the Rigas caster's attention. When she caught up, she was--perhaps unsurprisingly--met with the blonde's trademark look of disgruntled irritation. Elespeth knew better than to take it personally, considering it likely had less to do with the magic user's mood, and more about the comfortable resting expression of her face, in general. "I'm not sure if you remember me--I'm Tam. Alster's partner in combat. The last battle, you made it possible for me to get back to camp on an injured leg... And I'm long overdue for offering my thanks, at that."

But that had not been the only reason why she'd been so keen on catching up to the Rigas Caster; far from it, in fact. For the sake of not wasting her time--or Chara's, for that matter--Elespeth was quick to cut to the chase. "I realize you're probably busy, and I promise I won't keep you, but... I was just wondering... Is Alster all right?" Before the proud Rigas caster could brush her off, or dismiss the conversation with a trite 'He's fine, now move along', she clarified, "I tried to speak with him the other day, and he looked... for lack of a better word, unwell. I wasn't sure if something was perhaps bothering him, or if his health has of late taken a poor turn, but... If there was any way that the meager likes of myself might be of help... Could you let me know?" Offering a hesitant smile, she added, "Being part of a compound unit, I don't feel as though looking out for the well-being of my partner in combat should be limited to the battlefield."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Jul 10, 2015 11:50 pm
by Widdershins
Starting from a young age, Haraldur was forced to participate in battles of which he felt no affiliation. He learned early on that loyalties were bought, and solidarity did not matter--not if it would hinder survival. Not if every person had a projected lifespan of weeks to months. "Comparatively, the East enjoys a good deal of stability. Not like stability is a thing that is constant." He brushed a bare spot off the lessening clutter of the floor with his feet. "Ironically enough, it is through disorder that people will fight to maintain, or obtain, such security. It's so fleeting, so ephemeral. And it will die." 

Did he ever know of stability in his life? To him, it seemed more of a concept that, in a desperate bid to upkeep the illusion, garnered more war, more unrest, and more strife. It triggered an infinite loop that favored war and human suffering. 

And he perpetuated that suffering. 

"You had faith, all along?" he said, clearing his throat of thoughts that only agitated his ability to work uninterrupted. "As a sellsword, it's pointless, at this rate, to expect a competent or humanistic leader. Is this your first war as one?" An innocent enough question, but he suspected her answer was marred by complexities and secrets, so he waved it off with the flick of a hand, which found its way into another pyramid of blades. 

When he looked up from his task, he watched her dart away from him and out of the tent. Did he ask something that revealing? He then noticed that she reached for the attention of a Rigas caster flashing by the gaps in the tent flaps. 

"Take your time," he said with the brush of a smile. 

**

Chara carted a jug of water from the stream at the edge of camp toward Lilica's tent. They decided, last night, that Alster should remain there, at least for now, in case moving him disturbed his slumber. Fully, she planned on relocating him to the coziness of her quarters--if his state lasted more than a day or two. She worried on her lip in consideration of such a possibility. What if he would not awaken? 

No. She needed to busy herself with the expectation that he would awaken. In the meantime...well, he would not drink water without her aid. 

Just as she crossed near the boundaries of the weapons' tent, a cry for her name whirled her around on her heels. The jug of water lapped out of its containment from the sudden jerking movements, and splashed along her arms. When at last she recognized the voice and the person who popped out of the tent to surprise her so, her glare deepened. Tam. 

"Yes, I am well-aware of your existence. I am not daft." She raised an eyebrow at her, and tapped on her foot as an indication to hurry it up. She hadn't the time to listen to whatever drivel pattered along in the woman fighter's mouth. "Is that all, then? Well, you're welcome. Now--" she pivoted towards her intended destination--until the blasted woman mentioned a subject that she could not neglect to discuss. 

"He is unwell," she said with a confirming nod, moving the jug from one hand to the other. "I am not in liberty to divulge what he may wish to keep in secret. Furthermore, there is nothing of significance you can do to help him." Could she even help him? Early that morning, she sat by his cot and spoke his name, conversed with him, however one-sided, and spouted curses at him. No response. Her meager use of magic could not even penetrate the morass of his mind, such as Lilica's ability to do the same. In the end, she was just as useless as the oblivious sword wielder. 

She was about to leave her pittance of an explanation at that, but her movements to escape the scene had faltered. This wasn't about her or about who she despised or thought unworthy to accept. This was about Alster, and his recovery. Lilica spoke an unfortunate truth. He required support, and Tam, unfortunately, embodied that support. 

With a blistering sigh, she gripped Tam's arm and wrenched her forward. "Come with me. I'll take you to him."

A few meandering turns and a roundabout route led them both to the back-side of Lilica's tent. Even in the throes of crisis, Chara needed to exercise the utmost discretion. Not only was she a frequenter of the dark mage's vicinity, but she dragged around the very warrior about which rumors of her caster-related liaisons persisted. Not so much a rumor now, Chara thought with a grimace. 

After clearing the area of any onlookers, Chara pulled back the flaps and invited Tam inside. She didn't know whether Lilica would be there or not; just in case, she voiced a warning in regards to the warrior's presence. 

"He is here," she pointed to the cot where Alster lay, his brow furrowed in knots and slicked with perspiration. Even in the dim tent, his face reflected a pallor brighter than clouds in midday. A few of Chara's silken sheets draped over him, up to his neck. Despite the warmth of the day, she shivered. It looked like a funeral shroud. If not for the slow breathing and the occasional shifts on his face, she would believe him dead. 

"He suffered a breakdown of sorts and has been this way since yesterday," she said, into the stillness. "He may yet snap out of it, but as of now, we expect he may be asleep for a while."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Jul 11, 2015 2:11 am
by Requiem
Truly, Elespeth had anticipated being turned away, or outright ignored in the presence of another Rigas caster. The fact that Chara hadn't turned her away on her first handful of words was nothing short of a surprise. When the blonde celestial mage latched onto her wrist, her grip like a vice, the swordswoman very nearly gave into her defensive instincts, which urged her to snatch her arm away--until the true nature of what was happening registered.

Chara was actually taking her to Alster. She was letting her see him. Well, if that wasn't a sign of respect, however mild (and she knew better than to confront the Rigas mage about it; let Chara keep thinking she held no one in regard), then nothing was.

When she found herself at the front flaps of the dark mage's tent, Elespeth spared Chara a confused look, that the Rigas mage apparently chose not to acknowledge. "A breakdown, you say? Does this have anything to do with the work he's been doing with the dark mage?" She couldn't help but ask. The suspicion that Lilica was the reason for the turn in Alster's health hadn't subsided, and finding him now in her tent, those suspicions were not diminished. "Sorry... I know you said you weren't at liberty to talk about it. And it probably isn't any of my business. But I'd noticed Alster acting differently ever since he began seeing Lilica to get his magic under control... But I should know better than to assume the worst."

Looking over her shoulder at Chara, she asked, "Is it all right if I talk to him for a moment? I doubt it will pull him out of his fugue, but... on the off chance that he might still hear me."

When Chara stepped outside, El knelt next to Alster's cot, not unlike what he had done for her, just the other day, when she had been rendered unconscious from heat exhaustion. He looked so pale, she'd have thought him stricken with plague, had the celestial caster not clarified that it had been a breakdown. "Doesn't seem like you can catch a break, does it?" She asked quietly, not expecting to be answered. Just heard; or not. But she needed to say the words, even if they were carried on and dissolved into the wind.

"I know you probably had your reasons for not wanting to talk to me... You didn't think I could help. And maybe you're right. I spent all my life wanting to be at the service of others, and when it comes down to it, I'm kind of useless, in that respect... Ironic for an ex-knight, huh?" She smiled in spite of herself, but there was no humour in it. "I'm not all that special. And I have no reason to think otherwise... Or to think I could actually be of help to you, in any way. So I promise I'll keep my distance, from now on. I don't want to complicate your life any further, not when there are people who actually can help."

She thought of Lilica, who was helping him through matters that no one else could touch. And of Chara who, in spite of her cold exterior, still seemed to care for him on a significant level. Then there was her; the sword-wielder who couldn't even keep to the compound unit to which she had committed in the first place. Who cramped her partner's style, and likely had thrown him off his game during the last battle.
What an irony, that she was only a hindrance when she wanted to be a help.

"You have family that cares, whether you see it or not. And that... that is significant. Then again, maybe I am just biased, since my own kin were prepared and willing to see me hand." It was so easy to make light of dire travesty, when speaking to someone who you knew would not respond. Made it seem more like a sick joke, the type that appall you, until you hear it over and over again to the point where it loses its original meaning. "I know you can pull through this, Alster. I wouldn't have pestered you so much, if I didn't believe in you." Lowering her voice, Elespeth added. "I still believe in your...and your cause. That won't change. You secrets are still safe with me. Just... do us all a favour, and come out of this. There are people who are counting on you. And I still want to see your success." 

Tucking stray tresses of hair behind her ear, she gave the unconscious mage's shoulder a gentle squeeze, before making it to her feet and exiting the tent. She ran into Chara, outside and clearly impatient. "Sorry--didn't mean to take quite that long," the Atvanian fugitive apologized, with only a half-smile to offer to make up for it. "But if there's anything he need--or, for that matter, that you need--then let me know. Even if I can't help directly, should there be anything that I can do that will indirectly facilitate things... Then I'd like to do what I can."

Leaving Chara to return to Alster and her duties (not that the two were mutually exclusive, at this point on time), Elespeth hurried back to the weapons tent, her footfalls feeling heavier than before. "Sorry about that... I just needed to look in to something," she apologized to Haraldur almost immediately, before returning her hands to the steel that still needed to be sorted. There was nothing like rote tasks, such as putting away weapons, to take your mind off of a heavy heart. "To answer your question... this is my first war. As a mercenary, a fighter, and a person, in general. And I can only hope that Messino doesn't see to it, in all of his negligence, that it is my last."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jul 12, 2015 12:42 am
by Widdershins
Chara crossed her arms at Tam's assumption. "No." A sneer pulled down the corners of her mouth. "It was my doing. He requested Lilica's aid afterwards. She did not cause his torpor, if that is what you're wondering." She pointed her chin at the cot. "Yes, go talk to him. Perhaps he will respond in sleep-talk gibberish." It wasn't until she exited the tent that she realized--she had jumped to Lilica's defense. Of all people, she actively voiced and admitted in trusting the dark mage. And of all people, she admitted such a fact to Tam.

"What is happening to me?" She grumbled aloud, holding her head as if teetering from the skewed perspectives she was gaining, as of late. Before she could further analyze or bemoan the disturbances in her values, Tam reemerged from the tent and reinvigorated the sneer on Chara's face. 

"We'll keep in touch," she said, placing a forceful hand against her back and pushing her into motion. "Though I do not believe we will require your services anytime soon. Be that as it may, you are more than welcome to remain on stand-by until that unlikely day arrives."

When the annoying warrior departed, she shook the relief from her waddling head and returned to the tent with the jug of water in hand. Oh good riddance. 

"I do not understand why you value her company, Alster," she told his prone form as she placed the jug on a nearby table. "She is dreadfully insufferable."

**

"Did you find what you needed?" Haraldur took a casual glance from his sorting to greet Tam, who seemed a mite more distraught than from a few moments prior. "Bad news?" He rose to his feet with the last remaining spears that littered the floor. "You needn't answer that. ...I imagine it's difficult to fight under a banner that you don't believe in. Your previous scrapes appeared to have a purpose to you--a purpose that comes with national pride. Breaking ties with your country, for whatever reason, weighs heavily on the mind--influences you and your beliefs more than what you find comfortable. The transition is a jarring one, but you'll find your way." A mysterious smile crossed his face. "Already, you have found yourself some powerful allies, if my observations serve me right. They won't let you die." 

**

The blackness stirred across Alster's inner sanctum, an airtight deterrent against any leakages from Outside. He floated, in a mist, a peaceful reprieve from all that meant him harm. No thoughts, or worries, or expectations. No guilt. No fear. ...No happiness, either. Or love. Alas, nothing is achieved without sacrifices. In the black, safety reigned. Control. Stability. He required little else. 

Still, something was amiss. And missing. A ping against the place where his heart once pumped. A stretching sensation that crinkled him in one direction or the other. A rift in the black, a light shining down--a reminder of another world. The world called to him on occasion, popping holes in that airtight seal, and muttering in a multitude of voices. 

It will consume you. Calm down, and let it go.

You withering swine! You'd better wake up or so help me...

There are people who are counting on you. And I still want to see your success.

I still believe in you.

Those last words--they echoed across wall-less hallways, into the streams of his dreamscape, writing into his memory, into the veins of his lifeblood. There, he heard a pump he thought gone. Badump. Badump.

His heart. 

Cracks bore through the comforting night. An unearthly roar shook his little corner to smithereens.

You fool! Why would you destroy this for yourself? Outside, there is nothing but the reminder of your sins.

I don't know. He told the roar. I don't know. But I need to be there.

The light tore through the shroud. Blinding, pulsating--alive. 

Alster opened his eyes. 

And with it, the pain swept back into his being like a renewed blow to the head. 

**

"Well, well, look who's late to the procession!" The earth mage tittered at seeing Alster's languid approach to where a number of casters had gathered. 

"We're...preparing for battle?" Alster clutched his head and took a slow sweep of the area, caring not to make any sudden jerking motions. His headache intensified with every craning of his neck. Upon waking from his sleep just a few hours ago, he heard the collective clatter and clamor of a thousand or so people milling about camp just outside his--no, Chara's--tent. He stumbled around the relative sanctuary of his confines for a while, guzzling water and some food set aside for him, and made several attempts to mingle with the outside. The intensifying light of the sun stymied, near paralyzed him with its radiating burst of activity. It glared and set him aback, with a look that corroded like acid. 

"I'm not ready," he muttered, flipping the tent flaps into place. "I'm not ready." He fell again, upon the cot. "But I have to go...or I never will."

With a tremulous hand, he pushed himself through the threshold, and welcomed the burn of life.

The mage raised an eyebrow at his inquiry. "It's obvious, isn't it? What were you, asleep this whole time?"

"...Yes." Alster squinted against the light, still sensitive to the sunbursts in his eyes. "At least, I think so."

"That sounds like typical Rigas behavior right there. Sleeping while we all toil and sweat and train our fingers off!" 

Alster shook his head at the earth mage's inane ramblings and turned to retreat. He hadn't the patience to bump heads with a man whose only purpose was to provoke him.

"Your little lady fighter didn't wait long for your return. Such a whore--she found herself another beau. A filthy warrior, just like herself."

Alster paused. 

"Hah--I thought that would pique your attention! Aren't you a hopeless cause?"

Alster twisted around to face the earth mage, ignoring the throb of his blossoming headache--and shot a tendril of chthonic magic like a whip with a speed that crackled like lightning. It grappled the earth mage's wrist and blackened the skin, spreading, like ink in the water, towards his fingers. 

"One flick and your hand will fall off."

The heights of panic prevented the earth mage from defending against the attack. Instead, he stuttered, his eyes as wide as dinner plates. "I-I'll t-tell. I'll tell Messino."

"Go ahead." He dissolved the spell, and the mage's wrist returned to its normal color. "I don't care." 

Again he turned away, this time without any resistance--and searched for Chara or Lilica. Or...Elespeth. Without them, his surroundings felt...surreal. Empty. 

Was he actually conscious? Had he stumbled into another reality? Or had he, at last, reached his final destination--the chthonic reaches of hell?


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jul 12, 2015 8:43 pm
by Requiem
It seemed as though in the blink of an eye, they were suddenly marching into battle again, with little time to acclimatize since they'd moved camp. Just as quickly as the weapons had been organized and put away in the weapons tent, and that the majority of troops had recovered from the hard couple of days of little sleep and strenuous labour, they were all being called on again to fight, whether or not they felt they had the energy.

In Messino's defense, however, this had not been his idea. Scouts had reported that the Tadasuni were marching, prepared to lay siege to the camp if Andalari was unprepared. This crisis incited a very quick assemblage of the more ready and able-bodied, as well as some fast planning and tactics on the part of the commanding officers. Needless to say, this worried Elespeth to no end. The last battle had been sloppy enough, and that had been with ample time to plan and ready the troops. It had yielded far too many casualties and unnecessary injuries, and in her opinion, could hardly be considered a success, even if the enemy had retreated for fear of complete and utter defeat.

The compound units, this time, were to be scattered--So that the enemy is always left to guess whether he is up against one or two, they had been told--with the remainder of casters and soldiers to look out for themselves.
Perhaps that was all for the better; Elespeth's compound unit had fallen apart, the last time they'd fought. And she wasn't convinced that it was what Alster wanted anymore, even if he were awake. With any luck, she'd be more efficient as a fighter without looking over her shoulder at every moment to ascertain her partner was still standing.

"At least the prince saw fit to equip the casters with armor, this time," she said to Haraldur, as the troops were assembling, preparing to march and meet the Tadasuni head on. "He cannot expect them to be their own offense as well as our defense, or for the soldiers to keep them in their peripheral vision to ascertain they are not being attacked. Still... I feel uneasy about this." Lowering her voice, the ex-knight leaned in speak quietly near the mercenary's ear. "Messino seems too confident that we have some kind of advantage, even while we've nearly been taken off guard with the approaching enemy. Either he is as mad as he seems, or there is something he is not telling us... Although what that might be, I cannot imagine. The real key to our victory last time was the dark mage, Lilica. And unless he has changed his mind, I do not believe he prepares to have her march with us at all, this time."

Elespeth's predictions were, as it turned out, spot on. Messino had no intention to bring Lilica into this pending battle, not since the Tadasuni were now aware of her as the potential ace up Andalari's sleeve. Sending her out again would be too predictable, and Tadasun had more than likely prepared a contingency plan, should she pull her same tricks, or else they wouldn't be so confident as to already be marching toward their enemy. The prince assured her that this was, of course, 'all for her own good', and that the tactics he wished to employ in the upcoming battle only excluded her 'for her safety'.

A couple of weeks ago, Lilica would have been thrilled at this news. But that was until her interference alone had chased off the Tadasuni during the last battle, before she had witnessed with her own eyes the vulnerability of the other soldiers, casters and fighters alike.
And now that the only chance of an escape from this war remained vulnerable, the possible bringer of her redemption along with the potential to actually pave a pathway towards a better and more fulfilling life--maybe one void of the darkness that cloyed at the fabric of her very soul--just apt to die as anyone else...

She couldn't allow that. Chara could look out for herself, but sometimes, that wasn't enough when enemies were coming at you from all angles--she had seen it with her own eyes, during the last battle. And were anything to happen to her, she knew that Alster would never be able to pick up the pieces of himself to recover, let alone be of any help to her. Sometimes securing a better future for yourself meant paying it forward. 

The celestial mage stood among her brethren, struggling to adjust the armor she was given, when Lilica approached her--relatively incognito, wearing slacks and a tunic, as opposed to the violet dress tied around the middle with its black leather belt. At first glance, anyone would have simply mistaken her for a small, female weapons-wielder; no one so much as turned a head when she placed a had on Chara's shoulder.

"I'm not supposed to be marching today. But I am more apprehensive to stay behind, given the outcome of the last battle... especially if Alster is still out of commission," she whispered to the blonde Rigas caster. "Don't say anything. I'll be keeping an eye on how things progress, and won't take action unless a crisis dictates that I must. Look out for yourself; the mad prince certainly does not have your back."

Before Chara could respond, the dark mage took off to blend in among the gathering crowd. The celesial mage knew just as well as she that Alster was just as effective a wild card as she was, but in the absence of both of them, she was not confident that victory could be secured. So she would stand by, just in case, and at this point, nothing could change her mind.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jul 12, 2015 11:02 pm
by Widdershins
The march to meet the Tadasuni offensive happened in a worrisome blink of time. At first, Haraldur thought he miscalculated the tracking of the sun, but he looked again at the time-keeping device in the sky and knew the truth: they had only marched for a half hour. A collective gleam shined ahead of their ranks, undulating like a solar sea. There, the Tadasuni advanced, waiting not as an act of battle politesse, but moving with a ruthless purpose: to settle the score. 

"From what I know of Tadasun," Haraldur said to Elespeth, folding a hand over his bastard sword, "the last battle humiliated them--and humiliation burns deep in this land. They will fight with everything they have in order to conquer their shame. They no longer wait for us; now they come for us. For all of his confidence," he sighed into the stagnant air, "I hope this mad prince does have some sort of plan." 

I know that the mad prince does not have my back. Chara's jaw clenched at Lilica's last words before she had receded--somewhere--behind the heights of their army. If it were up to him, he'd gladly eliminate every single Rigas caster and make it look like some blasted accident. From her angle, she could only discern a shimmer where the Tadasun army approached, their footfalls roaring like a tidal wave--and the curly-topped head of Messino atop his bay horse. He sat there, visible, obvious, glaring with as much sunlit harshness as the enemy. She needed only aim a ball of etheria at his vulnerable form and end his reign. One shot...

And the entire army would also sunder. 

However useless and horrible, he is still our figurehead. Without him, who will they follow? Both armies made contact. The call to fight clapped across the skies by all sides. Certainly not the Rigases. Not yet. She ran alongside Tivia and Danos, her hands sparking with an igniting flare.

Not yet.

Alster, donned in dusty garments and a clunky breastplate, had blended with the crowd of dispersed warriors and casters. He hadn't spotted them, not Elespeth or Lilica or even Chara. His battle partner hadn't arrived at the compound unit--and why would she? For all he knew, he was dead to her--in more ways than one. 

Maybe I am dead.

The compound unit had scattered, and he along with them. Without the second half of his unit, he operated all on his own, left to his chthonic-using devices.

A clatter of steel against steel had sounded across the battlefield. The unofficial gongs of battle. 

It had begun. 

He rushed between the spaces of the human stampede, refusing to be trampled before he even tested out his abilities. The headache never dissipated throughout the day and in fact, worsened with each running step and twisting of his neck. Pinpoints pricked at his eyes. He ignored it all and concentrated on the energy whirring inside him, yearning for release. 

That itching release arrived sooner rather than later. Tadasuni soldiers bled through the rush of Andalarian troops, scampering about in some battle-enhanced frenzy. They spun and ducked with expert accuracy and swiftness, sneaking behind soldiers and stabbing from behind. 

Alster felt their death, saw it kick into the air like dust. He latched on to that intense energy, conceived of a form, a purpose--and struck.

Twin serpents, one in each hand, shot forward, constricting the Tadasuni assailants like pulp--grinding and grinding until their bones liquefied.

More death enveloped the air. Alster took it all in like a perpetual motion machine, like a waterwheel full of power, and attacked. He attacked until it rendered him almost blind. Attacked and killed, feeling the stab of each life taken...

Each life.

Like his parents. Constricted by twin serpents. Done in the same style that he used in battle, over and over again...with no regard for its history, and how it all started. 

Dammit! No. Reel it in! He threw both hands at the kill-happy serpents, which leeched from target to target in a meandering line of death. 

Stop! No. Come back! Retreat! His hands sucked in the offending energy. The serpents writhed and hissed soundlessly in the air as they succumbed to their host's demands. On their way inside their containment, the serpents wriggled up and down his arms before dissipating into black smoke.

Alster sucked in a sharp inhale of breath as an immense pain sliced him open. When he regained awareness and emerged from his tunnel vision, he glanced at his arms. From shoulder to fingertip, blood dripped from lacerations that shredded both clothing and skin with such thoroughness that he couldn't tell the difference between the two. 

It's done. His breath came out of him in shudders. I can't...what's the point of going on? He burrowed his feet into the ground. Dropped his arms. An easy, stationary target.

Everyone is gone. It's just me. If this is hell, kill me and drag me to another hell.

He heard a pattering of feet close in on him. Sanguinary blades danced in his periphery. He closed his eyes tight against his skull, and awaited a different kind of release.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2015 1:34 am
by Requiem
Battle was upon the Andalari before they knew it.

Tadasun, with its pride still wounded from the last battle, held nothing back this time around, and it was difficult to tell from the very start whether Messino really had the edge that he thought he had. Despite that their numbers had fallen since the two nations had last fought, they hardly looked to be a single man shorter than before.

While their enemy's last attack had been careful, almost tentative, their methodology had, just as Messino had predicted, changed up along with the change in their pride. At the sacrifice of careful calculations and considerations, they were ruthless, cutting down Andalari soldiers in blind hatred. Fortunately, Messino's troops were prepared, at least as best as they could be, and retaliated with their own brand of ferocity.

Even Elespeth had changed her game, this time. Of course, it as primarily borne of necessity, and not necessarily by choice. Without the other half of her compound unit (as far as she was aware, Alster was still unconscious; Chara, at least, had not told her otherwise). In Alster's absence, the former knight had followed Haraldur's lead, heeding his advice and learning a thing or two about the way he fought--more like a mercenary and less like a knight. It had been upon that realization that the Atvanian refugee had decided it was time to change up her game.
There was no point, after all, in fighting like a knight when her veins no longer ran with honour. And when it came to war, it was adapt, or die.

Her clothes and armor were far bloodier than the last battle, a fact that might have bothered her had she continued to cling fast to the morals that she thought had defined her. But without a partner to worry about, Elespeth's mind was only focused on one thing, and one thing alone: survival. She moved like lightning, employing a combination of the methods she was used to, along with those she had learned with Haraldur, and the results were incredibly effective. No one touched her, no blade so much as grazed her skin; some enemies even ran from her, as they watched their comrades fall to her blade.

Her performance only stuttered to a halt when her green eyes fell upon a still figure in the midst of battle, which nearly made her heart stop.

"Gods... Alster!"
Sprinting to her partner's defense, the ex-knight cut down the wielder of an axe, his blade inches from the Rigas caster's neck. The Tadasuni soldier fell, hard and dead, at Alster's feet, but he was not Alster's only threat. Before she had a chance to catch her breath, Elespeth ended the lives of two more sword wielders, and a that of a tall, burly Tadasuni who gripped a morningstar in his two massive hands. Only then was she able to pull the caster aside, and out of the line of fire of the ongoing assault.

"Alster... are you all right? What in all hell were you thinking!" Elespeth gripped his shoulders so hard that her fingers could have left bruises. But her arms weren't steady; they shook, not with the strain of wielding her sword, but at the shock that just seconds ago, her battle partner could have died in front of her. "When did you wake up? If you decided against the compound unit, then I can accept that, but why were you not even willing to defend yourself? What is wrong with you...!" It wasn't anger mirrored in her eyes when she searched his face; it was fear. Fear of what could have happened, what could still happen, mixed with the pain of the realization that the Rigas caster would rather die than fight by her side.

Meanwhile, Lilica had hidden herself within the crowd, keeping to the back so as to remain out of the immediate line of fire. An inkling of regret had lodged itself in her gut at her decision; this battle was bloodier, fiercer than the last, and she couldn't use her magic lest she give away her position, at the expense of likely experiencing Messino's wrath later on. I shouldn't have come; I'm getting in the way. She'd been a fool to doubt the fighting prowess of the soldiers and the casters; nobody needed her. She was nobody's saviour, no one's hero, just...

And that was when she saw it, purely by chance at a small break in the throng of bodies, both alive and dead: it was the female soldier, Elespeth. And near her--with her--was Alster. "Gods..." She breathed, her fingertips suddenly surging with energy at her own will. They were distracted, the both of them in danger as enemies advanced on them. What the hell were they thinking? While it was fine and well that the Rigas caster was finally awake, now was no time to catch him up on everything he'd missed.

Knowing full well that it would hurt her later, in more ways than one, the dark mage gathered the chill in her bones and the underpinnings of hate that accompanied it, struggling against her own penchant for destruction as she directed her magic with the will to save the soldier and the caster. The men surrounding the pair, a half dozen brutes, suddenly combusted in black and violet flames; the same trademark move that had won Andalari the last battle. And it worked, yet again; the men fell to their knees, while others fled in fright, struggling to pinpoint the source. It left Lilica weak in the head and the knees, but she had bought them time, and that was what mattered.

It was a wake-up call for Elespeth and Alster, snapping to attention as men around them burst into flames. They'd been careless; and war did not reward the careless. "Alster," she hissed, still gripping his shoulders. "You either need to fight, or you need to run. Whichever you choose, I'll accommodate, but I will not see you cut down. Not while I am still standing. Do you understand?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2015 3:49 am
by Widdershins
A name cried out for him. His name. His eyes blinked open in time to see Tadasuni men fall at his feet, blood spurting from fatal injuries caused not by destructive magic, but by a weapon. It carved them through with exactitude and a rhythm he recognized. When he looked up, he saw Elespeth standing in the circle of gore. Before he could register much else, she tightened her fingers into his bloody shoulders and he flinched from the kneading pain that gushed the blood further down his arms. 

Pain. His injuries throbbed and threw a slimy warmth all over him. 

Noise. He heard the collective clash and whir and scream flood his ears. 

Acknowledgement. Elespeth, standing before him, yelling realizations at him with a battle-frenzied fervor. 

This was not hell. This was reality. Just reality. How could he have thought otherwise?! 

You're an idiot, Alster. What the hell, indeed.

As she pulled him to a quieter alcove, he looked behind him and saw who he had branded with his magic. A serpentine path of fallen bodies, blood trailing from every orifice, their faces heavenward and mouths open in contorted swan songs they hadn't the clarity of mind to deliver. There were countless bodies. Their clawing energy clambered for him in the kicked up dirt and mud...resonating in his bones. 

For what he did, he hoped that reality hadn't yet found him, and it was still just a dream. 

"Today." At first he didn't trust his voice, all quaking and abrasive against his throat. After the lingering shivers that danced upon his ravaged arms had receded, he tried again. "I woke up today. I looked for you. I--"

Awareness returned to him, but too little too late. In midst of their distracting reunion, a group of men had circled them like wolves on the hunt, and they--frozen stiff like deer--allowed them an opening. Dammit. My little stunt put us both at risk. He raised a twisted hand, summoning the death that activated his magic, but it churned with a re-energizing languor, and he cursed in the air. Perhaps he really would die--just as he wanted. 

At least he wouldn't die alone.

One blink and a wall of violet flames razed about them in a circle, stirring a conflagration of death and terror manifest. The fire ate away at whatever unlucky soul stuck around for the performance and so they writhed and burned--kindling for an appetite that was never sated. 

"Lilica," he said, and searched the fracas for the dark mage. He spied a women wearing nondescript clothes before she vanished into the ever-wavering maelstrom of the battle. 

"After that spell, she'll need help!" He side-turned to Elespeth and about offered a bloody hand in support--until he looked at the condition of his arms. How much longer could he, too, keep standing, without suffering from blood loss?

Flailing fingers formulated a hurried spell over his lacerations to help stopper the flow. It wouldn't last. He didn't care--as long as it held enough to make up for his dire mistakes. 

"Keep your distance from me," he told Elespeth as he weaved through warriors in thrall with each other, en route to where he last saw Lilica. "Its unpredictable." 

With a preparatory intake of breath, Alster restarted the flow of the cththonic water-wheel that fed on death. To his chagrin, the shape of the serpents returned, but he only faltered--for a moment.

Now I've seen what I am. A man unhinged enough to murder his own parents...this is child's play. And I have nothing left to lose--when I already had nothing at all.

The twin serpents returned, terrorizing their enemies in spurts of oily matter. In turn, they tapped every victim and reveled in the gushers of their rust-colored oil. And how they bled. And screamed. And ran. 

He half-hoped Elespeth was in proximity to his wanton destructiveness. For she will know that I am a monster.

I am a serpent.

Little by little, the battle thinned out, in both intensity and in numbers. However, Andalari's forces bit and roared and cut through Tadasun's ranks with some sort of reserve power and near-invincibility. Haraldur noticed, when darting from soldier to soldier, the lack of many Andalarian bodies pooling the ground. Even more bizarre: he stepped over a half-mangled swordsman, dead and almost bled dry, only to watch him rise and, with his gaping head injury, resume fighting as if he were able-bodied and in perfect health. 

The battle persisted in a traditional Tadasuni refusal to retreat or to surrender--their last battle notwithstanding. By the end, it had grown tedious. Haraldur roamed about, stabbing men who had long lost the resolve to keep on fighting and only hobbled on wavering feet, waiting for the honor that death in wartime would bring to their families. Granting death wishes instead of meeting a man equally on the field meant that, as far as he was concerned, the battle had ended. Victory for Andalari, he supposed--though he hadn't liked the feel of such victory as it slid down his parched throat. 

As he wandered around, immobilizing any stray Tadasuni resistance, he came across Tam and who he assumed was her caster partner, whose arms trickled with red rivulets all over and whose eyes looked like empty pools, dredged of everything but the color of bloodshot. He rounded on the duo, positioning himself in time to catch the sway of the caster as he collapsed onto him.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2015 1:47 am
by Requiem
Elespeth didn't take her eyes off of Alster from the moment she found him among the throng of fighting, injured and dead soldiers. Not even when he began an assault of his own, one that stole breath from her tired lungs. The extent of his caster's power... He was incredible. Single-handedly, he took down handfuls of men, some deaths quick while others lingered, leaving a sick feeling at the pit of her gut. But not once did she look upon her battle partner as the monster that she thought he was. Quite the contrary, she felt dwarfed and insignificant in his presence.

No wonder he had told her to leave during their march towards the new encampment. How could she possibly compare as an ideal partner to him, when she couldn't even measure up to his capabilities? She hadn't even been there for him when he'd awoken, when he'd been searching for her...
Maybe this partnership just wasn't meant to be. Maybe she was holding him back. He deserved room to grow.

When naught but the dying and the dead finally surrounded them, Elespeth laid down her sword at last, her arms and back aching from the exertion of this lively fight. That Alster had endured for as long as he had, with those substantial injuries to his arms, was nothing short of a miracle. But miracles were not eternal, and she watched as the Rigas caster began to sway, near collapsing to the Earth. And he would have, had Haraldur not caught him at that moment.

"Alster!" The ex-knight gasped, scrambling over to him, already tearing the fabric at her sleeves to use the strips of cloth to staunch the Rigas caster's flesh wounds. "All hell! He just woke up today, and already, we've lost him again... Haraldur, thank you. I wouldn't have been quick enough to catch him. Though I imagine you must be growing tired of catching fainting people." The mercenary's armor and sword were just as bloodied as hers, though neither of them appeared to have sustained any extensive injuries. It was all the lifeblood of the enemies; not even enemies, but the men and women who they were paid to kill.

About as far from a knight's honour as you could get. Perhaps it really was high time that the Atvanian fugitive relinquish her moral high ground. No one applauded her for it, and it was by no means sustainable if she wanted to survive this war.

As soon as his wounds were, for the moment, secured, resulting in an utter lack of sleeves for the ex-knight's tunic, Elespeth turned her eyes to Haraldur. "Here--let me help get him back to camp." Taking one of Alster's arms, she slung it across her neck, and between the two of them, they began to half-carry, half-drag the unconscious Rigas caster through the bloodied battlegrounds. Although her mood was somber enough to warrant silence, something she though she'd noticed during Andalari's bloody assault plagued her mind. She wondered if her mercenary comrade had witnessed something similar, or if she'd simply seen too much blood to have processed what she was witnessing clearly.

"Haraldur... I saw so many of our men fall. Not as many as last time, but an archer--one of our archers--drew his last breath at my feet, his throat slit." Focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, she pressed her lips together, wondering if it were possible to express what she'd seen without coming across as insane. One lunatic among an army was enough, and Messino filled those shoes well. "But I saw him... I saw him die. And then, I saw him... stand, again. Perhaps I'm overtired, but I daresay, I don't have the imagination to dream that up, asleep or awake..."

Meanwhile, it had been a matter of damage control for the dark mage, as soon as she saw that Alster and his battle partner were safe. With the exception of a few close calls to a couple of casters (Chara being one of them, though it was not noteworthy enough to keep in mind to mention later on), Lilica spent the majority of the battle simply staying out of the way and staying alive. This included fighting off the weakness in her knees and the lightness in her head, and ignore the bruises that blossomed on her arms and legs every time she slipped. 

She witnessed the fighting decline man by man, fallen by fallen, until it was safe enough to stand up, stand out, and search for one of the three people whose lives actually mattered to her--for selfish reasons, of course. Through the heat and haze of the day, she noted the woman soldier along with another ally appeared to have a hold on Alster, who appeared to be down for the count. Given the lack of panic on Elespeth's face, along with the other solider who accompanied her, Lilica at least assumed he wasn't dead.
Good. At least I can do something right...

Now, she needed to find Chara. The celestial mage couldn't have been aware that Alster had awoken; she'd never have permitted him to fight in this battle, had she known, not in a newly awakened condition. 
The haughty Rigas caster was not difficult to spot, with her shock of blonde hair and ever disgusted expression. Through sheer willpower alone, the dark mage managed to catch up, seizing the sleeve of Chara's long tunic. 

"Your cousin... he's awake." Doubling over, she rested her bruised hands on her bruised knees, struggling to catch her breath. "I saw him among the fighters, with the soldier he calls his battle partner. I sensed his magic among my own... The woman soldier and another comrade are helping him back to camp. He appeared unconscious, but otherwise, all right..." Looking up, she squinted against the hot afternoon sunlight to meet the celestial caster's azure eyes. "What about you...? Are you all right?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:04 pm
by Widdershins
The caster slumped over Haraldur's waiting arms, looking very much like a discarded pile of clothes. His head lolled to one side and rested there, with difficulty, as he and Tam shifted their positions to better accommodate their load. Haraldur almost protested when she offered to help, but he assumed (and assumed correctly) that she felt somewhat responsible for him and wanted to insure his safety. 

"Woke up? He was unconscious prior to this battle?" He shrugged off his curiosities, wondering if the caster partook in some magical meditative mumbo-jumbo beforehand, in which case he'd be far in understanding the specifics of such a perplexing art. "Well," he changed the subject, inspecting the caster's wrapped arms, "Alster, was it? It looks as though he'll be fine. A touch of exhaustion mixed with minor blood loss. Bedrest will do him plenty of good." 

As they dragged their charge back to camp, Tam began muttering what, to other people, sounded like crazy talk. But to him, he gripped the pommel of his sword with his free hand and remembered the soldier with the head wound. "Maybe we're both overtired," he said, dipping the volume in his voice. "For I saw something similar. A man I knew to be dead rose from the ground and started fighting with all the fervor that I had lost hours ago. At first I chalked it up to as a misfiring of my senses, but you saw it, too. Is there," he glanced behind him, at Alster, "some kind of magic afoot?"

For Chara, the battle lingered for longer than the sum of her magical output, and she had lost all juice well before the end. As much as she rationed her abilities and reserved high energy spells for only the most dire of situations, she felt a soaking up of her celestial spark, a sputter, and then nothing. Gobs of fire in her hands transformed to smoke, an embarrassment she hid well from the likes of Danos and Tivia--who would only respect her if she commanded power with effortless grace and stamina. 

An inner panic glazed over her during the throes of battle. With no more magic, how could she pretend that she still fought with a full arsenal? Finding an opening within the ranks, Chara "lost" herself in the crowd, separating from her team and from their critical eyes. However distracted they were from fighting for their lives, she dared not take a chance, opting for a shameful, cowardly alternative. She fled her family and retreated from the nucleus of the fray, watching from afar--and hiding. 

Luckily, she discovered a ditch carved out by an overturned rock, and in there, she crouched and stewed for hours, chewing her fingernails down to nothing as she cursed her infinitesimal speck of magical inheritance. Powerless...defeated...alone. Some example I turned out to be! I should have been out there--dying for the cause! she thought, and bided her time until the dwindling roar of her surroundings encouraged her to emerge.

The first person she encountered was Lilica. A yank on her sleeve alerted her to several possible persons, which led to fear and the seizing up of all her limbs. But when she turned, she regarded the dark mage, suffering again at the hands of her punishing magic. Before she could inquire about Lilica's condition, news of the alarming kind had gripped at her soul and about punched her lungs into breathlessness. "Alster!? He was here? Fighting!? How did he...of course the little snot chose to awaken during muster. At least...at least he's alive," she sighed. Lilica's shift from Alster's well-being to her own stymied her into silence a moment, but she narrowed her eyes and inflated her chest in order to spout her famed braggadocio. "Oh, I am stunning, as usual. Not a scratch. Mowing down our adversaries with the simple flick of a finger. I've a wonderful team. You, on the other hand," she dropped her act and inclined her head at Lilica's physical state, "will you need some assistance?"

**

When Alster opened his eyes, yet another varying environment welcomed him into the world--only now he had the awareness to tell the difference between reality and a dream. What aided in his thought process was the presence of Chara, who stalked over him like a cat pouncing on its prey. 

"Oh, you are in big trouble, Alster Rigas."

Basic background shapes returned to his vision. He lay upon a cot, one among many, in the medical tent. It bustled with activity, with the wails of the dying, with assured whispers and restless turns of the injured. He gazed over at his arms, cleaned and dressed and festooned with bandages. A thorough mummification--moreso than when Elespeth wrapped the welts on his hands, during a time that felt so long ago. 

He stared at his hands, stiff and petrified--slashed up inside. He bent each finger, testing their functionality, a physical examination of his own to allay his concerns. He was not yet finished here. The fingers waggled their approval at him. No. Not yet.

"How long was I out?" he said in a sleepy drone.

"The first time...that was three days. The second time--you had the decency to sleep for just a day. Thank you for your consideration." She huffed, leaning back from Alster's face to cross her arms against her chest. 

"How is--"

"Everyone is doing well enough," she interjected. "Awake and alive--including your little lady love." 

Elespeth. He recalled the battle. How he stood there, waiting for death. How she charged forth and saved him, snapped him to his senses. The rest...the rest remained a blur of serpents and smoke and twisted bodies on the ground. 

Even if he frightened her with his macabre display of magic, she needed an explanation. He would tell her...what he had done. 

"Am I allowed to leave? ...I want...I want to see her."

"Oh no." She snorted, glaring at him until her eyes sharpened into slits. "I'm not allowing you to pull another sleepwalking stunt as you did before. You go on and convalesce. I will bring her to you."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Jul 18, 2015 2:23 am
by Requiem
Miraculously, Elespeth had not been forced to limp back to camp with the aid of another, from any lacerations in her leg or other limbs that would require several gruelling days of bed rest. But that did not make the distance back to their temporary home base any less tiresome, or the events that occurred thereafter. 
Lithe though he was in build, Alster was by no means easy to lug in his unconscious state. Between that and the exertion of battle, both the ex-knight and Haraldur were beyond exhausted by the time they got the Rigas mage settled in the medical tent. After--and only after, with fewer ears out of hearing range--did they continue their discussion of what they had witnessed on the battle field.

"Alster... his magic is not exactly orthodox to Rigas expectations," she confided in her mercenary friend, and only because she was confident that Haraldur could be trusted with the burden of silence in the wake of secrets. She would never betray the crux of Alster's insecurities to anyone even marginally less trustworthy. "But I watched him fight this entire time. So if there is some sort of magic about that bespelled our fallen to continue fighting... I do not believe it was his. There is the dark mage, Lilica, but this does not resemble any capabilities that I have seen from her, either. And she had been instructed to sit this battle out..."

Lilica's trademark tactic was that of a mysterious dark fire, that sought its target from several yards away. Alster's was... well, she wasn't quite sure, but she knew what it wasn't. And it wasn't this.
What was amidst resembled necromancy. And while it certainly had appeared to play in their favour, she wasn't sure any caster among Messino's army was adept with that specific skill.

"You don't think that there might be something about this war that Messino isn't telling us, do you?" She murmured, her voice thick with suspicion. But before Haraldur had a chance to respond, Elespeth noticed the familiar form of a certain celestial made making her way towards them, walking with purpose. Not that anyone should expect anything less of Chara Rigas.

"Oh--Chara!" She greeted her, after offering the mercenary a look that suggested they continue their conversation later. "Is Alster..."
He was awake; the celestial mage told her so before she could finish her question. She also told Elespeth that he had asked after her, and wanted to see her--which left her uncertain.

"Are you sure? Is he sure? After today, he should be resting..." She was assured, however, that he would rest as soon as his request was granted. And, to be honest, Elespeth wanted to talk to him, as well. If he was unwell, or having second thoughts about fighting by her side, then these were things that they needed to discuss before the next battle. 
Had they had a plan... Had she known he'd been looking for her, she never would have allowed such extensive injury to befall him.

Bidding Haraldur farewell until later on, she followed Chara back to the medical tent, where her battle partner lay, bound from shoulder to arm in bandages, but otherwise all right. She approached with a tentative gait, surprised at her sudden loss of words. The ex-knight was never at a loss for words or questions, particularly not when it came to those for whom she cared.

"Your fiancée told me you were awake... how are you feeling?" A stupid question, she realized, as soon as it was out of her mouth. She knew how it felt to be on bed rest, wrapped in bandages. It was not pleasant. "Haraldur and I brought you back here as soon as it was safe. We won, again, against the Tadasuni... though you've probably already gathered that, by now."

---

"Do you feel it?" Lilica lowered the basket of herbs she was gathering, straightening her spine and her skirts as she stood slowly. There was no wind, no sound; just stillness in the woodland where she gathered her supplies. "Something feels... I don't know. Amiss. Like I'm missing something."

"Then you've probably forgotten a thing or two that you came for." The red-headed young woman a few feet away remained crouched near a bush, reaching for the petals of a cerulean flower, and plucking them one by one from the bush.

Lilica shook her head. "No, that isn't it. Siah, is there something else I'm forgetting? I just feel like..." She pressed her fingers to her forehead and frowned. "It's so calm here. But I've got this feeling of unrest... like things should not be so calm."

"We are in the middle of the woods behind your home, with no civilization for an hour's worth of walking," her companion chuckled. "And on a clear day, at that. Why wouldn't things be calm? What else would you expect, Lili?"

"I don't... know." Tucking tresses of dark hair behind her ear that had escaped her braid, Lilica scanned the forest. "It is like a fear that I can't quite place. LIke I should be thinking about something, but I don't know... Oh! Are you all right?"

Dropping her basket, she dashed over to her friend, who cradled her hand in her opposite palm. Several puncture wounds, as if from the assault of thorns, leaked blood onto her fair skin. "Hold still a moment," Lilica advised. "I have bandages in--"

"Don't bother." Siah's expression suddenly went cold as she met Lilica's dark eyes. "There's no point."

"What do you mean? You'll get blood on your clothes."

"What I mean, is," she went on, this time, with a hint of sadness, "is that it is time you grounded yourself in reality... I'm sorry."

The dark mage woke up with a start, forehead sticky with perspiration. Not again... why am I dreaming again. Reality came rushing back to her in a matter of seconds. How Chara had helped her return from the battlefield, and back to her tent where she could rest. How much time had passed...? Either daylight had yet to fade, or she had been unconscious for over twenty-four hours. Based on how fresh her bruises, and the fact she was still clad as a soldier, still looked she assumed the former.

"Excuse me, Miss." An official that Lilica recognized as working directly for Messino intruded upon her tent without calling beforehand. Thank goodness she wasn't indecent. "His Highness Prince Messino wishes to see you in his tent, immediately."

"Of course he does..." The dark mage murmured. She should have known better; dark magic stood out like a sore thumb on the battle field. Even incognito, there was no masking her presence.

 

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Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 838
 
posted: Sun Jul 19, 2015 4:42 pm
by Widdershins
After passing over the unconscious celestial mage to the medics, Haraldur's slumped gait straightened from the release of weight that seldom bothered him in the past. He was well used to carrying heavy loads across his back for long distances with nary a break in between, but the battle they fought, and the strange instances they witnessed, pulled his limbs in all sorts of directions, and they screamed for a reprieve. Therefore, once he and Tam relocated to a quieter area of camp, his shoulders relaxed--though the subject matter did not. 

"While I know little of the machinations behind magic, it does appear that there is some sort of...well, necromancy," he frowned at the word, "occurring, and on the sly. I believe our Royal Commander is playing a dangerous hand. But we can't hope to know much else unless we understand the source behind this magic. Do you think your partner may know a bit about necromancy?"

As if on cue, the other Rigas caster emerged through the tent-created alleyway, pinpointing their location like a homing pigeon returning to her roost. She asked for Tam. Rather, Alster had asked for Tam. Her closed off stance, with arms crossed over her chest, suggested that any protests to the contrary of her wishes would not stand. When at last she caught Tam's cooperation, the Rigas woman regarded him for a fleeting second, her head perched high and her eyes dissecting him as if he were a lowly ant on the ground by her feet. Then, she tossed her head and left the area with Tam. 

"Magic-users," Haraldur said under his breath with a sigh. "Never get involved with magic-users." 

**

Alster watched the rustle of the tent flaps and a gloaming light stretch through the enclosure--along with Elespeth. The ex-knight shuffled over to his bedside, gaping at him with an awkward silence that, in turn, caused him to shift around his cot with a self-conscious shrug. 

"I...well--I've been better," he told her, a stupid answer to her introductory question. He lowered his head and tucked his arms far into himself, as if hiding his injuries would strengthen his resolve: for what he revealed would, for certain, chase her from the tent and out of his life. 

"Yes...I have. Another victory." He shuddered at the thought, for it brought little solace, only a reminder of the twisting death wrought by the serpents of his own creation. "Thank you, by the way. For saving my life. At the time," he hesitated, and sought the sting of his bandaged fingers for distraction, "I wanted to die. I thought I was already dead--and even if I had realized that I wasn't, I still would have wished it on myself. It's been...a rough few days." The tiniest of smiles crossed his face. "'Rough' is an egregious underestimation. But, I owe it to you to explain...what happened."

"The day we packed up camp," he began, and his memory crossed over a bridge into territory that spanned far and away, into the mist; it seemed like eons ago, "Chara took me aside and expressed her concerns for me...and some observations. Something that hadn't made sense to her for quite some time. In that, she implied that I did something...horrible." He carefully danced around the subject, using the vaguest of terms so as not to startle Elespeth before even reaching the crux of his retelling. 

"It weighed on my mind all day. And I pushed you away...away because--you would hate me if you knew the truth. If I told you. I...I thought I was doing you a favor, but," he shook his head and remained with his eyes averted, convinced that he'd lose his footing if he glanced her way, "in the end, I was doing no favors, least of all to myself. I...consulted Lilica that day. Asked for her aid. I needed to know if Chara's suspicions were true. That evening, we meditated, to that day, to the day where...because I had forgotten the details. Everything had been fuzzy for years but I always thought...Well, she broke through the haze, and I saw. I saw it all--the way it happened. And," he squeezed his eyes shut, holding back the pressure that chipped away from behind, threatening to crack free, "I-killed-them. I killed my parents. The way I killed people on the battlefield today. That's how I did it. Squeezed them until they bled and fell apart. And...and..." Tears leaked through those cracks in his eyes. He threw up a hand to hide his face, to stopper the flow, but he broke something back there and he could not fix the leak. "I'm sorry, Tam." He spoke through the spaces between his fingers. "I'm sorry you got involved in all of this. But you can walk away. ...I am no brother-in-arms to you." He dropped his hand to his lap, no longer caring for the preservation of his dignity--and allowed the tears to freely flow. 'I'm only...a serpent."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Jul 19, 2015 11:44 pm
by Requiem
She paused and listened to what the Rigas caster had to say, not opening her mouth or averting her gaze or so much as implying that she passed judgement for as long as Alster took to explain. It was horrible--awful, worse than she had imagines he could suffer... But it all made sense, now.
And, contrary to what her battle partner believed, it didn't even occur to her once that he was at fault for anything. Not for pushing her away, or for seeking Lilica's help, or even for what he claimed to have done to his parents.

Five years ago, it might have been different. Smothered by the code of conduct and the honour by which she was supposed to live her life, the old Sir Elespeth Tameris might have been quick to pass judgement on Alster for his deeds. But honour meant nothing, when your loyalties were tied to a person, and not to a nation.
Regardless of what he said, Alster was very much her brother in arms. And, perhaps, she cared for him and had invested more faith in him than what was safe, for a fugitive on the run. Trust came at a high price... But of everyone in this damned, wayward army, he would not betray her. She didn't know how, but she was confident of it as a fact. And the ex-knight would be hard pressed to find another friend who would see and respect who she was, past the extensive bounty on her head.

"Alster," she spoke softly, gingerly taking a seat at the edge of his cot when he turned his face away. "Look at me. Please." With a gentle grip, mindful of the bandages and of his injuries, she moved his hand from his face. It always hurt to see the people for whom she cared shed tears; what hurt more was when they tried to hide them. "Look at me, and look around you. We're not stuck in this past. This is the here and now, and what happened before... no matter how horrible, it does not dictate what happens now. It does not mean that you cannot and will not make a difference." More quietly, she added, "It does not mean that you will not have the victory that you and your family are striving so hard to attain. Listen..."

Rolling her shoulders back, Elespeth leaned in to speak even more quietly, unsure of who might overhear. The majority of people admitted to the medical tent were either unconscious or too preoccupied with pain to seem to care, but that did not assuage her need for caution. "It's devastating, I know. Especially if you are only now remembering. And although it may not seem the same, what I did, back n Atvany, was worse than killing my parents. I plunged the entire Tameris name into shame--they would rather be dead. They told me so. Don't think for a moment that I still don't dream of them. That I don't wake up to nightmares at least once a week, fearing that I have been caught, and that I cannot be forgiven. If your perception of me is without those moments, like I am impervious to the sins of my own past, then it is wrong. There are some things for which I fear I will never forgive myself... we are not so unalike, Alster."

The disgraced can love each other...

"I don't hate you, or what you did," she went on. "What I hate is that you felt as though you could not tell me, and instead you went and got yourself hurt. Worse, you wanted to die, and nearly did. But Alster, if you cannot live for yourself, then is it at least possible for you to live for others? For Chara? For... me?" Elespeth knew the pull of death, that desire to swiftly and effectively escape pain and your problems, permanently. It had crossed her own mind, once, as well. But she had quickly realized that her worth as a human being. She could continue to make a difference, and perhaps find a new niche, someday... Which would not have been possible if she were dead.
If only she could convince Alster of the same mindset...

Exhaling heavily through her nose, Elespeth shook her head. "I am not going to walk away. Not unless you can tell me that you are better off without my interference in your life. Then, and only then, will I walk away from you without looking back." She had already been prepared to remove herself from his life. But now that she knew the truth, it was the last thing on her mind. "You're my battle partner until you tell me otherwise, so enough with the secrecy from now on, all right? Promise me."

Meanwhile, another caster approached the medical tent with armfuls of fresh bandages, nodding to Chara as she stood outside. "Looks like you'll be on the market again soon for a brand new best friend," he jabbed, grinning at the perplexed look that befell her face. "You didn't hear? Word has it that Messino's got it in for the dark mage for breach of direct orders. I wonder what the penalty is for breaching orders... Guess we'll all find out."

Lilica stalled for about as long as she could before she felt as though she was pushing her luck, and made her way, escorted, to Messino's tent. What, does he think I will run? Where will I go? Still in the haze of the dream from which she had awoken, she had yet to fully adjust to the bright orange rays of the day's dying light. It forced her to squint, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw Siah's face, and the woodland again. Each and every time, it tore her heart a whole new wound.

"Miss D'Or; you will look at your Prince when he addresses you."
Startled, Lilica opened her eyes to Messino and his half-dozen commanders. She couldn't even risk blinking, lest she get caught up in her own reverie. It would do her no favours.

One of the men who was not Messino (she couldn't be bothered to memorize names) sighed and repeated himself. "Once again: did you, or did you not, follow the orders under which you were directed today?"

"Why are you asking me," she sighed, looking on with boredom from one meaningless face to the next, "when you have clearly already made up your mind as to what the answer is?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jul 20, 2015 3:21 am
by Widdershins
The warmth of her hand penetrated the gauze and combated the chill in his veins. It was then that he remembered the last time they touched with purpose, in the fields of their previous campground, and that very warmth crept into his cheeks. Despite his reaction and his bubbling shame, he looked up at her, heeding her speech with growing bemusement. Had he heard her correctly? Was she even sitting next to him, or did his subconsciousness play another elaborate prank at his expense? That warmth, however, allayed his suspicions. Real. She was real, and her words genuine.

"I don't...understand," he admitted, searching her eyes for some type of explanation. A defect in her brain. An impostor in his midst, existing to prey on his confessions. Any chink at all in her disguise that would allow him to uncover the truth behind her motives. Instead, he saw blind, unadulterated fellowship. "Your...your parents still live. You did not murder them as I did mine. You have not yet decimated your chances at redemption. And my perception of you...is of someone who has made a mistake--and not a wrong one in its entirety. We're all sinners...but don't insult yourself by placing your past alongside my own. Even if it's for the reason of lifting my guilt." His hand, now resting in his lap, flung non-verbal curses at him. Don't even dare push her away this time. You...need her.

I do.

"I don't understand," he repeated, "why you have such an unbiased view of me. But," he sighed, and nodded, feeling a refreshing waft on his face where his tears had streamed, "I will live. For Chara, and most of all," he could feel his palms sweat beneath his bandages, "for you." His voice dropped to a pin, almost inaudible. "Elespeth Tameris." It was the first time he spoke her true name aloud, and he darted glances around his vicinity in case anyone had heard. But if any sound had reached the ears of others, it was the hammering of his heartbeat. "I may never hope to live for myself. I never have. It's always belonged to other people. But living for a purpose other than revenge--that is something I can do."

When his heart stabilized, and he had the chance to breathe an ounce of courage to refuel his weighty reveals, he continued. "I come from a family where pride is more important than succor, however detrimental its refusal is to one's mental state. For posterity sake, I've exercised this unwritten doctrine of ours. But...not now." Without his knowledge, his hand traveled to rest on her lap. "So I will tell you...and what I tried to tell you on the day we moved camp: I want you to stay. However much I try to push you away, I...promise I'll be forthright." An actual smile tugged one corner of his mouth upwards. "...Thank you. For...for believing in me." 

At that moment, he overheard a conversation outside the tent between Chara and another caster. Messino's tent...Dark mage...Breach of direct orders... He sat, stiff and upright, in his cot when Chara's purposeful footfalls faded, traveling to a predictable destination.

"What does she think she'll say to him?" he said aloud, pushing aside the sheets layered atop him. "She can't jeopardize our..."

He trailed into silence, in thought. He was more expendable. Already, his status as a Rigas was probationary at best, and one chthonic spell away from disentitlement. And Lilica--she had saved him and Elespeth in the throes of battle, which wouldn't have happened had he not waited for death in the first place. Responsibility rested on him--especially when much of the chthonic magic funneled from his fingers alone. 

"I have to help her," he told Elespeth, throwing his feet from the cot to the ground and standing, albeit with shakes in his legs. "I'll return here to heal, I promise, but...please stop whoever tries to apprehend me."

He hobbled out of the tent, ignoring protests from the medics. Despite the shortness of his breath, he reached Chara before she flew into Messino's tent.

"Alster!" Her expression darkened. "What are you doing out of--"

"I'm going in," he said, obstructing her advance with a bandaged arm. "I can make this right and you know it. Your presence will only compromise our plans." 

"No! Alster, if you go in there--"

"They're all going to find out, anyway, Chara!" he ground his teeth and rounded on the tent. "I can no longer hide my chthonic magic." 

**

Messino sat behind his recently polished desk, twirling a gold coin about in his fingers. The dark mage stood before him, on display, like a butterfly pinned and mounted on a wall. Surrounding her, his "council," who all insisted on their attendance, for reasons of "advising His Highness." He knew the actual reason: the drama of the forthcoming interrogation excited them into a flurry--as if they didn't participate in a long and arduous battle just earlier. 

"Lilica D'Or," he said, with less verve than his overzealous gaggle of commanders, "it's best that we receive your full and complete cooperation in this investigation. You do understand, the purpose of this entire meeting is for reasons of safety. We cannot have you traipsing about the battlefield on your own whims. Despite how it appears, I do exercise a modicum of planning and strategy with every battle." He slammed the coin on the table and leaned forward. "If you refuse to comply, I will have no choice but to take disciplinary action."

"You should be addressing your complaints to me." The Rigas brat, the one who had breathed down his neck until he placed the order for armor, blew into his tent, looking like a vagrant with his ratty clothes and bandaged arms. With a groan, Messino shot a glare through the break in the tent flaps in the hopes that his guards felt his disapproval radiate into their skulls. Useless bunch of Rigas-fearing idolaters. 

"Pardon me, Rigas," Messino said, with a pleasant enough air to his voice, "but this is a private meeting. I know that means little to one of your prestige, but unless you have more pressing matters to discuss--"

"I do." The brat spoke in harsh, breathy sentences. He looked about to keel over from exhaustion at any moment. "That was my magic you saw on the battlefield. Not hers. She was here, at camp, the entire time." 

"With all due respect, Rigas," he said with an incredulous smile, "I do believe I know the difference between celestial magic and chthonic magic." 

Closing his eyes in concentration, the brat overturned his hands, palms up, and a smoky stream emanated from them, slithering and flicking forked tongues at Messino from between pinioned fangs. The serpents then erupted into a shock of violet flames, which dispersed in a flash, leaving behind their own smoky signature biting and hissing and swallowing in the air.

"If you really do know the difference," the Rigas brat said, with increasing difficulty, "You will agree that I just used chthonic magic."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2015 1:06 am
by Requiem
Contrary to his belief, Elespeth was not a vessel for warmth and reassurance. Simply, she was being honest with the Rigas caster in pointing out the errors in this thinking. Though in that moment, when his hand rested upon her knee, she could have very well thought the same thing about Alster that he'd thought of her. This is presence brought her warmth in the cool evening, traveling from her leg and up her torso until she was sure it reached her heard. 

Elespeth Tameris... 

It had been a long time--a very long time--since anyone had called her by her name, the very name to which she had brought shame. In fact, the last person to utter it had been Atvany's old king, himself, just seconds prior to stripping her of knighthood and condemning her life. That said, it had been even longer than that since anyone had uttered it with even a hint of reverence. Like it was something to be cherished, despite that she was forced to hide it for the sake of survival. 
Come to think of it, had anyone ever uttered her given name in such a tone? Enough to warm her from the inside out, and to make her reconsider the burden of shame of which she feared she would never be rid?

Contrary to the relief that accompanied Alster's promise to look out for his own life, to live despite his doubts, Elespeth felt her throat grow curiously tight. A pain in her chest almost made her wonder if her heart hadn't swelled and grown heavy... Am I ill? Could I have contracted infection from a wound I am not aware of? But her health was fine, and the Atvanian fugitive knew it.
This was not sickness, but a whole other kind of infection for which many claimed there was no cure. Although she was given little time to ponder that before Alster's gaze was drawn to the tent flaps.

Elespeth knew precisely what he had heard, for she'd heard it as well. But the Rigas mage didn't give her a chance to talk him out of it. "Alster, what are you doing? Let Chara deal with this, you're not well..." Of course, he did not hear her argument, and she was helpless but to talk him out of it. All she could do was follow at a swift pace, just a few feet behind, ready to catch him should he loose his footing or if his own legs gave out beneath him entirely. How he managed to make it all the way to Messino's tent at that pace was beyond her, and she had to hold back from following him in. She knew full well that her name did not ring with favour to the insane prince; accompanying Alster would do him no good, lest their primary commander be all the harder on him simply because she was present, daring to stir the pot once again...

It was almost with boredom that Lilica listened to Messino's oh-so-uplifting rant. In truth, she should have been more afraid than she was; he had the power to have her arrested, after all, on the basis of what could be perceived as a breach in this black-mailing contract. But she was still so tired, her limbs heavy and sluggish from using her magic against its own whims--to save lives instead of take them. Every time she blinked, she saw the images of her dream as though they were painted on the inside of her eyelids, and she just couldn't muster that adaptive fear response. Disciplinary action? And what do you think you can do to me, little man?

The answer was nothing. There was nothing that he could do that could so much as match anything else she had ever faced. Even incarceration paled in comparison to the nightmares of memories that still haunted her...

She opened her mouth to say something--something that would possibly lead to self-condemnation--, but no sooner did the thought occur to her that Alster Rigas burst through the tent flaps, barely able to hold himself upright.
You idiot! She wanted to hiss, and instead attempted to communicate her thoughts with a dire look. What the hell do you think you're doing... You'll do yourself no favours by taking the fall for this!

Not to mention, Messino would never believe him, as evidenced in snide comment about identifying celestial magic from that of chthonic. What she hadn't expected, however, was that the Rigas mage would make the prince believe him. Her dark eyes widened with both awe and fear at the feat occurring between his hands, the serpents that erupted into flame that was not so unlike her own. What are you doing... this is enough.

Grabbing one of Alster's hands, the parlor trick was extinguished with the contact. "Well, you have your answer," she said to Messino. There was no sense in going against Alster's claims; it would only make the prince more suspicious of the both of them. "Now if you don't mind, he obviously needs to get back to the medical tent. If you're still not convinced, then feel free to call me back later. Though I can guarantee it will be a fairly boring conversation, because I have nothing to hide."

Taking Alster by the shoulders, Lilica led him out of the tent before he could say anything more incriminating, and ppunge either or both of them any deeper into hot water. "You idiot," she hissed in his ear. "There is no taking back what you did just now... Next time you plan to act, make sure you are in your right mind. If you have one."

Once they were in the clear, the dark mage all but thrust Alster into Elespeth's waiting arms. The ex-knight caught the Rigas caster, an astonished look on her face as Lilica told her, "Get him back to the medical tent before he acts on his next stupid impulse."

"As much as I want to disagree, she has a point," The Atvanian fugitive murmured, a secure arm around Alster's shoulders as she led him back to the medical tent. "You need to stay as far from Messino's radar as possible, Alster! What you did was noble, but... it was also stupid. And right after you told me I needn't worry for you jeopardizing your life, again..." Though there was more concern in Elespeth's voice than there was reprimand. "There's no going back on what you did. But right now, you need rest, do you understand?"

Meanwhile, Lilica was just short of completely livid with concern and anxiety brought on by Alster's antics. "You shouldn't have let him do that," she told Chara, as they moved away from Messino's tent. "Now he will have roused suspicion. I could have taken the fall; Messino wouldn't have done anything too drastic. He needs me according to his tactics, or he never would have gone to such lengths to get me here in the first place. Now that he knows Alster is adept in chthonic magic... Who knows what that madman will have him do."

Pressing a hand to her temple, and looking more exhausted than ever, Lilica shook her head. "So what do you suggest we do or damage control? To be honest, he was less trouble when he was still unconscious from shock..."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jul 21, 2015 9:47 pm
by Widdershins
With wide eyes, Messino watched his display of magic and, not for the first time since the start of the war campaign, was rendered speechless by the antics of the same Rigas brat. He tapped the coin at his desk, realized it was the very coin, once part of a set, that the chthonic-wielding Rigas bequeathed to him, and flicked it with a force that spun it clear across the tent. 

"Well," Messino coughed into the static tension sparking streaks all about his canvas walls, "thank you for your honesty, Rigas. May I inquire as to why you felt the need to admit what seems like some dire secret you must keep at bay?"

"To better serve the war effort," the brat said, using all reserves to speak whilst leaning his weight against the support of the once-accused dark mage. "Why rid of one chthonic mage when you can have two?"

Messino rested his fingers beneath his chin, intrigued by the audacity of such a lowly Rigas servant. "And what do the Rigases gain from their sacrilege usages of such 'vile' magic?"

"Nothing." The smile that appeared on his wan face stretched a cold, dead space across his eyes. "They will not stand for chthonic interference. Once word travels to Stella D'Mare, they will have disowned me. Why should I align my loyalties to a family that would abandon me on such paper-thin principles? After all, they have done so once before."

"Once...before?" 

"Forty-eight years ago. The Serpent. That was my doing. If you don't believe me, ask Adalfieri about the fate of Alster Rigas." Another smoke-serpent twisted in streams between his fingers. "For he is touched by the Serpent. And woe be unto anyone who crosses Serpent Bane."

As Lilica and Alster departed from his tent (by his dismissal, of course!), Messino slumped against his uncomfortable chair, its bony, wooden flanges digging into his back. A gurgle of laughter burst from his lips, erupting forth into uproarious chuckles. "We'll see about that... Serpent Bane."

Alster stumbled out of the tent, coughing in sputters as a consequence of dipping into his magic reserves. He about face-planted upon the grass when Lilica's shove, whether purposeful or not, yielded a more downward trajectory, but Elespeth caught him in time. "That's right." His voice croaked into a whisper as he swerved his head to address Lilica. "I'm out of my mind. Like Messino." 

Once Lilica and Chara traveled out of earshot, no doubt to cluck like hens about his latest bout of shortcomings, he followed alongside Elespeth, commanding just enough of his consciousness before the pinpricks of his vision bloomed into the flowers of oblivion. "I pulled a you," he managed through the bracing grip that clasped his teeth together. "I suppose you're rubbing off on me. ...I've just given him the upper hand." Upon reaching the medical tent and before collapsing on the inviting cushions of his cot, he said, " And it will destroy him." 

**

After Chara made certain that the warrior took Alster back to the medical tent, she followed Lilica away from the invisible eyes of Messino's headquarters, of which she could feel their probing influence worrying her into a retreat. As they walked far away from the veritable center of camp, Chara took the lead and directed them to her own tent, checking for signs all about her before lifting the flaps and inviting Lilica inside. 

"The Rigas tents are spelled to discourage outside eavesdroppers," she whispered as she hunkered down in a sea of cushions. "Be that as it may, I am forever left cautious, and it's still best for us to keep our voices down--especially in light of what I am about to reveal." She folded her knees beneath her long tunic and waited for Lilica to reach some level of comfort before beginning her spree of Rigas secrets she was reticent to share, let alone to a user of the very magic she long considered evil. However, it was time to build alliances within camp, and while she worked on chipping away at the casters that carried their famed family legacies with them into battle, gaining Lilica would far trump their support. At least, by way of ruthless, searing pandemonium that would fry their enemies into dust. 

"Alster only thinks that his presence here, in camp, is some sort of penance. If he does right, we will fully reinstate him into our fold. That's what Adalfieri told him. The truth--he wants Alster because, if you peel back the layers of his core personality, he's a firecracker: volatile. And willful. His experiences in exile have lent him a different mindset, dissimilar to the structure and rigidity of his fellow peers. Alster is playing this game--exactly how Adalfieri intended. Because," she hesitated, trickling fingertips up and down her arms in a seated version of pacing, "we are planning a coup. And it starts here--with Messino--during this war."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Jul 22, 2015 7:30 pm
by Requiem
"You're planning a coup."
Lilica had to repeat it to herself aloud in processing the burden of this sudden information. So all of this pomp and circumstance, making a show of how important the Rigases were to Messino's army in what they could contribute, and they only planned to bring him down the entire time...? How did it help them to take out his enemies on the battle field? Or for Alster to lay bare his adeptness to chthonic magic?

The Rigases were not stupid people; quite the opposite, from her own dealings with them, at the very least. And perhaps it was just for her lack of insight into the details... But she was not convinced they quite knew what they were doing. Although she hoped they did.

Tucking her hair behind her ears, the dark mage pressed her fingers to her temples. "And just when were you planning to inform me of this, exactly? Before or after your chthonic Rigas mage was secure in the multitude of his abilities? Because he is clearly not yet secure in them--not only that, but now he will be on Messino's peripheral vision at all times. And if I am to continue working with him, then he has put the both of us in danger, for that very reason."

She was angry. No, not quite angry; something similar, but not the same. Hurt. She was hurt that she was only finding this out now. Maybe it was irrational of her to have expected Chara--or Alster, for that matter--to have let her in on such a delicate secret so soon. After all, what reason had she given them to trust her?
None. Because clearly they don't. Or didn't... or both.

Lilica exhaled slowly before she could go on the defensive. So she was only learning some crucial facts now; what will be, will be. And it was all better late than never. "So when you said you had a means to find me an out from this battle... Did it have anything to do with this coup? Or had you really intended to help me at all?" Trust was a two-way street, after all, and did not come easily to the dark mage. Perhaps it was because of her difficulty in investing in it that made her come across as untrustworthy, like a vicious cycle that would serve no one but its own existence.

But then she recalled that day when she had divulged to Chara what she had never divulged to anyone else; the tale about the life she had lived in her dreams. And how the Rigas caster had promised her that she would not turn a cold shoulder. 
Perhaps the blonde was merely a very convincing liar. Regardless, Lilica wanted to trust her. If for no other reason than because she wanted to believe in something--in someone--again. "Nevermind," she sighed, turning that hurt accusation to the wind. "We all need to be on our guard, now. For if you truly intend to overthrow Messino, he will have his eyes on Alster, now. His battle partner alone has already gotten on the mad prince's nerves... Whether or not your chthonically-adept cousin also has her in on what you are plotting, he had now placed them doubly in the spotlight. Of us all, you seem to be the safest."

Rubbing a blossoming bruise along her wrist, the dark mage averted her gaze to her pale arms. Had Messino noticed the injuries borne of her use of the magic in her veins? Would he call her back, and call her on her lies, when it was obvious that there was only one way her arms could have become so speckled with black and blue?
Having that man out of the picture wouldn't merely benefit the Rigases. Without Messino, there would be no one to lead the men who would arrest her on her first act of insubordination...

"So," she went on, looking up at Chara again. "What is it that you plan, specifically, in ending the mad prince's reign? And how can I be of help to make it happen?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Jul 23, 2015 7:37 pm
by Widdershins
"We are," she answered, with a terse crisp to her short statement. She recognized the look of skepticism across Lilica's face, for she wore it well. But it was becoming threadbare, and Chara noticed the holes that clued her in to the emotional underbelly of the reserved mage. Despite viewing those differing emotions, she was left confused by them. Was Lilica saddened by learning of such revelations later, rather than sooner? How preposterous! Information of that ilk didn't bounce from person to person like a children's ball in a street game. The fact that she even shared a smattering of their plans to her at meant that she regarded the dark mage as an asset. Perhaps, too, she trusted her counsel--though she would never admit it in the open air. 

"I didn't realize it was a requirement that I inform anyone at all," she said, cold anger coursing through her body. "Those who are playing understand their roles. I'm not going to hand out pamphlets to any and all interested parties. That said," her jaw popped from the clamping between her words, "I am only informing you because you have been swept into our politics by virtue of association. It is a horrid mess," she sighed, dispersing the fire that lit her tongue so lividly, "but do we sincerely believe that not a soul in camp would have been left ignorant to Alster's chthonic abilities? The entirety of the compound unit already knows! Since the very first day!" Her hands spread across the cooling comfort of her pillows. "He made that sacrifice, fully aware of the consequences. We're all aware, in fact...that any who follow us will, more or less, find themselves in danger. I...apologize," she gulped the word down her throat. "We are selfish. Rather...I am. He stood up for you, Lilica--however inane his reasons. If you still feel the need to hem and haw about your exclusion, think about the people who wish to help you!" 

Chara bunched a pillow and leaned her chin against its soft down. It acted somewhat as a shield, for she felt like the color of burgundy and buried her face into that very shade. Why had she implied that she, the prideful Chara Rigas, desired to help Lilica--in more ways than what they arranged? "I have not forgotten my promise to you." Now, it was her turn to notice the sting of hurt wringing at her chest. 

Had you really intended to help me at all?

Intended--yes. But intentions seldom ended on a proactive note. In fact, they often ended badly. She could not even support her own team when they needed her on the battlefield, despite her intentions to fight and lead the charge. Instead, she turned tail and fled. Had she really the power or influence to help anyone at all? 

She bit the inside of her cheek as a mental slap to herself. Keep it together, Chara! "I am to send a correspondence to Adalfieri and together, we shall conceive of a method in removing you from this war. If your absence will hurt Messino's chances, we wish to see this come into fruition. However, Messino appears to have less need of you, lately. Our undisputed victory did not arise solely from the hands of Alster, after all--but from some other power source." She frowned and scratched the corner of the pillow against an itch above her eye. "Fortunately, Messino hasn't many options in dealing with Alster. He is still a Rigas. As Rigases, we have never sworn fealty to Di Andalari. In the meantime, Messino can only watch, and plan. And in the meantime, we shall do the same."

After hearing Lilica's change of disposition, in that she expressed interest in fighting for a cause she didn't understand in full, Chara leaned back against nothing. "You want to contribute, even when I do end up finding you a route out of this war?" Messino must bring out the regicidal in us all, she thought with a frown. 

"Have you heard of the Battle of Rintare?" she said, a tentative start to Lilica's inquiry, answered with an attempt to explain the specifics of their coup. "Messino was a different man those ten years ago. A competent commander, with his head screwed on tightly. But his men--many had turned against him. The King of the Fallow Islands promised them riches and women beyond their dreams if they destroyed Andalari's invasion. They followed through, and Messino, in retaliation, drove them all into a patch of sinkholes. He ignored the screams of the living as they drowned within the tide pools deep down below. That battle transformed him into the man he is today. He trusts not a soul--and hates the armies he commands, for sins they have not yet committed."

"Therefore, we are to turn his army against him," she concluded, leaning arms over her pillow. "Though he is making short work of that, already."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Jul 27, 2015 12:26 pm
by Requiem
"Except that as soon as you asked me to help Alster, I became a player in this game," Lilica argued, crossing her arms. "I wish you'd told me sooner, out of respect, if nothing else. Though... I can appreciate that trust, let alone respect, is earned. But so long as... so long as you can assure me that you hadn't intended to write me off as an eventual casualty of this coup, then I see no reason in dwelling on would-have-beens."

It was so easy to make a promise to someone, knowing full well that you'd never have to keep it, provided they'd be caught in your line of fire. Lilica would know, as she herself had been guilty of such a ploy. But she was not so dim as to miss that similar look of hurt and disappointment that flickered in Chara's flair features for a second. So they'd both been guilty of undermining trust in one another... Perhaps, if the Rigases could truly be an ally to the dark mage, it was time to place these doubts aside and focus on the here and now. 
After all, with Alster's antics, the here and now had suddenly become that much more crucial. Because there couldn't be a moment's worth of letting their guard down, with Messino's heightened suspicions.

But Chara did bring up a good point; and that was that Messino didn't seem to have as much use for his primary dark mage than she had initially intended. What would he have done, had Alster not spoken up? Would it really have been as benign as a slap on the wrist, or would he have used the excuse to have her arrested then and there, so as to mitigate any future potential in her being a wild card? "Well, aren't I already contributing, by training one of your own to control his chthonic magic instead of becoming consumed by it?" Lilica raised an eyebrow and lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Of course I still want out of this war. But... not as much as I want Messino to pay for dragging me into it in the first place. So you can consider my contribution continual."

Lilica's determined expression sobered to something far less certain as Chara began to explain the theory behind Messino's madness. As someone who was not truly a citizen of Andalar (and who had lardly been unconscious for well over half a decade)i, she had not been familiar with the prince before this war, nor had she heard tell of such a battle. Horrific though it was, however, it explained a good deal. It was not quite so simple as the military leader having lost his mind. Rather, he was very much a victim of his own desire to succeed, at the expense of anyone and everyone he thought necessary. Fueled by hatred for a mutiny that had occurred what felt like so long ago... 

A sickening feeling churned her stomach. Perhaps she and Messino had more in common than she'd like to admit. For no one was a better expert on hatred than someone whose magic fed off of it.

"You Rigases then, essentially, mean to bring about his worst nightmare," she observed, following a quiet moment of contemplation."But if hatred is his tool... Then, perhaps, it is not so farfetched to fight fire with fire. In which case, I think I can be of help. Beyond working with Alster, that is. And if you will allow it." Shrugging, she folded her hands in her lap. "As opposed to finding me way out of this war--at this point, I feel such an endeavour would be too dangerous--perhaps, when this all comes to and end, you could instead guarantee me protection within this kingdom, should you and yours assume control of it."

Wouldn't that just be grand? A safe place--truly safe--where she could stop moving long enough to try and reestablish herself in reality. It had only been just over five years since she had woken up. And ever since, she hadn't had a moment to herself, not without worrying about who might next be on her heels. There were too many who sought the 'witches' of dark magic to put an end to them, and too many more--Messino included--who wanted nothing more than to have their abilities for their own benefit.
She couldn't help but wonder, however, if she would know what to do with peace, were it offered to her on a silver platter.

"I've been running for a very long time," she explained. "From before I fell into that extended sleep, to the moment I woke up again. To have a chance to reestablish myself... Figure out how I will conduct the rest of my life, that is what I need. If I do not survive this war to ever make it to that point, then as far as I am concerned, it was not meant to be. So..."

Foregoing further musing or persiflage, the dark caster up from her lap, and sought Chara's gaze. "What do you think? Would that be a possibility, or am I simply deluding myself? I don't understand the politics of your caster family, or even what you intend to do, should your coup be successful. All I know is that when we are all through with this violence, I want the opportunity never to have to take part in it again."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Jul 28, 2015 2:49 am
by Widdershins
"You have it correct," Chara said, tilting her head at Lilica so that her blonde locks bounced across her face. "Trust is a valuable commodity around here, and in short supply. Already, I took a great risk in requesting your aid. I had gathered that by the time our coup would take effect, you would have completed a large extent of Alster's training. Incorrectly, I assumed I would have no need to involve you at all, for I would have found you an escape from this war." A sigh deflated her shoulders. "Alas, I was too overeager. But I never intended on using you as collateral damage." Perhaps, in the not-so-distant past, Chara would have no problem sacrificing Lilica for the greater good. After all, she, a practitioner of chthonic magic, bred evil and suffering in her very veins. Chara would do the world a favor by eradicating such darkness from existence. However, life was rarely conceived in black and white. Alster's celestial magic awakened the Serpent. Conversely, his chthonic magic shielded his battle partner when in need of protection. She wanted to believe that magic was a tool and not an alignment. 

...But her reasoning could not explain Alster's cold-blooded murder of his parents. 

"Yes, you are contributing, as per our agreement." A fluster came into her voice, distracted by thoughts of Alster's disturbing revelation about which hadn't made much sense to her. "Are you certain you wish to alter your end of the arrangement? If so, I cannot guarantee your safety. If this is because you think I cannot remove you from this war..." Trailing off, she caught the flash of obstinacy alight in the dark mage's eyes. From her experiences with Alster, who seldom changed his mind once his eyes glinted with such intensify, there was no swaying or dissuading Lilica from her final decision. 

"Very well," Chara said with a nod. "Should we succeed in our coup, and retake Stella D'Mare, you will have a place in our revived city-state. Even if I must compromise my position within the Rigas ranks, I shall find you sanctuary." She crossed her hand across her chest, a promise sans the tendrils of magic to spark it alive. Confidence was difficult to fake when all vestiges of her magic had retreated into hibernation, but she hoped the gesture alone was enough to establish the requisite sincerity in her words. "What is your proposal?" Rising to her feet, she prepared to guide Lilica to the mouth of her tent--back into that unfortunate world where Messino ruled with impunity. "I would love to hear what you have in mind for that ink-stain on humanity." 

**

The weapons' tent sat in a disarray comparable to the heap Haraldur had sorted a few days' prior, when Messino's army first established the new camp. While a day had elapsed since their decimating victory against Tadasun, not a soul had made a motion to clear the clutter inside the tent. If a fighter had roved through the area, it was to pluck a spear from the ground or to throw another sword atop the ever-growing pile. With a sigh, Haraldur trudged against blades of grass--in a somewhat literal sense--and bent to the task that, by default, had become his responsibility. 

Halfway into the sorting process, Commander Philon entered the tent. With arms crossed over his chest, his mouth crossed similarly, into a twisted grimace. 

"Have you been given clearance for this duty, soldier?" The Commander barked at Haraldur, who turned to his attention with arms juggling a pile of daggers. 

"Sir?" Haraldur set down the blades and approached Philon with a tentative swirl around the haystacks--nay, needlestacks--of discarded steel. "I saw an untended mess and decided to tidy it. I did not realize the specialization behind this task, nor did I know that it was assigned to anyone in particular." 

"Damn lazy slobs," the Commander muttered under his breath, his hands tightening into bludgeoning weapons all their own. "The task has been assigned to a few men, and then promptly abandoned by them. Thanks for picking up the slack, soldier. I'll let you get back to it while I chase down those pigeon-brains we call 'logistics officers.' What a load of bull!" With a derisive chuckle, the Commander bent down and plucked a longsword out of a pile, an otherwise nondescript design save for a small red gem embedded in the pommel. "We've orders to arrange all the ruby-marked weapons and stick 'em on a rack in the corner somewhere. They're higher grade or some sort. Donated by a rich bastard back when St. Thorne was in one piece, so we're keeping 'em together." He handed the longsword to Haraldur. "I don't know about you, but these weapons don't seem much different in quality than their peon counterparts. I guess a little speck of a ruby goes a long way for these rich types. Ah, well," he looked at Haraldur and waggled his hand for him to resume duties, "carry on." 

When the Commander brushed the tent flaps aside and exited, Haraldur appraised the blade with a questioning look. The steel, as Philon observed, wasn't of a more superior grade than the non-marked weapons. In fact, the only noticeable difference rested upon the blood-red stones floating to the surface. 

As Haraldur completed the sorting process in a few hours' time, he pocketed a small marked dagger and, at the Commander's go-ahead, took his leave. 

He found Tam outside the mess-tent. Waiting until she finished eating, he pulled her aside. "I need to show you something." 

Scouring his surroundings, he spotted an empty supply tent and, when certain of no onlookers, entered through the flaps, beckoning Tam to follow. 

"Well, this seems forward of me," Haraldur said, granting her an apologetic smile. "But I only wanted to show you this." He withdrew the dagger from one of his larger pouches and presented it to her. "Each of these weapons is beset with a ruby, to differentiate between the rest. They are also sorted in their own special location within the tent--under the pretense that they are of higher grade and hence more expensive. One and only one longbow that I handled had this little embedded stone in it." He twisted the dagger in his hands, allowing the ruby to catch the dim light of their enclosure. "Did your dead archer use a longbow? If so...is it possible that these weapons may hold an enchantment?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Aug 08, 2015 10:34 am
by Requiem
"Of course you cannot guarantee my safety here; that never was part of our agreement," the dark mage reminded her rather gently. Chara had initially promised, as per Lilica's request, to find her a way out of this war that she wanted nothing to do with--provided that she survived long enough to see an end to it. It had never been part of the deal to ascertain her safety up until then. "Whether or not you can remove me from this war, I am not safe here--I never was, none of us are. The alteration to this agreement... it changes nothing, except for the extent of my involvement in a plan that is probably less likely to kill me than Messino's vision."

In truth, she hadn't imagined that Chara would be so quick to agree. Lilica had witnessed this Rigas pride first hand, one where there was hardly room for chtonic magic among their own. What place could their ideal world, wrenched from the hands of Messino, have for someone like her? Someone who couldn't even balance the darkness in her veins with celestial magic, like one such as Alster?
It was only then that she realized the extent to which this haughty Rigas mage was willing to extend beyond her family's protocol and general expectations, simply for making good on a promise to someone she had no reason to trust.

I would have found you an escape from this war. A week ago, Lilica would have been happy to have that escape, never looking back on the Rigases or bringing them to mind again. She could have lived on with clarity of mind and heart, not once wondering if they'd lived or died, or what had become of that war.
Funny, how priorities could change so quickly. And how quickly the people you thought you'd had figured out sudden began to cast very different shadows than before.

Chara's questing hung in the air as the dark mage followed her to the mouth of the tent, contemplating if now was as good a time as ever to divulge the hasty plan (at this point, it was more like a consideration) that had sparked like a flame in the otherwise dismal darkness of her mind. There was no telling how (or if) it could be used to their advantage, but given what she had found out about Messino's turning point... There was suddenly potential where, moments before, there had been none.

"I just wonder... if perhaps steering clear of Messino is not what will win this war or keep us out of danger," she began, brows furrowed in contemplation. "My magic, it... From what I can gather, hate is what fuels it; I have more in common with the mad prince than I'd perhaps like to admit. When I struggle to summon it from a place inside of me that truly wishes to help and not hurt, this is the result." As an example, she held out her arm, indicating the new plethora of bruises. all shapes and sizes. "It punishes me, and is not nearly as reliable; you must understand, it wantsto come from hate, to be fueled by it. But, up until just now... I did not consider that it needn't, perhaps, be my hatred..." 

Her voice drifted off as a handful of people passed by just outside the tent. It wasn't safe to talk, not right now. "I need to think on it more," the dark mage concluded, returning her attention to the blonde Rigas mage. "But if Messino is as mad with his own abhorrence for the very people fighting for him... It may very well be to our advantage, in more ways than one."

---

Finding a spare moment to so much as grab a bite to eat was a rare occurrence in Messino's encampment, even when it was something to which his soldiers were entitled--after all, there was little else to go on in this army so void of morale, aside from basic sustenance. Elespeth had wasted most of her morning both training and checking up on Alster, who looked far better than he had that day on the battlefield. He had struggled to assure her that he was well and should be on his feet again soon, and that she should grab some lunch before everyone claimed seconds and there was no food left. He had been right; another half hour and she would have been forced to conduct her day on an empty stomach.

No sooner had she exited the tent, with what meager leftovers there had been now sitting comfortably in her stomach, before Haraldur approached her, his expression a mask of seriousness. "Haraldur..." The ex-knight's brows furrowed in concern. "Is everything all right? What is it that I need to see?"

Whatever it was, Haraldur--from what little Elespeth knew of him--did not seem the type to make heavy of a situation that could otherwise be perceived as light. Following the mercenary to the empty tent, she brushed off his concern of appearing too forward. "Not at all! You needn't worry, I trust your intentions," she all but laughed, before her eyes fell upon the dagger. Taking it by the hilt, she examined it with a critical eye. It was pretty, that was for sure, and looked new, like it had never seen the blood and gore of battle. As for being of a higher quality, however...

"This is not what I would consider a high-grade weapon," she told her comrade, holding out the blade for him to inspect. "This dagger isn't balanced; the hilt is far heavier than the steel, and even that looks as though it was rushed as they crafted it. Look at how our reflections in it are distorted, not smooth... If Messino thinks he has made a good investment in these pretty weapons, then I believe he has been duped..."

She trailed off when asked about the archer and his longbow. That was a memory with details that she would never forget. "Yes. I can recall... there was a ruby on that bow, I can recall how it glinted in the daylight... But you're not suggesting that..."

Enchanted weapons. Soldiers who couldn't be stopped, no matter how poor or inexperienced they were in battle, not even by death... Colour gradually drained from the Atvanian fugitive's face. "Necromancy," she hissed, handing the dagger back to Haraldur so quickly it was as if she feared to touch it for too long, lest it force her to rise from her grave, whenever that time would come. "These weapons... do you really think they could have been enchanted by necromantic ability? That is beyond sick and cruel to the fallen. Although now I can see why Messino made this investment in such poorly crafted weapons, to the naked eye... The man might be mad, but he is not stupid."

Peering out the flaps of the tent to ascertain that they were not heard, she turned back to Haraldur and placed a hand on his shoulder. "The casters could tell us, could they not? Magic is their domain, not ours... Perhaps we should take this to the Rigases, or the dark mage Lilica. Someone familiar with necromantic ability. Let me talk to them--Alster, at the very least... I promise you, he can be trusted. He'd not betray what we know to Messino."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Aug 09, 2015 7:15 pm
by Widdershins
Whether their arrangement called for it or not, Chara would not succumb to negligence and allow her beneficiary to succumb to a premature death. Otherwise, it would invalidate both ends of the bargain. She, with everything gained, and Lilica, with no reward to show for her efforts, left a sour taste in Chara's mouth. While the result of their agreement mattered not to the preservation of her family and legacy, refusing to follow-through with her promises was irrefutable proof that she hadn't changed from that day--almost fifty years ago--when she turned her back to Alster. 

I will never walk away from those who need me.

Then why had she retreated from her team in the heat of battle? Skittered away like a common rat and burrowed under the dirt, fearing detection and death and clinging to the rock, wishing she could meld into its surface? Praying that she would survive? 

Perhaps, in the end, she was a mere vessel from which pretty promises and idealisms spouted. She, a sham, a pretender, knew how to craft fanciful illusions and yet did naught to legitimize them. Hollow, Helpless, Hypocritical--were those the words that would describe Chara Rigas's own legacy?

But by all the stars in the sky, she vowed to see herself down this path she had chosen. If she accomplished little else, she wanted to help them--Alster and Lilica--to bushwhack themselves free from the infinite loops of fate. ...And to survive.

Refocusing her attentions to the renewed subject matter, her hand fluttered away from the tent flaps at Lilica's mention of a plan. Rather, the stirrings of a plan--but an intriguing one, nonetheless. Her attention piqued, she stepped further inside the muted hub of her sanctum and nodded, chewing the idea in her mouth to ascertain its palpability.

"You wish to turn his hatred against him? My, that is poetic. A most fitting end. But how are you to implicate such a maneuver? Should he provide an ample, remote resource for your magic, how will this affect him adversely--aside from siphoning that specific energy from him to yourself? Will hatred beget more hatred in his black soul?!" Before she lost any sort of composure in favor of an unprofessional bout of giddiness with the very thought of Messino's demise, she cleared her throat and approached the mouth of her tent with gathered collectiveness. "We shall discuss this further. It is best that we allow our discussion to percolate in our minds until we come to a solution. For now," concern softened the rigidity that she structured her face to adopt, "take care, Lilica. Use this time to recover from the bruises you suffer so."

**

Haraldur watched Tam grip the dagger from his hands and nodded at her assessment of its quality. In the relative quiet of their surroundings, the weapon seemed to hum as if a hive of bees nested beneath the surface. "I thought as much," he said at the conclusion of her appraisal, running his fingers over the improperly tempered steel. "I wonder how the prince convinces his men to utilize weapons of this ilk. Any seasoned warrior can determine the poorer quality of these ruby-encrusted blades. Unless," he paused when Tam about threw the cursed blade into his waiting hands, "our Chief Commander is employing certain tactics in his mission to see these weapons into battle. Some incentive plan, perhaps. Or maybe he is being forthright about their enchanted qualities--but lying about the type of enchantment they possess." The ruby gem winked at him, a sinister little nod as if confirming his words to speak truth. 

"It is very possible that Messino is telling his men that such weapons will improve their performances in battle. Not quite a falsehood, but he has left very important details from surfacing. Only conjecture on my part, of course." With hesitation, he placed both hands from hilt to blade-tip upon the dagger, creating a circuit with his body. "Necromancy?" The weapon about toppled from his hands. "That would explain what we saw on the battlefield. How could these weapons even carry the power to raise the dead? I..." shaking his head of the heavy images giving rise to plague-infested thoughts of the mind, he sighed and stared outward, between the cracks that the tent flaps could not hide of the outside world. "It is cruel, yet not an unlikely tactic in our mad prince's arsenal. He seems in want to win--at all costs."

Roving his attention back to Tam and her hand, its grip as tight as his own against the dagger, he frowned at her words. "I do hope you have placed your trust with the right people. Magic and those associated with the practice are a doomed lot in their own right. I would watch out for your battle partner." He raised the weapon of contention and offered it to Tam for the second time. "You might want to show them this, then--and quick. I will have to take it back before anyone notices that it is missing."

**

To clear space for the wounded in critical condition, Alster and those who suffered only flesh wounds were discharged from the medical tent, under the condition that they continue on bedrest in their own quarters. Under Chara's insistence, his convalescence would take place in her tent. For "reasons of safety."

"Won't Tivia and Danos suspect unfair treatment if I stay in your tent?" he asked while she fluffed up pillows for him in the corner across from her own cot.

"Oh, let them talk. Besides, they have long resigned themselves to the fact that you are in constant need of assistance." When he presented her with a sour expression, she threw him a grating smile. "Well, you can't say they aren't correct." She pointed to his cot. "Think of this as jail-time. You are not to go wandering outside this tent without me, you understand? Only the Universe knows what further horrors you may go about uncovering if left to your own devices." 

Sitting atop the cot, Alster gave her a compliant nod, one so devoid of pep and protest that she about bit the inside of her cheek in worry. "Well, you go on and rest. I will bring us some food. Whatever paltry crumbs are left to salvage, anyway." As she exited the tent to the outside, she flounced back inside but moments later. "Your knight in shining armor has located you." She narrowed her eyes when Alster visibly brightened, like a star freeing itself from a prison of clouds. "I suppose I shall direct her here, then."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Aug 11, 2015 1:51 am
by Requiem
"I don't know," El shook her head, turning the dagger over in her hand again and again, in case she'd missed some crucial inscription that would explain away everything that had the two of them confused. "Messino himself is not magically adept--not to my knowledge, at least. I feel he would have long since implemented such an advantage already, if that were the case. Someone else enchanted these weapons, but... I highly doubt it was anyone who is part of this encampment." Because there were only two chthonically adept mages--Lilica and Alster. The former, she could not see ever agreeing to perform such a feat, if she were capable. And the latter...

It wasn't Alster. It went against his best interests (and that of the other Rigases), and anyway, hadn't he been out of commission just before Messino had introduced this weaponry?
That did not mean, however, that he didn't have answers for them. The only person who could say a thing or two about dark magic was a dark magic user, themself. That gave them two options, and there was no way she was going to approach the eerie likes of Lilica D'Or. Perhaps it was an unfair appraisal, but that girl looked as though she could set a curse with a mere glance. Not to mention, Alster was about the only caster in the entire encampment who didn't seem to have some strange, egotistical problem with her, simply for the fact she had been passionate about being part of a compound unit.

Pressing her lips together, she gripped the dagger's hilt in her calloused palm and met Haraldur's eyes. "Contrary to popular belief, perhaps, I do choose my allies and confidantes very, very carefully," she assured the mercenary with a cheeky smile. "I know nothing about magic, but I know enough people who do--and I have an idea of one who might be able to provide some answers. I'll be quick, and I'll be sure to tell you what--if anything--I find out on my return. If anyone does ask, blame me for incompetence in sorting weapons improperly. Or for my stereotypically feminine attraction to the pretty red jewel, or some other similar poppycock to buy time."

Tucking the dagger into her belt, the Atvanian fugitive made her way to the medical tent, asking for Alster when she didn't find him. The attending healers informed her that he had been released to continue his bedrest in the comfort of Chara Rigas's tent, which immediately deflated just a tiny bit of the hope she'd harboured. Not that she had anything against the haughty blonde Rigas, aside from the fact that the haughty blonde Rigas appeared to have some problem with her, which--like the resentment among the others--she was sure stemmed from her partnership with Alster.
Well, Chara could think whatever she wanted. But it was in her best interest to cooperate, and surely she had the sense to realize that.

"Is Alster here?" She asked the blonde mage in question, after making her way over to her tent. "The medics informed me that he'd been discharged to convalesce here... I hope I'm not intruding, but it's rather important, and I don't have a lot of time."

To her great relief, Chara did not put up a fight, and parted the curtain to allow her access. Despite still being bedridden, Alster looked better, with more colour in his face and a certain brightness in his eyes that made her smile. "I wish I was here to bring tidings of some good news... But I actually seek your input on something that I am almost certain is anything but good news. Mind taking a look at this?"

Removing the dagger from her belt, Elespeth handed the gleaming piece of weaponry to her battle partner, lowering her voice despite that they were alone, save for Chara who stood at the front of the tent. "During the last battle, both Haraldur and I saw... we bore witness to something very unsettling. Fallen soldiers--dead soldiers--rising again and wielding their weapons anew. These weapons, in particular, all marks by encrusted rubies. There is a vast collection of them, from daggers to broadswords to axes and bows. We wondered... well, if there is the potential that they have been enchanted with necromantic properties. I realize you're no necromancer, but given the dual-nature of your magic... I figured you might be able to provide some answers." 

Biting down on her lower lip, the ex-knight leaned forward. "I'm sorry to bother you while you're clearly still healing, and need rest, but... well... Just between you and me, and with all due respect to the only other chthonic mage within the premises of this encampment, you couldn't pay me enough to ask her a favour." A guilty yet conspiratorial grin tugged at the corners of her mouth, but it faded almost as soon as it was there. "If Messino is planning something as sinister as raising his own dead, without letting anyone in the know... then I fear for the safety of us all. His plain disregard for life no longer comes across as so unusual."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Aug 12, 2015 1:43 am
by Widdershins
With exceeding difficulty, Alster scrounged up reasons to wake from his slumber that morning. The more logical side of his brain claimed it was because his body was making up for lost time in light of his worsening insomnia, but his fluctuating emotional state knew of the truest reason. Between his near-death on the battlefield, his fevered reveal to Messino, and the newest collection of sins staining his hands red with the blood of his parents, he never again wanted to wake. Alas, he made promises, especially to Elespeth, and while it stabbed and abraded at his chest and crackled at his aching limbs, he opened his eyes to endure his new reality. 

He did not endure it alone. 

Throughout the morning, Elespeth routinely checked in with him, regaling him with little quips and anecdotes about her day and asking after his health. She, a sunny presence, shined rays through the storm clouds gathering around his foggy brain, and while he never thought it possible, her light had reached him like a flutter in his heart. However, when she departed, she took with her that which he so craved, and darkness corralled itself within, dripping a chilling rain that penetrated the skin and left him frozen. 

Therefore, with Elespeth's return, an instantaneous thaw sparked around him, stirring circulation and pumping blood back into his veins. Unbidden, a small smile touched his face. As much as it infuriated Chara, who rolled her eyes at his reaction, it inspired him to smile more. 

"Back so soon?" he teased. Realizing he leaned forward in his cot with the anticipation of a child awaiting yuletide gifts, he adopted a more neutral pose while fighting not to overheat, as his cheeks felt quite prepared to fill with hot air and lift him from the ground. She was quick to ground him, however, when she expressed the purpose of her visit. He accepted the dagger into his bandaged hands, listening to her retelling of events with a furrowed brow and increasing bemusement. 

"And you two are certain that you witnessed these soldiers rising from the dead?" As he examined the hilt, he brought the ruby close to his eyes, peering into a faceted world all its own, tinted with crimson secrets and a swirling energy that bit at the tips of his fingers--reacting to his magic. Unraveling at the source.

"It certainly is imbued with necromantic energy." He rested the dagger against the crooks in his fingers. "A cloaking spell has been placed on this weapon, perhaps to shield its intentions from more knowledgeable eyes. In fact, I might not have been able to see through the spell, were it not for the properties of my own chthonic magic trying to siphon this energy for its own. The magic contained in this dagger, however, seems well-embedded as it is also dormant and needs a catalyst to take form--like the death of whomever wields this blade. ...As you've seen occur," he added, pausing only to look up at Elespeth and at Chara, who slowly crept closer to them once she discovered the subject matter at hand. "Perhaps we know now the initial reason as to why Messino has recruited Lilica. Not so much for her ability to mow down vast numbers at a time--though that certainly helps--but to tap into the residual energy that her magic leaves behind. And our first battle...it more than provided for Messino and what he needed in order to energize his enchanted weaponry." 

With eyes widening in realization, he set aside the dagger and looked upon his hands, humming tools that harbored an obvious solution from within. 

"I have anti-necromantic magic. That means I am able to take energy that manifests as dying, death, and decay, and convert it for my own uses. In other words," he lowered his voice, as a precaution, "I may be able to leech the energy of the undead...and effectively disband this puppet army."

"Sounds like another plan in which you fancy yourself dead," Chara grumbled as she crossed her arms. "I shouldn't even allow you anywhere, much less the battlefield. A lemming has more self-preservation than you."

"To me, it sounds as though you're intrigued by yet another of my idiotic plans," Alster said with an ingratiating smile, one which deepened the lines behind Chara's semi-permanent glare. 

"...Your idiocy goes beyond the sum of your plans," she said under her breath, but seemed to concede, as she turned to Elespeth, tapping impatient fingertips upon her crossed arms. "Since you are too spineless to do so, I will inform Lilica about this discussion."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Aug 14, 2015 2:03 am
by Requiem
"Chara is right." Picking up the dagger from where he had set it upon the floor, the former Atvanian knight tucked it into her belt with a quick motion, all the more leary of touching it since Alster confirmed its necromantic qualities. "Leave the fanciful plotting for when you are well again. Returning to the battlefield in your current condition will not do anyone ant favours, including yourself, and you promised me that your last stunt would be the end of any deathwishes."

She'd have agreed with Chara regardless of the blonde mage's unruly countenance, although it certainly didn't hurt to play in her favour. Elespeth knew full well that her presence annoyed the haughty Rigas mage, and not long ago, her glare would have been enough to keep her away from Alster until he was well enough (let alone permitted) to seek her out, himself. But nearly losing him in the last battle had struck a nerve, drawing her attention once again to the fragility of human life, regardless of whether you were nearly a hundred years old and magically adept. 
The truth of having come so close to almost losing her partner--and not only her partner, but her friend--had hit far too hard for her to care about Chara Rigas's petty peeves.

In any case, in light of all her berating, she thought he could use a kind word or two, a yin to simply contrast Chara's yang. Recovery was impossible without at least a little kindness and compassion...

About to leave Alster to resting and to return the dagger to Haraldur, the ex-knight was surprisingly taken aback by the blonde Rigas's words, enough that it brought a tinge of colour to her cheeks. Without a second thought, she pivoted on her heel and thrust the dagger towards Chara, hilt first, in a quick gesture that could have been considered aggressive--were it not for the ironic smile that she wore. "Be my guest; let her have a look at it, too," she suggested, referring to the dagger. "But be sure it's returned soon after. We can't risk its absence being noticed."

Watching with amusement as Alster's cousin left in a huff, Elespeth couldn't help but chuckle. "For whatever reason, I am convinced your... fiancée has it out for me." The word felt so strange with regard to Alster and Chara. She had never witnessed such a disharmonious couple in all of her life; but their life was really none of her business. "But I suppose that is all beside the point. Do you..." Pausing as voices passed the tent outside, the ex-knight leaned closer to Alster and lowered her voice. "Do you really think you can undo this army of soulless husks? Without it being to your detriment? I've seen the misfortune of what results from Lilica's use of her magic... if you think that it will compromise your life in any way, then please--please don't. We will find another way. There will be another way."

Lilica could be found, as usual, in the solitude of her tent, but sitting on the ground with her head bowed and her hands folded in her lap. It wasn't unusual for her tendency to be a recluse to intensify following a battle that left her so drained; not only did it allow for rest, but also, escape. Temporary, but necessary.

She always returned to visit, even if there was no one left in the world that wasn't real. The world in which she lived that impossible life, where she'd never known what it meant to be so unhappy. The sun still shone down on streets that she'd come to recognize what felt like so long ago. And, most importantly, no one could touch her there; no one had any power of her when she retreated to deep into her own reveries. There, she was alone.
And it was just as much a curse, at this point, as it was a blessing. For after living a harmonious (nevermind how fallacious) life surrounded by good company, readjusting to a solitary lifestyle was proving more difficult than she'd imagined...

Nonetheless, it was a reprieve. And it helped the bruises heal, and if for no other reason than nostalgia's sake, it was always worth it to return...

Mere moments after she'd convinced herself to relax enough to reach temporarily leave the world behind, she was brought right back to it by the rustling of her tent flaps. Eyes snapping open, she noted the familiar robe and blonde hair of a certain Rigas mage, and was on her feet in seconds. "Sorry, I didn't mean to... I didn't expect you to come by..." Lilica trailed off, the glint of steel tucked carefully up Chara's sleeve glinting in a single beam of sunlight that had found its way into her tent. Dark brows knitted together. "I take it from the fact you're carrying a weapon that something is amiss?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Aug 14, 2015 11:38 pm
by Widdershins
"It's not a death wish," Alster said, playing with a frayed end of the bandage on his arm. "It's simple logic. I've the ability to do my part." His gaze roved over to Chara, whose fingers tightened around her crossed arms. "So why shouldn't I use this unexpected turn in my magic for the benefit of our cause? For once in my life, I'll be helpful." In further response to Elespeth's words, he unraveled the bandages of his left hand and drew a complicated spell form over the lacerations etched into his palm. A blue light danced around the cracks in his skin, smoothing over the ragged tufts and fading the blood-red bloom of his deepest welts. "My current condition is just that: current. It does not reflect what I'll carry with me into the next battle-- not when I can expedite my own recovery. I am not fantasizing for myself an unrealistic outcome." He glared at Elespeth, not one borne of maliciousness, but of a dogged determination to prove himself useful in her eyes. Capable. He held up his hand, where the wounds that bled in full just a day before looked to have occurred almost a week ago--all pink scar tissue and raw flesh. "I do not fantasize. I haven't the luxury."

Chara bit her lip at his bold statement and his show of magic that, even in its current guise, disrespected by many in the inherent caster community, outclassed her celestial magic at full capacity. Healing, in any form, was a highly specialized art, one that took long years of study and an understanding of anatomy, both internal and external. The most successful healers hailed from St. Thorne, the former healing capital of the West. With that great nation defunct, and its healers scattered to the winds or dead, the demand for it was at a premium. Even healing at its most rudimentary had its price. While it only extended to his own body, the fact that Alster could heal, especially after the loss of his celestial magic, baffled her into the silence of jealousy.

His magic would forever be far superior to her own. 

With heady thoughts sitting on her mind, the insolent actions of Alster's sword-wielding pet took her off guard, and she unwittingly retreated a few steps backwards, almost prepared for an onslaught were it not for the positioning of the weapon in her gnarled, rough hands. Her glare deepening, she swiped the dagger from that ape of a woman. "Gladly," she seethed through her teeth. "I shall return." Like a cold breeze, she shifted from the tent and to outside, en route to Lilica's tent. The flaps from her egress kicked up and fluttered in the wake of her mini windstorm. 

Alster watched after Chara's departure with a reflection of Elespeth's own humor manifesting on his upturned lips. "She does. Chara primarily expresses herself through anger, besides. She's in constant need to seek out that which peeves her the most. You are her newest point of rage." He dispelled the subject with a shrug when, after the flaps resettled into their positions and the outsiders' footfalls faded, Elespeth voiced her concerns about his newest crazy endeavor. "I believe that I can. But nothing is finite," he told her with a sigh. "Magic can and will come with a price. However, I may be able to escape from this virtually unscathed if I can keep my head about me." He glanced sidelong at her, his healed hand hovering over her arm, yearning to touch it as a comfort, but he shied from the audacity of his desires and returned the hand to his lap. "Otherwise, this is war. All our lives are compromised. But I told you that I will live--as long as it is in my ability to do so. You," his face reddened, and he lowered his head, "you must promise me the same. ...Live."

Chara slipped into Lilica's tent with a refined quiet befitting of her stature. As much as that bedraggled eyesore had infuriated her (and her magic) into a twitter, she exercised the dignity, at least, in not ferrying her ire from one locale to another. Upon seeing Lilica meditating on the ground, she about departed so as to grant her the privacy required to continue her session, but by then, the dark mage had awakened, springing to her feet at once. Her recovery time between meditation and full wakefulness was impeccable; she nary missed a beat. 

"Yes," she began, sliding the aforementioned dagger into her waiting palm and holding it out for viewing purposes. "The sword-wielding swine uncovered an array of enchanted weapons that have raised soldiers from the dead. Alster believes," she lowered her voice to a whisper, "the expelling of your magic so energized these weapons and activated their power, and it is for this very reason that Messino has recruited you." She offered the blade to Lilica. "Do you concur? Can you feel the essence of your magic?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Aug 15, 2015 9:43 pm
by Requiem
"Soliders from the dead..." Lilica's brows knitted together as she struggled to recall the events of the battle. Her health, safety and consciousness hadn't nearly been as compromised as Alster's, but in expending what magic that she had in ensuring the consciousness, health and safety of a select few, it was difficult in the aftermath to distinguish what had actually happened and what she'd only imagined had happened.

But there was no mistaking what she had felt on the battlefield. That repugnant presence of a darkness that belonged to neither her nor to Alster, that very much resembled the feeling of the atmosphere emanating from the ruby-encrusted dagger that Chara held.

With the prolonged hesitation of someone who knew very well what they were getting into, and the dire repercussions of such, the dark mage extended her hand to take the dagger by its bejeweled hilt.

The magic hit her like a stone to the gut.
The sensation of deadness--of nothingness-surged up her arm, bringing with it the sickening scent of decay that only she could smell, the chill of lifelessness that called to her blood, the taste of ash in her mouth. She had only felt this once before, and it had not been in the residue of Alster's anti-necromantic abilities. Her fingers loosened on the hilt, and the dagger fell to the ground between their feet.

"There is nothing but death about what lies within that weapon," she hissed, rubbing her hand as if she'd been holding red-hot iron, and not a cool hilt. "And it's powerful. It is as if... as if it calls to the vessel that hold its, and it seizes it, such that even if a man were to fall. dead.. he will still fight. So long as the weapon remains intact, and provided there is... provided the right kind of magic is present to trigger it." Lilica felt blood rush to her cheeks. Alster was right; Messino had no only secured her as a secret weapon for dire, long-range attack. He needed her as a catalyst, to project her energy onto magic--and it would not have been the first time she had been used for such an end.
That bastard... She had hated him, before, but it was not difficult to hate Messino. Now, she wanted his blood spilled and his reign ended perhaps more than the Rigases. How dare he use her as an amplifier for his own foul parlor tricks...

Pressing her lips together, she covered her hand with the sleeve of her tunic and picked up the dagger. "I believe Alster's theory is reality," she said, her words slow, as if it were difficult to admit. "And this interferes a good deal with what I had in mind. If Messino is leeching off of my power with these weapons, it explains why I return from battle so exhausted and ridden with bruises. This... we will need to take this into consideration. I may end up being of more use to you while absent from battle." Use to you. It wasn't until the words leapt off her tongue that the dark mage realized just how devoted she had become to the Rigas's cause, and she could hardly deign to understand why: why she had turned down her initial deal with the blonde Rigas mage in favour of being a greater help. Why she had put her life on the line by partaking in that last battle, effectively shielding Alster from the demons of his own self-defeat. Why the sharp azure of Chara Rigas's eyes, the curve of her cheekbones and that everpresent frown on her full lips brought such a curious sense of peace and... well, camaraderie.

"Chara..." A fleeting thought came to mind and settled, but only for a handful of seconds. Now was not the time to be thinking of herself and dragging others into the dark pit of her self-inflicted pain. Thee were more important things to discuss. "...nevermind. Let's go find Alster. And I have a feeling that this horrid piece of steel should be returned to where it came from before any of us is caught with it in our possession."

Elespeth had, meanwhile, taken a seat next to Alster's low-slung cot, seizing the opportunity (however brief) to settle on talk that wasn't so dire or off-putting. His comment on Chara, and the nee target for her insatiable ire, actually made her laugh. "Really, now? Well if I am currently the bane of Chara Rigas's existence, then I daresay she lives a very privileged life." What she had done to earn the blonde mage's scorn was far beyond her, but that didn't matter. Alster was her partner in battle; Chara would just have to learn to deal with their working relationship, and the fact that she might see the Atvanian fugitive more than she cared to.

Although, that did bring about another point of concern. "If she were... If Chara knew my name, or learned of my history... She wouldn't... I mean..." She needn't articulate, for Alster knew what she was getting at. Chara Rigas struck her as haughty and vindictive, but not toxic; and not a danger. Or else Alster wouldn't have put himself into her care. "I think I'm being too paranoid," she admitted with a chuckle, absently pulling her chestnut locks over her shoulder, nimble fingers weaving it into a braid. "I'm new to this game of trust. But... it's nice to be back in the game." A smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth as she turned her head to face Alster. The sudden realization of their proximity struck her, but not enough to make her shift her position or move further from the cot. 

"How about this: I will trust you to go above and beyond your abilities while maintaining your heartbeat and keeping your blood in your veins, if you can trust me to do the same. Because you cantrust me--and I will. I..."
The ex-knight trailed off, words leaving her before they could be articulated. In a matter of seconds, she was reduced to a victim of the moment, of the quiet in the tent save for the breath from her lungs and Alster's, the only two occupying the safe, tranquil space.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Aug 16, 2015 6:53 pm
by Widdershins
The dagger transferred hands, and as it did, so did the pressure within the tiny tent. Gooseflesh seared up Chara's arms, and no matter of stuffing her hands inside the sleeves of her tunic was able to cease that prickling sensation of doom, annihilation--of surrendering her body to the marionettes of fate. She felt her legs move of their own accord, shuffling towards the attractive aura of the dagger, wishing to hold it--to allow the blade to bury itself within her so that she may be driven by the mercy of its rule.

When the dagger slipped from Lilica's fingers, the strange hypnotic hold on Chara had also slipped. Blinking back into reality, she stared at the ground, at the winking stone that had, briefly, glared into her soul--and captivated it. Her hands flew to clutch her chest, to see if it still pumped. To see if she still lived. Relief brought a pulsing warmth throughout her body, burning the cold and ceasing the creaking possession of her legs. "What was--" the sudden shorting of her breath suffocated her words. She spent the next few moments regaining control over herself. This is me. I am me. No one, nothing, controls me. 

"I...I believe you," she said with a shudder, after Lilica's explanation returned the freeze inside of her. "It...to me--it--" In abhorrence, she rubbed the heel of her hand against the one that had held the dagger, scrubbing with a ferocity she hoped would expunge the weapon's essence from her skin. "We must find a way to destroy these weapons," she managed, through spaces between breaths. "I fear that the more they are used, the more influence they will have on one's mind. And weaker minds will...does that mean that I-" Her mouth paused, frozen in mid-scream, as Lilica plucked the dagger from the ground. She awaited another reaction, another rise in pressure, another reflexive twitching of her muscles that ached to respond and to follow...but nothing happened. Pressing her palms together in a vicegrip, squeezing out the remains of her previous compulsion, she sighed aloud, though it sounded more like an audible tremble that she could not stifle in lieu of her detached professionalism. "What of--what of Alster's magic? If he is present in battle while you are not, could the weapons take from his residual energy? This is," her words rang amok before she could rein them in, "...all of this is...it's becoming quite...Whatever use I might have, it is coming to a swift end." 

Too shamed to look at Lilica, even when the dark mage called her name, she merely turned her head in response to the intonation that she carried in her voice. It was soft, vulerable, even, and Chara almost responded to the summons. By then, the moment had fled, and she found herself marching with Lilica back to her own tent, in silence. 

Inside of Chara's tent, Alster welcomed a proxmity he otherwise would shy from in the not-so-distant past. It still churned the pumping of his heart into a flurry and beaded moisture all along his hands, but it soothed him, all the same. It was confirmation that he could still feel, that he still cared. That he bled, for it meant that he lived. "Even amongst the privileged, there are those the privileged still denigrate. Chara was one such person. She didn't lead an easy life within Rigas judgment. She's risen ranks, come a long way--enough to focus on you as a...well...a threat, I suppose." He ran a hand through his hair, rearranging the strands that stuck to his forehead in the heat of the neverending stretch of summer and drought. "But I would not worry. She understands, begrudgingly, that you are now, by association, part of our cause. You might not be an ideal candidate to her, but I've made that call, and she will respect it." 

He met her gaze, then, a soft, liquid green, and it, coupled with her words of trust, stymied him into a bundle of nerves. His heart palipitations heightened, his breathing slowed, and he forced himself to stare at the ground. Why had she looked at him with such...fondness? Those eyes, like ghosts, followed his gaze to its new trajectory, and haunted him with a sudden yearning. A yearning to look up, and lock himself within her presence. With difficulty, he raised his head to meet with her, and his breath hitched when their eyes met. "I trust you," he managed to say, and his hand made its way to cup her own--his desire revisited, and made a reality. But if you die, I don't know what I'll...I haven't much left. The grip of his hand tightened into a firm squeeze. 

...Which about sucked the life out of Elespeth when Chara parted the tent flaps, with Lilica in tow...and a look that could boil water.

"Are you two cozy? I'm glad." Alster's hand skittered away from Elespeth like a spider fleeing the underside of one's boot. Taking the dagger from Lilica's hands, Chara thrust the weapon, hilt first, mere inches from Elespeth's face--a similar gesture from earlier, but with the roles reversed. "Take back your weapon, warrior."

"Chara--"

"Shut it, Alster!" She waggled the dagger in front of Elespeth's nose. "Go on, soldier. Be a good dog."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Aug 17, 2015 12:29 am
by Requiem
While the dagger had repulsed Lilica, the way its presence had affected Chara did not escape the keen scrutiny of Lilica's dark eyes. She had never seen the blonde Rigas mage suffer such a keen state of vulnerability as she had only moment ago, and it left the dark mage with mixed feelings. For one, it was reassuring to note that she was not the only one surrounded by a see of susceptibility and insecurity, but on the other hand... It bothered her, the fear that had glistened in Chara's cerulean eyes. And, for the first time in her miserable, sore excuse for a life, she desperately wanted to reassure her.

Glancing at the young woman sidelong, she shattered the silence between them with words that she had no real reason to voice, other than the fact that she simply wanted to. "You were likely susceptible o the magic of the dagger due to the nature of your own magic," she offered--not with certainty, but it was at least an educated guess. "Any human being is in and of themselves susceptible, but that fact that your abilities are celestial in nature perhaps attracts object and intensifies its draw. Like a magnetic attraction. I'm only guessing, based on personal experience... But if you're concerned for having a weak mind, I hardly think that is the case."

Why am I telling her this? Lilica D'Or was about the last person anyone would seek for consolation, and certainly would be the last to offer it. But that troubled look on the Rigas mage's face, and the silence into which she had fallen, resonated with her. It had no reason to--but it did. "You are a Rigas, are you not? I know little of your bloodline, but from how I have come to know both you and Alster... You are anything but weak, Chara."

As to whether or not the blonde registered her words would remain a mystery, however. She finished speaking just as soon as Chara parted the curtains of the tent--only to reveal Alster and the swordswoman who was his battle partner locked by the hands, something quiet but powerful passing between their shared gaze. They weren't quick enough to return their appendages to their own forms or to put distance between themselves; the blonde Rigas had already seen all that she needed to see, and didn't hesitate to tear into the moment on which they had intruded. 

Elespeth, understandably, couldn't get to her feet fast enough. Blood rushed to her face as though she'd been caught in some scandalous act. But... had she, really? "Chara," she parroted Alster, "Whatever you're thinking, we were only talk--" The sudden presence of the dagger's hilt in front of her face broke her sentence in half before she could finish it. The blonde Rigas's dire insult didn't even really register with her; she'd been called far worse. And, anyway, why shouldn't she be upset? Alster was her kin. And the Atvanian fugitive was invading her space. "...whatever I've done to upset you, of course, I apologize. And you're right; the dagger should be returned forthwith, in any case."

Lilica watched carefully as Elespeth took the dagger by its hilt, searching for any of the signs of being drawn to the object. But the swordswoman handled it like any weapon, with no apparent draw to its power, before hastily stepping out of the tent. It didn't affect her... And here Lilica would have pegged her to be far weaker in the mind that Chara. Perhaps she was right, and it hadn't anything to do with the mind, at all. But that was something that they would have to investigate later.

"Chara told me of your theories; and I think you could be right." The dark mage addressed Alster, unfazed by what had transpired in the prior moment. She would leave Chara to bask in that ire. "If Messino wants me for my magic to fuel these weapons, then you, with your chthonic ability, are just as vulnerable. To be very honest, I am uncertain as to whether or not our presence on the battlefield will be of any use to your cause. Furthermore..." She glanced at Chara briefly before returning her gaze to Alster. "Chara has also observed that these weapons might have the potential to psychically adhere to the wielder. The more Messino has his soldiers using them, the more likely their minds might be enslaved."

Lilica could feel the tension between Chara and Alster; the air was practically charged with it. Perhaps it was for the fact that she didn't wish to be part of their lovers' quarrel, or because time was of the essence, but she was not afraid to show her impatience. "If you can both stand one another's presence for the time being," she arched a dark eyebrow, "then I suggest we think very hard about figuring out what can be done during the next battle, with those weapons employed."

As if trying to tun from her own humiliation, the ex-knight, meanwhile, hurried back to Haraldur, out of breath by the time she reached him. "It was... it is just as we suspected," she confirmed, holding the dagger out for him to take. "These weapons are imbued with necromantic power. And, worse, the Rigases--one of them, at least--believes that Messino might have recruited the dark mage specifically for this purpose. To fuel these weapons with her dark energy, allowing them the ability to raise the deal who fall with them in their hands." Biting down on her lower lip, her eyes darted to the tent flaps, to ascertain no one was standing by. "Haraldur, we need to destroy these weapons, or else see to it that no one wields them. Messino has crossed the line from insanity to downright immorality. This cannot endure."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:48 am
by Widdershins
Chara had listened to Lilica's words; were she in better spirits, she'd have found them a great comfort, enhanced by the fact that someone so emotionally-starved had uttered them to her. The dark mage spoke sense. Celestial magic had always suffered a susceptibility to psychic attacks--especially of the chthonic variety. As the celestial was already an invasive magic, every aspect of the Earth was hellbent on blotting it from existence. Not to mention, she hadn't a reaction to the dagger when she carried it just earlier; only when Lilica made contact with the hilt. Despite all logic, the encounter with the blade's dark intentions had shaken her, and Alster's secret liaison with the little cretin had driven her straight into the ground.

"Only talking?" She barked a laugh, an explosion of sound with none of the firepower, in Elespeth's face--though she could easily remedy the lack of combustion. "I know you express a certain attraction to each other. Need I remind you that he is my fiancee and relationships between a Rigas and an outsider are expressly forbidden." 

"N-now you're being ridiculous," Alster stuttered in protest, his cheeks as red as ripened apples. "Since when am I disallowed contact, a mere closing of hands, between myself and a friend?!"

"Since you've taken refuge in my tent!" By then, Elespeth had retreated, as well she should, and she turned her full fury to Alster, who had since risen to his feet in opposition to her demands. He swayed, a bit unsteady, but she paid no heed, not when she could taste the fury on her tongue and feel the power of her magic return in waves, surging through her with its invigorating ripple, and oh how she wanted to ride it through to the end, regardless of the repercussions...

"That was under your insistence!" Alster's healed hand closed into a tight fist. "I am more than happy to recuperate elsewhere! In fact, I will--" The levelheadedness of Lilica who, despite their quarrel, rerouted their attention to more pressing subject matter provided the distraction necessary to segue from Chara to the more reasonable dark mage. With closed eyes and a cooling exhale of air, he faced Lilica, opened his eyes, and absorbed her information while Chara seethed in the background. "I apologize, Lilica," he said, adopting, as well as he could, a more composed state of mind. "You are right, of course. I may have a solution. The magic will activate at the wielder's demise, and reanimate their bodies--so long as they hold the weapons, I suspect."

"It can happen remotely," Chara muttered, "as long as the wielder has made contact with the weapon for a certain period of time."

Alster listened to Chara's input, but did not acknowledge that he heard, and continued to brief Lilica on the details of his plan. "You once told me that I am a necromancer's worst nightmare. Let's put it to good use. I can siphon the active energies from these weapons--and reduce the waking dead, once again, into corpses. This may also result in rendering the weapon's enchantment ineffective. As good as destroying it at this juncture."

"You will NOT." Chara rounded on Alster, a few strands of her hair standing on end from the static that her rage had manifested into being. "I will not see you again on the battlefield. That is an order from your supervisor."

"Why!?" His facade of calm had toppled, leaving only its remains on display. "Why are you so adamantly against that which we've come here to accomplish? Do you think me so incompetent, so in need of protection, so confident of my failure!?"

"It's because I love you!" She blurted, tears now brimming along the rims of her eyes, which had grown wide and afraid. Her magic shimmered in undulations, as if it too had been weeping along with her. "I always have." Her voice hushed into a strained whisper, her anger abating into mere wisps of their former selves. 

"...What?" Alster's sway had intensified. He met with the cot behind him and clutched his head between his hands, trying to make sense of such unexpected news. Love? Impossible. He could not be loved. She could not love him. "That's a mockery. You're mocking me. You are...aren't you?" When he looked up, however, she had gone, having ejected herself from the tent. Instead, he found Lilica, an unfortunate survivor surveying the aftermath of their battle. "I'm sorry. I don't know what to...how to...please see that she is all right? I will only make it worse for her."

Haraldur sat on one of the crates positioned in the corner farthest from the tent's entrance. To while away the time, he etched shapes into the wood of his makeshift seat with a dagger that, to his knowledge, was not enchanted in any capacity. He abandoned the activity, however, when Elespeth barreled into the tent. Rising to his feet, he strode towards her, preparing to support her by the shoulders in case she collapsed from overexertion. When she revealed their suspicions to be true, his brow furrowed, narrowing his eyes into slits. "It is unlikely we are able to destroy every weapon before we are apprehended. Only the casters," he shook his head, rejecting the very notion. "This army will not listen to our prattle. We are simple soldiers with no backing--and they will silence us. We may be able to steal away the daggers, but as for swords and spears...such a feat may only be conceivable under the cover and chaos of a battle. And even then...engaging two armies while carting dangerous weapons about is an impossibility sure to fail. Your caster friends," he sighed, admitting defeat, "are our greatest asset."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Aug 18, 2015 4:51 pm
by Requiem
Dumbstruck, and at a loss to do more than standby as a passive observer, Lilica bore witness to the tumultuous railing of feelings and accusations between the two Rigas mages, hardly able to comprehend what was unfolding in front of her. What had, at first glance, appeared to be a vicious argument for Alster's autonomy and how it would play into their future plans only turned out to be so much more, and before the dark mage knew it, Chara unleashed words with which she had never thought to hear her confront her awestruck Rigas counterpart.

...I love you! I always have.

This was not her place, and not her area to interfere. For what did the dark mage know about love? It might have had a presence in that world faraway, the one that had never existed, but not here. Here, all she knew was disappointment. Hatred. Impassiveness, and a fluctuating sense of survival. A strange, impelling sense of camaraderie, perhaps, but not love. And at the stricken quality of Chara Rigas's voice, for a moment, she could only feel relieved that she was not ensnared in the tendrils of such a tumultuous feeling such as love.
And yet, the scene that unfolded before her dark eyes was no easier to watch.

Lilica stood, wide-eyed and rather helpless as Chara tore from the tent, leaving her and Alster both perplexed and at a loss. She had guessed that their relationship was a tumultuous one, but...This was completely unexpected. And she could hardly find words when Alster made a request of her.

"Me? This isn't my problem, what would you have me do?" She demanded, her face sour for a bitterness that she did not understand. "I agreed to help you win, and to help you understand your chthonic adeptness... Not to mend the dregs of your dysfunctional relationship. If you have eyes for that soldier of yours, then it's up to you to figure it out and make a decision."

Turning on her heel, Lilica left the injured Rigas mage to stew in his thoughts and feelings, with the intention to stalk back to her tent and withdraw from Rigas drama. But instead, she found herself actively searching for Chara, and when the telltale golden shine of her locks in the midday sun caught her eye, she was helpless but to approach her. And what now? she asked herself in silent incredulity. Not unlike Chara, consolation was not her forte, by any means. Yet she had sought out the blonde Rigas for a reason, it seemed, and if nothing else, it was imperative that she try.

"Be careful where you cry... Some who witness it will look down on your strength." Along with the concerned yet mild words, the dark mage reached into the pocket of her plain tunic and handed Chara a handkerchief. "He... asked me to make sure you were all right, but to be very honest with you, I don't know what to say. I don't know love; I've never had the opportunity to try and understand it. But..." Lilica trailed off, pressing her lips together as she searched tirelessly for the words. "I know pain, very well. And I'm sorry to see you experiencing it."

She then lapsed into an awkward silence, unsure of what else to do or say. Ultimately, the best she could think of was to ask. "Don't think for a moment I'm making a comparison, but of you are anything like me, then I imagine right now... you'd just like to be alone," she ventured, slow and quiet. "But, on the chance that you do not want to be, you know where you can find me. I can't offer any advice, but I'm capable of listening."

Chara was not the only one to welcome a bout of sadness as a companion. Elespeth spent the remainder of the day working alongside Haraldur, in part to keep herself occupied, as well as to diminish the looming feeling of being alone. And the thought that she might not be able to look any Rigas mage in the eye, anytime soon. But as the hours drew on, and night gathered, and the work ultimately ran out, the ex-knight finally found herself void of excuses.

"Eh! The both-a you." An older, broad-shoulder solider approached the two as they finished up sorting and cleaning the weapons. "The hell you still up workin' for? Listen, some of the lackeys were kind enough to deliver us some nice, Andalarian ale in their latest shipment of, heh, 'necessities'." His grin grew almost as broad as his shoulders. "We're waitin' 'til tomorrow night to crack into it, when Messino and his scouters depart to oversee future battlegrounds. If you're not there, don't go whinin' that ya missed your chance!"

"Huh... To be very honest, I've never partaken in ale or spirits of any kind," the Atvanian fugitive confessed to her companion when the other solider left. "And I don't think I've ever had the inclination to... until I joined Messino's army." With a half grin, she shrugged. "What do you think? I'm strongly considering that break."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 12:38 am
by Widdershins
Anger sloughed off Chara like an onion, flaking away and away until nothing but its essence lingered, burning tears in her eyes with its residual potency. That abating anger manifested as something worse, something from which control slipped past her fingers and turned inward to prick at every nerve that hurt most profoundly: love. She had shielded it well, focusing her energies on things of import, things that made sense...things she could solve or hope to solve. But she had faltered, investing so much of her time on Alster and his affairs that she lost sight of her primary goals. How could she allow him to consume her mind so unconditionally? Forget the threat of a psychic attack; he already roosted at her veritable command center, ready to pull her strings if necessary.

She didn't know where to go, or where she could go. Her legs pumped forth with a purpose, and she surrendered to their confident strides. She dared not stop for a moment. Stop and she would devolve into unsightly blubbering. As a Rigas, she must always show poise in public, to exhibit no flaw on her polished, marble-smooth surface--no matter how much she cracked on the inside. Despite all her practiced perfection, the tears beneath her lids bubbled to the surface, and it took all her power to position her head in that upward, tilting fashion, aloof to the world. If only they knew that she held her head so skyward so that the tears would not roll down her face, and streak it with defeat. To wear weakness was to invite her own doom. 

A familiar voice launched her from thoughts that she failed to unionize and culminate into order. Over her shoulder, she spotted Lilica, who...she did not expect to see. With difficulty, her runaway legs ceased their pathway into nowhere, and pointed towards the dark mage--keeping her face well-hidden by allowing her blonde locks to fall over her eyes. No matter. Lilica noticed the tears. 

"Of course he did," she said with a bite, gripping on to what little anger would maintain her society-crafted artifice. "But he would not come for me, himself. And he won't believe me, because he believes no one could love him. That's why he won't..." she shook her head, trying and failing to keep herself together. "I lost him so many times--and I almost lost him for good, on that battlefield. Why can I not make him understand!? I..." Trailing away, she received Lilica's proffered handkerchief, and blotted her eyes as covertly as possible before returning it to her. 

"My apologies. I realize this does not concern you, but I am...well, thankful, nonetheless, for your candor. Perhaps," she hesitated, casting concerned glances in her vicinity, "I may take you on your offer. I might require...such a retreat."

"Chara!" She froze when Tivia sidled over to them. The other Rigas glared at Lilica before addressing Chara exclusively. "There is to be a revelry of sorts tomorrow eve. A most vulgar presentation, I admit, but one cannot help but find a morbid curiosity in the whole sordid affair." 

As Tivia departed, Chara clicked her tongue against her cheek, in deliberation. "Or...I may also require a drink. Many of them."

*****

Lights from innumerable bonfires illuminated the camp like the spirals of a galaxy, brightest at the center and scattering from the nucleus to the farthest reaches. The festivities began early, when the sun nary touched the horizon. In fact, by the time Alster emerged from his tent (he had moved back with Tivia and Danos), much of Messino's demoralized army had since made the transition from sober to quite inebriated. Ribald laughter and ebullient hollers provided much of the camp's entertainment, but as he followed those fires further inward, he detected the strained notes of strings in harmony and the accompanying beat of drumming. 

Alster had planned on staying inside that evening, having no desire to partake in a mood he did not reflect. Then again, seldom were the revelers a cheery sort when not out-of-sorts, so he supposed (nay, hoped), that his mood might very well change after a few drinks. 

Normally, he avoided the drink; he abhorred the loss of cognitive functions, as they represented his control, of mastery of magic, of the ability to access his thoughts at their optimum ability. However...they had not been optimal, not for a while--and he feared he never would regain the quality he had enjoyed in the past, so lost was his mind. And with recent developments being as they were (none of which he cared to dredge), perhaps some swill would improve his overall welfare. At this rate, he wished to forget, if for an evening, the ceaseless evisceration of reality.

Trying not to pick at the scars of his arms, recently unbandaged and healed, Alster stepped into the fray of music and derangement, of chaos and mindlessness--of a battlefield dressed in different colors.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Aug 20, 2015 2:06 am
by Requiem
"Well... whatever you decide, whether it be talking or self-medicating with alcohol," she began, surprised, to say the least, when Chara made no gesture of pretending not to associate with her, "I'll be around."

It was no mystery or secret that the other Rigases (not to mention a good majority of the other casters) did not look upon her kindly, and that Chara, of all people, valued the appearance she kept up among her kin. Then again, the Chara Rigas that Lilica had thought she'd known--the one who had gotten under her skin on her very first day as part of Messino's army--was not the Chara Rigas who stood in front of her now, eyes wet with tears, holding a damp handkerchief and conveying the potential need for company... This caster was altogether different.

Then again, Lilica herself was also feeling herself affected by the winds of change. Whether it was for the better or not remained to be seen. But she did not find herself opposed to a little less awareness of her troubles, with the help of alcohol. It would be the first indulgence in a very long time (her last stein of ale had been years prior to the lasting sleep to which she'd succumbed), and she recalled that the beverage had made her feel more dead than alive, at the time. But perhaps it would be different in a social context...

If a social context was, of course, an option for her. "If you do decide to attend this 'revelry' tomorrow... Perhaps I will see you there."

---

And, as it turned out, she did see Chara there the next evening--but not alone. The blonde caster was in the company of the other Rigases, with the exception of Alster, whose presence was lost to her in the crowd. Immediately, whatever confidence the dark mage thought she had brought to this event dissipated, and she began to second guess herself. Of course Chara would be among her own; it was where she was most comfortable, and where she felt she belonged.
With all of their recent exchanges and interactions, Lilica had forgotten about that fact. And she was reminded of her own alien nature, as soon as she realized how truly alien she felt, among the revelers.

"Hey--yeah, you. You gonna have some of this, or did you just show up to stand around and look uncomfortable?" One of the soldiers in charge of distributing the amber ale that slowed in the firelight of everyone's goblet was quick to thrust one of the pewter mugs into Lilica's unsuspecting hands. It was far heavier than it looked. "Mind you take it slow, though. You don't look to me like someone who can hold their weight in spirits."

She could have shot back a remark in contempt, but she didn't. And not for lack of a good comeback, but for the mere fact that it wasn't worth it. Of all the assumptions and accusations that people ad made of her over the years, this one was by far one of the most mild. And, in truth, the soldier was probably right; over seventy years without a drop of alcohol in her blood had likely done a good deal on her tolerance. "Doesn't mean I need to 'take it slow'..." She muttered to herself, the familiar bitterness spreading over tongue as she ventured a sip--and grimaced. "Then again... I know the stories that warn of too much of a good thing."

Lilica wasn't the only one who felt a stranger to the boisterous world of drinking and revelry. Unlike her, Elespeth had absolutely no idea what she was getting herself into when she showed up later that evening, to join the casters and soldiers in their merriment of celebration. The excuse was supposedly in having chased the Tadasuni away twice in battle, a winning streak that seemed to give them confidence that the ex-knight was not entirely sure would weigh in their favour. Hubris was a dangerous thing, and on top of her recent discovery of Messino's more sordid plans that he kept under wraps, well, this was not a victory that she had come to partake n celebrating but--not unlike some of her close comrades--a chance to temporarily forget about everything that weighed on her mind.

"You've got some catching up to do, missy!" Someone laughed, clapping her on the shoulder as she held her stein cautiously with both hands. "Everyone else here is already feeling warm in their veins--better get drinking!"

"Ah... right, of course. Thank you." Brushing off the completely unfamiliar stranger, Elespeth moved temporarily out of reach of grabbing hands and clumsy bodies, taking a long, thoughtful swig of the bitter tasting swill. She could hardly swallow it; the stuff reminded her of contaminated water. But the second sip went down far more easily, and by the time her stein was nearly drained, she didn't care about the taste anymore.
It was around that time that she happened to bump into Alster, in her attempt to push past the throng of people.

"Oh--Alster!" Rosy-cheeked, she brought a hand to her lips. "Sorry, I... I didn't see you. And I didn't think I would see you, not here. Are you sure you're well enough for this?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Aug 20, 2015 4:12 am
by Widdershins
While it was a childish and pedestrian pastime, Chara had looked forward to the evening, with all its mind-altering possibilities. Seldom one to pick up a glass of wine, let alone ale with the consistency of low-grade watery sludge, the swill in her goblet reflected in the firelight with a desirability she could not deny. Unlike the paralyzing effects of the dagger, she allayed herself of the fear that she was falling to its compulsion. Even if she were, she sought the ale, drank it, and reveled in the change that tingled a warm fuzziness in her head. 

Tivia and Danos, uninspired company when sober, were equally as dull after a few sips of their ale, which wrinkled their noses with the unspoken complaint of its dismal quality. Normally, she would agree, but after downing two cups of the malty brew, she hadn't cared for anything other than what it promised to deliver. 

"My, why isn't this grand!?" She shouted sidelong to Tivia and Danos, who shrugged in unison and continued to cast dubious glances at their drink, as if they possessed the alchemical magic to alter their substance into something more pleasing. "Tell me you do not feel that pleasant weight overtake your body!" With a flourish, she rose from their spot on the ground, not quite detained enough to have lost her proper balance. "I believe I will procure some more ale. Would you like any?" 

"We do not wish to imbibe any further," Danos said, swishing his goblet with a disgusted frown. "This will suffice."

"Suit yourself." Shrugging, Chara half walked, half danced to the watering hole: a veritable tower of barrels, flowing free with more of that sludge, into each waiting goblet. She weaved through the crowd so as to locate a breach from which she could squeeze and reach the front of the line with more ease. What she found, instead, was Lilica, who had accepted a goblet of ale and who stood, who actually stood, in the middle of a social event. Chara rubbed her eyes to ascertain the validity of such a sighting. The image did not falter. With a cheeky grin, she rerouted her course, sneaking up from behind Lilica to clasp a hand upon her shoulder. 

"Well there you are, my adversary! What a surprise! Your first drink, I take it?" She laughed while waving around her empty goblet. "I'm on to find my third. Will you aid me in my most valiant quest?"

Alster did not linger very far into the thick of the celebrations before meeting resistance in the form of a rogue soldier careening rather brusquely into him. In protest, he prepared to affix the reveler with an annoyed glare, when he noticed that his assailant was none other than Elespeth herself!

"El-Tam!" he exclaimed. Despite not yet partaking, he felt the effects of alcohol rising up to color his cheeks, as if he absorbed it all through permeation. "It's...you're fine." He didn't forgot their rather intimate moment from the other day, or of the ensuing backlash from Chara followed by her overwhelming confessions. Such thoughts caused a tumble in his mouth as he attempted to speak. "And I am fine, as well. ...Well, better in the physical sense, anyway. My..ah...my bandages are off." He lifted his arms, a tangible sign of his recovery. "Nice...party. Have you been--oh yes, I see that you have a drink. Where can I--"

He was interrupted by a tall figure that loomed behind Elespeth, watching the two of them converse. "There you are," the figure told Elespeth, and emerged from the shadows, into the judgment of the nearby fire. Although difficult to distinguish, the man had handsome features upon a well-toned body. "Oh." He noticed Alster and nodded in acknowledgement. "You are Alster Rigas, I believe? We met on the battlefield--though you were unconscious at the time. My apologies," he dipped his head in supplication, and offered him a tankard of ale that he'd been carting. "My name is Haraldur."

"Yes...I have heard of you," Alster said, a wary strain in his voice as he reluctantly accepted the warrior's beverage offer into his hands. "Tam has mentioned you before. Thank you, by the way, for dragging me back to camp."

"Not a problem." A small smile turned the corners of his mouth. "I suggest we move elsewhere, lest we end up shoved into one of these fires and used as kindling. None would be the wiser. They're all too drunk to know the difference."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 8:24 pm
by Requiem
Had the dark mage not been blessed with the ramrod poise of an unshakable pillar in the wind (and only for years and years of acquiring tough skin), she sudden presence of pressure of her shoulders might have made the drink in her hand go flying. Instead, Lilica only flinched, before the perpetrator promptly moved into her frame of view. 
"Chara?" The chthonic mage's eyes widened. Just moments ago, the blonde Rigas mage had been cajoling with her own Rigas brethren, oblivious to and ignoring anyone else who was not a part of her privileged bloodline.

And now, all of a sudden, she had a hand on Lilica's shoulder, like a magnet attraction, the positive to the negative. The light to the dark.
Why did the dark mage suddenly feel so much warmer in the celestial mage's presence?
"Are you sure it is wise to be seen with... well, to be seen together?" She had to put the question out there, as she was uncertain how such an open camaraderie might compromise their plans. "Shouldn't you be with..."

Third drink... Well, that certainly explained a lot. Lilica raised an eyebrow at her blonde companion, who carted her off to the vast barrels of butter tasting amber ale. She had yet to finish her first drink, but the effects had already begun to hit her hard. At least, hard enough to go along with Chara's fanciful mood. "You should take care to watch how much you consume," she cautioned, though without any great deal of worry in her cadence. "You never know what sort of buffoons might try to take advantage... Oh, wait, I don't need more yet..." Her sentence and thoughts were cut off as someone topped up the ale in her mug. With a sigh, she relented and took a sip.

"I'm... reassured to see that you appear to be feeling better than you were yesterday." 'Reassured' might not have been the right word, but it was about all she was willing to articulate. Still, seeing a smile on the blonde Rigas's face did incite a strange sense of peace. Just as much as her pain had caused a curious emotional disturbance deep in Lilica's gut. "Chara! Take it easy, now. There will be plenty of time for refills." With a free hand, she took the celestial mage's wrist and slowly lowered the goblet from her lips. Chara certainly seemed to be in a hurry to forget herself. "Come on. If we stand here, someone is apt to bump into us. And I don't think you'd relish in scrubbing stains out of your clothes."

As soon as El saw Alster, the slightly tipsy ex-knight forgot about everyone else in the boisterous crowd. To see her Rigas partner out of bed and attempting to mingle... Well, he might not have been succeeding, but the effort lit up a glimmer of hope in her eyes. The memory of their previous encounter muted by the alcohol, she offered a smile and looked him over. "Your arms--they look much better. There's hardly any scarring at all, you are very lucky!" She even went as far as to take his wrists in her hands, relieved to see the torn flesh mended. "And you're on your feet... I've been thinking about you recently. And I'm glad to see you've--"

Whatever heartfelt message she'd meant to convey was quickly cut off by the arrival of yet another trusted comrade. Elespeth's grin widened as she turned to see Haraldur. "Ah! So you thought it fit to join us. It's good that someone here can sufficiently hold their liquor, because it would appear that I certainly cannot." With a shrug, the Atvanian fugitive drained what was left in her stein, feeling pleasantly light-headed and giddy. "Oh, right--Alster, you haven't met Haraldur yet, have you? Well, I wouldn't have been able to drag you off the battlefield all by myself. Not to mention he also spared me a concussion by being around when I succumbed to heat exhaustion during the move to the new encampment. I find myself beyond lucky to be in such good company!"

Slightly unsteady on her feet, Elespeth took the liberty of using the mercenary to steady herself, placing a firm hand on his arm as the three of them moved beyond the line of fire and out of the raucous crowd of tall, burly bodies. But not before she accepted a refill of the amber beverage that no longer tasted so unappealing on her tongue. "Is Chara here? She won't run me off for being seen with you, will she?" But the grin on her freckled face suggested she didn't much care about what Chara thought, regardless if they were seen. Turning to Haraldur, she mentioned, "Some of the Rigas mages are a tad touchy to see one another fraternizing outside of their group. Luckily enough, Alster is the exception to the rule."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Aug 25, 2015 3:33 am
by Widdershins
Chara tittered in delight at Lilica's less than dynamic reaction to her clinging hand. In conjunction with the dark mage's usual demeanor, the rest of her body exercised the same deadened calm, even in the face of bustling, lively activity. "I should not have expected any less from you! You can hold up the whole of this camp with your blatant indifference!" she said, retreating her hand to wrap it around her empty goblet, a task that required immediate attention--and a dual grip. 

"Have you seen this blasted camp?" She pointed her chin at the wobbling masses dragging their feet and voices from one ale-laden bonfire to the other. Among them, she weaved through the shrill and the oblivious, the languorous and the hyper, until she wheedled her way to the front of refilling station. "They are scarcely keeping track of their own drinks, let alone their memory. And if they do notice, I will say that you are in pursuit of me and it is through my fathomless generosity that I have allowed you to tag along. After all, it is an eve of celebrating, and even a Rigas can bestow kindness unto their most appalling of villains." Her conclusive statement ended in a wink. She then turned towards the tap of the barrel, leaning her goblet forward so as to encourage the burly man to fill her vessel to the brim with its amber potion. Whether potion or poison, for the two glistened the same and both tasted bitter and bilious, she accepted the offering with a gracious smile. "Thank you, serving man. You work your tap rather well." She about purred, and spun on her heels before the bewildered man could summon a retort. 

"So you see, Lilica," she adopted a conversational lilt as they fled the epicenter of the revelry, "as I have demonstrated to that atrocious man back there, if anyone is to be taking advantage tonight, it is I. Not them." Pausing her footfalls to consider her drink, she shrugged and brought the goblet to her lips, proceeding to gulp down its contents until the dark mage caught her arm and extricated the vessel from her mouth's grasp. "I say, I worked hard to obtain this refill. I shall work hard to drink it!" Her protests dwindled to a mutter, however, when she caught some foolhardy ruffians pushing each other into the crowd as if it were some depraved game to knock the intoxicated into the mud. Balking at the sight, she nodded and leaned closer to the dark mage. "By all means, then," she gave Lilica a waggish smile, "lead me elsewhere." 

If Alster's face hadn't reddened from the sight of Elespeth, it certainly did when she had taken his hands in her own, and the contact sent a flurry of chills all the way up to his shoulder-blades. When she remarked upon his arms and the lack of scarring on the flesh, a shy smile upturned one corner of his mouth. Throughout the day, and with the primary goal of distracting himself, he toiled on healing every fresh injury on his body with as many repetitions as the spell-form would allow--until the scars all but disappeared. In a way, he wished for Elespeth to notice, so that she would not see him as incapable of recovery. Even if said recovery was only surface deep and could nary penetrate the perpetual wounds that constantly bled his soul dry, he wanted to prove to her, in her eyes, that he was making a concentrated effort.

...For her sake. 

Before he could further react to her comments of praise, the focus shifted towards Haraldur as the man in question made his presence known--and his heart sank as Elespeth railed off similar praise in favor of her acquaintance. Don't take it seriously, Alster! She is clearly intoxicated. He knew his mind spoke sense. But evenso...

Trailing away heady thoughts before they could accumulate into doubt and self-pity, he followed the two warriors out of the crowd as he began to drink from his offered tankard. The ale stunk on his tongue, a sweaty combination of musk and grass, but he sipped the drink whilst juggling the walk to an airier space and the conversation at hand. 

"A few good years of practice," Haraldur answered Elespeth with a chuckle as he held aloft a canteen of his own. "Not something to brag about, as it takes me far longer to reach a satisfactory state than it does for you."

"I'm certain I'll be at your wished-for state by the time I finish this tankard here," Alster said as he ventured another taste. "Then one of you will have to catch me--yet again." He forced a laugh and glanced over at the massive shoulders of Elespeth's friend. He took a swig. "I don't doubt that Chara is here," he answered Elespeth's inquiry with a shrug, but the shrug rattled his arms with more anxiety than he cared to show. "She...I'm not sure how she'll react. I haven't spoken to her since that day when she..." No! He shook his head with a shivering fervor. Banish the thought. He silenced his words with sips that desperation transformed into thirsty gulps. 

As if sensing Alster's sudden touch of malaise, Haraldur gave him a polite once-over--or was it a look of pity? "That is a relief. And here I thought most casters were the same," Haraldur said, and smiled at Alster.

 

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Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 838
 
 
Posted: Thu Aug 27, 2015 7:47 pm
by Requiem
Unbelievable. Chara Rigas was not only head over heels inebriated, but she was flirting, with practically everyone who happened to stumble across her path. Had she been someone with a stronger sense of humour, Lilica might have been amused. But she knew Chara well enough to predict that anything and everything that blonde Rigas mage said and did in this state of dulled mental faculties and brash, impulsive decision making would only put her in a fouler mood than any morning illness or headaches that might result from the mass alcohol consumption.

And, considering the remainder of her Rigas brethren failed at looking out for her in a state that rendered her relatively vulnerable, it really left the dark mage no choice.

"So I can see," Lilica responded, in light of Chara's remark about precisely whom would be taking advantage of who. "So with your newfound brazenness, you intend to flirt your way around this place to get what you want? You know you are going to regret it when you're sober--come on."
Taking the overly inebriated Rigas mage by the arm, Lilica led her away from the more rowdy niches of the rambunctious crowd. Frankly, she was surprised the young woman was at all able to maintain her balance. Though she might not have been so fortunate were a good fraction of her weight not leaning against the chthonic mage.

As soon as they were clear of falling into the mud, she placed firm hands upon Chara's shoulders, and expelled a long sigh. She was not nearly drunk enough to be at ease among this many people. "And just what has you drinking to this degree?" She asked. The celestial mage's hair was windswept, strangely untidy for her usually well kept appearance. Without thinking, she reached out and brushed a blonde tress away from the Rigas mage's face. "This doesn't have something to do with what occurred between you and Alster, does it? Because let me assure you, nobody is worth your over-indulgence in alcohol if they cannot see your worth." 

The sincerity in those words startled even the dark mage, but what confused her even more was that she meant them. "What I mean to say, is," she stammered, dropping her hands to her sides, only to realize she had no idea what she meant. "Nevermind. To hell with it." Without bothering to ask, she took the mug from Chara's hands and tipped it to her lips, furrowing her brow at the bitter tang of ale on her tongue. "If you can find an excuse to over-indulge, then there is no reason I cannot."

Elespeth only realized her mistake the second that it passed her lips--and then it was too late to take it all back. Eyes wide with the magnitude of that grave error, she brought a hand to her mouth, before realizing she needed it uncovered for a crucial apology. "Oh, I... Alster, I'm sorry. Our partnership seems to truly have taken its toll on you and Chara, a-and if you didn't want to continue with it..."

What was she saying? The Atvanian fugitive valued her ties with the Rigas mage and supported his endeavour. But just how much longer would it remain possible if the blonde Rigas mage reacted so poorly to their chaste gestures of companionship and camaraderie? There was no cure for jealolusy; and for that, the former knight felt helpless. 

"But, ah... regardless, I am glad you are well. I worried for your condition after that last battle..." For the sake of sparing Haraldur embarrassment on behalf of the both of them, Elespeth saw fit to change the subject, and eased her nerves with another long swig of ale. The more she drank of the swill, the less adverse it became. "Now if only we could count on winning the next one without Messino's little... modification to our tactics. Believe me when I say Alster's skills will be paramount to our interference." She spoke to Haraldur then, playing up her battle partner to the point where it could almost come across as bragging. But it was the least that she felt she could do, considering how her mere existence had grossly complicated the details of the Rigas mage's life.

That was a discussion they perhaps needed to continue later on--for closure, if no other purpose. "Huh. Gone already." Peering into her empty mug, Elespeth flashed a sheepish smile to her two male companions. "Well, better grab a refill before it's gone--I already suspect I'm going to regret this indulgence, come morning, so why not enjoy it while it lasts?" Winking, she sashayed (somewhat unsteadily) towards the bulk of the crowd, where the ale was being distributed in streams from its oaken barrels.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Aug 28, 2015 2:31 am
by Widdershins
"Newfound brazenness? I am as brazen as they come!" Chara shot her head forward, which rocked her hands and the precious swill, swishing out in retaliation for the unnecessary roughness, splattered itself down her tunic. She hissed at herself, at the drink, at the faulty vessel, and turned a squinty glare at Lilica. "Look at this! You did this, with your dark dark magic, so that I would drink less?!" Instead of her requisite anger, however, she laughed, a high-pitched snort mixed with a giggle, and threw a playful shove at Lilica's shoulder. "Oh, you buffoon. That will not stop the likes of Chara Rigas. I am resilient!" To prove her point, she disengaged from Lilica to skip across the mud like a rock across water. Instead, she trudged through the mess, coating the bottoms of her slacks in a grime that reflected well on the brown stain spreading on her white clothes. "Oops," she said, and by then, Lilica had returned to her side, clamping down on her freedom with an inhibiting hand. 

"It was not obvious? I am drinking because it is available to me, during a time when I need it most. It is for my doomed, shattered heart!" She blew on the hand that affixed her hair, teasingly trying to push the strands from the dark mage's reach. "He has not yet seen my wrath. Because I will step on his heart, too. It will splash and spatter like this mud here" She repeated the trudging motions of her feet upon the ground until Lilica's words tilted her head in curiosity. 

"Did I hear you correctly? Was that a compliment? Why, Lilica, you shouldn't have. I do appreciate your reminder of my greatness. So," a coy smile broadened her face, raising her cheekbones, plumping them like ripened strawberries, "do you see my worth? ...Then why can't he!?" Her outburst startled the goblet out of her hands. No--that was Lilica, swiping her precious beverage and downing it for herself! "You give that back!" She flailed arms at the dark mage, but they missed their mark and encountered air. "Fine!" In a feat she did not think able to accomplish in her current state, she wrenched Lilica's own mug from her and downed it with all the thirstiness of one condemned to always search for water in an endless desert. "Hah! We're even. Now," she said, swaying amongst the throng of people traveling in schools upstream, "let's go find that halfwit and break him open!"

Alster watched Elespeth's sudden facial turn from where he stood behind her and Haraldur. Trailing behind because there lacked the space for them to travel three abreast, he followed from the rear, sneaking a gulp or two of his ale until a strange, weighty sensation in his head impelled him to stop--and he didn't think it was from the alcohol. 

"No!" He blushed, surprised at his sudden, loud objection to Elespeth's suggestion of their separation. Haraldur looked over, curiosity furrowing his brow. " I mean...there's no reason for you to apologize. Chara--she's always been volatile. Ever since we were children. Do not let her disposition rule your head." As if in sync, Alster finished his tankard at the same time as Elespeth, preferring to sicken himself with drink than bask in the discomfiture of her concern. Not to say he didn't enjoy her tenderness towards his well-being; on the contrary, he welcomed it, for such gestures were foreign to him. But he didn't know how to react without devolving into another series of verbal blubbering. 

No matter; his mouth felt lined with fluff when Elespeth mentioned his skillset, and he only wished he hadn't downed his drink so quickly. "Yes," Alster said, when Haraldur's probing expression egged him to respond to Elespeth's glowing praise. "I have a plan. A plan and it's...well, I hope it's effective, but that's why they're called plans. I...I suppose." His words, while trite and utterly inane, did not shame him as they would in any other situation. In fact, he almost felt calm. That he could say anything and his mind would not punish him for his glaring ineptitudes.

"Let me accompany you," he called after Elespeth, flashing his empty tankard in the air. "I also need a refill. As you've said...well, why not?" He returned her smile with one of his own: broad and...mischievous. Haraldur, who followed them to the barrel streams took Alster's old place in their walking arrangement--the rear. 

As they waited on the queue, Alster's heels rocked back and forth, either in anticipation for more of the ale that worked on lacerating his inner doubt, or from its quick-acting effects. Whatever the case, his fingers itched in the air, impatient--and in wanting. 

"I can make this crowd disperse," he told Elespeth in a daring tone. Before she could question his cryptic statement or stop him, his fingers drew a spell-form: a wave of air rippled through the queue, knocking the revelers off their feet as if struck by invisible assailants. Without waiting for them to catch their second wind, he hurried through the space he'd wrenched open, reaching the barrel tap and the perplexed men standing guard within moments, rather than minutes. "Sorry about that," Alster said, a contrite grin across his face. "But my friend and I would like some ale."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Sep 04, 2015 1:40 am
by Requiem
Lilica sighed and shook her head, turning away as if she thought that by not witnessing the spill of amber ale down the front of Chara's pale clothing, the feat itself would not come to fruition. Of course, such logic was skewed, even by the standards of an inebriated mind, though the dark mage was surprised her celestial counterpart took it with a laugh. Sober, and she would be cursing bloody murder, and probably rationalizing that the spill was MY fault... "Is shattering Alster's heart really worth ruining your clothes?" She asked, gesturing to the front of Lilica's once-white attire. "Is he even really worth any more of your time if he's driven you to drink? Honestly, Chara... you of all people don't seem the type to let someone rule your head."

Though she should really be one to talk...
It might have been the ale that painted a flush upon her face; regardless of the cause, it was impossible to hide. "It was an observation, not a compliment," she argued, nevermind that there wasn't any difference between the two, given the context. "I don't associate with the unworthy--and neither do you, for that matter, and don't pretend otherwise." Nothing more than an assumption, of course, but a guess that she felt was educated, nonetheless.

"I simply see your value as a person. But Alster... obviously, he sees value elsewhere. Regardless if it makes him a buffoon, that reality won't change things." The harshness of that reality didn't occur to her until she reached for a mug of ale a tall, laughing man was pouring for someone else; too bad the sad sap's reflexes were slow, in comparison to hers. "Chara... don't let this ruin your head or your body. There are far more trying and dangerous life happenstances than rejection, and frankly, you are stronger than that..."

But before Lilica could finish, Chara had her by the arm, and in search of Alster. "So you drink to forget him, only to be impelled to find him again?" The dark mage murmured, with an undertone of disappointment that even she did not quite understand. But for whatever reason or causation, it bothered her that the celestial mage would rather seek out and exact revenge on someone who had hurt her, than acknowledge the company of someone who respected her.

In light of the fear that their partnership had effectively come to and end the other day, when Chara Rigas had openly expressed her disdain for it, Elespeth was relieved at Alster's dissent of her suggestion. Mentally, she had fully prepared to walk away and refill her mug until there was enough ale in her bloodstream to make her forget the awkwardness of that last encounter with the celestial mage. But when she did walk away, it wasn't alone. "Well," she said as Alster joined her at her side, "I have a feeling that there will be no shortage of refills for either of us, tonight. Did you see the quantity of barrels they brought in? As if liquor and spirits are more important an asset to this army than weaponry and armor."

Yet despite the obvious abundance of alcohol, the lines of men and women with empty mugs were none the shorter. Evidently, the more grog available, the more and faster everyone drank, so as to continually acquire more and more before it ran out. "Huh. By the time it's our turn, I think we'll all be sober," the ex-knight joked to Alster and Haraldur, who'd followed a few paces behind. Had she known that such a harmless comment might spur a scene, she'd have thought better of it.
Before Elespeth could blink, Alster declared a solution to their trying situation. And just like that, soldiers were swept off their feet, as though by some invisible wind, until they suddenly found themselves the only ones standing at the front of the line.

"I... ah... wow." The Atvanian fugitive cast a worried glance in Haraldur's direction, not yet too drunk to consider the repercussions of the scene her Rigas companion had caused. "Was that... entirely necessary? Ah, well..." Unless or until someone got hurt, there was no point in failing to take advantage of Alster's antics. Clapping her war partner appreciatvely on the shoulder, she held out her mug for a refill.

Unfortunately, those antics did not surpass the attention of someone who was already out for his blood. "What in that..." Lilica stopped Chara short, as an entire line of revelers fell flat on their face--only to reveal a certain, suspicious Rigas mage standing expectantly behind them. And it certainly wasn't the Rigas mage who was in her company. "Well... it appears as though we've found the target of both your hatred and undying affections," she commented, shaking her head. "And he's drawn attention to himself. If you ask me, he deserves the black eye that he might get for being the obstacle between muscle men and their grog."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 1:30 am
by Widdershins
As Chara stumbled in a random direction, fully believing her legs did not falter or stumble, Lilica rattled on beside her about matters that common sense was not present to decipher. Emotions were the wellspring from which she harnessed her magic and logic, especially within the throes of complete inebriation, would always fall to her baser desires. "Clothes can be mended, but a heart--not bloody likely." She clapped a hand over the wet stain, which spread over her chest, for emphasis. "He has ruled my head for quite some time--so I must have done an admirable job of hiding it before your unerring judgment. But Lilica, while you are observant, you do not seem to understand." She stopped en route to her aimless marching, her vision an animated blur that threatened to blot her world into something formless. She grabbed Lilica's arm, a welcome anchor into a reality that the drink wished to deprive from her, and drag her beneath the seas of her own self-destruction. 

"This goes beyond rejection. I am who I am because of him. Because he worked tirelessly with me in the past to hone my useless magic!" A hand crept up to her face, a horror that countless drinks could not deaden. The truth spoken aloud--at last. Useless magic. With a glare at the crowd ahead of her, which gathered by the barrel as if its honeyed waters could deliver salvation, she forced herself ahead--and ignored her faux pas that Lilica no doubt heard. "Do you honestly believe I can allow him to escape my grasp so damn easily?! I owe him everything--even if that means wrenching him open and tearing apart his insides. I owe him that, too."

At that time, a cold wind tore through a swath of drunken revelers, knocking them into the slurry of mud at their feet. A collective groan pocked the air as the instigator--and his accomplice--sliced through the crowd to reach the ale barrels uninhibited. Alster. It was him. Drunk, obviously; otherwise, he wouldn't dare perform a trick of that capacity. And that woman that followed him...Tam. Of course. How predictable that he should find himself in her unworthy company! "No," she told Lilica, her hand tightening against her empty goblet. "He does not deserve it from them. If anyone is going to hurt him, it is I."

Whether the drink server was afraid of disobeying Alster's directive or simply did not care, he filled the drinks of the caster and his friend to the brim without protest. "That good enough for you?" He asked the Rigas aggressor, who nodded and accepted the refills. 

"Well, that was invigorating." Alster handed a mug to Elespeth as they departed the scene of his transgression. "Definitely unnecessary, you're right, but they're more or less unharmed. Just muddy. And," he stared at the liquid of his forcefully acquired beverage, which vibrated from his footfalls, "now that I know the truth about myself, there's no point in exercising control...right?" He glanced sidelong at Elespeth, as if seeking validation. "Otherwise, I'm just deceiving myself. I'm the bastard who killed my parents--there's no going up from that point." Despite his morose comments, he smiled and held up his tankard. "I'll toast to that. To rock bottom, and," he hesitated, "to the people who foolishly believe they love me." 

Before he could enjoy his pilfered beverage, however, a few grumbling men, less drunk and significantly more irate than the other victims, groveled to their feet and grappled his arm. "Rigas scum--think you can run us into the mud, as well!?"

A second man knocked the drink out of his hands. "Not happy unless we're all below you, huh!? Well, I don't need status to make that happen for you." He crunched his hand into a tight fist, preparing to lob it into a satisfying crunch against the Rigas caster's face. Meanwhile the shadows beneath Alster's assailants danced, but not from the nearby fire. Before Alster could utilize the siphoning ability of his chthonic magic, a fizz of blue light dashed and exploded into the eyes of the two men, dazzling them into temporary blindness. 

"Dammit!" They wailed in unison, flailing punches that didn't hit their mark--for their mark had escaped from their grip and proximity.

"Unhand him!" Chara spoke from where she stood beside Lilica, her fingers sparking with the same blue discharge that had attacked the two brutes. "Get out, now, Alster!"

"I didn't need your help!" he shouted at her once he relocated, standing now before Chara's drunken sway. If he wasn't so unprepared to deal with her sudden appearance, he'd have remarked upon the impressive use of her magic despite her drink-induced impairments.

"Really? It looks as though you did. If possible, that ale has made you even stupider!" Instead of an admonishment, however, Chara delivered it with a chuckle in her voice, which erupted into a full-blown laugh. "Ah...why do I love such an idiot?"

"Look," he sighed, feeling vestiges of his default uneasiness and doubt rising to the surface, "you're mistaken. I'm not--no one--"

He cut off his speech when he saw the two men regain their ability to see, their disorientation fading with every purposeful step closer to their quarry. Without delay, Chara shot another flash of light into their faces. "Come on!" She yelled at Alster. "Let's go before they start chasing us. Take your pet with you, too. I will allow it. I need something to make me laugh tonight." 

"No need to worry about drinks or anything, either," Haraldur called out to them in the dark, hefting a small barrel of ale that he had swiped from the servers in the ensuing chaos. "That is to say," he narrowed his eyes at the fleeing casters, "if I too am allowed."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 1:27 am
by Requiem
Of course, Lilica should have anticipated Chara's interference when her stupid, Rigas counterpart found himself in a world of trouble. Yet the azure blast of celestial magic directly in the face of Alster's potential assailants took her off guard, and she nearly jumped at the celestial mage's unabashed display of power and anger.

"Chara--watch yourself!" She hissed, as the blonde woman surged forward, letting go of her arm in some newfound ability to reorient herself and maintain her balance. But as soon as the words passed her lips, Lilica realized the fallacy of her beliefs. The truth was, Chara Rigas was in no danger of the ruffians who threatened Alster and the she-soldier. She was a pillar that could not be felled; not even when she could hardly walk a straight line, under the heavy influence of draught.

Taking a step back, she allowed the two the space that they seemed to need, feeling irrationally irritated by the utter nonsense that was Chara and Alster Rigas's mess of feelings, or lack thereof. The dark mage tipped her mug to her lips, in hopes of drowning her foul-growing mood in the bitter beverage, only to realize not a drop was left. Am I so out of my element that I've been sipping on this without even realizing? she wondered, the curve of her pert mouth twisting downward in a frown.

Fortunately, refills were not far off. The somewhat unfamiliar voice of another soldier (an acquaintance of Tam, no doubt) declared a barrel of ale in his possession. But at this point, introductions and small talk were far beyond her, and therefore not a word was spoken between them as she sauntered up to Haraldur, at the same moment that Chara and Alster sauntered out. "You look capable of hefting their sorry, drunken hides over your shoulder and depositing them back in their tents, should they black out of their own antics." Tilting the nozzle on the barrel towards her mug, she filled it to the brim once again with the amber liquid that she could no longer taste. "So come on. I can't be the only one expected to keep an eye on this firestorm before it gets out of hand."

With two and a half mugs full of ale in her, Elespeth almost had half a mind to challenge Chara Rigas in her uncharitable 'pet' comment. But for Alster's sake (and for the fact that the two had begun to run ahead, with some angry soldiers in pursuit), the thought was quickly lost on her as she took off behind them, calling over her shoulder to Haraldur and Lilica, "If you're not going to run, do us a favour and trip 'em up!" 

But the fact of the matter was, by this time of evening, everyone--their pursuers included--were far too inebriated to maintain the chase for long. Before Elespeth knew it, they had all stopped, away from the din of the drinking tent, to a more secluded area of the camp. The air was cool on her face, now that she was no longer surrounded by over a hundred burly, perspiring bodies, and frankly, she no longer cared what Chara had called her. And instead of turning on the blonde Rigas mage with her own blazing opinion, a laugh tore from her lungs. "Stitching a wound on the battlefield, and blinding a bunch of drunk hoodlums with your witchlight... You really do think quickly on your feet! No offense, Alster, but I'm starting to wish I'd been paired with Chara."

Over her shoulder, the Atvanian fugitive winked playfully at her battle partner, to convey the jest in her words--which had been intended to placate the fiery celestial mage. Truthfully, she cringed at the idea of having to fight alongside someone like Chara Rigas--powerful though she was--who would critique her every move, and for whom nothing would ever be good enough.
But she was good enough for Alster. Or, at least, she was tolerable, and deemed worthy of his trust and friendship. And for someone who hadn't been able to trust a single soul in about half a decade, it meant more to her than she could properly express.

"Haraldur! Over here!" The ex-knight called to her mercenary friend, who followed the dark mage, carting a large (and stolen) barrel of ale in his arms. Grinning at Alster, and glancing at Chara, she tilted her head towards the tallest and strongest of the lot. "Look at how heavy that barrel is. And your mugs are empty, as is mine. Let's go lighten his load, shall we?"

"I am not a psychic. But I foresee regret in all of your near futures, if you endeavour to drink this barrell dry," Lilica commented, in complete hypocrisy to her own, newly filled mug, and her own, mildly zig-zagging gait. "But if we're all done with cutting in lines and blinding should-be comrades, maybe we can partake in this hedonistic indulgence properly."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 4:41 am
by Widdershins
At Tam's request, Haraldur scoured the area for any resistance, either from the enraged duo or from any who would notice their precious swill had gone missing. If need be, he could drop the cargo and formulate a counterattack, but whatever troubles that were kicked up like dust by the Rigas family had settled far behind them. Whether from the unsettling presence of the dark mage, who lingered beside him, or from the debilitating effects of the ale, the attackers had ceased their pursuit. Soon enough, only they remained. He, too slow to keep pace with Tam and her caster friends, contended with the company of a woman he'd rather not cross. The way she oozed darkness black enough to eclipse the night almost impelled him to abandon his gesture of comradeship and go mingle elsewhere, with soldiers of like mind. 

However, she was human, and her reliance on the ale he carted lifted his apprehension--somewhat.

"That sounds like a request worthy of payment. What will you give me in exchange for designated guardian duty and my gracious donation to your drunken cause?" He quipped alongside her, a halfmoon smile diluting the weight in his words--that would otherwise demand gold for his troubles. 

Once certain of their relative safety, Alster, who kept hold of Chara's arm in case she stumbled, slowed into a more agreeable pace. After releasing a few huffs from the exertion, he checked on Chara, surprised that she stayed upright--and was breathing regularly. "Well, I'm out of shape," he muttered aloud as he loosened his grip on her arm. As they reached a small clearing, afforded by a few tents hugging each other as if to stay warm, Chara collapsed upon a sparse patch of yellowed grass--almost taking Alster down with her. 

"Do not presume to believe that I am finished for the evening!" She glared up at Alster and Elespeth as she moved her knees in a more favorable position. "And Tam?" That glare transformed into twin suns with all intents to sear and blind her victims--as she had done mere moments ago. "I do not find your placating commentary endearing or disarming in the least. Please desist, or I will no longer find your company amusing."

"Do you still wish for Chara as your partner?" Alster nudged Elespeth, his voice coated over with the same conspiratorial tone adopted by the ex-knight. "With her on your side, many of your wounds would come from friendly fire."

"Oh, please, Alster. I am not that petty," she huffed at him from her retired spot on the ground. "...You'd be cross with me if she came to bodily harm, besides. I must keep your favorite toy in functioning form, after all, lest you succumb to one of your moods--and it will be no small matter piecing you back together."

"What--" His eyes widened in conjunction with a blush that burnished his cheeks. "What are you insinuating!?"

"You know well what! Now," she threw her arms in the air, grasping for blurred images in the distance, "Lilica and the walking barrel have located us. In recompense for my allowance of your continued partnership with your dog, you will fetch me more ale." 

"She's drunk," Alster told Elespeth as they approached Haraldur and Lilica, equipped as such with the tools to properly extricate the excess weight from the barrel. "She doesn't realize what she's...I don't think of you as a t-t...as so impersonally and...Dammit, I thought drinking was supposed to alleviate me of this...feeling!" He cut his frustrations into the air as he grabbed the tap of Haraldur's proffered barrel and filled his mug to brimming, guzzling its contents until he remembered to claim Chara's portion of the spoils. 

"Oh, come now, Lilica," Chara laughed at the dark mage's ominous proclamation as she motioned at her lounging feet. "I have fallen. Even if I should imbibe any further, it is doubtful I will cause much damage in my current, immobilized state. Though I am most accomplished at mind games." She motioned her head at Alster, for emphasis, who near drank himself dry in one gulp. "You seem most willing to tread down this forbidden path, yourself."

"Take your drink or I'll pour it over your head," Alster said with a grumble, holding it out for Chara to take, which she did with as much grace as two uncoordinated hands could manage. 

"What have I gotten myself into?" Haraldur mumbled to himself as he set down the barrel and pondered, nay, second-guessed, his options for the evening.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Sep 12, 2015 2:09 am
by Requiem
Mug once again replenished, on top of all of the other times that it had been replenished to contribute to the swill diluting her blood, it occurred to Elespeth that it would take a good deal to diminish her mood. Hence her ultimate decision to play to the arrogant, blonde Rigas mage's inflated ego than to challenge her on her insults.
At least, that was how it began, until Chara chose to escalate her cruelty to something that was beyond degrading, for both her and Alster. The alcohol hadn't dulled her cognitive functions enough to interfere with her interpretation of the vile insinuations of the former's words.

If she didn't say something now, then it was unlikely that she ever would, to the end of this war--whatever the end might be.

"It's fine, Alster," she declared, brushing off the blonde caster's behaviour like it were nothing. "You don't have to explain yourself for her words. Drunk or not, Chara's just reacting like anyone would in the face of jealousy."

And that was that: Elespeth had started the fire. And she fully intended to watch it burn until there was nothing left, with everything off of her chest and turned to ashes. "Chara Rigas," the ex-knight turned to address her verbal assailant, after taking a long swig from her mug for her own reassurance. Closing the distance between them, she addressed the haughty celestial mage from where she stood--looking down at her, for once, literally and figuratively. "You are a skilled caster, in name and in magic. If your age parallel's Alster's, then I can only imagine you've had a very long time to become as competent as you are. And that competence, that prowess, is not missed by anyone. So then what is it about me, a simple sword-wielder, that rattles your confidence, so? Where does someone with your reputation and indisputable talent come to suffer such insecurity?"

"What did she just say?" Only a mildly innocent bystander, Lilica all but choked on her beverage, shooting a dark-eyed glance at Haraldur. But the hulking figure looked just as lost as she was, and just as surprised at the swordswoman's sudden development of so firm a backbone. "Clearly, Chara is not the only one who is letting alcohol speak for her..."

But the Atvanian fugitive was not done yet. Rebellious brown hair having all but come loose of its braid hours ago in the humidity of the evening, she tossed it over her shoulder and rested her free hand on her hip. "I completely understand; you're bothered by my association and friendship with Alster. And I won't take it personally, because I have a feeling that you would take an identical position against anyone in my situation. But why don't we deconstruct this just a little bit more, for the sake of your own clarification. For one," she began to count on her fingers, "Yes, if you're wondering, I do care for Alster. He's my fighting partner, so I trust and respect him, and I am sorry to say that no diatribe from you is going to change that. Furthermore, are you certain it is not he whom you have made a toy of? Considering that you treat him like he can do nothing right, when in fact he is just as invaluable as the sullen dark mage, over there."

"Kindly keep me out of your vituperation, sword-wielder," came Lilica's reply, nothing less of venomous, despite her inebriation. But a passive, bitter retort was all she was able to muster, in light of this unlikely confrontation.

Fortunately, her presence was lost on Elespeth before the dark mage even finished speaking. Her words were for Chara alone, and she wanted them out, spoken and understood before she lost her nerve. "Believe it or not, I am not here to interfere with whatever complex sort of relationship you Rigases share. But neither will I continue to be bullied, intimidated or brought down by you, simply to make yourself feel better for whatever personal lacks or criticisms you must be suffering, nor will I cease to look out for Alster and return his friendship. And finally..." Pausing to finish her drink in a single mouthful, the swordswoman spread her arms in an almost helpless gesture. "Regardless of what you might think, I am not your enemy. In fact, I needn't remind you that we share a common enemy, and that I have chosen to expend my efforts towards helping you, Alster and your cause..."

Averting her gaze to glance briefly at Alster, who was no doubt just as dumbfounded by her outburst as she was, the ex-knight could only muster a shake of her head. "Confidence only has virtue, and pride only has merit when you needn't make others feel inferior to maintain that confidence and pride. And since I won't be brought down by you, I implore that you find your inner sense of security, lest one day the people who treat as inferior surpass you, leaving you to contemplate how you measure your self worth..." And that was that. Elespeth sighed, feeling a weight had been lifted from her chest, before her grey eyes wandered to her mug in a look of confusion. "...was my mug not full, just a moment ago?"

"You know... this 'forbidden path' suddenly doesn't seem so unappealing," Lilica chimed in, already refilling her mug with the barrel in front of Haraldur. Lifting an eyebrow at him, she added, "Believe me, every single one of us will become more tolerable when you're too drunk to even realize who you're talking to."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Sep 14, 2015 12:18 am
by Widdershins
A lull wafted over their little ragtag gathering when Elespeth uttered such a loaded word: jealousy. Chara's blonde locks bobbed upward as she whipped her head in the direction of the swordswoman, her mouth aghast, her eyes punctuated by eyebrows which furrowed and deepened and threatened to snap...

"Jealous?" She sputtered when the insolent girl rattled on about matters she would never hope to understand. Chara, an accomplished Rigas, jealous of a dirty nobody who carted around a rusty sword in her callused hands? Jealous of a person whose vocation made little sense for her gender? Jealous of a woman who unequivocally commanded Alster's attention, and respect? Before she could silence the sword-wielder, either by words or by something a little extra, the fool railed on some more--until she reached the crux of her tirade.

"Do not presume to understand the complexities of my relationship with my kin, you outsider. It is only by the request of your battle partner that I keep you informed of our plans. Already, I see that you are taking advantage of Alster's inane generosities," she waggled her head at Haraldur, who, like Lilica, stood along on the sidelines and tilted a few sips of ale into his eager gullet, "by inviting your ilk to attend our personal affairs."

"If you wish for me to depart," Haraldur chimed in, moving to heft the barrel of ale, "I shall take this elsewhere."

"No," Chara waved a hand at him to stop. "You have, unfortunately, become privy to our secrets and for that I cannot release you. Yet another casualty," she groaned into the air. She ignored the look of hostility that radiated from Haraldur when Elespeth's continued yammerings snapped something delicate from inside Chara. Her, using Alster as a toy? She did not treat him so discourteously! Why, she was simply of a higher rank than he! What drivel, what hogwash, what...

"How...dare you!" Unbidden, her hand raised and flashed a starry blue mass, which about escaped her grasp in route to Tam's face--but another hand grappled her wrist and ceased the flow of her magic. 

"Chara," Alster said, keeping hold of her wrist, "let her finish."

"I see. It's a conspiracy between the two of you!" She huffed as she tried to worm her way out of Alster's grip, but he was unyielding and clung to her until the bitter end of the swordswoman's speech. She opened her mouth, in preparation to lay the woman bare, but Alster squeezed Chara's wrist and she silenced herself as he released her and stood to full height.

"Now it's my turn." He played with the now-empty mug in his free hand as he sighed and looked sidelong at Elespeth, whose presence helped him gather the courage to face Chara unabated. Although--he was certain the lowered inhibitions of the drink aided his words to find voice. "Chara, I know we're affianced. Until further notice, that is the truth we face. And you...well, you harbor feelings for me," he looked down at his feet, "and I may actually understand why. I...I am grateful for all that you've done. Helping me adjust when I returned to the Rigas estate--abandoning your own morals so that Lilica may teach me chthonic magic...I know you're trying to protect me--and to make up for lost time. But lashing out at whosoever decides to associate with me of their own accord--I can't accept that sort of treatment. And this is why--among other reasons--I can't return your feelings." He made to drink the empty contents of his mug, giving him a ready distraction in case Chara reacted in a manner of which he was unprepared to face. To be honest, Chara, he thought as he dared look away from his drink, you remind me too much...of Debine.

Chara, meanwhile, stared down at her hands for the duration of Alster's confession, half-anticipating his forlorn conclusion. "I see," she said, her voice choking in tandem with the shake of her shoulders. "It makes sense. You want to be babied, Alster. If so, Tam is the perfect candidate for your undying affections."

"I didn't say tha--"

"It doesn't matter!" She found him, standing above and looking down at her with a concern she abhorred. Chara Rigas would not be pitied! "We're to be married, regardless, so I'll allow you this, this--fling!"

"As much as you believe you are in control of me--you're not. Whether you allow it or not, I'm making my own decisions. I..." he turned from her before his resolve gave way too much, for he spotted tears pricking the corners of her blue eyes, "I hope we remember this conversation when we are sober."

Returning to Elespeth's side, Alster gave the woman warrior an uncertain smile. "If you wish to leave...I don't blame you. For your own safety, it is wise. ...And take me with you," he muttered, looking over at Chara with growing apprehension. 

"Lilica," Chara said, her voice barely controlled and fitted into a shaky whisper, "I need another drink. Can you--?"

"You are being summoned," Haraldur told Lilica, himself having started on his second mug of ale since he arrived at the menagerie, driven to partake by all the hooting and hollering of his...kinsmen. "However," he fused a hand over the barrel tap, "I do not believe this woman has earned the right to another drink."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Sep 15, 2015 7:46 pm
by Requiem
Elespeth's mouth was just as agape as Chara's, the moment Alster spoke up for himself, chiming in on what she'd had to say to the stubborn celestial mage. It appeared that alcohol was not limited to giving her the courage to speak her mind, and despite that this likely never would have unfolded as it did in the absence of the swill, she couldn't help but feel proud of him. It was, perhaps, the first time he had ever laid his hand down to his demanding and overbearing fiancée, and she was hearing him speak the truth from his heart.
Hard to believe, that two people who had known each other for so long, had been so closed to one another.

"Your imagination is running away with your own insecurities, Chara," Elespeth sighed, her mind off of her empty mug in light of the gravity of this situation. "There isn't a fling; there never has been one, in fact. Just a friendship that is perhaps more genuine than anything you could hope to achieve, treating Alster the way that you do."

And just like that, she realized her mistake--and it was too late to take it back. But in the end, it didn't matter, for the Rigas mage with chthonic capabilities was the one to hammer the final nail into the coffin that was this conversation. Happy though she was that he'd finally found it in himself to say it--Whether you allow it or not, I'm making my own decisions--, the ex-knight was by no means oblivious to the hurt that lingered behind the angry mask that Chara Rigas wore. She pitied her, knowing full well that the stubborn blonde resisted the pity, and had she been sober, she might have endeavored to make amends.

There was no cleaning up this mess, though. Not when there was not a single person in this group of five who was sober enough to be the real voice of reason.

"Come on, then," Elespeth put a hand on Alster's shoulder, and began leading him away from the scene. "She's probably too drunk to know what she's saying, anyway... It looks as though Lilica will look out for her for now." The Atvanian fugitive had not missed the way that the dark mage never deigned to remove herself too far from Chara's side, how she might have stood beyond arm's reach, but not so far that she could not be of assistance to Alster's fiancée. Though she couldn't venture a guess as to why Chara Rigas, of all people, would inspire Lilica D'Or to such altruism.

When the two were far enough away that privacy could be considered, Elespeth's hand slipped from the Rigas made's shoulder. "Listen... I am sorry. For the discord I have incited between you and Chara," she told him, lifting and dropping her shoulders in a shrug. "In fact, I'll probably feel all the more sorry when I'm sober, but... I have such respect for the way you held your own tonight. I do believe she Chara cares for you, but I... I don't believe she quite knows how to care for you, in the right way. Because she doesn't seem to realize her own value and potential; if she knew you realized yours... imagine how low she would feel. What you said back there... you did the right thing."

Flashing a broad smile, Elespeth put her hands on his shoulders. "And I might be drunk, but I guarantee I'd be telling you the exact same thing if I weren't. You're... you really do inspire me."

A shame that the same could not be true of Lilica, where it came to Chara. The dark mage considered her celestial counterpart's plea, feeling an uncomfortable weight in her chest at that tremor in her typically loud and confident voice. But Haraldur was not wrong; not only was Chara far from entitled to another drink, but Lilica should have taken the mug out of her hands long before she had been so bold as to confront Alster and the she-soldier. And, knowing what she did of the blonde Caster, Chara already lived with enough regret. The last thing she needed on her troubled mind was knowing that her inebriated words dug her further into the hole in which she had found herself.

"Of course. Come on." Instead of taking the empty mug from Chara's hand, the dark mage took her by the arms and--with no shortage of determination and struggle--pulled her to her feet, supporting her back with one arm. Given that the celestial mage had several inches on her own meager height, it was nothing less of a challenge. "I know just what to get you, but it's not here."

Offering a knowing nod to Haraldur, and recognizing his own desire to retreat from this mess in which he did not belong, she merely said, "Breathe a word of any of this to anyone--and I don't care how petty the details might be--then I will personally see to it that not amount of muscle on your part will save your life. And that is a friendly word of caution."

Lilica steered Chara further from the rowdy bustle of the drinking tent, all the way back to her own little home away from home, piled with its plush pillows and drapery. She helped the celestial mage onto the buffer of the cushions, reassuring her that she would go and retrieve a drink, but only on the condition that she stay seated, and not wander off, potentially putting herself in danger. The both of them were as good as their words, as moments later, the dark caster returned, with Chara's mug filled to the brim--with water.

"This is the drink you need right now," Lilica informed her, ignoring the scowl it brought to Chara's already pouting lips. "You don't have to thank me now or later, for that matter, and I can't make you feel any better. But I can at least hope to keep you from feeling any worse."

What does she expect me to do? Or say? The chthonic mage could not empathize with Chara's plight. Matters of love were so far beyond her that they felt like nothing more than a distant, passing fancy. And yet, here sat Chara Rigas, strong and steadfast master of celestial magic, drunk and crumpled in a heap of pain borne of rejection. Lilica could have sworn she hurt, just looking at her. It made her want to change it.

"You don't have to take my advice... particularly not while I'm at least half as inebriated as you," she began, standing in front of Chara's cushions with her arms at her sides, "but it might be best if you move on mentally and emotionally from Alster Rigas. He will not feel any differently about you when he wakes up tomorrow, sober, and you'll only continue to hurt yourself by hurting him. Are you really so hell-bent on clinging to a futile future, that you'd rather discredit his feelings and desires, simply to be the one who is right? You're better than that."

Dark locks spilled over her shoulders in a stringy cascade as she raked her fingers across her scalp, wishing that words would come more easily. Wasn't alcohol supposed to be a social lubricant? Why was it, then, that she found herself so unsure of what she wanted to say to the blonde Rigas caster? "I'm not trying to be patronizing. I mean it; you're better than your pride. And you deserve better than to be treated like a secondary acquaintance by someone you care for. How many times must you hear that before you will believe it?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2015 10:21 pm
by Widdershins
Before they departed the scene, Elespeth's last words to Chara repeated themselves in Alster's head: A friendship that is perhaps more genuine than anything you can hope to achieve, treating Alster the way that you do. Were he sober, her profound words of friendship would have stymied him where he stood. Even so, they inspired a tinge of red to spatter itself over his cheeks. 

Never before did he consider how others treated him. He always viewed their behavior as punishment for his unpardonable actions in the past. The validation behind the thoughts and feelings of the condemned never factored into his way of life. And aside from his father, only Chara ever treated him with even an iota of humanity towards his ongoing plight. For someone, an outsider no less, to express his value as a person...it made him feel less of a monster. 

When Elespeth took hold of his shoulder and led him from the clearing, he stretched his neck from behind to regard Chara, broken and crumpled up as she was--and silent. Discarded, strewn against the ground...abandoned. He alone had reduced her to such despair. Perhaps, then...he wasn't unfounded in calling himself a monster. 

"You're right," he said in response to Elespeth's observation, catching a glimpse of Lilica before turning his head in the direction of his dear friend. "That allays my doubts, at the very least. I'm sorry about leaving your friend behind." Admittedly, he didn't feel too sorry, for he was selfish in wanting to spend time with Elespeth, somewhat free from the burdens of sobriety. 

"Don't worry about it, El." He tried the appellation on his lips and cracked a smile. "You should not feel guilted by Chara's behavior. We've fought before, plenty of times. She'll come back around." He rubbed a thumb under his chin, in calculation. "Eventually. Besides--" he paused, when the ex-knight reestablished contact with him by the shoulders. Coupled with her earnest statement, his heart detached from his body and bounced around his ribcage. No matter of drink could lessen the reaction that her words painted all across his face. 

"Perhaps you're...more drunk than you've been led to believe," he said with a disarming laugh to rattle away the unease burning up in his system. "But while we're singing each other's praises, I...wanted to thank you. For...for seeing my worth. I never realized how accustomed I've become to the varied abuses I've suffered. I thought it normal, for the longest time. But maybe...I do have...some...value. To...you, at the very least." His hand slid up to meet with her right arm as he gripped it with a physical manifestation of his appreciation. "Now, before I explode," he said with a self-deprecating smile, "I think I will have another drink--if you'd like to join me. ...I promise I won't kick any more people into the mud."

Back in the clearing, Haraldur watched as Lilica hauled the haughty celestial mage against her tiny frame and dragged her past the spacing of one of the tents. He would have volunteered to help, but seeing the determination beset in her dark eyes warded him from interfering. Of the little he knew about Lilica, she didn't seem the type to appreciate his meddling. 

Her ominous last words solidied his stance in the manner. Standing to collect the half-filled barrel of ale, he swept around in the opposite direction. "One of these days, your magic will fail you. All of you," he muttered, and disappeared into the fires of the evening. 

Chara remembered little of her transition from the dry, grassy ground, to the comfort of her own tent: only that Lilica was present for every moment. With the exception of a span of time where the dark mage had vanished, Chara didn't question her whereabouts for long before she returned to the tent, and sat by her cushions with an offering of water. 

"I should have predicted your scheme to sober me clean," she said with a rough growl of her voice, stretched raw from her impassioned yelling just moments ago. "There is no reason to stop. I've already scraped the bottom of this evening with my teeth. In fact, I am shocked," she said with a smile more characteristic to the likes of Alster than the once proud Chara Rigas, "that you have chosen to stay." 

She tried to rise from her cocoon of cushions, but Lilica guarded the vicinity, watching over her like a ghostly sentry. With a sigh of defeat, she launched herself back onto her bed and stared at the vaulted ceiling of her tent. "A sane person might realize such a loss and move onward. If he were any other person...He has dominated so much of my life. It's funny," she tittered, and it was as weak as the water she clutched in her unenthusiastic hand, "how I won the right to his hand in a sea of those who were much more eligible than myself. After all, I am a bad year. No bad years have ever achieved more than servant status--cleaning up after those in power. I worked hard to reach his level--or as close as my limits would allow me." She attempted to sit up a second time, succumbing to the temptation of water as a poor proxy for the ale she so desired. "I can't let go of all I have achieved. What was it for?!" Shakily, her hand placed the mug of water to the floor as she found Lilica's sleeve and buried her face into her thin shoulder. 

"I'm sorry," she said, in between sobs that rattled her body into a slurry. Her stomach roiled from the disruption. She backed away from the dark mage, scrambling to one corner of her tent to locate the bucket she kept hidden in the shadows.

After retching for a good minute or two, she raised her head from the relative privacy of the bucket. "I suppose there is no use in upholding my pride, now. Least of all to you. This," she wiped the back of her mouth of any offending spittle, "the length and breadth of Chara Rigas, stripped to her core components. If you do not want me to vomit on you, either by words or tears or otherwise, then leave. But...thank you, Lilica. I keep underestimating you, but..." she stared at the floor, uncertain of her incoming words, "you never cease to surprise me."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Sep 20, 2015 10:33 pm
by Requiem
"Don't worry for Haraldur; he is a big make who can take care of himself. I'll probably be seeing him tomorrow, in any case," Elespeth explained to Alster, to assuage his concerns. "I'll ask him if his feelings were hurt while we're figuring out what to do with those weapons... but I have a feeling that, given the way Chara was acting, he was probably looking for an excuse to leave. Anyway... I was finding the crowd a little too... crowded, for my liking."

Perhaps it was no mystery anymore--at least not then and there--that the ex-knight cherished this coveted time alone with Alster Rigas just as much as her battle partner did. She was not a mage; he was not a swordsman. And yet, the two of them shared in the loneliness and self-doubt that accompanied years and years lacking respect. The difference was, Alster had very much lived the majority of his life under the toxic blanket of such a sentiment. It had only been in the past handful of years that she had been dealt similar treatment.
But that did not mean that she could not relate. And the trust and camaraderie that she found in Alster... well, there was no other measure to which she could compare it. And that made it the definition of invaluable. 

The brief altercation that had occurred between Alster and the rowdy crowd of the drinking tent seemed to have been long forgotten in the wake of even deeper inebriation, and the merriment and obliviousness that accompanied it. Some of the men and women had even donned their instruments, to add music to the din of laughter and talking amongst the soldiers. A few onlookers had, as a result, taken to twirling and kicking up their legs in what Elespeth could only assume was a very drunken interpretation of dance. A few had even been so reluctant to part with their mugs that the beverage holders actually served as their dance partners, ale sloshing sloppily over the side with ever clumsy misstep.

It was enough to take typically-introverted Elespeth Tameris aback for a solid moment. When that moment passed, however, she couldn't hold back laughter. "And every single one of them, I guarantee, thinks they are the penultimate lord of the dance," she told Alster with a nudge, as he stepped in line to refill his own mug. Mouth quirking into a cheeky grin, she added,"Careful, my friend. One more mug of this swill and you might end up like the rest of them. I can stick up for you in front of Chara, but I cannot save you from your own tomfoolery!"

It appeared as though Chara Rigas, on the other hand, could not be saved from even herself that evening. While Lilica had contemplated leaving an hour ago, forcing the celestial mage to fend for her own sorry, drunken skin as a result, she could not be more relieved that she had chosen otherwise. There was no possible way that Chara would have been safe, let alone able to get up and find her way back on her own. She'd have passed out long before, face down in the mud, an easy target (or easily missed obstacle) for heavy boots to trample upon.

And then, where would the dark mage be, without her ticket to redemption?

"I choose to stay because I don't want to imagine what would become of you, unsupervised," the chthonic mage sighed, as she strode slowly to where the inebriated Rigas was kneeling over a bucket. So as to spare the woman's pale tresses from being sullied with sick, Lilica's skilled fingers pulled them back and wove them into a braid, the end of which she fastened with the slender ribbon from her own hair. Her dark locks fell free as a result, spilling around her shoulders in onyx waves. "And... because I would want someone to be here for me, were I to reach this level of low. Heavens know, I have come close."

Chara's words of praise and kindness came as nothing short of a surprise. Chara Rigas did not offer praise, because nobody was quite so worthy of praise as she. And to hear her utter words that suggested her underestimation of the chthonic mage had been wrong, words that suggested Lilica D'Or, of all people, was worthy of something...
The dark mage had to rapidly blink herself back to reality, in case her tired mind had lapsed into yet another impossible dream. It would not be the first time that Chara Rigas had subconsciously dominated her thoughts, for better or for worse, but she was certainly not creative enough to dream up something that was so drastically out of character for the blonde Rigas.

Ultimately, she could think of nothing to do but nod, and accept the compliment.
"You did not walk away from me when I begged your help," she pointed out quietly, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. "I will not leave you at such a time that you should not be alone. And you do realize you are not alone, right? Just because Alster Rigas is too foolishly enamored of a sword-wielder does not diminish any of your worth or accomplishments, and certainly does not render you undone. Now here." Pushing the mug of lukewarm water back into Chara's hands, she rested her fingers on one of the celestial caster's shoulders. "Hydrate yourself, and let's get you to bed. Even if it means you need to cry yourself to sleep... you need the rest."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Sep 22, 2015 5:04 am
by Widdershins
Their loud reintroduction to the festivities about jarred Alster away from Elespeth's calming presence. So distracted by the collective clamor of their drunken compatriots, he nearly lost himself in the fray, overwhelmed as such by what he alone had never experienced. Even he, a Rigas exile, with ample opportunity to participate in the likes of something so uncouth and pedestrian, never had invested himself in any social event that itself was not some hoity-toity get-together as organized by the extremely wealthy. For, who would join him? Certainly not his parents. No! He clutched his head as a reprimand. Do not let them cross your mind tonight, lest you'll never savor the simple-minded joy of this frivolity...with a friend. A friend. What you've always wanted...

Whilst waiting in line, he watched the drunken dancers attempt to follow the frenzied steps of the hurried little jaunt that instruments pieced together in composition. Their efforts, while laughable, pulled a smile of admiration from his lips, as well as a ready foot that tapped the beat in time, wishing to launch itself into the makeshift dance circle. What was he thinking!?

"Ahem!"

He shot his head to the server, who had been trying to summon his attention for quite some time. With a murmur of apology, he took the refilled mug from the disgruntled man and followed Elespeth to observe the shenanigans of the not-so fleet of foot. 

"It may already be too late," Alster said with a mischievous tone as he took a few swigs of his ale...and then took Elespeth's hand. "Come on, partner. I'm dragging you down with me." With a wink, he pulled her into the circle, where wayward bodies attempting to keep rhythm clipped and pushed at their arms and shoulders. "I am quite decent at dancing--so I've been told. And no one is sober enough to judge us."

After he discarded the mug, which he had since finished, he closed Elespeth by the waist and followed the rhythm of the song, an up-tempo jig where legs flailed and jumped and leaped in tandem with the high-energy of the beat. Alster followed through with the dance, kicking his legs into a skip that vaulted him and his partner into the air. He took the lead, helping Elespeth to whirl around the square of space they occupied and holding their connections taut and tight, their bodies locked together in an embrace. The plucking of strings yammered with the tune, along with the drumming trill and the clanking of spoons in a musician's hand. Their breaths, too--her breath, his breath, syncopated as one, linked with their fluttering heartbeats and the spinning of the crowd and them--only them...

His foot took a misstep. They stumbled and landed in the mud, and fell under the clumsy stomp of a dozen uncoordinated drunks.

"I'm sorry," Alster said with a laugh as he pulled himself upright and offered his hand to Elespeth before they found themselves trampled. "I had promised you that I wouldn't go kicking anyone into the mud. Little did I know it would be you. Perhaps I'm not much of a dancer, after all." His laughs turned into chuckles as they traveled outside the circle. "Definitely different than ballroom dancing, that much is certain ...I think we'd better stick to battle coordination." 

In midst of the unseemly vomiting spectacle, Lilica, in place of retreating, had moved closer to Chara's side, not only holding back her hair, but binding it into a braid. After the sickness had cleared from her insides, she roved a hand over her new hairstyle, a coy smile settling over her face. "Not my preferred look, but it will have to do." She lowered her arm to her lap, waiting for the thrumming of her heartbeat to subside before managing the long journey back to her bed. 

"Well, consider it a promise," she said with a weepy laugh as she attempted to clear the other side of the tent on her own. "Next time we partake in this heinous event, it will be my turn to drag you to your tent and hold your hair as you spill both your literal and emotional guts. This I promise you." By the end of her discourse, Chara had succumbed to weakened panting from the exertion of traveling to the safety of her pillows, even with the dark mage's guiding hand. To allay Lilica's worries, she guzzled half a mug's worth of her water before reclining against the downy spread of her blankets. 

"I believe," she began, twirling the fingers of her hand over her head in the ensuing silence, "I have cried enough this evening. I will not continue to give Alster such satisfaction." She closed her fingers over the mug, desiring more water, yet too weakened in her position to move. She anchored them there, just in case she developed the ability to drink without shifting a muscle. "You are correct, of course. I...I am not alone. Not now, anyhow. Tomorrow," she paused, gazing up at Lilica from her vantage point level to the ground, "I shall avail myself of these broken pieces and regain my dignity. But for tonight, I wish...to stay this way a mite longer. To forget...my strength. And," she stretched beckoning fingers to the other woman who lingered at her side, "can you--until I fall asleep--stay? ...Stay with me?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Sep 26, 2015 9:12 pm
by Requiem
"Wait, what? Oh, no, I don't dance, I have never danced--" Elespeth hurried to argue as soon as she took notice notice of that mischievous glimmer in her battle partner's eyes. She had barely had a moment with her newly filled mug of amber ale, sipping on it only a few times, before she had to good sense to put it down as Alster grabbed her other hand. "Hey! You realize if you make me do this, then you are not only putting yourself, but me and everyone in this sweltering tent in mortal danger? My swordsmanship might rely on some fancy footwork, but let me assure you, it is all simply evasive choreography!"

It was no use, for she found herself amongst the writhing and bumbling, uncoordinated bodies of the other dancers before she could finish speaking. "I mean it, you might not live to regret it!`` She cautioned once more, as Alster drew her into an upbeat jig. It was a relief that at least one of them could claim they knew what they were doing. It wasn't until the Rigas caster's arm was around her waist that the Atvanian fugitive realized for the first time that he must have been inches shorter than she was. Could that, she wondered, have something to do with the reason why he was so concerned with appearing as weak or incompetent around her?

If that truly were the case, he certainly was in no way self-conscious of his perceived lacks with alcohol's grip on him.

Even when the two of them came toppling to the ground, Elespeth was delighted to see Alster simply laugh it off. It appeared that his small, rebellious act of putting Chara in her place had allowed him a sense of confidence that he had never risked before now. But the floodgates were open, and he seemed determined to have it all venture uphill from hereon in--or, at least, until he found himself passed out somewhere, and waking up with a splitting headache and terrible taste in his moth from a hangover.

"We're hardly coordinated in battle!" She laughed, putting a hand on his arm, the cool nighttime air hitting her face once again. "What in the world made you think we were cut out as dancers? You might have been better off with a partner that doesn't have two left feet."

As inebriation gave way to silly laughter and banter that turned sleepy, Elespeth at least had enough cognitive capacity left to steer Alster back to his tent, as the Rigas mage was tripping over his own two feet worse than he had been on the dance floor. "Come on, don't pass out and make me have to carry you," she teased, guiding him back towards his otherwise empty barracks, only to fall into a heap at the foot of his cot, herself. "Alster, I just want to say... I mean, what I am trying to say is..." The swordswoman fought through the fog in her brain and closed her eyes to enhance concentration--but to no avail. Finally, all she could come up with was with a sleep, "You're not really as bad at dancing as I thought."

But by the time the words had come to her, Alster was already fast asleep on the cot. And Elespeth didn't much feel inclined to make the trek back to her own tent...

Lilica was not the only one who stayed the night to keep a companion company--though that in and of itself is another story. Something about the pitiful lilt to Chara Rigas's otherwise confident voice left hooks in the dark mage's conscience that she could not shake, and against her better judgement of her own character, she found herself unable to leave the celestial mage, even long after she had gone still with sleep.
What Lilica failed to realize, however, was how her eyelids began to grow heavier and heavier, or the point at which she actually ended up succumbing to slumber in the haughty Rigas mage's quarters.

She could remember sitting back against the the comfortable cushioning of Chara's various and sundry pillows. They were comfortable, and the atmosphere of the small tent was warm, but not stifling. The next thing she knew, on opening her eyes, the sun was cresting the horizon beyond the tent flaps--and her head ached. No, her head pounded. Had she really been so drunk...?

"This is what I get? For being considerate, for once in this miserable life..." Rubbing her temples with one hand, she pulled a round cushion away from the face of the sleeping blonde, who seemed to have thrashed about in her slumber. "Don't go suffocating yourself, now. Alster Rigas isn't worth that," she murmured quietly to the form that she still assumed to be fast asleep.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Sep 28, 2015 9:18 pm
by Widdershins
"Whose fault is it that we're so uncoordinated!?" He waggled an accusatory finger in her direction before leaning into the helpful anchoring of her arm. Legs that swung and kept time to the beat just moments ago had lost the battle to remain competent and swayed to their own erratic tempo, irrespective of its owners wishes. "We can't exactly coordinate when you're always dashing off somewhere! A few dance lessons will do us both some good." To test his theory, he jutted one leg forward in an attempt to begin a two-step, but he lost his footing and stumbled into Elespeth. "...We'll continue this lesson when I can walk," he said with a halfhearted head waggle, feeling the effects of the ale more strongly the farther they traveled from the festivities that had kept his mind awake for longer than what the beverage demanded of him. 

By the time they reached his tent, Alster had quietened in lieu of concentrating his efforts to walk to his cot without succumbing to a dizzy fit. With Elespeth's help, he landed on the cot with an oof and a weak laugh in response. "What are you doing all the way down there?" He peered over the cot to where Elespeth had settled on the ground. "Come on up! There's enough space for you, too. I'm small enough for us both." However, he did not see the results of his cot offering, for he keeled over into his pillow and fell into a comfortable slumber. 

The inevitable transition into consciousness was not as comfortable--or comforting. 

"Alster!" A screech into the air sent a cacophony of all things grating through his head: gonging bells and a vicegrip against his temples, a splitting of his skull and a scritch-scratching pressure behind his eyes. 

He opened his eyes too quickly and the flooding of a light so intense about pierced him to ribbons. With a frustrated groan, he moved his hand in front of his face to blot himself back into the dark. 

But the source of the brutal wake-up call lingered in his proximity and refused to disappear. "What do you want?" He told the persistent presence in a grumble that did not sound all that human. 

"What is the meaning of this vulgar display, Alster!?" The unmistakable voice of Danos throbbed into his moaning ears. With a sigh, Alster flicked an eye open...

...Only to see Elespeth's chest rise and fall right next to his head. 

She and him...sharing a cot, enmeshed so tightly, tangled in sheets...

What happened last night?

By then, he sprung from the cot as if it were on fire, ignoring the bite of his head from invisible jaws with all intents to crush him into pulp. 

"We didn't...we're clothed. We simply...a misunderstanding. Last night--drinks. Drinking. Nothing more, Danos!" The fire he tried to escape found refuge in his head, burning his insides and outsides to a temperature that no amount of mouth flubbing or frenzied pacing could eradicate. In worry, he kept looking over at Elespeth on...his cot...hoping she would not awaken to his display of almost-hysterics. 

"Be that as it may," Danos juxtaposed Alster's nervous energy with a chilling calm, "it is unbecoming, nay, disgusting, to witness your treacherous liaisons with this," he spat, "warrior. This tent is not reserved expressly for your debase pleasures. You are betrothed--have you forgotten?"

"No!" He about exploded in sound, finding it impossible to adopt a level tone when his heart fluttered in a pace that exceeded the wingbeats of a hummingbird. "Just an innocent...we had too much to drink, that is all!"

"I am certain Chara would love to know of your newest infraction," Danos said with a gleeful lilt to his voice. A smile crept up in his puffy cheeks.

At mention of Chara, fragments of last night crept up in Alster's memory. Somehow, those memories mollified him. His pacing lessened to a full-stop. "Go ahead. Tell her. ...She deserves to know."

Soft muttering in the dark opened Chara's eyes to the light of day--despite the quality of her company whose very existence bespoke of night and shadows. Lilica. Why had she stayed all night? Why had she stayed at all?!

In the sensitivity of her vision, she detected the blur that no doubt belonged to Lilica--along with a pillow she apparently had rescued from her face. Hearing her words established the final link between the subconscious world and the reality she left behind and had only now started to remember. The following headache served to solidify the fact that she had returned--however much she spurned the welcome. 

"You...have it wrong," she began, a meek voice drowning in the painful grogginess of her awakening. "I will use that cushion to suffocate him." She tried to rise, but the splintering of her head stilled all attempts to function in an upright position. 

"It looks as though I am bound here until further notice. I shall have to delay my appointment with Alster and the cushion. It is for the best, as I have more pressing matters to consider. Such matters involve you. I," she paused, staring at the tented ceiling for inspiration, "wondered--why did you stay? Not that I am unappreciative, of course. Even Rigases feel beholden to those outside of the family. But...you are not bound to my word. You are free to do as you will. Yet...you stayed. May I ask for your preposterous reasons?"

"Chara!?" A muffled sound emerged from behind the tent flaps, to outside. "Chara!? It is I, Danos. I must speak with you." 

"Ugh," she groaned aloud, feeling her eyes roll upward into her skull. "What does the little cretin want at this hour? He will most certainly have a fit when he sees you." The worry lines on her face disappeared in favor of smile lines as her lips turned upward. "He will eventually discover our partnership, anyhow. I say we let him in. Enter, Danos!" She said as loud as the strain in her throat would allow, and watched the pucker-faced Rigas shuffle through the tent flaps--who proceeded to freeze in place at the sight of Lilica.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Oct 04, 2015 9:49 pm
by Requiem
Elespeth had always been a rather light sleeper, especially in the past handful of years, when she had run from her home and her family and the only life that she had ever known. It had become a rather adaptive mechanism, as she had devolved to a creature of prey, no more secure than the mice who were hunted by owls and cats, or the big game that fell to human sport and hunger. Had she realized how heavy just a few drinks (and it had only been a few... hadn't it? She had lost count early on...) would make her eyelids in the early hours of morning, how it would make sleep weigh on her like iron on her back as she lay next to Alster in his cot, then she might have taken more precaution with her lack of inhibitions the night before.

Then again... how could she ever have dreamed herself into a position like that in which she found herself now?

Groggy, the ex-knight's eyelids struggled to lift, until her ears registered the conflicting voices of both Alster and someone else; someone she only vaguely recognized, and whose tone did not incite any feelings of warmth. Sitting up, she rubbed the sleep and fog from her vision, brushed her tangled hair over her shoulder, and registered the form of Danos Rigas--one of Alster's kin, and not one with whom she was particularly familiar. But the look of accusatory shock on his face was enough to make her check herself... and, more specifically, her positioning.
Right next to Alster, in his bed.

"...wait, hold on, now," she ventured, her throat feeling like sandpaper as she struggled to refute his accusations on Alster. "He speaks the truth. The two of us simply had too much to drink last night..." But... what had happened after that? Elespeth couldn't remember, in all honesty; not beyond the ill-fated dance they'd had. She couldn't even remember how she came to be here, in Alster's tent. Yet the two of them were still clad in the clothes they'd worn the night before; wrinkled and rumpled, but it wasn't as though they lay in a pile at the foot of his caught... "You can't possibly think that anything happened between us." She told Danos, but the haughty Rigas mage (why was Alster the only one with a hint of humility?) was already strutting out of the tent, chest puffed out like he had somehow emerged victorious in catching the two of them together.

Alster, of course, acted like he didn't care. But she knew better than to accept his nonchalance as great truth.

"I'm sorry," she said to her partner in battle, as she stood up from his cot on shaky legs. "This is my fault. I know nothing happened... between us... and I believe your Rigas brethren believes that as well." But did it matter? The damage was done, and if Chara didn't already wish death on her, then she would as soon as she received this news. Fortunately for her, Chara Rigas's opinion did not mean much. Though the same likely could not be said for Alster... "Listen, if there is any way that I could somehow... make this up to you..."

By doing what? What brilliant idea do you have, Elespeth Tameris? Haven't you already complicated his life enough? Pulling her hair into a hasty weave, she pressed her lips together and shook her head. "I wish I knew how to articulate how sorry I am for this," she said at last. "But I hardly think any apology would suffice."

Lilica, on the other hand, sought neither an apology nor gratitude from Chara Rigas, with whom she had stayed the entire night. In part it was for the fact that she hardly expected gratitude from the likes of someone so full of pride as Chara, but also because she had not been asked to stay throughout the run of the night. Just until I fall asleep... That was what Chara had asked of her. And yet she had gone above and beyond a favour that she never would have thought herself capable of seeing through... All for reasons that were just as lost to her as they were to the groggy blonde.

Feeling suddenly put on the spot, the chthonic mage folded her arms and turned her face away from her questioning Rigas counterpart. "Do you have even the slightest idea as to how drunk you were?" She asked, her voice dripping with defense. "I couldn't risk you being sick in your sleep. That is not the sort of miserable death that I feel the great Chara Rigas would want to be remembered for." Turning her head, she arched an eyebrow in Chara's general direction, as if to say, I dare you to tell me I'm wrong. She knew she wasn't. "And, anyway... it was obvious that you could... I don't know. You needed someone, and that someone apparently wasn't going to be your dearly betrothed."

As if on cue, news of Alster Rigas once again made itself known to destroy whatever essence of camaraderie had been brewing between the blonde and brunette mages. Unapologetic and unabashed, Lilica stared Danos down, daring him to make a comment or demand the reason for her presence in Chara's tent. She could tell by the look of shock on his face that he craved answers, but perhaps for fear of her wrath, he cut right to the chase.
Really, though, it was not much news to her, considering how close Elespeth and Alster had appeared to become. But the same might not be said for Chara.

"I don't believe it is news to either of us that Alster Rigas has taken to poor tastes, lately," she offered with a shrug, one that was hopefully nonchalant enough to dissipate the situation's potential to weigh on Chara. "Did you really barge into this tent just to let this be known?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Oct 21, 2015 5:50 pm
by Widdershins
When Danos departed, Alster clutched his head with both hands, fingers gripping his hair in a position to squeeze out the answers he desired. Vestiges of last night caught like burrs in his mind, but their spines agitated the aches that his newfound cognizance suffered. With a defeated sigh, he sank into his cot. Noticing that he occupied the side that Elespeth had slumbered upon, and that the sheets were still warm from her body heat, he skittered back to his feet. 

"I know that nothing happened," he muttered, to himself, as he stared at the tent flaps, stirring still from Danos's hurried egress. "But it doesn't matter." He cleared his throat and redirected his speech to Elespeth, but not his head, which remained locked forward and away from her gaze. Although he was convinced that they had simply lain together, without any of the implications that "lain"would suggest to one who fancied euphemisms, the embarrassment of the entire enterprise had painted a permanent hue on his face. Looking upon his battle partner would only cause the color to spread. "Danos enjoys drama, especially if it is to implicate me in some matter or another. Then again," he hiked up his shoulders in an exaggerative shrug, "I've become quite the court jester in Rigas high society. Poking fun at Alster Rigas is a popular pastime." A dismissive smile formed on his mouth, but he dropped it when the sear of his headache branded against his skull. 

If there is any way that I could somehow...make this up to you.

Elespeth's words caused another surge to well up in his already overexerted body, exciting it with his inappropriate reading between the lines. The shock of his brutal awakening had wrung all decency out of his mind and he had to bite his tongue and shift around in an uncomfortable silence before he felt it fit to speak again. "You're right. An apology won't suffice--because you don't need to give one. And if you are at fault, then I am equally to blame. In which case...I'm sorry." He kept his eyes trained to the ground. "I am notorious for attracting trouble. And pulling people into it." 

With a large inhale of confidence, Alster whirled around and plastered on a smile. "Nonetheless, there is something you can do for me." Dammit, Alster, could your suggestive tone sound any more misleading!? "Join me for some water and, if we can stomach it, a meal at the mess tent?" He worried at his palms, like a perpetually fidgeting squirrel. "I am not at all opposed to a quick retreat--before we suffer any further haranguing from Danos or, worse yet, the wrath of Chara. Call me a coward," he eased into a laugh, "but I'm not staying for the aftermath."

As they crept out of the tent and away from the general Rigas-populated vicinity, Alster recognized a few of the scouts from Messino's reconnaissance party crowding around one of the officer tents. As he and Elespeth passed them, he overheard a snippet of their conversation--and his blood ran cold. 

"We're in trouble--Tadasun and Atvany? It's an alliance from hell." 

Before Chara could respond to Lilica's explanation, Danos all but barged in to rail off his news. Secretly, she was relieved for the interruption, as she felt rather unprepared to react to the admittances of the dark mage. 

You needed someone.

She clutched at her head, pretending that the sharp pains assailing her face resulted from the alcohol and not from a more emotional cause. Instead, she watched Danos and his gaping mouth attempt to deliver his oh-so-urgent report. 

"Chara," he said with a conclusive flair after his information had succeeded in lolling her head, and the top half of her body, upright, "are you to allow Alster the leeway to continually run our good name into the ground?"

"Oh, he has made it quite clear that he is to do as he wishes." She waggled her fingertips at Danos, in a gesture of dismissal. "I will handle the insurrections of my betrothed, as he is my sole responsibility. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Continue to keep me informed. In addition," she jerked her head towards Lilica, "Lilica here is our consultant. She is our ally and I expect you to regard her as such. There is dark magic afoot in this camp and we require her services. You will see her more often."

Danos balked at Chara's declaration. The scowl on his face made seething noises, but he redirected them to the canvas wall beside him, perhaps out of fear of directly antagonizing the likes of Lilica.

"I understand your apprehension, but we are at war. Survival is paramount. We do not have the luxury to be fussy. Furthermore, Alster, no matter his transgressions, is a Rigas. Do not forget: we are all on the same side. Treat him thusly."

When Danos left in a huff, Chara fell back upon her pillows, releasing a long, forlorn sigh. "Admittedly, Alster has more in common with that filthy warrior than he does his family. I understand why he gravitates toward her so. She...respects him. I despise that he fancies her, but...I will allow it. After the harsh truths he learned of his parents, he needs...a little comfort. Before I change my mind on my most selfless of decrees," she waved her arms in Lilica's direction, "I may need a boost to my feet. Afterwards, I see no reason for you to stay. That...well, that is entirely up to you." Unbeknownst to her, a small smile bubbled up on her face, and it radiated a fondness she seldom showed to anyone.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Oct 27, 2015 10:46 pm
by Requiem
"Believe me when I say you are not alone in that," Elespeth's shoulders shook in a quiet chuckle at Alster's comment about attracting trouble. She could relate; even during the days when she had held an honourable name and title, trouble had always found her, namely in the form of a lord who wanted more than he should have, and whose death had resulted in the ultimate demise of her former identity and everything she had known. "Perhaps there is a reason we make such a good team. After all, if misery likes company, well... I imagine trouble does, as well."

Running her fingers through her wild hair to tame the strands, the ex-knight pulled it into a quick braid, left loose at the ends. Sometime during the night, she must have lost the small scrap of fabric that she used to bind her locks. "A meal sounds rather dubious at this point..." The Atvanian fugitive admitted; on standing, the world spun a little, and she was left with no choice but to steady herself with her hand on his arm. "But some water does sound like a good idea, at the very least... Is it always that alcohol leaves such a poor taste in your mouth?"

Leaving with her partner in battle, the cool, morning air felt refreshing on Elespeth's skin, still damp from the humidity of Alster's tent. That is, until she went altogether cold, and suddenly fully alert at the same snippet of conversation that her Rigas companion had appeared to have heard.

"We're in trouble--Tadasun and Atvany? It's an alliance from hell." 

"Any alliance with Tadasun is an Alliance from hell, but... damnit, that they forged it with a kingdom willing to chip in its own Royal Guard? We're bloody doomed!"

"Nay, Atvany does not deal in magics. We have the casters as our trump cards."

"Well unless those 'trump cards' can take on twice the manpower, I'd say this godforsaken battle is still lost..."

Elespeth's hand had been resting lightly upon Alster's forearm as they'd left his tent; now, it gripped his arm, white-knuckled and shaking as she hurriedly led him away from the scene. She'd heard about all of the conversation that she could personally handle.
"Did you hear...? Tell me you heard that, as well, or I am otherwise delusional." The ex-knight was pale as she turned to her trusted companion, looking, perhaps for the first time, devoid of the confidence that characterized her. "Alster, if I am found by Atvany..."

She didn't finish, as the panicked look on her face said it all.

Lilica could feel colour creep into her otherwise pale cheeks. She had thought, truly, that Chara would find a clever way to dismiss her presence. Some excuse that Danos would have no choice but to believe, for the simple fact that she was Chara Rigas, and that to question her would be a suicide in status. And she did, in fact, offer an explanation, but brief though it was, it had nothing to do with her dismissal--and everything to do with her inclusion.

Astounded by the haughty, blonde Rigas mage's sudden display of tact, the dark mage was all but speechless by the time Danos left, with a look of scorn that she was convinced was directed at her. Not that it mattered in the least; Chara's opinion trumped all. "Is it that you despise that he seems to have found some comfort and happiness in all of this darkness, or that he has found it without you?" She found herself asking, only to furiously scramble at backpedaling the comment. "But it doesn't matter. The same goes for you, as well; whatever promises were made between the two of you earlier on, neither of you need adhere to them for fulfillment."

Where were these words coming from? And why was she so apt to provide Chara with solace when she was clearly creating her own discomforts through her attachment to Alster? Shaking the thoughts from her mind, the young woman closed the distance between herself and the Rigas mage and took her by the arms to help her to her feet. "If I can be frank: I see no reason for either of us to stay. You look in desperate need of water, and I need the fresh air. Come on."

Hauling a somewhat reluctant blonde to her feet, Lilia ascertained that she was steady before guiding her out of the tent and into the morning light--which she almost instantly regretted. "Let's just... proceed slowly, and with caution," she sighed, using one hand to shield her eyes, and another to help Chara remain upright. In the near distance, she thought she recognized a couple of figures who she had hoped to rid from her mind, let alone her sight, for the time being. "Correct me if I am wrong... but your wayward betrothed and his even more wayward warrior appear to be in some sort of distress."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 12:47 am
by Widdershins
The vicegrip pressure against his arm reawakened Alster to the company he kept on his right side. He glanced sidelong at Elespeth, gauging her reaction to news which she no doubt heard, crushing his arm the way she did. As she rushed him away from the scene, before the firestorm of information scorched them with further developments, Alster directed her steering to a small alcove of tents. It was not an ideal stopping point, but it served as an adequate enough buffer from eavesdroppers, and allowed her time to process the updates of their accursed war. He, too, needed a reprieve from those words: Atvany. Tadasun. Alliance. They throbbed with their own individual fervor and attached themselves to his splitting mind, and their onslaught dwarfed the size of his massive headache. 

He could only imagine how Elespeth felt. 

Allowing her the comfort of his arm as an anchor or however she saw fit to use it, he raised his eyes to meet her own. Like two drowning pools, they lost their distinction. That sharp, colored-in completion, which oft shined like beacons even in adversity, had blurred and overflowed. In the end, they appeared so empty, much like he expected himself to look on the best of days. 

It broke his own resolve to see her in such a state. Perhaps he didn't want to realize--how much he had leaned on her for support. And now--it was his turn. Unprepared as he were, he swallowed his own doubts, and clasped a firm hand upon her shoulder. 

"I heard. And I...won't let that happen." He gave his hand a firm squeeze. "Look at me." He only hoped his face reflected peace and self-assuredness. "We'll find a way. I'll see you out myself if I must. To...where you'll be safe." 

An amused little simper stretched across Chara's face when she witnessed Lilica's cheeks turn into a wine color. So, the dark mage was more than just a walking, talking, picture of monochrome. In fact, she appeared flattered, for shock would just paint her a more ghastly shade of white. Of course, she hadn't time to properly probe at Lilica's overall mien when the subject of the lowly maggot trying so desperately to wriggle out of her service came to the forefront.

"Oh, nonsense. Of course I do not wish to see Alster enmeshed in his own web of darkness and despair. I pine for his happiness...but I have worked so diligently to achieve that for him. Meanwhile, she," she hissed the word, "waltzes into his life, having no previous history with him, and..." she punctuated her unspoken words with the closing of her fist. "It is unfair. Be that as it may, I intend to keep my promises. You needn't worry, either." She glanced heavenwards at Lilica, who, with a bit of strain, lugged her to her feet. "I will fulfill my promise to you, as well."

Shakily, she followed Lilica outside of the tent, wondering why she even permitted the dark mage to take the lead and dictate the details of their outing. The searing sun elicited a grumble from her mouth as her eyes fought to keep from combusting. While they remained in tact, she was convinced of feeling the pain of incineration in her aching head. 

At Lilica's announcement, she whipped her head in the direction of the discovery--and promptly cursed her sudden jerking movements. Alster...and her. With his arm...and her arm...Of course. 

"Let us see what distresses them so," she said to her companion. In a few swift steps, she insinuated herself into their private conversation, but she only caught the very end of Alster's pronouncement: 

To...where you'll be safe.

"Planning a secret rendezvous?" Chara barked. Alster, freezing in place, dropped his hand and whirled around to regard Chara. With the clearing of his throat, he wiped his face of any emotion and regarded Chara with a cool, albeit icy, detachment. Why are you here!? the pierce of his blue eyes seemed to read. 

"We've just discovered that Atvany has allied with Tadasun," he said, and his eyes beckoned, nay, almost pleaded, that she leave them alone. As if...he were hiding some big secret from view; and it was definitely not the status of his and Tam's not-so-secret liaisons. They were anything but subtle!

"Well," Chara mused aloud, then whispered as she neared his ear, "doesn't that play well in our favor? Besides...we've known about Tadasun's 'secret' alliance for quite a while. We simply did not know the who in this alliance. ...Now we do. What?" The volume in her voice doubled as she gazed over at the fish-gaping, cold-blooded pallor of Tam standing beside them. "Did your beloved Alster Rigas not inform you?" She waved a dismissive hand into the air. "Bah. Why should the details of their alliance bother us, anyhow?" Why, indeed. A twinkle shone in Chara's eyes as she dissected the woman warrior anew.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2015 10:20 pm
by Requiem
I'll see you out myself if I must. To...where you'll be safe

Alster's face was a careful and purposeful study in calm, a calm that the Atvanian fugitive was certain he did not feel deep in his bones. It was a facade that he was putting on for her sake, because in that tense and uncertain moment, she was no longer the confident, unshakable pillar of astute adaptation and quick problem-solving that she had been on her first meeting with the wayward Rigas mage. What was worse, it was no trite situation or circumstances that could render her so. Only one thing, and one thing along could rattle Elespeth's assured nature. And her magical partner in battle was the only person who knew what that one thing was.

All the same, she had made a promise to him which she had no intention to break, no matter the end game.
"No--that is not what I was implying." The former knight pressed her lips together and lowered her voice, searching Alster's eyes for understanding. "I... cannot be found by Atvany, but that does not mean I must leave. I can hide; I can keep a lower profile, dress myself in a better guise, cut my hair off and scar my own face for that matter. But if you think... if you think that walking away from you, your family and your cause is something that I can do, out of mere cowardice for a fate I wish to avoid..." She shook her head without looking away. "I want to see an end to this war, as much as you do. And I made a promise to you that I would not for the life of me break."

And what good are you to him, the liability that you are? a voice at the back of her mind sneered. You are not adept in magic. How do you think you can use your sword to save both him and yourself? It was not a voice with which Elespeth had grown up, but rather one manifest of the guilt and fear that had sprouted from a tiny seed in her gut the day she had run from her home. But now that it rang in her ears, there was no way to block it out, save for the sheer power of her stubborn will. "Besides..." she added, after a heartbeat. "Should you lose this war... then I would only be biding myself a little more time before meeting the same fate. Atvany will find me, someday, sooner or later. The only question is when..."

And that was when their brief discussion came to an abrupt and premature halt.

Ever the center of attention, Alster's bitter, blonde betrothed forced herself into their private conversation, void though it was to her of context. Without liquor to fuel the boldness she had exhibited the night before, however, Elespeth, still too shocked of the news of an alliance between Atvany and Tadasun, was at a loss but to let her get her snide and nosy remarks off her chest. At this point, there was little more that anyone could do--Chara included--to render her own mood any darker. "No, I was not aware of an alliance," came her cool reply, meeting the celestial mage's chilly stare with just as much steady resolve. "But that is no fault of Alster's; I've only my lack of prowess in stealth and eavesdropping to blame. I..."

Why should the details of their alliance bother us, anyhow? But it wasn't Chara's words that made the former knight's mouth run dry; it was that knowing stare, and the apprehension that she may have to divulge more than what she was comfortable letting out in the open, even simply as far as the celestial mage--and her dark companion, it would seem.
Alster had said that she could trust Chara insomuch that if his betrothed had wanted her gone, she could have easily seen to it already. But just because she might not condemn the Atvanian fugitive did not necessarily connote any desire to protect her...

It was best, it seemed, to remain vague. "Atvany... was my home," she ventured, slowly and with blatant uncertainty, unable to look either Chara or Lilica in the eyes. "It isn't, anymore, and for good reason."

"You're running." The dark mage, silent until just then, surmised. Her eyes narrowed to slits as she took in the tall form of the warrior, like she attempted to see through her skin and into her soul. "And what better place to run and hide but amid the chaos of war? Where you are no more than a number among many, with no name, no face... that is, until the enemy recognizes that face." Lilica quirked a brow. "And what have you done to Atvany to come to fear the utterance of its name, she-warrior? Whose blood is on your hands?"

"It doesn't matter." It took every ounce of Elespeth's resolve not to snap, although she did reply in a hiss. "Because, regardless of this alliance, I have already informed Alster that I am in no way intending to abandon him... or, I suppose, you, for that matter." Her gaze fell on Chara. Whether the celestial mage liked it or not, if she and Alster still shared the same side of this war, then so did she and the former knight. None among the small quartet present were enemies, much though she was sure Chara preferred to think otherwise.

And so she found herself at a silent standstill with the haughty, blonde Rigas caster, until Lilica spoke up again.
"How very heartfelt." Her eye-roll was intentional, and intentionally exaggerated. "But, might I point out, the longer we stand here commiserating over this turn of events, and your past secrets, miss soldier, the more likely we are all to succumb to harsh reprimand for treason. So--"

"So you can then be on your way." The words were out before she could think better of them, and surprised Elespeth almost as much as it did her three comrades. Surely, traces of alcohol must have continued to dilute the blood in her veins... "Unless you see fit to be of help, as opposed to a source of criticism. I have said it before, and I will say it again: I have more important ways to spend the moments of my life, particularly in this war, than that of playing the role of some fictional nemesis you have painted me in your mind." She looked directly at Chara once again. "I have vowed to help Alster, having heard his story... and, vicariously, you." Elespeth's shoulders sagged under the weight of a final, exasperated plea. "I am not asking either of you to like or befriend me. All I am asking is your mutual cooperation, and acceptance that I do not plan to go anywhere, anytime soon."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Nov 04, 2015 5:20 am
by Widdershins
The shield of ice that Alster had constructed over his features threatened to crack apart and melt at Elespeth's voiced convictions. I made a promise to you that I would not for the life of me break...

His mouth, whether parched from dehydration or from her words had run bone dry in the aftermath of her steeled determination. Even in the face of adversity, in the quaking of the stability that she so carefully built so as not to tumble over from every little tremor, she planned on standing her ground instead of running for safety.

Alarm danced in his eyes. Why? Why would she risk her own identity and her life over a silly promise? Why...had he mattered so much to her? 

"You also promised me that you would live," he said, a disquiet humming in the whispers of his voice. "There is nothing for you here but your own downfall. Please. If you died, I...I--"

By then, Chara had commandeered the conversation and Alster quickly reinforced the barrier between himself and his cousin, forging it with a dead, chilly disdain. 

Now, Lilica had joined in with the verbal assault of Elespeth Tameris.

Chara listened to the back-and forth between the detestable warrior and Lilica, her expression unreadable but her thoughts giddy with delight. Tam: a woman with a grim secret locked away from the light of day. A jagged, unsightly scar marring the surface of one who appeared too perfect, too selfless, to possibly exist. The truth revealed that she, too, was reprehensible scum. And the thought tasted wonderful. 

With a harrumph to showcase the expectations of her character, despite her desire to crack a wicked grin, Chara rounded on Alster and pointed a finger at his face. "You. How long have you known?"

"That's an irrelevant question," Alster said with a snap, twin flames appearing in the ice behind his eyes. 

"You've known all along, haven't you? You are so easy to read!" She tittered like a squirrel who had uncovered a secret cache of nuts. "And, even if it were to aid our cause, you would continue to keep her identity a secret, out of a sense of solidarity." Her eyes narrowed into slits. "...Even if you betray us all in the process." 

"Tam has professed her service to our cause." Alster returned her glare with a fury that would surely burn free from the cold prisms of its containment if not for the public nature of their venue. "Would you cast aside an ally for the sake of your pride? Denying the help we need--is that too not betraying our cause?"

With a dismissive hand wave at Alster, she sidled up to Tam, leaning in for a whisper. "I'm willing to bet that is not your full name, huh, warrior?" She straightened her posture and idly checked her nails. "The fact of the matter is this. You're more good to us as a bargaining chip than an ally. Atvany suffers no criminals. And you, so obviously on the run from their unerring law, would make a wonderful peace offering for our allies-by-association." 

Like the clap of thunder on a clear, blue day, Alster's magic had struck. A cold hand closed over Chara's arm, a shadow of tendrils that, on contact, sent a shiver in her soul--as if Death had come to pluck the light from her eyes. The sensation probed and puttied the very core of her being. It felt similar to the influence of the dagger--and just as debilitating.

A cruel sneer jagged across Alster's face. "Then you will have to contend with me." He released the hold of his chthonic magic, and she gasped for air as if she had been holding her breath the entire time. 

She grabbed at her throat. At her chest. All had returned to normal, save for the change in Alster's demeanor. Even in the light of day, he looked like a blight, a blemish in the air. A sliver of oblivion. As a reflex, she hugged her arms and backed away from his presence. 

"Al...Alster," she said, terror bleaching the pigment from her skin. She did not finish her sentence as she gripped Lilica's arm and rushed away from the scene, stumbling upon feet that had shriveled and curled against her legs. 

"Lilica," she uttered once they were far from the vicinity of the 'attack', "was that...normal? Perhaps...you should continue to train him. The last time I saw him in that way...he awakened the Serpent."

Once Chara and Lilica had vacated, Alster's chthonic energy had dispersed, spiraling into the ground whence it came. Realization of what he had done dawned on him, though it took him a while to deconstruct himself into an unperturbed calm. Whilst he recovered, he fused his hands against the sides of his head, feeling himself ripping apart--in more than the physical sense.

"El," he said, quietly, struggling to control an even tone in his trembling voice, "you can't stay. Save yourself. Live, even if it's for one day more." A pitiful smile replaced his sneer from moments ago. "I'm not fit to survive long, either."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Nov 04, 2015 11:34 pm
by Requiem
"No. It isn't my name, in entirety." Chara thought she had her cornered--and, perhaps she did, for all intents and purposes. But although her blood went cold and her face grew ever more ashen, Elesepth Tameris was not about to let Alster's vile, blonde counterpart achieve the satisfaction of seeing her crumble beneath her judgmental, toxic gaze. Even if it meant a confident farce. "I'm not going to lie to you, but I am also not going to endanger myself. And I will be the second to assure you, since Alster was the first, that I am worth more than mere leverage."

The last word tasted bitter on her tongue, particularly when Alster had gone so far as to reassure her that his jealous fiancée would not speak against her, despite the magnitude of her personal feelings. Perhaps she was only bluffing, basking in the chance to have one up on the Atvanian fugitive; or perhaps Alster didn't know her as well as he thought. "I can help you. And I can help Alster. If you'd just see past your own shades of green long enough to realize this--"

Elespeth felt the chill in her trusted comrade before she saw it take Chara Rigas by the throat.

It wasn't so much a physical sensation, as it was something about the way his eyes grew cold as he regarded his betrothed; that paired with a strange suspicion that made her certain he'd react to Chara's brash cruelty. He wasn't the same meek, unassuming and self-deprecating caster that she had met during Messino's very first briefing; at least, not entirely. She had thought the edge he'd exhibited the night before could only be attributed to the heavy pull of alcohol; she'd been wrong.

"Alster! Stop... stop it." Without a moment's hesitation (the look on Chara's face was enough to suggest he meant business), Elespeth grabbed Alster by the shoulders, fingers digging into his arms. "She's not worth it... do not burden yourself with more regret."

Fortunately, the former knight was not the only one, quick to react. Lilica's eyes were trained on Chara from the moment she sauntered over to Elespeth to gloat, and had already been poised for some sort of retort or retaliation, beyond the she-warrior's harmless words. She watched the blonde Rigas mage as her eyes widened with fear and disbelief, watched as she clutched at her throat--at which point she sprang to Chara's side, one arm around her shoulders just in time for Alster to release his hold on her. The air surrounding her reeked of chthonic essence.

She did not protest as Chara hurried away, barely able to remain upon her own feet. Being a pillar of support (physical or otherwise) for someone taller than her was an ordeal in more ways than one, but she made no complaint. "Are you all right? Look at me." Permission did not cross her mind as she took the frantic blonde woman's face in her hands and searched her eyes. The shadow of chthonic threat still lingered in the fear behind those depthless blues, tendrils of magic which still clung to the very fibres of Chara's being, but no damage appeared to have been done, otherwise. She'd been lucky; magic and curses of the chthonic sort could, at times, be irreversible. Especially if performed in the throes of passionate anger.

She would know.

"I do not believe he knew what he was doing... or, at least, he did not entirely think it through," the dark caster pressed air from her lungs in a long sigh. "You hit a nerve in him. And that can be enough to incite powers with which I am sure Alster would rather not be acquainted. I'll... I promise I will do what I can. But for the meantime, you should... take care not to rile up intense emotions in him. Or, otherwise, keep your distance." "Neither which she suspected would be easy for the haughty Rigas caster, but it was all the advice she could offer. "I'm sorry. I wish... I could be of more immediate help. But, as you can plainly see, I can hardly help even myself." The smile tugging at the corner of her mouth was wry, and void of humour--and hope.

Reluctant to leave his side, Elespeth's hands did not drop from Alster's shoulders until she was certain he had returned to himself--a threshold he passed as soon as his face twisted into a shadow of remorse. "I do not make false promises," came her gentle reply, hyper aware as she was at how torn up he was inside. "I do plan to survive. Even if, at this point, I have little else left to live for; at least a promise is something."

Forcing a smile, she lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "But hear me out, Alster... I may not be the catalyst that sees your victory come to fruition. But learning what I have of Messino, and the wrongful hands that have claimed this land... Remaining here means more to me than continuing to run away. I've been running for a very, very long time. And I think..." Elespeth's smile faded around the edges. "Try though I will to survive, I am still a knight, at heart. And I would rather perish on the battlefield than run and live in fear of perishing without a fighting chance. I hope you can understand..."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Nov 05, 2015 6:35 pm
by Widdershins
Chara sagged into Lilica's arms, too distraught to uphold her socially-acceptable facade of poise and grace: every movement a calculation, every word polished and precise. Precision, however, crumbled into dust in the presence of Alster, who often kicked that dust into the wind, far and away from her control. 

All of the faces that bobbed into her view had faded upon their passing. Whether they judged her questionable company, she did not care, nor could she summon any reasons to care. Not when...not when the shadow of the one she cherished most left footprints on her heart. She, a promoter for his happiness, was a saboteur to his happiness...and for that, she deserved the chthonic attack, and the vestiges that roosted within. 

"I am fine," Chara said, her words out of breath. Before she even sounded out the last of her affirmation, the dark mage planted her cold hands against her cheeks and forced their eye contact. In retaliation, she squeezed her eyes shut. A childish maneuver on her part, but she wanted at least to preserve some of her dignity. Her eyes would tell the entire story and reveal a fractured version of events: twisted, graceless, tarnished, and anything but precise. 

"I am one horrible hypocrite." She laughed without humor as she tested her feet on the well-trodden ground. The traipsed up mud, no doubt created from last night's spilled drinks and clumsy clopping, glued her feet in place, stabilizing her stance. She nodded to Lilica, a silent request for release. "I charged in on a situation that I accepted inasmuch as allowing him the comfort of her presence. And, fully knowing that he is in recovery, that his emotions are in flux, I cruelly yanked away his stability because...she--I have no intention on informing on her--I...simply yearned to see her suffer. I am no better than the Serpent." She seethed between her teeth. The mud splayed against her shoes, like chthonic splotches grafting to her tarnished soul. "I, too, cannot help myself," she said under her breath, her eyes trained to the ground. "However," she cleared her throat, attempting to revive her forgotten professionalism, "...I do not keep you around because you are an unhelpful, flouncing louse. That is a waste of my resources and my time. Now be helpful...and find us water." 

The press of Elespeth's hands on his shoulders encouraged the pressure to stabilize in Alster's head. At least, he believed that her touch had returned him to some semblance of normalcy--although the splintering sensation continued to prick and tear and bite at every one of his senses. 

After she released him, he elected to do the same, and dropped his hands away from his head. It did not burst open, as he half-anticipated, although the thought sounded almost...comforting. An end to all his problems. With a shuddering sigh, he turned his attention to Elespeth. 

"I...do understand," he said, staring down at his hands and tracing the spiderweb of scars that pocked his flesh, glinting an almost-white in the sun. "You no longer wish to run. I no longer wish to hide. And we both wish for a purpose greater than this infernal war. Otherwise, life...what is it for? I can't accept that I'm only meant to destroy." He thought of Chara, how he had attacked her with dangerous magic--although he knew her words were out of jest--and his hands closed into shaking fists. "And you've expressed your own reasons for choosing this path for yourself. So...if this is what you want, I can't stop you--as much as I am adamantly against this decision of yours."

Suddenly, an idea bloomed in his head (which his head did not appreciate). He opened his hands, feeling the residual wisps of magical energy. "But...I can facilitate the extension of your life." He clutched at his belt and unsheathed the dagger he carried on his hip. He tested the sharpness of the blade with his thumb. A dewdrop of blood appeared on his finger. "Ah...I should explain. This is blood magic. It is very effective in binding and bonding. If we were to...well," his face reddened, "make a blood-pact, through the spell that I cast from it, I will always know where to find you, however far. And I would be able to tell if you were in any mortal danger. However," his face flushed even redder, "any pact by blood summons very powerful binding magic. It ties us together, in more ways than the specifics of my spell, and I cannot foresee all possibilities stemming from the aftermath of something so..." he whispered, "intimate. So...if you are...if you wish for us to...I mean, it's your decision..." he handed her the dagger and then extended his right palm out to her. "You cut me and I cut you. We shake and...I'll cast the spell. But only if you...I understand that this is perhaps too...excessive."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Nov 09, 2015 7:44 pm
by Requiem
There was no way for Elespeth to know precisely what Alster was thinking when he drew the dagger from where it was sheathed at his side. It crossed her mind that the gesture was governed by that powerful chthonic madness that had led him to attack a member of his own family, at first, but that suspicion was quickly assuaged when he began to explain... Not that his explanation rang crystal clear with sanity, but it was a step away from the terrible coldness in his eyes that she had witnessed just moments before.

"So... this 'blood magic'... it will bind us?" Fear was in no way mirrored in her voice or in her face, but rather confusion, and perhaps a hint of curiosity. "I will not begin to pretend that I know the first thing about any magic, Alster, or what benefit it could have for the likes of someone like me. But..." Taking her bottom lip between her teeth, the Atvanian fugitive looked at the proffered knife, and then her own hand. "We are already bound by partnership, by camaraderie, and by friendship. You know my secrets, and I know yours... is there really anything more intimate than being so exposed to one another?"

He could have turned her in; he'd known from the moment he'd met her that her demeanor was not devoid of farce. Chara wasn't wrong in the fact that the ex-knight would have served as a fantastic bargaining chip, for the benefit of their cause. But Alster Rigas had chosen to work with her instead of against her, to confide in her instead of keep secrets, to be a friend and not yet another enemy, among many.
Blood magic or not, they were already bound by their own pattern of decisions. 

Elespeth smiled, and this time, it was not tight or with any uncertainty. "Anyway... I did make a promise to you. And if this is a way that you can ensure I keep it, then I'd be most obliged. You might not trust yourself nearly enough... but I trust you. Give me your hand."

The most difficult part to swallow was not the blood pact in and of itself, but the conscious decision to take that dagger and deliberately press and drag the tip across Alster's palm, noting how he tried to hide his wince. When blood welled to the surface, she wordlessly handed the dagger back to him, and held out her own hand, palm-up. Her palms were already laden with cuts, blisters and scars, in any case... what was one more?

It was none of her business, the sentiments that occurred between the Rigas mages. It was not as though she was part of their inner circle, despite her pact with Chara and the guidance she offered Alster. But the dark caster could not shake how angry it had made her, seeing the blonde Rigas mage crumble before her betrothed's dark power. Although she didn't hold quite the same resentment for the she-warrior as Chara did, she could understand the sour taste of jealousy. After all, Chara had known Alster all her life... And then this Tam simply walked in and did for him what she had never been able to do, and in doing so, had touched his heart.

And he had no idea the extent to which he'd hurt her. Perhaps nobody knew; no one but Lilica.

But it wasn't the chthonic mage's wish to smother Chara, so beyond assisting in nursing the celestial mage's hangover, she deigned to keep her distance until she was otherwise needed. It shouldn't have been a big deal; Chara had her own agenda, as did Lilica, in the long run. But what she found in keeping to herself was a sense of restlessness that alerted her to just how much her relations with the blonde Rigas woman kept her mind and body too preoccupied to introspect to any great degree.
Which meant, at the end of the day, she was faced with the decision to keep confined to her own tent and with her own thoughts, or to find something else to do with her time.

There was, of course, no real decision to be made, ultimately.

Though she should have seen it coming, given the recent turn of events, the chthonic caster ran into the she-warrior, not far from the weapon's tent. Realistically, rationally, she had no reason to frown when the former offered a shaky, albeit genuine smile. In that moment, though, she could understand Chara's point of view from that very morning: happiness was not what she wanted to see on Tam's face.

The apology that the swordswoman hurtled into only intensified that irrational resentment. "Listen... before you say anything--"

"I wasn't about to say anything," replied the sullen dark mage, arms folded across her chest. "I was hoping to walk past you without a word."

"Duly noted. But if you'll allow me a moment..." 

"Why should I allow you anything, when you just stood there and allowed that little Rigas pest to tear down his very own cousin, and with ice in his eyes?"

That was that. That floodgates were open, and there was no taking back her heated (albeit brief) diatribe as soon as the words passed her lips. Lilica's cheeks burned with the confession she had never intended to make. Perhaps her devotion to Chara and he cause was already just as palpable as was Tam's to Alster's; but it case it wasn't, it was none of anyone's business, and she was not inclined to make it so.

Whether or not Tam had already gathered as much, she did not let on. "If I could have stopped him, I would have," she said, propping her hand upon the hilt of her sword. Lilica noticed with a hint of curiosity and suspicion that it was lightly bandaged. "I'm sorry... And if you happen to see Chara again today, tell her I am sorry, as well. The last thing I want is some sort of petty feud to transpire when we are all on the same side, fighting the same thing--the same person."

"You can tell her yourself," the dark mage scoffed, her cheeks still blazing red and hot as she hurried away from the warrior, and made for Chara's tent. If Alster was not at his tent, and was not with Tam, then there was only one other place she could think to find him. And she needed to find him; if she was ever to ascertain he did not let his emotions run away with him again, if she was ever to ascertain that he not hurt Chara in such a way again, then they were long overdue for another little session.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Nov 10, 2015 11:45 pm
by Widdershins
Blood magic, contrary to other magical practices, was associated with neither the celestial nor the terrestrial. Rather, it dominated its own category, accessible to any being who possessed a heartbeat and the key ingredients: a prick of the finger, a slice of the skin, the welts that dribbled like melting rubies in the sun. Blood powered the transaction, but like any magic, the potency of the spell depended on the aptitude of the one who cast it. A piddly little binding ritual in the hands of the uninitiated could equate to a full-blown mind entrapment spell from an accomplished caster. 

Due to the vagaries of a practice that depended on power rather than skill, Alster, by virtue of possessing a strong inheritance, needed to exercise utmost caution. While much of his adeptness stemmed from celestial magic that had shuttered itself into dormancy, great streams of energy pumped fervently through his every vein, artery, and breath. He had to release just the rightamount of power, and in doing so partition away the memory of the last time he had summoned its specific usages: when he had awakened the Serpent. 

"It will," he said with a confidence borne from experience, albeit an experience he'd rather forget. "You don't have to worry, either. I'm casting the spell on myself. If it backfires, it will harm only me. If successful...well, you might be able to feel that it is." The cryptic message waggled not so subtly from his tongue. "It benefits to have you alive. And if I have to sacrifice...exposure," his breath rattled, "for the insurance that you are safe, I'll...I'll do it." 

Exchanging a slight, reassuring smile with Elespeth, he waited for the cut upon his palm that would initiate their ritual. His hand, already ravaged with the stories of failed casting written all across the marred surface, sank into the blade with ease, the scarlet color marking its territory...as her own. With a determined nod, he took the dagger with his uninjured hand and repeated the process against skin that appeared so similar to his own: rough-hewn, slashed, poked, prodded. Perhaps scars told stories other than their inception; perhaps, they told stories that reflected upon the soul. And the soul reflected unto them, in the form of slivers. Hurt. Pain. Abandonment. Betrayal. Suddenly, a clarity of mind plucked the pins from his skull, clearing space for his epiphany. He know how he would cast the spell in a way that would guarantee success. 

Empathy. He would tie them together by empathy. 

After he cut into her palm, he pressed his hand against her own, feeling the slippery stickiness of their blood congeal and adhere in place. He weaved his fingers through her fingers, ignoring the temptation of his heart to take control over his brain. No...the heart does serve a place in this spell he thought...and allowed the two to merge as one.

He closed his eyes, concentrating not within, but without. He sought the soft, thrumming pulse of Elespeth, like little pattering feet against his skin. They led him to where her soul resided. He traveled there, standing in the nucleus of her being, and unlike his invasion upon Lilica's private sanctum, he felt a welcoming warmth envelop him with the breath of Summer. Life at the height of creation. The dominion of the Sun, chasing the shadows across the horizon. Those orange-yellow rays of Noon, of Zenith, billowed like ribbons and tied him, tied her, into pure, unyielding light. 

Alster opened his eyes, and it was like looking into a new dawn. If but temporarily, his soul had shed the burdens that had it cocooned so implicitly inside its diamond-hard shell. He could move, unencumbered, and breathe without choking. 

And for one fleeting second, he felt the pull of his celestial magic. 

He found Elespeth where he left her, directly across from him, their hands as taut as their souls. A smile touched him as he met her eyes, a smile that sang something...

Something radiant. Something precious.

Something fragile, that would die with Summer's end. 

*****

Chara half-expected Alster to visit her tent that evening. As long as those chthonic threads didn't fundamentally rework his entire system in half a days' time, she predicted the logic behind his next decision. 

With the exception of her and Lilica's foray into the mess tent for water, an idea that every groggy reveler shared in that morning, she spent the rest of her day in careful isolation. It was careful inasmuch as she maintained contact with Danos and Tivia, who reported to her tent the rumors and hearsay flitting about camp (including Atvany's alliance with Tadasun), but she did not leave the safe confines of her bed. Throughout the day, her chest pricked something awful, though she could not differentiate the pain between Alster's chthonic penetration or an ailment that shared no counterpart with medical or magical diagnoses. 

As she scrunched her face against a cushion, staring, as in a trance, at the tent flaps, Alster brushed through them uninvited--as he was wont to do. There was a sheen about him that seldom found residence, and it pervaded his aura, his gait. And his eyes...they did not crackle in hatred. Rather, they sat upon his face like two placid pools, until they averted themselves from the weight of compunction. She followed his gaze--and noticed his bandaged right hand swaying at his side. Not an atypical accessory on him, but regardless, she wondered what manner of spell-casting he had performed that day--aside from the obvious. 

"Chara," he ventured, taking a few hesitant steps in her direction. She remained seated, pursed her lips, and said nothing. Let him stew in my discontent, she thought.

"Chara," he repeated, but with an added dash of courage, "I'm...for earlier...It is an act that surely you can't forgive, but I take full responsibility for my...behavior. To allow my magic to snag on my emotions and," he paused, "attack you like that, I... I'm sorry." He dipped his head even lower to the ground. 

She scrambled over to her feet and bounded toward him. Though he did not move or flinch, he steeled himself for whatever attack he believed was forthcoming. "That's your problem, Alster! You always wish to take full responsibility, even when it is not your responsibility to bear." He raised his eyes at her, in apparent confusion. "You will not hear me say this often--so listen to me." Stopping just shy of his feet, she clasped a hand upon his shoulder, inviting him to look square into her face. "I, too, am to blame. I pushed you...too far. I suppose I am no better than the majority of our family who...treated you the same. Who continuously treat you the same. I foolishly thought I was the exception: the one who viewed you as my equal. The...only one who would ever favor you in such a light. Obviously, that is no longer true." She huffed a sigh to prevent herself from spitting in disgust at mention of that wretched warrior. "I will...try to accept her. But I make no promises. Be that as it may, I...I apologize. For my uncouth, unprofessional conduct."

Throughout her entire discourse, Alster scrutinized her in silence. Suspicion creaked at his limbs, which moved of their own accord, out of her reach. Finally, his mouth gaped and his eyes grew wide as if realizing that her words were not in farce.

"I was not expecting... You're being sincere?" An uncertain smile lined his mouth. "I'm just not prepared for...it's not an everyday occurrence when--"

"--Shut up, Alster." She snorted at him. "Please do not trample upon my magnanimous gift to you and your conscience."

Now, it was her turn to gape at Alster. He laughed. With humor. With intent. It did not ring false or sinister. Rather, it was genuine and...infectious. Her own lips twitched from the overt display of mirth. 

"Thank you, Chara." Her heart pounded at his blatant praise of her, his coy smile, a hand that reached out for an affectionate brush of her arm...

They both froze in place when they heard a soft susurrus play at the flaps of her tent. It was not the wind, but shadows taking human form. 

"Oh, Lilica!" Chara greeted from between the flaps. "I did not think you to call at this hour." Or to interrupt me she thought as she had careened, rather brusquely, out of her moment with Alster.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Nov 11, 2015 5:58 pm
by Requiem
Lilica D'Or couldn't remember the last time when she had been awarded a feeling of completeness, not even a vague sense of peace or a sign that she belonged to anyone, anything. When she last had, it had all comprised of a world that did not exist, of people who were not really there, and of a life that she likely did not deserve. She could recall the remnants of those feelings, a warmth and assurance from a single touch or look, the ability to close her eyes and not worry about what would happen when she opened them again. At this point, it all felt like a dream...

Perhaps because it had been. How many people could claim that the best years of their life had been spent in stasis, stuck in a beautiful, perfect dream?

The trouble with a dream so beautiful was how it reflected upon harsh reality--and the dark caster had never thought a life without those feelings that had once been hers would be so difficult to endure. That rising every morning from the safety of her cot and putting one foot in front of another would be an ordeal.
She had never thought that witnessing a tender exchange between acquaintances, people privy to feelings that she no longer deserved to experience, would wrench such a sore deep in her gut. Harsh as reality was, it never seemed to cease its climb in wretchedness, or to surprise her with something worse, every day.

"I apologize for interrupting." Alster's hand had been on Chara's arm. The looks that they exchanged were ones of forgiveness, of redemption, of rekindled trust. It made her throat feel tight, and her face go cold, as if the temperature in Chara's luxurious tent had just dropped. "I thought to seek out Alster, after this morning's unfortunate turn of events. Although I am pleased to see that the two of you appear to be putting it behind you, so soon." 
Probably the biggest lie she had told in quite some time, because truth be told, it was jealousy and hurt that governed Lilica's mood, now. While Chara's affliction earlier had struck her with fear, and resentment towards Alster, it had also ignited an ember of hope. Of... well, perhaps, benefit in the falling out of these two betrothed.

Why had it not occurred to her that the fool would sink to his knees and beg for forgiveness, before the haughty, blonde mage? And... why did it effect her, so mercilessly?

She lifted a shoulder in a shrug, conveying a nonchalance that she did not actually feel. "If you're interested, Alster, I thought we could delve more into your power before the next battle occurs. Make the best of what it can offer... without any more unnecessary casualties." Glancing down at the tips of her boots, it required some courage to look Chara in her fierce, blue eyes. "Good to see that you are feeling better." Well enough not to need me. But you know where to find me when you find yourself in crisis, again, was what she wanted to add, but ultimately, did not, and probably for the best.

Of course, Alster did not refuse further guidance for his chthonic abilities, particularly in light of the fact he had harmed his own kin, earlier. But Lilica was far from pleased to be of help, and throughout the solid hour they spent in the candlelight of his tent, her mind was far too burdened with distractions to be of much help. At last, she gave up.

"I can't... I'm having trouble concentrating," she commented, pressing her fingers to her temples, as if coming down with a migraine. "Perhaps we should continue this another time, and simply get some rest tonight."
Without so much as a brief farewell, the dark caster rose from her kneeling position and left Alster's tent for the dark and calm of night, still plagued by the moment she had witnessed between him and his betrothed hours earlier.

What must I do? Why can't that happiness be mine?

...but it can. Just not here. Not among them. Not with your eyes open.

That whisper, ever present, pushed at the back of her mind. To say that she hadn't been tempted by the call to return to sleep, return to a world that did not exist, would be a grave falsehood. The possibility was always there, and it was only one spell and some drops of blood away.
But it was not a solution. And it was only the heaviness of that realization that kept her grounded (or as grounded as someone of her sorts could be).

And then, she saw her turn a corner. That she-warrior, with her braid and a small blade at her side, exiting the weapons tent and pulling the flaps shut. Likely taking inventory of those nefarious, bejeweled artifacts that she and that other tall brute had discovered. Minding her business, not a care in the world...

The point at which Lilica began to see red was indistinguishable. Her dark eyes, glued to the swordswoman, could not help but contemplate possibilities, and she suddenly understood Chara's deep resentment from earlier. What right did this ruffian have to be happy, and to steal someone else's happiness? But, then again... perhaps her happiness could be put to use. She an Alster clearly shared a bond, and although Chara struggled to accept it, her reluctance to give up on her fiancé would prevent her broken heart from even truly mending.
Not to mention, it would prevent her from realizing the dark mage's true value in the grand scehem of things. Although she would never openly admit it, Lilica did not want to be needed; she needed to be needed.

And that need coursed through her veins, starting at her heart and filling her with the resolve to go through with the dark plot on her mind.

"Oh... Lilica? I'm sorry, I didn't see you there." Tam all but jumped when she turned to see the small, dark figure but yards away, hands clutched into fists at her side. "Are you... is everything all right? Can I help you with something?"

The tiniest of smiles curled at the edge of Lilica's mouth. And it was anything but friendly. "Yes, Tam. You can help me; you, specifically. Listen..." One step at a time, she advanced on the swordswoman. "Don't think I hold some vendetta against you; nothing is personal, and you had nothing to do with what your wayward Rigas caster did earlier. But you seem to be complicating things, in that Rigas circle, and I..." Pressing her lips together, she reached out and touched Tam's arm. "I need that to keep happening."

It had been a long time--decades, in fact--since Lilica had let her darkness loose in such a fashion. She watched as the swordswoman all but crumbled under her touch, as chthonic energy stole the heat from her skin and her blood, draining it slowly of its healthy tan. There was only one way that this would end: Alster would come running to this wretched woman's rescue as she lay barely alive (but not dead--that was not Lilica's intent, and it would ruin everything) on the ground. And if Chara did not bear witness to it, she would at the very least hear about it later on. She would see that Tam and Alster were inseparable, that there would never come a time that one would not be there for the other, in their time of need.
And then, perhaps... perhaps the entitled, blonde Rigas mage would finally come to realize just who she could depend on in her time of need. And that person was not Alster.

"Li...Lilica, what're you..." Tam choked, struggling to wrench herself free of the dark caster's merciless vice grip. "Please... stop this..."

Lilica pressed her lips together, and leaned in to murmur. "I'm sorry, but this is not about you," she informed the warrior. "But it will be."

Such a release... It felt so good, so refreshing to unleash her magic through hatred and not help, that the chthonic mage did not notice the cold burn of steel until she saw the blood on her shoe. Eyes wide with surprise, she looked on at Tam who, in her struggles, had managed to unsheathe the dagger at her hip and embed it in Lilica's side. She had no choice, then, but to release her hold on the gasping warrior, and leave her lying in the dirt as she counted to five, and wrenched the blade out with a desperate groan. Lifeblood leaked freely between her fingers, but she could not approach the medics. Not if it meant explaining what had happened, and being held accountable for purposely injuring a comrade. This was something she would have to deal with on her own.

Clutching her injured side, the dark caster hurried from the vicinity before anyone could see her, and Tam remained, shivering and gasping at the pain coursing through her limbs, with a bloodied knife no longer within her reach.

 

ReplyQuote
Requiem
(@requiem)
Joined: 6 years ago
Posts: 838
 
Posted: Thu Nov 12, 2015 5:37 am
by Widdershins
After Alster departed with Lilica, Chara, alone in a tent that had always ladled her with small comforts, felt daunted by her smallness. Without the warmth of company, her on-the-go palace looked like a premature mausoleum. A marble coldness pressed itself against her arms; she rubbed them hurriedly to revive herself. Even in the heights of her joy in reconciling with Alster, she couldn't help but sense a skewed energy souring the stagnant air of the evening. She could not explain why, but all the darkened corners of her tent where the light did not reach pulsed with a signature that reminded her of Lilica.

Just as she made preparations to retire for the evening, her tent flap fluttered to allow Alster entrance inside. She tried to silence the reflexive skip of her heart when she saw him for the second time that evening. The earlier serenity that surrounded his normally chaotic aura had lessened, but she still saw its influence brighten his eyes and straighten the uncertainty in his gait. 

"That was a quick lesson!" she remarked from her side of the tent. She dropped the globe of etheria that acted as her centerpiece of the tent, keeping it aglow for however long he meant to stay. An uncharacteristic giddiness pulled her lips into a silly smile. "I realize that you are a polymath of magic, but a mere hour of study seems unachievable, even for you!" 

"Lilica wasn't feeling well. She discontinued the lesson until further notice," he said, stepping into the circle of her ethereal light-source. A frown furrowed his brow, a look she recognized. Something did not sit right with him, and the thought that plied at his brain dominated his concentration.

"What is the matter?"

"I don't...I just sense that..."

His eyes bulged large and wide. His legs buckled from an unknown tremor rippling through his body. She caught him in her arms before he collapsed upon the carpeting at their feet. 

"Alster!" 

The breath expelled from his mouth in labored gasps. Cold sweat dripped from his forehead. As she slowly lowered him to the ground, she yelped when his bandaged hand flew up and constricted her arm in a death grip. 

"I...have to go," he said through pained shivers, his eyes pricking with tears. 

"No!" She almost dropped him, head-first, to express just how much she meant no. "I do not know what's happening but in this condition, I will not--"

"E...El...T-Tam. She's d-dying," he sputtered, his knuckles turning white from the strain of refusing her aid. He pushed against her, fighting to break free.

I will respond to this in a reasonable matter, Chara repeated to herself, though she much wanted to beat her betrothed unconscious. "How do you even know!? I'm certain she's f--" She caught a glimpse of the ragged tuft of the bandage on his hand--and a terrifying thought manifested as large lumps in her throat that she could not swallow. "Did you...forge a blood pact with her!?"

"My spell...too strong," his eyes wavered in guilt as he somehow wriggled out of Chara's supporting hold and wobbled to his feet. 

"Well then what happens to you if she dies!? You are the most asinine, lovelorn..." she growled in frustration, clawing at her temples with hands that burned with rage. "Go. Go save her. I'll be right behind you." 

Alster stumbled into the night, his legs wading as if through molasses. Any pace that his overwhelmed body could manage sent rattles up his spine. 

No. He grit his teeth so tightly he heard them abrade against his fracturing skull. I will not let you die!

Every nerve inside him screamed as he broke into a run, bumping against tents and tripping through the mud in following his inner compass that led to Elespeth.

He found her crumpled on the ground besides the weapons' tent, barely alive, gasping for the same air that his lungs had so demanded of him. 

"Tam! El!" he called to her as he knelt at her side, checking for her condition. Her skin was cold to the touch. A chill bit at his fingers as if he had touched a layer of ice beneath which churned a frozen river. Her entire bloodstream flowed in a languorous beat. And lingering in the heart of her condition, like a dark, heatless star, was a knot of chthonic magic, tied with intricate intent in the form of a curse.

Chara, not far behind, scrambled over to where Alster had settled, peering at Elespeth and her poorly status with a surprise sucking of breath. 

"Chthonic magic," Alster said aloud, forcing concentration on his hands and not on his rapidly disintegrating mind. 

"Chthonic magic?" Chara's first thoughts carried over to that morning, when Alster had invited the abyss inside himself to pull her into darkness. She clutched her chest, a slow, burgeoning terror working itself from within. What if the spell he cast in tandem with the blood pact coursed itself with the deadly aftermath of his power, and affected Tam? 

"Not me," he hissed, as if reading her mind. "...Lilica. It's Lilica's magic. I recognize it." 

"What? Why--" The terror hardened itself around her heart. Lilica had no reasons to attack Tam. What did she hope to gain by causing harm to an enemy more reviled to her than--she hated to admit--Messino? It was not her enemy to slay. 

She caught the glint of a knife in the dim lantern-light of camp. As she bent over to examine it, she noticed the blood--still wet--clinging to the blade and a sloppy trail of blood as dark as ink blots peppering away from the scene of the attack. 

Chara rose to her feet. "I have reason to believe your beloved warrior marked our attacker for us. I will investigate this further." She looked over her shoulder at Alster, at a face intermixed with determination, fury, and unspeakable sadness. A burning sensation pressed itself against the backs of her eyes."Please stay safe. And alive." 

She wanted to believe a more feasible, sensible explanation for the assault. An act of defense. A scuffle initiated by Tam. A third party involvement. No. The more she thought of the possibilities, the less sense it made. Unless...

She had placed her trust in the wrong person, all along. 

The very thought that she had erred in her judgement almost shuddered her to a stop.

Before she could dwell further on the implication that she was the blithering idiot, she spotted a concentrated puddle of blood at the end of the trail she'd been following. Another droplet added to the puddle. She looked up and...

Lilica. Brushing against the side of a tent in a slow advance. To where? To any destination that put distance between her and her deed. 

"Lilica!" Venom filled her mouth, eating away her feelings of confusion and betrayal. A tower of flame, white-hot and dancing like a vengeful ghost, plumed in her upturned palm. "You have five seconds to run, to explain yourself, or to die. Take your pick!" 

Every labored breath, rise of her chest, or proof of consciousness helped to assay some of Alster's dread, however bottomless. The intense pain within himself had abated; whether it was through will alone or through self-accommodation, he did not care to know. With hands that repositioned themselves upon Elespeth's arm, where he assessed the spell's point of contact, he offered a small, comforting squeeze to her in assurance. 

"There's a chthonic curse inside of you," he said in a hushed, gentle whisper, summoning the resolve not to crack into pieces. "I'm going to unravel the curse, and pull it out of you. Just...hang on for a little longer." 

He closed his eyes and felt for the knot. Its chthonic resonance hummed with his own, attracted to its essence as it reached, with slithering arms, towards his soul. 

Good. Perhaps I can siphon the curse. He worked at the knot, tugging at the loose ends, undoing the edges, unthreading the entire structure. No longer with an anchor on which to cling, the stray threads slurped away and away, like a vacuum, from Elespeth and into the undeniable pull of death. 

Alster opened his eyes and wrenched free from Elespeth. In his hands, the energy writhed around like spider legs, like scribbles on paper. Before he could give the chance for the curse to reconstitute inside himself, he slammed his palms into the ground. Bleed away bleed away. Beneath the surface! He commanded at the energy, forced it into a spiral, into the Earth, down down down, and the grass that surrounded them blackened and crumbled into dust. 

The curse was gone. It would no longer drain the color and lifeblood from Elespeth...but it would not recover what it had taken. He needed to warm the chill in her body, and quick. Before...before...

Alster looked up and saw the face of a warrior, watching the two of them from a distance. With a squint, he discerned the man's features and found them familiar.

"Haraldur!" he cried, in little more than a wheeze. "Help me...help me carry her."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Nov 12, 2015 7:47 pm
by Requiem
Whether from exsanguination, or from the adrenaline that filled her veins in lieu of blood, the chthonic caster's world was spotted with speckles and tiny lights as she struggled across the encampment grounds, using the tents to both guide and support her. It was such a curious feeling, this...satisfaction that followed her assault on the warrior. So different from that typical drained, spent feeling that wracked her body in every attempt to use her chthonic abilities for the good of others. No bruises blossoming on her skin from the faintest of touches, no descent into debilitating fatigue. Certainly, she needed to tend to tend to herself, and fast; the blood leaking from between her fingers at her side showed no sign of slowing. But were in not for that glaring red flag... Lilica couldn't seem to feel any pain.

Mercifully, she couldn't seem to feel anything at all. And it was wonderful.

Lilica!
That voice... it was one that she knew well. One that invaded her thoughts more than she cared to admit. But even at the venom that accented the Rigas mage's words, even at the livid expression on her face when she turned to face Chara, even at the white hot fireball of etherea that sat in her upturned palm, it didn't quite register with Lilica that her anger was directed towards her, or that she could--and would--follow through with her threats.
Chara Rigas had been a true threat, once upon a time. But it seemed like ages since Lilica had last thought of her in those terms.

In response to the hate-filled words, she lifted one shoulder in a brief shrug. "She was in my line of fire." There was no point in denying what she had done; Alster had apparently been too quick, and she, evidently, had not been quick enough. "So she got burned. But it isn't as though she didn't get her own digs in--see?" Taking her crimson hand from her hip, she held it up; as though it were not already obvious, from the blood trickling down her leg. "I must give her credit, she is quick with a blade. Gives me pause to wonder if all of that has something to do with this secret past to which only Alster seems to be privy..."

There was no other way to describe this high that lit up the dark mage's eyes other than the look of someone who had finally lifted a heavy burden from their shoulders. In a matter of moments, she had carried the weight of the world, and now... Now, she felt light, in the head, in the limbs, in spirit. She could hardly recall the last time she had felt free of... well, everything. But namely, emotion and accountability.

The speckled lights in her vision complimented Chara's face in a curious way as Lilica looked on, in no way inclined to run. It made her appear almost as though she sparkled, as if the tiny fires in her sapphire eyes had spread and afflicted her whole body with their gleam. Beautiful was the word that came to mind, but although her mind formed it, her lips did not. Something was wrong; this was not what she had anticipated--not what she had planned--as an outcome of her spontaneous deed. The haughty, blonde Rigas mage was... unhappy. More than unhappy, she was enraged. Enraged at what she had done to Tam. 

Suddenly, the sharp ache in her bleeding side began to return.

"What's the matter...? What do you care, what happens to the she-warrior?" Lilica's brows knit together in genuine confusion. "Did she not take Alster from you? Were you not so keen, just this morning, to see her suffer? You said you wanted her to suffer, Chara; you told me so." And now that she suffered, she wished to take it all back? After one simple conversation with Alster... Had she known this would be the result, she might have thought twice before her unprovoked assault. But it was too late for that, now.

Lilica looked on at the ball of fire in Chara's hand, and as the celestial mage's rage slowly brought her back down to earth, and back down to herself (the self that she wanted to be, that she struggled each and every waking moment to be), the sharp burn in her side intensified. She began to feel sick, and wondered if she should let that fire ignite and burn her up. "...I'd be lying to say I don't understand why Alster did what he did, this morning," she mentioned, more quietly than before. "It's a... using this magic... Using it the way it wants to be used, it's such a release, such a source of relief." And I don't feel relief by any other means, she wanted to add, but it seemed she had already dug her grave deep enough. All that was left was for Chara to bury her, and leave her to choke on the dust.

"But he... he hurt you, this morning. He hurt you because of her. And I thought..." Her leg was too warm, too sticky with her own blood, and she felt nauseated; Lilica returned her hand to cover the wound. "I thought this was what you wanted, Chara. I'm sorry I was wrong, but I haven't much more to offer than regret..."
Which, admittedly, was nothing new.

The dark and cold were Elespeth's only companions as her heart struggled to maintain its rhythm, and her lungs fought to draw breath. Everything hurt, and with every pulse, with ever inhale, her chest, her limbs... everything felt heavier. Colder. As if something was forcing the machine that was her human body to give up, one vital organ at a time, starting with her heart.

There was the sensation of hands on her, but to whom they belonged was anyone's guess. Any semblance of linear thought had left Elespeth the moment her wracked body had hit the ground, and now, she only knew pain, cold, and the keen desire for an end--whatever an end to these feelings meant. The ex-knight had never known pain to such an extreme, and it was all too easy to understand why death could be more merciful.
And suddenly, there was a feeling of... she couldn't put her finger on it. Something invasive, but not in such a way that she wished it gone; on the contrary, the pain and weight upon her chest began to diminish, one thread at a time, as if its tapestry was coming apart at the seams.

The cold was the last thing that she remembered until her consciousness winked out from the waking world completely.

She was surrounded by a blizzard, knee-deep in snow, and with no destination in sight; only dark, starless skies, and the haunting whistle of heavy winds. "Hello!" Elespeth called, but her voice was carried away on the sharp gales that whipped her braid around her face. The Atvanian fugitive hugged her arms for warmth, startled and confused that she was not dressed for the weather, but simply donned her military garb. But wait... hadn't winter come and gone, already? She couldn't recall weather so treacherous as this... 

"Hello! Anyone... is anyone there?" The answer was no. No matter how far she walked, where she turned, or where she looked, she was alone in the freezing cold and dark. And with every passing second, her fingers, toes, and other appendages grew increasingly more numb...

And then, she turned, and he was there.

"A...Alster? What're you..." She stumbled over her words, as overjoyed as she was confused to see her dear companion. Without a moment's hesitation, she rushed toward the Rigas mage, and gathered him in a tight embrace. "What are we doing here? What's going on... damnit, it's so cold, Alster..."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Nov 13, 2015 4:31 am
by Widdershins
The detestable dark mage that Chara once considered her confidante turned to face her fiery threat. She moved her spell-casting hand aside to view Lilica without the obstruction of wildly flickering light blotting her eyes with whorls and flashing colors. Everything about her unburdened stature, the drip of blood that did nothing to disturb her, and even how the fire reflected off her clothes nearly sent Chara into a mess of shivers. But her eyes, they told the full story. Those two dark coals smoldered in the fire of her spell, alive and fulfilled and...satisfied. Even at his most wicked, Alster had never exhibited pride for his actions, no, not like how the dark mage seemed to gloat and glow in the wake of her doings. And Chara, with a awful sense of knowing, realized that she was bearing witness to Lilica's true self--stripped bare and unforgiving. 

The pinpricks in her chest cowered before the chthonic mage and impelled Chara to take action: to lob spell after spell until she sizzled out of existence or fled the camp in fear of returning. To yell and scream, alerting the officers and Messino of her treacherous behavior. Or...to walk away. To turn her back on the vile woman, disassociate from her in full, and expunge her from her life.

She did none of these things. She could not reason why.

"As much as I would love to see her suffer, I have no choice but to care! We do not live in a vacuum, Lilica. Our actions affect others. By hurting her, you hurt him!" Chara repositioned her flame, outstretching her arm as if to attack. She refused to allow Lilica the satisfaction that her words had penetrated her defenses, wrenching her anger into a slow burn. "They're bound by blood now. Did you not see their hands? Not only are you harming him emotionally, but physically, as well! Do you not remember why I sought you in the first place? It was to help him!" The fire spell slipped in intensity, changing shades to a sickly blue. "A promise in exchange for a promise. You did not uphold your end of our deal, and for that, I see no need to do the same."

She paused to let her words sink some sense into the dark mage. Indeed, a transformation of sorts had occurred in Lilica. A return to the farce that she presented for the sake and sanity of others. And while the disquiet of her demeanor no longer plagued Chara with unease, her words certainly struck her like Tam's blade that gushed forth tears of blood.

I thought this was what you wanted.

Never had any instance twisted her with more fear than those simple words. Her entire spell collapsed into white smoke. Her hand dropped, limp and useless, to her side. All of her furious head-scratching in figuring out Lilica's reasoning had amounted to an act of wish-fulfillment? For her sake? Why would she--? It was the most disturbing, the most eye-opening confession to spill from the dark mage's mouth. Because...it painted Chara as both villain and victim to her own dark desires. 

Every instinct told her to run. Run now. Run far. 

"You did it for yourself, Lilica. I do not care for your excuses. You are in sole control over your magic." She began to move away. Steady. A soft squelch in the mud. "He hurt me because I hurt him first. And in the end, he took responsibility for his actions. Do you understand now?"

Without warning, tears spilled from her eyes, lining her cheeks in streams of defeat. 

"Go away, Lilica. I'm letting you go. Tend to your wound and...leave me alone." 

Together, Haraldur and Alster hauled Elespeth to her feet, minding the speed at which they moved, for any tiny breeze could agitate the chill on her icy skin. 

"We'll take her to my tent," Haraldur said, directing the way to the back-side of the weapons' tent and towards the west end of camp. "It's closer." 

True to his word, they had reached Haraldur's tent in several minutes' time. Once inside the tiny one-person unit, they set her gently upon the cot. The mercenary grabbed a blanket while Alster worked on undoing her boots, her belt, and clothes, attempting to stay as unruffled as possible, despite stripping her unconscious body naked.

Haraldur slid the blanket over her before full-body exposure dipped her temperature to even lower digits. He brushed the thick cloth over her arms, her torso, and her legs, warming her by friction, while Alster, with the last of his strength, cast twin fire spells, one in each hand, and concentrated the heat to hover over key areas of her body. 

After what seemed like hours, Haraldur prodded Alster when his flames sputtered and he almost collapsed over Elespeth in exhaustion. "Go to sleep. From what you told me, her condition affects you, as well?" 

Alster blinked back the weight of sleep in his eyes. "Only the pain. I...I'm fine." The fire spell dissolved, and before he could fight the sensation, sleep crept up on him like a thief in the night, and knocked him unconscious.

He was surrounded by an entire landscape of white, blinding even in the darkness. Huge snowdrifts swirled and blew past him with an urgency that almost bowled him over in the process. He righted himself in time to see, through the whip of the wind and his hair against his eyes, Elespeth. A relieved smile overtook him. At her embrace, he returned the greeting with a grateful tug against her back. 

"I'm glad to see you're still alive." His grip tightened around her until he lowered his arms and pulled away to observe the sky, the ground, the strange warping effect on his fingers...and the fact that he did not feel cold. 

"Is this--?" To confirm his half-spoken suspicions, he raised an arm and successfully shot a blast of etherea into the stormy sky. "A dream. We're in a dream. Rather, I'm in your dream. You're cold because--do you remember what happened?" He took her arms in his hands. A shield encircled them and rose high over their heads, sealing away the wind and snow. A blue fire that shimmered like the cosmos melted the snow at their feet, but did not burn or cause them harm. 

"This is your dream. You can change the landscape. Maybe to something less cold?" He quirked a smile as the flames licked tongues of warmth around the barrier. "Don't focus on the cold. Focus on the fire. On...on me. ...Don't let this place be your tomb."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Nov 13, 2015 9:01 pm
by Requiem
"Bound by... blood?" So that explained the matching bandages on Alster's and Tam's hands. She should have known... and had she given it more forethought, prior to acting so impulsively, she might have. 

Can't I be the catalyst for anything other than chaos...?

In the characteristic fashion of Chara Rigas, it wasn't only Lilica's words that cut deep like a knife, and as the blonde, celestial caster formed them, the dark mage could feel her heart shrink: You did not uphold your end of our deal, and for that, I see no need to do the same.
And she couldn't blame her, for in all of her shenanigans, it hadn't once occurred to Lilica that her foolish attempt to draw Chara nearer would hurt Alster--both directly and indirectly. And now, on the contrary, she had unwittingly gone back on her word, and had effectively dissolved the trust of perhaps the only person she cared a wink for in this entire encampment...
In this new, wretched lifetime.

And Chara was right; she had done it for herself, and only herself, all for her own, selfish motivations. Her mistake had not been in assuming Chara wouldn't care; it was that she had acted at all. And there was no way to take any of it back.
"I understand." Her reply was so soft it was barely audible over the wind as her throat grew tight. The cycle of hatred and violence... Hadn't this been precisely what she was running from? Hadn't this been the reason that she'd been asleep for almost an entire century, living some fictional life in a dream, a world that didn't exist? Wasn't this precisely why she only channeled her magic to be of help to others, and not to harm them?

And then, the final blow: Go away, Lilica. I'm letting you go. Both in the sense that she was letting her live, letting her run away... and giving up on her. There were tears in her eyes, streaking her cheeks with their tiny rivers, and the chthonic mage could hardly comprehend them. Were they borne of sadness? Of hatred? Of fear? Or all or any mixture of the three? 
She didn't have a chance to convince Chara otherwise, to change her mind, to give her another chance, as the Rigas mage was quick to turn her shoulder and flee in the other direction. Even if she hadn't run, Lilica would have been at a loss as to what to say.

She was a hypocrite, in every sense of the word, standing there as she was, bleeding from the she from a wound that she deserved, and bleeding from the heart from a wound she wished she didn't so deserve.

A dream. We're in a dream.
Despite how happy she was to have found him, there was a split second when Elespeth thought the Rigas caster had lost his mind. What sort of dream struck icicles into her very core, the way this weather did? Even as her companion shielded their vulnerable forms with a dome, one dancing with mild blue fire, the numbness wouldn't leave her fingertips. "What are you talking about? What should I remember?"

And that was when it came rushing back to her. Lilica, the curse, the excruciating pain of feeling her blood practically freeze in her veins... So if I'm dreaming... that means I'm still alive.
Taking his advice, the ex-knight struggled to turn her mind to warmer temperatures and less trying times. And, sure enough, the storm began to abate, the frost began to melt, and her skin began to warm underneath Alster's gentle grasp. A nervous laugh escaped her throat; to think, it was working, and all because she willed it so! It was perhaps the closest thing she would ever come to magic, herself. "I'm alive... I'm dreaming... but I want to wake up. I want to wake up, now..."

And so she did--many, many hours later, just before the sun set on the following evening. The first thing she became aware of was the dull ache in her head and the stiffness of her limbs, before opening her eyes. This tent... it was not hers, not Alster's. The blankets felt unfamiliar, and the sensation of the coarse wool against her skin brought her to the realization that she wasn't wearing her clothes.
It wasn't until she sat up (with some difficulty) that she noticed a familiar face, and her mouth stretched into a broad smile of relief.

"How was it that I saw you in my dream...?" Clutching the blankets to her chest with one hand, the Atvanian fugitive beckoned with her other for Alster to come over. The Rigas caster looked tired, but awake; she had a feeling she knew just what to attribute to that fatigue. "I'm alive because of you, aren't I? Whatever Lilica did... you undid it." The flesh of her forearm bore a strange scar, however, in the shape of a perfect, four-pointed scar. Curses always left their mark, one way or another, even in their death or extraction. "Alster, I... I owe you more than I can even fathom."

In the days that passed, there was no one at Lilica's bedside, however, and her recovery was entirely up to her. Having struggled to get back to her tent the night she'd been wounded, the dark mage had barely had the strength to staunch the bloodflow of her wound with gauze, before lapsing into an exhausted, dreamless sleep. Awakening hours later from the pain, the herbalist in her managed to scrounge the energy, motivation and stored ingredients to mash together a salve with a mortar and pestle that took the edge off the pain, and helped to further slow the bleeding; but by then, her clothes and the sheets of her cot were already stained beyond repair.

When she laid down again, she did not rise for another three days.

But she did dream. Some taunted her, with images of everything she touched perishing beneath her fingers, and blood staining the world, everywhere she turned. Others were more merciful and soothed her; fleeting feelings of a warm embrace, something she hadn't experienced in... Well, physically, not ever. Serene landscapes, void of anyone who could hurt her, and anyone she could hurt. Laughter; that of others, and her own... or, at least, what she imagined it would sound like if she ever found it in herself to learn how.

Unfortunately, the good ones were fewer and further between than the bad, and unlike Elespeth, Lilica had no one to pull her out of her nightmares.

It was one such nightmare that finally awoke her for good, one where he woke up, cold with sweat and with a heavy heart. Can't you see that you destroy everything you touch? Those words echoed over and over in her mind, echoes from the nightmare, until she registered the here and now, and remembered what had rendered her in such a terrible state.
Her actions had effectively alienated her from the Rigases and their allies. For all intents and purposes, Lilica D'Or was once again as alone as she'd ever been.

What does it matter if Chara won't help me...? I can get out of here myself. I'll find a way.

Replacing the bandages on her wound, she was astounded by how well the haphazard salve had taken effect to dull the pain, and relieved the the bleeding seemed to have stopped. Forcing water down her parched throat and into her sick stomach. She hadn't felt well in the gut since her encounter with Chara, something that had yet to abate, but she managed to fight off dehydration with sheer willpower alone.
And as soon as she felt that the majority of her strength had returned, Lilica dressed in new clothes, summoned new resolve, and endured the sunlight that hurt her eyes when she left her tent for the first time in days.

With or without Chara's help (or that of anyone, for that matter), she would find a way to her own safety. She only wished that the thought of leaving Chara behind, with such bitter feelings towards her, did not bother her to such a degree.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Nov 14, 2015 5:41 am
by Widdershins
In spite of her last words to the dark mage, Chara felt like the one who was released. Released from commitment, from promises made to each other, and from...fellowship. Go away, she had uttered. And yet she was the one who walked.

She had composed herself long enough to wander the rest of her way through camp in numbed silence. On her way back to her tent, she passed the scene of Tam's assault, the scene where...I thought this was what you wanted...

She clamped a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out, from reacting to those skewed words, the truth behind them, and what they revealed...about herself.

Do I push people to commit terrible acts?

A memory played in her head, one that had always found residence beneath all the layers of her bravado and affected self-confidence. Her young self stared at a pair of blue eyes that emitted little joy or passion. But they glimmered with hope. At her. She opened her mouth to speak and her biting tongue had shuttered the light of hope and invited the dark to plant roots of bitterness and betrayal in the soil where decayed his spirit. 

It was her last conversation with Alster before he awakened the Serpent. 

And now, with Lilica...

Chara opened her eyes and found Tam's previous resting place empty. Alster must have succeeded in expelling the curse, or, at least moved her to a warm, safe enclosure. A bitterness of her own threatened to take root. Alster would not return that evening, no. Not until Tam recuperated from the curse in full. And she, with Lilica adrift and gone from her life, would be alone.

How had she been so foolish? Alster would never love her. And Lilica, she...

...She would miss her. 

One last smile radiated from Alster as he watched the landscape melt and clear into a sun-dappled meadow. "I can feel my body fading back into consciousness. But," he slid his arms from her reach as he dissolved into the day that she created, "I'll be here when you wake up..."

Alster awoke, shivering. 

"It...worked," he said aloud, coughing through the chattering of his teeth. To prove his theory, he hauled himself upright, leaned against Elespeth's cot, and pressed two frozen fingers to her pulse. Sure enough, the surface of her skin and the pumping of blood from beneath churned with a salubrious rhythm. She was well on her way to an expedited recovery. 

With a sigh of relief, he sank to the ground and huddled against himself for warmth. 

Haraldur, who had watched over Elespeth's condition throughout the evening, peered down at Alster from his spot atop the cot where he had provided an additional source of heat. "Have you contracted her affliction? You're awfully pale." He reached for another blanket and threw it over to the caster, who accepted it with a wearied nod of gratitude.

"N-no," he stammered through the freeze in his veins. "My ce-celestial ma-magic. In the d-dream. I'm able to u-use it. Wa-warmed her with it. And it w-worked."

While Haraldur did not understand the specifics and complexities of magic, he nodded, clucking his tongue in a favorable sound of approval. "Well, she is looking better. Now it's time to see after yourself." He pushed himself off the cot and wandered to the tent flap. "I'll go grab you some hot water. In the meantime, sleep."

By the time he awoke again, from dreams that did not feature Elespeth, he saw her stirring from her long slumber. Before he edged closer to the foot of her cot, he checked for his temperature. A mite cold, but otherwise stabilized. He could speak and move without his body erupting into spasms. As long as she did not touch him, she might not notice that he shared in, nay, took, some of her chill. 

From the edges in the tent flaps, he could make out the dark contours that signified night. A full day had passed. He did not see Haraldur inside, but an empty tin of water indicated that he had returned at least once more since Alster fell into slumber. 

Elespeth had opened her eyes, then, and found him with little difficulty, sitting at her side. He returned her smile, and it carried away all of his worry, fear, and guilt. But it did not eradicate the anger that he kept lodged deep in the annals of his mind, far from his partner's reach.

"How are you feeling?" At her request, he moved closer, bringing himself upon her cot, mindful of any gaps in her blanket that would reveal to him her naked skin. "My apologies. We had to strip you of your clothes to...keep you warm. I-I looked as little as possible. I promise." His face heated, but his reaction, at least, contributed to melting away some of the ice in his bones.

Ah, so she remembered their dream. With a nod of confirmation, his tone transferred to a more somber retelling of events, for it was preferable to the inner wound that flared by mention of Lilica's name. "My spell...our blood pact." He stared down at the bandage still bound around his hand. "Remember when I told you there might be additional...possibilities as a result of the spell? Well," he forced his attention away from Elespeth, not knowing how favorably she'd react to his news, "it appears we can share dreams. And pain...among other things. That's how I knew you were in danger. I felt what the curse was doing to you and when I found you, I...pulled it out." He gazed over at the branding of the curse upon her flesh, forever a grim reminder that he almost lost her, and he flinched. "I'm so sorry, Elespeth. I don't know why this happened...but I hope you'll forgive me again, because you might feel a little pain, when," his voice choked with revulsion, with a loathing that stabbed splinters into his words, "when I find out why it did."

Three days after the "incident," Alster, who more or less recovered from his second-hand infirmity, bided his time waiting for Lilica to emerge from her cave of a tent. 

When he met back up with Chara just the day before, and she informed him that she released Lilica, he affixed her with a look that Chara typically reserved for him. The you-must-be-an-idiot glare. 

Hurriedly, she tried to explain her reasoning, but only ended up painting a perspective. One peppered with excuses. 

"Dark magic. You have felt the pull, have you not?" Chara touched his arm as they sat outside her tent, watching the day-to-day minutiae of the camp in motion. "It enveloped her mind--as it has done for you. She attacked Tam, yet she is remorseful. That is why I let her go."

"No. I understand." Alster flexed each digit of his right hand. A faded, diagonal scar, in a sea of many, no longer hid its secrets beneath a bandage. "I'm well-acquainted with the all-consuming nature of hatred, and the horrors it is able to manifest. I've suffered for it--continuously. I still do. So, while I may empathize with her plight, I can't keep allowing others to torment me because I'm too guilt-ridden to stand up for myself and for those who I--"

"--Love?"

Alster, stymied into silence, averted his eyes and kept them positioned at his feet.

Until he saw the familiar brush and swish of the dark mage's dress. "Stay here, Chara." Within half a moment, he was on his feet, and on Lilica's trail. 

Once he fell in step with her gait, he sped forward and grabbed at her shoulder to stop her motions. His grip was clawed, heavy, but it did not carry any hints of chthonic magic in activation. "Care to spar, Lilica?" He whispered into her ear, and his voice crackled with calculated malice. "...I think it's nigh time I demonstrate what you've taught me."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Nov 14, 2015 2:07 pm
by Requiem
She couldn't help it; laughter bubbled in Elespeth's chest and climbed its way to her mouth, before pushing into the open through her parted lips. Her shoulders shook with the strain, and her abdomen ached, but it felt so good all the same. "Alster Rigas... do you truly think me so insecure that my first concern upon waking from near-death is that I am not wearing any clothes? Please, spare me the concern." With a lopsided grin, she covered one of her hands with her own; he felt curiously chilled... "My most severe secret has nothing to do with my body," she reminded him, lowering her voice, "and you already know it. As far as I am concerned, I exposed the most vulnerable part of myself to you long ago."

The ex-knight quieted as he ventured to explain precisely what had happened, filling in the holes in her memory of the horrid event, as well as the consequences of the blood pact that they had made. "You mean you... oh, gods, Alster! You felt that? All of it...?" Elespeth's face grew long with despondence, concern, and guilt. "I am... A-Alster, I am so sorry. I never would have thought..." Her teeth bit on her lower lip to prevent it from trembling. So he would hurt if she did; and that cast the both of them into a real mess. What would result in battle, then, if one of them were to fall?

There was only one solution, and that was the necessity of keeping one another safe. No matter what.

"Alster, listen to me." The Atvanian fugitive moved her hand to his arm. "Listen, please... whatever happened, I... it doesn't matter anymore. It's over. Whatever spurred Lilica to want to attack me..." Her eyes widened at the memory: Lilica. It had been Lilica... but why? What had she done to earn the dangerous scorn of so many damned casters... "Alster." Lowering her voice, she leaned in to meet his eyes. "Whatever you might be thinking, you know that revenge... retaliation is not the answer. Remember what happened to Chara." He had regretted harming the arrogant, blonde caster so fervently. Surely, it was a mistake that would stay with him for a while.

But it was high time to change the subject, before they delved too deep into darkness. "But, anyway," she continued, her mouth twisting into a nervous grin. "Would you mind retrieving my clothes? It's easier to have a conversation when you don't have to hide under a blanket."

Unfortunately, however Elespeth's words resonated with Alster, his anger and resentment still rang louder, and confrontation was inevitable.

And, perhaps the worst part was the timing. Lilica was well enough, after three full days of nothing but sleep, but she was far from fully recovered. Her wound still ached, as did her heart, from what had occurred three days ago--more specifically, what she had incited.
It was not so much that the dark caster was fragile in her recovery. Rather, she was vulnerable, to anything and everything. The sun was too bright, her clothes felt scratchy and coarse against her skin, the air was too heavy, and she was by no means inclined to commence or hold a conversation. 

What Alster encountered, therefore, was little more than a wounded animal, on the defensive and primed to attack. Perhaps the rawest and most vulnerable that he had ever seen her.

The chthonic caster spun around and put distance between herself and the fool who thought he could challenge her, fixing him with a dark glare. "You idiot," she murmured, and a growl reverberated beneath the words. Her hands, unbidden, curled into fists. "You dare incite me? Instigate violence when you... You, of all people, should realize that I no longer have anything to lose in refusing to help you? To show you guidance, tolerance, and control?"

Perhaps it was not obvious through the venom in her voice, but well beneath the surface, her words stung with hurt. Nothing to lose... Chara had turned her back on her. Alster, as a result of her actions, painted her as an enemy. And Elespeth... well, what she thought was of no consequence, although the dark mage suspected that the warrior had no noble sentiments left for her. There was nothing for her in this ridiculous war save for the fear of pain and death.
And if you did not fear either of those...

"I was willing to walk away forever," she informed the foolish Rigas caster before her. "From you, from Chara, from anything to do with any of you. And instead, you wish to start a war of you own? Teach me not to mess with the bitch who has seized your heart, because avenging her is all that matters? So be it. But do not blame me, this time, for the consequences."

And light a wounded animal, cornered and threatened, Lilica lashed out, igniting the earth in a circle of dark and deadly fire. This is your choice, and you will not run from it. As soon as the battlefield was defined, the black flames licking feet into the air, she raised a hand, closed it into a fist, and began to melt the earth beneath Alster's feet, simulating noxious quicksand.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2015 3:57 am
by Widdershins
At Lilica's about-face, Alster faltered when he took note of her appearance. No longer did she emulate the feel of the wind on a cold, dark night. Instead, she felt stale, stagnant, and choked of any life but the ragged remnants of what stubbornly clung to her meager frame. Her magic, too, radiated something different. Like a bruise, it throbbed, festered, and oozed. Alster half-expected to see her side wound reopen and bleed a viscous, tar-like subtance. Defeated. She was defeated before they even exchanged a single tendril of magic. And, although he had expressed his convictions to Chara with clear, purpose-driven intent, his thirst for vengeance wavered. He could not fight a professed enemy, when the grave seemed like a more suitable candidate for her adversary than himself. 

"You're one to talk." He recovered his resolve when her caustic words reignited the flare in his gut. Some sick, demented part of him reveled in seeing her crumpled up before him, like a cat arching its back in defense to appear larger than its diminutive size. I must have looked that pathetic to so many. Yet, they kicked me until I bled. "I'm instigating violence? You needn't look far in your own memory to see the same." He knew well that she was a victim of her circumstances, of her magic, but he could not reach beyond her barrier of hatred, for she would not allow him entrance. And now, he no longer exercised the patience or compassion to continue trying. He would never forgive her violent deed. It hit him in the worst, most vulnerable place and threatened to agitate the wounds of loss that, if reopened, would surely bleed forever. 

"Walking away does not absolve you of your crime, Lilica. You will not admit to the wrong you've done, so you run, instead of accepting responsibility," he snapped back at her, his hands clenching and unclenching from the strain of balancing rage and reason. "And no, you have it wrong. You've stood against my family. Tam never raised a hand in opposition to you. Chara viewed you as a companion, and you've hurt her deeply. What matters, is that their suffering will not have been in vain." As he watched the walls of black flame draw the boundary lines for their grim duel, a fleeting sadness tugged at his mouth. And before her magic collapsed the earth at his feet, he spoke one last sentiment...but if she heard it, he assumed that she would not care to listen.

"I wanted to help you, Lilica--as you have helped me. ...I'm sorry."

The magic struck its intended target. He invited the strike to weaken the foundation upon which he stood. Before it gave way to the rise of bilious quicksand and its offending fumes, he clawed his hands--and began to draw upon the earth. 

I was able to siphon Lilica's curse out of Elespeth. It's possible that I can absorb her magic.

Like pulling roots from a tree, Alster yanked and strained to leech Lilica's energy from the ground. He thought of it as tapping for black gold. Dig. Twist. Press into the soil. Release. Let it rise. Into my fingers. Into my hold--my control.

His entire body trembled from the feat, overwhelmed by the sheer force of her chthonic ability. It far outclassed his own. He had trapped it into a funnel, gathered some of it in his hands, but it threatened to dissolve his fingers, his arms, his very being, into slush.

She may outclass me, but my magic can consume her magic--and take it as my own.

With one final wrench, he succeeded on uprooting the curse, the blight upon the earth. The ground had stabilized. The fumes subsided. Circular disks swirled and spun in his outstretched hands. He wielded her magic. The hatred. How it burned holes in his senses, deconstructing his morals, casting a pall over everything sacred and precious in his life. And what a wretched life it is, a voice from the ether hissed. No. Not from the ether. From the heartbeat of the magic. The vibrations in his outstretched palms. 

This isn't my hatred. It isn't mine to consume. Send it back.

With a grunt of effort, Alster threw the disks at Lilica, imagining them into serpents. Their torpid bodies slithered coils around her arms, her legs, entrapping her in place, fusing her solid. They constricted with each turn of their amorphous bodies, threatening to break her bones, to twist and wring and rip her in twain...

Do it another voiced hissed, and it was his own. His hatred. Kill her. Kill her now.

The ebony flames denoting the barrier had since dwindled and died. Or did he siphon that, as well? 

The serpents unhinged their jaws, and their fangs were made of the black fire. They reared their shadowy heads at Lilica, about to strike, about to sink those pinioned flames into her throat...

A white beacon of light flashed, point blank, into Alster's face. 

"That is quite enough!" Chara, her eyes a quiet fury, stormed in between Alster and Lilica. "Alster! You've proven your point. Release her. Otherwise, you'll hate yourself forever and you already are profoundly insufferable the way you are now!"

Alster blinked through the tears and the black, blooming spots that her spell had rendered to his visibility. But it had worked. Realizing what his anger, his hatred, had wrought, he dissolved the spell. The serpents broke away and returned to the holdfast of Lilica's stored power. The rest of it sank back into the ground whence it came. Alster gazed upon the slumped, prone form of Lilica, his eyes wide in terror. In guilt. In self-loathing.

"Is she--?" 

"We shall find out," Chara said, ignoring the stupefied looks of the onlookers caught in the midst of the caster brawl as she propelled herself towards the dark mage's limp body and assessed the damage.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2015 12:23 pm
by Requiem
I wanted to help you, Lilica--as you have helped me. ...I'm sorry.

Through the sharp ringing of her own hatred in her ears, she thought she heard those words. But she couldn't have; because any fool with a sense of perception, with acquaintance with magic, would realize too soon in her company that the chthonic mage Lilica D'Or was beyond help. She had been doomed, in fact, since the day she was born, and first drew breath.
This was something that some part of her had come to accept. Sometimes, another part of her very being fought it--the part of herself that she had found in Chara's company. The part of herself that she could no longer feel, and hence, all that was left was hatred and desperate destruction.

She watched as the earth melted and rose around Alster Rigas's feet, the flames surrounding them licking high and hot, practically shielding them from the mass of onlookers that had begun to gather to witness this impromptu 'spar'. You brought this on yourself, she thought bitterly, her heart already burdened with far too much pain and guilt to make room for current remorse. What, exactly, had he thought to gain by challenging someone who so clearly outclassed him in magic that he hardly understood? Lilica understood blind rage, but even she, in her most chaotic of moments, had the sense to consider whether or not she was capable of the revenge that she sought. And Alster's confidence was, unfortunately, disproportionate to his steadfast resolve.

At least, that was what she thought, until she realized how his hands in the earth began to dissolve the curse she had cast.

"What're you..." Lilica's brows knitted together in a marriage of confusion and dread. She took a single step back, feeling the heat of her own flames hot on her next from proximity. "How are you doing this? Your magic... it siphons the necromantic..." And, apparently, any other form of chthonic energy that poisoned the earth--or another person. My curse... he must have managed to remove my curse from the warrior's skin. It hadn't been a touch of death; the spell was designed to fade, eventually, but not without wreaking irreparable havoc on the body. She wondered if, as a result, Tam had recovered to fighting fit.

Th dark mage was not long to contemplate what she had overlooked. In her dumbfounded thought, she watched with wide eyes as Alster took the very energy she had cast into the earth--her own, throbbing, noxious hatred--and turned it into something more characteristic of his own magic. Serpents...
But he was not quick. It would have required little effort to defend, deflect the vicious snakes, on her part. After all, the Rigas caster hardly knew how to properly wield his own magic, his own dark energy, let alone hers. 

And yet, when the moment came, when she saw the black, slithering bodies come for her, she herself reacted too slowly--and instead of deflecting them, Lilica let her own magic seize her and squeeze the life from her lungs and limbs.

I don't want to do this anymore.

Her mind rang with the defeat that she had accepted long before the battle had ever occurred, while her body resonated with the unbearable pain of her own hatred. As the snakes constricted her each and every limb, she felt her skin bruise beneath their strong bodies, felt her ribs give with the compression. Breathing wasn't an option, nor was protecting the wound on her side, which--only newly healed--reopened under the extreme pressure, staining crimson her previously clean tunic. She hurt; every fibre of her being screamed at the excruciating agony that was a manifestation of her own hatred. But she was not afraid.

It's going to be okay.

A voice, faint in the back of her mind, reached out to her with palpable reassurance that somehow managed to calm her body, even in the wake of this attack. She noticed with spotted vision when the the serpents reared their heads and unhinged their massive jaws, revealing teeth as black and as sharp as jagged obsidian...
Lilica closed her eyes, accepting the very end she had invited.

She was hardly aware when that end didn't come. Suddenly, she was no longer standing, her body sprawled on the ground with an impact that she hadn't felt. The wound at her side still bled freely, and her lungs still struggled to draw breath, instead wracking her body with violent coughs. Feebly, she brought a hand to her mouth, and looked on with impassive observation as blood came away on the palm of her hand. She dared to draw another breath, and the same thing happened.
It's going to be all right.

Lying limp on her side, there was nothing in Lilica's clouded frame of view but an intensely blue sky, accented with plush, white clouds. The air around her felt so calm. Why have I never noticed this before...?

That was the last thing on her mind before her body was wracked with another cough, and she closed her eyes, lost to the waking world.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2015 10:43 pm
by Widdershins
In route to Lilica, Chara pushed aside the more brazen of the bystanders who, at seeing the dark mage's downfall, ventured near her resting place with looks of awe. The impregnable Lilica D'Or had been defeated. The news chattered from mouth to mouth in excited hums, until Alster drifted across the now defunct battlefield--and all the voices surrendered to uneasy, shaky silence. 

So I really am the new monster, he thought as he knelt on the opposite side of Chara and checked for the dark mage's condition.

"She's still alive," Chara said, sitting back on her heels. Alster raised his head in time to see the lines in her brow furrow--in worry. Despite his determination to fight against the current source of suffering, in the end, he perpetuated more suffering--and ignored the one who suffered all her life. And now she lay, maimed and unconscious, on the ground.

Together, they lifted Lilica with care and carried her over to the medic's tent. They arrived just as Lilica's side wound gushed and spurted with blood. The medics received her with quick attentiveness and began immediate treatment of her injuries. 

"How did this happen?!" demanded the head surgeon, dissecting the two Rigas casters with a probing eye.

"It was m--"

"Oh, it was just a row!" Chara nudged Alster in the ribs, silencing his confession. "A sparring session between two mages. A few miscalculations in the crossfire, but it was not of malicious intent."

When the medics shooed them out of the tent, Alster, with the last of his inner-fire, glared at Chara. 

"I know that you feel responsible and guilty, but admitting your hand will not do us any favors," she explained with the verbal equivalent of a glare that was accompanied by a glare. "We can't have you arousing even more suspicion among the camp and among Messino and his men. Lucky for you, Lilica made the first move; they will suspect her to be the instigator and will exonerate you for reasons of self-defense."

"And what will happen with Lilica?"

Chara played idly with the mussed up portions of her shoulder-length hair. "You do undermine my influence. Since she attacked you, this is a Rigas matter. ...She is at my mercy."

After their brief discussion, Alster excused himself before Chara forced him to seek treatment for the mild burns on his feet and shins, where Lilica's earth-melting spell made contact with the skin and shredded the soles of his boots, and for the slices that the handling of her magic wrought on his hands. 

"I need to go...for a walk. Don't wait up for me," he told Chara as he shuffled away, ignoring the pain of his feet and hands as he drifted through camp, aimless in his wanderings, his thoughts a tumult too busy to notice the stares he received on his path to nowhere. But the whispers--he heard them. They spoke their wonder. A chthonic Rigas mage. Their denial. He can't be a Rigas. They wouldn't keep him alive, otherwise. Their fear. Serpent. He's an agent of the Serpent. He used them in battle! They fought for him!

A Serpent...

He did not realize that his path led him to Elespeth until he nearly crashed into her. Through bleary eyes, he watched her stance open to him, to offer him undeserving condolences. Her concern was almost palatable. He tasted it on his tongue. And he wanted to sink into her arms, to drown in her gentle waves of compassion and to forget, if only for a moment, the corruption in his soul. 

No. He retreated from Elespeth, however much it pained him to reject her desire to help. It was wasted on him. 

"I'm sorry," he said, training his eyes to the ground. He couldn't find it in himself to look at her. "I promise to heal so you'll no longer hurt. But...I need to be alone right now." 

He turned in the other direction and continued on his way. True to his word, he used a healing spell to soothe his burns and knit the tears in his skin. By then, an inexplicable weariness tugged at him, and carted him off to sleep.

He was a child. No more than the equivalent of six years old. A group of other children his age played with a ball of etherea in the vast courtyard of the Rigas estate. The ball floated over to him and he lifted it with magic, spinning the small celestial body around his finger like the rotation of a planet upon its axis. 

"Can I play?" The other children exchanged uneasy looks, at both his question and his flippant show of skill. 

One boy, the defacto leader of the group, scrunched his nose in disapproval. "No, Alster, we can't do that. It wouldn't be fair. You have too much magic; you'd always win."

"Oh." Alster dropped the ball. "Maybe next time?"

The boy snatched the ball in his hands and laughed. It cut and sliced and burned with jealousy. "That's not going to happen."

Alster threw up his hands. Chthonic magic bled through his fingertips, molding into twin serpents. They snatched the boys and constricted their bodies until they liquefied. Blood and skin oozed and cascaded into puddles at his feet. The ball of etherea faded and then vanished into star dust.

Alster grew in age. Now he was practicing a complex series of spells with Debine in the training grounds. While juggling whips of etheria over his head, one tendril snapped out of the line-up and dissolved in his hands. 

"Alster!" His entire spell vanished at her admonition. "How many times have we practiced this form? Do you want to stay here all night, again!?"

"I'm hungry," he said, panting from the exertion of casting the spell several dozen repetitions in a row, without a break. "Can I at least have..."

"No. As far as I'm concerned, I won't give you a crumb unless you can perfect this spell."

"But--"

"That's my final word! Don't make me repeat myself. Now, again!"

He practiced until he fainted. Woke up in the morning, and practiced until his fingers cramped and he could no longer move them.

"I can't--"

"Well isn't that a convenient excuse!?" She seized his hand and observed the damage. "I see you have learned nothing, you miserable child. If you had been casting correctly, your hands wouldn't have cramped like this!"

"But I've been following everything you've taught me, Mother," Alster glanced at her with imploring eyes. "I promise." 

"You dare question my teaching methods?!" Her grip tightened around his wrist. He flinched and tried not to cry from the pressure, from the deadly turn in her expression, and from the punishment that was nigh impending. 

"N-no. I'm not." Blind panic shuddered out of his throat. "Please, I'm sorry. Just don't take me to--"

"It's a little too late for that." She dragged him to their apartments and unlocked the door to a small chamber in the far corner. Despite his pleas, she shoved him inside the dark, windowless room and secured the door tight. "You'll spend the rest of the day in isolation. That should give more than enough time for your fingers to recover."

The door flew open. Those same serpents ran themselves through Debine, spearing her with their serrated fangs, wringing her neck again and again and again. Her eyes bulged wide. Her skin turned white. She struggled to fight but her arms fell limp at her sides. Her neck snapped. Detached. And rolled with a dead thud to the floor. A new ball for the children. 

The serpents ran rampant. They slithered through the estate, mutilating the bodies of every Rigas they encountered. Adalfieri sat upon his throne, a pile of gore and shattered bones. Valente's blood had painted the walls. Chara lay strewn about the hallway in pieces, her face contorted in hurt and betrayal. Meanwhile, those twin serpents had merged, had grown, had transformed, into the Serpent. It whipped its ponderous head toward Alster, who had grown to his current age, and it hissed a series of staccatoed laughs. 

"Thank you, Alster Rigas," it sang as its black tongue flickered. "You have discovered your destiny. Your purpose. I am you. And I am yours to command." 

Alster wielded the might of the Serpent, and sent the beast to find its next target. It trampled past the littered bodies of the Rigas estate, spilled into the streets of Stella D'Mare...

And found Elespeth standing there.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2015 2:11 pm
by Requiem
She had been working with Haraldur when suddenly, Elespeth was startled by phantom pain.

"There is still no telling when the next battle is to occur," the ex-knight was musing as she stood before the weapons tent with the tall mercenary. Those wretched weapons, bejeweled with gems the colour of the very blood upon which they drew to wield power, still occupied space where Elespeth was convinced they should be hidden from human eyes and hands, forever. "If we hide these too soon, suspicion will be roused... I daresay too much has already occurred, so far, to rouse suspicion."

While since recovered from Lilica's attack, the memory still lingered in Elespeth's mind, ringing in her ears like a song that she wished she could altogether forget. Though the actions taken by her comrades, out of their own, genuine concern... They would never leave her memory with a hole where they had once been.

"Thank you, by the way. Again." Turning, she flashed a smile in Haraldur's direction. "I hope it does not become a habit of necessity to pick me up, unconscious, from the ground... I suppose I'd do well to look out for mys--"

It was sheer irony, the pain that suddenly singed her feet and legs, like they were being burned. Fortunately, it was far more startling than debilitating, and the Atvanian fugitive merely sank to her knees in confusion. "My feet.... what in the world is going on?" Naturally, her first thought was to scan her surroundings, in search of caster (or at the very least, one particular caster, of the dark sort), convinced that her body was wracked with yet another spell. 
Well, she wasn't entirely wrong. But this time, it was no fault of Lilica's. There wasn't even another caster to be seen, in an area predominantly reserved for the warriors.

"Gods..." She breathed, with the sudden realization upon removing one of her boots that her skin was in no way burned or marred. "Alster. Haraldur, I'm sorry... we'll reconvene later, but I fear something terrible is happening to Alster. I need to go find him."

Pulling her boot back onto her foot with a swift tug, the ex-knight took off, sprinting blindly through the encampment in search of her potentially wounded ally. Alster... what have you gotten into? Regardless of reasons, she owed it to him to be there, just as he had been there for her, in her dire time of need. And it could hardly spark her imagination as to just what could be burning him at his feet... Or, at least, she didn't want to ponder the considerations.

As usual, tracking the Rigas mage down was no easy feat. While conversing with the other Rigases, she didn't hesitate to interrupt the casual exchanges of Tivia and Danos, upon seeing them. "I need to find Alster. Do you know where he is?"

Of course, she should have expected that her request would be met with a snide countenance of haughty disgust, before the two returned to whatever it was they were discussing, ignoring her as if her voice were no more relevant than the wind in the trees.

So Elespeth decided to make her presence palpable and significant, and drew her sword, plunging it into the earth between the two Rigas mages. "I said, where is Alster?"

Tivia blanched, and Danos muttered something about having seen him head west of the encampment with Chara. It was about as good as the Atvanian fugitive would get, from those two. "Thank you." Without another word, she drew her blade from the rich yet infertile dirt, and hurried away, clenching her teeth against the phantom burn in her feet and hands.

When at last she found her battered companion, it was too late; at least, in that she was helpless to intervene in the battle that had already taken place and come to a close. Judging by the superficial wounds that the Rigas mage bore, she could only assume he had been th victor... So, then, who had lost? "Gods, Alster," Elespeth's breath escaped her in a rush of heavy relief. "What happened? I felt it... all of it." Taking him by the shoulders, she lowered the cadence of her voice. "Please, talk to me... Let me help."

But he wanted to be alone, and all the ex-knight could do was respect his request. She watched as he trudged off, looking exhausted and remorseful, and the young warrior couldn't help but wonder at the nature of that guilt. Lilica... did he...?

She didn't want to assume anything; Alster, despite his occasional impulse, was gentle. Whatever had struck him to be involved in an unnecessary battle would have had to be intense, unyielding...
Like revenge, fueled by a bond too deep to fully comprehend.

He was on her mind, that evening, when after much tossing and turning, she fell into a deep slumber...

...and found herself standing in a place that she did not recognize. Dark streets and tall, stone buildings, a handful of people dresse in equally unfamiliar garb. "Hello?" she cleared her throat. "Can anyone... possibly tell me where I am?"

But it was as though they could not hear her; as though they did not exist. And, moments later, it didn't matter, when they laid dead, bleeding, dismembered and mauled on the ground before her.

The giant serpent was merciless, taking out everyone in its path, bloodthirsty with rage. Elespeth felt helpless, watching the bodies fall, just seconds apart, paralyzed with fear as she was. What isis this monstrosity? Where did it come from, and what does it want with all of this spilled blood...?
And then it dawned on her.

"Alster..." Shaky but determined, the swordswoman's hand went for the blade at her side, without so much as looking away from the Serpent for a half-second. Her feet took two cautious steps backwards. "So you're the one who plagues him." She spoke to the Serpent, regardless of whether or not it could understand. "You drive him mad with guilt and past mistakes... There is no place in this world for the likes of you.

"Alster!" Blade firmly in hand, an poised to attack or defend, Elespeth called to her dear companion. "If you're here, I'm going to help you! I'll help you fell this beast, once and for all..."

But she wasn't confident that she could do it alone, with mere steel and skill.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Nov 17, 2015 1:49 am
by Widdershins
The Serpent lashed out its mighty tail and traced strokes of blood in the streets. It frothed and guttered down the mountainside that Stella D'Mare populated, streaming into small cascades that emptied into the sea. The beast continued to churn in its victims as it glided near Elespeth, caustic yellow eyes corroding through to her insides. 

But the great monster faltered. Not by her words, but by Alster's approach. He emerged from the wrought-iron Rigas Gate, since discarded into junk metal by the shadowy creature that now swerved and rocked to a rhythmical trance...in waiting. Alster's decaying eyes spotted Elespeth. He walked, slow and deliberate, towards her, gouts of blood drenching his forehead, arms, fingertips, and legs. 

"Beast?" His voice trailed behind him like the remains of his victims: dismembered, drained, and dead. "I see no beast. This is me. Didn't you see what I've done? ...I am the Serpent."

The Serpent reared its impossibly long neck miles into the sky and its jaw opened, rending a tear into the heavens. Glass shards rained down in biting torrents, shattering on contact with the ground. 

"Goodbye, Elespeth," he said, and the Serpent, with a galaxy lingering within its massive maw, careened towards earth--and swallowed her whole. 

Darkness reigned absolute. Weightlessness traveled through a void that stretched to infinity. Time deconstructed and warped into something untraceable, illusory. Oblivion permeated without voice, without form, without light. Until--a small lone star flickered itself into being through the eternal fog of night. 

"Hello?" The star trickled closer to Elespeth. "Is somebody there?" The star thrummed a warm, inviting light at Elespeth's side. Upon closer inspection, it was a ball of etherea, held in the hands of a child.

"I thought I was the only one locked inside this room." The child offered the ball to Elespeth. "Will you play? None of the kids want to, and Mother says I'm too special to dirty my hands."

When Elespeth accepted the ball, the child, with the light filtering a gentle glow between them and their locked hands, smiled. "My name is Alster Rigas. Thank you, Elespeth," his body evaporated, back into the ether, "...for being my friend."

The ball remained, and it pulsed variegated shades in her grasp. The light, in blues, greens, and purples, enveloped her with radiating wings. With a span that traversed eternity, the wings conveyed her through the void, through obliteration--and out of the Serpent's bottomless dungeon. 

She returned to the incarnadine streets of Stella D'Mare, to where Alster conducted his symphony of carnage. In midst of the continued attacks, the Serpent writhed in panic as it coiled its tail over a gaping hole punctured through its vast trunk.

Alster watched the Serpent cease its operations before snapping his gaze to Elespeth. "How did you--?"

He took note of the ball of etherea she possessed. Confusion, much like the ceaseless blood, stained his face.

"Why do you have that?" With a flick, he wrenched it out of her hands and into his own. The magic used to create the ball was crafted with an inexperienced eye and as such, was lumpy and misshapen. Yet, it was made in earnest, by a child. By...him. It never found use and ended up in a mist of disseminated magic. But she...she uncovered it, and played with it--alongside a lonely, dejected child who only wanted...acceptance. Wanted it enough to unleash a Serpent. For, the only place where he thought he would ever belong was inside of a monster.

Streaks of hot water washed the blood off his cheeks. "Elespeth." He closed the distance between them, the ball rolling from his fingertips, to the ground. "I don't want to be a monster anymore." More tears glistened, burned at his eyes. The falling glass shards turned into rain, and washed away the blood, in small rivulets, from his body. He threw his arms around her waist and pulled her close, buying his head into her shoulder. "But that will never be." He trembled against her, his chest wracking in pained spasms. "We can't kill the Serpent. All we can do...is send it home."

The Serpent resumed its frenzied movements, thrashing at buildings as it roved about the city. Alster broke away from Elespeth and wiped the tears from his eyes, from the sky, and the rain stopped. 

"We'll send it back," he repeated, straightening his shoulders with resigned composure. "Together." He glanced upwards at the torn fabric of their world and the Serpent that preyed beneath it, engulfing houses and people, desolating the mountain chunk by chunk, and quaking the earth into an apocalyptic slush. 

He slid his hand over her own, over the hilt of her sword, and concentrated. He thought about the flow of his magic from inception to invocation, the formation of stars, the origin of the universe. He thought of different realms in the madness of creation and where, amongst the infinite, this creature belonged. He thought of his own origins, of the Rigas legacy, of his birth, the star of his namesake and that a part of him, too, floated weightlessly in the abyss of space. 

Then he thought of the earth. Of himself. I. Me. Alster Rigas. And...Elespeth, at his side. Always at his side. 

He opened his eyes and the power of the universe raged through him, entered her sword, and expanded, in a straight path, towards the Serpent. 

"It's up to you, now!" He yelled, struggling to control the soul-rending intensity that coursed through him like a maelstrom the size of the Sun. "Shoot the energy from your sword at the Serpent. If successful, the beast will be sucked into the void above us!"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Tue Nov 17, 2015 10:09 pm
by Requiem
At one moment, Elespeth was a witness to the largest massacre she had ever encountered. At one moment, she faced the Serpent, the very noxious seed at the heart of all of Alster's misery and anxiety, the weight that kept pulling him down to darker times, hindering his ability to get ahead and put his past behind him. At one moment, she was looking at Alster, himself... but not an Alster that she recognized. This one had dead eyes, spoke in monotone, and looked at her with recognition, but entirely without feeling.

At one moment, she was somewhere; and, the next thing she knew, she was nowhere.

The darkness was palpable yet without texture, smothering despite that nothing touched her and she found no difficulty breathing. Sword still drawn, the former knight called out, hoping for an answer--from anyone, futile though it was in that somber, obsidian abyss.
That is, until a low star blinked into existence... accompanied by a voice.

"Hello?" She called back, sword still in hand as she approached the star... or, rather, the source of the light. "You're not alone. I'm here, too... well, at least, wherever here is... Do you know the way ou-"

The swordswoman's voice and breath caught in her throat as the face of a child approached her, a glowing ball of etherea in his hands--something she recognized from both Chara and Alster.
Not so strange, it seemed... considering the young, sorrowful face upon which she looked was Alster. A young Alster Rigas, meek and alone. The Alster she had never known, but about which she had learned from a much older, much more damaged Alster.

"I..." Elespeth cleared her throat, which felt very suddenly tight. "Of course. I'll play." With an outstretched hand, she caught the ball of etherea. The pulsing, vibrant energy felt warm and weightless in her hand. As did the hand that found her own... smaller, yet so familiar. "I know." She whispered, watching with a pang of sadness as he began to fade. "I know who you are, Alster... you know I will be here whenever you are in need."

The light from the etherea grew stronger, warmer, until it swallowed the light just as the dark had swallowed her. Elespeth was forced to close her eyes against its intense brilliance, and when they opened again, she was back where she had begun; before the Serpent, and the dear friend whose mind it had enslaved. Among the carnage, ankle-deep with blood, and raining glass from the sky. Try though she might to shield her face from the aerial assault, the former knight's face and limbs suffered tiny nicks and more severe lacerations. Only with her sword-arm was she able to shield her eyes, which beheld a startled and confused Alster... one much different from what she had just seen. "I got it..." She began, watching as he snatched it from her possession. "From you... you gave it to me, Alster."

And then she watched her friend transform. Hate melted from his face like wax in the hot sun, replaced with a look not dissimilar from that of his childlike counterpart. Tears from his very own heart cleansed his face of blood. I don't want to be a monster anymore...
"But you're not," she countered, not taking her eyes off of him for a second. "You never were..."

Arms outstretched, Elespeth welcomed her friend into her embrace, holding him close as his tears washed his face of incriminating blood. She didn't want to let him go. "I'm here, Alster. Whatever the adversary... you are not alone. Let's end this together."

His hand over her own felt warm, and warmer still as he concentrated energy into her weapon. Not so unlike what he had done before, in the early days of their training as a compound unit, only this was more than a show of strength or a rather fancy sleight of hand. Everything that Alster Rigas had, everything that he was, as a caster, a person, and the dearest of companions, was channeled into her weapon. All that was left was for her to reciprocate. "Not up to me," she corrected him. "Up to us."

The Serpent's attention was trained on the duo, its movements quick to react--but not quick enough. Elespeth steered her blade, point first, at the abomination's throat, just in time for it to come upon them, seeking to swallow whole the duo that so dared to oppose it. 
And then, it exploded into shards of light... as if it had never been a corporeal being, to begin with, but merely essence of some malevolent energy. "Alster..." The Atvanian breathed, still warmed by the pressure of his hand. "I think we--"

That was when she opened her eyes.

Elespeth's brow was damp with beads of perspiration when she sat upright in her tent, breathing heavily, and feeling as though she had been running for her life as opposed to sleeping... It was late in the morning, and most of her comrade in the barracks were up and about, shooting her odd glances at her uncharacteristic tardiness to rise.

"Who'd have thought the overachieving mage-lover would be the last to rise?" Someone's snide remark stirred some laughter among the men, but fell completely deaf on her ears. No sooner did she realize she was awake, that the swordswoman kicked off her blankets and sprung out of her cot and out of the tent, as if running from whatever it was she had dreamt.
Or, rather... running towards it.

She didn't stop running, not even for food or water, until she found what--or, rather, who--she was looking for. Alster stood outside of his tent, similarly bleary-eyed, like the night's sleep had not allowed him the rest that he deserved. Elespeth paused a moment, long enough for their eyes to meet, before closing the distance between them, and pulling him into a tight embrace. "Alster..." She sighed, heedless of onlookers, their jeers, and whatever rumours might result from the scene. None of that mattered, and this moment belonged to them, alone. "I... everything... I'm so, so sorry." That child, with his wide, innocent eyes and sincere smile when she'd accepted his game, had branded himself in her memory, lending her a better understanding of the caster in front of her, who had already branded himself in her heart. "And I know that it isn't enough. But know that, no matter what, I'll be here when you need me; so let me be damned if ever I am not."

Late morning, in the medical tent, also greeted the open eyes of a particular dark mage. It was the first time that Lilica had lingered in the land of the conscious since Alster Rigas had struck her down, and frankly, she was surprised to find herself alive.
Surprise, but not exactly relieved.

As soon as she sat up, she realized it was too soon. The wound at her side screamed (and so did her voice), and her fingers found the texture of thread tying the gaping hole in her flesh shut. Bruises encircled her limbs like morbid jewelry, a reminder of the small serpents that had nearly taken her life by squeezing it out of her, and her torn clothing stuck to her skin in some places, adhered by dried blood.

Attendants of the tent realized she was awake. They were not oblivious to her brief scream of pain on sitting up, and yet, offered no explanation, no consolation, not ever any tonic for the pain. They want nothing to do with me. Frankly, it came as a surprise that they had chosen to help, at all. 
Only moments into wakefulness, and already she was losing her patience.

"If you insist on ignoring me," she murmured, slinging her legs over the side of the cot, "then I will return to my tent and tend to my own pain."
Standing only shot pain through her body anew. Lilica gripped her throbbing side, and slowly made her way to the front of the tent, one careful step at a time. 

Consequences of yesterday's actions nowhere near touching the front of her mind, the chthonic caster--whether or not it was advisable to be on her feet--took what was left of her well-being (if you could call it that) into her own hands, and set foot into the bright morning sunlight. Like yesterday, its brilliance hurt her eyes, more than she felt it should.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Thu Nov 19, 2015 12:59 am
by Widdershins
The void from above suctioned each shard of light into the mouth of the unknown, to where the desiccated creature might relocate its home. He watched the procession, the updraft playing with the converted energy of the Serpent's incorporeal remains--and his hand grew cold. Alster gazed over to Elespeth and found her gone, her presence scattered into white ash as if she, too, hadn't a true form. As if she existed in a dream...

Alster opened his eyes and sprung from his cot, clutching the pounding persistence of his chest as his breathing tried to keep the pace. His insides flared and twisted, as if they had played host to a great cosmic force within himself. His stomach flipped and his tongue tasted of bile. The bile soon evacuated from him, puddling into his waste bucket. In the late morning light of day, it appeared blood-red in color. The color of a massacre...

Before he heaved another visceral reaction into the bucket, Alster stumbled from his tent, into the hum of the encampment at the height of activity. He stared forward, without seeing, but the shadows in his sight skulked from view, in case he too should target them with the madness of chthonic magic. 

That's right. He lowered his eyes to the ground, wondering if the dirt, too, would feel threatened by his attention. They all fear me now. I don't blame them. I fear me...

He imagined the entirety of the camp as a victim of his wrath should it slip from his control. The tents smeared crimson, limbs hacked and innards splayed, the ground not soaked in alcohol, but with the blood of all his victims, and all those sightless eyes honed on him, only him, forever watching him fail and fall and lose himself...to himself.

He gripped his shoulders, hugging himself to combat the frost that had replaced the warmth of his lifestream, as if he were afflicted by Lilica's curse for the rest of his life.

Then, he felt a familiar presence place a hand of comfort upon his soul. He looked up and saw Elespeth, standing in wait, ready for him to notice--that he was not alone. That he never needed to be alone, so long as she was around, so long as their bond tied them close together, sharing their hearts. He stumbled closer, his chill abating, as she swept him into her arms, and cradled him tightly. Then, he remembered, and the memory impaled him like a spear to the gut: she featured in his horrible nightmare. In the dream, she made him realize...that he wasn't yet lost. That he could look into himself and see that bright ball of etherea, misshapen but shining with the light of a star, even amidst the fathomless abyss. That she would always fight with him, no matter the impossibilities, however bleak the battle, and stay at his side. Magic and sword united.

He closed his eyes to hide the mist that filtered over his vision, and enfolded his arms around her back. "No, I'm sorry...that you had to see my darkness. That I pulled you into such bleak, destructive energy. And I'm afraid...that it is who I will become. With Lilica, yesterday," he ventured, stiffening in her arms, "I felt justified in what I did--because she hurt you. But...not in the way I...not how I ended up using...there was only hatred. And I liked it. I would have killed her. I know I would have, if not for Chara." With great hesitation, he drifted away from Elespeth's embrace, and opened eyes that still misted. "I'm a liability. And I'm also selfish, because, despite everything that I am, I...want you here. You have more than enough reason to be afraid of me, and I won't fault you if you want to leave. But you...no matter what you end up doing," the smallest of smiles appeared on a face that glowed the color of dying embers, "you have my heart." 

Chara lounged, as well as she could, on a chair with more hard angles cut into its surface than the inside of an iron maiden. Above her, an officer paced, his hands clasped behind his back in a position that feigned authority more than commanded it. The man simply tried too hard to convince Chara that he carried any clout or might with his unimpressive, likely ceremonial title.

"Your account does clash with that of other eye witnesses," the officer said, after his dramatic pause had spurred him into a fit of pacing. "According to them, these two mages fought with the intention to kill, or at the very least, seriously maim each other. Which, as we are both aware, has already occurred."

In turn, Chara shrugged. This officer was no magic-user. Time to take advantage of his ignorance. "Chthonic users lack subtlety. Every attack in their hands looks like a death threat." She waved a disinterested hand in the air. "I can vouch for the state of both casters at the time of the incident. And, should anything of the sort happen in the near future, you may hold me personally responsible. After all, chthonic magic in the hands of a Rigas caster is an uncommon development and we Rigases are overseeing his progress with the proper care it so deserves." She planted both feet on the ground, ready to rise from the eyesore (among other sores) of the offending chair. "As for the dark mage, Lilica, we absolve her of guilt. While she struck first, our Rigas mage was clearly the victor. Her ultimate failure in the face of our perfection is punishment enough and our pride will not allow any further action in this case." With one last look at the inexperienced officer, she bounded across the tent, placing a hand on the flap. "Should you have additional questions, you know where to find me. I shall dismiss myself." 

As she departed, she opted for the longer route to her tent, for reasons that planted a soft sigh on her lips. Lilica. She didn't much understand, herself, but she found it her obligation to track the dark mage's progress, despite, or perhaps because of, recent developments. 

When she came upon the medical tent, her sigh transformed into an annoyed groan. Of course the damnable chthonic caster would flee the scene, even with a gaping wound at her side! Without thought for her current regard for Lilica, she bounded to the entrance of the tent, her legs pumping with a fury that her eyes reflected. 

"You!!" She pointed an accusatory finger at Lilica. "Back in the tent! I will not have you wandering this encampment as if yesterday never happened! I've invested in your life. So do right by this second, no, third chance and go inside. Right now!"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sun Nov 22, 2015 1:21 am
by Requiem
"Then let me assure you that your fear is unfounded."
Elespeth held tightly her caster companion, and shook her head against his self-doubt. She had never agreed with his own self-perceptions, but now... now, she understood why it bothered him, so. The foundations were all clear, and whether or not she believed him--that he would have killed Lilica, had Chara not intervened--did not matter. What mattered was that he himself believed it, and it was up to her to convince him otherwise.

Alster Rigas was no monster. Monsters could not show remorse. Monsters could not cry.

"If wanting to keep your comrades as safe as possible makes you selfish, then I am far worse than you are." Pulling away just enough to hold the Rigas mage gently by the shoulders, the culpability in his eyes bruising her rapidly beating heart. "Alster... I know that what you did, you only did out of concern or respect for me. It might not make make it right, but it is far different from Lilica's unsolicited assault. That was unprovoked, unjustified, and without remorse... I think we can both agree on what a real monster looks like."

It was nothing personal against Lilica--well, not entirely--and yet the accusation on the part of the dark mage (or, at least, an assumption as to what had inspired her intentions) left a bitter taste on the tip of the Atvanian fugitive's tongue. Was it really within her rights to call Lilica a monster? Certainly, her actions were not to be excused, and yet... yet she had seemed so off, that evening. Not entirely herself, but as if her mind (and intentions) had been somewhere else, entirely...
But did that make her a monster? After everything she had already done to help Alster? No more than Chara was a monster, perhaps, by that definition.

Pushing all thoughts of the dark mage aside, Elespeth shook her head, as if in an attempt to dispel the experience of that awful encounter. "Alster, I have said it before and I will say it again." Leaning in, she pressed her forehead to his. "I am not leaving, and I am not afraid of you. And I don't know what sort of fool I would be to walk away from... from arguably the most genuine person I have met in my lifetime." Grinning, she added, "You have my loyalty and my dedication, Alster Rigas." And maybe more... "Indefinitely."

Interestingly, Lilica appeared to harbour a similar sort of loyalty, but it was not towards Alster. And it took even her by surprise.

The sudden presence of Chara Rigas, followed by her commandeering outburst, very nearly put the dark mage into cardiac arrest--at least, that was how it felt, when she was forced to stagger back, clutching at her injured side and forcing measured breaths into her lungs. For a moment, she felt tempted to retaliate, give the haughty blonde a piece of her sharp, albeit exhausted mind... until she realized she hadn't the energy, nor the strength for that. And, in addition, she just wasn't up for another fight. Not so soon. And not with Chara.

Lilica held up the hand that wasn't clutching her side. "I'm only going as far as my own tent..." She ventured to explain, her voice oddly calm and even in the face of Chara's fury. "I need something for the pain... all of my supplies are with my belongings. If you're so concerned, you can walk me there." 
But that wasn't going to be enough; not for steadfast Chara Rigas, and all her dire conviction. She needed to level with her on an entirely different playing field. "When you were drunk out of your mind, I ensured your pride by removing you from the curious eyes of the rest of this camp... Now, I need to ask you to do the same, for me."

In truth, the dark mage hadn't expected it to work, especially not after her last encounter with the celestial Rigas caster. How was she to appeal to her sentiments on a deeper level when Chara no longer trusted her (and for damn good reasons)? And yet, somehow... somehow, she managed to convince her to step to the side, and to let her pass. Not without following at the pace of a single step behind, but that was just fine... considering she was not convinced that she could make it all the way back to her tent without stumbling. It wouldn't take much significant jarring to tear open that wound at her side a third time.

Ultimately, the dark-haired caster managed to remain on her own two feet without incident, and crossed the threshold of her dreary, private tent. But as soon as she saw the opportunity to sit on her cot, she took it, relieved not to be standing. "That jar... the brown one. Please pass it, here." It shouldn't have surprised her that the celestial Rigas mage followed her inside. For whatever reason, good or bad, she appeared not to trust to take her eyes off of her for the time being. "It's a salve I concocted to speed healing and dull pain... I'm fine, I just need some relief. Though why you have chosen to invest in a life such as my own evades me... you know that I have nothing to offer you, or yours."

Taking the jar from Chara with a murmured 'thank you', Lilica applied a generous amount of salve to her wound, the skin held together only by thread, and carefully eased the rest of her body onto her cot, mindful of the already-receding pain. It was strange, how she had done little more than sleep for four days straight, and yet felt as though she could nod off again if she closed her eyes. The chthonic mage was paler than usual, with a gauntness to her bone structure from having eaten nothing in over half a week, but otherwise there was nothing to suggest she wouldn't make a full recovery. As soon as the dregs of her own dark magic turned against her finally dissipated.

"...are you staying because you're waiting for me to apologize?" Noticing Chara had yet to leave, she turned her head to the side on her pillow. "Because I can't think of anything else to say, other than I have regrets... that hasn't changed." If only she knew that she had let Alster's final attack take effect, that she could have stepped out of the way at the last second... but that she had chosen not to, for the guilt that still resonated under her skin.

Would that have changed Chara's opinion? Or would she merely think her an even bigger fool?

It was then that the dark mage made yet another split second decision.
Moving her arm, she offered her hand, palm up. "If you're not leaving, then let me show you something." Either way, her eyes were tempted to close, and she didn't wait for the blonde Rigas's decision before she felt herself drifting... to a place that she tried to hard to avoid. A truly futile effort, on her part.

When she opened her eyes again, she was no in her cold and dismal tent, but somewhere far warmer, with sun and the scent of flora, not mud and sweat, in the air.
And, sure enough, Chara was there with her, they the only two people around in what appeared to be a quiet village disturbed by nothing, not even the elements. Shops of stone and wood bordered streets inlaid with stone, wild flowers growing between the cracks. At the heart of the market square was a still fountain, pollen floating upon the water. On a nearby hill, not too far away, appeared to consist predominantly of private residences, big and small and sporadically spaced. A place that had never seen war... and certainly not the darkness that Lilica carried in the very essence of her being.

Seeing it again, she wanted to smile. But she couldn't. "This is where I spent decades and decades of my life," she explained, moving freely down the road, unhindered by injury. "I worked as an herbalist. I never saw war, massacre... I didn't have to hide. I didn't have magic." Stepping to the side of the fountain, she looked at her reflection in the calm waters. "There's no one here now; my 'life'--if that's what you want to call it--ended, here, and everyone in it also appeared to vanish. But it's still a brand on my memory. I come here when I need to get away. It's lonely now, but... quiet. Warm. Nothing can hurt me, and I can't hurt anything. What else could I ask for in a more perfect existence?"

Lilica straightened, then, turning away from her solitary reflection to face Chara. "I'm... not really sure why I am showing this to you. No one's ever seen it, before. No one else knows." She searched the Rigas mage's face, as if it held the answers she sought. "I don't know if I wanted another pair of eyes here to confirm it was--is--real, or to shatter it forever as the illusion that it is. Because that's all it really ever was; an illusion. A beautiful dream. But I had to wake up; we all do, don't we?"

Curling her hands into fists, she forced herself to smile. It was almost painful. "I guess I just want you to decide for me. If I should keep retreating, or put this behind me forever, and accept my reality. I need you to... to help me. Just one, last time, and I will never bother you again. Chara..." With a bold step forward, she grasped the celestial caster by the arms. "I need you to shatter this. You have the boldness, the abrasion... If you don't, then I fear I will forever continue to retreat to this place, and I'll never accept my place in reality. So shatter me, Chara Rigas; shatter me and all of this, just as you could shatter anyone else. I'm not asking you for kindness, now..." In which case, it shouldn't be difficult.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Nov 25, 2015 8:25 am
by Widdershins
With a begrudging grunt of compliance, Chara heeded Lilica's reasons for her escape, but it didn't mean she granted full cooperation for the dark mage to do as she pleased. While she followed along, she refused to equate "following" with "assistance," however much Lilica guilted her into offering reciprocity in turn for past aid. It was too early for Chara to view her as a being capable of remorse, although, in the realm of her inane, bleeding-heart optimism, she already did. 

She said not a word as she practically stepped on Lilica's heels en route to her tent. Once inside, she gripped the jar at the chthonic mage's request and about threw it onto her waiting hands. "I am overseeing this operation of yours, oh blighted one," she sputtered in explanation, leaning an elbow against the chair where Lilica worked on the rupture at her side. "As far as I am concerned, every little move that you make will fall under suspicion. I cannot afford to take my eyes from you...especially now." The statement fell under hushed lips, but carried their intent over to the only other soul in the tent with the ears to listen. "Do not mistake my preservation of your integrity and your life as a selfless act of generosity. It is for the honor of the Rigas name that I spoke on your behalf. I invest because I must, not because I see you as someone worth saving." Vitriol consumed her speech, but it, like much of Chara's personality in the eyes of the public, felt affected. Nothing but hollow theatrics to sate the crowd--and herself. 

With crossed arms, she resumed her feigned disinterest as she watched the dark mage apply her concoction in thick, gooey layers over her injury. May it bleed forever, the vitriol spat. May it heal well, the bleeding-heart wished. 

"Yes, I do want you to apologize! To them!" Her arms bulged from the tensing of her muscles wrung across her chest. "Just because you can think of nothing to say does not mean you should disregard your connection to common human decency. It is what separates you from vile scum. From monsters. Though," she dropped her arms in order to alleviate the strain, "I must admit, there is a certain poetic justice in witnessing your own magic, your own hatred, used against you, and for that, I must commend Alster, however much he's beaten himself senseless over what he has done." She glowered down at Lilica, who, in her seat, appeared as a harmless, groveling insect. "So, how am I to reason that the 'regret' you feel is legitimate? That it is not a tool in the arsenal of your dark manipulation?"

As if in response to her interrogation, the dark mage upturned her hand and beckoned her closer. "This had better not be a trick." With a mollifying intake of breath, she reached over and touched Lilica's hand.

Instantly, the tent, their entire environment, sloughed away like a serpent's skin to reveal a verdant idyll dwelling beneath its surface. Everything, from the cobbles in the streets to the bounce of the flowers in the breeze screamed a perfection too real to exist. In fact, it jarred her how the hamlet, so untouched by hardship, stood before her like pictures in a book: flat, lifeless, and imaginary. Surely, if she touched the quaint shop-front beside her, it would crumble like paper in her hands. 

"What did I tell you about manipulation?!" She demanded as she turned her heels on Lilica in time to see a wave of sentimentality wash her face into a sickening sheen. "Where have you taken me?"

All had revealed itself to Chara. So, this was where the mage had skittered from reality for the span of a lifetime? With a frown that bordered on disgust, she followed Lilica down the polished stone road to linger beside the fountain that glittered an impossible blue, highlighted by the bask of a sun that appeared never to have blazed an oppressive wave of heat a day in its creation. 

"This is where you spent your days?" Chara swiveled her hand through the water in the fountain, watching the ripples dispose of and engulf the slimy top-layer of pollen. "Please. You are sounding just as saccharine as Alster. This hovel is like a painting on a mausoleum. This is where one goes to die. Not to live."

Then, Lilica revealed her true intentions, her plans for the fate of the village, and Chara spun around to regard her, disbelief working her jaw ajar. "You wish me to destroy this pitiful illusion?" As much as the entire environment branded itself an eyesore in her perceptions, she hesitated in the deed. Was she fit, or even qualified, to annihilate the dreams of another? But when the mage grappled her by the arms, and those eyes, brimming with a desperation, with guilt, met with her own, she knew what needed to happen. 

"You insult me." She tore away from Lilica's hold. "You imply that I am some masterful destroyer of dreams." As if to confirm, thoughts of how she had shattered Alster's hope so long ago, and watched those eyes flicker into darkness, tugged at the tender center of her soul. A long, resigned sigh expelled from her lungs. 

"Gladly," she said, after a minute pause. "If this wanton act will connect you to our reality and to the responsibilities that you owe to our world, then I shall slay this paper playground of yours. Besides, I look forward to leveling this atrocious place," she cracked her knuckles and grinned, "with great relish." 

Paper. It was all paper. And paper is simple to ignite. Too simple. 

With a snap of her fingers, her entire hand burst into hungry flames. She thrust it at the stem of the fountain, which began to gush fire. Like a red-orange-yellow geyser, the variegated stream spiraled towards the sun and traced the sky. Holes burned above them, inviting images of what lay beyond the thin filter upon which they were inked: the tent they had left behind. 

She continued with the assault. With a frenzied stomp, she tore the ground into shreds. The willowy grasses, the lazy flowers that had nodded to their own tune, lacerated themselves to pieces. The fire above them had burned out the sun, eradicated the azure sky into a dull, muddy gray, and raged across the hilltops. Each lick carved out the wood and stone houses as if they were sand, and left behind ash and soot, which scattered into the village. A gale whipped through the main thoroughfare, reaching the fountain square, crackling the illusion into a wrinkle, a lightning-shaped tear, a fissure with the shallow depths of home. Of reality. 

Finally, the fire blazed through the village, decimating each building with the ease of kindling, unleashing itself to the streets, eating, feasting, leaving no leftovers of its dinner. 

The fountain, the last holdfast of illusory peace, surrendered to the breaking of the world...and collapsed. 

They, Chara and Lilica, collapsed with it...

And found themselves back inside the tent, in the ugly, muddy, sun-baking war-torn misery of their reality. And Chara couldn't be happier to return. It was imperfect, and frequently unbearable, but it was her home. Their home. 

Chara squeezed an inviting pressure against Lilica's hand, to ascertain their connection, to assure that they didn't escape into a doppelganger version of the encampment. But the ground was stable, and she did not feel flattened against a page of a book of fanciful creations. 

With a side-turn, she ventured to look at Lilica, and though she first denied it, concern dominated every emotion in her head. Try as she might, she could not banish the pesky feeling to whence it came. 

Instead, she released it--outward. Towards Lilica.

"Did I...overdo it? Will you...will you be well?"


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Wed Nov 25, 2015 9:23 pm
by Requiem
I look forward to leveling this atrocious place, with great relish.

Lilica D'Or watched with attentive and remorseful eyes as the only world to which she had ever felt she'd belonged burned up in front of her, like dead leaves amid a forest fire.

This had been her life, once; those streets, the shops, the glens, the fountain, the houses and flowers... all of it. At one point, there, she'd had a purpose. At one point, she had loved, and had been loved. At one point, she had been a herbalist, part of something bigger, and contributing to a wider body of people. A community...a home.
This had been her life for over seventy long years. And all of a sudden, it was burning up, destroyed as though it were made of paper.

I never could have done this myself... Never. She had needed Chara to do this, as painful as it was to witness.

The small spot on the market where she had concocted salves and tinctures to alleviate symptoms disintegrated in seconds. Strange, how the wood and stone that had held it up had once seemed so sturdy, so impenetrable. This entire landscape had once been impenetrable, by every meaning of the word, for while the Rigas caster had claimed it was little more than a mausoleum, it had been nothing less of a peaceful sanctuary for Lilica. A place where she had learned what it felt like to laugh, and why laughter was important. Why kindness was necessity. She had even felt like she had been cherished, and not by one, but many, fiends and lovers alike. Here, she had been whole. Even if that version of whole was little more than an illusion.

Her world, her safe haven, her sanctuary gradually turned to ash at her feet. No... please, stop it..., she wanted to cry out, but refrained and allowed Chara to finish the job, setting everything alight with her well-earned fury.
She should have said goodbye to this place long ago, when she'd awoken once again to reality. This, from the evasion of this goodbye and the pain that would ensue, had been long overdue. But now, it was time, and the result was permanent.

The dark mage opened her eyes with a start.

Consumed by a spell of vertigo, she fell forward and caught herself with one arm on the bed, dark hair free of its brain and hanging around her face like a curtain. Nausea threatened to take advantage of her weakened state, but the feeling mercifully passed moments later. Only when she was sure she would not find the room spinning around her like a top did she dare look up, and into Chara's face, which betrayed concern. A curious contrast for someone who, with gusto, had just destroyed... just destroyed...

"I don't... I can't remember." Lilica's dark eyes stared without seeing at the dreary tent wall, as her mind scrambled to comprehend what had just come to pass. "I mean... I know what happened, what you just did, but... Everything is so... dark. Shapeless, blurry... I know I've forgotten something. I just don't know what it is I've forgotten."

She struggled to recount memories, anything from her time during those seventy-something years that she had not walked among the living and awake. It was not lost on her that all those years of her miserable life had been sacrificed to some ridiculous and unattainable dream. But the details, the images... everything about it was just gone, as if her memories of the place had burnt up with the very fabric of its fragile existence.

And, in the wake of this cognitive purge of sorts, Lilica was left with a feeling of... well, for lack of a better word, emptiness. The feeling of a weight lifting, something that used to be there, but that resided no longer. Connections, feelings, that no longer made any sense, as the memory of the source of their existence had been removed, severed from the rest of her neural pathways. As if there had been paved a place for frivolous sentiments, such as love and joy, but those spaces were void and shapeless, and she couldn't recall what it meant to feel anything that they had once contained.

In a matter of moments, her dream had become a dream, in and of itself. And in its ashes, it left behind a nothingness that clung to her skin like a damp cold.

Brushing her hair from her eyes, she was startled to find that she was, in fact, cold to the touch. "This... this was necessary. I thought my closure was when that imaginary life came to an end... the truth is, I never did have that closure. Just a... a longing, I guess. For what I don't feel anymore. I don't even know what it was I felt..." As the back of her hand grazed her face, something wet came away on her knuckles. For fear it was blood, she examined her fingers, only to find them stained with water.
No, not with water. With tears. 

"I know you must find me deplorable, remorseless. But know this: I do understand the source of Alster's pain and uncertainty." Brushing away what remaining tears wet her face, the chthonic caster finally turned her attention to Chara. "It is difficult, knowing not only that you do not belong, but why you do not belong, and that you cannot do anything about it. In my unique case... I suppose I simply endeavoured to create that space for myself. A shame that it was never real... It probably wasn't even worth the memories." The years and years' worth of memories that she had once thought she cherished, now nothing but blurry, fleeting images that left imprints she could hardly discern.

But it was all for the better--wasn't it? "It's strange... I feel as though I've done nothing but sleep for the past four days, prior to and after Alster turned my own magic on me," she mused aloud. "But.... I think I should rest, some more. I won't keep you any longer with visits into planes of my mind that don't concern anyone but myself. Just... close the flaps at the front, when you leave. It's gotten cold in here." Though it always had been; she simply minded it all the more, now.


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Fri Nov 27, 2015 7:32 am
by Widdershins
With a hand still connected with Lilica, Chara found herself leaning towards the cot upon which the dark mage found temporary refuge. She released their hold before she joined her there at rock bottom, watching, helpless, as Lilica struggled against displaying a visceral reaction to her dream's demise. 

Operating without the permission of her greater cognizance, she pulled out a water flask strapped to her belt and offered it to the mage. "Here," she grumbled, shoving the tin container in her face, "drink." Once the distraught mage stabilized enough to voice her opinions on the obliteration of her dream, Chara hunkered on the cot beside Lilica, feeling a pang of something knocking at the inside of her chest. Reservations, second thoughts...guilt. Perhaps it was not the most sound idea, to blindly agree to conspire against and rally for the destruction of Lilica's inner sanctum--however much her thirst to harm the mage had guzzled up the entire scenario like a fine wine. False or not, if the eradication of Lilica's "previous life" engendered memory loss and emotional confusion, then Chara may have, without truly realizing it, caused irrevocable damage.

And it was impossible to rebuild the same sand castle when it had already dissolved into the water. All that one could do was build a sturdier version in the space beyond dreams. In the present. In the now. 

"I'm not going to pretend I know the extent of which you lost," she stared at her feet, clicking together her heels to avoid an eye contact she was not yet ready to face, "but I do know that you cannot live two lives at once. One will always conquer the other. And the life that you chose, that you so desperately clung to in that impossibly perfect village...it has already ended. You were chasing not just a dream, but the ghost of a dream. In other words, your actions were absolutely pathetic. Alas," she sighed, and established eye contact with those morose voids that threatened to instill their emptiness inside of her, "a pathetic being cannot be a remorseless one; otherwise, she would not elicit sympathy."

As she rose from the cot, batting the tent flaps to a close, she turned back around, her feet as quiet as the hushed darkness that had swallowed the two whole. "Go and rest, Lilica." She settled down on the chair, crossing her legs in an attempt to reach her desired level of comfort. "And I will stay until you fall asleep--as you have done for me, once." 

**

"Well, well. You have certainly made a mess of my camp, as of late." 

Messino, surrounded by four of his elite guard, two of which harnessed magic of their own, sat behind his desk. With hands clasped neatly in place, he regarded the Rigas caster before him with a practiced, albeit thin, veneer of politesse--though he could not hide his sneer. 

"Alster Rigas. The entire camp knows now of your dire chthonic casting capabilities. And here I thought I was doing you a service by keeping your confessions to secrecy. I was hoping to use this information as leverage should you or your family fall out of line. Well," he shrugged, rolling his shoulders until they popped, "no matter. For, I found an alternate method through which I will demand your cooperation.." 

"Are you looking to blackmail me?" The glass in Alster's voice would cut a lesser man bloody with its lashing menace. Messino bounced away the stabbing question with the simple wave of his hand.

"If that is how you wish to interpret my generous offer, though I see it as an incentive. A reason for you to fight. If I may explain the situation in full," he leaned forward in his chair. "Atvany threatens our armies. There is no question that Tadasun will employ their forces in this upcoming battle. It would be troublesome," he lowered his voice to a meaningful whisper, "if they happened to uncover a certain Atvanian fugitive amongst our ranks." Messino smiled when the Rigas brat clamped his jaw in a bid to tamp down the unmitigated fury that painted his aura black. "Tell your beloved partner to keep away from my weapons and we shan't have a problem." 

"Is that all?" The caster spoke through his teeth, all grinding and little vocalization. 

"Of course not. This part involves you and another companion of yours." Messino raised his eyes to the guard stationed by the inside flaps of the tent. "You may bring her forth." 

Alster's glare intensified when two guards from outside ushered Lilica to stand beside him--an additional sacrifice to Messino's twisted vision.

"Ah." Messino clucked his tongue in approval at Lilica's arrival. "My two chthonic casters in one place. I understand that you are at odds with each other, but for this battle, I need you to work together--to devastate Atvanian troops. You, Rigas," he pointed to the dark mage, "follow her lead. I am certain we can level a vast army if we add a little fuel to their kindling. I expect flames and your shadow puppets of death. And of course," he gestured to the soldiers present in the cluttered tent-space, "you will not be without guidance. Think of the men in here as your advance guard. They will keep you safe." A toothy smile punctuated his words. "...and on task." 

At their dismissal, Alster's footfalls sounded like iron upon the ground. His entire vision spotted in red. Red, like droplets of blood, like the split in Lilica's side when he reopened her injury several days ago. Like the split he could have rent in Messino's body, from skull to spine. Just a flick of the hand, and he would conduct the earth to writhe with him, and to kill with him...

He glanced sidelong at the dark mage, narrowing his focus, commanding his baser urges to redirect their energies to reason, not rage. And somehow, he found that source of calm within Lilica. Within those sockets of emptiness lay a vacuum where nothingness presided...

He took a regenerative breath, rerouting his priorities, and lessened the strain of his fingers that carved half-moon shapes into his palms. 

"I know what he's doing," he said to Lilica in a shaky whisper as they gained distance from the oppressive tent. "By placing us together, he wants us to tear each other apart. We're too dangerous and unreliable for his long-term plans. He wants our power, but he also wants us dead without having to lift a finger to do it himself...and without inciting the anger of the Rigases." He paused in order to direct a covert look over his shoulder. As expected, the guards had followed them since their departure from Messino's tent, trailing from a distance. "I'll work with you, Lilica. I don't, nor will I ever forgive you, but if it's to prevent a disastrous outcome, I need for us to cooperate."


Re: [r.] I know you will follow me until kingdom come

Posted: Sat Nov 28, 2015 7:10 pm
by Requiem
Lilica was slow to heal--and it had nothing to do with the gash on her side.

On the contrary, the laceration had ceased to bleed, and sure enough, the thick, grey salve that she applied and reapplied day after had had sped the process of recovery such that it had already begun to form a scar. And while it still made her cringe, days layer, to lift her arm above her head, feeling the sutures tug the healing flesh in painful directions that it protested, it was nothing compared to the throbbing ache of a new emptiness at the pit of the dark mage's core. A place where something--something precious, something cherished--had once been, but that now no longer resided. No longer existed.

She could no longer remember what it was, or what significance it had held, but she felt its absence. And it throbbed like a brand new bruise.

Although she had not taken the small act of kindness lightly, and had in fact been surprised at Chara's insistence at remaining at her side until she fell asleep that day, Lilica had not sought out the celestial mage since. Neither had she sought out any of the other Rigas casters, or any certain soldiers who may or may not have had relations with the former. The chthonic mage instead kept to herself, kept out of trouble, and attempted to focus on healing, inside and out.
A feat which proved to be no easy task, when the only safe haven she had ever known was gone forever, without even a trace of memory. Whenever she reached for remnants, she was greeted only with blackness and confusion. What was it she was missing? Why did she know so much about herbs and their medicinal properties? Why did she long to take a seat beside a decorative fountain, when she couldn't ever recall having actually come across one in her life?

She didn't know--and at this point, she probably never would. All that was left was to ignore the empty void inside of her, like a starving man would ignore the sharp pangs of desperate hunger. Because every time she reached for answers, she was met only with the swirling darkness of her own confusion, and dwelling on that only made the skies seem more somber.

It, perhaps, did not help matters that on a day when she was overburdened with regret for the request that she had turned in Chara Rigas's direction, a pair of commanding officers approached her tent, and flushed her out into the blinding sunlight. "His Highness would like an audience with you," one towering man informed her. He was rewarded with an obsidian look of annoyance that made him want to recoil.

"Well," Lilica murmured, standing from her cot, "he certainly has a rude way of going about it." But she knew better than to draw attention to herself through defiance, and reluctantly left, resisting the urge to turn her own flesh to acid and burn off the hands of the men who took her by her forearms, as if they expected her to run.
This couldn't be good.

The chthonic caster was convinced this must have been about the skirmish between herself and Alster Rigas, the moment she saw her magical counterpart standing before Messino w